Some Books I Have Been Reading Lately

Claire DeWitt

Sara Gran
Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead
288pp. Mariner. 9780547747613
I've long been a fan of Sara Gran's edgy noir, but Claire Dewitt marks a whole new level of sophistication and craftsmanship; it's the book where you realize someone whose work you already loved has totally figured out how to make a book that will blow your mind. A perfectly-plotted and occasionally surreal homage to the great feminist detective fiction of the 80s and early 90s, Claire Dewitt and the City of the Dead is also totally fresh and totally smart. Claire, the titular detective, is like Kinsey Millhone channeled by Hunter S. Thompson: a super-cool and super-tough PI whose methods range from unerring detective instincts to getting loaded on PCP with her main suspect. Like most great detective fiction, the setting is as much a character as the characters themselves, and Sara Gran's post-Katrina New Orleans is no exception. Sad and brilliant and wildly original.

Listeners

Leni Zumas
The Listeners
350pp. Tin House. 9781935639299
Leni Zumas is for real doing things with language that you did not know were possible to do with language. This is the kind of book that makes you want to throw out everything you have been working on and start all over because if you can't do it this good why even bother. It's a book about punk and love and running your life into the ground and fucking up pretty irredeemably and being the kind of person who is hard for other people to like, and it's also compulsively readable and every sentence is so perfect it makes you sort of question what you have been doing with your life until now.

Teaching

Warsan Shire
Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth
38pp. Flipped Eye Publishing. 9781905233298
It's easy to say these are poems about displacement and war and exile and loss, and they are, but they are also poems about what it means to be human and complicated and love people and look for home. What it means to experience violence and survive it, what it means to be alive. The language is so beautiful I have been agonizing for weeks over what I can say that will do this book justice (nothing, just read it). Transcendental, devastating, humbling. These poems are so true they make a new meaning for truth.

Collective

Don Lee
The Collective
314pp. WW Norton. 9780393083217
Don Lee takes the classic college novel and turns it on its head in one of the best books about art, writing, race, ethnicity, and friendship I've read in a long time. The Collective is the story of Jessica, Eric, and Joshua, three aspiring geniuses who are drawn together in college--and sometimes pushed apart--by Joshua's magnetism and brio (and more than occasional obnoxiousness). The novel tracks them after their college years as each of them deals in different ways with questions of race, identity, love, and what it means to be a working artist. Smart, often very funny, and about as insightful as they come.

Girl

Bett Williams
Girl Walking Backwards
264pp. St. Martin's Griffin. 9780312194567
I first read Girl Walking Backwards when it came out in 1998, and reread it recently to see if it was as good as I remembered. It's better. Skye's a Southern California teenager, having recreational non-sex with her "boyfriend" Riley while falling in love with her troubled, self-mutilating, operatically goth friend Jessica. Her mom is a New Age freak whose penchant for crystals can't hide the fact that she's crossing the line into actual insanity, and her dad's checked out to LA. Skye's deadpan, relentlessly funny voice takes this anti-coming-of-age novel to the level of greatness. A little like if The Catcher in the Rye was a wicked punk-rock barrel of genius narrated by someone you actually cared about.

Elementals

Francesca Lia Block
The Elementals
272pp. St. Martin's Press. 9781250005496
OH YOU GUYS. IT'S FLB. I would read this if it was godawful and written on napkins, or something, but it is in fact far and away the best thing Francesca Lia Block has written in years and years and years. Creepy and sad and lovely and goth; it's like if The Secret History had a baby with Pamela Dean's Tam Lin. The FLB of The Elementals seems older and sadder and wiser than the FLB of Weetzie Bat; I mean, obviously, since it's been over twenty years (!!!!) since Weetzie was published, but in addition to her always-gorgeous language and imagery, The Elementals is rooted in a serious, honest examination of love and loss. I loved this from start to finish.