Less

He finds himself awakening at dawn, when the sea is brightening but the sun still struggles in its bedclothes, and sits down to lash his protagonist a few more times with his authorial whip. And somehow, a bittersweet longing starts to appear in the novel that was never there before. It changes, grows kinder. Less, as with a repentant worshipper, begins again to love his subject, and at last, one morning, after an hour sitting with his chin in his hand, watching birds cross the gray haze of the horizon, our benevolent god grants his character the brief benediction of joy.

—Andrew Sean Greer

Slade House

Sometimes I envy the weeping parents of the definitely dead you see on TV. Grief is an amputation, but hope is incurable hemophilia: you bleed and bleed and bleed.

—David Mitchell

Little Fires Everywhere

Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too. They start over. They find a way.

—Celeste Ng

The Alienist

We revel in men like Beecham, Moore—they are the easy repositories of all that is dark in our very social world. But the things that helped make Beecham what he was? Those, we tolerate. Those, we even enjoy…

—Caleb Carr

The Muse

Life was a series of opportunities to survive, and in order to survive you had to lie, constantly—to each other, and to yourself.

—Jessie Burton

Days Without End

Just a moment of something that didn’t mean nothing. It gave me heart to see. Things that give you heart are rare enough, better note them in your head when you find them and not forget.

—Sebastian Barry

The One-In-A-Million Boy

He said, softly enough that she might not catch it, “I was a rotten father.” Ona nodded, noncommittal. “There are worse things.” “Like what?” He really wanted to know. “Being an adequate mother.” She took a swig from her coffee mug. “Rotten fathers are a dime a dozen, who even notices? Whatever kind you were—and I’m sure you weren’t as bad as you think—you probably did the best you could, and nobody expects much more out of a man.

—Monica Wood

News of the World

Maybe life is just carrying news. Surviving to carry the news. Maybe we have just one message, and it is delivered to us when we are born and we are never sure what it says; it may have nothing to do with us personally but it must be carried by hand through a life, all the way, and at the end handed over, sealed.

—Paulette Jiles

The Summer That Melted Everything

Dad was telling every one of them to get out of our house. I’d never seen my father so angry. Years later, I would find myself dog-earing a page in a book about the ocean. On the page a painting of gray, wild waves. I have since torn that page out of the book and set the painting to frame by the side of my bed. I suppose it is a painting of my father from that night he raged like waves in a storm.

—Tiffany McDaniel

A Gentleman in Moscow

Presumably, the bells of the Church of the Ascension had been reclaimed by the Bolsheviks for the manufacture of artillery, thus returning them to the realm from whence they came. Though for all the Count knew, the cannons that had been salvaged from Napoleon’s retreat to make the Ascension’s bells had been forged by the French from the bells at La Rochelle; which in turn had been forged from British blunderbusses seized in the Thirty Years’ War. From bells to cannons and back again, from now until the end of time. Such is the fate of iron ore.

—Amor Towles

Moonglow

He cut the engine. The clack of sprinklers filled the car. The wide empty lawns were veiled in shifting iridescence. One of the rivulets in the flow of his imaginings that morning had been the sight of my grandmother rising to her feet on the topmost step of the main building, in the belted navy blue dress she had been wearing the last time he’d seen her. She had lifted a tentative hand, then dropped it and come tearing down the steps toward him. He would burst from the Buick, leaving the engine running and the door open, and go to her. She would leap into his arms and scissor her legs around his waist. The contact of their mouths would be the fixed point around which the world, the day, and the state hospital would rotate.

—Michael Chabon

Homegoing

As Sonny passed the projects that filled the distance between his apartment and Willie’s, he tried to remember the last time he’d really spoken to his mother. It was 1964, during the riots, and she had asked him to meet her in front of her church so that she could lend him some money. “I don’t want to see you dead or worse,” she’d said, passing Sonny what little change hadn’t made it into the offering plate. As he took the money, Sonny had wondered, What could be worse than dead? But all around him, the evidence was clear. Only weeks before, the NYPD had shot down a fifteen-year-old black boy, a student, for next to nothing. The shooting had started the riots, pitting young black men and some black women against the police force. The news made it sound like the fault lay with the blacks of Harlem. The violent, the crazy, the monstrous black people who had the gall to demand that their children not be gunned down in the streets. Sonny clutched his mother’s money tight as he walked back that day, hoping he wouldn’t run into any white people looking to prove a point, because he knew in his body, even if he hadn’t yet put it together in his mind, that in America the worst thing you could be was a black man. Worse than dead, you were a dead man walking.

