Robert Sindelar is the Managing Partner at Third Place Books. Robert is interested in literature in translation, drama and theater, and discussing the place books, reading, and bookstores occupy in our lives.
These are amazingly bizarre, dream-like and surreal stories that surprise the reader not in their bizarre nature, but by slowly revealing themselves to be deeply grounded and beautifully heart-felt. Like the most potent of dreams, they are nonsensically unexplainable yet impossible to forget.
John Darnielle knows how to creep you out! He also knows what it was like to cruise the suburbs on your bike in the 70's and 80's. Moreover, he knows how to weave an intensely tight and complex narrative that challenges our notion of storytelling.
This book should be required reading in high school history classes. Told with a poet's eye, this personal journey through how we teach, remember and mis-remember the history of slavery in this country is an instant classic.
One of the strongest debut story collections I've read in years. The opening story and the title novella will both stay with you for quite a while.
Colson Whitehead is one of my top 5 favorite living writers. Every new novel is new direction for him. But they all, this one included, share a masters sense of structure that unfolds the story in the most unexpected ways. the best news about this book, is that the author recently confirmed that the protagonist of this book will appear in another book in the future.
This is a wickedly funny novel whose mean-spirited sense of humor matches its Shakespearean inspiration.
This is an incredibly moving novel that handles its challenging subject matter with a confident and masterful hand. This book shares the same type of spare efficiency that made Colson Whitehead's NICKEL BOYS such a great novel.
This is such a deeply felt novel of family and place. It is rich with deep power of folktales and spirituality and has a lot to say about the American Dream in our current landscape. I fell in love with this family and mourned having to say goodbye to them.
This novel will make you so uncomfortable, but you won't be able to look away. This is the kid of book you finish and immediately hand to a friend to read - you want to talk about it and hear other people's take on it.
This book is so funny and has so much heart. Everytime I think about it, I smile.
A stunning look at what it means to be American. One of my tope 10 from 2020
Amazing characters and regional history. One of my top 10 books of the year.
If Haruki Murikami had been born in Mexico and raised in southern Texas, this is the book he would have written. It's futuristic and hallucinogenic look at that region gives us a unique and welcome lens to view the border.
Many of us hope that we would not end up on the wrong side of the potent conversations in this electrifying play. But there are so many wrong sides. The lines Rankine draws here are blurry and moving fast - the discomfort is the point. Rankine does here what all great dramatists do - distills the complex noise of our time into a clear mirror. When we catch a glimpse of ourselves we are forced to try to do better.
This is one of my top ten favorite novels of all time. I'm so glad it has been brought back into print. It is a bold and ambitious tale of a child genius, his eccentric single mother, and their shared obsession with Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. It is stylistically daring and astutely intelligent. It is also wonderfully funny. A rare work that can be truly called an original.
Few writers can achieve the hypnotic grasp that Haruki Murakami holds on his reader - combining a cool, detached distance with an emotionally charged empathy. Sputnik Sweetheart is a hunting novel of yearning, loneliness and loss that lives with the reader well beyond the closing of the book.
You are unlikely to read a more important book about race this year. Coates' letter to his fifteen-year-old son is provocative, upsetting, inspiring and, like any passionate argument, an emotional roller-coaster ride. It is a book that is wise enough to know that it is the beginning, not the end, of a much-needed conversation.
The word "tragedy" is thrown around very liberally and many times inaccurately, but in recent memory, I can't think of a book where it is more fitting than this one. Jeff Hobbs does not take any of the easy roads in telling this complex story. It is a book that will break your heart.
These stories exquisitely balance the cerebral and the emotional as well as the scientific and the fantastic. Like stories from the great masters, those in this book inform, illuminate, and enrich one another. They are stories that reward through multiple readings. Galchen is easily one of my favorite new writers.
Why have I not read Laird Hunt before? This novel is so spare yet so rich. The character of Ash Thompson is an amazing creation and her story is utterly moving and captivating. This is historical fiction unlike that you've read before.
