Julia May Jonas is the author of Vladimir, an acclaimed novel, now out in paperback, about an English professor who becomes obsessed with her young Russian-American colleague. Below, Jonas recommends six short books that deliver outsize rewards.
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss (2018)
I am an evangelist for this beautiful and terrifying novel about a young girl in Britain who is brought along on an Iron Age reenactment expedition by her zealous father. The way the meaning reveals itself to the reader is riveting, and the ideas the story evokes about history and masculinity are unsettling and very deep. Buy it here.
Sempre Susan by Sigrid Nunez (2011)
Several of Nunez's books are the kind you want to read in one sitting, but I am particularly partial to her very funny and honest account of the time she moved in with her boyfriend and his mother, who happened to be Susan Sontag. This memoir is about envy, admiration, and the literary world of the 1970s, written in Nunez's perfect prose, its observations both exact and expansive. Buy it here.
People Who Led to My Plays by Adrienne Kennedy (1987)
Not enough people outside of theater are Adrienne Kennedy obsessives. This book is the hugely influential playwright's autobiography, told entirely through brief recollections of people, objects, and events that shaped her as an artist and human. The cumulative effect is so powerful, it makes you wonder why anyone would write an autobiography any other way. Buy it here.
Sylvia by Leonard Michaels (1992)
A brutal and brutally recognizable story of a failed relationship — of two people whose suffering becomes a dangerous feedback loop. Originally written as a memoir and then turned into a novella, Sylvia is both insightful and shocking. Buy it here.
Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (2020)
Keegan's portrait of a young father who comes face-to-face with an uncomfortable reality is flawlessly constructed, written like a dream, and asks perhaps the most important question any of us can ask: How can I help? Buy it here.
Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates (1992)
This dark, lyrical novella was inspired by the Chappaquiddick incident, a 1969 tragedy involving a U.S. senator and a party guest. While the book is deeply disturbing — it's written from the perspective of a drowning woman — it's also a luminous rumination on a kind of ambitious and vulnerable American femininity. It feels almost disorienting in its wisdom. Buy it here.
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