How many writers manage to publish a novel and an essay collection over the course of one summer? Roxane Gay's debut, An Untamed State, was published in May, but before she became a novelist she was known for her penetrating essays and cultural criticism. Bad Feminist contains both of these, alongside deeply personal writing—including a depiction of her assault at the age of 12—and more lighthearted pieces about Scrabble tournaments and reality TV.
The collection takes its title from the final two essays, which explore how prescriptive the definition of "feminist" can sometimes be, and how Gay at times feels she comes up short.
Alas, poor feminism. So much responsibility keeps getting piled on the shoulders of a movement whose primary purpose is to achieve equality, in all realms, between men and women. I keep reading these articles and getting angry and tired because they suggest there's no way for women to ever get it right. These articles make it seem like, as Butler suggests, there is in fact, a right way to be a woman and a wrong way to be a woman. The standard for the right way to be a woman and/or a feminist appears to be ever changing and unachievable.
Gay's insightful exploration of this topic makes readers worry less about their occasional shortcomings and more comfortable with being human.
What are you reading this week?
So, you did it. You made it through all 700+ pages of Donna Tartt's epic, Pulitzer-winning third novel, hauling it on the plane, balancing its considerable weight on your knees at the beach, or trading sympathetic looks with those who were also struggling to turn the pages while clinging to a pole on the subway.
Now you're hungry for a book that's just like it. Let's go with the bad news first: There is no book that's exactly like The Goldfinch. But the good news is there are plenty of books that should resonate with Goldfinch readers in various ways. Read on for our list.
If Tartt's wrenching portrait of a young boy coping with the loss of a parent was your favorite thing about The Goldfinch, pick up Foer's emotional second novel. This story of a vulnerable young boy, Oskar, who is mourning the death of his father in the 9/11 attacks, is heartfelt and poignant.
James Wood's takedown of The Goldfinch in The New Yorker accused the novel of hewing too close to the tropes of children's literature, with the quaint basement shop in the West Village and the Hagrid-like figure of Hobie being the worst offenders. These elements just added to the novel's charm for me, and recalled childhood favorites like Nesbit's Five Children and It—highly recommended for readers of any age who don't mind a little magic in their literature.
Was the art underworld drama what kept the pages turning? If so, don't miss Theft: A Love Story, the 2006 tale of a formerly famous artist who gets caught up in a scheme to produce fake expressionist paintings. As you'd expect from a two-time Booker winner, Carey is a top-notch writer, and his first-hand experience with the New York art scene provides a satire as authentic as a reader could hope for.
Readers who thrilled to the backstory of Fabritius and Amsterdam's Golden Age should pick up The Miniaturist, Burton's meticulously detailed first novel set in 1689 Amsterdam, where a newlywed country girl must negotiate the secrets of her new family—and of the city's high society. Though the mystery element is a bit flawed, Burton's writing chops—especially when it comes to her depiction of Amsterdam itself—are strongly evident.
The permanence of art vs. the impermanence of human life is one of the strongest themes in Tartt's book—and it's also the focus of the fourth novel from Canadian writer Mandel, Station Eleven. Years after a devastating flu decimates the population, a young woman is on the deserted roads with a traveling theatre troupe, performing Shakespeare plays and playing music. Her talisman is a one-of-a-kind graphic novel that she guards carefully.
If the "bromance" between Theo and his Eastern European best friend, Boris, was what got you hooked on The Goldfinch, we recommend the work of Andrew Smith, especially Grasshopper Jungle. Smith can hold his own with Tartt when it comes to teenaged-boy speak, and the BFFs in this book, Austin and Robby, are almost as debauched as Theo and Boris—and Austin is even Polish.
What do you think, readers? What would you suggest reading after The Goldfinch?
RELATED CONTENT: Read our previous "Read it Next" posts.
Peter Carey, one of the few authors to win the Booker Prize twice, returns next year with a new novel. Amnesia (Knopf) will be published on January 13.
