11 Books You Should Read Right Now

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Photo: Toby Hudson

The following selections come from tiny indie press and big publishers alike, and the prose styles range from functional to stylized to decidedly unorthodox. The protagonists are varied, too: a Chinese Muslim immigrant, trailer park teens, an abused Irish girl, a celebrated New York novelist, a serial killer. What these books have in common is they are not boring, and it’s likely at least one of them is the kind you would love, and gladly suggest to a friend.

Ugly Girls, by Lindsay Hunter
lindsay-hunter-ugly-girls

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You Should Read This If: You like voice-y prose, compelling plots, and/or memorable characters

Lindsay Hunter, proven purveyor of entertaining short stories featuring un-prissy, gloriously undignified characters, delivered in a prose style that is verbal, slangy, and slyly poignant, has written her first novel, and it is, happily, quite absorbing. Two young trailer park girls and head-butting best friends, Perry and Baby Girl, sneak out of their trailers, steal cars for thrills, and fall victim to a mysterious stalker, who claims to be a high school boy named “Jamey.” Hunter’s work is all about voice, and the voice of this book really draws me in. Also, the characters are what they call memorable — you feel as if you get to know them reading this book. #FP

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, by Eimear McBride
eimear-mcbride-a-girl-is-half-formed

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You Should Read This If: You like James Joyce and aren’t squeamish about violent sexual content

This book has been widely praised and laureled after the author, a Liverpool-born Irish woman, struggled for nine years to find a publisher. The word on Half-Formed Thing is that it reads a bit like Joyce, which is understandable, because the language of the book lives in a fragmentary conscious mind, that of an unnamed young woman whose father abandons her, mother berates her, who struggles to communicate with her brain-damaged brother, and who survives violent sexual abuse by strangers and family alike. You may find its prose hypnotic or you may find it repetitive and annoying. To me, the book is a unique marvel, and the protagonist and author are both, in a way, heroines, prevailers. #FP

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, by Elena Ferrante
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You Should Read This If: You like absorbing classic storytelling involving friendships and romance

The third book of the Neapolitan series of novels by pseudonymous Italian author Elena Ferrante is available, assuming you’ve already read and enjoyed the first two volumes. The series, and the mysterious Ferrante herself, are becoming an international sensation, with fans that include the great John Waters. The books are told by a narrator named Elena and mostly concern her tempestuous relationship with a childhood friend, Lila, and their changing fortunes as time passes and lovers come and go. Ferrante appears to be both a classic storyteller and a committed artist. #FP #T

Women in Clothes, Edited by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton
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You Should Read This If: You want to read many different women’s perspectives on what they wear and how it shapes their lives

A survey about personal style passed around among friends of the editors has evolved into a book filled with stories and thoughts about dressing and style from a diverse group of writers, activists, and artists, including Cindy Sherman, Kim Gordon, Kalpona Akter, Miranda July, and Roxane Gay. This book inverts the focus of the fashion/celebrity media, which relentlessly presents women’s outer appearances but typically not their personal histories or the thought processes behind their self-presentation. Includes interviews, essays, photos, and more. #FP #POC #LGBTQ

Preparation for the Next Life, by Atticus Lish
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You Should Read This If: You like carefully stylized prose and reading about non-bourgeois people

Here is an acclaimed debut novel published by Tyrant Books, which is run by the great Giancarlo DiTrapano and has an impressive track record of publishing not-boring books about which people actually give a shit (the press’s roster includes Marie Calloway and Scott McClanahan). Adding to the pedigree, Atticus is the son of Gordon Lish, Captain Fiction, tyrant of prose style. But Atticus has earned this book’s rave reviews with his own distinctive voice and a compelling love story involving a Chinese Muslim illegal immigrant and an Iraq War veteran. For me, the main attraction is the confident, spellbinding prose. #POC #MP

Letters from a Seducer, by Hilda Hilst
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You Should Read This If: You are down with provocative, formally challenging literature

This book, one of several by the celebrated avant-garde Brazilian author to finally be translated into English, is from a controversial tetralogy written toward the end of her life that was widely condemned as “pornographic.” Its content and form are equally challenging: the book consists of three different sections, the first of which is a series of highly sexual letters from a wealthy, amoral, depraved man named Karl to his chaste sister, Cordelia. The second part concerns a poet named Stamatius, who finds Karl’s letters and relates to them in a surprising way, which you’ll have to read the book to find out about. #FP #POC #T

