just an occasionally updated list that goes to 11
Allison Wyss, SPLENDID ANATOMIES: This collection of short stories (the first published by Veliz Books with me as the press’s fiction editor) is amazing. Am I biased? I’m biased. Fine. These body-forward stories are messy, gruesome, uncomfortable…and true, beautiful, and sincerely affecting. A fantastic gathering of fictions.
Sumita Chakraborty, ARROW: This is a poetry collection that’s entirely amazing for how much it does–it’s intellectual, human, thoughtful, sad, hurt, celebratory…so many great things. From “Essay on Joy”: “When as a child my father deemed my weight excessive, the measure of which shifted according to whim, he would take his underwear off of his body and place it on top of my head.”
Ota Pavel, HOW I CAME TO KNOW FISH: What a great collection recommended by a political science friend: quietly set against a backdrop of war, this is absolutely lovely and cheerful, stories told by a son about his Czech father who loves fishing and stubbornly keeps trying to defeat fish, eels, and the river from which they come.
James Clavell, SHOGUN: Holy crap. This is 1150 pages. Onethousandonehundredfiftypages. I think this has to the longest book I’ve ever read, and I actually enjoyed a fair chunk of it, as it surprised me in its historical detail (accurate or not), empathetic character interiors, and seemingly complex plotting. The last, what, four hundred pages sort of fall to pieces in terms of plot-logic … but still, it’s an impressive feat of a book.
Kevin Allardice, AS THE CEILING FLEW AWAY: Lucky to’ve read an early copy of this wonderfully bizarre book. Set on the island-nation Arolia (named due to a typo and, according to its citizens, the original inspiration for The Tempest), we follow our sad-sack hilarious narrator as he tries to place an immigrant couple and survive his own ruined marriage. Allusive-rich, a touch zany, entirely warm and funny.
Umberto Eco, THE ISLAND OF THE DAY BEFORE: My first Eco! Didn’t care for it, didn’t finish it–and that’s while recognizing that Eco was, very clearly, a tremendous writer and intellectual. The stylistic shifts, the wealth of historical information, the wonderfully bizarre concept and interwoven narratives (and the odd vantage of the telling), the rich prose, the very complex quasi-philosophical/linguistic/perceptual considerations…all impressive and, really, even daunting. Onto The Name of the Rose!
Anne Carson, PLAINWATER: She might be the smartest-seeming writer I’ve ever read–the sense I get, at least, in reading Carson’s prose is that the way her writing mind nimbly perceives and deftly models how to engage with existence (thoughtfully, vulnerably, warmly, attentively–and joyously) is almost overwhelming with intellectual and emotional wholesomeness. Not wholesomeness in the idiomatic–in the more literal way, as in the fully considered and fully felt experience of life.
Liliana Colanzi, OUR DEAD WORLD: This is a small, intimate, and alarming collection of mostly magical realism stories from a very talented young Bolivian author who studied (studies?) at Cornell. The stories span the United States, Europe, and South America, and feature, variously, a young woman unsettled by a disembodied eye that follows her around, watching as she suffers the world’s abuses; a drug dealer’s girlfriend stuck in a hotel bar while a cannibal is on the loose; a photographer’s assistant suffering the awfulness of his boss and the strangeness of a gloriously in-fighting family…and more. Unsettling fiction at its best.
Lucy Corin, THE SWANK HOTEL: I meant to write about this earlier…this is a challenging book in its style and ambition–that’s meant both as praise and as wariness. Corin (one of my favoritefavoritefavorite living authors) takes an approach to the very writing of sentences and paragraphs that forces you to, in a way, re-learn how to read. Braided essays are sort of all the rage–this is an enormous novel written, at the sentence level, of so manymany braids. Overwhelming? Totally. Impressive? More so.
Moon Bo Young, PILLAR OF BOOKS: Hilarious, strange, an onrush of off-beat flash fictions (maybe some poems?) that look at the bothers and lovelies of existence with a very keen and disturbed viewpoint. From “Lips”: “I inspect the half pair of lips. I put them down. I can’t read the lips. We become lovers.” A little goes a long way here–the perfect kind of book to flip through/read sections at random to start your day, or to end your day, or to smuggle into meetings.
Jenny Yang Cropp, STRING THEORY: Beautiful, sad poems about family, being Korean-American (in America, in Korea), about existing in other spaces, spaces which we enter through beautifully rendered quiet, evocative, poignant moments–as in “Monsoon Season”: “My last night, leaning over the sill // I lit matches and dropped them, / counting the seconds it took // for each flame to fizzle out, not one / strong enough to light a path to the ground.”