Percival Everett has shattered American literary history with his brilliant retelling of Jim's story in James. Masterfully reimagining the character of Jim from Mark Twain's iconic work, Everett transforms him into a symbol of agency and self-authorship, making Jim's story as definitive of an American story as Huck's, just as it should be. Everett is a master, one of America's best and most prolific writers you should be reading, and if you haven't discovered him yet, I hope it starts with James.
Expanding on her instantly-viral essay for The Paris Review, "What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?", Dederer asks what us the audience should do with art we love made by horrible artists. Some of her essay subjects are usual suspects like Roman Polanski, Picasso and Michael Jackson, and others are not like when she ponders why such a great writer like Nabokov wrote Lolita focusing on the horrible Humbert Humbert or what to think of women like Joni Mitchell and Doris Lessing who chose their careers over motherhood. While Dederer doesn't come up with any easy answers to this dilemma, her essays, thoughtful and intelligent and oftentimes weaving in her personal narrative, are a continuation of the conversations I want to continue having post- #MeToo.
This is one of the most engaging, intelligent and thoughtful film books I have read but that really shouldn't be a surprise coming from Quentin Tarantino. This is not merely a film criticism book or musings but a collection of essays on what Tarantino argues are some of the best and most important films of the New Hollywood era. His writings are rich with facts and he includes criticism from the period to bounce some of his arguments off of, but what really makes his book stand out are the personal stories he shares throughout making this part-memoir too. He also writes his cinema speculation on what Taxi Driver would have been if its originally intended director Brian De Palma had made it - this chapter is not only a great example of how unique Tarantino's book is but clues his fans in on what they could expect from his supposed last film, The Movie Critic. I cannot recommend this book enough!
If you have ever looked at your dog and wondered what their interior life was like, this book is perhaps the most thoughtful, earnest and beautiful examination of that inner life as well as the inner life of those that would ask that question.
Quickly working its way up through the literary canon and into conversations about not just the great American novels but the greatest is John Williams' Stoner. Called "The Greatest American Novel You've Never Heard Of" by The New Yorker a decade ago, Stoner the novel, like its protagonist, had quickly been forgotten here but was rediscovered thanks to its popularity in Europe and inclusion in the New York Review of Books Classics collection. Its protagonist, William Stoner, is a quiet and unassuming professor whose prosaic ups-and-downs, minor regrets, and Quixotic battles with his dean are all rendered in a way that feels both universal and deeply American. I also highly recommend Williams other two books: Butcher's Crossing which is often categorized as the first (and best) revisionist Western, and Augustus a historical novel from the death of Caesar to the final days of Augustus.