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Driely Schwartz

What Your Favorite Writers Are Reading Right Now

The Bookstorian reached out to 19 of today’s most prolific and acclaimed wordsmiths and storytellers for their book recs!

The Bookstorian is Wondercade’s mysterious, erudite, hardcover-devouring book correspondent.

March 29, 2024 11:36 am

A pleasure to be with you again, Wondercader, here in your inbox. I must tell you, as The Bookstorian, I don’t spend much time in the realm of cursors and pixels — my normal missives are scrawled on parchment and sent four floors down via pneumatic tube to another area of the sprawling Wondercade HQ, where they are typed up by some dear soul whom I’ve yet to meet — but I made an exception this week and dusted off my laptop computer. That’s because the book recommendations that follow are not from yours truly, but courtesy of all my favorite writers, who, by extension, are likely some of your favorite writers. I popped into their inboxes and asked them to share the titles that have recently captured their imagination (and torn them away from their own work), so that you can be privy to the same literary inspiration as the storied storytellers. But this list has another key element: Should you not be familiar with the authors doing the endorsing, I’ve noted works by them as well, so your library list at the end of today’s newsletter can be twice as long. Cancel your plans and put the tea on — it’s time to get lost in your new favorite book.

Kwame Alexander

Author of An American Story

How to Say Babylon by Safiya Sinclair. In this unputdownable memoir, Safiya documents her painful emergence from the cloistered home of her childhood. In masterful prose that sings like poetry, she revisits both her own memories and those of her forefathers, examining how the weight of Jamaica’s violent colonialist past has shaped generations of her unorthodox family. Everyone who reads this book will be given greater insight into their own origin after witnessing Safiya’s extraordinary hindsight and triumph. A must-read!”

Manuel Betancourt

Author of The Male Gazed: On Hunks, Heartthrobs, and What Pop Culture Taught Me About (Desiring) Men

“The book I’m most obsessed with these days is Henry Hoke’s Open Throat. This slim novella focused on a queer, hungry mountain lion living under the Hollywood sign on the outskirts of a city he calls ‘ellay’ is a wonder. At once a modern fable about how wildlife is currently being sidelined from the natural environments they’ve long known as home — courtesy of climate change and rampant urban displacement — as well as a tender character portrait about unruly desires — this is a mountain lion famished for food and water, yes, but also for connection — Hoke’s irreverent take on a Los Angeles made up of unhoused folks, day-hikers and everything in between is enthralling for how much humanity it packs within its pages.”

Tara Isabella Burton

Author of Here in Avalon

“I just finished re-reading Dostoevsky’s Demons, a chilling, timely and at times bleakly comic novel about the lure of dangerous ideas — and youthful zealotry — against the backdrop of political division and generational collapse. The story of a shadowy nihilistic student group whose actions border on terrorism — and the small Russian village forever changed by its presence — Demons is full of enthralling characters. Now I’m reading — for the first time — C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet, the first in his Space Trilogy. Less well-known than his Narnia novels, and geared rather for adult readers, Out of the Silent Planet is a thoughtful and theological look at the promise of interplanetary worlds.”

Nicole Chung

Author of A Living Remedy

“I’m covering 2024 memoirs for Esquire, so I’ve read close to 30 memoirs over the last few months. It’s a delightful assignment, but it also means that literary fiction — normally the genre I read most — has felt like something I have to squeeze or sneak in like a special treat. Yesterday I had that kind of letdown, lazy feeling you get toward the end of a busy weekend after houseguests leave, so I picked up The Road from Belhaven, Margot Livesey’s new historical novel, and read it in one sitting with the dog curled up beside me. The story follows an orphaned seer whose choices and quiet but insistent rebellion take her from her grandparents’ farm to Glasgow and beyond. Livesey grounds her young protagonist’s extraordinary clairvoyance in the utterly believable everyday, as beautifully rendered characters and landscapes come alive and make this a book to quickly get lost in.”

Vinson Cunningham

Author of Great Expectations

“I’m loving Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, by the great Brazilian writer Jorge Amado. It’s a rich, funny, sweet novel of grief and social comedy. A neglectful, charismatic husband dies, and, missing him, his widow remarries. Then there’s a haunting. The book is so full of life, so textured.”

A.J. Finn

Author of End of Story

“Two Irishwomen, both of whom should be household names. Liz Nugent’s Strange Sally Diamond is dark magic, an unsettling, enriching, unforgettable character portrait dressed as a suspense novel. And Jane Casey’s ingenious cop thriller The Close reads like Tana French by way of Lisa Jewell — you can pretty much mainline her Maeve Kerrigan series.”

Karl Geary

Author of Juno Loves Legs

“I’ll attempt to narrow it down to two books, reminded again at the ludicrously rich quality of writing lately produced on such a tiny island as Ireland. I’ve read two blisteringly good books recently, both being released this spring. Firstly, Jan Carson’s incredible collection of short stories, Quickly, While They Still Have Horses. Nobody writes like Jan Carson. Her work is grounded and at the same time mythical, story after story is filled with the breathtaking magic of the north. The second novel I can’t stop thinking about is Kevin Barry’s The Heart in Winter. Again, a few lines in and you know you could only be reading Barry, that there is no one else that writes like this. I think that that’s the highest praise one can give, that these writers are utterly themselves and so their work becomes something else, something timeless.”

