Rank #1: Ocean Vuong: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
Ocean Vuong speaks of leaving his thumbprint on his new novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. Alternate modes of storytelling are discussed, as are narratives without intrinsic conflict. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who doesn’t read English; it is about finding joy in innovative and creative survival.
Rank #2: Richard Powers: The Overstory
About the interdependence between humans and trees, Richard Powers found a place for the non-human in literary fiction with his new book, The Overstory. The reader’s interest and affection are captured by poignant and visceral characters who open a perspective larger than the domestic. Richard Powers says there is no separate thing called humanity, and no separate thing called nature: we’re either in the world, or we’re in some abstraction that will never satisfy us. Winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Rank #3: Toni Morrison Tribute
*Nobel Laureate, Toni Morrison passed away this week at 88 years of age. Bookworm is rebroadcasting a 2009 conversation with her about her novel, A Mercy.*
In this first of two conversations with Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, we explore the backgrounds of her novel, A Mercy (Knopf). How did she find the textures of pre-colonial America: the feel of the land; the wildlife; the proliferation of races, nationalities and ambitions? (Part II)
- Read an excerpt from A Mercy.
Rank #4: Tayari Jones: An American Marriage
Her fourth book, which took her six years to write, An American Marriage brought Tayari Jones to the attention of Oprah’s Book Club. As a result, her novels have become best sellers and reach a wider audience. Jones discusses having both the sensibilities of an urban person and a southern person. Guest Michael McKenzie, Executive PR Director of Algonquin Books, joins the discussion of regional and expansive literature. Judy Bloom makes a surprise appearance, rescuing Tayari Jones at a crucial moment in her career.
Rank #5: Yiyun Li: Where Reasons End
In Yiyun Li’s Where Reasons End, a mother discovers a place where she can talk to her son who committed suicide. The reader is a privileged visitor to a sadness being expressed between the characters, different from grief or mourning. A condition of sorrowful wonder looms over this novel where everything is buried in the depths of dialogue.
Rank #6: Ariana Reines: A Sand Book
The poetry in Ariana Reines A Sand Book is centered around the theme of hiding: running away and trying to escape. There is a chorus of sobbing in this book; its metaphysical concentration is related to wandering. Ariana Reines speaks of books that go beyond themselves and stay with the reader; she wrote one, and reads three poems from it.
Rank #7: Elizabeth McCracken: Bowlaway
Her nature oppositional, Elizabeth McCracken’s Bowlaway is a sad, funny, hilarious, and melancholic novel. It is a wacky epic family saga about a multi-generational bowling alley, with characters not pinched by society’s norms, arbiters of their own lives. Elizabeth McCracken speaks of freeing herself to her imagination.
Rank #8: Dave Eggers: The Parade
A book of creeping dread, where every worst thing is possible, and rational reason leads one to expect that the worst is not over. In The Parade, two nameless people work in a geopolitical wasteland for separate reasons: one to support his family, and one to get an exotic picture of what goes on in the world—neither of them possessing empathy for the people in the nameless country where they work. Dave Eggers describes himself as a hopeful person drawn to dystopian stories. He says these characters are cogs in a machine that is breaking the world.
Rank #9: Ann Beattie: A Wonderful Stroke of Luck
Ben’s life falls down around him, and he’s the protagonist, in this novel by master writer Ann Beattie. A Wonderful Stroke of Luck makes the reader giggle at their own misconceptions, with value systems undergoing radical changes from the beginning to the end. This narrative says that escaping one thing does not mean you get something else, and nothing can be expected from life, this is a fabulously interesting book with characters who are seldom what they seem.
Rank #10: Laila Lalami: The Other Americans
Laila Lalami’s The Other Americans is a polyphonic novel about social class and identity, with a revelation in every chapter. At the novel’s opening a Moroccan immigrant dies in a suspicious hit-and-run accident, connecting together the stories of nine characters, each with their own context, also connected by an internal sense of not being at the center of the American story. Core questions find answers from outside, alienated perspectives.