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The timelines of history are similarly unstable in Sandra Newman’s high-concept The Heavens (Granta), in which a woman leads a double existence, waking up sometimes as Shakespeare’s Dark Lady in Renaissance England and sometimes in a 21st-century New York that is getting progressively worse. Can her actions really be influencing world events hundreds of years later? How far do we make our own reality? This is a dazzling exploration of creativity and madness in the poignant, panic-tinged end times.

The power of myth-making drives Mark Haddon’s best novel yet. The Porpoise (Chatto) begins as a propulsive thriller about abuse among the super-rich and segues into a classical-world adventure that reinvents the story of Pericles in prose of a hallucinatory vividness. Fantasy also mingles with reality in Max Porter’s light-footed second novel Lanny (Faber), as contemporary communal chatter and a spirit voice from deep time rise and fall together to tell the story of an extraordinary boy in an ordinary English village.


Evaristo shared the prize with the year’s biggest book by far: Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale sequel The Testaments (Chatto), which combines Aunt Lydia’s sly perspective on the theocratic regime – its brutal birth and her ambiguous role at the heart of it – with more action-adventure strands about the two young women seeking to bring it down. Fan-pleaser, literary curio, a fascinating example of the interplay between written fiction and TV: the book is all three, with Atwood’s musings on power and the patterns of history as incisive as ever.

If history felt like a hall of mirrors in 2019, and current affairs a car crash, then Deborah Levy’s The Man Who Saw Everything (Hamish Hamilton) – the riddling story of one man, two time zones and two car accidents – was the novel to read. In the late 80s, Saul goes to East Berlin to study; in the recent past, he faces up to the rest of his life. Skewering different forms of totalitarianism – from the state, to the family, to the strictures of the male gaze – Levy explodes conventional narrative to explore the individual’s place and culpability within history. It’s one of the most unusual and rewarding novels of this or any year.


Halliday’s début arrived in February, dangling bait: a roman à clef starring an aging and unchaste Philip Roth. That’s the first half of the novel. In the second half, Amar, a Muslim-American economist, is detained at Heathrow Airport. A slim valedictory coda binds the two sections together. The complementary stories ping images off each other as Halliday raises volatile questions about imagination and its blind spots, about power, about the love of work and the work of love. Her book is a pleasure rush with a long half-life.


“No heartwarming tale of pet ownership, The Friend presents a meditation on the raw experience of losing someone who is neither lover nor family yet who occupies a distinctive place in the lives of those left behind … With enormous heart and eloquence, Nunez explores cerebral responses to loss—processed through the writer’s life—while also homing in on the physical burden felt by those left behind … Nunez offers no easy solutions; instead, she offers the solace that comes from accepting change. Friendship comes with the possibility of great joy and deep sorrow. Surviving su***de throws us into a realm outside words. The Friend exposes an extraordinary reserve of strength waiting to be found in storytelling and unexpected companionship.”

–Lauren LeBlanc


“The novel is based in many of the realities of the writer’s life, but the prose is infused with imaginative lyricism and tone. In the end, this coming-of-age novel also has one foot on the other side, held between the open gates—a young woman of many nations and many souls. The journey undertaken in the novel is swirling and vivid, vicious and painful, and rendered by Emezi in shards as sharp and glittering as those with which Ada cuts her forearms and thighs, in blood offering to Asughara … Emezi’s lyrical writing, her alliterative and symmetrical prose, explores the deep questions of otherness, of a single heart and soul hovering between, the gates open, fighting for peace.”

–Susan Straight


“Ali Smith is flat-out brilliant, and she’s on fire these days … Winter follows on the heels of Autumn—naturally. But aside from an exquisitely subtle link, the two books share concerns rather than characters or storylines and can be read separately. Their point of connection, so understated it’s easy to miss, demonstrates yet again Smith’s skill at revealing surprising relationships between seemingly disparate narrative threads … You can trust Smith to snow us once again with her uncanny ability to combine brainy playfulness with depth, topicality with timelessness, and complexity with accessibility while delivering an impassioned defense of human decency and art.”

–Heller McAlpin


System up grades for 2019 are underway


“…[a] magnificently hard-boiled novel … a powerful undertow pulls the reader through the book. I didn’t consume it so much as it consumed me, bite by bite. Part of its traction comes from Kushner’s mastery of mood and place, which in this novel is less flashily intellectual, in the style of Don DeLillo, and more infused with yearning … In The Flamethrowers, Reno had a way of absorbing the voices speaking around her and passing them on to the reader, and so does Romy … Kushner doesn’t soft-pedal her character’s crimes, some of which are as cruel as the treatment handed out to them. She’s not a polemical novelist. But while the prison guards berate their charges that they have ended up in this hellhole as a result of their own choices, she summons the indelible image of lives from which all meaningful choices have been erased, one by one.”

