Mary is the general manager of Skylight Books and also reads.
A family saga set in Vietnam, starting in the 1940s. It's a beautiful portrayal of perseverance and the will to survive in unimaginable circumstances, with an emphasis on our shared humanity. Bonus: It really puts 2020 into perspective.
A vivid rendering of the marriage between William Shakespeare and his wife (traditionally known as Anne, here as Agnes) and the death of their son Hamnet. Agnes is a fascinating central character, and between her premonitions and deep connection to the natural world, the novel shimmers with magic and possibility and fear and unknowability. For appreciators of beautiful descriptive language.
Set in 1960s London, this novel is a highly literary take on the classic rise-of-a-rock-band-and-ensuing-craziness story, as only David Mitchell could write it. Fans of Mitchell will find the genre-bending (and callbacks to earlier novels) that he’s famous for, and fans of the music will enjoy his evocative depiction of a scene like no other.
At the center of this novel are Mike and Ben, separated suddenly by an ocean and not sure what’s happening with their relationship. From this, Bryan Washington spins a deeply affecting, beautifully crafted examination of love in many forms: relationships, family, the challenge of truly knowing those in our lives, and the act of caring for others.
This tightly plotted page-turner starts with a terrorist attack on a train in West Bengal, and follows the lives of three characters swept up in the aftermath: Jivan, a young Muslim woman from the slums; Lovely, a hijra with dreams of being a movie star; and PT Sir, a teacher with nationalist political ambitions. Timely, and a great read.
This book grabs your attention from the first page. The novel is told from the perspective of a woman who is either the last creature on earth or just insane. She repeats tidbits from the lives of historical figures (painters, composers, etc.) but changes the details every time, and jumbles them up with her own life story. By the end of book, you can piece together the truth about what happened to this woman, which makes for a beautiful, satisfying conclusion.
This book starts out pretty simply, with a man looking for his wife's missing cat. Then the man's wife goes missing. As his search continues, he meets one fascinating character after another, and gets dragged into the surreal netherworld of Tokyo. It's a page-turning mystery story that's also a beautifully written surreal novel. If you're looking for a fresh read, this is it.
David Vann is a fantastic, underappreciated novelist. His writing is gorgeous, and his stories are dark and fascinating. This novel is a study of a marriage gone horribly awry, set in the unforgiving, rural Alaskan landscape. Not a book for the feint of heart, but so very worth it.
One of my favorite short story collections. Haunting, surreal, and so deeply human -- these ones will stick with you long after you're done reading.
I’m not a dog book person, but this isn’t your typical dog book. It’s also the funniest book about grief that I’ve ever read. A woman’s mentor dies, leaving her his Great Dane, a dog she doesn’t want and which is decidedly too large for her apartment. But as time passes, she and the dog grieve together, bond, nearly unravel, and finally heal. The novel is an absolute delight.
A truly remarkable collection, from the author of the story adapted into the movie Arrival. These nine stories are perfect little jewels—mind-benders filled with moral quandaries and dawning realizations. Totally brilliant, and perfect both for sci-fi aficionados and those who last dipped into the genre five years ago with Annihilation.
Written in jaw-droppingly beautiful prose, and framed as a letter from a son to his illiterate mother, this novel was my favorite of 2019. Vuong (who’s also a poet) draws from his own life in telling the story of a boy raised by a mother and grandmother who’d survived the Vietnam War, and the cycles of violence and trauma that follow their family to the U.S.
An incredibly powerful novel about two boys sentenced to a reform school in Jim Crow–era Florida. Whitehead is a masterful storyteller, and through the experiences of idealistic Elwood and his cynical friend Turner, he explores the durability of the human spirit in the face of cruelty and evil. A dark book, yes, but one of the very best novels of the year.
Anyone who's read Rachel Cusk's Outline trilogy of novels won't need convincing to pick up her essays; her beautiful, precise sentences are just as captivating in her nonfiction. My favorite is the title essay, in which Cusk starts with an anecdote about her parents not speaking to her and expands that into an examination of the many kinds of silence in relationships. A great gift for anyone who wants to be wowed by perfect sentences and piercing insights.