There is no better season for reading a book than winter. The cold chases you inside to the respite of a warm coffee, the licks of a freshly lit fire in the fireplace. In your hand? A new book you'll devour to keep your mind occupied. But in this winter fantasy, what book will you be reading? That's where we come in. We present you with a few of the books we've read or will be reading during these blistery winter months.
On Writing, Stephen King
November just came to a close, which means so did national “novel-writing month.” But if you’re behind schedule on your great American novel, you could always just say “Screw that arbitrary designation” and set to work now. Winter is the perfect time to stow away with your ego and a few legal pads. Actually, scratch the ego part. We’ve been reading Stephen King’s part memoir/part writing instructional tool On Writing, often heralded as one of the best books about the craft, and the thing that sticks out most is King’s total lack of pretension despite being one of the most commercially successful writers of all time (and don’t get it twisted, he can turn a pretty sentence too).
10:04, Ben Lerner
This book was described to us as a novel by a younger Philip Roth, and we feel that’s exactly right. Lerner engages similar philosophical themes and anxieties about how to live and relate to others, and the narrator is a male writer in his 30s, but the points of reference — like Back to the Future, the Challenger disaster and Occupy Wall Street — will be more familiar to today’s readers. Roughly set between hurricanes Irene and Sandy, 10:04 centers on an intellectual, introspective narrator’s efforts to navigate friendships and the possibility of fatherhood in New York City. As with anything, it’s not the story so much as how it’s written — and holy moly is the writing good. It’s academic without being overly challenging and has an awkward beauty. Lerner began his writing career as a poet and this is his second novel. We’ll be getting to his first, Leaving the Atocha Station, pronto.
Target in the Night, Ricardo Piglia
If you haven’t been keeping up with Dallas publishing house Deep Vellum and the works-in-translation it has released so far, there’s no better time than now to play catch up. Publisher Will Evans is on fire and will open a cultural center and bookstore where he’ll sell his titles in Deep Ellum (where else?) at the beginning of next month. His latest release is Target in the Night by Ricardo Piglia, a detective novel set in Argentina which has been compared to a little known work called King Lear. No big deal. Piglia, who recently taught at Princeton for 15 years, is considered by many to be the greatest living Argentine writer, so it’s a huge feat that Deep Vellum is the house to bring this thriller, which has won pretty much every Spanish literature award, to readers of English. Let’s all celebrate Deep Vellum’s major accomplishments this year by turning Target in the Night’s pages.
David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
Dickens is good any time of year but he’s particularly fun right about now. Winter just has a way of making stories about sooty London streets, meat pies and parentlessness sing. Sure, you can go see A Christmas Carol at Dallas Theater Center or re-read A Tale of Two Cities, but give David Copperfield a whirl if you haven’t already. Bleak House is great too. Lest you feel intimidated by the antiquated writing style or hefty word count, remember: Dickens published his novels serially and they were meant to be pulp entertainment! His ability to conjure charming, vivid, idiosyncratic characters is unmatched — revisit him and you’ll see he’s still grade-A entertainment centuries later.
Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari
If you’re looking for something to tickle your funny bone and help you navigate the complex social codes of Tinder or OkCupid, Aziz Ansari’s book — which he wrote in collaboration with sociologist Eric Klinenberg — is just the thing. It has been getting rave reviews, and if it’s half as amusing or insightful as Ansari’s new Netflix series, Master of None, which also displays a sophisticated take on love in the 21st century, then they must be accurate. We can’t promise that Modern Romance will teach you how to make the object of your desire consistently respond to your texts, but after you’ve read it, you’ll probably feel better equipped to deal with ghosting — or at least laugh about it.
Rock, Paper, Scissors, Naja Marie Aidt
On the recommendation of Deep Vellum publisher Will Evans, I picked up a copy of Danish author Naja Marie Aidt's short story collection, Baboon, earlier this year. I devoured it. Her writing is deeply sad and beautiful, even in translation. The Wild Detectives brought her through in October after the release of her first novel, Rock, Paper, Scissors, which is equally poetic. It tells the story of two siblings, one of whom treks head first into their father's unwieldy criminal past after his death. You'll read it for the language as much as the story.
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Negroland: A Memoir, Margo Jefferson
We're long past the idea that a memoir should be light and diaristic. Margo Jefferson's memoir about growing up in a privileged black Chicago community is both compelling and completely relevant. She describes her childhood growing up in a community distanced from both the white and general black communities, which brings to light the complications of identity based on race or class, grappling with them at pivotal moments in American history. Whether you read it for the crackling writing or the story, it will be worth your time.
Freedom, Jonathan Franzen
Since breezing through his latest tome, Purity, I've been on something of a Franzen bender. Revisiting The Corrections and reading, for the first time, Freedom. I keep calling it Netflix on the page, because while the writing is literary, no doubt, the story oozes middle-age drama and the mood is one of romantic longing. It tells the story of a family in the midwest, describing the characters in detail, from childhood to present-day ennui. There's enough intrigue and drama to pull you along every step of the way. Binge read it during the next rainy spell.
Mad Men Carousel, Matt Zoller Seitz
If you're a fanatic, either of Mad Men or TV criticism, you just can't skip this book. Zoller Seitz, who once upon a time wrote for the Observer, chronicled the series in detailed episode recaps on New York Magazine's culture blog, Vulture. He's combined those writings with mountains of research and tidbits about the show to offer readers an examination of one of television's best dramas, maybe ever.
Gutshot, Amelia Gray
Sometimes you want a long, thick book to wile away the hours, and other times you want a short punch to the gut. If you're looking for the latter, Gray's s newest collection of short stories will chew you up and spit you out in all the best ways. These blips of the dark side of life are truly unlike anything else you'll read this year. Try these descriptions of a few of them: "A woman creeps through the ductwork of a quiet home. A medical procedure reveals an object of worship. A carnivorous reptile divides and cauterizes a town." Macabre and impossible to put down.