Kevin Nguyen is the features editor at The Verge and the author of New Waves, a novel, now out in paperback, about friendship, grief, and the internet. Below, he recommends six other books that are both funny and ambitious.
The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories by Jamil Jan Kochai (2022)
I remember reading "Playing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain" and wondering how a story about a kid losing his mind playing a video game made it into The New Yorker. Three years later, the rest of Kochai's inventive collection, which excavates the emotional side effects of the war in Afghanistan, has the same stunning, darkly comedic effect. Buy it here.
Memorial by Bryan Washington (2020)
This slacker novel splits its time — and its central characters, Benson and Mike — between Houston and Osaka as a long-distance relationship deteriorates before finding its footing again. Washington is one of today's best writers when it comes to the textures of communication. At times scathing and at others moving, this is probably the contemporary novel I revisit most. Buy it here.
Post-traumatic by Chantal V. Johnson (2022)
How does one handle family trauma? For Vivian, an accomplished lawyer, she jokes about it over drinks, constantly, with friends. (Whether that's a cathartic experience or a coping mechanism is up to the reader to discover.) But beneath the cutting dialogue lies a story about the gap between what we say and how we actually feel. Buy it here.
Bear by Marian Engel (1976)
A slim novel about a woman who makes love to a big bear. Pretty self-explanatory. Buy it here.
Nevada by Imogen Binnie (2013)
Maria is poor, but also unambitious. Can she just live? New York's answer to that, often, is "nah." This is a book that binds a meandering plot with a charming voice, where the self-loathing is a delight and the self-reflection is a lark. A cult classic of trans literature, Nevada was recently reissued and is as funny and vibrant as the day it was first released. Buy it here.
Mr. Boop by Alec Robbins (2022)
What would it be like to be Betty Boop's husband? Alec Robbins' homage to early-aughts web comics quickly spirals into a sharp criticism of intellectual property law and a self-referential yarn about internet fandom. It's smart, but also mostly deranged. Buy it here.
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