A Guide to Literary New Jersey

A Field Guide to the Literature of the Garden State

Sometimes the best way to understand New Jersey is to make stuff up. 

by Tobias Carroll via Oyster Books

The state of New Jersey has a strange relationship with the past. Throughout the state, you’ll find evidence of history: Revolutionary War battlefields, the sites of dissolved utopian communities, preserved factories, and architectural curiosities like Lucy the Elephant, a six-story building in the shape of an elephant located near Atlantic City.

But it’s also a place where people come to start new chapters in their history: its proximity to New York City has made it somewhere that generations of immigrants from throughout the world have arrived and settled down. It’s a place of contradictions: densely-populated suburbs and the mysteries of the Pine Barrens; the home of musical idealists and politicians who seem to follow the archetype of corruption to a T.

Needless to say, there’s a lot here for a writer to mine. And whether they’re working on something set in the present or delving into the surreal or exploring obscure corners of history, the past is never far away.
Geography, Real and Imagined.

Even history written a few decades ago can take on an elegiac quality in the right hands. Roughly one-third of Melissa Holbrook Pierson’s masterful The Place You Love is Gone focuses on Hoboken in the 1980s, when its close proximity to New York City and relatively low rents attracted artists and writers. (See also: the Yo La Tengo discography.)

Alternately, Hoboken was once the undisputed “sixth borough” of NYC; now, that relationship is less clear. For all that the story and setting of this section of her book feel archetypal, Pierson knows how to capture the lived-in details that make it specific. She’s equally adept at summoning up her past self, and recognizing that both that younger version of her and the younger version of the city in which she dwelled continue on, but in a very different form.
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Some works about New Jersey literally embody the spaces on which they focus. That’s the case with William Carlos Williams’s masterpiece of mid-century poetry, Paterson, which both evokes the nature and industry of the north Jersey town in which it’s set and fragments the structure in which it’s written. And there’s an Allen Ginsberg cameo to boot.

Decaying urban spaces are another aspect of New Jersey life: think of the way that the Asbury Park boardwalk took on symbolic resonance in The Sopranos and The Wrestler. The shifting destinies of Newark, Camden, and Trenton can summon a host of contradictory images. A narrative set in Newark in the 1940s will read vastly differently than one set in the same city in the 1970s, or in the 2010s. In several novels set in a fictional New Jersey city called Dempsey—including Clockers, Freedomland, and Samaritan—Richard Price works with existing images and memories to create a distinctly New Jerseyan city that never existed with which to explore questions of race, class, family, and history.
Another fictional New Jersey city is the setting of Karen Russell’s magnificently unsettling “The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis,” found in her collection Vampires in the Lemon Grove. Anthem, New Jersey reads at times like the most despairing corner of Price’s accumulation of New Jerseyan urban archetypes filtered through a surreal ambiguity. In it, a group of friends find a surreal doll in a field, one which prompts unpleasant memories and a growing sense of dread. Price and Russell both create fictional spaces that feel real, exemplifying a certain kind of unease in the shadows of the larger cities for which so much of the state houses suburbs. Perhaps, too, it’s because fictional cities allow their authors to create their own history: the very real histories of Asbury Park, Trenton, and Newark offer writers a lot of grapple with, but eliding aspects of those histories can seem less an act of stylization than a sin of omission. Fictional spaces that magnify certain traits of a place can offer writers more freedom, as well as the ability to focus more narrowly on one characteristic of a particular place.

The shared memories, occasionally flawed bonds, and tense relationships found in families are another way in which the past can loom hugely over works set in New Jersey. Akhil Sharma’s novel Family Life follows a family who relocates from Delhi to central New Jersey. It’s about the bond between two brothers, and the way that a horrific accident fragments that relationship. Along the way, it’s a note-perfect evocation of life in the middle of the state, and how the connections among the members of one family can abruptly break, leaving each of them stranded.

Family Life: A Novel
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Set across several decades in and around Newark, Philip Roth’s American Pastoral features one of the most memorably damaged families in recent literature. The book’s protagonist, one “Swede” Levov, is a well-to-do husband and father, and one-time star high school athlete, whose life abruptly bottoms out when his beloved daughter embraces a violent strain of political radicalism in the 1960s. While their novels take radically different approaches, both Roth and Sharma evoke distinctive aspects of the state while also tracking the implosion of family.

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Obama’s Summer Reading List – Read What the President is Reading

OBAMA'S SUMMER READING (1)What is President Obama Reading on Vacation?

by Dianna Dilworth via GalleyCat

President Barack Obama is on summer vacation on Martha’s Vineyard and to celebrate The White House has released his summer reading list.

