Rank #1: Celeste Ng : Little Fires Everywhere
“I read Little Fires Everywhere in a single, breathless sitting. With brilliance and beauty, Celeste Ng dissects a microcosm of American society just when we need to see it beneath the microscope: how do questions of race stack up against the comfort of privilege, and what role does that play in parenting? Is motherhood a bond forged by blood, or by love? And perhaps most importantly: do the faults of our past determine what we deserve in the future? Be ready to be wowed by Ng’s writing—and unsettled by the mirror held up to one’s own beliefs.”—Jodi Picoult
Oct 05 2017
Rank #2: Ursula K. Le Guin : Words Are My Matter
“Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society & its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, & even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom—poets, visionaries—realists of a larger reality. . .” Words Are My Matter collects talks, essays, intros to beloved books, & book reviews by Ursula K. Le Guin, one of our foremost public literary intellectuals. It is essential reading, & through the lens of deep considerations of contemporary writing, a way of exploring the world we are all living in.
Feb 14 2017
First Draft: A Dialogue on Writing
Poetry Off the Shelf
So Many Damn Books
The Writing University Podcast
Otherppl with Brad Listi
Write Now with Sarah Werner
Ampersand: The Poets & Writers Podcast
A Writers Life
Commonplace: Conversations with Poets (and Other People)
The Poetry Magazine Podcast
Fully Booked by Kirkus Reviews
Rank #3: Jesse Ball : How to Set a Fire and Why
Jesse Ball’s blistering novel tells the story of a teenage girl who has lost everything—and will burn anything. Lucia’s father is dead, her mother in a mental hospital, and now she’s been kicked out of school—again. She makes her way through the world with only a book, a zippo lighter, a pocketful of stolen licorice, a biting wit, and the striking intelligence that she tries to hide.
“Lucia details a philosophy that smartly parallels the novel’s own–namely, that writing literature is, like arson, an act of creation and destruction . . . A song of teenage heartbreak sung with a movingly particular sadness, a mature meditation on how actually saying something, not just speaking, is what most makes a voice human.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
Aug 17 2016
Rank #4: Sheila Heti : Motherhood
“This book is going to change how we think about life and women forever; like ancient Greek philosopher level of describing reality in a way that creates it. So, go or don’t go, read the book or don’t—either way your life will be changed by this thinker. I’m being serious here.”—Miranda July
“This inquiry into the modern woman’s moral, social and psychological relationship to procreation is an illumination, a provocation, and a response—finally—to the new norms of femininity, formulated from the deepest reaches of female intellectual authority. It is unlike anything else I’ve read. Sheila Heti has broken new ground, both in her maturity as an artist and in the possibilities of the female discourse itself.”—Rachel Cusk
Jun 01 2018
Most Popular Podcasts
Rank #5: George Saunders : Tenth of December
“George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You’ll Read All Year,” declared the cover of the New York Times Magazine several weeks ago. Since then, the world has rushed to agree that Saunders’ new story collection, Tenth of December, is a remarkable literary achievement.
“George Saunders is a complete original, unlike anyone else, thank god—and yet still he manages to be the rightful heir to three other complete American originals—Barthelme (the lyricism, the playfulness), Vonnegut (the outrage, the wit, the scope), and Twain (the common sense, the exasperation). There is no author I recommend to people more often—for ten years I’ve urged George Saunders onto everyone and everyone. You want funny? Saunders is your man. You want emotional heft? Saunders again. You want stories that are actually about something—stories that again and again get to the meat of matters of life and death and justice and country? Saunders. There is no one better, no one more essential to our national sense of self and sanity.”—Dave Eggers
Feb 14 2013
Rank #6: Ursula K. Le Guin : Steering The Craft
Ursula K. Le Guin believes we cannot restructure society without restructuring the English language, and thus her book on the craft of writing inevitably engages class, gender, race, capitalism, and morality, all of which are not separate from grammar, punctuation, tense, and point of view for Le Guin. Ursula K. Le Guin is the author of more than sixty books of fiction, fantasy, children’s literature, poetry, drama, criticism, and translation. She talks today about her writing guide, Steering The Craft, newly rewritten and revised for writers of fiction and memoir in the 21st century.
