Wednesday, July 17, 2024

3 More Books About Appalachia to Read Instead of Hillbilly Elegy

My friends at Book Riot went viral again (re-viral?) this week for a December 2020 post enumerating 15 books you should read about Appalachia instead of Hillbilly Elegy. It's an excellent list -- and also links to another excellent piece about why Hillbilly Elegy is problematic. 

I'm from Ohio, but the west side, so I can't claim to be from Appalachia -- more like Appalachia-adjacent. Therefore, I wouldn't say I'm an expert on Appalachia, but I do know a thing or two about books. So let me supplement Book Riot's list with three more books about Appalachia you should read instead of Hillbilly Elegy.

3. Bloodroot, by Amy Greene -- This wonderful novel about a family who lives on a mountain in East Tennessee is about as Appalachia as Appalachia gets. I loved this book -- a beautifully rendered story about heritage and deep connection to birthplace. 

2. Those We Thought We Knew, by David Joy -- Book Riot chose Joy's novel When These Mountains Burn for its list -- also an excellent read. Really, any novel by David Joy, a wonderful and criminally underread writer who grew up in Appalachia, is a good choice. Those We Thought We Knew is his latest, published in 2023, and I'd highly recommend it as an on-ramp to this writer, if you've never read him. 

1. Demon Copperhead, by Barbara Kingsolver -- This novel, the co-winner of the 2023 Pulitzer Prize, is nothing short of a masterpiece. (Kingsolver's novel Flight Behavior is also a great choice if you're not ready to commit to 500+ pages.) 

Monday, July 15, 2024

Top 10 Most Anticipated Books of 2024 (Second Half)

If you've already perused LitHub's massive list of 2024 most anticipated books for the second half, let me offer you (better late than never) my own version. Here, you'll find BIG names (Murakami, Sally Rooney), writers returning to fiction after a long time between novels (Attenberg, Tulathimutte), and everything in between. 

Please remember, preorders are absolutely crucial for writers (especially midlist writers) for a number of reasons, not the least of which is because preorders help publishers gauge interest in a book, and therefore allocated marketing dollars. So please help writers and preorder early and often! (Also, all the links are below are affiliate links for, which means when you preorder from these links, I get a little cut, too -- which I will turn into more books, of course!)  

Anyway, here are my 10 most anticipated books of the rest of 2024 (and two for 2025):

My favorite tshirt: "Ban the fascists, save the books."

The Horse, by Willy Vlautin (July 30) -- Vlautin's 2021 novel The Night Always Comes changed my life, and so I'll read anything forever from this guy from now on. 

The Rich People Have Gone Away, by Regina Porter (August 6) -- I'm actually reading this now to review it for the Chicago Review of Books. In what is starting to feel like a glut of pandemic novels, this books feels like a really fresh approach, following the lives of several New Yorkers as they search for a missing pregnant woman. 

Colored Television, by Danzy Senna (September 3) -- Several readers whose opinions are usually right tell me I'm missing out by never having read Senna. So I'm gonna fix that now. 

Two-Step Devil, by Jamie Quattro (September 10) -- I love a good cult novel, and this sounds like a GREAT cult novel. I read Quattro's story collection I Want to Show Your More many moons ago and was very impressed, but never made it to her first novel, 2018's Fire Sermon. So I'm excited to read a novel by her for the first time. 

Rejection: Fiction, by Tony Tulathimutte (September 17) -- Like this guy's Twitter feed, this book promises to be totally irreverent, more than a little wrong, but absolutely hilarious. It's seven connected stories about "the touchiest problems of modern life." Yes, please.

Playground, by Richard Powers (September 24) -- I won't ever miss a new Powers novel -- I loved his books even before The Overstory became one of my favorite novels of the last decade or so.

When The World Tips Over, by Jandy Nelson (September 24) -- I rarely read YA but I'll read a new Jandy Nelson novel, only based on how much I loved I'll Give You the Sun -- still my go-to recommendation for the youths who come into the bookstore just looking for something good to read. 

Intermezzo, by Sally Rooney (September 24) -- Okay, fine, yeah, I'll add this to the list. Rooney's last novel didn't really do it for me, but Normal People I thought was great. I haven't read Conversations with Friends, so Intermezzo will be the tiebreaker for me. 

A Reason To See You Again, by Jami Attenberg (September 24) -- WOOHOO, Jami Attenberg's first new novel in seven years spans 40 years in 240 pages. As great a writer as she is, I'm sure the pages will fly by as quickly as the years. 

The City and Its Uncertain Walls, by Haruki Murakami (November 19) -- Here's the promo copy for this book: "A love story, a quest, an ode to books and to the libraries that house them, and a parable for these strange post-pandemic times." YES! Inject it directly into my brain. 

And here are two for 2025: 

The Heart of Winter, by Jonathan Evison (January 7, 2025)

A Forty-Year Kiss, by Nickolas Butler (February 4, 2025) 

Both of these guys are in my top 10 list of favorite writers, so I'm super excited they're both publishing again within a month of each other! 

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Best Books of 2024...So Far

Here's a weird coincidence -- or maybe it's not a coincidence at all. Three of my five favorite books of 2024 so far are by writers who started out in publishing as poets -- Kaveh Akbar, Ananda Lima, and Hanif Abdurraqib. I'd never been one to reach much poetry, but in the first half of 2024, I read more than I'd ever read before (including poetry by Jericho Brown's The Tradition, my colleague at StoryStudio Czaerra Galicinao Ucol's Pisces Urges, and Mary Oliver's Devotions). Maybe that reading influenced my "regular" reading and it's why I gravitated toward this books by poets. Or maybe it's just a coincidence. Doesn't matter. These five books, my five favorites of the year so far, are phenomenal. 

Martyr!, by Kaveh Akbar -- One of the first books I read in 2024, it's still near the top of my list. I think about this book ALL THE TIME. Immense. 

Perris, California, by Rachel Stark -- Here's the most underrated book of 2024 so far, in my view. A publisher's rep sent me an ARC of this book because he thought I'd like it. And of course he was right. Side note: Publisher's sales reps are the hardest working, most underappreciated people in publishing. I'm so glad he put this book on my radar. It's a truly accomplished debut. 

Blue Ruin, by Hari Kunzru -- The third of a thematic trilogy, this book cemented Hari Kunzru as one of my absolute favorite writers and an immediate must-read from now on whenever he publishes.

Craft: Stories I Wrote for the Devil, by Ananda Lima -- Still completely in awe of this book. It's an amazing feat of, yes, CRAFT.

There's Always This Year: On Basketball and Ascension, by Hanif Abdurraqib -- I'll follow Abdurraqib WHEREVER his mind wanders, but especially when his mind is wandering about basketball -- and social justice and his own life and about a million other things as well.