Joshua Ferris
Joshua Ferris (Photo: Nina Subin)

This, the year of our Lord 2014, is already shaping up to be a great one for literature. I was kind of hoping it wasn’t, so I could finally cut into my backlog. But I guess I’m shit out of luck, because there are probably 30 new books on the radar, and that doesn’t even really account for debut authors I’ll come to know and love in the coming months. Narrowing it down is hard, but below are ten of the titles I’m most excited to check out.

 

Every Day Is for the Thief, Teju Cole (March)
Cole’s 2011 debut, Open City, is a quiet, wonderful novel that follows the disjointed thoughts of a Nigerian psychiatry student as he wanders through contemporary New York City in a kind of Sebaldian memory quest. (If this book were me, writing my thoughts and memories in a similar manner, it would be significantly less captivating—just page after page of ruminations on the lowly state of the Phillies and, probably, burritos.) Every Day is For the Thief, a 2007 novella, is being published in America for the first time, and it promises more the same non-burrito themed excellence. [Pre-order on Amazon]

 

Walter Kirn Blood Will OutBlood Will Out, Walter Kirn (March)
Kirn’s stranger-than-fiction experience with the Ripley-esque “Clark Rockefeller” is the kind of wacko story journalists dream of stumbling into, the caveat being that they don’t up gruesomely murdered by the psychopathic subject (Kirn seems to have escaped unscathed). This alleged Rockefeller, whose real name is Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, managed to convince Kirn and hundreds of others that he was not, in fact, a pop culture-inspired killer, but instead a harmlessly eccentric art collector and American scion. The author ends up being friends with this guy for 15 years, never suspecting the grisly truth. You really just can’t trust anyone. [Pre-order on Amazon]

 

Can't and Won't Lydia DavisCan’t and Won’t, Lydia Davis (April)
Davis is a master of economy. Her stories are sometimes nothing more than a short paragraph. In her 2002 book Samuel Johnson Is Indignant, for instance, the story “Companion” reads, in its entirety, “We are sitting here together, my digestion and I. I am reading a book and it is working away at the lunch I ate a little while ago.” It’s not a joke, nor is it a gimmick. This is a woman who has translated Proust. If she’s writing one-sentence story fragments and presenting it as a full short story, it’s because that’s what she wants to do. She’s not for everybody, but once it clicks, you’ll be as excited for the new book as I am. [Pre-order on Amazon]

 

Peter Matthiessen In ParadiseIn Paradise, Peter Matthiessen (April)
Matthiessen, one of the founding editors of The Paris Review and the National Book Award-winning author of Shadow Country, is no spring chicken. The man is 86 years old, and while still seemingly spry and acceptably leathery, he has admitted that In Paradise might be the final book in a storied writing career. The novel is set in 1996, and in it Matthiessen tells the story of Clements Olin, one of a group who goes to the site of a former concentration camp for a weeklong retreat of reflection and prayer. Shockingly, the emotions and setting prove a little too much to handle for some of the participants, and things escalate. Perhaps sleeping in the former quarters of the Nazi officers-in-charge wasn’t so great an idea after all. [Pre-order on Amazon]

 

Bark, Lorrie Moore (February)
Moore is one of the best short story writers around, but she hasn’t released a story collection since Birds of America, 15 years ago. (I missed it back then, as my literary tastes ran more toward comic books, Lord of the Rings, and the sports page. I’ve since made amends.) Not that her novels aren’t great—her book A Gate at the Stairs was a finalist for the 2010 PEN/Faulkner Award—but short stories are where her quick wit and sly humor really shine. If I’m buying one book of short fiction this year, it’s this one. [Pre-order on Amazon]

 

My StruggleMy Struggle: Book 3, Karl Ove Knausgaard (May
It has been suggested that Knausgaard is something of a modern-day Proust, mining his memory for every stray scrap and putting it down on paper. Lots and lots of paper. He disputes the notion, but it’s inarguable that My Struggle is as impressive a work of applied recall you will find short the competitive memory athletes of Moonwalking with Einstein or Dune’s red-lipped human computer guys. It’s essentially a memoir, but that’s a woefully inadequate categorization. He serves full helpings of domestic drudgery and existential despair. Knausgaard’s six-book cycle is still being translated from its original Norwegian into English, but the first two are modern classics in their own right. [Pre-order on Amazon]

 

Another Great Day at Sea (May): Life Aboard the SS George H.W. Bush, Geoff Dyer (May):
They say write what you know, but for a writer like Dyer that’s more of a challenge than a maxim to live by. His approach is to take something he doesn’t know particularly well, or at best superficially—yoga, jazz, World War I, D.H. Lawrence—and immerse himself in it to the point where he not only can write intelligently about it, but does so unburdened by the shackles of accepted wisdom built up through years of study. And that’s just his non-fiction. Arguably his best book, Jeff in Venice/Death in Varanasi, is a fictional travelogue set in Venice and India. The setting in this one is somewhat less exotic—he’s a guest on board an American supercarrier—but there’s no doubt his dipping into military life will result in singular commentary. [Pre-order on Amazon]

 

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, Joshua Ferris (May)
In his 2007 debut novel, Then We Came to the End, Ferris changed the way we look at how the contemporary workplace social structure functions (or doesn’t) in a troubled economy. His latest centers around a man whose online persona is hijacked by an imposter. What’s even more galling is that this virtual doppleganger appears to be not just some barely literate hacker asking friends to wire money, but instead a better version of him. It’s stories like this and also the one about the murdering fake Rockefeller that make me want to quit Facebook. [Pre-order on Amazon]

 

Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace, Nikil Saval (April)
“I would prefer not to,” famously uttered by Melville’s intractable scrivener Bartleby, has since 1853 been the rallying cry for generation after generation of disaffected worker drones. While in some ways office dwellers have it better than in days past, for many others working conditions have somehow become even more onerous. Saval mines the literature, history, pop culture and other sources of cubicle ennui to give a big-picture look at the way we live now. [Pre-order on Amazon]

 

Little Failure, Gary Shteyngart (January)
I almost died the first time I read Shteyngart’s The Russian Debutante’s Handbook. Despite the misleading title, it was easily one of the funniest books I had ever read, and I am in no way Russian or a debutante or really a person who reads handbooks of any kind. His last novel, Super Sad True Love Story, is set in the near future where people are constantly being streamed and rated online for their “fuckability” and other objective measures of human worth. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so clearly going to happen in almost that exact way sooner rather than later. (The author describes himself as a “very limited Nostradamus.”) Little Failure is his first try at non-fiction, but anyone who has read and loved his novels intuitively knows how Shteyngart’s memoir will play out. It was, after all, his mother who gave him the nickname that doubles as the book’s title. He’s a treasure. [Pre-order on Amazon]