Literary Propositions: 10 Very Good Recent Reads.

Literary Propositions: 10 Very Good Recent Reads.

The online world of readers is a bustling one. Bookstagram — Instagram for all things biblio — is fast moving, much like modern literary culture itself, and for as marvellous as it is to have a constantly updating stream of new reading recommendations to hanker after, it can at times be a tad difficult to keep up.

Book Cover Images: all rights owing to respective publishers.

So, to help you out in case any fantastic recent releases have passed you by, we’ve put together a selection of just some of the best new reads from the past few months — 

What It’s Called: Awayland: Stories, by Ramona Ausubel.
What It Is: Literary Fiction/Short Stories.
What It’s About: “An inventive story collection that spans the globe as it explores love, childhood, and parenthood with an electric mix of humour and emotion.

Acclaimed for the grace, wit, and magic of her novels, Ramona Ausubel introduces us to a geography both fantastic and familiar in eleven new stories, some of them previously published in The New Yorker and The Paris Review. Elegantly structured, these stories span the globe and beyond, from small-town America and sunny Caribbean islands to the Arctic Ocean and the very gates of Heaven itself. And though some of the stories are steeped in mythology, they remain grounded in universal experiences: loss of identity, leaving home, parenthood, joy, and longing.  

Crisscrossing the pages of Awayland are travelers and expats, shadows and ghosts. A girl watches as her homesick mother slowly dissolves into literal mist. The mayor of a small Midwestern town offers a strange prize, for stranger reasons, to the parents of any baby born on Lenin's birthday. A chef bound for Mars begins an even more treacherous journey much closer to home. And a lonely heart searches for love online--never mind that he's a Cyclops.” (Riverhead Books)

What It’s Called: The Library Book, by Susan Orlean.
What It Is: Social History.
What It’s About: “Susan Orlean re-opens the unsolved mystery of the most catastrophic library fire in American history, and delivers a dazzling homage to a beloved institution – our libraries. On the morning of April 29, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. Raging through the stacks, the fire reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. It was the largest library fire in the history of the United States: it destroyed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more, and shut the library down for seven years. The mystery remains: did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?

Weaving her life-long love of books and reading with the fascinating history of libraries and the sometimes-eccentric characters who run them, award-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author Orlean presents a mesmerising and uniquely compelling story. With her signature wit, insight, compassion and talent for deep research, she investigates the legendary Los Angeles Public Library fire to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives, and reveals how these buildings provide much more than just books and are needed now more than ever.” (Simon & Schuster.)

What It’s Called: Everything Under, Daisy Johnson.
What It Is: Literary Fiction.
What It’s About: “The dictionary doesn’t contain every word. Gretel, a lexicographer by trade, knows this better than most. She grew up on a houseboat with her mother, wandering the canals of Oxford and speaking a private language of their own invention. Her mother disappeared when Gretel was a teen, abandoning her to foster care, and Gretel has tried to move on, spending her days updating dictionary entries.  

One phone call from her mother is all it takes for the past to come rushing back. To find her, Gretel will have to recover buried memories of her final, fateful winter on the canals. A runaway boy had found community and shelter with them, and all three were haunted by their past and stalked by an ominous creature lurking in the canal: the bonak. Everything and nothing at once, the bonak was Gretel’s name for the thing she feared most. And now that she’s searching for her mother, she’ll have to face it.” (Graywolf Press.)

What It’s Called: Neon In Daylight, by Hermione Hoby.
What It Is: Contemporary Fiction.
What It’s About: “New York City in 2012, the sweltering summer before Hurricane Sandy hits. Kate, a young woman newly arrived from England, is staying in a Manhattan apartment while she tries to figure out her future. She has two unfortunate responsibilities during her time in America: to make regular Skype calls to her miserable boyfriend back home, and to cat-sit an indifferent feline named Joni Mitchell.

The city has other plans for her. In New York's parks and bodegas, its galleries and performance spaces, its bars and clubs crowded with bodies, Kate encounters two strangers who will transform her stay: Bill, a charismatic but embittered writer made famous by the movie version of his only novel; and Inez, his daughter, a recent high school graduate who supplements her Bushwick cafe salary by enacting the fantasies of men she meets on Craigslist. Unmoored from her old life, Kate falls into an infatuation with both of them.” (Catapult.)

What It’s Called: There, There, by Tommy Orange.
What It Is: Literary Fiction.
What It’s About: “As we learn the reasons that each person is attending the Big Oakland Powwow—some generous, some fearful, some joyful, some violent—momentum builds toward a shocking yet inevitable conclusion that changes everything. Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame. Dene Oxendene is pulling his life back together after his uncle’s death and has come to work at the powwow to honor his uncle’s memory. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil, who has taught himself traditional Indian dance through YouTube videos and will to perform in public for the very first time. There will be glorious communion, and a spectacle of sacred tradition and pageantry. And there will be sacrifice, and heroism, and loss.” (Knopf.)