What a ride! Besides being an incredibly gripping story about a bizzarre con-man, this book is a fascinating look inside the mind of a writer. Kirn's own culpability about being duped and what that says about writers and the human psyche is the real engine that drives this book. Highly recommended!
There are some authors that you feel priviledged to be able to have read. James Salter is one of those authors for me. This book is so rich in its humanity. It basks in the simple yet extraordinary pleasures and pains of what it is to live a life.
I love how this novel argues with itself. It's a novel you read not for plot but for the long, no stone left unturned passages of thought about the potential motivations behind human behavior. Making it all the more rewarding when you discover that, underneath the philosophical debates the narrator has with herself, there are pieces of a plot that feel like an homage to the great Hitchcock films.
You will be hard pressed to find a more unsettling read this year. From the very beginning of this tale of a woman living alone in an isolated locale and the mysterious woman who comes to take care of her, it is filled with a subtle haunting menace that lurks behind even the most simple of day to day events. Highly recommended.
I enjoyed this book on so many levels. While I see the subject matter and setting compares to Blood Meridian and Lonesome Dove, this book only deserves to be compared to itself and possibly the author's other work. Its meticulously constructed structure is not common for an epic like this. The constant shifting of points of view build so effectively on one another giving a truly original view of these parts of our history. The novel's concern and interest in the legacy of people and their land and the land's legacy back to the people living on it is worthy of course adoption and wide discussion. It is a rich and rewarding read. It was a great way to begin my summer.
It is rare for a book to get you so emotionally involved so quickly. My heart ached for Jacqueline within the first 20 pages of this novel and never really stopped. What is more rare is for the author to be able to navigate such a richly charged emotional landscape and be able to at once sustain it through the course of the novel and at the same time not abuse the reader in the process. This book allows you to visit a particular locale in human loneliness that is shockingly familiar in spite of being so situationally foreign. It is a journey I won't soon forget.
In his third novel to be translated into English, Colombian novelist Juan Gabriel Vasquez confirms what we fans of his early work had suspected from the beginning : that he is a master of showing us how the political past, in this case the drug trafficking in the 80's and 90's in his native country, continue to influence and inform the personal present. This is a moving tale about the the balance between choice and fate and how memory and the way we tell the tales of the past can influence how we live.
This is the kind of book you are ashamed of for liking so much. You should be outraged, disgusted, and horrified by this family and their awful behavior. And you are at times. But you also end up reading along with a devilish smile as you cheer on the narrator in a story that surprises over and over again.
I have a hard time believing that any of the National Book Award judges this year read this book all the way through. This is such a big, bold, unsettling, artful yet thoroughly entertaining novel. Homes manages a major feat here, taking us deep inside the darker and more disturbing parts of our America suburban lives and brings us out the other end to what could hardly be imagined at the beginning of the novel: a happy ending.
Richard Beard gives the New Testament a Milan Kundera-like treatment here where the narrative novel and the imaginative esay flow freely back and forth in forming and influencing one another in a style that elevates both formats. Through questioning the details in an ancient story thre novel delves into the nature of storytelling itself. It is an smart fun and thoughtful book.
This book does a great job of marrying the slower, more pensive traditional world of physical books and long drawn research with the speed of virtual data and high tech crowd sourcing in an ultra-modern grail-like-quest that honors both new knowledge and old. It is a page-turner that you will burn through.
There is an infectious aching loneliness that floats through the characters of this book and haunts the reader. Brandon paints the distinct world of each of the many characters we follow in this novel, including a wolf and a dead college student, with a mix of painted brevity and astonishing thoroughness. It is a novel that really lives with you, even after finishing.
Ben Fountain has created a sort of inverted "Odyssey" here where our here, Billy Lynn, comes home from the Iraq War to find yet a whole new catalog of trials and challenges awaiting him and the rest of Bravo Company before they are shipped back to the Gulf. It is a novel that gives us a fresh take on how we view capitalism, materialism, our country, and our military while providing a wonderfully empathetic tragic hero in Billy Lynn, at once a brave , fearless fighting machine while still a very innocent young man.