If you want to build a presidential reading list, we’ve put together Obama’s six reads with links to free samples of each title.

1. All That Is SalterAll That Is by James Salter: “All That Is explores a life unfolding in a world on the brink of change. Philip Bowman returns to America from the battlefields of Okinawa and finds success in the competetive world of publishing in postwar New York—yet what he most desires, and what eludes him, is love.”


2. All the Light We Cannot See Obama Reading ListAll The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr: “From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.”


3. The Sixth Extinction Obama Summer ReadingThe Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert: “Over the last half-billion years, there have been Five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us.”


4. The Lowland Obama Reading ListThe Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri: “The Lowland is an engrossing family saga steeped in history: the story of two very different brothers bound by tragedy, a fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past, a country torn apart by revolution, and a love that endures long past death.”


5. Between the World and Me Obama Reading ListBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: “In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis.”


6. Washington a Life Obama Reading ListWashington: A Life by Ron Chernow: “Celebrated biographer Ron Chernow provides a richly nuanced portrait of the father of our nation and the first president of the United States. With a breadth and depth matched by no other one volume biography of George Washington, this crisply paced narrative carries the reader through his adventurous early years, his heroic exploits with the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, his presiding over the Constitutional Convention, and his magnificent performance as America’s first president.”


Cuban Literature Now – Cuban Writing at the End of a Cold War

Contemporary Cuban WritingCuban Literature at the Beginning of a New Era

On August 14th, the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba re-opened after 54 years, signaling a thaw in relations after a long, tortuous, painful Cold War.

The U.S. government’s trade embargo and travel sanctions have made Cuban literature out of bounds for most American readers, and many of our literary impressions of the island come from a few novels: Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana, and Oscar Hijuelos’ The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, which is set primarily in New York.

Contemporary Cuban literature is alive and vital. As relations between the United States and Cuba improve, we can expect (or at least hope) that new translations of Cuban books will appear and that Americans will once again get to know the literature of the complex and beautiful Carribean island just 70 miles to its south.

Below is a list of some of the best books by Cubans, by Cuban-Americans, and/or about Cuba that are currently available in the U.S.

A Planet for Rent by Yoss, Translated by David Frye

One of the most successful, decorated, and controversial science fiction writers in Cuba, Yoss (a.k.a. José Miguel Sánchez Gómez) is known as much for his unrepentant rocker aesthetic as for his acerbic portraits of the island under Communism.
In his bestselling A Planet for Rent, Yoss critiques ‘90s Cuba by drawing parallels with a possible Earth of the not-so-distant future. Wracked by economic and environmental problems, the desperate planet is rescued, for better or worse, by alien colonizers, who remake the planet as a tourist destination. Ruled over by a brutal interstellar bureaucracy, dispossessed humans seek better lives via the few routes available — working for the colonial police; eking out a living as black marketeers, drug dealers, or artists; prostituting themselves to exploitative extraterrestrial visitors — or they face the cold void of space in rickety illegal ships.
This inventive and raucous book marks the English-language debut of an astonishingly brave and imaginative Latin American voice.

The Domino Diaries: My Decade Boxing with Olympic Champions and Chasing Hemingway’s Ghost in the Last Days of Castro’s Cuba by Brin-Jonathan Butler

Domino DiariesWhether he’s hustling his way into Mike Tyson’s mansion for an interview, betting his life savings on a boxing match (against the favorite), becoming romantically entangled with one of Fidel Castro’s granddaughters, or simply manufacturing press credentials to go where he wants–Brin-Jonathan Butler has always been the “act first, ask permission later” kind of journalist.
This book is the culmination of Butler’s decade spent in the trenches of Havana, trying to understand a culture perplexing to Westerners: one whose elite athletes regularly forgo multimillion-dollar opportunities to stay in Cuba and box for their country, while living in penury. Butler’s fascination with this distinctly Cuban idealism sets him off on a remarkable journey, training with, befriending, and interviewing the champion boxers that Cuba seems to produce more than any other country.
In the process, though, Butler gets to know the landscape of the exhilaratingly warm Cuban culture–and starts to question where he feels most at home. In the tradition of Michael Lewis and John Jeremiah Sullivan, Butler is a keen and humane storyteller, and the perfect guide for this riotous tour through the streets of Havana.

