1) Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, D.T. Max’s biography of the late writer David Foster Wallace. A thorough and well-written account of the life of one of the writers who most shook up contemporary literature. Even if you haven’t read much of DFW’s work, you’ll be able to engage with his story of becoming a fiction writer while battling severe depression. This book takes the reader into multiple worlds: the literary, the Midwestern, the academic, the mentally-ill, all the while remaining sensitive while dealing with delicate subjects and going deeply into DFW’s personal world and relationships.
2) The Savage Detectives, by Roberto Bolaño, is a whirlwind tale that spans decades, but always retains the feeling of an older man looking back upon his lifelong love affair with poetry and literature, and reflecting on what it all meant and the characters he encountered along the way. The English translation is a brilliant work that beautifully renders the original Spanish poetics and dialogue. The genius of the novel is that everything is a mystery–the multiple protagonists and narrators, and the labyrinthine story supplemented by tangential stories about Latin America during the era of dictatorships and repression–but never does this maze confound the reader, because the prose grabs you and pulls you into every sentence, every narrator’s voice, every scene.
3) NW, by Zadie Smith, which I have yet to read, but judging from the excerpt in the New Yorker as well as Smith’s other most lauded novels, White Teeth and On Beauty, this book is exemplary of Smith’s ability to depict multiculturalism and its discontents through the most lovable and hilarious characters. I can’t wait to get my hands on it . . .
4) Joseph Anton, a Memoir, by Salman Rushdie, an account written in the third person of Rushdie’s plunge into hiding after a fatwa was issued for him following the publication of The Satanic Verses. The excerpt in the New Yorker was riveting. Can you imagine going from a relatively normal life as a novelist, to living for years under a false identity?
5) This is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz, a collection of short stories written in the second person, giving the effect of making the reader feel like a disgruntled, horny, Dominican man with masculinity issues. Diaz is loved as a novelist but he has proven a master of the short story form; every story is completely amazing.
6) What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, by Nathan Englander; worth it just for the title story, though the rest of the stories in this collection are just as good. Englander writes Jewish-themed fiction with a contemporary edge. Really, the title story is one of the best things I’ve read in the last year.