The story follows an Australian journalist who is investigating a link between the U.S. and Australian prison systems that was revealed when a computer virus allowed the release of not only several thousand Australian asylum-seekers, but also opened the doors of some five thousand U.S. prisons. Did the attacker do it for the lulz, or is this a case of hacktivism?
Carey's British editor calls the book "a thrilling and witty journey to the place where the cyber underworld of radicals and hackers collides with international power politics" that "could not be more timely."
Will you read it?
Anita Diamant is known for her thought-provoking novels about women's lives, from Biblical times (as in her 1997 bestseller The Red Tent) to the present day (2005's The Last Days of Dogtown). She's returning this December with her first novel in five years, The Boston Girl (Scribner).
The novel tells the story of Addie Baum, born in 1900 to Jewish parents who have recently arrived in Boston. Though the Baums came to America to get a better life for their three daughters, the precocious Addie's world is almost unrecognizable to them. Told in the voice of the 85-year-old Addie, who is looking back on her life, The Boston Girl becomes the story of the 20th century and the ever-changing roles of women within it.
Will you read it?
RELATED CONTENT: Don't miss our previous coverage of Anita Diamant.
First Fiction Month may be winding down, but not to worry—there are plenty of new voices to look forward to this fall. Here's a sneak peek at some of our most anticipated debuts for next season.
We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas (S&S). Thomas sold his debut for a startling $1 million—not a bad payday for an English teacher. It's the story of an Irish-American family chasing the American dream across three generations that's already being compared to The Corrections. Worthy? We'll find out.
A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride (Coffee House Press). Published in the Commonwealth last year, this first novel is a challenging stream-of-consciouness narrative, told from the perspective of a young girl, that proved a tough sell: McBride spent most of a decade shopping it around before finding a home with a small press. But its vital, visceral voice—one UK reviewer called the book "an instant classic"—earned it the Bailey's Prize for Women's Fiction for 2014. Will it be equally lauded by American critics?
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (Norton). Set in the rigid society of 17th-century Amsterdam, this jewel box of a debut follows a young wife after her marriage to a wealthy merchant. But when her new husband gives her gives her a miniature replica of their home, strange things start happening . . .
Fives and Twenty-Fives by Michael Pitre (Bloomsbury). Though many novels have come from the Iraq War, Pitre's stands out as one of the first to include the Iraqi perspective as well as that of the occupying forces, demonstrating once again that despite appearances, there are no winners when it comes to conflict.
The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith (Harper). Smith's heart-rending debut takes Revolutionary-era North Carolina as its setting, where three generations of women and the men they love contend with a very imperfect world. Smith excels at depicting not only how characters from this time lived, but how they thought, how they view the world through the lens of religion and myth.
How to Build a Girl by Catlin Moran (Harper). Humorist, feminist and pop culture icon Catlin Moran wades into the waters of fiction with her debut, a semi-autobiographical look at a young girl's coming-of-age in the Midlands in the 1980s.
Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville (Riverhead). Fairy tales and psychoanalysis combine in this darkly compelling, magical debut that follows twin storylines: one about a girl in 1899 Vienna who is certain she is a machine, and the other about another child living 40 years later who clings to the stories of the Grimm brothers to shut out the approach of war.
The Ploughmen by Kim Zupan (Holt). A 77-year-old hired gun awaiting trial strikes up an unlikely friendship with a lawman just starting out in Zupan's haunting Western, set in the author's native Montana.
Crooked River by Valerie Geary (Morrow). Fans of writers like Tana French and Laura McHugh will enjoy Geary's atmospheric first novel, set in the Pacific Northwest. Two young girls find a body in the river, and their father is the prime suspect in the murder. Can they prove his innocence?
If I Knew You Were This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go by Judy Chicurel (Amy Einhorn). Composed of linked short stories, this first novel follows a young woman's coming of age in the 1970s and should please fans of Cowboys Are My Weakness or The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing.
What debuts are you looking forward to this year? Tell us in the comments!
Today's guest post comes from writer Shelly King, whose first novel, The Moment of Everything, goes on sale next week. It's set in a used bookstore, where former Silicone Valley employee Maggie has found part-time work after the failure of the tech startup she was working for. When Maggie finds a lovers' conversation written in the margins of a used copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover, she embarks on a quest to discover who they were—and what happened to their romance.