–Laura Miller (Slate)


“Asymmetry poses questions about the limits of imagination and empathy—can we understand each other across lines of race, gender, nationality, and power? The fluttering way in which Halliday pursues her themes and preoccupations seems too idiosyncratic and beautiful to summarize … The book richly considers the diffusions of life into art, of my consciousness into yours. It is also a musical document, with characters that play the piano or devote a great deal of energy to considering which CDs they’d want to bring with them to a desert island. Like music, Asymmetry possesses the mysterious quality of a created thing moving through time, expressing its own patterns, its meaning subsumed in the shifting symmetries of its form … Asymmetry stops short of arguing that novelists can leave themselves entirely behind; no person has the power to turn a mirror into a rabbit hole. The book does, however, evoke how our lives can sometimes blur with the lives of others, how a stranger’s features can occasionally ripple up the glass like an arpeggio.”


“In unhappier compositions her metaphors pile up and sit at angles like jigsaw pieces, but in the Outline trilogy they are masterfully in hand. There is urgency, a wish to avoid unnecessary detours, for we have someplace to be … Her prose is not musical, exactly. It is what I would call ritualistic. The monologues in the Outline trilogy are controlled trances, like Stevie Nicks at the end of ‘Rhiannon’: you enter the speed and the artifice and the belief of it with her. They seem to have been written compulsively; they certainly read compulsively. There is a relentlessness to them, an onslaught that is like the onslaught of life. Occasionally you find yourself wishing for someone to get up and go to the bathroom, but most of the time you are transported … Writing about writers is supposed to be boring, but this, for my money, is the most fascinating thing Cusk has done. Also, a fake Knausgaard shows up halfway through, and it rules.” -Chido Machekera


Zoe S.
Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand
I devoured this book in a few days; I just couldn't put it down. Finley, the main character, has what older readers will recognize as anxiety and depression, but being young, she doesn't have the vocabulary to know this. Despite that, the book has just enough fantasy/adventure elements to keep it from being an overly heavy or sad book. There are even some bits of mystery in it! Finley's experience is written with empathy and accuracy, and as well as being an important book, it's simply a good one.


Jeremy G.
On the Edge by Rafael Chirbes
Devastating, desolate, and disquieting, Rafael Chirbes's On the Edge ought to rank as one of the decade's finest novels. Set in late 2010, following the economic crisis that ravaged the Spanish economy (as well as many others around the world), On the Edge offers an unflinching glimpse of a nation despoiled and reeling. A remarkable portrait of one man's struggle to make sense of an encompassing personal, economic, and social decay, On the Edge breathes life into an otherwise asphyxiating scene.


Miriam S.
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
If Jane Austen lived in England in 1914, she would have written this book. Summer Before the War provides an insightful and compassionate look at a world heading towards tragedy, told through the eyes of a young woman newly situated in the countryside. She is a keen observer of small-town life about to undergo the tremendous changes of the beginning of the 20th century.


Emily D.
13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad
This book is written for those of us who struggle in our skin. Awad beautifully describes how we never truly shed that skin, and how it affects us through the years. Her portrayal is truthful, and not necessarily what we want to hear, but rather what we need to acknowledge.


Aubrey W.
Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay
It is no surprise that Guy Gavriel Kay was chosen to help edit Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. His understanding of language as a powerful, evocative tool with which to project life’s story into words, is prolific. This book is no exception. There is political intrigue, unexpected triumphs, and a pirate woman, Danica, whose likeness to the Greek goddess Artemis drives her to the center of it all. I was won over from page one.


Tove H.
The Girls by Emma Cline
A fictional account of a grim and all-too-real episode in American history, Emma Cline’s The Girls is a compulsive read. Even I, the slowest of slow readers, breezed through it (much to my own surprise and delight). But what blindsided me about this book is how accurately — and I mean painfully so — Cline captures the feeling of being a teenage girl. If you are, have ever been, or even just know one, I think you’ll agree that’s no small feat, and will be amazed at Cline’s mastery of it. This book deserves every bit of buzz it’s generated and more.