This is an unashamedly philosophical novel that proudly follows its protagonist around the city (mostly Manhattan but also Brussels) without a concern or need for plot. Yet what we gain instead is a powerful meditation on identity, place, and history and the emotional and physical memory that we individually and collectively share on these topics. It is a rich and generous book that I will certainly return to again.
Its as if Kafka decided to write a John LeCarre novel, chose to set it in North Korea, and then suddenly realized he didn't have to make up crazy, haunting, metaphorical images, because the PRK supplies plenty of its own. Adam Johnson executes a pretty impressive juggling act here, balancing broad satire with agonizing pathos, he creates art out of horrors and humanity out of desolation. And, yes, Kim Jong-il does appear as a character in the later half of the book.
Steve Erickson's fiction delivers dreamlike narratives where history, pop culture and the stories of his characters are woven together in tight webs of circular points of reference that create in the reader a deja vu induced reading experience that is as rewarding as it is unsettling. "These Dreams of You" is the perfect novel to read in this election year. With plot threads that venture from Obama's historic election to Robert Kennedy's last years all the while following the story of a young adopted Ethiopian girl who has an almost mystical connection to the music of David Bowie, the author is clearly tackling the politics in this book from every angle of our culture.
I wont discuss the plot of this book, because its one of those novels that rewards so much to the reader who goes in without preconceptions of what they are in for. Wonderful in its hypnotic creepy atmosphere, Ellen Ullman’s By Blood, moves like a Hitchcock thriller, bewilders like a labyrinthine Paul Auster story and probes and questions like a Malcolm Gladwell essay. Its one of those books where you know the path will be mysterious and the path’s end unpredictable, but you give yourself over to the ride enjoying the richness of the moments rather than rushing onward for the next twist in the tale. The narrative device that Ullman employs here works wonders, giving the perfect mix of tension and momentum to the story and carefully pacing what the characters and the reader get to learn as the novel progresses. This is a book that is going to a strong word of mouth following. You want other people to discuss it with while your reading it and certainly when you are done.
This collection reminded me why I love Don Delillo so much. These stories, which span his whole career, really show off the author at his best. I have been feeling for quite a while that the reason I like most of Delillo's novels is more for their parts rather than their whole (Libra being the exception - I love that book). The baseball game and the party at Truman Capote's in Underworld, the opening scene in The Body Artist, almost any single section of Point Omega, are all essentially exquisite stand alone stories. Here you get his power, his brevity, his focused finesse and, most of all, the unnamed haunting menace of our daily lives that Delillo teases out of the most ordinary of situations (running in the park, going to a movie, viewing an art exhibit).
This is a wonderful meditation in miniature about aging, memory, the actions of our past and our responsibility for our effect on others. Don't let the diminutive size of the book fool you. Barnes has weaved a rich poetic lyricism into his text here that makes you slow down, savor and flip back a few pages to revisit. Wonderful.
Disappointed with the loss of the Sacramento team? Bummed that you can't root for any playoff team without compromising your inner-Sonic? Well, Bill Simmons' book is the perfect antidote. It reminds us of all that is glorious and ridiculous about the NBA. Simmons writes with deep insight and refreshing humor about a sport we all want to love again.
These linked tales set along the Pakistan/Afghan border are unlike anything else you have read about that region. They offer a generous and moving portrait of a little understood way of life. This is the kind of fiction that moves beyond terms like "great literature" and moves onto terms like "essential" and "necessary."
