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Writers choosing writers

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Aimee Bender (“The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake”) picks ...

Alison Bechdel’s
“Are You My Mother?”
A Comic Drama
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

This book is more internal, more sprawling, more wrenching and less resolved and narratively complete than her amazing “Fun Home,” but I still liked it better. It’s messy and deep. It lingers. It has scenes of Winnicott in psychoanalytic sessions in England and Virginia Woolf walking in parks and Bechdel’s own exploration of herself — the self as lab — in a way that is honest and bold and inviting. (Paul Morse / Los Angeles Times, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
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Bechdel picks ...

Chris Ware’s
Building Stories
(Pantheon)

I recommend Chris Ware’s “Building Stories,” although calling “Building Stories” a ‘book’ is sort of like calling the universe a ‘place.’ This massive boxed set of 14 bedazzling comics artifacts — from posters to pamphlets to bound volumes to a large freestanding tetraptych — explodes the very idea of a book. Explodes, indeed, the very ideas of narrative, time, and space. Ware’s moving, funny, refracted, densely drawn tale doesn’t begin or end. Like life itself, it subsumes. (Elena Seibert / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Pantheon)
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Ware picks ...

Zadie Smith’s
NW: A Novel
(Penguin)

A colorful microcosm of London life refracted through some of the most varied, condensed and recursively poetic prose I’ve read in a contemporary novel; intense word-images flare up on the page delineating a diversity of inescapably 21st century people to whom Zadie Smith gives us a full empathetic mental pass from youth to adulthood — and, like the rest of us, they’re only trying figure out who they are, where they came from and where it is they’re going. (Alex Garcia / Chicago Tribune/MCT, Penguin)
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Smith picks...

Adam Johnson’s
The Orphan Master’s Son
(Random House)

The Orphan Master’s Son” performs an unusual form of sorcery, taking a frankly cruel and absurd reality and somehow converting it into a humane and believable fiction. It’s an epic feat of story-telling. It’s thrillingly written, and it’s just thrilling period. (Roderick Field / The Penguin Press, Random House)
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Charles Yu (“Sorry Please Thank You”) picks ...

Tom Bissell’s
Magic Hours
(Believer Books / McSweeney’s)

His writing is entertaining and illuminating — and his range and depth are remarkable. (Knopf, Believer Books / McSweeney’s)
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Bissell picks ...

Geoff Dyer’s
Zona
A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room
(Vintage)

There’s nothing better than good, weird nonfiction, and no one writes better, more inexplicably weird nonfiction than Dyer. (McSweeny’s, Vintage Books)
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Dyer picks ...

Dean Young’s
Bender
New and Selected Poems
(Copper Canyon Press)

I can’t work out whether forever young Dean is a metaphysical surrealist or an artist who’s missed his vocation: the kind of person who turns a blind ear when his publishers say, ‘Are you absolutely wedded to the idea of using your own drawings on the cover of the new book?’ Wildly inventive, consistently clever and great fun either way. (Graywolf Press, Copper Canyon Press)
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Young picks ...

Blueberry Elizabeth Morningsnow’s
Whale in the Woods
(Rescue Press)

One of the most spirited, fantastically imaginative and passionate book of poems I’ve come across for some time. (Laurie Saurborn Young, Rescue Press)
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Ben Ehrenreich (“Ether”) picks ...

Chris Kraus’
“Summer of Hate”
(Semiotexte)

There’s a lot going on in “Summer of Hate” — love, jail, sex, sobriety, art, real estate, Albuquerque, Arizona, and the Baja coast — but with relentless precision, Chris Kraus captures the desperate, simmering, everything’s-OK madness that gripped the U.S. in the years before the crash. (City Lights Publishers, Semiotext(e))
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Kraus picks ...

Cynthia Carr’s
Fire in the Belly”
The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz
(Bloomsbury)

A beautifully written, sympathetic, unsentimental portrait of one of the most lastingly influential late 20th century New York artists. (Semiotext(e), Bloomsbury)
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Carr picks ...

Katherine Boo’s
Behind the Beautiful Forevers:
Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity
(Random House)

I was in awe of the reporting skill that brought me so deeply into the precarious lives of these Mumbai slumdwellers with nary a drop of condescension or sentimentality. (Bloomsbury, Random House)
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Porochista Khakpour (“Sons and Other Flammable Objects”) picks...

Victor LaValle’s
“The Devil in Silver”
(Spiegel & Grau)

LaValle never writes the same book and his recent is a stunner: a bizarre, fantastical, hellish and hilarious psychiatric-ward horror novel of sorts that makes “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” look downright demure. (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times, Random House)
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LaValle picks...

