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10. DUNE MESSIAH, Frank Herbert. (1969) Stunning, highly imaginative sequel to 1965’s breakout sci-fi epic Dune, this novel can only be described as transitional; a shorter work than its predecessor, largely misunderstood at first, it traces events twelve years forward of the original story, where Paul “Maud’Dib” Atreides’ rule as emperor is threatened by enemies from all sides, eventually exacting a terrible price from the prophetic young leader and exiling him blind into the desert, where an even stranger and entirely new chapter awaits.  


9. THE BLACK COUNT, Tom Reiss. (2012) A fluid, thoroughly-researched, and masterfully written nonfiction account of the famous French novelist Alexandre Dumas’ father, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, who was born in Saint-Dominique of a French nobleman and an African slave woman and eventually achieved an extraordinarily unlikely rise to become a highly esteemed general in the French Army - and the inspiration for more than one epic novel written by his literary son.


8. THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET, Sandra Cisneros. (1984) A justifiable modern classic by the Mexican-American novelist Cisneros, this very short novel relates in brief, beautifully spare vignettes one year in the life of a 12-year-old Chicana girl from a poor community in Chicago, and in the process offering the reader full immersion into the tumultuous, confounding, and colorful world thrusting her into womanhood. 


7. THE MOUNTAIN IN THE SEA, Ray Nayler. (2022) An incredible debut novel of speculative, eco-sci-fi that channels the early thrillers by the late Michael Crichton, this unputdownable adventures tells a futuristic story about a colony of octopuses that has been discovered in a remote cove near Vietnam - while the tech conglomerate that owns the cover has attempted to seal it off from anyone else for greedy and sinister ends, a young female scientists develops a relationship with the cephalopods, and all involved soon learn that the highly intelligent creatures might just have their own plans.


6. MY EFFIN’ LIFE, Geddy Lee. (2023) This is the long-awaited autobiography by the co-founder, singer, and bass player for Rush (my all-time favorite band) and one of my greatest creative influences, and while it has perhaps one of my least favorite titles ever, it chronicles Lee’s extraordinary journey: growing up in Canada with two parents that survived an incredible ordeal during the Holocaust; leaving school to pursue his rock n’ roll dreams; and painstakingly building an improbable career with two other musicians that established a permanent place in rock history - all executed with humor, intelligence, humility, and startling intimacy. 


5. THE EMPLOYEES, Olga Ravn. (2018) A spacecraft called The Six Thousand Ship orbits the surface of a distant planet where a cache of strange alien objects have been found and collected, generating a strange effect on the human and android crew; the vast and nebulous corporate owner of the ship sends a group of investigators to interview crew members about the objects, and the short, increasingly mysterious statements that result come together in a brief, weird, philosophical, and stunning novel from the Danish writer Ravn that the reader will puzzle over but will not forget. 


4. THE HUNTER, Julia Leigh. (1999) Brief, gorgeously crafted novel about a solitary, mysterious hunter hired by a biological research firm to go into the wilds of Tasmania to track and locate the last survivor of a particular species of tiger; when he encounters a small family with a single mother and little children whose home serves as an outpost during his mission, he forms relationships with them against his better judgment, ultimately leading to tragic consequences as he draws nearer and nearer to his elusive target.


3. GOULD’S BOOK OF FISH, Richard Flanagan. (1997) An amazing, improbable but utterly unique novel about a small-time criminal and painter from England during the early 19th century who is tried and incarcerated on a remote island prison off the coast of Tasmania (again?); based on a true story, the titular Gould endures extraordinary forms of torture, violent uprisings, and a full array of bizarre, abusive, and crazed characters, all while passing time by painting a collection of rare fish in a battered notebook. 


2. IN THE VALLEY, Ron Rash. (2020) This potpourri of a book by the indisputably great American novelist and short story writer Rash features nine terrific short pieces and a closing, titular novella - the former highlighted by a remarkable tale of a haunted WWI veteran turned painter (“L’homme Blesse”); the latter a deeply chilling but stunning continuation of/coda to Rash’s 2008 bestseller Serena about a Carolina lumber baroness who makes Lady Macbeth look like a willowy housewife. 


1. TIE:  SMALL THINGS LIKE THESE/FOSTER, Claire Keegan. (2021/2022) These extraordinary, pithy novels by emerging Irish master Keegan - as far as I can remember, the only ones I read twice each in the space of one year - feature poetic writing, astonishing economy, subtle but razor sharp commentary, and humor, all having to do with small Irish communities and individual characters struggling against poverty, history, and overlooked injustices. Breaking the one-sentence constraint to implore you: these books should not be missed. 



CHECKOUT 19, CLaire-Louise Bennett. I wanted to read this breakout novel by the British writer Bennett (Pond) because it seemed audacious and made it on to the NY Times’ (and numerous others’) Best Books of 2022 listing; but for my money, this weird, tedious, and nearly impenetrable “story,” seemingly about a young, female student finding her voice through books, memories, introspection, relationships with men (mostly bitter ones), and observations made from the grocery store where she occasionally finds work, is autoficion at its most solipsistic. I can take the next customer over here! WOOF.

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