LIKE YOU’D UNDERSTAND, ANYWAY
By Jim Shepard, Knopf
Eleven stories of Chernobyl, ancient Rome, Texas.
Bring up: His knack for describing natural disasters.
Riff on: Most of these stories take place on the peripheries of empires.
TREE OF SMOKE
By Denis Johnson,FSG
Jesus’ Son author’s sprawling Vietnam novel.
Make sure to allude to: The tricky ending, which, according to a Times reviewer, suggests that Johnson “can’t tell the difference” between Joseph Campbell and Joseph Conrad.
VARIETIES OF DISTURBANCE
By Lydia Davis, FSG
More short stories (some really short) from a minimalist master.
Say you loved: The one set in Oxford (everyone else did).
Quote this: “I put that word on the page, but he added the apostrophe” (the full text of “Collaboration With Fly”).
By Mischa Berlinski, FSG
Debut novel set in Thailand—part ethnography, part mystery.
Riff on: The narrator’s name is also Mischa Berlinski!
Name drop: Edited by Lorin Stein, who also edited Davis and Johnson.
THEN WE CAME TO THE END
By Joshua Ferris, Little, Brown
Funny first novel about layoffs at an ad agency.
Easy dis: You can find the same “cubicle humanity” in The Office or “Dilbert.”
Quote this: “My name is Shaw-NEE! You are captured, Ha! I poopie I poopie I poopie.”
SEE ALSO: Sam Anderson’s Review of How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read