Oct 01 2015
Rank #7: Richard Powers : The Overstory
“This book is beyond special. Richard Powers manages to turn trees into vivid and engaging characters, something that indigenous people have done for eons but that modern literature has rarely if ever even attempted. It’s not just a completely absorbing, even overwhelming book; it’s a kind of breakthrough in the ways we think about and understand the world around us, at a moment when that is desperately needed.”—Bill McKibben
Nov 01 2019
Rank #8: Carmen Maria Machado : Her Body and Other Parties
“Cross-pollinating fairy tales, horror movies, TV shows, & a terrific sense of humor, Machado’s work reminds me at different times of such wildly divergent figures as David Lynch, Jane Campion, Maggie Nelson, & Grace Paley; which is a way of saying, Machado sounds like nobody but herself.”—John Powers, NPR “Fresh Air”
“The book abounds with fantastical premises that ring true because the intensity of sexual desire, the mutability of the body, & the realities of gender inequality make them so. These stories stand as exquisitely rendered, poignant hauntings.”—San Francisco Chronicle
Feb 01 2018
Rank #9: Jonathan Lethem : Dissident Gardens
Jonathan Lethem is a man of many lives. For one, because of his repeated return to New York as both setting and muse in novels such as Motherless Brooklyn, Fortress of Solitude, and Chronic City, he may be New York’s closest thing to having a bard. But Lethem is known as well for his genre fiction, his hard-boiled detective and science fiction books, his revival of the Marvel comic Omega the Unknown, and for editing the Library of America’s four-volume edition of Philip K. Dick’s novels. Yet another side of Jonathan Lethem is that of essayist on music and culture, with books about John Carpenter, the New York Mets, and the Talking Heads, with his remarkable Rolling Stone interview of Bob Dylan, and a profile of James Brown that the New York Times says “stands as the best writing ever about the greatest musician of the post-World War II era.” Given all of these accomplishments, it is no small thing that many call Lethem’s latest novel, Dissident Gardens, his best. Spanning three generations and eighty years, from the Jewish communists of Queens in the 1930s, to the folk revivalists of Greenwich Village in the 60s, to the modern-day Occupy movement, Dissident Gardens is both an intimate and epic portrayal of the American Left, of American Jews in the twentieth century, and of one family’s quest for transformation and self-reinvention one generation to the next.
Oct 02 2013
Rank #10: Marlon James : Black Leopard, Red Wolf
“Black Leopard, Red Wolf is the kind of novel I never realized I was missing until I read it. A dangerous, hallucinatory, ancient Africa, which becomes a fantasy world as well-realized as anything Tolkien made, with language as powerful as Angela Carter’s. It’s as deep and crafty as Gene Wolfe, bloodier than Robert E. Howard, and all Marlon James. It’s something very new that feels old, in the best way. I cannot wait for the next installment.” —Neil Gaiman
Mar 04 2019
Rank #11: Brian Evenson : A Collapse of Horses
A stuffed bear’s heart beats with the rhythm of a dead baby; Reno keeps receding to the east no matter how far you drive; and in a mine on another planet, the dust won’t stop seeping in. In these stories, Brian Evenson unsettles us with the everyday and the extraordinary—the terror of living with the knowledge of all we cannot know.
“Brian Evenson is one of the treasures of American story writing, a true successor both to the generation of Coover, Barthelme, Hawkes & Co., but also to Edgar Allan Poe.”—Jonathan Lethem
“There is not a more intense, prolific, or apocalyptic writer of fiction in America than Brian Evenson.”—George Saunders
Mar 30 2016
Rank #12: Ted Chiang : Exhalation
“Ted Chiang has no contemporary peers when it comes to the short story form. His name deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Carver, Poe, Borges, and Kafka. Every story is a universe. Every story is a diamond. You will inhale Exhalation in a single, stunned sitting, because true genius doesn’t come along nearly as often as advertised. This is the real thing.”—Blake Crouch, author of Dark Matter
Jul 01 2019
Rank #13: Kelly Link : Get in Trouble
Kelly Link has been hailed by Michael Chabon as “the most darkly playful voice in American fiction” and by Neil Gaiman as “a national treasure.” Link has won an ardent following for her ability, with each new short story, to take readers deeply into an unforgettable, brilliantly constructed fictional universe. Hurricanes, astronauts, evil twins, bootleggers, Ouija boards, iguanas, The Wizard of Oz, superheroes, the Pyramids . . . These are just some of the talismans of an imagination as capacious and as full of wonder as that of any writer today.
