6 book recommendations from Joshua Ferris
The award-winning writer recommends works by Edith Wharton, Zadie Smith, and more
Joshua Ferris is a PEN/Hemingway award-winning writer whose novels include Then We Came to the End, The Unnamed, and To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. His latest, A Calling for Charlie Barnes, gives a self-involved flop a chance at redemption.
The Reef by Edith Wharton (1912).
This deep cut from Edith Wharton fires my imagination and brings me as much pleasure as her many masterpieces. After a bravura opening, The Reef settles down into a kind of ménage à quatre between a man, a woman, his mistress, and her stepson. Passionate, a little overheated, and full of wit and supple prose. Buy it here.
Paris Stories by Mavis Gallant (2002).
Mavis Gallant wrote prose fiction with the same apparent ease as Muriel Spark or Vladimir Nabokov: a gift mysteriously bequeathed to an eloquent few whose work, once encountered, registers as inevitable and eternal. Buy it here.
Notes on a Foreign Country by Suzy Hansen (2017).
In 2007, Suzy Hansen left America to live in Turkey, where she scrutinized her native-born indoctrinations and her illusions about American exceptionalism. "To look at the world from a new perspective is to feel as if the ropes holding you to earth have been cut," she writes, and the reader falls to earth alongside her in this cogent, plaintive, deeply felt account of one woman's sentimental education. Buy it here.
NW by Zadie Smith (2012).
Wildly varied in its formal approach as it follows four characters in London, this slippery novel's quest is always to hold fast the actual and the real: What makes a person? What breaks her? Sometimes, Zadie Smith suggests, it is one and the same thing. Buy it here.
Festival Days by Jo Ann Beard (2021).
To philosophize is to learn how to die, Montaigne wrote. Nearly 500 years later, Beard gives us sustained meditations on the art of dying in prose as precise and penetrating as anything you will find from the first of all essayists. Buy it here.
Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan (2020).
A bracing book that cuts through the burdens and excesses of the typical love story to deliver the reader to that rare, real thing: raw thought. Naoise Dolan has an uncanny talent for interiority, and her cool prose accommodates equally well a quickening heart and a mind on fire. Buy it here.
This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.