5 Overlooked New York Review Books Classics – Fiction

For over 50 years, The New York Review of Books has been a go-to source of in-depth criticism, opinion and news not just on literature but current affairs, science, and culture. The magazine also has a publishing division: New York Review Books, its most famous imprint perhaps being NYRB Classics. For 20 years now, it’s been the company’s mission to bring out-of-print and obscure books to mainstream attention. For foreign-language books, NYRB often commissions its own translations, and each edition they release is accompanied by an insightful introduction or afterword. It’s this sort of care that makes NYRB akin to, say, The Criterion Collection, a home video company specializing in releases of important classic and foreign films.

Here are a few overlooked (less than 1,000 Goodreads ratings) NYRB classics. For more under-read classics, check out Rebecca Hussey’s list on Book Riot.

Talk by Linda Rosenkrantz

This book is a bit of genre-bender, as it’s made up entirely of conversation transcript but formed into a novel through Rosenkrantz’s careful selection and placement. Friends Marsha, Emily and Vincent, well, talk their way through the summer of 1965, covering sex, psychology, friends, careers and more. Truth be told, long stretches of this book are about as interesting as hearing someone describe their dream to you, or listening in on someone who’s high and thinks they’re the smartest person in the world, but the book scratches well a very particular itch of mine: the countless stories, confrontations, conversations and speeches that are lost to history because no one was there to record them. Talk gives you a slice of that, and while little of it is gold, it’s a fascinating reminder of the enormity of life and the novelist’s difficult task of putting it down on paper. If you want to know what life in the 1960s was like for Marsha, Emily and Vincent, here’s a fraction of a fraction of the answer.

 

Young Man with a Horn by Dorothy Baker

I worry that Young Man With a Horn’s “first jazz novel” label hurts more than it helps, perhaps relegating it to historical relic status. That would be a shame, because this tale of gifted trumpeter Rick Martin’s rise and fall is a surprisingly smart novel about not just music but race, showing how musicians both black and white navigated an awkward, tense social landscape in order to sit back and enjoy the pleasures of making art together. I imagine fans of beat literature will dig this one; there are shades of Kerouac in Martin’s single-mindedness, his drive for artistic greatness, even as the rest of his life falls by the wayside.

 

The Radiance of the King by Camara Laye

Said to be influenced by Franz Kafka’s work, Camara Laye’s second novel reads like a 300-page bender. European protagonist Clarence stumbles through fictional town Adrame in an unnamed African country, confident he can procure a position working for the region’s king. This is a book that so succeeds at putting you in the shoes of its bewildered protagonist that you will find yourself frequently pausing to wonder whether it’s you or Clarence who is confused. Stick with it and you’ll continually be reminded that Laye has things under control and is always one step ahead.

 

Great Granny Webster by Caroline Blackwood

Informal storytelling is at the heart of this painfully short but grand-in-scope novel. In fact, Blackwood’s unnamed protagonist does little else but listen to one family member gossip about another. The targets of the majority of the tales are the eponymous, miserable great-grandmother, who seems content to waste away in her mansion, and her daughter, who was put in an asylum after attempting to murder her grandson at his christening. What makes this book such great reading is that you feel like you’re eavesdropping, like you really, really shouldn’t be reading it; I think this is the mark of a great story about a family.

 

Negrophobia by Darius James

I’ve deliberately saved Darius James’s debut novel for last. Jeez, what to say about this downright filthy romp. The book, written as a screenplay, follows “blonde bombshell” Bubbles Brazil, a casually racist teenager constantly at odds with the black people in her life, particularly her maid and classmates. The former finally has enough one day and casts a voodoo spell on Bubbles that sends her on a surreal, relentlessly grotesque journey through her subconscious. “I hope Negrophobia gives you nightmares,” James writes to a new generation of readers in the book’s foreword. The book didn’t elicit that extreme of a reaction from me, but like Bubbles, I came out the experience changed, to say the least.

10 2019 Debuts by Writers of Color That You Need To Read

2019 marks the launch of some timely, spectacular debuts by writers of color. These illuminating books provide a glimpse of relatable stories from around the world about universal themes like family, tradition, and exploring your own identity.

Add some more great books to your TBR with this look at 10 books out in 2019 by debut authors of color. book lists | debut novels | debut books | debut books 2019 | authors of color | writers of color | debuts by writers of color | books to read 2019 | diverse books

99 Nights in Logar by Jamil Jan Kochai book cover99 Nights in Logar by Jamil Jan Kochai

This is a freewheeling, delightful coming of age story set in the Afghan wilderness. Kochai was born in Pakistan but originally hails from Afghanistan and grew up in the States. This surreal debut calls to mind One Thousand and One Nights with its compelling blend of magical realism and literary fiction.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

One of the most awaited debuts is almost here! The first novel from the award-winning poet is a magnificent portrait of a family which asks urgent questions about our collective and personal histories. Heartrending and resplendent, this is one book that everyone ought to read this year.

To Keep the Sun Alive by Rabeah Ghaffari

A mesmerizing debut about a family affected by the Iranian Revolution in the ’70s. Ghaffari handles the intimate struggle of the family amidst harrowing political conditions with impeccable sensitivity, in this evocative tale about the human cost of violence.

The Atlas of Reds and Blues by Devi S. Laskar

This heartrending debut is about an American-born daughter of Bengali immigrants who moves her family from Atlanta to its wealthy suburbs. The novel explores the complexities of being a woman of color, a wife, and a mother in modern day America. A timely, poignant meditation on police brutality and lingering racism.

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli

Hailed by Ali Smith as ‘a novelist of a rare vitality’, Valeria is a formidable Latin American voice and this is her debut novel written in English. The story follows a family on a road trip from New York to the Apacheria, the regions of the U.S. which used to be Mexico. Meanwhile, thousands of children are journeying north, travelling to the U.S. border from Central America and Mexico. These two journeys are eloquently intertwined in this richly textured novel.

Prince of Monkeys by Nnamdi Ehirim

An impressive debut by a young Nigerian writer which astutely blends the personal with the political. This riveting coming-of-age story tackles politics, religion, class, and friendship in small town Nigeria.

How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee

An ambitious novel set in World War II Singapore about the terrible cruelty suffered by women at the hands of Japanese troops. Heartbreaking and meticulously researched, this novel is a meditation on the legacy of violence.

The Pact We Made by Layla Alammar

Set in contemporary Kuwait, this audacious debut takes a tender look at modern Muslims struggling to reconcile their modern lifestyle with the customs of their faith. A brilliantly written, compelling tale about family and womanhood.

My Past Is a Foreign Country by Zeba Talkhani

A Muslim feminist charts her experience growing up in Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, and the UK as a young woman in this powerful memoir. A highly resonant and fresh perspective about living as an outsider, finding individuality and combating patriarchy.

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

Fans of Fleabag and Dear White People will love this painfully hilarious debut about a young woman navigating her way through the world. Starring her eccentric Caribbean family and dysfunctional long term relationship, Queenie Jenkins’s story will keep you reading compulsively till the very end.