Mary Karr, author of The Liars’ Club, Cherry, and Lit:
George Saunders’s Tenth of December is the best book of stories since Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son. The title story may be the best American story since Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” or O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” This is a writer bursting open a genre and working at the top of his game. The stories are also morally useful. Gary Shteyngart’s Little Failure is his best book to date and a wrenching memoir of immigrant agony and the deep schisms a family in stress can foster. And I’m burning to read Salinger by David Shields and Shane Salerno. My devotion to him remains undimmed. Few writers master both social skills and their art, and I’m fascinated by his religious devotion, which I fail to see it as a “crutch.” If you had one leg, would you eschew a crutch?
I never studied English or journalism. Reading these books was how I learned to write: Peter Matthiessen’s At Play in the Fields of the Lord and Far Tortuga; Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree, The Sunset Limited, and Blood Meridian; Joan Didion’s Miami, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and The Year of Magical Thinking; Evan Connell’s Son of the Morning Star; Ted Hughes’s Collected Poems and Gaudete; Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls; Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone; and pretty much everything by John McPhee.
Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief and Rin Tin Tin:
I just started Kate DiCamillo’s The Magician’s Elephant with my son, and I’m really eager to read The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez. I also want to read the Charles Manson bio [Manson by Jeff Guinn] and finally get around to Lawrence Wright’s Scientology book, Going Clear. And I’ve had Claire Vaye Watkins’s Battleborn on my list for months.
The books I’ll be giving to people this fall are Ann Patchett’s wonderful new This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage and Geoffrey Wolff’s A Day at the Beach—one of my favorite books, back in print. They’re both spectacularly beautiful essay collections about love and work and adventure and family and friendship. Reading them will illuminate your own life and make it better.
Roxane Gay, author of Ayiti and essays editor at The Rumpus:
White Girls, by Hilton Als, is a brilliant essay collection. Als offers unique and poignant cultural insights in long, intentionally meandering ways that lead the reader to interesting, unexpected places. Meaty, by Samantha Irby, is another essay collection. Irby is a well-known writer and comedian in Chicago and the proprietress of the blog Bitches Gotta Eat. Her writing will make you laugh so hard you cry and, sometimes, cry so hard you laugh.
Life, A User’s Manual, by Georges Perec, is one of my all-time favorites, good for all seasons. The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, by Robert Tressell, starts in the autumn, conveys the texture of the season, and is the ultimate socialist novel. If you’re not a socialist when you begin the book, you will be by the end.
Byliner is offering a special subscription rate for Daily Beast readers, which gives unlimited access to thousands of stories by the world’s greatest writers. Subscribe today.