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
Rank #3: 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
Rank #4: 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 #5: 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 #6: Morgan Parker : There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé
Morgan Parker uses political & pop-cultural references as a framework to explore 21st century black American womanhood & its complexities: performance, depression, isolation, exoticism, racism, femininity & politics. Parker explores this in the contemporary American political climate, folding in references from jazz standards, visual art, personal family history, & Hip Hop. The voice of this book is a multifarious one: writing & rewriting bodies, stories, & histories of the past, as well as uttering & bearing witness to the truth of the present; actively probing toward a new self, an actualized self. This is a book at the intersections of mythology & sorrow, of vulnerability & posturing, of desire & disgust, of tragedy & excellence.
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Mar 29 2017
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: 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 #9: Claudia Rankine : Citizen
Claudia Rankine, chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, speaks about her much-awaited follow-up to her groundbreaking work Don’t Let Me Be Lonely. A provocative meditation on race (and short-listed for the National Book Award), Citizen: An American Lyric recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first century daily life and in the media. Some of these encounters are slights, seeming slips of the tongue, and some are intentional offensives in the classroom, at the supermarket, at home, on the tennis court with Serena Williams and the soccer field with Zinedine Zidane, online, on TV—everywhere, all the time. The accumulative stresses come to bear on a person’s ability to speak, perform, and stay alive.
Nov 13 2014
Rank #10: 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 #11: 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 #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: David Mitchell : The Bone Clocks
“No one, clearly, has ever told Mitchell that the novel is dead. He writes with a furious intensity and slapped-awake vitality, with a delight in language and all the rabbit holes of experience . . . In his sixth novel, he’s brought together the time-capsule density of his eyes-wide-open adventure in traditional realism with the death-defying ambitions of Cloud Atlas until all borders between pubby England and the machinations of the undead begin to blur . . . Not many novelists could take on plausible Aboriginal speech, imagine a world after climate change has ravaged it, and wonder whether whales suffer from unrequited love . . . Very few [writers] excite the reader about both the visceral world and the visionary one as Mitchell does.”—The New York Times Book Review
Oct 01 2014
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: 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 #16: 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 #17: Mary Ruefle : My Private Property
“Mary Ruefle’s careful, measured sentences sound as if they were written by a thousand-year-old person who is still genuinely curious about the world . . . She combines imagistic techniques from surrealism with narrative techniques to create surprising, high-velocity, and deeply affecting work.”—The Stranger
“Mary Ruefle is, in this humble bookseller’s opinion, the best prose-writing poet in America. (And one of our best poets, too.) My Private Property, her latest collection of stories, essays, and asides, is as joyous and singular a book as you’ll read.”—Stephen Sparks, Literary Hub
Jul 22 2017
Rank #18: 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 #19: 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 #20: Jenny Offill : Weather
“Novelists don’t need to dream the end of the world anymore—they need to wake up to it. Jenny Offill is one of today’s few essential voices, because she writes about essential things, in sentences so clipped and glittering it’s as if they are all cut from one diamond.” –Jonathan Dee
Mar 11 2020