 A Legend of the Future by Agustín de Rojas, translated by Nick Caistor

Cuban Science Fiction

This mesmerizing novel, reminiscent of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, is a science­fiction survival story that captures the intense pressures—economic, ideological, psychological—inside Communist Cuba. A Legend of the Future by Agustín de Rojas, the father of Cuban Science Fiction, takes place inside a spaceship on a mission to Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, while back on Earth, warring super powers threaten the fate of humanity. When the ship malfunctions on the return journey, the crewmembers must face their innermost fears amidst experiments in psychological and emotional conditioning and aliens that may or may not be real.

Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capó Crucet

Make Your Home Among Strangers Cuban American Novel

Longlisted for the 2015 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
Named a best book of the season by Cosmopolitan, Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar, Redbook, Bustle, NBC Latino and Men’s Journal
The arresting debut novel from award-winning writer Jennine Capó Crucet
When Lizet-the daughter of Cuban immigrants and the first in her family to graduate from high school-secretly applies and is accepted to an ultra-elite college, her parents are furious at her decision to leave Miami. Just weeks before she’s set to start school, her parents divorce and her father sells her childhood home, leaving Lizet, her mother, and Leidy-Lizet’s older sister, a brand-new single mom-without a steady income and scrambling for a place to live.
Amidst this turmoil, Lizet begins her first semester at Rawlings College, distracted by both the exciting and difficult moments of freshman year. But the privileged world of the campus feels utterly foreign, as does her new awareness of herself as a minority. Struggling both socially and academically, she returns to Miami for a surprise Thanksgiving visit, only to be overshadowed by the arrival of Ariel Hernandez, a young boy whose mother died fleeing with him from Cuba on a raft. The ensuing immigration battle puts Miami in a glaring spotlight, captivating the nation and entangling Lizet’s entire family, especially her mother.
Pulled between life at college and the needs of those she loves, Lizet is faced with difficult decisions that will change her life forever. Urgent and mordantly funny, Make Your Home Among Strangers tells the moving story of a young woman torn between generational, cultural, and political forces; it’s the new story of what it means to be American today.

The  Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria by Carlos Hernandez

Cuban Literature Carlos Hernandez

Assimilation is founded on surrender and being broken; this collection of short stories features people who have assimilated, but are actively trying to reclaim their lives. There is a concert pianist who defies death by uploading his soul into his piano. There is the person who draws his mother’s ghost out of the bullet hole in the wall near where she was executed. Another character has a horn growing out of the center of his forehead—punishment for an affair. But he is too weak to end it, too much in love to be moral. Another story recounts a panda breeder looking for tips. And then there’s a border patrol agent trying to figure out how to process undocumented visitors from another galaxy. Poignant by way of funny, and philosophical by way of grotesque, Hernandez’s stories are prayers for self-sovereignty.

Cubanisimo!: The Vintage Book of Contemporary Cuban Literature by Cristina Garcia

Anthology of Cuban Writing

¡Cubanísimo! is the first book to gather Cuban stories, essays, poems and novel excerpts in one volume that summarizes the richness and depth of a great national literature. From the turn of the century to the present, from Havana to Miami, New York, Mexico City, Madrid and beyond, the spirit and diversity of Cuban cultureconverge in one vibrant literary jam session. Cristina García has ingeniously grouped her selections according to “the music of their sentences” into five sections named for Cuban dance styles.

Cuba Straits by Randy Wayne
Cuba Straits a NovelPart of the Doc Ford series, Cuba Straits is written by a Floridian who has been a frequent visitor to Cuba and helped rescue Cuban refugees off the coast of Key West during the Mariel Harbor crisis of 1980. Author Randy Wayne is something of an expert on Cuban American politics, and they are front and center in the plot of Cuba Straits, which involves the smuggling of Cuban baseball players and a plot to extort Fidel and Raul Castro.

Literary Newsletter

20 More of the Greatest Last Lines in Novels

20The Greatest Final Words

Last week we posted 20 of the best closing lines in literature, but we couldn’t stop there. We’ve added 20 more of the most memorable, poetic and enduring last words in some of the world’s greatest books. Feel free to use the comments section of this post to suggest any you think should have made the list.