In a guest post, King—who moved to California from the South and once worked for a Silicon Valley startup herself—explains the mystery of found objects and shares some of her favorite found objects in literature.
I was 15 the first time I found a letter in a used book. I was in Montana visiting family and had wandered into a used bookstore. There I found Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters. I hadn’t read Hemingway yet, but I knew he was an important writer and that he’d spent a lot of time in Africa. I opened the front flap and saw it was covered in writing. It was the letter from a father to a young boy.
The details are fuzzy, but I remember the father was traveling in Africa. I thought it was nice that he was sending his son a book about another man who had been to Africa. He missed his son. He signed the letter “Papa.” I fell in love with this letter. But I didn’t buy the book. I didn’t have much money, so I left it behind. But that letter stayed with me. I thought of it for days, wishing that I’d bought that book, not for the letters of Hemingway, but for that letter written in the book. I finally told my mother about it, and she took me back to the bookstore. But the book was gone.
About 15 years after I first found that letter from the father in Africa, I was in Seattle at another used bookstore where I saw a copy of Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters. I smiled thinking of that other copy I found years ago in Montana. I opened up the front flap, and there it was—the handwritten letter from a father traveling in Africa to his son. Only this time I was more familiar with Hemingway, whom I now knew was also known as Papa. And this time, I noticed the letter was dated decades before this book was published. When I looked closer, I realized the letter wasn’t written in the book. It was a reproduction of a Hemingway letter that decorated the inside flap.
Even though the letter was not what I thought it was, I’m grateful for my misunderstanding. It started a lifelong search for treasures of the past in old books. Over the years, I’ve found drawings, letters, postcards, ticket stubs, restaurant receipts, photographs, recipes, and inscriptions. The people who owned these books before left a bit of their lives in them. I love not just the story the author intended but also the story of the book itself.
My favorite novels (and one play!) that have someone discovering something in a book:
Magic and reality combine in award-winning short-story writer Josh Weil's first novel, The Great Glass Sea. Set in an alternate present-day Russia where a city is kept under the titular glass greenhouse in a world of perpetual daylight in order to maximize crop production, it follows twin brothers Yarik and Dima. Once inseparable, the brothers are now on opposite sides of a controversy: Yarik is working to support the government that placed the citizens of Petroplavilsk under the sea, while Dima dreams of a return to their childhood farm and the freedom of a day where the sun rises and sets. When circumstances force the brothers even further apart, they must decide just how much family means.
Click here to read our full review.
Not all of us can follow an author from the very beginning—sometimes it takes a breakout with book #2 to prove an author's mettle. These four authors made a splash with their second novels in 2014, so why not go back to where it all began and check out their debuts?
Fans of this year's remarkable Astonish Me shouldn't miss Shipstead's 2012 debut, Seating Arrangements, perhaps the smartest book ever written about the leadup to a wedding. As our reviewer put it, "Like J. Courtney Sullivan in Maine or Galt Niederhoffer in The Romantics, Shipstead places deeply flawed characters in an idyllic setting and creates an unforgettable world."
Readers who were swept up in Rachman's worldwind world tour of a second novel, The Rise & Fall of Great Powers, might be surprised by the smaller stage he set for his first novel, The Imperfectionists, a story of journalists working at a struggling paper in Rome. Our reviewer said, "Perhaps the unnamed paper is deserving of the destiny that looms over it in these stories. But by the time its fate has become clear, it’s hard not to greet it with a touch of sympathy engendered by Rachman’s vivid tales."
Did you love the dysfunctional family dynamics in Straub's summer hit, The Vacationers? You might be intrigued to learn that her debut novel, 2012's Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures, was a completely different sort of book. A historical novel set in the Golden Age of Hollywood, it followed a young Wisconsin woman's quest for fame and fortune. Our reviewer called the book "a marvel," going on to say that "Her silken writing conjures images of old Hollywood, all red lipstick and Glenn Miller, but even more impressively, Straub paints a vivid portrait of a woman torn between her desire for fame and what she must leave behind to win it."
