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  • Jeff Somers 6:00 pm on 2018/05/23 Permalink
    Tags: , , first impressions are everything, haruki murakami, james baldwin, , virginia wolfe,   

    The Ideal First Novel for 10 “Must Read” Authors 

    The list of “must read” authors is long, and differs depending on who you ask. But usually, the authors on these lists are (or were) pretty prolific, and like a pool of frigid water, you may be nervous about diving into their backlists; better to dip your toe in first. Here are 10 ideal “starter novels” for authors guaranteed to be on many, if not most, lists of can’t miss writers.

    Author: William Faulkner. Start Here: The Reivers

    Experts will insist you must read The Sound and the Fury, a real bear of a book. A brilliant novel, sure, but also one that drops you into the deep end on page one and then proceeds to hold your head under water for 300 pages. Instead of tackling what can be a frustrating and difficult read, start with Faulkner’s final novel, The Reivers, which discards most of his heavier literary gambits to tell one of the most straightforward stories of his career, a lightly comedic picaresque about three unlikely car thieves in a small Mississippi town. That doesn’t mean it’s not a brilliant novel—it was award the Pulitzer Prize, after all—but it does mean you’ll get an intro to Faulkner’s sensibility and obsessions without having to parse his peculiarly Southern style.

    Author: William Shakespeare. Start Here: Much Ado About Nothing

    Just about everyone is assigned Shakespeare at some point in their high school or college careers, usually one of the major plays: Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth. Aside from the challenge of reading works designed to be performed, his major works can be dense with allusion, reference, and, of course, wordplay (and in archaic language, no less). What makes Much Ado About Nothing a good choice for a first attempt at the Bard is its sense of fun—it’s a comedy, so the wordplay is less about historical and political references and more about, well, making off-color jokes. Even on the page, it’s hilarious and playful, which takes away some of the anxiety and difficulty.

    Author: Stephen King. Start here: Misery

    King might seem a surprising inclusion here, but as his career has gone on, his literary cred has gone up by orders of magnitude; it could be argued that anyone seeking an understanding of modern literary culture has to be familiar with the man once crowned the Master of Horror. The problem, of course, is that King’s best-known books (the ones most likely to be recommended to a newcomer) are long, and often dense with references to other works written in his uniquely wordy style. Instead of diving into the infinite pages of The Stand, start with Misery, one of the tightest, most-focused books King has ever written. It has the fluid prose and creeping dread of his longer, much-beloved books, minus the over-arching mythology that clutters much of his work, and the supernatural aspects that might turn some folks off.

    Author: Leo Tolstoy. Start Here: The Death of Ivan Ilyich

    The words “Russian novel,” with their connotations of length, complexity, and dour atmosphere, might scare you off of Tolstoy and his contemporaries altogether. Still, some of the greatest works of fiction come from this literary tradition, and Tolstoy’s name is always on the list of challenging must-read authors. Before dedicating a year of your life to War and Peace, pick up the relatively short and uncomplicated The Death of Ivan Ilyich. It’s a powerful story that touches on the themes and techniques the author uses to incredible effect in his major works, but it’s accessible in a way that those other novels aren’t—and deals in universal themes you can appreciate even if you’re not a Russian living in the 19th century. It’s the perfect introduction to Tolstoy’s genius.

    Author: Charles Dickens. Start Here: Great Expectations

    Dickens is one of those oddball literary greats who is also much maligned. Bring up Dickens, and half the room will complain that he was paid by the word and thus wrote sloppy, structureless stories merely designed to entertain, with no greater artistic merit. The other half will ask what, exactly, is the problem with that? Dickens had a way with words, and his storytelling techniques revolutionized literature, but his books are a bit lengthy, and they do get quite complicated. Start with Great Expectations; it’s the novel that would result if you poured all of Dickens’ other works into a computer and had it gin up a more concise, sharply-organized version of the ideal Dickens story.

    Author: Haruki Murakami. Start Here: A Wild Sheep Chase

    Murakami is another mainstay on the list of challenging contemporary authors, and it’s usually because people recommend his most famous works first—dense bricks like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle1Q84 or Kafka on the Shore. These books are brilliant, but they are also difficult to parse, unique in both style and structure, not to mention imagery. To ease into Murakami, start with A Wild Sheep Chase—it’s got all the trademark weirdness, but within a much more straightforward story. It will help you feel like you “get” Murakami, even the parts you don’t, so by the time you read one of his “must-read” books, your head (probably) won’t explode. Some might argue for Norwegian Wood, which has more in common with traditional Western literature, but that one is an outlier in his bibliography, and won’t prepare you for the epic strangeness of his major works.