Rome, by Dorothea Lasky
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You Should Read This If: You like unpretentious, personal, clever poems

Dorothea Lasky has been celebrated for a while now amongst online poets and small-press people, but more recently she has had poems in big-deal magazines and seems to be becoming ever more popular — you can check out “Porn” from this collection in the Paris Review as a good taste test for the book. Lasky often talks reflexively about the making of poems in the poems themselves, and in 2010 released a polemical chapbook called Poetry is Not a Project, which argues that writing poetry is an intuitive act moreso than part of an intellectual enterprise. I’m down with that idea, and I admire a great deal of these poems, which are approachable but also quite sly. #FP

300,000,000, by Blake Butler
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You Should Read This If: A dark, violent, weirdly-written book about an insane serial killer sounds appealing to you

Blake Butler, as co-founder of the now-defunct website HTMLGiant, has done a lot to build community amongst online-fluent authors and poets, especially the experimental writers who don’t fit in the mainstream. Butler’s consistent advocacy for dark, strange, experimental art as a critic at HTMLGiant and more recently as a columnist for Vice also bleeds into his fiction, never more so than in his recently published magnum opus, 300,000,000, which was inspired by, amongst other things, Roberto Bolano’s 2666. Butler’s book involves a serial killer named Gretch Nathaniel Gravey, who is piling up his victim’s bodies in his home, called the Black House, and a detective, E.N. Flood, who is charged with decoding Gravey’s bizarre and chilling diary entries. The way the book alternates between the diary entries and Flood’s sane analysis makes for an engaging reading experience, as long as you’re down with ceaseless carnage and Butler’s unorthodox prose style. #MP

Even Though I Don’t Miss You, by Chelsea Martin
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You Should Read This If: You like uncomfortably honest writing about contemporary relationships

This book, published by the indie press Short Flight/Long Drive Books, is a long confessional prose poem that probes the banality, bleakness, and affection of a contemporary relationship between educated, privileged, but somewhat aimless and broke young people. Some readers will identify in a very personal way with the protagonist’s confusion and constantly shifting emotions toward her boyfriend. And Martin’s deadpan sense of humor reminds me of Daria or Aubrey Plaza. #FP

10:04, by Ben Lerner
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You Should Read This If: You like intelligent, ambitious, highly autobiographical fiction

Ben Lerner’s debut novel, Leaving the Atocha Station, turned an already admired poet into an extremely celebrated novelist, and his follow-up, 10:04, self-reflexively examines the life of an extremely celebrated novelist trying to live up to expectations with his second novel. The meta-ness of the novel’s characters and events is not a gimmick but rather the engine of its ambition to, as Lerner puts it, “work my way from irony to sincerity in the sinking city, a would-be Whitman of the vulnerable grid.” It is a novel of contemporary New York, specifically the contemporary New York big-publishing literary world, and though the book’s interest in and candor about the author’s real life experience is compelling, to me its chief virtue is its smooth, detached prose, which describes with wry precision but carries the reader urgently, uncannily along to a somewhat surprising finish. #MP

Can’t and Won’t, by Lydia Davis
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You Should Read This If: You enjoy creative, witty, non-boring short fiction

This is the book if you’ve already read her Collected Stories and you, understandably, want even more from Lydia Davis, one of the few contemporary writers who seems destined to be remembered many decades from now. Davis has been widely praised for revitalizing and reimagining the short story until it can’t properly be called a “story” anymore — some pieces are merely one enigmatic sentence. What is also refreshing and wonderful about Davis is that she is experimental but not pretentious, and not above writing about recognizably contemporary humans doing common things people do. But her imagination, her stimulating turns of phrase, and her great sense of humor make her work consistently sui generis. #FP

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Info Key

FP = Female Protagonist(s) or Author
MP = Male Protagonist(s) or Author
LGBTQ = Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and/or Queer Protagonist(s) or Author
POC = Person of Color Author or Person or People of Color as Protagonist(s)
T = Translated from a different language