Welcome to Chris's recommendations! Chris Lee is from West Virginia. He was raised on Seinfeld, Oatmeal Crème Pies, and dirt.
Check out what Chris has been reading below!
I laughed, I cried, it moved me. (And yes, it’s better than Cats.) Seriously - this is Chicken Soup for the Soul for smart people, which I mean in the best way possible. This book is going to make you feel better about being alive. Ross Gay kept a Delight Diary for a year, chronicling his daily experiences of delight. Delight, not joy; a subtle difference, yeah, but it’s there - Gay’s moments of delight seem more self-aware, more grounded, maybe, than pure joy, and yet, simultaneously, more spontaneous, likely to catch him by surprise. He also drifts back and forth between delight as noun and verb, significant for the agency it gives the delighter. Whittled down to just over 100 entries, Gay uses a poet’s formula (brevity + depth = truth nuggets) to live an examined life in moments. Throughout, he’s bold enough to deep-dive into the messy reality of life’s bits of levity, to remain open-eyed and honest, historically and contextually aware. Recurring themes are race, the complications of the black male body in space, mortality, the personal and communal tragedies that separate and unite us, and the reached-out fingertips that occasionally manage to brush each other across that divide. I could talk about how impossibly uplifting this book is forever, but what I should really do is just put it in your hands and hope it has even a fraction of the effect on you that it’s had on me, because that would truly be a delight.
Poet Edgar Kunz debut collection is something like vaguely Midwesterny/Rust Belty dirty-realism-narrative-verse. But that’s not what I love here, not what moved me about this book. Kunz writes from his coming of age in the kind of place where I grew up, where many people are poor and hard and the first question a lot of guys’ dads will ask you as they poke a thick finger in your chest is, are you tough? Full disclosure, Kunz grew up far more in the midst of this world than I – he writes about his simultaneous love and disgust of his alcoholic father, the long suffering and death of his mentally ill mother – but the truth he might as well have written from my own life is the realization, early on, that you’ve got to get away from the place you come from. Kunz tracks how that original bolt becomes habitual, the learned impulse at the first sign of trouble in any place, in any relationship, that tells you, run away. And yet, he complicates it, because once you’ve bolted, then what? These poems are a portrait of some of the frayed edges of masculinity and identity, of inheritance and possibility, that captures a truth about people’s fractured relationships with home.
One summer night four high school classmates, now in their late 20's and varying degrees of lost, converge by chance in their middle-of-nowhere, Rust Belt broken hometown. Each on a mission - deliver a maybe-it's-drugs package, hook up with an ex - that winds through a landscape of memories and of painkillers, higher ed., wars in the Middle East, wars at home, the aftermath of American industrial decline, high school romance, sex tapes, date rape, and lost love of all kinds. Remembering leads to violence. Markley weaves it all together seamlessly. Ohio is a portrait of incredible depth that tells the truth of a generation doomed from the start but still swinging for the fences as they run out the strings of their wrecked lives.
A woman can give the whole world the finger just as well as any Angry Young Man™. Summer, 2000, NYC, a brand new century full of glossy optimism. On the Upper East Side, though, one woman wants nothing to do with it. Beautiful, blonde, educated, and rich with inheritance money, she's loathe to go outside and wants only to watch her Whoopi Goldberg tapes, self-medicate, and sleep. It's a book about detachment, alienation, grief, anger, heritage, and surviving by any means what should be a life of privilege and means. Oh, yeah, and it's amazing. Moshfegh's writing feels, to me, maybe a little reminiscent of the cool, detached ache of early Bret Easton Ellis, but that's just a touchstone - her voice is all her own, raw, flip, tender, cruel, and just barely a little, tiny bit hopeful all at once.
If you are the type of person who looks up from your book and reads the good bits out loud - the funny parts, the poignant parts, the punch-in-the-stomach truths - then, when you finish The New Me, you'll hand it to your couch partner and say, "you've got to read this," and they'll say to you, "you’ve already read the whole book to me." This is an anxiety-inducing, brutal, bleak delight. Halle Butler understands deeply how the young people are living right now, and you will love her and maybe also hate her for telling it so truthfully.