    Author: Ernest Hemingway. Start Here: The Sun Also Rises

    Anyone seeking to pad out their reading resume will be eventually directed to Hemingway; love him or hate him, there’s no arguing that his style and approach to fiction—both very consciously honed and developed—changed everything. His influence is immense, so you simply have to read him, if only to decide for yourself if his reputation is deserved. You might be advised to start with The Old Man and the Sea because of its relative simplicity and slim page count, but don’t—it’s an outlier, his final major work, and doesn’t represent what made Hemingway Hemingway. The Sun Also Rises is the ideal starting point—the story is engaging in ways that some of his other novels aren’t, yet it also features the Hemingway “style” at its most controlled.

    Author: Virginia Woolf. Start Here: A Room of One’s Own

    Virginia Woolf’s contributions to modern literature are everywhere—subtle, often hidden or downplayed, but there nonetheless. But reading her major works of fiction if you’re not a student of literature can be daunting, so instead, start with her excellent, book-length essay, which implements a fictional narrator and story, and yet is nonetheless considered non-fiction. If you think it takes great talent to pull something like off, you’d be right. The benefit of starting here is that you’ll get a much clearer idea of Woolf’s literary sensibility and thematic focus before diving into her fiction.

    Author: Toni Morrison. Start Here: The Bluest Eye

    Morrison is one of the most important writers of the 20th century; her work is consistently beautiful and poetic. But you shouldn’t just dive into Beloved—as incredible as that book is, it is one of the densest popular literary novels ever written, a book in which Morrison’s prose resonates, where an unexpected structure and layered allusions to myth and history form something greater than the sum of its parts. Instead, dip your toe in with The Bluest Eye, Morrison’s first novel, and which shows the beginnings of her style while keeping the number of characters and the branches of the plot more limited than her later work, which will allow you to pay closer attention to the smart things Morrison is doing on the edges (and to listen to that prose sing).

    Author: James Baldwin. Start Here: Giovanni’s Room

    If you’re looking to master 20th century American literature, you’re going to have to tackle Baldwin at some point. His work is beautiful, but it also focuses on social commentary and criticism; Baldwin was a writer who was part of the world instead of removed from it. This can make his novels challenging, because they are all doing three things at once—telling a story, teaching a lesson, and shining a light on some of society’s worst aspects. Giovanni’s Room is an early novel that has all of that, but the central love story—concerning a man who falls in love with another man while on honeymoon with his new wife—is primal and tortured, compelling and universal. When you consider how ahead of its time this book is, it’s essential reading—and the perfect intro to Baldwin’s body of work.

    The post The Ideal First Novel for 10 “Must Read” Authors appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 7:30 pm on 2018/02/27 Permalink
    Tags: , haruki murakami,   

    A Definitive Ranking of Every Book By Haruki Murakami Ever 

    Haruki Murakami is one of those writers who’s tipped each year as a Nobel contender; widely acclaimed as a genius, his distinctive magical-realist style is both deceptively simple and dense, delving into the interior lives of his characters in a very literal fashion. He’s a writer whose work seems to speak personally to everyone who reads it, because the lush imagery and universal themes of loss and nostalgic regret are easily and powerfully imagined as coded references to our own secret existence. In that sense, Murakami’s a literary magician.

    While every Murakami novel is great, and some might shy away from ranking the work of such a complex artist, we fear nothing and have many opinions. Here’s our ranking of the not-so-best Murakami novel to the best Murakami novel.

    Strange Library
    Murakami goes full fable in this novella, telling the story of a young boy imprisoned in the bowels of a library and forced, among other things, to memorize the books he’d requested. Things get darker and stranger as the boy learns his head will be cut off and his knowledge-soaked brain consumed once he’s done memorizing the books, but unlike other Murakami works there’s no anchor of an adult, real world to offset the oddness. It’s all oddness, and hints of a deeper story behind the boy’s fate aren’t explicit enough to elevate the story to Murakami’s usual level. While we stick by our belief that every Murakami book is worth reading, if you absolutely had to skip one, this might be it.

