Ben Loory cover

Last month, while rifling through my Santa sack full of galleys, I was drawn to one cover in particular, which depicted a flying saucer and a reddish-orange tentacle. (Let us all admit right now that we judge a lot of books by their covers.) This beguiling art belonged to Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day (Penguin, 2011), Ben Loory‘s crazily entertaining (and sometimes just crazy) collection of offbeat tales.

The Informers coverTHE INFORMERS

I am ashamed to admit that until I read Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s The Informers (Riverhead, 2009), my impressions of the author’s native Colombia came largely from multiple adolescent viewings of the Kathleen Turner-Michael Douglas movie Romancing the Stone.

Memory Wall Cover ImageWhen I began this column, one of my goals was to shine a flashlight on short stories, the neglected baby sister of the fiction world. But when I sent out an APB last year for under-the-radar story collections, and the writer Steve Almond recommended “Tony” Doerr’s latest, I balked.


Jennifer EganI chatted with Jennifer Egan the day after a tornado touched down not far from the author’s Brooklyn neighborhood. Rushing to get home from the subway, she took shelter under scaffolding, watched the sky turn green, and later described the feeling as a “unique weather event,” a term one could use to describe each of her books: Egan is known for her versatility, whether she’s writing about the collision of identity, pop culture, and technology in the National Book Award–nominated Look at Me, or renovating the Gothic novel in The Keep.


LotusEatersI was working in Manhattan on September 11, 2001. After the towers fell, the only person in our office who didn’t seem numb or scared or uncomprehending was a gentleman who, of his own volition, calmly ventured into the street to get sandwiches for the whole staff.


Brian Kiteley first came to my attention via The 4 A.M. Breakthrough, his wonderful book of writing exercises. A professor in the University of Denver’s creative-writing program, Kiteley advocates improvisation and play, urging storytellers to free themselves from the constraints of literary labels: “There is and should be no real difference between fiction and nonfiction. The distinction between the fictional and the fact-based world is overrated and the distance between the two is shorter than most critics imagine.”

The House on Salt Hay Road

Book Cover

When I was little, I prayed to the gods of geography to let me live on an island, but after finding myself in Brooklyn, I thought, This isn’t exactly what I had in mind. Such was the nature of life in New York City that you could actually hang your hat two blocks from the Atlantic and never smell the ocean. Geographically speaking, I dwelled on the same island where Carin Clevidence’s The House on Salt Hay Road (FSG, 2010) unfurls, but this textured novel transported me to a place where I have never truly set foot.


Lean on Pete

When it comes to fiction, child narrators are often as welcome as toddlers in a fine restaurant. You hope they won’t interrupt your meal with their high-pitched voices, and you doubt they’ll stop being precious long enough to try a dish that isn’t heavy on the cheese. This month, I’ve had the pleasure of discovering two writers who have successfully adopted this challenging point-of-view: Their protagonists might not be old enough to drive, but they sure know how to make the story move.


Broken Glass Park cover art

When a writer is said to be “huge in Germany,” I inevitably picture a nerdy American teen who claims to have a “girlfriend” in Canada—a distinction both dubious and impossible to confirm. However, in the case of Alina Bronsky, I can safely report not only that her debut novel Broken Glass Park (Europa Editions, 2010) is huge in Germany but that the book—unlike, say, David Hasselhoff’s music—is deserving of its popularity.

The Jerusalem File


A late Southern writer used to lecture his students to “never compete with the camera.” Discuss.

The relationship between film and fiction is a complex one. If you happen to be a fiction writer, sooner or later, civilians will ask you when you are going to pen a screenplay (which is a little like asking a painter when he or she plans to take up sculpture). Still, the common engine of novels and movies is the simple act of storytelling, and the best examples are a cross-pollination of the two.

TheNervousBreakdown.com, which shares fiction, essays and poetry with more than 50,000 readers every month, is now offering book reviews

LOS ANGELES, Calif. (February 2010) – The Nervous Breakdown (TNB) has built a devoted following of over 50,000 unique readers per month since launching a brand new design with expanded content and functionality on November 15th, 2009.

Since then, the site has featured work and “self-interviews” by celebrated authors such as Stuart Dybek, Stephen Elliott, and Jami Attenberg, and by celebrities such as comedian Margaret Cho and radio personality Karith Foster.

My parents sentenced me to a life of literature when they named me after an ancient Greek monkey in a Lawrence Durrell play and then had the nerve to tack on the middle name Esmé. “Love and Squalor” is not only a nod to my namesake short story (R.I.P. Salinger) but a reminder of two ingredients that too often go missing from contemporary fiction. In this column, I’ll try to include the kinds of prose that give publishing houses migraines: story collections, translations, fiction set abroad, and works that defy genres. Basically, books that like to travel as much as I do.