John Darnielle$14.95 $13.75
John Darnielle has a keen ear for the poetic intensity of adolescence—as is well documented his decades of music with The Mountain Goats, his breakout bestseller "Wolf in White Van." But I always urge people to check out his first book: a hidden gem in the already gem-strewn 33 1/3 series, a novella that takes the form of an '80s teen's psych-ward journal. It's giddy and angry and poignant and absolutely worth the read, Black Sabbath fan or no.
Every time I decide to re-read "Infect Your Friends and Loved Ones," I finish it in one sitting—sometimes, it feels like, without taking a breath. Truly: show me a better premise than a hormone-based dystopia populated by characters who feel like they just walked out of your local group-chat; a novella grappling with the chewier edges of trans identity and gender theory and apocalyptic romance set at the breakneck pace of speculative fiction. If any of the above sounds appealing to you, please do check out Peters's entire oeuvre—including her forthcoming novel "Detransition, Baby" (available for preorder now!).
An absolute must-read for fans of Throwing Muses, hardscrabble teenage memoir, and/or glowing, gem-like prose about the power of music. Hersh is a one-of-a-kind lyricist (some of which she includes throughout, alongside the events that inspired them), but she is also a canny, twitchy, funny, astute chronicler of that gummy period between childhood and adulthood, not to mention the life-long process of figuring out meaning-making.
We Are Proud to Present a Presentation about the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, from the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Yea
Jackie Sibblies Drury$14.95
I first came across playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury when a friend took me to see her Pulitzer Prize–winning "Fairview" last summer, after which I immediately went home and looked up everything she had ever done. Enter, "We are Proud to Present...": a play about trying to make a play about a little-acknowledged colonialist genocide. Like "Fairview," it turns the mechanics of theater in on themselves, and what results is by turn hilarious, furious, devastating—a plunge head-first into the sticky politics of remembering and retelling. (And for those dubious about reading a work that's meant to be staged, let it be known that there are gems hidden throughout the text; Drury's stage directions are as funny and conversational as they are vivid. You won't be left wanting.)
Paul La Farge$17.00 $15.64
If you, like me, find yourself obsessed with stories of literary obsession; if you’re a fan of weird fiction, metafiction, stories-within-stories, queering the canon; if you have even a passing interest in (the works and/or thorny reputations of) H. P. Lovecraft, William S. Burroughs, or cult-famous early sci-fi writers; if you're looking for a gorgeous puzzle-box of a novel—then I implore you to read this book. Using a literary mystery as his jumping-off point, La Farge toys with the sometimes razor-thin line between history and historical fiction, raising questions that threaten to linger, like stubborn ghosts, over your every reading experience to come.
J D Daniels$16.00 $14.72
J. D. Daniels writes like he's handing you a series of intricate contraptions, one at a time, in an order only he can divine. His control over his craft is total, and it's impressive as it is entertaining to watch his vision unfold over the course of this bracing series of essays (or "letters," to an unnamed, unacknowledged recipient). From a pummeling obsession with jiu-jitsu to a stint deck-handing in international waters to the psychological tear-down of a "group relations conference," Daniels delivers his far-flung missives in a tone at once plainspoken and clever. Highly recommended for fans—and especially for writers—of creative nonfiction looking to break open your brain a little, watch narrative come together in a new way.
Manuel Puig$15.95 $14.67
For those in search of some formal experimentation, here's a novel written almost entirely in unadorned dialogue—quote to quote, like a play without the stage direction. Our protagonists are two cellmates in an Argentine prison—one, a former window-dresser; the other, a staunch revolutionary—who reveal themselves to us and to one another mainly by describing movies in vivid detail. Lest that sound dull, know that what unfolds is a romance, a political thriller, a heart-rending study in the powers and limitations of language—truly, one of my all-time favorite books.
Janet Malcolm$15.95 $14.67
Janet Malcolm is an all-time master of the incisive sentence, and nowhere are her talents put to better use than in this examination of her own profession. At once a blistering take-down of writerly ego, a personal reckoning, and a true-crime courtroom drama, this book is a brisk, bracing read—a shot of lemon juice straight to the brain stem. If you're like me, you'll put it down and run out to buy her entire oeuvre.
Nick Flynn$15.95 $14.67
Nick Flynn’s memoir has an incredible log line—"a young man ends up working in the homeless shelter frequented by his estranged father"—and he does relate that tale, in all its complexity, incredibly well. But what makes me urge anyone who asks for recommendations to pick up this book is the way he goes about it: short, gorgeous chapters; rich, textured sentences. Poets with an ear for prose make for some of my favorite writers, and Flynn is a sterling example.
Elif Batuman$17.00 $15.64
As someone who loves windows into the obsessions of others, misadventures in literary translation, and the rubber-to-road minutiae of making an abstract passion into a vocation (for instance, what to say when you pick up a descendant of Isaac Babel at the airport), I feel like "The Possessed" was written just for me. Plus, as someone who is deathly under-read in the Great Russian Writers (yes, I know; mea culpa), I thoroughly appreciated Batuman's engaging, endearing crash-course. Fans of her best-selling novel "The Idiot" will also likely appreciate this nonfiction perspective on some familiar locales and scenarios.