    Sputnik Sweetheart
    This story of personal journeys and evolution made explicit is told by an unnamed schoolteacher who becomes interested in one of his students, aspiring novelist Sumire. It’s 1957, and the Russian satellite Sputnik blinks overhead. Soon after Sumire becomes obsessed with an older married woman and jets off with her to a Greek island, the narrator receives a call telling him Sumire has disappeared. His arrival on the island and subsequent investigation leads to many incredible sequences but few answers, ultimately suggesting that Sumire’s personal journey has resulted in her literally crossing over into a new plane. But there are fewer answers here than in most Murakami books.

    After Dark
    While Murakami books as a rule tend to be better than the last novel you read, whatever it was, this one delves into purposeful frustration, focusing on the simple fact that while we all share space on this world, interacting and affecting each other’s lives, we’re fundamentally isolated. Murakami starts off with a young musician inviting himself to join agirl at her booth in an all-night diner, then follows them as they become involved in a web of other people’s lives. It’s well done and filled with wonderful moments, yet the weight of its core theme—loneliness as a fundamental human state—hangy heavy.

    South of the Border, West of the Sun
    This muted, elegiac novel tells the story of lonely only child Hajime, who has an intense but sexless friendship with Shimamoto, a girl crippled by polio. When their families move away, they lose touch, and Hajime goes on to build a thoroughly conventional and successful life—money, wife, children. Then Shimamoto suddenly reappears, and their connection springs back to life so powerfully Hajime gladly leaves his settled life behind in order to join her on a mysterious journey. They have a brief, incendiary affair—and then Shimamoto vanishes again, and Hajime is left to return to a life he thought he’d escaped. The themes are powerful, and the book lands some gut-wrenching concepts, despite its loose conversational style.

    Absolutely on Music
    Eavesdropping on a conversation between Murakami and Seiji Ozawa, former conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, is exactly as enjoyable and interesting as you might imagine (spoiler alert: very). These two smart, articulate, and passionate artists ramble over musical topics in surprising and unexpected thrusts, and if you found yourself sitting behind them at a coffee shop you’d likely sit for an extra hour or two, mesmerized. As a book, it’s interesting if slight, and best suited to those with some level of musical knowledge. But as a window into a level of intellectual discourse most of us can only aspire to, it’s a read for everyone.

    Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973
    Murakami’s first and second novels are so closely connected they might be considered one long novel (and have been published together in a single edition). These early efforts display a confident, mature writing style that is immediately recognizable as Murakami. Beautifully written, terribly sad, and delving into issues of loss and loneliness combined with that powerless sense of suddenly realizing your life has gone wrong when it’s too late to fix it, these are two very good novels that showcase the master’s themes from page one.

    Underground
    This work of nonfiction detailing the sarin gas attacks in the Tokyo subway is compelling, powerful, and masterfully crafted—and it’s also the least “Murakami” book he’s ever written. The author trimmed back his surrealist style in order to take on this horrific real-world event, making for a fantastic work of history and journalism.

    Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
    Murakami once again dialed back the magical realism for this novel, telling the story of a man whose four best friends from childhood suddenly and inexplicably cut him off when he was in his second year of university. For the next sixteen years, Tsukuru Tazaki is haunted by this cruel mystery, feeling destined to be alone, until his girlfriend pushes him to finally confront the past and find some answers. His quest for those answers takes place both within and without, as he travels around playing detective in his own life, the occasional flourish of magical realism confined to his dreams and imaginings. It’s a fine story, and emotionally affecting, if slim.

    What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
    Your mileage will vary with this one (that just happened). On the one hand, it’s a complete departure in every way from Murakami’s style and usual topics, being an edited assemblage of his essays on running, his diary entries, and some fresh anecdotes from his running life. On the other, you can see many of the seeds that wind up in Murakami’s fiction here, making it an occasionally revelatory read for fans—and some of the biographical detail concerning his transition into writing is fascinating. For serious runners, there’s plenty in here that will be compelling, but if you’ve never strapped on a marathon bib you might find the narrow focus a bit slow going.

    Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman
    While many of the images and ideas in these stories are amazing, they often withhold an easy and definitive explanation of events, which works for some readers more than others. Story after story presents the bizarre and fanciful—a mirror that shows a reflection that is somehow “off,” only to reveal the mirror doesn’t exist at all, or a man making love who imagines strings leading to alternate realities. The effect is haunting and transient, and the book displays an undercurrent of limitation that shows this sense of frustration is purposefully wrought.

    Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
    A double-barreled novel that exists half in this world, half in another, exploring themes of consciousness and its relation to our subconscious minds, this is the book that makes many readers fall completely in love with Murakami…or not. It’s told in two converging narratives, one in which a Calcutec in a near-future Japan uses his subconscious mind as an encryption key, and one where an unnamed narrator is entering a place known only as The Town, a settlement surrounded by an impenetrable wall in which no one is allowed to have a shadow—or a mind. Slowly, the two narratives converge, and whether you find it obsession-worthy (and many do) will depend on how much you love Murakami’s beautiful style, ambitious ideas, and the sheer strangeness factor.

    The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
    Lucid dreams, mind control, and an impossible labyrinth of a hotel—this isn’t a book for the faint of heart. Although it starts off with a deceptively simple (and very Murakami-like) story of a missing cat and a timid husband named Toru, Murakami goes all in on the magical side of magical realism here, telling the story of Toru’s wife, kidnapped by his brother-in-law and imprisoned in a hotel made of infinite hallways, kept there by the brother’s ability to dominate minds. Toru summons the courage to rescue his wife and battles the evil brother in a series of dreamscapes, anchored by Toru’s narration, so skillfully done it’s easy to overlook.

    Norwegian Wood
    People usually recommend Norwegian Wood to Murakami newbies because it’s his least fantastical story, almost entirely rooted in a solid, recognizable reality. The story of a middle-aged man who hears a snippet of the titular Beatles song in an airport and begins thinking back on his youth and the intense romantic and sexual relationships he had combines many classic Murakami themes into a beautiful and affecting story—but if it’s your first Murakami novel, you may have done yourself a disservice. You should arrive at Norwegian Wood somewhere in the middle of your Murakami reading, as a breather, a change of pace, and a palate cleanser. The lack of signature magical thinking simply means it’s not as Murakami as the others. It’s not surprising that Murakami made a conscious effort to shed the magical realism that marked his earlier books—and it isn’t surprising that he immediately course corrected afterward.

    Men Without Women
    Murakami’s most recent collection is a triumph of craft in which he takes the deprecated wilds of male middle age and blazes fresh, wholly unexpected trails through them. Seven men in different circumstances struggle with relationships new and old. What’s remarkable about these stories, aside from the skill involved in their creation, is how Murakami makes these men routinely pathetic; they waste away, they fail the women they love, they realize their own inadequacies and judge themselves harshly. Taken together, they’re like a dreamy, beautiful midlife crisis, the work of a master well aware of his own mortality and limitations and seeking illumination—illumination you can share.

    The Elephant Vanishes
    This collection of stories bursts with the sort of off-center energy that makes people either love or hate Murakami’s longer works. The seventeen stories zig and zag around reality. The title story involves an elephant that shrinks until it vanishes while its handler grows monstrous, another story involves a man’s home invaded by tiny “TV people” who take over his entire existence, while another story depicts a desperate couple resorting to violence in order to solve their late-night fast food cravings. Reading this collection is like getting on a roller coaster without a safety cage and trying to hang on—the ideas come fast and furious, incredible things are tossed at you without apology or explanation, and when you stagger off the ride at the end you realize you just had an experience that will stay with you forever.

    1Q84
    This book was a sensation when it published, establishing Murakami as an icon. Set in an alternate 1984, the story, at its core, explores the idea that a single decision or action can change an individual’s future. It involves a fringe religious cult, a personal trainer named Aomame who hunts and assassinates men who abuse women, a mathematical genius named Tengo who writes ad copy, and the parallel worlds in which they find themselves. The novel deals in doubles, exploring the conflict between the rigid rules of religion and the often fluid impulses of our inner selves. Although it’s dense and complex, at its core it’s a surprisingly light love story, as Aomame and Tengo realize they shared a single moment long ago that has marked them ever since, and is so powerful it’s drawing their two worlds together.