1. The knife came down, missing him by inches, and he took off. –Joseph HellerCatch-22

2. Excellently observed,’ answered Candide; ‘but we must cultivate our garden. — Voltaire, Candide

3. Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood; and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago; and how
she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days. –Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

4. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs. –George Eliot, Middlemarch

5. It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it  is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.– Charles Dickens,  A Tale of Two Cities

6.A LAST NOTE FROM YOUR NARRATOR. I am haunted by humans — Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

7. But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy. — Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

8. I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths  fluttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind  breathing through the grass; and wondered how anyone could ever imagine  unquiet slumbers, for the sleepers in that quiet earth. — Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

9. When the day shall come, that we do part,’ he said softly, and  turned to look at me, ‘if my last words are not ‘I love you’ – ye’ll ken  it was because I didna have time. —  Diana Gabaldon, The Fiery Cross

10. I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be. — Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go

11. For all to be accomplished, for me to feel less lonely, all that  remained to hope was that on the day of my execution there should be a  huge crowd of spectators and that they should greet me with howls of  execration. — Albert Camus, The Stranger

12. Then starting home, he walked toward the trees, and under them, leaving behind him the big sky, the whisper of wind voices in the wind-bent wheat. — Truman Capote, In Cold Blood

13. Whatever we had missed, we possessed together the precious, the incommunicable past. — Willa Cather, My Antonia

14. She was seventy-five and she was going to make some changes in her life. — Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections 

15. If I were a younger man, I would write a history of human stupidity; and I would climb to the top of Mount McCabe and lie down on my back with my history for a pillow; and I would take from the ground some of the blue-white poison that makes statues of men; and I would make a statue of myself, lying on my back,grinning horribly, and thumbing my nose at You Know Who. –Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle

16. Everything we need that is not food or love is here in the tabloid racks. The tales of the supernatural and the extraterrestrial. The miracle vitamins, the cures for cancer, the remedies for obesity. The cults of the famous and the dead. — Don DeLillo, White Noise

17. In your rocking-chair, by your window dreaming, shall you long, alone. In your rocking-chair, by your window, shall you dream such happiness as you may never feel. –Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie 

18. Go, my book, and help destroy the world as it is. –Russell Banks, Continental Drift 

19. Up out of the lampshade, startled by the overhead light, flew a large nocturnal butterfly that began circling the room. The strains of the piano and violin rose up weakly from below. —  Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being 

20.  Are there any questions? —  Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

To buy any of the books on this list, visit our Curated Book List Store on Amazon.com

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The 20 Best Last Lines in Novels

Last linesFamous Last Words

Some books’ final sentences are like a ribbon tied into a pretty bow and handed to the reader as a satisfying conclusion. Others completely alter the story line and make the reader re-think everything about what was just read. In both cases, the closing lines of a novel are the last chance for an author to make an impression on the reader and to leave the reader thinking about the novel long after the reading process is over. Below are some of the most poetic, puzzling, evocative and effective last words – 20 of the best last lines ever written.

1. So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
– F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

2. Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you? – Ralph Ellison,
Invisible Man

3. …you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on. –Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable

4. So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing. —  A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner

5. In a place far away from anyone or anywhere, I drifted off for a moment. —  Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle 

6. “Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?” – Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises 

7. He loved Big Brother. – George Orwell1984

8. No got… C’lom Fliday — William S. Burroughs, The Naked Lunch

9. The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway
leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky—
seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness. –Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

10. Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my
vision. –Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

11. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the
universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and
the dead. –James Joyce, “The Dead” in Dubliners

12. I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic
sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my
Lolita. –Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita 

13. And you say, “Just a moment, I’ve almost finished If on a winter’s night a
traveler by Italo Calvino.” –Italo Calvino, If on a winter’s night a traveler

14. And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea – Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca

15. Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth. –Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

16. When they entered, they found hanging upon the wall a splendid portrait of their master as they had last seen him, in all the wonder of his exquisite youth and beauty. Lying on the floor was a dead man, in evening dress, with a knife in his heart. He was withered, wrinkled, and loathsome of visage. It was not till they had examined the rings that they recognized who it was. Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

17. So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.
–Jack Kerouac, On the Road

18. In the morning it was morning and I was still alive. Maybe I’ll write a novel, I thought. And then I did. — Charles Bukowski, Post Office

19. Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody. J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

20. The eyes and faces all turned themselves towards me, and guiding myself by them, as by a magical thread, I stepped into the room — Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

To buy any of the books on this list, visit our Curated Book List Store on Amazon.com

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The Ultimate List of Page-Turners

The Ultimate List of Page-Turners53 Books You Won’t Be Able to Put Down

Buzzfeed recently asked subscribers to its Buzzfeed Books Newsletter to recommend the most engrossing, page-turning books they could think of. The results: 53 books that you’ll want to read in one sitting.

via Buzzfeed

1. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

This is a quiet, simmering drama with a surprising sci-fi twist. It follows Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy as adults just beginning to come to terms with their unusual upbringing at an elite British boarding school. Ishiguro reveals the disturbing mystery of their specialness with such patience and poise that you’ll be captivated till the very last page.

