Althea L. Staff Picks
Whenever I read a Helen Oyeyemi book I'm floored and riveted by her writing. As the plot becomes increasingly absurd, there is something that feels so true about the character's reactions and observations - enchanting magical realism but with a satirical edge. My other favorite thing is her matter of fact delivery. This book tests the limits of a somewhat new relationship, exploring the idea of soulmates and "meant to be" as Otto and Xavier's past loves come back to haunt them on their honeymoon that's "not a honeymoon" aboard a mysterious train portentously called "The Lucky Day." Definitely the kind of book you devour in a weekend.
I picked this up because I loved Sandi Tan's 2018 documentary Shirkers - a future cult classic if it isn't already. Her new novel, with a title that rhymes, did not disappoint. I couldn't put it down. Set in suburban Los Angeles shortly after 9/11, Lurkers follows a quirky and memorable cast of characters, all residents of a street named Santa Claus Lane. The book focuses on themes of surveillance, immigrant experiences, being a teenager, and the intertwining lives of people who lurk on the fringes of each other's stories. Lurkers feels like Americana for people who live in cities.
Reading this book I felt transported, both to Athens in the summer but also into the narrator's life as the death of her parents, a recent breakup, and a connection with a stranger force her to reckon with her dual identity and present self. I couldn't put down this book and never wanted it to end!
I think I admire Deborah Levy more with each new book. This is a sharply-written novel about the ways we relate to each other, how we fail others in our relationships, how some relationships will never stop benig part of our selves, and how we choose to tell ourselves and others the stories of our own lives. Saul's is a coming of age story for people who are perpetually coming of age. I loved this book so much.
This is honestly one of the best books I've ever read and I almost never read nonfiction and feel that way. David Grann's compelling writing carries this fascinating and sad story. Part true crime, part underreported segment of US history. Read it!
Mary Miller is one of my favorite under the radar contemporary writers. When she writes about women in their mid-20s and 30s, it feels relatable, like being in your own head. It's refreshing to read a voice so different from the dominant school of east coast writers. Few writers so perfectly capture the beauty in the mundane. These characters are exceptional, yet so ordinary as they drift through the motions of their day to day.
It was so pleasant to get lost in the weird and wonderful tall tales of Gustavo "Highway" Sanchez Sanchez, the self-proclaimed best auctioneer in the world and sly narrator of what I can definitely say is the most engaging, smart, and comical dental autobiography I have ever had the privilege of reading. Luiselli's elegant prose can't be missed and her characters and their allegorical stories lean toward the absurd in a way that puts one in mind of the likes of Paul Auster.
I fell into this book of prose poetry like Maggie Nelson falls into the color blue. Bluets is a poignant, raw treatise on heartbreak. Written to her ex-lover, it's also about art, music, and a general reflection on living as seen through the lens of a color. One time I saw somebody reading this on the subway and sobbing - just dripping with tears. Highly cathartic, highly recommend.
A fun and surprising twist on what we expect from the typically formulaic, action-oriented, male-dominated espionage novel genre. Vera, whose troubled and isolating childhood leads her down the unlikely path of CIA operative in the '50's, Cold War-era Argentina, is a refreshing and relatable character. This queer bildungsroman-folded-into-spy-novel kept me in constant anticipation, even when she's just writing about Vera's daily life as an expat.
People always want to know what it was like to grow up in New York City. I can rarely find the right words to answer that. Tamara Shopsin finds the right words. This memoir is as elegant as it is eccentric, chock full of New York chracters that make this city the best city to grow up in.
I think it's safe to say that Sally Rooney is having a moment. The subject of not one but two New Yorker profiles in the months before its US release and sold out across the UK, this book is so worth the read. Rooney understands people and how to write about them. She effortlessly blends everyday life with social issues and the big questions of who we are and who we connect with, and how intense human relationships can be.
This book, a short but illuminating condemnation of our immigration system told through the lens of refugee children's experiences in immigration court, should be required reading.
This is the kind of book that reminds you why reading books is great. Riveting, enchanting, funny, well-written. Read it!
This book is so excellent. I could not put it down. For a book where so little happens, it's extremely engaging and her writing is remarkably good. She creates such a vivid character - you're totally in her head, she's both so unlikable and so relatable. Side effect: an extreme desire to sleep.
This book was so much fun to read. I was totally immersed in the 70's canyon rock scene, it felt like I was in it, like I knew the characters and when it ended I was genuinely sad I would miss them, especially Karen the keyboard player. Counting down until the mini-series...
This book perfectly combines the nuance of a modern family drama and suspense of a psychological thriller with the archetypal feel of a Bronte-esque gothic novel, set in the English countryside. It opens with the gruesome death of a mysterious woman, and recounts the events leading up to it. Her characters are compelling, her exploration of how they go through the motions of ordinary life in the wake of personal tragedy is all too familiar. I lived in this book.
This book is crazy to describe - autofiction via the voice of a fictionalized 40-year-old Kathy Acker, as a response to the Trump era. And yet, Olivia Laing nails it. Worth reading for her writing alone, this this the novela to pick up if you want a poignant reflection on what it was like to live in the years around Brexit and the 2016 election.
Alice Munro is a masterful short story writer. These stories are really excellent. If you're a fan of short fiction that's substantive and will last with you, pick up this collection.