Easily one of my favorite Murakami novels. There is a lot here for his fans to sink their teeth into. One of the advantages of the novel being so long is that the atmospheric hauntingly lonely neverland, that you travel to in most Murakami books, sustains for so long here. This book crept into my dreams and popped its head up regularly in my daily routines. On a subtle level, I kept expecting to see the world of the book everywhere I looked. One of the main characters is a novelist, so there is some rare instances of Murakami actually writing about writing and reading that is a real treat for fans who have been craving such material for so long. Overall there is more of a typical (as much as you can stretch the meaning of that word to relate to Murakami) hero journey than you find in most of his books, which really helps keep a clean satisfying arc to a long novel. Its interesting the choice of setting the book in 1984. There is the obvious Orwell reference. There is also the convenient fact that cell phones and internet searches didnt exist then, both of which would have completely changed the nature of the characters options and the plot. As the book was winding down, however, I started to think about another possible connection. In the book there is a novel that is published that causes quite a stir in the world of the book. I was wondering whether there was an indirect notion on Murakami's part that publishing and the role of fiction in the world has changed enough since then that a work of fiction couldn't have the same impact today. If so, in typical Murakami fashion, this is posed as a question puposely unanswered.
The title here is a bit misleading. The book is not just about psychopaths but the extreme edges of the psychology industry. But like all Jon Ronson books it is as much about the author/investigative journalist's journey in researching his subject as it is about the subject itself. Ronson is an obsessive and neurotic writer whose specialty is hanging out with and writing about people most of us are happy to never meet. Its fun and a bit disturbing following him around. In the end, you won't think about psychological disorders the same way again.
This is NOT a vampire novel. Fang is the last name of the family in this utterly charming novel. The book examines, in the most unusual ways, what it means to be part of a family and how we define ourselves as members of that group and individuals outside of it. I would happily have spent another 300 pages with these characters.
This is a powerhouse of a novel. Disturbing? Yes, but Pollock earns the gravity of his subject matter. As the title suggests, God is pretty elusive to the characters in this book despite many of their attempts to keep it otherwise. There is, however, an almost biblical inevitability in the fate of these people, and Pollock hooks your interest in their destinies from the very beginning.
This is one of the most moving novels I've ever read. The comparisons to Ian McEwan are right on. The haunting tension in each scene is perfectly balanced in this story of clearly flawed but good people who cannot sidestep their way out of the tragic path that fate has in store for them.
I have read the first 5 stories of this collection and am blown away. The term "original voice" is way over used, but is completely applicable in this case. These are haunting, touching, strange stories. People will be talking about this book for years to come.
The rest of the stories in this volume lived up to the first 5. These are dark, haunting stories almost all focusing on mortality that echo the voices of Poe and Borges. Yet Holt's voice is entirely contemporary and very American. I haven't been this aware of having discovered a "new" voice since I first read Cormac McCarthy.
This is one of my top 5 favorite novel's of the year. It tells a little-discussed chapter of Latin American history (the tensions between Jewish German immigrants and German Nazi immigrants in Colombia during and after WW II). It also plays with time and voice in a way that reminded me of Ian McEwan's Atonement.
I have been listening to this book on audio for the past couple months while I walk to work. It is really amazing. Mark Harris finds, in this single year (1967) of film every major influence on film for the next 15-20 years. At 17 hours of listening, I would happily have kept going if he had gone on and done another 17 hours on 1968.
I was constantly intrigued with what Dyer was playing with here. Its one of those novels that has a great narrative that pulls you along, but also lets you know that the author is up to something bigger in the background. I never read The French Lieutenant's Woman, but now I will have to after the reference in this book.
Heroic and harrowing. Inspiring and insane. Spitirual and scandalous. I was sure I didnt need to read anything more about Katrina. I was wrong.
What does Zen enlightenment look like when you live in LA? The Haskell in John Haskell's new novel thinks it might look like Steve Martin. Or at least "being Steve" is a step on the road to enlightenment.
Either way, I thoroughly enjoyed this meditation on being and self.
I loved his collection "I am Not Jackson Pollock" and after this, I will need to go back and give his novel "American Purgatorio" another shot.