Mar 04 2015
Rank #14: Zadie Smith : Grand Union
“Grand Union is an unusual creature, combining all the experimental exuberance of a writer discovering a form with the technical prowess of one at the height of her abilities. The result is exhilarating. Between the covers of one book, readers will find such disparate forms as allegory, parable, speculative thriller and satire, as well as shorter incarnations of Smith’s characteristic social comedy . . . Smith’s voracious intellect is on full display.” —San Francisco Chronicle
Oct 21 2019
Rank #15: Colson Whitehead : Zone One
Host David Naimon speaks with award-winning writer Colson Whitehead about his new novel Zone One, described as a “wry take on the post-apocalyptic horror novel.” The world has been devastated by a plague. There are two types of survivors: the uninfected and the infected, the living and the living dead.
Colson Whitehead is the author of the novels The Intuitionist, John Henry Days, Apex Hides the Hurt, and Sag Harbor. He has also written a book of about his hometown, a collection of essays called The Colossus of New York. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Granta, Harper’s, and the New Yorker. A recipient of a Whiting Writers Award, a MacArthur Grant, and a fellowship at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, he lives in New York City.
Dec 29 2011
Rank #16: R.O. Kwon : The Incendiaries
“Every explosive requires a fuse. That’s R. O. Kwon’s novel, a straight, slow-burning fuse. To read her novel is to follow an inexorable flame coming closer & closer to the object it will detonate—the characters, the crime, the story, &, ultimately, the reader.”—Viet Thanh Nguyen
“Kwon’s multi-faceted narrative portrays America’s dark, radical strain, exploring the lure of fundamentalism, our ability to be manipulated, and what can happen when we’re willing to do anything for a cause.” —Atlantic.com
“A God-haunted, willful, strange book written with a kind of savage elegance. I’ve said it before, but now I’ll shout it from the rooftops: R. O. Kwon is the real deal.”—Lauren Groff
Nov 01 2018
Rank #17: Maggie Nelson : The Argonauts
An intrepid voyage out to the frontiers of the latest thinking about love, language, and family. Maggie Nelson binds her personal experience, the story of her relationship with the fluidly-gendered artist Harry Dodge, to a rigorous exploration of what iconic theorists have said about sexuality, gender, and the vexed institutions of marriage and child-rearing. The Argonauts is a genre-bending memoir offering fresh, fierce, and timely thinking about desire, identity, and the limitations and possibilities of love and language, offering a firsthand account of the complexities and joys of (queer) family-making.
Jul 29 2015
Rank #18: Christine Schutt : Pure Hollywood
“Nobody writes like Schutt . . . and her latest collection is the perfect entry point for readers new to her work . . . In each of the collection’s 11 stories, Schutt gives readers dissipated women staggering to the brink of sanity, desperate men with foggy intentions, and an eerie atmosphere that radiates menace, sexuality, and murder . . . Schutt is always in control in this work by an experimental American writer of unparalleled style.”—Publishers Weekly
Apr 01 2019
Rank #19: Neal Stephenson : Seveneves
A catastrophic event renders the Earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere: in outer space. Only a handful of survivors remain . . . Five thousand years later, their progeny—seven distinct races now three billion strong—embark on yet another audacious journey into the unknown, as they voyage to an alien world utterly transformed by cataclysm and time: Earth. Neal Stephenson combines science, philosophy, psychology, and literature in a magnificent work of speculative fiction that offers a portrait of a future that is both extraordinary and eerily recognizable.
May 20 2015
Rank #20: Sheila Heti : How Should A Person Be?
Is How Should a Person Be? a novel, a memoir, a self-help manual, or a book of philosophy? It is all of these things and more. Host David Naimon talks with Sheila Heti about her new book, which Bookforum dubs “a raw, startling, genre-defying novel of friends, sex, and love in the new millennium—a compulsive read that’s like spending a day with your new best friend.”
Canadian writer Sheila Heti is the author of five books, all very different in form and style. She has written a collection of modern fables entitled The Middle Stories, a historical novella called Ticknor, and an illustrated book for children called We Need a Horse. Recently, she ventured into nonfiction with her book of “conversational philosophy,” The Chairs Are Where the People Go, written with Misha Glouberman, which the New Yorker chose as one of the best books of 2011. Sheila Heti also works as Interviews Editor at The Believer magazine.
Aug 31 2012