    A Wild Sheep Chase
    Is there a literal sheep in this book? There sure is. A story about a man who takes on a soulless corporate empire with infinite money and power shouldn’t be this fun, but the sheer joy Murakami seems to take in telling it shines through. Ostensibly a mystery in which an advertising executive is ordered to locate a very special sheep based on a photograph—or else—it riffs on the hardboiled detective genre. And while it starts out as a high-stakes romp, by the end it deepens into a beautiful, deeply sad story of trauma and lost things. It’s a breathtaking achievement, demonstrating the precise control Murakami has over tone and ideas, even in translation.

    After the Quake
    Murakami moved back to Japan after the devastating Kobe Earthquake, and the six stories that resulted from this experience rank among his best fiction of any length. He took hold of the sense of emptiness and nihilism trailing an epic disaster and incorporated it into stories that explore it while somehow curving toward optimism and hope instead of despair. The stories are less complex than his novels, but the sense of a malleable reality remains, as characters use storytelling and hallucinogenic experiences to stumble upon truths simultaneously universal and intimate. While these stories may not be the most “Murakami” ever composed, they are easily some of the most powerful works he’s ever produced.

    Kafka on the Shore
    Murakami’s second most famous novel tells two stories that intersect in non-obvious ways. In one, a teen boy who calls himself Kafka runs away from home and hides in a private library, reading books and being hunted for a murder he may or may not have committed. In another, an old man becomes a professional cat locater, and embarks on his first long-distance journey from home in search of a specific cat. Murakami digs deep into spirituality and religion here, and what’s truly wonderful is the moment you realize that the old man’s story is actually filling in blanks in Kafka’s story—that these aren’t separate stories at all. Brilliant? Brilliant.

    Dance Dance Dance
    One thing we can all agree on: if Dance, Dance, Dance isn’t in your Murakami top three, your Murakami List is canceled. A sequel to A Wild Sheep Chase that centers on the search for a character who disappears toward the end of that earlier novel, it weaves together two mysteries—one spiritual, one depressingly and grossly physical—and themes of late-stage capitalism. It includes mysterious women, a hotel of strange origins, a long-lost friend, good food, jazz, and some of the most chilling and surprising scenes in the author’s canon. Read Sheep Chase first, then dive into this unforgettable, metaphysical wonderland of a tale.

    The post A Definitive Ranking of Every Book By Haruki Murakami Ever appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 6:30 pm on 2017/05/22 Permalink
    Tags: , haruki murakami, , norwegian wood, rhythm of life, telegraph avenue   

    5 Novels in Which Music Is a Character 

    Music—varied and endless—is such a part of our lives, most of us barely notice its presence on a conscious level. In our earbuds, in our cars, at home, and at work, music is the common thread that ties all of us together. We’re all constantly curating a soundtracks of our lives. The writers of these five books get that—they understand music isn’t just background noise, it’s part of us, and even sometimes takes on a life of its own, becoming a character in our dramas, our comedies, and our tragedies.

    The Vinyl Detective: The Run-Out Groove, by Andrew Cartmel
    Cartmel’s genius lies in noticing the similarities between the strange, brilliant detectives of traditional mysteries and the men and women who obsessively search out musical rarities. The Vinyl Detective makes a living finding rare recordings for collectors, and in this second outing, he’s hired to find a legendary single cut by a ’60s icon who recently committed suicide—and to locate her kidnapped son, by the way. The song supposedly contains a satanic backward masking, and her estate wants to disprove the rumor. The real fun is the exploration of a subculture that tours us through the tiny record shops and incredible sound systems of people who make the term “music fan” seem a bit quaint.

    High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby
    It seems like the old-school record shop culture has been on the cusp of complete destruction for decades now. Rob Fleming is the ideal example of it: a thirtyish man with an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music and a fetish for reducing everything down to Top Five lists. When he applies his list-making to his personal life, he begins an introspective journey that’s scored to his favorite music. Ironically (brilliantly), Rob rediscovers his love for music as a passion instead of a collection of knowledge as he moves through his past love affairs and figures himself out.

    Telegraph Avenue, by Michael Chabon
    Detailing the lives of the people who own, work at, and try to save struggling record store Brokeland Records in California, Chabon effortlessly ties basically the entire scope of modern American life to the music that we all listen to. The story is big, with plenty of characters, side-plots, pop culture references, and political asides—yet it’s all tied together by music. Chabon doesn’t get into music theory or arguments over genres; instead, he writes a story where music is the silent partner in every scene, commenting on and augmenting every line and description. Put on your favorite playlist and hunker down with this one.

