Richard Yates keeps trying to break my heart. It happens every time I turn the page of one of his books. The truth is that I want him, maybe even need him, to do it. Break my heart. Knock me out of my chair. With Yates, you don’t need to ask. His work fulfills Kafka’s requirement that “we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us.”
It may seem obvious to state that all science fiction at heart engages with the question of what it means to be human. Even so, it seems worth saying again. Beyond all the gadgets and the new means of interaction and the cyborgs and chimeras and the cool toys, the bald question remains: Who are we? (In other words: what is a human?) Not regardless of our setting but through it and our interactions with what we’ve created.
One of the things that science fiction can do because of its central focus is make us extremely, necessarily uncomfortable. Which is how I often felt—alongside being excited, impressed and fearful—as I read Alexander Weinstein’s recent story collection, Children of the New World, in which he offers thirteen possible outcomes of our increasing dependence on technology and our inability to stop destroying the natural world in order to fuel our obsession with energy and technology production.
We’ve already flashed our stacks and dropped our reading resolutions for 2017, but as all readers know, a great new title (or two or three) can transform us into fickle, flighty lovers. To try to help us from being blindsided (and to aid our enjoyment—studies show that knowing ahead of time about a treat enriches the experience), here are some of the titles (55!) due for release in the first seven months of the year (plus one bonus August title from a favorite writer) that we can’t wait to get our hands on.
It’s inevitable. Every time I walk into a bookstore, I find myself longing to buy stacks of books—and I don’t mean stacks of just any books. My great desire has always been to leave the store with copies of books that I already own. I want reading copies. I want pristine copies. I want editions with different introductions, American editions, English editions, French editions. Then I want a few more copies just in case, the kind to give away when the right reader comes along.
Kevin Rabalais revisits Zbigniew Herbert.
“The oldest books are still only just out to those who have not read them.” —Samuel Butler
Our collective reading resolutions include crossing more borders and milling between more genres, reading more nonfiction and poetry, taking more chances on debut novels, reading books we already have on the shelves.
One of the best ways I know to judge the quality of a novel and its endurance rests in its ability to transcend subject matter—and the potential reader’s innate prejudices and proclivities. The Mothers, Brit Bennett’s Leonard Prize-shortlisted debut novel, manages this so slyly and with such unassuming gusto and finesse that I’m pleased to have it as one of my final and favorite reads of the year.
From 1936 to 1939, writers and soldiers, nurses and other volunteers from around the world travelled to Spain to help the Republicans prevent that other side—the Fascists—from seizing control of the country. The war that lasted one thousand days ended, however, with that other side prevailing.
In the collective psyche, World War II has eclipsed the Spanish Civil War, but the lessons of that conflict resonate today.
In early December, I spent a few days in Sydney, moving with my camera and a backpack full of books among the city’s beaches and arcades, its cafés and bookstores. Thanks to its subtropical climate, Sydney offers endless opportunities for outdoor reading. For those who don’t want the sand of Sydney’s many beaches on their pages (occasionally kicked up by surfers racing toward potential waves), the grand buildings in the central business district, among them the majestic Queen Victoria Building, offer reading havens.
As the year draws to an end, we asked a few of our favorite people in the book world—novelists, poets, booksellers, critics and translators—to share their most memorable reading experiences over the past twelve months, regardless of publication date. Other than reading itself, few things in the life of a reader are more exciting than hearing from others who share our passions.
On November 5, John Berger—storyteller, artist, poet, novelist, critic—turned ninety. That day and in the weeks since, I’ve celebrated by reading and rereading a selection of Berger’s essays, notebooks and fiction. In that work, I’ve found a worldly guide, one who gazes far and wide at art, literature and the stories of individuals and crowds, with urgency and enviable energy.
They appeared in magazines and literary journals with the frequency of periodic comets, and for those of us who ordered our days so that we could live inside of literature, navigating through the prose and plots and poetry and places of the great works that tell us who we are and who we can be, the mere rumor of a new story by Stuart Dybek incited exhilaration.