Rajesh Parameswaran’s
“I Am an Executioner”
Love Stories
(Knopf)

A spectacular debut collection. Parameswaran is a gifted writer and an enchanting storyteller. The two are not the same, and finding both in one package is a rare joy. (Handout, Knopf / Randomhouse)
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Jonathan Lethem (“The Ecstacy of Influence”) picks...

Philip Pullman’s
Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm
(Viking)

I’ve been reading to my children from Philip Pullman’s new Grimm’s Fairytales every night and find myself as absolutely enthralled as they are; his introduction and endnotes are terrific too. He’s rendered the tales in a relaxed, timeless vernacular that frees the crazy vitality of the familiar ones, and brings innumerable lesser-known (and bizarre) tales into focus. (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times, Viking)
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Pullman picks...

Robert Macfarlane’s
The Old Ways
(Viking)

Macfarlane has walked a thousand miles or more along ancient tracks and pathways in Britain and elsewhere, by day and by night, alone and in company, in every kind of weather, shod and barefoot. He writes beautifully, he communicates what he knows (and he knows a great deal) and what he feels with immense grace and skill, and he tells one of the best ghost stories I’ve read for a long time. A truly marvellous book. (Graham Barclay / For the Times, Viking / Penguin Books)
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Attica Locke (“The Cutting Season”) picks...

Errol Morris’
“A Wilderness of Error”
(Penguin Press)

Errol Morris’ “A Wilderness of Error” just floored me. Exhaustingly researched and beautifully illustrated, the book questions the conviction of a man accused of horrific crimes, with the same moral outrage that Morris brought to his award-winning film “The Thin Blue Line.” It’s a haunting piece of art, and a reminder of why physical books still hold so much power.” (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times, The Penguin Press)
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Morris picks...

David Deutsch’s
“The Beginning of Infinity”
(Viking)

“More explanation, less prediction by my favorite nut-ball quantum theorist...” (The Penguin Press, Viking)
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Dagoberto Gilb (“Before the End, After the Beginning”) picks...

Domingo Martinez’s
“The Boy King of Texas: A Memoir”
(Lyons Press)

Hilarious and then not at all, honest, not the usual clichés. What I love as much as this memoir is that the author is outside the members-only of elite, pedigreed creative writers and their network. He’s just a good writer, the book deserved to be published, and deserves all its acclaim. (Grove Press, Lyons Press)
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Martinez picks...

Stephen Tobolowsky’s
“The Dangerous Animals Club”
(Simon & Schuster)

“The Dangerous Animal Club” runs the gamut between the youthful, dreamlike compulsions of a brainy little boy, to the recollections and misadventures of a struggling actor in Los Angeles in the past 30 years, and in between you have story-telling at its finest: well-written, poignant, hysterical, heart-wrenching and above all — wise. (The Brownsville Herald, Brad Doherty / AP Photo, Simon & Schuster)
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Ellen Ullman (“By Blood”) picks...

Andrew Miller’s
“Pure”
(Europa Editions)

In 1785, an engineer — who believes in Voltaire and the civic virtues of public works projects — is caught between the decadence of Versailles and the madness of the ensuing French Revolution. The writing is simple yet exquisite. The narrative pacing is brilliant. I read it in three sittings and wish I’d had the time to do it in one.  (Farrar Straus Giroux, Europa Editions)
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Miller picks...

Rose Tremain’s
“Merivel”
(W.W. Norton)

My favorite read of 2012 was Rose Tremain’s “Merivel,” a moving and beautifully written sequel to her much-loved 1989 novel, “Restoration.” (Europa Editions, W.W. Norton)
STANDALONE PICK
Joshua Mohr (“Damascus”) picks...

Michael Kimball’s
“Big Ray”
(Bloomsbury)

“In his novel “Big Ray,” Kimball offers a complex and graceful peek at one man’s grieving process: It’s a eulogy, a tribute, an indictment, and a painfully truthful examination of fathers and sons.” (Two Dollar Radio, Bloomsbury USA)
STANDALONE PICK
Daniel Handler a.k.a. Lemony Snicket (“Who Could That Be at This Hour?”) picks...

Eileen Myles’
“Snowflake”
(Wave Books)

“I started making copies of my favorite poems in Eileen Myles’s Snowflake — published literally back to back with another collection, “Different Streets,” by the good folks at Wave Books — to put up on my refrigerator, but gradually I realized I was copying the whole book. It’s rare to find a poet who can speak to people who never read poetry and people who read it all the time, but Myles is it and Snowflake is really it.” (Jeff Chiu / Associated Press, Wave Books)
STANDALONE PICK
Sven Birkets (“The Other Walk”) picks...

Michael Gorra’s
“Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece”
(Liveright)

Michael Gorra’s “Portrait of a Novel” gives not only deep background on Henry James and the period but begins to convey, in the most graceful prose, both the grand complexity of “Portrait of a Lady,” and the rewards of a reading that does it justice. (Graywolf Press, Liveright)
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