    An Equal Music, by Vikram Seth
    Chamber music isn’t on the charts much, but for those who love it, it can be a powerful experience. Michael Holme is a talented if unexceptional violinist, teaching lackluster students and playing with a successful quartet. One day, he spies an old lover on the bus, a pianist named Julia he abandoned years ago. He pursues her, and the two rekindle their love affair, despite her marriage and encroaching deafness—an affliction that will end her musical career. Seth explores the linked tragedy of a love that exists with an expiration date and the loss of artistic expression, conveying the horror of losing something intrinsic to your very sense of self. Music soaks into every page of the book, forming the connective tissue between characters and events, commenting on every moment, and enriching the reader’s appreciation of the gifts we all get to enjoy, but never truly own.

    Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami
    Using an orchestral version of the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” in much the same way Proust used his madeleine, Murakami’s protagonist Toru Watanabe is moved to sink into a reverie about his past. The song is repeatedly referenced throughout the text, as Toru remembers his love affair with beautiful, delicate Naoko. The song becomes a Greek chorus of regret and loss, rising up like a ghost at key moments, altering the tone of the story in unexpectedly powerful ways. You can easily imagine Murakami listening to Rubber Soul on repeat as he wrote; listening to it yourself while reading it creates an incredible sense of looping time and interconnectedness.

    The post 5 Novels in Which Music Is a Character appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jenny Shank 3:30 pm on 2017/02/27 Permalink
    Tags: , , daisy johnson, , haruki murakami, jenny zhang, lesley nneka arimah, , otessa moshfegh, , , tessa hadley, Tim Gautreaux   

    7 Spectacular Story Collections to Read in 2017 

    Short story fans are in for a treat in 2017, with so many collections by long-established masters and intriguing debut authors that it will be hard to choose where to start reading. Here are seven can’t-miss collections to watch out for this year.

    Signals: New and Selected Stories by Tim Gautreaux (January 17)
    Tim Gautreaux is a contemporary short story virtuoso, and this collection of new and selected tales offers a great chance for readers unfamiliar with him to catch up, and for fans to reminisce. Gautreaux’s home territory is the South, especially Louisiana, and his stories draws on and refreshes classic tropes of Southern literature. From a priest with a taste for brandy who must comfort a dying man who has sinned creatively all his life (“Good for the Soul”), to a grandpa who attempts his chores while babysitting a passel of grandchildren (“Welding with Children”), to a piano turner hired to visit an instrument at the decaying mansion of an eccentric widow (“The Piano Tuner”), Gautreaux captures messy lives with humor, heart, and grace.

    Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh (January 17)
    Ottessa Moshfegh’s debut novel Eileen, a dark literary thriller about a woman who escapes from a New England town, was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize last year, and a movie is reportedly in the works. She has followed it up with her first collection of short stories, many of which were previously published in The Paris Review and The New Yorker. Moshfegh’s stories shock and surprise as she draws you into the quirky worlds of her characters, from an unconventional teacher at a Catholic high school (“Bettering Myself”) to an old man who becomes obsessed with the young woman who buys the house next door (“An Honest Woman”).

    What it Means When A Man Falls From The Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah (April 4)
    Minneapolis-based writer Lesley Nneka Arimah’s debut collection of short stories promises to surprise and entertain with her unique style of mythic realism. In “Who Will Greet You At Home,” a Nigerian woman must choose a material out of which to create her child. The title story, which won the 2016 Caine Prize for African Writing, is set in a future world where mathematicians eat other people’s grief.

    Fen by Daisy Johnson (May 2)
    Daisy Johnson sets her stories in East Anglia, an area in the east of England that’s full of marshlands, hence the title. Johnson mixes magic and folklore in freely as her characters have uncanny encounters, often with the animal world: a dead boy has been reincarnated as a fox in “There Was a Fox in the Bedroom,” and an albatross storms into a pregnant woman’s kitchen in “The Superstition of an Albatross.”

    Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami (May 9)
    International literary powerhouse Haruki Murakami will publish a new story collection in May. The seven tales feature men who have ended up alone, and are laced with many of the standard elements of Murakami’s fiction, including mysterious women and Beatles references.

    Bad Dreams and Other Stories by Tessa Hadley (May 16)
    New Yorker regular Tessa Hadley is a prolific British writer whose stories capture all phases of the lives of women with rare sensitivity. In “Deeds Not Words,” the personal and political struggles of two female British schoolteachers are set against the outbreak of World War I. In the title story, Hadley enters a child’s thoughts, fears, and skin as she wakes in the middle of the night while her family sleeps on around her, and creates a mess that her mother, upon waking, thinks her husband has caused.

    Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang (August 1)
    Girls creator Lena Dunham has a new publishing imprint, and her first choice as an editor is this collection of stories by Jenny Zhang. Zhang’s stories explore the lives of Chinese American girls and young women growing up in New York City, as in “Hold On, Sour Grape,” in which the narrator reveals the degredations of living in Bushwick with little money, and her parents keep a list of “things we need to buy immediately or else we’ve just lost all human dignity whatsoever.”

    The post 7 Spectacular Story Collections to Read in 2017 appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Sarah Skilton 4:30 pm on 2016/08/12 Permalink
    Tags: banana yoshimoto, , found in translation, fuminori nakamura, haruki murakami, hiromi kawakami, hiroshi ishizaki, japan, japanese literature, keigo higashino, kenzaburo oe, miyuki miyabe, natsuo kirino,   

    8 Great Japanese Books in Translation That Aren’t by Haruki Murakami 

    We love Murakami, and all the cats, jazz, whiskey bars, mysterious women, and glimpses at modern Japanese life that populate his books. But there’s a world of magnificent novels out there by Japanese authors who don’t receive as much U.S. press for their work. If you’ve already devoured Murakami’s story collections (like Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman) and his acclaimed novels (including Kafka on the Shore, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, and IQ84), it’s time to add these contemporary Japanese books to your end-of-summer reading list. There’s something for everyone: mysteries and thrillers, teen horror, relationship dramas, and twisted, yakuza-related crime stories, all taking place in locales that may be unfamiliar to American readers. Each will get your imagination churning and your passport begging for stamps. Here’s a sample of our favorite modern books from the land of the rising sun.

    Out, by Natsuo Kirino (translated by Stephen Snyder)
    Written in omniscient-narrator style, with multiple POVs, this book will appeal to fans of Breaking Bad and Quentin Tarantino. It’s smart, darkly comedic, and shockingly violent—but this time, a group of ladies are the ones taking names, leaving body counts, and, well, chopping up the evidence. Meet Masako, Kuniko, Yoshie, and Yayoi, four women who work the midnight to 5:30 a.m. shift at a boxed lunch factory. Respectively, they are the mother of a hikikomori teenage recluse; a materialistic, selfish woman in debt up to her eyelids; a cash-strapped widow caring for an ungrateful mother-in-law; and a young wife seething with resentment toward her abusive, unfaithful husband. Will they get away with murder? And will we root for them or against them?

    Chain Mail: Addicted to You, by Hiroshi Ishizaki (translated by Richard Kim)
    In this fast-paced YA book filled with twists and turns, a lonely teenage girl named Sawako is immediately intrigued by the subject of an email message: “Would you like to create a fictional world?” Three more teen girls with diverse interests soon join the online game, the objective of which is to co-write a story about a girl, her tutor/boyfriend, her stalker, and the detective who’s tracking the stalker. Each girl assumes the POV and identity of the character she has opted to write. However, at least one of the girls is not who she claims to be, and the story being written may not be mere fantasy. As the rules of the game state, “It’ll seem so real that if anyone who didn’t know what it was read it, it would terrify them.”

    All She Was Worth, by Miyuki Miyabe (translated by Alfred Birnbaum)
    The first in a popular and critically acclaimed mystery series that has been adapted for TV in Japan, All She Was Worth introduces us to Tokyo Metropolitan Police Inspector Shunsuke Honma, a widower with a 10-year-old son. On medical leave after being shot in the knee, Honma is at loose ends, frustrated and bored, when a distant relation, Jun, shows up begging for help in locating his missing fiancée. Honma’s curiosity gets the better of him, despite the fact that Jun couldn’t be bothered to attend the funeral of Honma’s wife three years ago. The search for Jun’s mysterious fiancée leads Honma down a winding path of stolen identity and murder, with a chilling message about the ways in which consumerism and endless, sky-high debt can destroy entire families.

