The Debut Novel

I have found myself reading quite a few debut novels lately.

  • Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
    (currently reading)
    I'm kind of in love with this book right now. A Nigerian woman has multiple gods living inside her (some Ibo spirits, Jesus, etc.) and they sometimes take her over and sometimes fight each other and sometimes just comment on human affairs. It's not going to end well for the woman, that much is clear, but I'm really into this.
  • Mikhail and Margarita  by Julie Lekstrom Himes
    (currently reading)
    It's a take on Mikhail Bulgakov and the censors in Soviet Russia.  I just read The Master and Margarita during October, so I've enjoyed all the little parallels that crop up.
  • Pretend I'm Dead by Jen Beagin
    (finished last month)
    This felt a little unfinished, but it was good.  A "finding your way in the world" novel with just enough weirdos to make it interesting.
  • The Strange Case of the Alchemists Daughter by Theodora Goss
    (finished last month)
    Dr. Jekyll's daughter teams up with Sherlock Holmes, and the daughter of Dr. Moreau, and Frankenstein's female monster, and some others to solve crimes.  This was ... a lot.  I kind of lost my patience in the climactic fight scene, so I struggled to the finish.
  • The Pisces by Melissa Broder
    (finished last month)
    I've enjoyed Broder's poetry and essays, but this one wasn't quite as captivating.  A woman suffers a breakup and house-sits for her sister in California where she falls in love with a merman.  Broder is frank and sex-focused and a little bizarre. Interesting book.

There is something exciting about discovering a new author, and getting in early on their career.  I follow a few early career awards (The Whiting Award, The Locus Award for First SF/F Novel, The Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, etc.) where I found a lot of the books above.

What have you been reading? Any up and coming authors on your lists?

9 thoughts on “The Debut Novel”

  1. For YA books, there's the Morris Award, which is specifically for "a book published by a first-time author writing for teens." (So it can't just be an author's first book for teens, it has to be their first book, period.) Last year's winner was, deservedly, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Finalists for 2019 will be announced in another month or so, and it'll be exciting to see what's on the list.

    I recently read The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, which I think has a an excellent chance of being a finalist--and it's a National Book Award finalist as well. It's an engrossing novel in verse by teenage girl in Harlem navigating her Dominican identity, her relationship with her parents and twin brother, and her desire to join her school's poetry slam club instead of attending confirmation classes at a Catholic church. The poems are excellent, and I've heard that Acevedo's narration of the audio book is phenomenal. She weaves together the story in a compelling way that never feels like it's taking on "too much," and I raced through it, finishing it in a couple days.

  2. I was excited to learn that John Scalzi had extended his "Old Man's War" series, so dove into The Human Division...only to realize I had read it before. Not to worry -- I needed to get back into things again anyway. I'm currently ½ way through The End of All Things now.

    I mentioned a while back about reading Hank Green's book An Incredibly Remarkable Thing and really struggling with it. While being sci-fi in nature, it was really the author's reflection on notoriety via the 'web exploring it through the main character. I found it very frustrating and "millenial", with the character's struggle getting in the way of the storyline. And yes, GOML, I guess.

  3. Not on point, but...

    Having recently moved into our new home I've had the joy of unpacking lots of boxes of books. Dang, that's fun. I have a lot of really great books. Pretty much every one I pulled out I thought "I should read this again" or "I still have to read this one." What a great feeling.

    Also, I have a lot of Pynchon and Dostoevsky.

  4. I read William Goldman's The Color of Light. There were large portions of it that I just loved. And then a big chunk would follow that I would hate. And it kept oscillating. I can't recall too many books I've read that have caused me to react that way.

    Rachel Kushner's The Mars Room didn't do too much for me. The injustice within the justice system as well as stories from women's prisons are getting so frequently told that nothing here was thought-provoking.

    I'm halfway through Donal Ryan's From a Low and Quiet Sea. So far, it's too early for me to see how the disparate threads tie together, but the writing and characters are excellent.

    1. Rachel Kushner keeps getting all kinds of great press, and then I read the book descriptions and I realize that I would not enjoy them.

      I'm most excited to read Milkman, Everything Under, and The Overstory from the Booker shortlist.

    2. I finished From a Low and Quiet Sea, and it was spectacular. The first of the three characters was the least interesting (while the prose was great, the story of the fleeing Syrian doctor and his family didn't have any new wrinkles to others I have read about people fleeing strife). The other two characters (about two broken Irishmen) were so vivid, unique, and spectacular.

      I forgot to mention Kill 'em and Leave by James McBride. A fun little book about James Brown (not a bio, just about him in general). The Valet has recently become obsessed with the Godfather of Soul, so it was nice to try to fill in some of the backstory for him to learn about how he ticked.

      On, and I read The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. It was fine, but nothing more than that.

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