Rank #1: 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 #2: Mary Ruefle: My Private Property
Mary Ruefle reads the entirety of her glorious and gruesome essay about shrunken heads, the title essay in her book My Private Property. Then she discusses falling in love with shrunken heads in a museum as a teenager, and a similar tiny poem she wrote years before.
Rank #3: Valeria Luiselli: Lost Children Archive
Valeria Luiselli describes herself as a documentarian who fictionalizes. She says her imagination is shaped by the lives around her, and she brings literature into the world. Lost Children Archive tells the story of a family by combining the American road trip subgenre with the Latin American tradition of an inward journey. A lucid, generous, and complex novel; a record of our time.
Rank #4: Sam Lipsyte: Hark
A mother misunderstands a carol's opening line, and names her son Hark. His is a funny and sad book about spiritual solutions to a nightmare culture: mental archery, techniques for focus, and ways to clear the mind. A novel that presents ambiguity as a constant feature of modern life, Hark is a book full of tensions, written with Sam Lipsyte’s fine grain strangeness, and absent of easy answers. Lipsyte discusses what we think is happening to us versus what is happening to us.
Rank #5: Marlon James: Black Leopard, Red Wolf: The Dark Star Trilogy
Marlon James discusses the endlessly beautiful and brutal world of Black Leopard, Red Wolf, the first novel in The Dark Star Trilogy. He talks about wanting violence to be violent, sex to be sexual, tenderness and brutality to receive equal attention, and for his novel to be filled with danger and forbidden ideas. Influenced by amoral, sexual, and fluid African stories, classic Greek drama, Caribbean folklore, and more--myth, fantasy, and history come together in a breathtaking saga.
Photos by Christopher Ho.
Rank #6: Chris Cander: The Weight of a Piano
Chris Cander’s The Weight of a Piano explores characters with passionate attachments to things that have been lost. Their sense of loss shapes their selfhood. Chris Cander says one must accept the condition of being lost, and look carefully at uncomfortable things, to find truth in oneself. The Weight of a Piano is the story of a Blüthner piano traveling through a couple generations of owners who don’t play it, but worship it. It is a fantastic novel that ends on a dawning sense of realistic possibility.
Rank #7: 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 #8: Amanda Sthers: Holy Lands
A writer of ten novels in French, this is the first novel by Amanda Sthers to appear in English — translated by herself. She has also adapted and directed Holy Lands as a movie to be released in May. Sthers discusses working with the same material in two languages and several forms.
This is a funny and bittersweet epistolary novel about a cardiologist who moves to Israel to raise pigs, and family members who search for words to express their complex and challenged love. Holy Lands says though everyone has a secret, and we all have tolerance only up to a certain point, reconciliation is our goal. It’s a funny novel with a tender-heartedness that sneaks in: even the pig farmer becomes attached to his pigs.
Photos by Christopher Ho.
Rank #9: 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 #10: Nathan Englander: kaddish.com
In Nathan Englander’s kaddish.com, a secular Jewish son experiments with the task of shepherding his father’s soul safely to rest. This is done through Kaddish, which is not a task he welcomes, nor executes in a typical way. In this streamlined comic masterpiece, crazy extremes are acceptable, acceptable things are crazy, and jokes have mass. What does it mean to be a good son?