    A Midsummer’s Equation, by Keigo Higashino (translated by Alexander O. Smith)
    An internationally bestselling author, Higashino is best known for his Detective Galileo novels. If you like mysteries in which an outsider with a unique profession sheds light on a case, you’ll love A Midsummer’s Equation. While visiting the beautiful but struggling coastal town of Hari Cove during a controversial time in its history (a corporation is destroying the coastline with its hydrothermal ore mining), associate physics professor Manabu Yukawa solves not one but two related murders that occured 16 years apart. The most recent victim is a retired cop, and his former colleagues are determined to bring justice to their fallen brother. Yukama’s attitude says it all: “The world is full of mysteries. And the joy of uncovering even the slightest mystery is incomparable to any other joy you will ever know.”

    Kitchen, by Banana Yoshimoto (translated by Megan Backus)
    An exquisitely written, ultimately hopeful novel about grief by an author whose prose has been compared to that of Marguerite Dumas and Anne Tyler, this book is slim but absolutely packed with emotion about love and loss. Our main character, Mikage, has lost every member of her family but is welcomed into the affectionate home of a young man, Yuichi, and his transgender mother, Eriko, who runs a gay night club. Mikage teaches herself to cook, and the process becomes a passion, an art, and a lifestyle that helps her work through her pain: “Perhaps because to me a kitchen represents some distant longing engraved on my soul.” Her relationships with Yuichi and Eriko are tender, bittersweet, and unforgettable.

    Manazuru, by Hiromi Kawakami (translated by Michael Emmerich)
    A breathtaking literary achievement that reminded me at times of Catherine Lacey’s Nobody is Ever Missing, this novel asks the question, “When someone disappears from your life, are they ever really gone?” Twelve years after her beloved husband, Rei, vanishes without warning, Kei finds herself traveling repeatedly to a quiet beach town called Manazuru, where she feels her husband’s presence for reasons she can’t explain. In the decade since he left, she has been raising their daughter, Momo, at her mother’s house, and has taken a lover at work. She has long had the suspicion that she’s being followed, and in Manazuru that sensation rises to a level she can no longer ignore. While contemplating her long-ago courtship with Rei, her daughter’s growth from infant to 9th grader, and her changing relationship with her memories, Kei attempts to come to terms with the course her life has taken. A surreal, deeply moving book.

    The Thief, by Fuminori Nakamura (translated by Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates)
    With his mentor gone, his girlfriend dead, and his own days seemingly numbered, a master pickpocket winds his way through the streets of Tokyo, targeting wealthy businessmen. Our antihero with a Robin Hood–style sense of morality takes under his wing a kid who’s forced to shoplift and needs help with technique. But he remains haunted by a home invasion and burglary he participated in that ripped his mentor from him. He spends his nights ruminating on what becomes of a man without societal ties: “I favored action over inaction, the path which would lead me away from the world.” At times the book reads like Albert Camus crossed with Elmore Leonard, yet the narrative voice is distinctly its own, and Nakamura has racked up several awards for his work. Descriptions of sleight of hand paired with philosophical musings make for a terrific read and fascinating exploration of what it means to be a criminal.

    The Changeling, by Kenzaburō Ōe (translated by Deborah Boliver Boehm)
    Ōe received the Nobel Prize in Literature for this book in 1994. When Kogito’s estranged brother-in-law and childhood best friend, Goro, sends Kogito 40 cassette tapes of himself having a one-sided conversation about their relationship, Kogito listens to them as part of a nightly ritual. Both men make their living in the arts. Goro is a famous actor and filmmaker, Kogito an acclaimed novelist. They haven’t been close in years, and Kogito misses their lengthy talks and former closeness. A particularly chilling remark recorded toward the end of the tapes—”I’m going to head over to the Other Side now” (followed by an ominous thud)—turns out to be the moment Goro has committed suicide. Kogito becomes obsessed with listening to the tapes and responding to them verbally, in an attempt to uncover the reasons behind Goro’s desperate act. Kogito’s internal journey takes him into the past, and the moment their rift widened beyond repair.

     
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