Brooklyn Lit: 2010


Our fair borough is full of writers and it’s been a banner year for Brooklyn Lit. So we reached out to some of the savviest readers we know–independent bookstore owners, culture editors and writers themselves, to tell us about their favorite books from Brooklyn authors this year. Their picks:

From Jami Attenberg, author of Instant Love, The Kept Man and The Melting Season
My favorite books by Brooklyn authors (besides the wonderful A Visit From The Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan) are three graphic novels by three smart young women: Drinking at the Movies, by Julia Wertz; How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, by Sarah Glidden, and Make Me A Woman, by Vanessa Davis (who technically no longer lives in Brooklyn, but she writes enough about her time here in her book to get a pass).

They all cover different territory: Julia’s book captures a year of her life as a San Francisco transplant in Greenpoint, Sarah’s book is a memoir of her birthright tour of Israel, and Vanessa’s book spans her adolescence through her twenties. And their voices and illustrative styles are very different, too.  But these books are all equally funny, smart, thoughtful–they’re just the freshest voices around–and I can’t recommend them enough.

From Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, Greenlight Bookstore, Fort Greene
The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris (Prospect Heights): This novel didn’t get the hype of Ferris’ first book And Then We Came To the End–it’s a very different beast. Rather than satire of office life, this is the story of a marriage in which one partner has a mysterious and incurable condition, which might be mental or physical. It’s a painfully apt metaphor for alcoholism, cancer, or any other variety of bad luck or bad behavior–but the condition is a compulsion to walk to the point of exhaustion. The story grew on me until I almost couldn’t finish it, and it broke my heart over and over again. But it’s kind of wonderful that books can still do that.

The Singer’s Gun by Emily St. John Mandel (Greenpoint): Emily is one of the young rising stars of the Brooklyn literary scene, and I never know what to expect from one of her novels. This one starts in the warehouses of Williamsburg and ends on a beach in Ischia, but the journey–involving smuggling, fraud, love, marriage (not in that order), and yes, one fatal gun–is like reading a spy novel populated by people you know. Certain images from the novel are indelible because they have the strangeness of real life–not a small accomplishment.

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (Fort Greene): Jennifer Egan is in my pantheon of writers who can quite literally do anything. Goon Squad is a novel of interlinked short stories, taking place from the 1970s to the near future, and ostensibly about the music industry among other things–but really it’s about time and authenticity and desire and art and generations and life on earth. It’s smart and sad and funny and accessible and also completely original–there’s a section written in PowerPoint (seriously) which is unfairly literate and moving. This is the kind of book you could give to your aunt, or your punk younger brother, or your lover, and have something to talk about with all of them. It is glorious.

From Adam Rathe, Williamsburg resident and Arts and Culture Editor, New York Press
“Now that Richard Price has written the L.E.S. cocaine morality tale of the foreseeable future, it’s left to us literary bottom feeders to find our drug-related niche as best we can,” writes Zachary Lipez in Please Take Me Off The Guest List, a collection of his writing accompanied by photos from Nick Zinner and designed by Stacy Wakefield. And the trio, on this, a third collaborative book project, succeeds. Partially, I think, because Price’s Lush Life was so focused on the Lower East Side that it completely missed how seductively seedy Williamsburg can be.

In “Boring Coke Stories,” the first essay in the gorgeous, cannily architectural book (published by Park Slope’s Akashic Books), Lipez waits outside “that place that used to be Kokie’s” (The Levee, duh) for his man. While the book isn’t all about drugs, nor is it set entirely in Brooklyn, the combination of Zinner’s photos (world weary, bemused, with a Nan Goldin-type sensibility, but nicer bedrooms to take pictures of) and Lipez’s smart, sardonic observations–“I could really love a woman who could kill all these people,” he thinks, walking by Second Stop Café on Lorimer Street in “You Can Always Do Better”–is grimy and alluring enough to force the next group of literary bottom feeders to set out in search of new neighborhoods to terrorize.

From Stephanie Anderson, Word, Greenpoint
One of my favorite books by a Brooklyn author this year was Meeks by Julia Holmes. We did her book launch back in June and it was one of our most well-attended events of the year.

Meeks is the story of two men: one sane, racing against time to find a woman to court to save him from a lifetime of civil servitude, and one crazy, living in a mental world of his own making which, despite his insanity, is not that much stranger than the world he actually inhabits. Holmes’ ability to write playfully—almost whimsically at points–but without tripping over into the realm of the twee, is very impressive. In fact, it’s necessary, because there is such a dark current running throughout. It has the feel of Atwood without being so heavy-handed, and also reminded me of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, and China Mieville. I love world-building, and Meeks proves that it is capable to do some pretty serious world-building without writing high fantasy or hardcore sci-fi. A very strong debut; can’t wait to see what comes next from her.

From Justin Taylor, as told to BB writer, Jon Reiss
Justin Taylor is a Brooklyn-based writer and teacher whose book of short stories, Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever was one my literary fiction standouts for 2010. This past year Taylor co-edited Word Made Flesh, a book of literature inspired tattoos. His forthcoming novel, The Gospel of Anarchy, is soon to be released.

I asked him for his favorite Brooklyn book of 2010 and he responded, “Joshua Cohen’s Witz comes to mind. There’s that great scene with the fake-blind Santa running down by Eastern Parkway. The author himself lives down in Brighton Beach.”

Witz, is a surrealist account of world in which all Jews have died with the exception of first born sons, one of whom, Benjamin Isarelian, was born full-grown and becomes a celebrity as a result of the worlds new fetish for Judaism. The novel reads like Vonnegut meets Saul Bellow in Brooklyn in 2012.

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