Makkai's second novel, The Hundred-Year House, is an ambitious story of one very unusual home and the lives of its residents over the last hundred years. It's a sort of literary scavenger hunt, where the seemingly diverse tales come together in a satisfying way. Her first novel, The Borrower, was one of the most acclaimed debuts of 2011, earning praise from the likes of Richard Russo. Our reviewer described the book as "a wonderful celebration of books and friendship, brimming with literary references and plenty of laughs." A book about books? Something we can totally get behind.
Exiles and emigrés haunt the pages of Vanessa Manko's evocative debut novel, which spans decades and continents. The story begins in 1913 Connecticut, where Russian emigré Austin has come to escape the pogroms and turmoil of his native land. After several years of hard work, he can afford to leave his cheap men's lodging house for a real boarding house, where he finds not only a room that only belongs to him, but an American woman he loves. But when the Bolshevik Revolution really takes hold in Russia, Austin finds himself under suspicion and expelled from his new home along with Julia, whom he marries at Ellis Island just before they are sent to Russia. Will he ever find his way back to the country he longs to call home?
The newspapers were calling it the Soviet Ark. The New York Times, January 1920, ran photos. A massive ship, anchored at Ellis Island on a bitter day. They stood on the peir amid the wind and ice. The sky opaque, flurries like chipped ice. The only sounds the murmur of men's conversations, seagulls crying, the moan of the boat on the day's hard air. The anchor cranking like a scream; the massive chain lifted out of the ocean, iron red with rust, calcified with sea salt, seaweed. Just moments before, he'd sat on the long benches of the waiting room, the very room he'd sat in only years prior eager to get beyond the bottled-glass windows whose light he knew was day in America—a country behind glass, the new country's light. . . . Somewhere, a man named Hoover had his name on an index card: Voronkov. Affirmed anarchist. Bail set at $10,000. Deported.
What are you reading this week?
Fall always brings a bounty of fabulous books, and this year is no different. Here's our guide to the 30+ books we're looking forward to seeing in bookstores this fall.
Lock In by John Scalzi (Tor).
The Hugo Award-winning author sets his latest in the near future, where a very contagious virus causes 1% of the people it infects to become locked in their bodies.
The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Smith Thompson (S&S).
Set in North Carolina during the American Revolution, this accomplished first novel is a lyrical exploration of one man's loves and losses.
Mr. Tall by Tony Earley (Little, Brown).
The acclaimed author of Jim the Boy returns with a collection of linked short stories.
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (Random House). Welcome to a world where lifespans are negotiable—Mitchell's latest is a tour de force of imagination, suspense and literary chops.
The Secret Place by Tana French (Viking). A new crime novel from the talented French is always news. This time, she's delving into the secret-filled world of an all-girl's school, which just might be harboring a murderer.
The Children Act by Ian McEwan (Doubleday). Would it feel like fall without an Ian McEwan novel? Here, the action takes place in family court, where a successful judge faces personal challenges as well as a complicated case that pits faith against medicine.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Knopf). Yes, we know you think you've been there, done that when it comes to post-apocalyptic fiction, but Mandel brings something fresh to the genre with a story that focuses on what remains after most everything is lost.
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. In a novel that early readers say could be her best yet, the British writer turns to 1920s London, where a widow and her daughter take on a young married couple as boarders—needless to say, things don't work out quite as planned.
Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle (FSG). The lead singer of The Mountain Goats makes his fiction debut with a world-bending story featuring a role-playing game and its mysterious creator. (read more)
The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis (Little, Brown). When an Israeli politician finds himself attacked by his own for taking a moderate position on settlements in the West Bank, he retreats to Yalta, the place he vacationed as a child. But in running away, he is instead forced to confront his past.
Rooms by Lauren Oliver (Ecco). The popular YA author makes her adult debut in this story of a family who inherit a mansion when their father dies—along with its ghosts.
