There are certain books which are spoken of only in low and sober voices, sometimes accompanied by a look a thousand meters towards the setting sun. These books are well-regarded — important, even — but also long, difficult, and a degree of torture to navigate. I call them the Behemoths, because a little hyperbole is in order for books comparable in volume to a Campo’s hoagie.
The tunnel by William Gass is a Behemoth. War and peace and Ulysses? Classic Behemoths. Don DeLillo’s underworld and Alexandre Dumas the count of Monte Cristo are long enough to be in conversation. Last year’s exquisite epic WEB Du Bois Love Songs by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers is a 21st century candidate for Behemoth status. Time will tell us.
David Foster Wallace’s 1996 masterpiece infinity joke is either the Ace or Behemoth Reinforced Library mascot, depending on how forgiving you think she was. I dragged this cinder block around for a summer, with a bookmark for the main text, and another holding my place in its nearly 100 pages of footnotes. Worth it? I mean yes. I deeply love infinity joke, but I cannot recommend it. I take my recommendations very seriously; I don’t need your headaches or your backaches on my conscience. And I certainly don’t want to have to defend him in a conversation.
My Uncle Bob has become one of my reading heroes in recent years, using the newfound freedom of retirement to take on multiple Behemoths. He spent three years working on the work of Proust In Search of Lost Timethen moves on to the Chinese novel of the 18th century The history of stone.
Right now he’s in the thick of it with Thomas Pynchon’s sadly inscrutable The Gravity Rainbow: 760 pages, 400 named characters, no reasonable plot summary available. Uncle Bob does 10 pages a day, rain or shine. His advice? Don’t be a hero. Read Sparknotes, watch related YouTube videos, search for old reviews and reviews. Everything you need to make sense of what you read, make the most of it, and slay the Behemoth.
And now here are five extraordinary books of a more ordinary size.
East Coasters of a certain vintage have Crazy Eddie’s goofy commercials etched in their memories (“His prices are crazy!”), and they’ll be especially captivated by the dirty details in investigative journalist Gary Weiss’s new book. In the 70s and 80s, Brooklyn stereo salesman Eddie Antar built an electronics empire (with local outposts in Downtown, the Northeast, and Cherry Hill) and made sure an original place in pop culture. His secret? Aggressive marketing and smart accounting. According retail gangster, the charismatic and cunning Antar was scamming everyone – insurers, investors, clients, friends, family – until it all fell apart. In the end, will Eddie be remembered as a countercultural rapscallion or a lying, cheating scumbag? (Hatchet, $29, available now)
There are plenty of signs that Jonathan Escoffery’s debut is something special: the immediately endearing characters, the clever storytelling, the tight sentences, the humor, the detail, the windows into mostly hidden places and situations. of us. But perhaps most impressive is how these linked stories about a working-class Jamaican family living in Florida inspire a deftly crafted emotional response. One left me speechless, another broke my heart, and yet another made me gasp. (Have you ever been so broke you were willing to slap a stranger for money? This story made me scream “get out of there” on the page.) To be clear, If I survive you has well-crafted moments of horror and suspense, but it’s the most engaging, satisfying, and touching literary fiction. (MCD, $27, September 6)
In this voluminous and sublime graphic novel/memoir, young Katie, fresh out of university, does what many people do in beautiful, stagnant rural Nova Scotia – she heads west to Alberta, where are the jobs in the oil industry. The advantage is that she could pay off her student loans in a few years, but there are many disadvantages: it is cold, lonely and above all dark, the hours are long and the men outnumber the women 50-1 . As Katie endures all types of harassment and more, she begins to reflect on how work changes people, the environment, and herself. Using soft colors and colorful dialogue, author/illustrator Kate Beaton invites readers into a lonely, alien world just outside our own. (Pulled and Quarterly, $39.95, September 13)
It’s only been four years, but it feels like a decade since Ling Ma burst onto the scene with his sleek plague drama/editing satire. Breakup. Perhaps there’s a glimpse of the future in the author’s new collection of fast, smart news. In “Los Angeles”, a woman lives in a mansion with a hundred ex-boyfriends and a husband who only speaks in dollars. In “G”, a popular drug makes you invisible. I’ll let you guess what “Yeti Lovemaking” is about. As always, Ling Ma’s weird big ideas set the stage for vivid emotional ideas. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26, September 13)
“Nomads have always been at least half of human history,” writes Anthony Sattin in the introduction to his thought-provoking new examination of mobile peoples and cultures. Of course, it’s often the other half – those who planted roots, built monuments, kept records – who dominate the history books. Nonetheless, Sattin argues, those who lived more lightly and left fewer artifacts have made and continue to make crucial contributions to civilization, though their numbers are dwindling and their traditions often put them at odds with the world of borders and walls. (WW Norton & Co., $28.95, Sept. 20)
An aging tennis player comes out of retirement to reclaim her title in this new novel from the author of Rise of Malibu and Daisy Jones and the six. Reid is a champion of bold cinematic drama. (Ballantine, $28, available now)
Each of the nine stories in this charming first collection is told from the point of view of an animal (a vulture, a donkey, an injured pigeon). It’s more boat down that The Rabbit on the Run. (Tin House, $16.95, September 6)
The once reclusive author of Corregidora (1975) and track record (2021) continues its return with this story of a curious trio living in Ibiza: a writer, a sculptor who repeatedly tries to kill her husband, and the sculptor’s husband who sticks around. (Beacon Press, $24.95, September 13)
The television veteran takes readers behind the scenes of SNL, the NFL, the Olympics, the late night talk show wars, OJ Simpson’s car chase coverage, and more. (Simon & Schuster, $28.99, September 13)
A young woman sees the face of her missing brother everywhere she goes in Serpell’s beautiful new novel about grief, hope and what WEB Du Bois called “double consciousness.” (Hogarth, $27, September 27)