Staff Favorites List
Each of these titles is personally recommended by one of our Brilliant Booksellers. The list features both newly published and older books and draws from a wide array of writers, styles, and genres, making for a list as eclectic and unique as our Brilliant customers. Find past lists in our Staff Favorites Archive.
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Hillbilly Elegy should be compulsory reading for anyone seeking an insight into the plight and experiences of America's angry white working class. "Americans call them hillbillies, rednecks, or white trash," writes Vance, "I call them neighbors, friends, and family."
He describes an impoverished cultural trap from which those with adequate resources; intellectual, financial or circumstantial, could feasibly escape, while all others are condemned to a downward spiral of chaos, helplessness, abuse and alcoholism. Their fate determined by a set of die-hard cultural beliefs, endemic cynicism and an easy willingness to blame others. The solution, according to Vance, lies in people asking themselves "what we can do to make things better." Not a question easily mustered by those already in the spiral and convinced it's all the fault of others.
A woman travels to Athens to teach a creative writing course. She engages in conversation with her neighbor on the flight, the first of many fascinating conversations with friends, students and strangers that unspool with cinematic clarity, creating a character study in relief. Moving and occasionally hilarious, threaded with themes of love and identity, this is a highly original and deeply satisfying read.
Spanning the course of a single sleepless night, Tynset is the digressionary monologue of a recluse obsessed with, among other things, calling numbers chosen apparently at random from the phone book, meditating on the name of a small Norwegian town where nothing has or will ever happen, and pacing the halls of his vast library in the dark. This previously untranslated classic of postwar Swiss literature is a surreal and richly-textured example of sprawling, central-European prose that should appeal to readers of Sebald, Walser, or Krasznahorkai.
Grieving his recently deceased wife, K. seems to have a death wish as well as a commitment to the literal truth in every situation. After he inadvertently interrupts an armed robbery, K. becomes a hero and is offered his own reality show, "America, You Stoopid." He travels the country with Claire, a former Total Foods stock clerk who has appointed herself his manager, and riles his audience by refusing to accept the usual platitudes on sacred cows across the ideological spectrum. As Erasmus said, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. This somewhat zany novel hits the bulls-eye on the current cultural and political zeitgeist.
Swimming Lessons, the fantastic second novel from Claire Fuller, is a window into what can make or break a marriage. We see Ingrid as a phantom in the life of her widower husband Gil and their daughters, and as a vibrant young woman in the letters she has left hidden for him in his monumental book collection.
The beginning of a new series, by Brian McClellan, set in the same world as the Powder Mage Trilogy. Exciting and fresh with a strong homage to the Napoleonic Wars.
This novel, originally published in the 1970s overseas (during the height of a wave of domestic terror in Italy) and now available for the first time in the states, is a masterwork of creeping unease. The plot concerns our narrator, who decides to investigate a series of horrific unsolved murders that took place during a twenty day city-wide sleepwalking epidemic. Involved is a library, run by a cadre of mysteriously clean cut youth, in which one could let others read one's diaries, could pay to read the diaries of others, and could pay more to learn the names and addresses of the people who wrote diaries, which prefigures the creepier aspects of social media by decades. Met with clues that lead him nowhere and a growing sense of nebulous threat, our journalist begins questioning not only his sanity, but everyone's. This novel makes me want to visit Turin the way Lovecraft's and Poe's writing made me want to visit Providence, Rhode Island. The Twenty Days of Turin is gorgeous, haunting, and claustrophobic. One character sums it up thusly: "In this city, demons lurk under the ashes." It's the perfect book to feed your insomnia as the windy dregs of winter pelt your windows.
This slim novel is a compelling and nuanced refugee tale. The story begins in an unspecified country stirring with unrest just as the main characters, Saeed and Nadia, are beginning a relationship. Civil war brings the country to chaos and the young couple seeks a way out. Hamid's prose is reminiscent of a dark fairytale, and he alternates between elements of stark reality and magical realism to create settings that are simultaneously familiar and dystopian. The year is young, but this novel will hold up as one of the best of 2017.
The Underworld is the tale of a mine fire in a small Idaho town. This harrowing story follows many characters as they struggle with their circumstances, either outside or deep within the mine, but all trapped.
Rick Remender just cannot be stopped! As one of the top writers in the comic book industry today, he has penned such awesome titles as Black Science, Low, and Fear Agent, but it is Seven To Eternity which has topped my list of favorites this year. Filled with evocative prose and vibrant original art, Seven To Eternity draws the reader into an apocalyptic world where honor and conviction struggle amidst ever present tyranny, power and oppression.