Cherry is Full Metal Jacket for the Iraq War, kicking in doors until it's boring and watching friends die ugly, pointless deaths. But then it comes home to an addict's life of dope boys and thieving, living from shot to shot. It's a love story, too, of two lost soul junkies who swear they'd do anything for each other and maybe have done everything to hurt one another. It's a book written with a technicolor pathos that's jaw-clenched, eyes-peeled, wired-awake funny until it hurts. And then it keeps laughing right in your face. You know this story doesn't end well from the start, but when the only finish lines are dead or in jail, you're just happy just to see someone wring a little bit of joy out of any day in this burnt out, sorry world.
As Sam Pink writes, you have to make rules for you life. Rules like, don't die in a bagel suit. This book is two novellas connected by an irascible, bust-a-gut funny narrator who gives a look at life on the grubby side. Pink is an indie darling who deserves a wider audience for his ability to dig into moments of life at its weirdest and most revealing. Dark times at an afternoon pool party outside Tampa. Shoveling snow in Chicago out of boredom. And best of all - unclogging a bar toilet, a potential gross-out that Pink turns into the greatest sex scene you've ever read in your life.
Bored, curious, a little angry, a little scared, Miles Lover drifts through the summer before high school getting drunk and high, crashing his divorcing parents' condos, and wandering the streets of Baltimore, looking for something, though he's not sure exactly what. This is the absolute best book I've ever read about being a teenage boy, feeling aimless and invisible. It ditches the cliché eye rolls and angsty sighs for a voice that's realer than real and tells the truth of those nervous, empty, unsure moments between adolescence and adulthood as life begins tripping toward one of any infinite number of different paths.
The Great Believers is the kind of book that reminds me why I love reading in the first place, a book that lets you live a part of someone else's life. It's the kind of book that throws open the door of a world and welcomes you inside. It's about Yale Tishman in Chicago in the 80s, as his art world career begins to take off, watching his friends - his family (one genius conceit of the novel is the family saga structure Makkai uses to tell these friends' story) - decimated by the AIDS crisis during its American height. And there's a second storyline, 30 years on, as Yale's dear friend Fiona searches for her runaway daughter in Paris, pulling old friends back into her orbit as she comes to terms with the toll of losing those closest to her decades before - there's a devastating understanding in this book that the damage of PTSD comes from more than one kind of war. This is a beautiful, heart wrenching, and true novel.
Terrifying. Reading Kehlmann's latest novel is like watching a horror movie from the inside. A writer takes his family for a mountain retreat, hoping to escape the city, finish his newest screenplay, and maybe find a bit of serenity. But something in the rented house isn't right. Rooms shift, hallways expand, reflections fade. Brisk and gripping, you'll read this slim novel in one sitting, consumed, disappearing into the book as the writer disappears into the house, stunned as you turn the last page, compelled to check in a mirror to be sure you still exist, then turning back to the first page to immediately begin rereading.
DeShawn looks in the mirror and sees a man absent from himself. A San Francisco punk, he feels his hard-won years of partying and promiscuity coming to a close yet cannot envision the rest of his life. An uncle’s death brings him home to the deep south of rural Alabama, his mother’s church and the women who raised him, the specter of his father, and the boys and men of his youth who shaped him. A deeply human story of a man unapologetically defining himself against expectations and labels yet struggling to feel that he still deserves to be loved.
"History marks its territory. The past scars the land, erodes rocky soil and streams. It lives in the shape of boulders and peaks. In Null's stories, people shudder against the seismic pressure of time that shapes their lives in the ancient Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia. This collection is hard, deep, and true as the mountains' darkest hollows, as Null sweeps through moments in the last century, making each feel as urgent as your foot caught in the rocks and your body pulled under swirling white water rapids." --Chris
A nurse and a teacher marry and divorce in a small town in West Virginia. This is the greatest love story ever written. Scott stares down Sarah with crocodile tears shimmering in his eyes and laughter growling inside his toothy grin. His heart is punch-drunk, and he dies every day then gets up again the next morning, fists swinging and full of life. His writing will humble you with its honesty and leave you embarrassed by every tiny fib and little white lie you've ever told in your whole life. If you don't like this book, you must already be dead inside.
