Dear Match Book: Authors I Can Binge-Read

Your mission is to find some writers whose entire opus I’ll want to read without stopping.


Dear Joe,

Among serial entertainment pursuits, binge-reading has distinct, immersive pleasures. Of course it’s slower going than a TV marathon, but after reading five of his or her books in a row — no matter how stylistically disparate — the contours of any author’s literary imagination begin to take shape.

In the Neighborhood

Though born in Bosnia, Aleksandar Hemon has lived in Chicago since 1992. His fiction (two novels and four story collections) capture life — both historical and contemporary — in your hometown as well as in Sarajevo. And don’t miss his humbly beautiful, charming and crushingly sad memoir-in-essays, “The Book of My Lives.” But start with “The Lazarus Project,” his grave though often gleefully slapstick novel that tells the fused stories of two Eastern European men who live in Chicago 100 years apart.

Willesden, the London neighborhood surveyed in close detail by some of Zadie Smith’s ambitious, bighearted novels (“NW,” “White Teeth,” “Swing Time”), was a once-underrepresented corner on literary city maps. Smith’s wit, and her wise regard of race and class in London and around the globe, make her five novels a perfect follow-up to Mills.

Why choose only five Louise Erdrich novels when you could pick 10? Start by following the sad, ordinary miracles that trail the recurring and interrelated characters in her early books — “Love Medicine,” “The Beet Queen,” “Tracks,” “The Bingo Palace” and “Tales of Burning Love” — which only gather in strength and sublimity when read together in one majestic sweep. Each book adds more voices to the extended network of both Native American and non-Native friends, enemies and relations who populate Erdrich’s fictional universe on the plains of North Dakota.

All the Wonder That Would Be

Your dueling critiques of T. C. Boyle’s books (too similar) and the work of Russell Banks (too different) led me to think of Colum McCann’s strengths: His books share in common a lyrical prose and depth of characters, but in subject they range over richly varied terrain. McCann finesses “Dancer” — his fictionalized account of the life of Rudolf Nureyev — with letters and diary entries. His debut, “Songdogs,” follows a young man’s peripatetic efforts to understand his parents’ troubled marriage, and shares a similarly graceful style. In “Let the Great World Spin,” his National Book Award-winning novel, the scope narrows to describe Philippe Petit’s unauthorized performance on a tightrope strung between the twin towers on Aug. 7, 1974, then widens to encompass the everyday lives of seemingly unrelated characters who are united by his crossing.

I’ll bend the rules to include somebody who has only four works of literary fiction to his name — James McBride, the author of three vivid historical novels, one collection of short stories, one nonfiction account of James Brown and a moving memoir — since I think his grand storytelling style and jubilant sense of play will be right up your alley. Begin with the memoir, “The Color of Water”; then move on to the delightfully overstuffed stories in “Five-Carat Soul”; and finish with “The Good Lord Bird” (another National Book Award winner). When you’re done, you’ll be ready for the next novel whenever it arrives.

Yours truly,
Match Book

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Check out Match Book’s earlier recommendations here.

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