What It’s Called: If You See Me Don’t Say Hi, by Neel Patel.
What It Is: Literary Fiction/Short Stories.
What It’s About: “In eleven sharp, surprising stories, Neel Patel gives voice to our most deeply held stereotypes and then slowly undermines them. His characters, almost all of who are first-generation Indian Americans, subvert our expectations that they will sit quietly by. We meet two brothers caught in an elaborate web of envy and loathing; a young gay man who becomes involved with an older man whose secret he could never guess; three women who almost gleefully throw off the pleasant agreeability society asks of them; and, in the final pair of linked stories, a young couple struggling against the devastating force of community gossip.

If You See Me, Don't Say Hi examines the collisions of old world and new world, small town and big city, traditional beliefs (like arranged marriage) and modern rituals (like Facebook stalking). Ranging across the country, Patel’s stories -- empathetic, provocative, twisting, and wryly funny -- introduce a bold new literary voice, one that feels more timely than ever.” (Flatiron Books.)

What It’s Called: Perennial, by Kelly Forsythe.
What It Is: Poetry.
What It’s About: “Girlhood, selfhood, and the fragility of safety in tender poems that examine and then mourn micro- and macroscopic violence. The events of 1999’s Columbine shooting preoccupy Forsythe in these poems, refracting her vision to encompass killer, victim, and herself as a girl, suddenly aware of the precarity of her own life and the porousness of her body to others’ gaze, demands, violence. Deeply researched and even more deeply felt, Perennial inhabits landscapes of emerging adulthood and explosive cruelty—the hills of Pittsburgh and the sere grass of Colorado; the spines of books in a high school library that has become a killing ground; the tenderness of children as they grow up and grow hard, becoming acquainted with dread, grief, and loss.” (Coffee House Press.)

What It’s Called: The Lost Vintage, by Ann Mah.
What It Is: Historical Fiction.
What It’s About: “Kate's life as a sommelier in San Francisco is far removed from the French vineyard her mother turned her back on a generation ago. If she has also carefully avoided Burgundy vintages, that has been an acceptable weakness-until now, when she is facing her final attempt at passing the notoriously difficult Master of Wine examination. And so Kate returns to the vineyard to help with les vendanges-the annual grape harvest-and brush up on her knowledge; she also hopes to avoid Jean-Luc, a neighboring winemaker and her first love.

But Kate's plans are upended when she discovers a secret room in the basement of the vineyard house containing World War II Resistance pamphlets, a stash of invaluable wine, and the belongings of a long-lost aunt who was a teenager during the Nazi occupation. As she learns about her family's life in Vichy France, Kate finds the line between resistance and collaboration is razor thin-and she becomes consumed with discovering who her family aided during the war.” (HarperCollins.)

What It’s Called: Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, by David W. Blight.
What It Is: Biography/Autobiography.
What It’s About: “As a young man Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) escaped from slavery in Baltimore, Maryland. He was fortunate to have been taught to read by his slave owner mistress, and he would go on to become one of the major literary figures of his time. He wrote three versions of his autobiography over the course of his lifetime and published his own newspaper. His very existence gave the lie to slave owners: with dignity and great intelligence he bore witness to the brutality of slavery.

Initially mentored by William Lloyd Garrison, Douglass spoke widely, often to large crowds, using his own story to condemn slavery. He broke with Garrison to become a political abolitionist, a Republican, and eventually a Lincoln supporter. By the Civil War and during Reconstruction, Douglass became the most famed and widely travelled orator in the nation. He denounced the premature end of Reconstruction and the emerging Jim Crow era. In his unique and eloquent voice, written and spoken, Douglass was a fierce critic of the United States as well as a radical patriot. He sometimes argued politically with younger African-Americans, but he never forsook either the Republican party or the cause of black civil and political rights.” (Simon & Schuster.)

What It’s Called: Tonight I’m Someone Else: Essays, by Chelsea Hodson.
What It Is: Literary Collection/Essays.
What It’s About: “From graffiti gangs and Grand Theft Auto to sugar daddies, Schopenhauer, and a deadly game of Russian roulette, in these essays, Chelsea Hodson probes her own desires to examine where the physical and the proprietary collide. She asks what our privacy, our intimacy, and our own bodies are worth in the increasingly digital world of liking, linking, and sharing.  

Starting with Hodson’s own work experience, which ranges from the mundane to the bizarre—including modelling and working on a NASA Mars mission— Hodson expands outward, looking at the ways in which the human will submits, whether in the marketplace or in a relationship. Both tender and jarring, this collection is relevant to anyone who’s ever searched for what the self is worth.” (Henry Holt and Co.)