2. Safekeeping by Jessamyn Hope

Please, for the love of all things holy, read Safekeeping by Jessamyn Hope. It follows Adam, an addict from New York City, traveling to an Israeli kibbutz (rural communal settlement) in 1994 to fulfill his grandfather’s dying wish. But the woman he’s set out to find, and the legend behind a storied family keepsake he carries, soon sets him on a course far more complex than he’d anticipated. Safekeeping is filled with the things that I love most in books: a time period that is close to my heart, characters that are beautifully dangerous, and a setting that feels incredibly alive in Hope’s hands.

3. The Book of Night Women by Marlon James

Lilith, born into slavery on a late-18th-century Jamaican sugar plantation, has unwittingly become the linchpin of an impending slave revolt. She’s left to grapple with a conflict of desires — does she pursue her forbidden attraction to the plantation master, or maintain allegiance to her community and their plot for freedom? The weighty themes and thick Jamaican patois in which the characters speak certainly don’t make this an easy read, but there’s a frightening beauty in theThe Book of Night Women’s brutality. By far one of the most devastating books I’ve ever read, this one also sucked me in and will stay with me for a very long time.

4. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

First off, if you’ve only seen the abominable movie, put it out of your mind. This book is the ultimate in literary romance. Henry has an extremely rare genetic disorder that causes him to pop out of the present and into random points of his own life, future and past. In one such journey, he meets Claire — then a child — and learns that they’ll much later fall in love. Gut- and heart-wrenching obstacles ensue as they work to maintain their relationship across time. A word of caution: It can take a little while to work out the logistics when first reading, but the emotional payout is so worth it.

5. 11/22/63 by Stephen King

Long story short: Everyman Jake Epping is coerced into a time-travel stunt to stop the assassination of J.F.K. and, in so doing, wreaks havoc on the entire world.

6. Who Asked You? by Terry McMillan

 Who Asked You? has everything you could ask for in a multigenerational family epic: the sage and soulful matriarch, a wayward son trying to find his way home, an addict daughter fighting for custody of her own child, and a full cast of other characters harboring their own secrets and personal struggles. McMillan is the master of wry humor and too-true characterizations, making this yet another totally captivating read.

7. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

A kind of literary fiction/murder mystery/heart-melting family drama mash-up centering around a teenager with Asperger’s syndrome. I loved it because I felt like I wasn’t reading a book so much as I was actually Christopher himself in the midst of his bizarre murder investigation.

8. Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy

This is the story of two lifelong friends, Benny and Eve, growing up in rural 1950s Ireland and learning to navigate the real world together — at university and beyond. The moment that Benny realizes she’s been slandered and betrayed by her closest friend, I actually threw the book off a balcony and almost hit my mom on the head. I raced downstairs to find the book so I could finish and see how everything resolved. The entire book is similarly riveting throughout.

9. Legend by Marie Lu

 The western U.S. is now the Republic, a nation at war. There, 15-year-old June is being trained to become part of the military elite. Day is her polar opposite, a teenage criminal born into the slums. They would otherwise have no reason to ever cross paths, until the day June’s brother is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. I couldn’t put this book down; it’s chock-full of adventure, betrayal, secrets, and suspense, leading up to a larger reveal of the Republic’s sinister inner workings and setting up the next two books in this thrilling trilogy.

10. Season of Storms by Susanna Kearsley

 This is one of those books that you start reading in the middle of the afternoon and find yourself finishing at 5 a.m., wondering what year it is. It’s about a young English actress who travels to a mysterious mansion in Italy, having been cast as the lead in a decades-old play that is (shockingly) also shrouded in mystery. Kearsley does anamazing job with this beautiful story, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a fresh read!

11. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

In Thirteen Reasons Why, characters start receiving tapes from their classmate, Hannah, two weeks after she’s committed suicide. The tapes reveal Hannah’s account of how each person contributed to her death, culminating with Clay Jensen, who was hopelessly in love with her. Waiting to discover how he might have pushed her over the edge will keep you up late, flipping fast through the pages.

12. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Libby Day was 7 when her mother and two sisters were murdered. She testified that her brother did it but 25 years later meets a group of people who want to prove that her brother is innocent. Everything only gets more twisted from there.

13. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

The year is 2044, and all human interaction has been relegated to virtual reality in OASIS, a complex future internet-scape entered via goggles and gloves. It’s no wonder that Wade Watts goes there to escape his grim life as an overweight outcast and orphan living in a trailer park. But now he’s stumbled onto the first of a series of clues and challenges that lead to an Easter egg hidden in OASIS’s core which, if he finds it, will earn him an immense prize. What follows is a fantastical, hilarious, and enthralling adventure, replete with villains, chases, battles, ’80s pop-culture lore, and a ton of heart.


Books for National Kissing Day

KissesFrom How to Kiss to Kisses in Art – Celebrate with Kisses

Happy national kissing day! If you weren’t aware that today is a holiday, don’t fret. We’ve assembled some books to help you get into the spirit of this important festival.

The Kissing Sailor

The mystery behind Alfred Eisenstaedt’s iconic WW II photo 

Kissing Techniques

Relationship expert Taylor D’Aotino reveals everything you need to know to master the art of kissing.

Kissing Field Guide

Get your smooch on with all the different tricks and tips in this handy guide by bestselling author and columnist Violet Blue.

Kissing in America

Acclaimed writer Margo Rabb’s Kissing in America is “a wonderful novel about friendship, love, travel, life, hope, poetry, intelligence, and the inner lives of girls,” raves bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love).

The Science of Kissing

From a noted science journalist comes a fascinating exploration of how and why we kiss.
When did humans begin to kiss?  Do good kissers make the best lovers? And is that expensive lip-plumping gloss worth it?

Kisses in Art

Over 130 of the greatest depictions of the kiss in art are accompanied by insightful commentary in this handsome volume.

Diverse Summer Reading: A Round-Up of Responses to the NY Times List

 The Unrelenting Whiteness of The New York Times Summer Reading List

When The New York Times’ Janet Maslin released her Summer reading list for 2015, the fact that it contained 17 books by 17 white authors did not go unnoticed. In a year when national events have made race, diversity and embracing difference a topic of national discussion, many were stunned that Times’ Summer reading list of 2015 is so homogeneous. Jason Parham, writing for Gawker congratulated Maslin and The Times for achieving “peak caucasity,” and Slate.com’s Katy Waldman wondered if Maslin “believed she had compelling reason to confine her search for worthy books to a single racial group”. NY Times All White Summer Reading List

Proof That People of Color Write Books

The silver lining: in response to Maslin’s inexplicably uniform reading list,  a diverse group authors, publications and commentators have created alternative summer reading lists that are more inclusive. Melissa Harris-Perry of MSNBC’s The Melissa-Harris Perry Show wrote an open letter to her audience, with her own surprising suggestions for re-connecting with books and with reading itself. As Harris-Perry puts it, “Reading is about finding something new in ourselves and expanding and sharing this extraordinary world of ideas with one another:”

Other alternative lists include:

Quartz India’s Desi Summer Reading List for 2015

Madame Noir’s Alternative Summer Reads

Book Riot’s Summer Reading List by Liberty Hardy

Clutch Magazine’s List

Our Recommendations from the Alternative Summer Reading Lists:

Summer Reading LIst French Concession

A literary noir about espionage and international intrigue, set in Shanghai in 1931.

Flood of Fire Ghosh Summer Reading

 Flood of Fire completes Ghosh’s unprecedented re-envisioning of the nineteenth-century war on drugs.

Toni Morrison weaves a tale about the way the sufferings of childhood can shape, and misshape, the life of the adult.

A compelling portrait of urban life in the wake of the last major civil-rights bill. Massive change is afoot in America, and these characters have front-row seats.

Lawyer Jay Porter, hero of Attica Locke’s bestseller Black Water Rising, returns to fight one last case, only to become embroiled once again in a dangerous game of shadowy politics and a witness to how far those in power are willing to go to win.

The Curated Book List – Gifts for Graduates

If You’re Wondering Whether to Give the New Grad “Tuesdays With Morrie” the Answer is NO

High school and college graduations are fast approaching.  If you’re casting around for graduation gift ideas for graduates who love words, books, art and creativity and wondering how you can be original, read on. We’ve assembled a list of the least lame, best, most unique graduation gifts that they’ll actually like. Or at least like enough to re-gift.

Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist

$11.43 Hardcover, $8.10 Kindle

Graduation Gift - Tequila MockingbirdPerhaps best saved for those graduating from college (or those who live in a country without a legal drinking age) this guide and recipe book matches grown-up drinks to their literary counterparts. The book also includes drinking games, wry literary commentary and puns. Many, many puns. 65 drink recipes, including The Pitcher of Dorian Grey Goose, The Last of the Mojitos, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margarita, Vermouth the Bell Tolls and more

Literary Iphone Docks

$36.50 Iphone docks in the shape of booksIf you’re looking for the TRULY unique among unique graduation gifts, think about getting your grad one of these literary Iphone docks. They charge your phone AND make you look smarter. Choose from Dracula or Pride and Prejudice. Available from Fab.com

 100 Great Books

amazon 100 books unique gift ideaThere have been several well respected “100 Best Books” lists created in the last few years. A unique – and ongoing – gift idea is to start buying your graduate books on the list, and then continue the tradition for other special occasions. You can start at number 100 and work your way up, or choose books from the list that suit the occasion. Amazon’s “100 Books to Read in a Lifetime,” Modern Library’s “100 Best Novels,” and NPR’s “100 Novels, 100 Years” lists are good places to start.

How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read

$9.59 grad gift talk about books

We’ve all done it – tried to fake our way through a conversation on a topic we know nothing about. And whether or not we like to admit it, it’s a useful skill to have and the sooner your new graduate learns how, the better. This is both an ironic, fun book and a more serious one that makes a compelling argument about the many ways to engage with books. We can thoroughly read them, skim them or just have conversations about them, and each mode of engagement is valid and enriching.

The Art of Work + The Gifts of Imperfection 

$9.68 + $6.79 unique college graduation gifts art of workunique gifts for graduation imperfectionTwo bestsellers to help new graduates navigate life after school. Brene Brown, world-renowned expert on shame and living in the moment, provides a guide to self-acceptance in a world that often tells us we aren’t good enough as we are. Jeff Goins’ s sensational new book makes a compelling case for combining what you love to do with what the world needs in order to find a meaningful vocation,using straight-talk, case studies and research on motivation and talent.

Set of Wood Book Boxes from MyHabit

$29.00 unique graduation gifts book boxesAn attractive place to stow smaller items, and then easily put them on a book shelf. Or leave them out as a decorative as decoration. These boxes come in a variety of styles and look much more grown up than a pile of change sitting on a coffee table.

Amazon Prime Gift Membership

$99.00 unique gift ideas Amazon PrimeThe ultimate useful gift they won’t buy for themselves, one year of Prime means thousands of free streaming movies and tv shows, free 2 day shipping for anything on Amazon, cloud storage, access to free books, and more. Shopping last minute? Buy it on graduation day! Amazon will send the recipient an email announcing your gift.

Limited Edition Art

From $49 Framed unique graduation gift ideas artIt’s never too soon to start collecting! Website Domino.com partners with Minted, a site that finds up-and-coming artists and commissions limited editions of some of their best work. Will these pieces be valuable some day? Maybe. But, for right now, they’re beautiful, sophisticated and they support artists.

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions + An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments

$10.80 + $11.62 unique graduation gifts what if gifts for grads bad arguments bookTwo wildly popular books that are both quirky and science-based. “What If?” was born from the cult webcomic xkcd.com (the kids love it) and provides an illustrated guide to pressing questions like ” If there was a robot apocalypse, how long would humanity last?” The author uses science, math and tons of research to provide real answers to outlandish scientific questions.  “Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments” uses unique illustrations to explain logic and de-bunk popular arguments and fallacies. This book is especially handy for responding to crazy email strings and irrational Facebook posts.

Original Victorian Book Set

$150.00 unique graduation gift ideas victorian books

For the true book lover or collector, each set of 6 books is unique. All books included in the set are original and from the 19th century, a time when book design flourished.  A great way to start a rare book collection, the books in each set are chosen by title and also be color/design, so they are decorative as well as readable. BONUS: For a limited time, get $10 off of this set.  victorian book coupon

The Fashion BookTim Gunn’s Fashion Bible + Outfit a Day Planner

$44.67 + $11.99 + $12.30 outfit a day graduation gift for fashionista unique graduation gift for fashionista Fashion Bible unique graduation gifts for fashionistas fashion book

For the fashionista grad, these three books have it all covered. “The Fashion Book” is a beautifully photographed and thoughtfully written look at style that Vogue called “the fashion bible.” Tim Gunn’s new book covers the history of fashion, with unusual anecdotes about why we wear what we do. Top it all off with a pretty planner/journal, that helps the fashion-minded plan their outfits in advance.

