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Sheila Heti's How Should a Person Be? is exactly what its title implies: an inquiry into how to live and how to do it well. Through a fictionalized account of her personal life, Heti explores the ways in which self-doubt, capriciousness, and the ego are tied to one's ability to live a creative life in the modern age. Yes, I know. This sounds so serious. Or maybe it doesn't. Either way, this novel is a rare gem that effectively combines philosophical musings with an absorbing and funny narrative, all without being pretentious. How Should a Person Be? is about what it means to make art, friends, and ultimately what it means to be human. I raced through it over the course of a few days, after which it stuck with me for weeks. I even read passages of it aloud to a friend, something I rarely do.
I first read this book when it was originally published in Canada in 2010. There have been some changes made to this, the US edition, which truly enhance the novel's original form. It's been almost two years since my initial reading of How Should a Person Be?, and I am still excited about the book. In fact, since that time, I've continued to ponder over and occasionally re-read selections from it. Each time, my heart aches a little more, and I learn something new about myself and about the world. I suppose one can't ask for much more than that.
It's been 6 years since Michel Houellebecq's last novel was published in English, but from the very beginning of The Map and the Territory, it's obvious the years haven't tamed France's best and most controversial novelist. Though more polished than his previous work, it lacks none of the sly humor, incisiveness or, frankly, the cringe-worthy moments he's become (in)famous for. It's barely 2012 and I've already read the best contemporary novel I'm likely to read all year. --Sparks
My first thought upon finishing Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk was, "Wow! I love this book, but how am I going to sell it in San Francisco?" And unless you are able to step outside of your comfort-zone as a reader, I may not be very successful, which is a crying shame. This book has an energy that I rarely encounter, a voice that sparkles and pops, a plot that is Hollywood worthy, and it just may be the truest portrait of an American War Hero amidst the whirlwind of praise accompanying his "victory tour" home from a battle that only some feel we need to be fighting. It is also set in Texas, at a Dallas Cowboys football game, but please don't let that dissuade you either.
Ben Fountain has talent in spades, and his blend of humor and pathos is a joy to behold. With Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk he has given us a novel that is so true it can only be called fiction, and a book that is so enjoyable that upon completion, you will find yourself in my unenviable position: trying to get everyone else to read this wonderful tale. --KH
It was a sad day when I read the last page of The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma to my kids, knowing that the trilogy had ended. With Mr. Curtain no longer a threat, and Reynie, Kate, Sticky and Constance all being looked after, it looked like things were settled. But wait! What's this? A prequel? Yes! Travel back in time to when Nicholas Benedict was just a narcoleptic orphan, foiling bullies and strange circumstances to solve a mystery that could change his life forever.
This is a powerful, concise novel and a heart-breaking glimpse into the desperation of North African emigrants. The author is a Moroccan artist of some renown, and this is the first book of his translated into English. Take a journey to a world very different from your own.
When the family alligator wrestling business starts to go under due to a lack of tourism to your haunted swamp island, and your sister keeps running off to have torrid love affairs with dead men, and your mom won't respond on the Ouija board and a mysterious man appears to collect for his unsolicited services as a buzzard exterminator, sometimes you've got to take the rudder and venture to the bottom of things, so to speak. And, if this sweet grimy world you're navigating is the creation of Karen Russell, you know you're in for an other/under-worldly experience that is at once fantastic and heart-breakingly real. Swamplandia! is everything its premise promises and more.
Foster Wallace's unfinished final novel, about IRS agents working in Peoria, Illinois, might sound dreadfully boring (the book, after all, deals with those areas of life that are "massively, spectacularly dull"), but as with all of DFW's fiction, there's a lot more at work than any synopsis can capture. Proving Wallace's maxim that "almost anything you pay close, direct attention to becomes interesting," The Pale King is much more than a morbid curiosity. It is a book that demands attention from any reader interested in contemporary American literature.
We would love this book even it didn't feature a character who once worked at Green Apple. Set partially in San Francisco's late '70's punk scene, here's what the San Francisco Chronicle had to say about it: "Jennifer Egan is a rare bird: an experimental writer with a deep commitment to character, whose fiction is at once intellectually stimulating and moving. . . . It's a tricky book, but in the best way. When I got to the end, I wanted to start from the top again immediately, both to revisit the characters and to understand better how the pieces fit together. Like a masterful album, this one demands a replay.
Cole's debut, which has already earned the author comparisons to W.G. Sebald and Albert Camus, is a welcome addition to the genre of the walker's novel. In it, the narrator, a Nigerian immigrant doing his residency in Manhattan, ruminates on history (both personal and political), geography (as his walks radiate outward from Morningside Heights, all of the city is laid out to him), and his own psychology. Open City wanders at its own pace and proves itself to be that rare, unexpected marvel: a great American novel.
Emma Donoghue has caught lightening in a bottle with this book. Room breathes new life into an old familiar genre, and in doing so, surpasses any and all expectations you might have. Upon finishing it, you'll want to start it all over again.
After I read Winter's Bone, I decided I had to read everything by Daniel Woodrell. Unfortunately, I discovered that pretty much all of his books were out of print. The Bayou Trilogy brings back into print three of his best. The writing is incredible, and these titles are absolutely drenched in southern gothic noir. This is one of my favorite books of the year. --Martin