—Yaa Gyasi

The North Water

He finds the lying comes easy enough, of course. Words are just noises in a certain order, and he can use them any way he wishes. Pigs grunt, ducks quack, and men tell lies: that is how it generally goes.

—Ian McGuire

The Underground Railroad

Was she supposed to pray now? She sat at the table in the thin lamplight. It was too dark on the platform to make out where the tunnel began. How long would it take them to root out Caesar? How fast could he run? She was aware of the bargains people made in desperate situations. To reduce the fever in a sick baby, to halt the brutalities of an overseer, to deliver one from a host of slave hells. From what she saw, the bargains never bore fruit. Sometimes the fever subsided, but the plantation was always still there. Cora did not pray.

—Colson Whitehead

The Mothers

She had witnessed this scene dozens of times before, her husband yelling at Luke. For joyriding with his friends, theater-hopping, sneaking beer onto the beach in old Coke bottles, smoking reefer in Buddy Todd Park, goading Marines into fights. He wasn’t a bad kid but he was reckless. Black boys couldn’t afford to be reckless, she had tried to tell him. Reckless white boys became politicians and bankers, reckless black boys became dead.

—Brit Bennett

The Nix

“Your mom is in trouble,” Alice said. “The judge will never yield. He’s ruthless and dangerous. You have to take her away. Do you hear me?”

“I don’t understand. What’s his grudge against her?” She sighed and looked at the ground.

“He’s like the most dangerous species of American there is: heterosexual white male who didn’t get what he wanted.”

—Nathan Hill

The Girls

Hatred was easy. The permutations constant over the years: a stranger at a fair who palmed my crotch through my shorts. A man on the sidewalk who lunged at me, then laughed when I flinched. The night an older man took me to a fancy restaurant when I wasn’t even old enough to like oysters. Not yet twenty. The owner joined our table, and so did a famous filmmaker. The men fell into a heated discussion with no entry point for me: I fidgeted with my heavy cloth napkin, drank water. Staring at the wall. “Eat your vegetables,” the filmmaker suddenly snapped at me. “You’re a growing girl.” The filmmaker wanted me to know what I already knew: I had no power. He saw my need and used it against me.

—Emma Cline

City of Mirrors

They’d been dead for many hours; his efforts were pointless. Yet one had to try. A lot of life, Michael had learned, came down to trying to fix things that weren’t fixable.

—Justin Cronin

Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates

Well, as I see it, it’s exactly one half-dozen significant things: Humor, Imagination, Eroticism—as opposed to the mindless, instinctive mating of glowworms or raccoons—Spirituality, Rebelliousness, and Aesthetics, an appreciation of beauty for its own sake.

—Tom Robbins

The Invention of Wings

“How can you ask us to go back to our parlors?” I said, rising to my feet. “To turn our backs on ourselves and on our own sex? We don’t wish the movement to split, of course we don’t—it saddens me to think of it—but we can do little for the slave as long as we’re under the feet of men. Do what you have to do, censure us, withdraw your support, we’ll press on anyway. Now, sirs, kindly take your feet off our necks.”

—Sue Monk Kidd

The Door

“Have you ever killed an animal?” I said I had never killed anything.

“You will. You’ll put Viola down. You’ll have him injected, when the time comes. Try to understand. When the sands run out for someone, don’t stop them going. You can’t give them anything to replace life. Do you think I didn’t love Polett? That it meant nothing to me when she’d had enough and wanted out? It’s just that, as well as love, you also have to know how to kill. It won’t do you any harm to remember that. Ask your God — since you’re on such good terms with him — what Polett told him when they finally met.”