BooksFree Gift Membership

3 Month Membership – $36.99

booksfree gift membership gift for graduationFor graduates who just can’t get enough books: BooksFree is like the Netflix of books. They have a library of thousands of books, including new bestsellers and audio books.  Depending on your membership plan, you can have 2, 4 or an unlimited number of books at a time. No late fees, and you can create a queue, so that as soon as you return one book, another one arrives in the mail.

A First Edition Book

First Editions of

First Editions of “The Catcher in the Rye” start at $125.00

There is a great deal of confusion about what constitutes a first edition of a book, but the simple explanation is that a first edition is an original copy of a book, from the time it was released. First editions can be astronomically expensive ($40,000 for a first edition of “Mrs. Dalloway,” for instance) but others are surprisingly affordable. Prices vary based on condition, how many copies were originally printed and how sought-after a title is. If your graduate has a favorite book, it may be worth seeing if you can find a first edition of that book. A SIGNED first edition makes an especially nice gift…but be prepared to spend more for that gift.

Other Affordable First Edition Books that Make Unique Gifts:

The first UK edition, in very good condition, $49.00

Harry Potter first UK edition, in very good condition, $49.00


Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” first edition from 1953. Prices start at $95.00

Signed first edition of

SIGNED first edition of “The Goldfinch”
Starting at $65.00

Gone with the Wind First Edition, from 1936, in fair condition. Starting at $150.00

Gone with the Wind First Edition, from 1936, in fair condition. Starting at $150.00

Must Have Resources for Independent Writers

Essential Books for Self-Published Authors

There is no shortage of book lists and advice for self-published authors, but after having worked with hundreds of independent authors, Readers+Writers Journal has assembled a catalog of books that we think are key for writers. The longer, complete list is available in our online store, The Curated Book List, but the nine here represent our absolute “must haves” in three categories: books on creativity, on getting published and on book promotion.

Books on Writing and the Creative Process

On Writing, By Stephen King

Essential books on Writing KingThis classic is really two books in one. One part is an autobiography of King as writer, and the other is advice for aspiring authors. This is a seminal work on the craft of writing that manages to be both funny and useful. It’s hard to imagine any serious writer not having On Writing on his or her bookshelf. $11.99

essentials why writeWhy We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do

20 truly gifted writers muse on why they write, how they write and the tips and tricks they’ve learned from years of writing that make the process easier. Features essays from 20 writers, including: Isabel Allende, David Baldacci, James Frey, Sue Grafton, Sebastian Junger, Mary Karr, Armistead Maupin, and Jodi Picoult. $10.99

510Zyu7mhWL._SL210_The Artist’s Way, By Julia Cameron

Beginning with the premise that creativity is natural and innate to all humans, the author walks readers through a 12-week program that is designed to free creativity and remove blocks like fear, self-sabotage, and jealousy. $10.99

See All Our Writing  Picks

Books on Publishing

essential books lets get digitaLet’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should: Updated Second Edition, By David Gaughran

Gaughran is a major player in the self publishing movement, and he has written the most comprehensive guide to the process available. $4.99

Essential Books choosing a self publisherChoosing A Self Publishing Service 2014: The Alliance of Independent Authors Guide By Mick Rooney, Giacomo Giammatteo

An unbiased overview of all the self publishing services currently available. Reviewed by the authors who have used them. $4.84

See All Our Publishing  Picks

Books on Marketing

Essential Books Truckload on AmazonHow To Sell Your Books By The Truckload On Amazon.com, By Penny C. Sansevieri

Marketing guru Sansevieri on the tips and tricks to mastering the Amazon system, including choosing the correct category, book descriptions and author bios. If your book is for sale on Amazon, you need to start here. $1.99

Essential Books Make Art Make MoneyMake Art Make Money: Lessons from Jim Henson on Fueling Your Creative Career, By Elizabeth Hyde Stevens

Creator of The Muppets, Jim Henson was undoubtedly a creative innovator. But he also became an astute businessman. This book explores how he balanced creativity with business, and provides a guide that other creatives can use for marketing. $7.48

essential books marketing a love storyMarketing: A Love Story: How to Matter to Your Customers, By Bernadette Jiwa

Though this book is not written specifically for book marketing, the principles that Jiwa lays out apply to any product, including a book. Her premise that traditional marketing and hard sell are of limited use in the digital age and that developing relationships with customers is ultimately what will sell any product. $2.99

essential books social mediaSocial Media Just for Writers: The Best Online Marketing Tips for Selling Your Books By Frances Caballo

Love it or hate it, social media is here to stay. This guide succinctly explains how to use it without spending hours on it, and also outlines when NOT to use it. $2.99

See All Our Marketing Picks

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