This novel's nameless narrator's desperate race to catch up to his version of the American Dream is stunning in its visceral authenticity. It is modern day angst and despair transformed into an almost mythic journey that challenges your notions of race, class, wealth, poverty, and family.
While being a black kid who spends his school year in a white private school in Manhattan and his summers in a mostly black resort community in Sag Harbor is not really even close to the reality of my teen years, the fact that I was the exact same age (15 years old) as the narrator in 1985 (the year the book is set) certainly helped my appreciation of this book. But overall, Colson Whitehead finds the universal in his, admittedly, autobiographical childhood experience.
David Mitchell does SO many things right in this novel. It is a charming, angst-filled coming of age story that captures the perfect nuance of humiliation, wonder, confusion, fear, and delight that is adolescence. Its episodic structure, each chapter leaping to a new "chapter" in a single year (1982) of a young boy's life, creates an impressionism that forms a complete portrait of the age thirteen that a seamless linear narrative could not have.
This is a book that, over the years, has come up again and again as a book that a number of novelists have cited as one of the pivotal books in their reading development. I really wanted to get it under my belt before the onslaught of movie previews came out for it this fall. It is a brutal and aggressively critical but empathetic look at middle class suburban life. Published in 1961 and set in 1955, it certainly has a bit of a dated feel to it: what was clearly shockingly critical and revelatory at the time does not quite have the same effect today--many others have followed Yates' lead and carried on. Yet, still, the novel has an incredibly powerful punch. If you read this merely as a commentary on society, the novel does not quite have the thread you would think it needs. But it is actually Tragedy (capital T intended). Every small point early in the book is groundwork for what is to come. No character is safe from the author's harsh view of the world, nor are they abandoned in that world--they are all given their due sense of purpose and entitlement. It is touching and appalling. It is hard to recommend something this unpleasant and bleak. But here I am saying: get your high ball glass, fill it three fingers high, hold it tight, and dive into this book.
No author abuses his hapless protagonist with the hysterical cruelty that Nabokov applies to this unlucky anti-hero. While clearly a first attempt at ideas that would eventually become his masterpiece Lolita, this novel is much more of a mean-spirited morality tale than its eventual successor. The disaster that befalls the main character of this novel is one you can't take your eyes off of, nor wipe the smile from your face as you witness his decent.
Lennon's writing is addictive. This story of a man who buys a huge piece of property in a remote area, only to find a large building in the middle of the property that he does not own, is chilling.
I would not have predicted that a novel about cricket would be one of the more illuminating views into the American character that I have read in a long time. Netherland is a thoughtful, fun, and moving book; one to savor as one would an early morning stroll.
I really loved this book. It chronicles 30 years of 2 families that live across the street from one another in Sheffield, England. All 9 of these characters are richly drawn and Hensher brings incredible humor and compassion to their stories. For my tastes, its form and writing style are pretty traditional. But this author shows that style does not need to be constantly reinvented to convey beauty and humanity. Of course, this novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, which I previously thought should have gone to the longlisted Netherland by Joseph Oneill (or at least to also shortlisted Sebastian Barry's Secret Scripture). But it would be tough for me now to decide between The Northern Clemency and Netherland.
I love Barry's lyricism. He is unique among contemporary Irish writer's in that you can clearly see (feel) the thread of tradition penetrating his novels. Echoes of John Millington Synge, Yeats, and even Beckett are present here. But the novels are no mere copies of the old style. They hum with their own clear voice and vision. This novel touches upon events from Barry's first novel, "The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty." Both can be read independently, but there is a richness in having read both.
This is the ultimate novel for the film obsessed. Taking a surreal outsider journey through Hollywood with an unlikely guide: a cross between Chauncey Gardner (Being There) and Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver). This book sucked me in, swept me up, roughed me around a bit, and ultimately won me over. Highly recommended!
It is rare for a novel to be both thoroughly intellectual (scientifically so) and significantly emotional (romantically so). This debut novel achieves both in a serious but playful world where a doppelganger is exposed through the science behind Doppler Radar. A great novel about the duality of love and relationships.