Ashleigh B.
The Border of Paradise by Esmé Weijun Wang
While I was reading it and for days after I finished, I dreamt about this book. Wang's debut novel checks off a lot of boxes for me: it's a family saga, it's a sympathetic and realistic rendering of mental illness, and it's both beautifully written and deeply disturbing. Wang's characters follow their internal compasses down paths that seem to be somehow unexpected and preordained all at the same time, and they come to devastating ends. The Border of Paradise absolutely captivated me; I can't recommend it highly enough.


Tim B.
The Lonely City by Olivia Laing
You could call this book a collection of essays, or a memoir, or a work of art history. To narrow it down would be to miss the point, or at least lose some of what makes it so special. Reeling from the end of a relationship, Laing explores the work and lives of four New York City artists (Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, David Wojnarowicz, and Henry Darger) and the myriad ways loneliness and the city define and inform their work. It’s an engaging work of criticism and a powerful personal meditation all at once, and it’s the best book of nonfiction you’re likely to read this year.


Creative Publishing

The 20 Most Influential Academic Books of All Time!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sometimes I’ll meet someone who mentions having written a book, and who then adds, “… well, an academic book, anyway,” as if that didn’t really count. True, academic books don’t tend to debut at the heights of the bestseller lists amid all the eating, praying, and loving, but sometimes lightning strikes; sometimes the subject of the author’s research happens to align with what the public believes they need to know. Other times, academic books succeed at a slower burn, and it takes readers generations to come around to the insights contained in them — a less favorable royalty situation for the long-dead writer, but at least they can take some satisfaction in the possibility.History has shown, in any case, that academic books can become influential. “After a list of the top 20 academic books was pulled together by expert academic booksellers, librarians and publishers to mark the inaugural Academic Book Week,” writes The Guardian‘s Alison Flood, “the public was asked to vote on what they believed to be the most influential.” The shortlist of these most important academic books of all time runs as follows

-A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
-A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft
-Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant
-Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
-The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
-Orientalism by Edward Said
-Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
-The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
-The Complete Works of William Shakespeare
-The Female Eu**ch by Germaine Greer
-The Making of the English Working Class by EP Thompson
-The Meaning of Relativity by Albert Einstein
-The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris
-The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
-The Republic by Plato
-The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine
-The Second S*x by Simone de Beauvoir
-The Uses of Literacy by Richard Hoggart
-The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
-Ways of Seeing by John Berger

The top spot went to Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, which Flood quotes the University of Glasgow’s Andrew Prescott as calling “the supreme demonstration of why academic books matter,” one that “changed the way we think about everything – not only the natural world, but religion, history and society. Every researcher, no matter whether they are writing books, creating digital products or producing artworks, aspires to produce something as significant in the history of thought as Origin of Species.”

Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason placed a still impressive fifth, given its status, in the words of philosopher Roger Scruton, as “one of the most difficult works of philosophy ever written,” — but one which aims to “show the limits of human reasoning, and at the same time to justify the use of our intellectual powers within those limits. The resulting vision, of self-conscious beings enfolded within a one-sided boundary, but always pressing against it, hungry for the inaccessible beyond, has haunted me, as it has haunted many others since Kant first expressed it.”

So you want to write an academic book this influential? You may have a tough time doing it deliberately, but it couldn’t hurt to steep yourself in the materials we’ve previously featured related to the creation of this top twenty, including 16,000 pages of Darwin’s writing on evolution (as well as the man’s personal library), Orwell’s letter revealing why he would write 1984, as well as Marx and Kant’s rigorous work habits — and Kant’s even more rigorous coffee habit, though if there exists any 21st-century academic in need of encouragement to drink more coffee, I have yet to meet them.



Creative Publishing

The Twenty-Three Linwood Barclay - Oh, yes, it’s finally here, and it’s quite simply fabulous! I’ve been eagerly awaiting the last in the ‘Promise Falls’ trilogy, each book has ramped up my expectation for the next, and I was literally dancing in my seat when I got hold of ‘The Twenty-Three’. Chapter one, once again is a statement of intent, two sentences, 19 words, and you know you're in for a thrilling, chilling ride. People are dropping like flies in the town of Promise Falls, Detective Barry Duckworth hasn't got time to think, let alone eat. There are surprises at every corner and the story is drenched in tension. Linwood Barclay wields a sledge hammer full of impact, yet it’s his ability to point you in the direction of the small things, the subtle, the hidden, that I really admire. As with life, all the threads aren't left in a neat and tidy row, there are a few left unfinished, left free, to float in your mind, and creep up on you long after you've finished. ‘The Twenty-Three’ is a zig-zagging, mind-gripping, wonderfully entertaining read, and I loved every exhilarating second of it.AVAILABLE AT CREATIVE PUBLISHING



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