—Magda Szabo

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry

A few days go by. Maybe a few weeks. But after that, one by one, other different children start tagging along with Alex and Elsa in the playground and corridors. Until there are so many of them that no one dares to chase them anymore. Until they’re an army in themselves. Because if a sufficient number of people are different, no one has to be normal.

—Fredrik Backman

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

I have no idea what I hope to accomplish. I only know that I must try to see her. That’s what love is about, Roger. It’s when a woman drives all lucid thought from your head; when you are unable to contrive romantic stratagems, and the usual manipulations fail you; when all your carefully laid plans have no meaning and all you can do is stand mute in her presence. You hope she takes pity on you and drops a few words of kindness into the vacuum of your mind.

—Helen Simonson

Euphoria

I have done it. Full fathom five it lies. Hiding out here in the 3rd class library for the time being. Strange how a ship was our doing and now our undoing. Let him rage. Let him rage across the oceans. But he will rage alone. I am getting off tomorrow at Aden. Doubling back to Sydney. He is wine and bread and deep in my stomach.

—Lily King

Lovecraft Country

…stories are like people, Atticus. Loving them doesn’t make them perfect. You try to cherish their virtues and overlook their flaws. The flaws are still there, though.

—Matt Ruff

The Tsar of Love and Techno

His gaze climbed her legs. When he reached her eyes, she’d already seen him. “I’m Kolya,” he managed to say. “Galina,” she replied. Her lips flattened and curved at the ends like something wet that hadn’t dried right. It was a smile. His chest unzipped from the inside.

—Anthony Marra

The Turner House

Humans haunt more houses than ghosts do. Men and women assign value to brick and mortar, link their identities to mortgages paid on time. On frigid winter nights, young mothers walk their fussy babies from room to room, learning where the rooms catch drafts and where the floorboards creak. In the warm damp of summer, fathers sit on porches, sometimes worried and often tired but comforted by the fact that a roof is up there providing shelter. Children smudge up walls with dirty handprints, find nooks to hide their particular treasure, or hide themselves if need be. We live and die in houses, dream of getting back to houses, take great care in considering who will inherit the houses when we’re gone.

—Angela Flournoy

H is for Hawk

A sudden thump of feathered shoulders and the box shook as if someone had punched it, hard, from within. ‘She’s got her hood off,’ he said, and frowned. That light, leather hood was to keep the hawk from fearful sights. Like us.

Another hinge untied. Concentration. Infinite caution. Daylight irrigating the box. Scratching talons, another thump. And another. Thump. The air turned syrupy, slow, flecked with dust. The last few seconds before a battle. And with the last bow pulled free, he reached inside, and amidst a whirring, chaotic clatter of wings and feet and talons and a high-pitched twittering and it’s all happening at once, the man pulls an enormous, enormous hawk out of the box and in a strange coincidence of world and deed a great flood of sunlight drenches us and everything is brilliance and fury. The hawk’s wings, barred and beating, the sharp fingers of her dark-tipped primaries cutting the air, her feathers raised like the scattered quills of a fretful porpentine. Two enormous eyes. My heart jumps sideways. She is a conjuring trick. A reptile. A fallen angel. A griffon from the pages of an illuminated bestiary. Something bright and distant, like gold falling through water.

—Helen Macdonald

The Sellout

Hospitals don’t have the rainbow of directional lines anymore. In the days of butterfly bandages, sutures that didn’t dissolve, and nurses without accents, the admitting nurse would hand you a manila folder and you’d follow the Red Line to Radiology, the Orange to Oncology, the Purple to Pediatrics. But at Killer King, sometimes an emergency room patient tired of waiting to be seen by a system that never seems to care, and holding a plastic cup with a severed finger swimming in long-since-melted ice or staunching the bleeding with a kitchen sponge, sometimes out of sheer boredom they’ll slip over to the glass partition and ask the triage nurse, Where does that brackish-colored line lead to? The nurse will shrug. And unable to ignore the curiosity, they set out to follow a line that took Hominy and me all night to paint, and half the next day to make sure everyone obeyed the WET PAINT signs. It’s a line that’s as close to the Yellow Brick Road as the patients will ever get.