A Sudden Light by Garth Stein (S&S). In his first adult book since the runaway bestseller The Art of Racing in the Rain, Stein returns to the Pacific Northwest—but this time, he's telling a story of fathers and sons.
Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S.C. Gwynne (Scribner). A journalist whose first work of history (Empire of the Summer Moon) was a bestseller and a Pulitzer Prize finalist, Gwynne applies his stellar storytelling skills to the story of Stonewall Jackson, a mediocre professor from the Virginia Military Institute who became one of the Confederacy’s most brilliant generals.
The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher and Other Stories by Hilary Mantel (Holt). As the world eagerly awaits the final volume in her Wolf Hall Trilogy, Mantel throws us a bone with this collection of accomplished short fiction. (read more)
The Prince of Los Cocuyos by Richard Blanco (Ecco). The first Latino and openly gay inaugural poet (he read his poem “One Today” at Barack Obama’s second inauguration) offers a lyrical, hilarious account of growing up in Miami as the son of Cuban immigrants.
Nora Webster by Colm Toibin (Scribner). In his seventh novel, the acclaimed Irish novelist follows the quiet life of a widowed young mother, who must bring her four sons up alone in her small community of Wexford, Ireland.
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James (Riverhead). In this literary tour de force that recalls Toni Morrison, James takes on Jamaican history through the attempted assassination of reggae star Bob Marley.
Some Luck by Jane Smiley (Knopf). The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Thousand Acres is back with an ambitious new project: a trilogy that spans from 1920-today. This first installment introduces the Langdon family, an Iowa farming clan at the center of her story. (read more)
Lila by Marilynne Robinson (FSG). Robinson returns to the quiet Iowa community she created in Gilead with the story of yet another of the town's inhabitants: Lila, the mysterious young woman who comes to town and marries John Ames. (read more)
The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue (Picador). Donohue is known for his ability to craft eerie and magical tales. His latest is no exception: It tells the story of a young boy whose talent for drawing monsters suddenly starts affecting the real world.
The Innovators by Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster). Journalist and author Isaacson, who has penned biographies of Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin, turns now to the "Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks" who brought us the computer and the Internet. His narrative reveals the contributions of little known engineers and programmers, as well as the stars of the show (Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Larry Page, etc.).
Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash (Ecco). One of America's most beloved Southern writers returns with another story of modern-day Appalachia, where a young park ranger and a longtime sheriff join forces to solve a crime that threatens their community.
Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult (Ballantine). An elephant sanctuary is at the heart of Picoult's latest, which finds a lonely young woman attempting to track down the mother who left her without a word a decade before.
The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon (Bloomsbury). The sequel to The Bone Season promises more thrills in a near-future London, where clairvoyant Paige Mahoney continues to uncover the secrets of the Rephaim. [EDITOR'S NOTE: This book has been moved to January 2015.]
Prince Lestat by Anne Rice (Knopf). Rice returns to the genre that made her famous with her latest, which brings back everyone's favorite vampire: Lestat. Vampires around the world are being massacred, and Lestat may be their only hope.
Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story by Rick Bragg (Harper). It’s an author/subject match made in heaven: The chronicler of hardscrabble Southern life recounts the adventures of the hell-raising musician who brought us “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” and “Great Balls of Fire.”
Yes Please by Amy Poehler (Dey Street). The first book from the SNL alum and “Parks and Recreation” star promises personal stories and advice on everything from sex to parenting. We hope it’s as funny and appealing as Poehler herself.
Let Me Be Frank with You by Richard Ford (Ecco). In case you couldn't guess by the title, Frank Bascombe (The Sportswriter) is back in Ford's latest book, which finds Frank attempting to put his life back together after Hurricane Sandy.
A Map of Betrayal by Ha Jin (Pantheon). The author of Waiting investigates the secrets that can be hidden within even the closest of families in his latest book, which veers between post-WWII China and the modern-day U.S.
Us by David Nicholls (Harper). The best-selling British writer, whose tear-jerker One Day was a dark horse hit back in 2009 and later became a film starring Anne Hathaway, returns this fall with a second novel that follows one man's attempt to rescue his broken marriage.
*Pub dates subject to change.