• White Girls

    Hilton Als

    Just after I started reading this book, I had a conversation in which someone said that inaccessible art can’t possibly be good art, with a side note about how some people may appreciate art solely because they can’t immediately understand it as they assume it’s smarter than they are. The discussion partially came from me describing my struggle through The...

  • The Luminaries

    Eleanor Catton

    Earlier this year, I stacked my library holds with popular books from 2013, but I was a bit hesitant to add The Luminaries. I have a pretty narrow threshold for historical fiction, yet clearly people loved it. With Eleanor Catton being the youngest winner of the Man Booker Prize, ultimately my curiosity won out. Though when I finally waited my way to the top of the hold list, the book’s...

  • Can’t and Won’t

    Lydia Davis

    I think what I love about Lydia Davis is how she finds significance and narrative in the banalities of the every day. I know most people consider recounting dreams to be one of the most socially unacceptable things you can do, perhaps just below subway grooming, but rarely do I dislike a dream story. Whether or not you try to find the subconscious logic in it, the underlying humor of dream...

  • Dept. of Speculation

    Jenny Offill

    This slim novel could easily be read in a day, but I happened to read part of it on a Saturday and the rest on a Sunday morning, when I woke up far earlier than usual. It was the perfect thing for a quiet morning, the sky still lightening to day. While I’m sure some people would try to call this a lyric essay, as championed in Reality Hunger, Jenny...

  • Bark

    Lorrie Moore

    I’ve been under this misguided impression that I’ve read a few things by Lorrie Moore when actually I have read just one novel, a long time ago, during such a hectic period that even my notes conjure up very little to remember it now. While these stories circle around themes of disappointment and regret, there’s still a wry humor and playfulness with language. I like how David Gates put it in...

  • Reality Hunger

    David Shields

    You know you’re in for some bold and broad declarations when a book starts off, “Every artistic moment from the beginning of time is an attempt to figure out a way to smuggle more of what the artist thinks is reality into the work of art.”

  • The Goldfinch

    Donna Tartt

    The Goldfinch has become one of the most talked-about novels I can recall in recent years, especially now, coming off its Pulitzer win. It’s the most successful, post-9/11 fiction where an actual experience of terrorism is portrayed that I’ve read — though since the book suggests that its bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art replaces 9/11 as the major event in NYC...

  • The Lowland

    Jhumpa Lahiri

    When I saw this book was coming out last year, I assumed I’d missed a book from Lahiri since her short story collection Unaccustomed Earth that came out in 2008. But this is the first book of hers to be published since then; the meticulousness of it suggests that time was spent finely honing.

  • The Self Unstable

    Elisa Gabbert

    Late last year Teju Cole described this as “the most intelligent and most intriguing thing” he’d read in some time. A lyric essay, a memoir of aphorisms: you could get creative in how to describe this, but it reads most like poetry to me. On the surface perhaps the pages are brief and the words...

  • Americanah

    Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

    After reading some rather lackluster fiction lately, starting Adichie’s third novel felt similarly rejuvenating to the spring-like days that have arrived as we near the end of a long winter. Centered around high school sweethearts, Ifemelu and Obinze, Americanah traces the start of their relationship and the turn it takes when Ifemelu leaves Nigeria amidst ongoing teacher strikes to...

  • Night Film

    Marisha Pessl

    Page-turning thrillers aren’t my usual pick, but this one was entertaining and at times hard to put down. The creepiness centers around a filmmaker who creates horrors so awfully scary, most of them were only released in underground venues (sometimes literally, like screenings in Paris’s catacombs). As the book opens, his daughter is found dead of an apparent suicide. A reporter who was...

  • Vampires in the Lemon Grove

    Karen Russell

    I heard Karen Russell read from part of the story “Reeling for the Empire” at a Fiction Addiction reading last year, and I didn’t feel too inclined to read the whole story afterward. But I found my way to this collection regardless of that insufficiency of interest and will admit that I appreciated that story more hearing it in my own head. Russell is...

  • A Field Guide to Getting Lost

    Rebecca Solnit

    I last read this book nearly six and a half years ago; when my friend Eleanor brought it up recently to share a quote from it someone had passed on to her, it felt like perfect time for a re-read. In those six odd years, I’ve read several of Solnit’s books and have come to appreciate her particular way...

  • I, etcetera

    Susan Sontag

    After reading Against Interpretation, these stories are as cerebral and absent of symbolic content as I expected. Sontag plays with form rather than creating complex plots laden with meanings, and there isn’t an extensive amount of descriptive detail. Nearly all the stories are written from some kind of first person perspective, though not in...

  • Against Interpretation

    Susan Sontag

    From now to the end of consciousness, we are stuck with the task of defending art. We can only quarrel with one or another means of defense. Indeed, we have an obligation to overthrow any means of defending and justifying art which becomes particularly obtuse or onerous or insensitive to contemporary needs and practices.

    This is the case, today, with the very idea of content...

  • The Faraway Nearby

    Rebecca Solnit

    I expect even some of the most stalwart of Solnit’s fans would not consider this her best book, as it seems a bit scattered, though it’s similar in general feel to A Field Guide to Getting Lost. Its “Russian-doll” structure functions less like burrowing deeper into the complexities of a difficult period of her life and more like the...

  • Across the Land and the Water

    W.G. Sebald

    Translator Iain Galbraith’s introduction is one of the best parts of this book, as it includes “an example … of the difficulty of translating Sebald’s poetry”:

    Many of the poems in this volume—which opens with a train journey—reenact travel “across” various kinds of land and water (even if the latter is only the fluid of dreams). Indeed, several, as the writer’s archive reveals...

  • Joseph Anton

    Salman Rushdie

    Recounting nine years of living in protective custody after the Ayatollah Khomeini sentenced him to death, Rushdie’s memoir is befittingly hefty at over 630 pages. About three-quarters of the way into it, the tediousness of his ongoing fight to live freely comes through all too clear. In addition to describing the particulars of living constantly with a team of security personnel and the various...

  • All Things Glorious and True

    Kat Asharya

    I met Kat back in zine times, when people made friends through trades and letters, and those friends were often a combination of allies, collaborators, and maybe even the cool cousins you might not have had in your given family. As such I distinctly remember getting one of Kat’s zines and going to rent Breathless because she...

  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

    Maria Semple

    There are many unbelievable things in this epistolary novel inspired by Maria Semple’s move from LA to Seattle, but maybe the biggest is that average people would write such long, detailed emails — and, at times, faxes? Semple found Seattle’s crunchy, sustainable culture hard to stomach at first, which is how the book begins with a report card from a private school...