Dinaw Mengestu : All Our Names

Screen shot 2014-07-21 at 2.19.45 PMAll Our Names is the story of two young men who come of age during an African revolution, drawn from the safe confines of the university campus into the intensifying clamor of the streets outside. But as the line between idealism and violence becomes increasingly blurred, the friends are driven apart—one into the deepest peril, as the movement gathers inexorable force, and the other into the safety of exile in the American Midwest. There, pretending to be an exchange student, he falls in love with a social worker and settles into small-town life. Yet this idyll is inescapably darkened by the secrets of his past: the acts he committed and the work he left unfinished. Most of all, he is haunted by the beloved friend he left behind, the charismatic leader who first guided him to revolution and then sacrificed everything to ensure his freedom.  Writing within the grand tradition of Naipul, Greene, and Achebe, Mengestu gives us a political novel that is also a transfixing portrait of love and grace, of self-determination and the names we are given and the names we earn.

Jo Walton : My Real Children

Screen shot 2014-06-25 at 10.08.05 AMIt’s 2015, and Patricia Cowan is very old. “Confused today,” read the notes clipped to the end of her bed. She forgets things she should know—what year it is, major events in the lives of her children. But she remembers things that don’t seem possible. She remembers marrying Mark and having four children. And she remembers not marrying Mark and raising three children with Bee instead. She remembers the bomb that killed President Kennedy in 1963, and she remembers Kennedy in 1964, declining to run again after the nuclear exchange that took out Miami and Kiev.  Two lives, two worlds, two versions of modern history. Each with their loves and losses, their sorrows and triumphs. Jo Walton’s My Real Children is the tale of both of Patricia Cowan’s lives…and of how every life means the entire world.  “It explores issues of choice and chance and destiny and responsibility with the narrative tools that only science fiction affords, but it’s also a deeply poignant, richly imagined book about women’s lives in 20th- and 21st-century England, and, in a broader sense, about the lives of all those who are pushed to the margins of history: the disabled, the disenfranchised, the queer, the lower middle class.”—Publisher’s Weekly signature review

Roxane Gay : An Untamed State

Screen shot 2014-06-09 at 1.58.50 PMAn Untamed State is a novel of privilege in the face of crushing poverty, and of the lawless anger that corrupt governments produce. It is the story of a willful woman attempting to find her way back to the person she once was, and of how redemption is found in the most unexpected of places. An Untamed State establishes Roxane Gay as a writer of prodigious, arresting talent.

“Once you start this book, you will not be able to put it down. An Untamed State is a novel of hope intermingled with fear, a book about possibilities mixed with horror and despair. It is written at a pace that will match your racing heart, and while you find yourself shocked, amazed, devastated, you also dare to hope for the best, for all involved.”—Edwidge Danticat

Leni Zumas & Luca DiPierro : A Wooden Leg

Screen shot 2014-05-20 at 2.49.29 PMThere is a long, if lesser known, history of fictions (and fictive illustrations) that invite reader participation, where the reader co-creates the story with the authors.  These stories often utilize an element of chance and/or suggest multiple possible ways a text can be read. Leni Zumas and Luca DiPierro, the co-creators of A Wooden Leg: A Novel in 64 Cards, discuss A Wooden Leg in light of these traditions. Leni Zumas is a professor of creative writing in the MFA program at Portland State University and the author of the short story collection Farewell Navigator as well as the novel The Listeners, a finalist for the 2013 Oregon Book Award. Luca Di Pierro is an animator and illustrator whose work appears regularly on record and book covers and in animated films. Di Pierro is also the author of the art zine Das Ding and the book of fictions Biscotti Neri.

Lorrie Moore : Bark

Screen shot 2014-04-21 at 1.57.36 PMHarper’s Magazine may have said it best when describing today’s guest, Lorrie Moore: “Fifty years from now, it may well turn out that the work of very few American writers has as much to say about what it means to be alive in our time as that of Lorrie Moore.” Over the course of the past thirty years Lorrie Moore, has earned a place among the best and most beloved of American writers. The author of 4 collections of short stories, and 3 novels, Moore’s work has appeared in The Best American Short Stories of the Century, has won the O Henry Prize, and been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize. A longstanding faculty member at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Lorrie Moore has recently become the Gertrude Conway Vanderbilt Professor of English at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. In addition to her fiction, she is a frequent essayist on popular culture for the New York Review of Books. And she is here today on Between The Covers to talk about her latest story collection “Bark” a collection the New York Times declares “will stand by itself as one of our funniest, most telling anatomies of human love and vulnerability.”

Kyle Minor : Praying Drunk

Screen shot 2014-03-31 at 12.29.23 PMThe characters in Praying Drunk speak in tongues, torture their classmates, fall in love, hunt for immortality, abandon their children, keep machetes beneath passenger seats, and collect porcelain figurines. From Kentucky to Florida to Haiti, these seemingly disparate lives are woven together within a series of nested repetitions, enacting the struggle to remain physically and spiritually alive throughout the untamable turbulence of their worlds. In a masterful blend of fiction, autobiography, and surrealism, Kyle Minor shows us that the space between fearlessness and terror is often very small. Long before Praying Drunk reaches its plaintive, pitch-perfect end, Minor establishes himself again and again as one of the most talented younger writers in America. “I finished this book with my heart pounding and grateful, my coffee cold and my smile wide and crying like a baby.”—Daniel Handler

Helen Oyeyemi : Boy, Snow, Bird

Screen shot 2014-03-26 at 9.04.12 PMIn the winter of 1953, Boy Novak arrives by chance in a small town in Massachusetts, looking, she believes, for beauty—the opposite of the life she’s left behind in New York. She marries a local widower and becomes stepmother to his winsome daughter, Snow Whitman. A wicked stepmother is a creature Boy never imagined she’d become, but elements of the familiar tale of aesthetic obsession begin to play themselves out when the birth of Boy’s daughter, Bird, who is dark-skinned, exposes the Whitmans as light-skinned African Americans passing for white. Among them, Boy, Snow, and Bird confront the tyranny of the mirror to ask how much power surfaces really hold. Dazzlingly inventive and powerfully moving, Boy, Snow, Bird is an astonishing and enchanting novel. With breathtaking feats of imagination, Helen Oyeyemi confirms her place as one of the most original and dynamic literary voices of our time.