This book is tricky to describe and define. It presents itself as the history of a Silesian mining town from its medieval origins to its eventual abandonment in the Soviet period. But while it's roughly chronological, the narrative is artfully punctuated with interviews of the town's former inhabitants and their descendants, carefully arranged and recurring metaphors, and semi-fictionalized attempts to imagine the everyday life of the town from its archaeological traces. Springer has an immense talent for weaving these things together, and for making from the small and obscure a meditation on the ruptures of history and the vicissitudes of continuity in general. In truth, it's less of a history than it is the portrait—or perhaps the martyrology—of a place as it passes through and out of time.
A Handmade Life is an assortment of Coperthwaite's philosophies on life, stories from his travels, and photographs of the beautiful time spent at Dickinsons Reach. He was a student of Helen and Scott Nearing, and, philosophically, a bit of a modern Thoreau. Coperthwaite was a proponent of simplicity, nonviolence, and self sufficiency, he was a builder and teacher. This book is but a snapshot of his legacy.
In Lovecraft Country (just out in paperback) Matt Ruff performs literary alchemy, seamlessly blending weird fiction and cosmic horror with the too-real horror of violent racism in 1950s America. Featuring fully fleshed characters who refuse to back down from either metaphysical terrors or the bald-faced ignorance of prejudice, Lovecraft Country is a genre-bending look into both the spectral realm and the sick reality Americans of color faced during our country's "greatest" years.
Complicated personalities negotiate a final summer holiday at the family home, a dilapidated rectory in the Somerset countryside. If this sounds too much like Masterpiece Theater for you, hold your judgment. This story practically hums with intensity. The setting groans, drips and whispers with life and the characters go through some serious growing pains and pleasures. With brilliant construction and precise language, Tessa Hadley gives us a very modern story built upon a rich living history.
Twilight Zone for darker times. These stories become more surreal and haunting as the collection progresses. The brutish tone is suited to the content, which plumbs the depths of social, emotional and physical malfunction. Definitely not for everyone, but I was transported by this scary ride.
Set in the fens of England, Daisy Johnson's debut collection explores a murky world where the edges between the everyday and the surreal blur. Like the fens, little resembling the swampy lands they once were, Johnson's characters experience great transformation. In this unsettling landscape, girls stop eating and transform into eels, houses are jealous lovers and women leisurely listen to records while consuming their unwitting guests. These literary, dreamlike stories are perfect small meals to savor until you have time for the next one.
Like an Indiana Jones flick, this true to life tale drops the reader into the unexplored regions of Honduras, where a fabled lost city is thought to be hidden. The expedition is set upon instantly by jaguars, poisonous snakes and the all-too-violent soldiers of the Honduran army, but these are nothing in comparison to the horrendous incurable curse. Thought to be nothing more than a legend, the curse quickly becomes reality for the crew. An adventurous non-fiction account of the dark corners of our world that might best remain undiscovered.
I'm not usually one for biography as a genre, but Chernow has created a masterpiece that nearly every reader can enjoy. It's engaging, approachable, and written with the understanding that almost no one has Chernow's exhaustive understanding of the political and cultural milieu of America circa the Revolutionary War. He deftly explains the significance of seemingly minor events, describing an America that feels much more current and recognizable than the simplified and idealized version of classroom history books. As accurate as his historical details are, Chernow is also careful to create a story that's more about the people than the facts. It's a book filled with all the intrigue, political maneuvering, spite and drama you'd expect, but also the tender moments between friends and family that turn these historical figures into the kind of people we recognize in our own lives.
Although we are relatively solidly ensconced in the "next millennium" to which Italo Calvino referred, this collection of five Harvard lectures on essential qualities of literature are things unbound by time. (Tragically, Calvino died in 1985, prior to completing the sixth memo,"Consistency," and actually delivering the talks.) From the first memo, "Lightness," on maintaining a quality of lightness or effervescence in writing while avoiding frivolity: "...one must be light like the bird, not like the feather." Here Calvino quotes Paul Valery, one of a myriad of sources ranging from ancient to contemporary. And, um, dang, right? I'm a firm (some would say borderline fascistic) believer in book maintenance, the preservation of a book's pristine quality, but my copy of "Six Memos..." is underlined, footnoted, double footnoted, triple underlined, etc. Calvino's playfulness, warmth, and fervent love of literature glows in Six Memos. Every writer and reader should own a copy (ideally two—one for marking the hell out of, the other for the shelf).
The basis for the hit SyFy Channel "Expanse" series, Leviathan Wakes is what every science fiction fan craves: action, politics, plausible physics and a brilliant cast of characters. Set within our very own solar system, man has reached the outer planets and has begun culling resources previously unavailable to our Earth bound race. The characters are gritty and real, written with great depth and style. The story begins with the case of a missing girl and quickly escalates into a system wide murder investigation, complete with conspiracies.