Though there’s a touch of cornflower blue in the shade, Pantone 426 C is a strange, mysterious color. I chose it because it looks either black or brown, depending on the light, one’s height, and one’s mood. And if you follow the three-inch-wide stripe out of the waiting room, you’ll crash through two sets of double doors, make a series of sharp lefts and rights through a maze of patient-strewn corridors, and then down three flights of filthy unswept stairs until you come to a dingy inner vestibule lit by a dim red bulb. There, the painted line pitchforks into three prongs, each line leading to the threshold of a pair of unmarked, identical double doors. The first set of doors leads to a back alley, the second to the morgue, and the third to a bank of soda pop and junk-food vending machines. I didn’t solve the racial and class inequalities in health care, but I’m told patients who travel down the brown-black road are more proactive.

—Paul Beatty

My Review of The Sellout

Rating:  ★★★★★

“It’s illegal to yell ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater, right?”

“It is.”

“Well, I’ve whispered ‘Racism’ in a post-racial world.”

Unapologetically candid, brutally honest, painfully clever, and above all else, really frigging hilarious. It’s absurd how smart this book is, and absurd how absurd this book is.

I’d say The Sellout isn’t for everyone, but I think everyone should read it. If you’re not easily offended, you should read it. If you are easily offended, then you should definitely read it. Beatty pulls zero punches, gives zero fucks, and has created an absolute monster of modern social satire.

Delicious Foods

People who have everything and everything works, those folks don’t even notice that they have it. But set an obstacle in a man’s way and he can see his whole life differently.

—James Hannaham

Between the World and Me

Michael Brown did not die as so many of his defenders supposed. And still the questions behind the questions are never asked. Should assaulting an officer of the state be a capital offense, rendered without trial, with the officer as judge and executioner? Is that what we wish civilization to be?

—Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Nightengale

“Men tell stories,” I say. It is the truest, simplest answer to his question. “Women get on with it. For us it was a shadow war. There were no parades for us when it was over, no medals or mentions in history books. We did what we had to during the war, and when it was over, we picked up the pieces and started our lives over.”
—Kristin Hannah

Avenue of Mysteries

Most dump kids are believers; maybe you have to believe in something when you see so many discarded things. And Juan Diego knew what every dump kid (and every orphan) knows: every last thing thrown away, every person or thing that isn’t wanted, may have been wanted once—or, in different circumstances, might have been wanted.

—John Irving

Fates and Furies

It occurred to her then that life was conical in shape, the past broadening beyond the sharp point of the lived moment. The more life you had, the more the base expanded, so that the wounds and treasons that were nearly imperceptible when they happened stretched like tiny dots on a balloon slowly blown up. A speck on the slender child grows into a gross deformity in the adult, inescapable, ragged at the edges.

—Lauren Groff

Thirteen Ways of Looking

Curious thing, the snow. They say the Eskimos have eighty words for it. An articulate lot. Slush and sleet and firn and grain. Hoar and rime. Crust crystal vapor blizzard graupel. Pendular permeable planar. Striated shear supercooled. Brittle glazed clustered coarse broken. An insult of snow, a slur of snow, a taunt of snow, a Walt Whitman snow, a bestiary snow, a calliope snow, it’s snowing in Morse code, three longs, a short, a long again, it’s snowing like the ancient art of the newspaper, it’s snowing like September dust coming down, it’s snowing like a Yankees Day parade, it’s snowing like an Eskimo song.

—Colum McCann

Did You Ever Have A Family

Probably, there will always be wrinkled noses, folks who make jokes about the Moonstone dykes or the little boy on the rez who likes to wear his mom’s earrings, or me, the half-breed, bastard bitch who lives with her sisters. It stops when we die and goes on for those we leave behind. All we can do is play our parts and keep each other company.

—Bill Clegg

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

Hatred is like a long, dark shadow. Not even the person it falls upon knows where it comes from, in most cases. It is like a two-edged sword. When you cut the other person, you cut yourself. The more violently you hack at the other person, the more violently you hack at yourself. It can often be fatal. But it is not easy to dispose of. Please be careful, Mr. Okada. It is very dangerous. Once it has taken root in your heart, hatred is the most difficult thing in the world to shake off.