Paul Harding

Author of This Other Eden

“I’ve just read Margot Livesey’s fantastic new novel, The Road from Belhaven. Livesey immerses her readers in an exquisite, mysterious, quietly unnerving world. Lizzie Craig has premonitions. They are not always gifts. She moves between the pastoral home of her childhood and Glasgow, struggling to bring a vision of the life she wants for herself and for her kin into the world.”

Jon Klassen

Author of I Want My Hat Back

“My kids and I just recently read Dominic, a chapter book by William Steig, about a dog who leaves his house to go wandering for reasons that are not clear to him until the end of the book. It’s some of the finest writing I’ve ever read, for any age.”

Helen Macdonald

Author of Prophet with Sin Blaché

Cold Hand in Mine, a collection of stories by Robert Aickman. All are phenomenally disturbing and will lodge deep in your subconscious after reading. Following the fates of his characters is like watching a car crash in slow motion: terrifying, but you cannot look away. Why Aickman isn’t better known is an enormous mystery.”

Ruth Madievsky

Author of All-Night Pharmacy

“I cackled my way through Anna Dorn’s audacious new novel, Perfume and Pain, about a canceled Los Angeles writer trying to navigate the mess of her career and love life. Chaotic, spiky, wise and very gay, Dorn has crafted a novel that captures our present moment so astutely and will remain relevant years from now.”

Megha Majumdar

Author of A Burning

“Very happy to be included in this and for the chance to recommend Khashayar J. Khabushani’s marvelous novel I Will Greet the Sun Again. I loved this debut novel about a queer Iranian American boy growing up in California in the shadow of a violent father. The book is wrenching and tender and also vibrant with the energy of real life — there’s basketball and McDonald’s and stealing Skittles alongside deepest friendship, the love of a grandfather, figuring out what it means to be wholly oneself in America. I read this book last spring, and now we’re in yet another spring, and I’m still thinking of it!”

Mike McCormack

Author of This Plague of Souls

“The French novelist Maylis de Kerangal is one of the most thematically ambitious writers today. Her 2010 novel Birth of a Bridge opened one of her favorite themes — work and workers. Kerangal’s surging sentences have carried me to a mythic California where I am surrounded by steel fixing and poured concrete and blaring machines. Brilliant stuff!”

Leila Mottley

Author of Woke Up No Light

“I always have a nonfiction book and a novel in my reading circulation. Right now, for my nonfiction I’m reading Heartbreak by Florence Williams about the science of love and heartbreak, and for my fiction book I’m reading Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri, her 2018 Italian novel translated into English by Lahiri herself. In the spirit of my upcoming poetry collection, I’m also rereading Lighthead by Terrance Hayes, his National Book Award-winning poetry collection from 2010.”

Eileen Myles

Author of A “Working Life”

Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo. Written in the ‘50s, he is described by almost every major Latin American author as the guy, and this is the book. It’s spooky & beautiful & it might already be a film but it reads like one. Sonic Life by Thurston Moore. It’s his memoir. It’s so good. Geeks out on love of music while sharing his own history, so many bands to listen to. The Arab Apocalypse by Etel Adnan. She’s the great artist, poet, novelist who died in 2021 who is possibly the best female poet in the Arab world. She was born in Beirut, and this book is like her ‘Howl,’ ecstatic heart broken beautiful & fiery lines of survival and vision.”

Patrick Nathan

Author of The Future Was Color

“A novel that absolutely dommed me and that I wish more people were reading is Your Love Is Not Good — Johanna Hedva’s story of an artist whose long-awaited big break comes with a quick, humiliating fall. It’s that perfect combination of satire, horror, erotica, queer theory, art criticism and mystery that stays ahead of you every step of the way. The eggs it laid in my brain are still hatching months later. I’ve also fallen in love with Thomas Grattan’s second book, In Tongues, which comes out in May. The way Grattan writes relationships — above all friendship — is something to be envied.”

Tommy Orange

Author of Wandering Stars

“I’m constantly reading new books which comes with a lot of disappointment by nature of just how many books come out every week. But every once in a while I find a book that does not let go of me. This is how it was with Victim by Andrew Boryga.”

Adam Rapp

Author of Wolf at the Table

Mao II by Don DeLillo. The opening section of this masterpiece follows a blindfolded photographer being driven somewhere in Upstate New York, where she hopes to shoot a portrait of a legendary reclusive novelist. One of the novel’s many brilliant narrative strands, the prized author photo raises questions about the importance of the face of an artist: how it is romanticized, irrationally adored, repackaged and fetishized. Although the novel was published more than 30 years ago, this aspect still reverberates powerfully today in a selfie/self-branding-obsessed world.”

Neil Patrick Harris

Author of The Magic Misfits series

[You didn’t think I’d forget one of my favorite writers — ME! — did you?]

The Museum Heist: A Mystery Agency Puzzle Book. If you love escape rooms (like me), or puzzle hunts (same), or tabletop escape games (um, hello…Box ONE??), then this book by the absolutely brilliant and hilarious Henry Lewis should be your current carry-along. It’s a classic whodunnit murder mystery: it’s 1926 and a valuable gemstone known as the Tiger’s Eye has been stolen from the Kensington Museum. As Detective Inspector Jane Waterstone, your job is to interview suspects, spot red herrings and suss out exactly what happened. It’s clever, witty and also interactive, so grab a pencil and prepare to get crackin’.”

Headshots courtesy of the authors

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