Samantha Hunt's 6 favorite books
The award-winning author recommends works by Janet Cardiff, Tim Horvath, and more:
Hotel World by Ali Smith (Anchor, $15). The miniature is irresistible to me. Once, when I was a girl, I was given a set of tiny green lemonade glasses for my dollhouse and I swallowed the glasses whole as if they were pills. The books on this list elicit a similar reaction. Smith's short novel is broken into the even shorter narratives of five women in and around a hotel. Each microcosm offers an intensity that haunts the others. If I could eat this book, I would.
The Walk Book by Janet Cardiff (out of print). Through audio walks staged all over the world, Cardiff stirs wonder about relationships between walking and narrative, history and ghosts. The Walk Book is less a survey of these audio walks and more a Duchampian boîte-en-valise, a miniature portable set with CD, photos, and numerous texts from and about her most inspiring works.
The America Play by Suzan-Lori Parks (Dramatists Play Service, $9). An African-American Lincoln impersonator standing beside the great hole of history realizes that no one wants to hear him recite the Gettysburg Address. All they want to do is to shoot him in the head. History truly belongs to us all, and in Parks' capable hands we understand its mutability. This wonderful, border-stretching play is a pocket-size, boundary-pushing early version of her Pulitzer Prize–winning Topdog/Underdog.
Palm-of-the-Hand Stories by Yasunari Kawabata (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $16). Kawabata is the big daddy of miniatures. His tiny short stories are the most finely concentrated slivers of lives, richly, curiously illuminated. The idea of portability reminds a reader that stories are always with us.
Circulation by Tim Horvath (SunnyOutside, $10). This 67-page book pulls off the best trick: It is huge inside. It also covers my favorite bottomless topics — unwritten atlases, secrets fathers keep, the Library of Congress, Scheherazade, bibliomania, and caves.
Why Did I Ever by Mary Robison (out of print). Like E.M. Cioran or Renata Adler but better. Robison's isolated observations cut to the bone: "Something else that makes me angry is that I got too old to prostitute myself. I wasn't going to anyway but it was there, it was my Z plan."
—Samantha Hunt is the author of The Seas and The Invention of Everything Else, a novel that was a finalist for the 2009 Orange Prize. In her new book, Mr. Splitfoot, two orphaned sisters claim they can speak to the dead.