—Haruki Murakami

A Prayer for Owen Meany

When someone you love dies, and you’re not expecting it, you don’t lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time—the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes—when there’s a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she’s gone, forever—there comes another day, and another specifically missing part.

—John Irving

The Snow Child

I love you, child, she whispered. Faina’s face was quiet and kind. I wish to be the mother you are to me, she said so softly Mabel doubted her own ears. But those were the words she spoke, and Mabel took them into her heart and held them there forever.

—Eowyn Ivey

Gilead

I can tell you this, that if I’d married some rosy dame and she had given me ten children and they had each given me ten grandchildren, I’d leave them all, on Christmas Eve, on the coldest night of the world, and walk a thousand miles just for the sight of your face, your mother’s face. And if I never found you, my comfort would be in that hope, my lonely and singular hope, which could not exist in the whole of Creation except in my heart and in the heart of the Lord. That is just a way of saying I could never thank God sufficiently for the splendor He has hidden from the world—your mother excepted, of course—and revealed to me in your sweetly ordinary face.

—Marilynne Robinson

A Little Life

You won’t understand what I mean now, but someday you will: the only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.

—Hanya Yanagihara

City of Thieves

Talent must be a fanatical mistress. She’s beautiful; when you’re with her, people watch you, they notice. But she bangs on your door at odd hours, and she disappears for long stretches, and she has no patience for the rest of your existence: your wife, your children, your friends. She is the most thrilling evening of your week, but some day she will leave you for good. One night, after she’s been gone for years, you will see her on the arm of a younger man, and she will pretend not to recognize you.

—David Benioff

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Are two types of jokes. One sort goes on being funny forever. Other sort is funny once. Second time it’s dull. This joke is second sort. Use it once, you’re a wit. Use twice, you’re a halfwit.

—Robert Heinlein

Birdy

I don’t know how long I was dreaming the dream before I began to know. It’s hard to know you’re dreaming unless you catch yourself doing it.

—William Wharton

Empire Falls

One of the odd things about middle age, he concluded, was the strange decisions a man discovers he’s made by not really making them, like allowing friends to drift away through simple neglect.

—Richard Russo

Bring Up the Bodies

You can be merry with the king, you can share a joke with him. But as Thomas More used to say, it’s like sporting with a tamed lion. You tousle its mane and pull its ears, but all the time you’re thinking, those claws, those claws, those claws.

—Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall

Grace dies in his arms; she dies easily, as naturally as she was born. He eases her back against the damp sheet: a child of impossible perfection, her fingers uncurling like thin white leaves. I never knew her, he thinks; I never knew I had her.

—Hilary Mantel

Stoner

In his forty-third year William Stoner learned what others, much younger, had learned before him: that the person one loves at first is not the person one loves at last, and that love is not an end but a process through which one person attempts to know another.

—John Williams

Johnny Got His Gun

If you make a war if there are guns to be aimed if there are bullets to be fired if there are men to be killed they will not be us. They will not be us the guys who grow wheat and turn it into food the guys who make clothes and paper and houses and tiles the guys who build dams and power plants and string the long moaning high tension wires the guys who crack crude oil down into a dozen different parts who make light globes and sewing machines and shovels and automobiles and airplanes and tanks and guns oh no it will not be us who die. It will be you. It will be you—you who urge us on to battle you who incite us against ourselves you who would have one cobbler kill another cobbler you who would have one man who works kill another man who works you who would have one human being who wants only to live kill another human being who wants only to live. Remember this. Remember this well you people who plan for war. Remember this you patriots you fierce ones you spawners of hate you inventors of slogans. Remember this as you have never remembered anything else in your lives.

—Dalton Trumbo

This is Where I Leave you

The thing about people who work in finance is that they consider their job infinitely more important than anything or anyone, and so it’s perfectly legitimate to tell everyone else to fuck off because they have a conference call with Dubai. Billions of dollars are involved, so things like a kid’s birthday or a wife’s dead father are simply not at the top of the agenda. Barry is almost never around, and when he is, he’s on the phone or scanning his BlackBerry with the furrowed brow of one who is dealing with shit that dwarfs your shit exponentially. If Barry was sitting next to the president of the United States during a nuclear attack, he’d still be staring down at his BlackBerry with his default expression, the one that says You think you’ve got problems?

