An American Masterpiece That Resonates in Our Time

I was introduced to Charles Johnson’s novels by my writing teacher, Steven Corbin, who insisted I drop everything and read Middle Passage, which had recently won the National Book Award for fiction. I fell hard for the novel, swept away by the seductive voice of the narrator, freed slave Rutherford Calhoun, who recounts the ill-fated journey of the Republic as it returns from Africa with a hold full of slaves. It was a book I returned to often, a masterpiece of first-person narration, and a book that yielded something new every time I picked it up.

When I began teaching Novel IV at UCLA (an advanced workshop), I chose Middle Passage (now handsomely reissued in a twenty-fifth-anniversary edition, replete with a new introduction by Stanley Crouch) to build the course around. On a whim, I sent Dr. Johnson an email to see if he might consider talking to my students via Skype about the novel. To my surprise, he accepted eagerly and warmly, and has returned four times over the last three years to discuss his work. His discussions are the invariable highlight of the semester. My students talk for weeks afterward about his generosity, experience, and wisdom. His conversations are always far-ranging, moving beyond Middle Passage to include anything and everything from the writing life to Buddhism to the writer as philosopher. It’s impossible to leave one of these sessions uninspired.

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Good Things Come in Small Packages: 11 Short Story Collections to Savor

Let’s take a moment to celebrate the art of the short story. These gifted authors have mastered the art of keeping things brief without skimping on plot, character, or beautiful prose. Entertaining, delightful, and sometimes shocking, these enticing collections will satisfy your need for meaningful literature even on the days when you can’t quite get yourself to pick up the 500-page tome on your bedside table.
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A Beautifully Bizarre Novel of an Obsessive Mind

It’s rare to find a novel that both demands philosophical reflection and is a genuinely fun read, but Tom McCarthy pulls off that balance perfectly in his refreshingly unorthodox debut. The plain weirdness of the story and its sparse, restless prose will be the first things to grab you, but it’s McCarthy’s thoughtful treatment of the no-man’s-land between artificiality and reality that will keep Remainder in your head long after you put it down.

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The Lasting Power of Sylvia Plath’s Classic Novel

During my academic career I read all the coming-of-age greats—The Catcher in the Rye, A Separate Peace, The Giver, Lord of the Flies, even Into the Wild—but female-driven narratives were conspicuously missing from assigned summer reading lists and liberal arts syllabuses. It wasn’t until three years ago, trolling for something to read on my parents’ bookshelf one lazy Thanksgiving, that I first picked up Sylvia Plath’s classic novel, The Bell Jar.

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A Loveable Curmudgeon That Book Clubs Will Adore

Every once in a while, a novel comes along that reinvigorates and inspires and is a call to arms for a publicist. A novel that reminds me that I work hard for books because I love reading. I love new ideas. I love big words. I love discovering and unwrapping characters, the emotions that a wonderful work of fiction can stir in you, the conversations that a good book can inspire. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman is one of those novels for me—a novel that became a passion, a novel that makes the art of publishing feel meaningful.

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An Up-All-Night Thriller That Holds You Captive

One effect of being an avid reader is that almost everything reminds me of a book. I’ll see a story on the news about a prison break and think, That’s just like Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. Anytime someone mentions taking a break from Facebook or Twitter, I think of The Illustrated Man. Every mention of King Arthur and his knights triggers memories of The Mists of Avalon. Recently, I was watching the first episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and I thought to myself, This really makes me want to reread The Never List.

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Beautiful Ruins: A Wildly Imaginative Work of Art

I don’t think it is much of a stretch to say that narrative voice is the single most important element in fiction. Let’s call it some ephemeral mixture of tone, timing, sensibility, word choice, and thematic vision; when these successfully coalesce, they create an unseen yet hugely powerful psychic entity that beguiles and welcomes the reader into that willing suspension of disbelief that makes novels, and what happens in them, not only possible but plausible and even inevitable.

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An Inspiring Memoir of Self-Discovery

I love food. If you ask any of my friends—nay, even my acquaintances—for two of my defining characteristics, first they will tell you that I am an enthusiastic conversationalist, and second, that I love food. I am a refugee from a theatrical career, and there was a time when I dreamed of spending my life belting out a tune on Broadway. However, a life rich in delicious meals and a life spent in the harsh spotlight of the stage do not exactly go together, so I decided to leave the theater and keep the food. Of course, this was not the only reason, but this was why Portia de Rossi’s memoir about her struggle with food and acting appealed to me like a great big chocolate-covered gummy bear.

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