Do not let the size or subject matter of this book disuade you from giving it a shot. After the first 25 pages, you will not be able to stop. This incredible book, 30 years in the making, gives us a fresh, necessary look at the experience of combat. My thoughts on Vietnam will forever be colored by my reading of Matterhorn.
This hilariously satiric sneak peek into our country's potentially not-too-distant future frightens as much as it amuses. Shteyngart's brutal re-envisioning of our world--where our fates lie in our credit scores, books are artifacts, and youth and sex dominant every aspect of our society--will keep you up at night: first laughing, then worrying about what you were laughing at.
There is a very fine balancing act that John Brandon pulls off here. The characters and their actions are pretty hard to read about, but you can't stop following their story. Creating empathy for characters who end up on the wrong side of the evening news is pretty tough. Brandon does so without asking us to forgive or excuse their behavior. Once you start this book, you won't want to put it down.
If, like Bill Buford, you have ever wondered if you had what it takes to take your domestic kitchen skills, that wow your friends and family, and apply them in a professional setting, this is the armchair culinary adventure you have been waiting for. Extremely entertaining, the book is also very informative (I picked up quite a few tricks of the trade). This is the kind of book you really don't want to end.
The loneliness of failed relationships, the longing for things that never were, and the subtle melancholy of regret all quietly blister in the empathetically and economically drawn characters in James Salter's gorgeous short stories. Many authors struggle to imitate the potent minimalism that Salter here seems to offer so effortlessly. He is the real deal.
The restraint and on target accuracy of these stories display a young writer of enormous talent and extreme confidence. This is a writer to watch.
You will be hard pressed to find a funnier book this year. The author's willingness to humiliate and be cruel to his characters is only matched by this novel's large and generous heart. This book has a lot to say about how we live now.
This is easily Lethem's best work to date. In his slightly "off" version of Manhattan, he gives us a thoroughly entertaining journey with characters you won't soon forget.
I loved this novel on so many levels. Set in an unnamed Eastern European country in and around decades of conflict, this gorgeous novel is steeped in the region's folklore and mythology. Readers of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mikhail Bulgakov will find a new favorite here.
I could not put this book down. I really (excuse the pun) tore through it. This true story of a man-eating tiger on one hand is a heart-pounding adventure in a "Jaws" kind of way. Yet it also does a great job of putting the incident in a socio-economic, environmental, and geopolitical context--giving us an unforgettable portrait of a region and way of life many of us know very little about.
This bold and ambitious first novel about a child genius and his eccentric single mother and their shared obsession with Kurasawa's "Seven Samurai" is not only stylistically daring and astutely intelligent, but also wonderfully funny. One of my top 10 books of all time!
There are two distinct camps of Murakami fans: the novels and the stories. Yet the economic brevity and surprising emotional punch of this novel satisfies both those groups. This is a book to be read (devoured) in a day or two and then haunt you for the rest of the week.
For those who have only read his more recent books, do yourself a favor and go back to this brilliant early novel. The first of an outstanding trilogy, this novel introduces us to John Grady Cole, a character who will stand beside the creations of Faulkner and Steinbeck in the Great American Character's Hall of Fame.
This novel beautifully blends Ishiguro's exquisite storytelling (shown off in Remains of the Day) and his Kafkaesque bent for the surreal (displayed in Unconsoled). Together these two styles help create a densely layered world where our most basic understanding of good and evil are brought into question as are our notions of memory, family, history, and self. This is a bold and grand work. It spoiled me for other novels for weeks.
Yes, this is the story that Michael Keaton and Edward Norton are staging in the Oscar-winning film Birdman. Raymond Carver was a master of the short story and his spare writing style and emotionally raw tales have inspired countless writers and some other filmmakers too. Besides Birdman, the first story in this collection has been made into two separate films. But no film can capture the power and intimacy of his writing.