—Jonathan Tropper

Jitterbug Perfume

To physically overcome death—is that not the goal?—we must think unthinkable thoughts and ask unanswerable questions. Yet we must not lose ourselves in abstract vapors of philosophy. Death has his concrete allies, we must enlist ours. Never underestimate how much assistance, how much satisfaction, how much comfort, how much soul and transcendence there might be in a well-made taco and a cold bottle of beer.

—Tom Robbins

All the Light We Cannot See

What mazes there are in this world. The branches of trees, the filigree of roots, the matrix of crystals, the streets her father re-created in his models. Mazes in the nodules on murex shells and in the textures of sycamore bark and inside the hollow bones of eagles. None more complicated than the human brain, Etienne would say, what may be the most complex object in existence; one wet kilogram within which spin universes.

—Anthony Doerr

Straight Man

Truly grateful people don’t make lists of things to be grateful for, any more than happy people make lists of things to be happy about. Happy people have enough to do just being happy.

—Richard Russo

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour

He called me Paulie. “Paulie, run and get me a beer from the fridge.” “Paulie, stay awake, now, it’s the sixth inning, Paulie, you gotta watch the game and tell me what happens.” “We lost, Paulie, it’s another loss, goddamn it, that’s how it is with them losing fucks, they lose on you, the fuckers.” We always began the games with me in his lap, but before the first inning was over, he would no longer be aware of me. In contrast, I was carefully attuned to his every move, to the sounds of the springs inside his gold recliner shrieking with his every shift. Those springs were as tired and tortured as an old flogged horse, but they were just as dependable, singing the song of his unbearable tension, his unbearable despair. He kept track of the game on a scorecard laid upon one flat arm of the chair. Sweat dripped down a can of Narragansett into the carpet’s cheap weave. He might have been in the dugout himself, so physically did he involve himself in a game. Up, down, up, down, pacing, pacing, back and forth: biting a thumbnail in an unnatural twist of the hand; on his feet cursing, which overwhelmed me with alarm; down on his knees and peering up at the TV with me beside him. I watched him out of the corner of my eye. I pantomimed his expressions. I calibrated my reactions to match his in mood and degree when anything of moment shook the stadium to its feet. His intensity blanketed me. What was the Boston Red Sox? What was the world? Every pitch was a matter of life and death, every swing a chance to dream. And what are we talking about? A regular-season baseball game. Nothing. Less than nothing. How I loved that frightening man. How he was everything awesome and good, until one day he sat down in the bathtub, closed the shower curtain, and shot himself in the head.

—Joshua Ferris

Americanah

You can’t write an honest novel about race in this country. If you write about how people are really affected by race, it’ll be too obvious. Black writers who do literary fiction in this country, all three of them, not the ten thousand who write those bullshit ghetto books with the bright covers, have two choices: they can do precious or they can do pretentious. When you do neither, nobody knows what to do with you. So if you’re going to write about race, you have to make sure it’s so lyrical and subtle that the reader who doesn’t read between the lines won’t even know it’s about race. You know, a Proustian meditation, all watery and fuzzy, that at the end just leaves you feeling watery and fuzzy.

—Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie

We Need New Names

And the jobs we worked, Jesus—Jesus—Jesus, the jobs we worked. Low-paying jobs. Backbreaking jobs. Jobs that gnawed at the bones of our dignity, devoured the meat, tongued the marrow.

—NoViolet Bulawayo

All the Pretty Horses

Sweeter for the larceny of time and flesh, sweeter for the betrayal. Nesting cranes that stood singlefooted among the cane on the south shore had pulled their slender beaks from their wingpits to watch. Me quieres? she said. Yes, he said. He said her name. God yes, he said.

—Cormac McCarthy

The Humans

The single biggest act of bravery or madness anyone can do is the act of change. I was something. And now I am something else.

