Every month, a deluge of new books comes flooding out from big publishers, indie houses, and self-publishing platforms. So every month, The A.V. Club narrows down the endless options to five of the books we’re most excited about.
It’s been decades since David R. Bunch’s science fiction writing has been in print, save for the two stories Harlan Ellison included in the landmark New Wave SF collection Dangerous Visions. But a new collection finally tries to assemble as much of the obscure writer’s stories as possible—or rather, a certain strain of them. Bunch’s largest body of work was dedicated to stories about the fictional world of Moderan, a dystopian and satirical future vision in which the Earth is mostly plastic, men replace their bodies with metal parts, and society spends most of its time conducting largely deathless war campaigns against one another. His lasting influence stems in part from his grandiloquent and oft-absurd narratives, but more directly from his playful and impressionistic language. Perhaps no one outside of Anthony Burgess has so fully developed an alternate English-language vocabulary so largely defined by bold and unusual slang. His stories are a fascinating amalgam of existential reflection, social critique, and a boundless wonder at the foolish extremes to which men will turn in their quest for macho certainty.
Daemon Voices will appeal foremost to writers, as author Philip Pullman devotes most of the book to the peculiar art of writing and storytelling. But fans of his work, especially the His Dark Materials trilogy, will find insight and wit in this memoir even if they’re not storytellers themselves. Each chapter is a speech Pullman gave in the past, edited for the page and capped with a note from present-day Pullman ruminating on his lecture or sharing how his thoughts have evolved since he gave it. Because his inspiration is so varied, recurring themes in On Storytelling include phase space, Heinrich von Kleist’s “On The Marionette Theatre,” and image schemas, as well as the more writing-centric ideas of woods (world-building) and the path (the story), and Pullman’s brilliantly simple deconstruction of writing including two parts: the “writing it down” part and the “making it up part.”
Dear America: Notes Of An Undocumented Citizen by Jose Antonio Vargas (September 18, Dey Street Books)
Jose Antonio Vargas is a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist who is also an undocumented immigrant. His new memoir expands on his past writing on navigating life in the United States without citizenship documents, broadening and deepening his earlier works in a stirring, soulful, and ultimately damning autobiography. Beyond the exhaustion of living in a country whose government is hostile to people like him, Vargas examines his own sense of homelessness, or in his words, “the unsettled, unmoored psychological state that undocumented immigrants like myself find ourselves in.”
And so it ends. Karl Ove Knausgaard publishes his sixth, and final, installation in the My Struggle series, a collection of novels that has seen the Norwegian writer take autofiction to the extreme, exhaustively detailing his family, art, and everyday existence. In the last book—a door-stopper at 1,160 pages, by far the series’ longest—Knausgaard circles back on himself, describing the problems that previous volumes have incited, often stemming from him having written about loved ones. And for the first time, he directly addresses the title, Norwegian for “Mein Kampf,” and meditates on Hitler in general. For die-hard Knausgaard fans reading the author in English, this has been a bittersweet year, as 2018 has also seen the conclusion of his Seasons quartet, this August’s Summer. For newcomers, the struggle is just beginning.
In the States, a different author has undergone a not dissimilar autobiographical project. In 2013, alt-lit writer-filmmaker Megan Boyle started a blog that recorded in minute detail her daily activities and thoughts. No longer wanting to live “impulse to impulse,” Boyle reasoned that if she chronicled her life for an audience, she’d be held accountable for her actions and begin to live the way she should. What results is a 700-page tome covering a six-month span wherein she describes the food she eats, drugs she takes (on a page opened to at random, she writes, “licked finger and inserted in nose, to probe for adderall crumbs”), and her relationship and friendships. In 2015’s Ongoingness: The End Of A Diary, Sarah Manguso meditated on the daily diary she kept obsessively for 25 years (which totaled some 800,000 words) without including any of the diary’s actual text. In its inclusiveness, Liveblog may be the photo negative to that slim volume, and in the process may very well provide new meaning to the phrase “living on the internet.”