"McClanahan recounts his time as a kid living with a grandma who battles the trash cat that just won't die and palsied uncle who sends what little money he has to the TV preacher, years spent with little else to do but hang out watching the action at the gas station next door. This book will break your heart, but you won't mind for all the laughing you'll do. It's truest book I've ever read about growing up in my home, the hills and hollers West Virginia, and if you don't like it I will fight you." --Chris
Jamie Paddock is living the standard-issue millennial New York life - overpriced apartment, underpaid bank account, sorta cool media company writing gig. The only piece of his former life is an arrowhead from the woods of his childhood, carried like a totem. He’s floating, drifting along, semi-lost, semi-attached, semi-high. Then his father dies under strange circumstances, and he’s drawn back to West Virginia and the accent he’s suppressed, the family he’s ignored, and the life he’s left behind. Halstead’s book explores the tensions between home’s hold on us and our desire to make a new life and leave our roots behind, especially coming from a such a hard, poor, dark place as the hollers of West Virginia. The story captures the way a place shapes who we are and who we let ourselves become and the unique sense of folks born in the mountains who feel like outsiders from both the world and from their own kind and kin.
If we’re comparing books to television, and why shouldn’t we be, then Johnston’s second novel is clearly the critical darling mini-series from your premium subscription-package channel kind of TV. You know the shows I’m talking about. If really good cozies are Masterpiece Theater, and maybe the not-so-good ones are Lifetime movies, and the middling psychological thrillers are the ones that get made into, well, middling psychological thriller series that drag on for three to seven seasons on channels that bored people sort of half watch while they’re ironing, then The Current is that show that’s filling up your Twitter feed, the one all the cool people won’t shut up about with the arty opening credit sequence. So what’s it about, right? Well, yeah, it is another book about dead girls, and if that’s a story that you’re understandably tired of, then this book won’t convince you otherwise. But, to Johnston’s credit, it’s also about the strength and humanity of those girls and women, and the book does confront men who do bad things and deals honestly with good men and how they respond to bad actions, what they do and what they leave undone. The story twists and weaves through these people’s lives before, during, and after a crime is committed. There are several times in the novel where all questions seem answered, where Johnston could have wrapped up the story all nice and neat, but that’s not the writer he is – he keeps pushing, deeper and deeper, in this masterful performance that plumbs the depths of life’s extremes.
"In this haunting debut Dana Cann has created a hybrid genre, the supernatural suburban suspense, a dope fiend domestic drama. In the wake of two seemingly unrelated deaths, the lives of three survivors are unhinged, a woman drifting into addiction and a couple’s marriage dissolving. In deftly plotted chapters these lives intertwine as the characters’ grief and guilt manifest as ghosts both metaphoric and real. The emotions are big and complicated, drawn so expertly the discomfort of their experience is felt before it’s understood, a feat not easily accomplished. The novel drives to its conclusion like a traditional mystery, but the question of ‘whodunit’ is an afterthought to Cann asking how we repair our lives after bearing witness to death." --Chris
"Guilty to have life and not know what to do with it." Kyle and Swin are two young, small time criminals hiding out in a dilapidated state park, caught up in a dope deal that's too big for them and going all wrong. Brandon uses the set dressing of a crime novel against the backdrop of the strip-mall, backwoods modern American South to explore bigger questions. Can young, aimless men find meaning for their lives anymore? And can they do it before Frog decides he wants his money back and comes to take it?" --Chris
"Stewart O'Nan's ‘City of Secrets’ is at once a return to the mystery and suspense of much of his oeuvre and an exploration of a difficult place and time in history, a new setting for his work. O'Nan's singularly fluent prose marks the book as solely his from the first page, and the remarkable depth with which he understands human nature and the internal conflicts that both drive and give pause is on full display as he unfolds the story of Brand, a holocaust survivor and illegal refugee in British-ruled, post-WWII Jerusalem. Brand is a somewhat reluctant member of the violent underground resistance to the British occupation, and through his story the novel asks how much of his humanity a man can lose before giving into despair, who he'll cling to when he's desperately alone, and how much of his own moral code he's willing to break for another man's cause." --Chris
"An unfortunately oft-overlooked classic, A Fan's Notes might just be the Great American Novel that everyone is looking for. Exley's reflections on "that long malaise," his life, is a roaring, hilarious mediation on fame and football, on living on the outside and looking in, on masculinity, sanity, booze, and the impossibility of surviving a life lived in America." --Chris
"The Bone brothers - one goofball, one shyster, one bashful, reluctant hero - are banished from their hometown (and after just two or three shady business deals gone horribly wrong) and lost in an unfamiliar world where they fall backwards off a mountain and into an epic journey home. A book that's won an almost embarrassing number of awards, and deservedly so, Bone is a graphic novel adventure full of wisecracks and literary references wrapped around a huge heart." --Chris