—Matt Haig

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. We are not alone. My life is in these books, he wants to tell her. Read these and know my heart. We are not quite novels. The analogy he is looking for is almost there. We are not quite short stories. At this point, his life is seeming closest to that. In the end, we are collected works.

—Gabrielle Zevin

Geek Love

The phrase ricochets in my skull. “Need to talk.” All these years of silence. I have intended, and do intend, to dog Miranda until my dying day, but I never meant to talk to her. My heart tries to climb out through my ears.

—Katherine Dunn

The Interestings

They were all quiet for a moment; it was perplexing to know what to do when atrocity suddenly came up against irony. Mostly, apparently, you were supposed to pause at that juncture. You paused and you waited it out, and then you went on to something else, even though it was awful.

—Meg Wolitzer

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Sonja stood and walked to the flat, afraid of what she might hear next. At the kitchen table she examined the glass of ice. Each cube was rounded by room temperature, dissolving in its own remains, and belatedly she understood that this was how a loved one disappeared. Despite the shock of walking into an empty flat, the absence isn’t immediate, more a fade from the present tense you shared, a melting into the past, not an erasure but a conversion in form, from presence to memory, from solid to liquid, and the person you once touched now runs over your skin, now in sheets down your back, and you may bathe, may sink, may drown in the memory, but your fingers cannot hold it. She raised the glass to her lips. The water was clean.

—Anthony Marra

The Goldfinch

It wasn’t the kind of thing you could ask but still I wanted to know. Did she have nightmares too? Crowd fears? Sweats and panics? Did she ever have the sense of observing herself from afar, as I often did, as if the explosion had knocked my body and my soul into two separate entities that remained about six feet apart from one another? Her gust of laughter had a self-propelling recklessness I knew all too well from wild nights with Boris, an edge of giddiness and hysteria that I associated (in myself, anyway) with having narrowly missed death. There had been nights in the desert where I was so sick with laughter, convulsed and doubled over with aching stomach for hours on end, I would happily have thrown myself in front of a car to make it stop.

—Donna Tartt

The Luminaries

If I have learned one thing from experience, it is this: never underestimate how extraordinarily difficult it is to understand a situation from another person’s point of view.

—Eleanor Catton

Lexicon

The thing to remember was that all the power in the world didn’t stop a bullet. She had been taught chess at the school, years ago, and the point was the pieces differed only in terms of their attacking power. They were all equally easy to kill. Capture. It was called capturing. The lesson was that you should be cautious about deploying your most powerful pieces, because it only required one dumb pawn to take them down.

—Max Barry

Player Piano

Almost nobody’s competent, Paul. It’s enough to make you cry to see how bad most people are at their jobs. If you can do a half-assed job of anything, you’re a one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind.

—Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

The Love of a Good Woman

He worked hard, not asking that the work he did fit in with any interests he might have had or have any purpose to it that he might once have honored. No purpose except to carry us both toward that life of lawnmowers and freezers which we believed we had no mind for. I might marvel at his submission, if I thought about it. His cheerful, you might say gallant, submission. But then, I thought, it’s what men do.

—Alice Munro

Water for Elephants

Age is a terrible thief. Just when you’re getting the hang of life, it knocks your legs out from under you and stoops your back. It makes you ache and muddies your head and silently spreads cancer throughout your spouse.

—Sara Gruen

In One Person

In increments both measurable and not, our childhood is stolen from us—not always in one momentous event but often in a series of small robberies, which add up to the same loss.

—John Irving

The Orphan Master’s Son

I was terrified, on the verge of crying. My father said, “See, my mouth said that, but my hand, my hand was holding yours. If your mother ever must say something like that to me, in order to protect the two of you, know that inside, she and I are holding hands. And if someday you must say something like that to me, I will know it’s not really you. That’s inside. Inside is where the son and the father will always be holding hands.”

—Adam Johnson

The Night Circus

You’re not destined or chosen, I wish I could tell you that you were if that would make it easier, but it’s not true. You’re in the right place at the right time, and you care enough to do what needs to be done. Sometimes that’s enough.

—Erin Morgenstern