Arsen, Head Buyer
Favorite Genres: Literary fiction, American history, classic fiction, contemporary short stories, poetry
Favorite Authors: Zadie Smith, Joyce Carol Oates, Saul Bellow, Percival Everett, Philip Levine, Donald Hall, Alice Munro, Joshua Ferris, Chester Himes, Philip Roth
The title refers to all the headlines that start with “Florida man….” Usually, it's some absurd thing that no one in his right mind would do. Cooper’s Florida man is Reed Crowe, the owner of a seedy motel and ticky tacky amusement park. Years earlier, Crowe stumbled upon a ton of marijuana at the sight of a plane crash. Now a survivor is catching up to him. Wildly entertaining with real heart and genuine tenderness.
Sportcoat, a cranky old church deacon, shoots the drug dealer of his Brooklyn project in full view of everyone. Why did he do this? How are the various characters including Sportcoat and the drug dealer connected to each other? McBride does a wonderful job showing us this slice of 1969 Brooklyn. He rotates between several people and always provides a bit of humor.
Long after most of her fellow students have moved onto more comfortable lives and given up their Civil Rights activism, Meridian is still fighting for people in the rural south. Despite facing a debilitating illness, Meridian’s nonviolent methods and her sheer audacity brings about much needed change even as she remains a mystery to those around her.
Perestroika is a runaway racehorse that finds a home near the Eiffel Tower. Somehow she eludes the gaze of the thousands of people that pass by each day. A menagerie of animals and a small boy befriends her and help keep her safe and fed in this heartwarming tale of friendship. Smiley’s novel is like the best Disney film imaginable without being overly sentimental.
In this sensitive novel about relationships and the long arc of our lives, Henkin explores what it means for our hopes and dreams to change. How are we connected to our younger selves when we want different things? How can we move into the future without giving up our past? Henkin’s characters find new ways forward and a new perspective on the past when confronted with decline and death.
Lima, Peru in the 1950s is vividly rendered in Llosa's antic masterpiece. Young Marito works in a radio station news department while pursuing his studies. His life is upended when the station hires a new script writer for its soap operas and his "Aunt" Julia shows up. The chapters of Marito's romantic pursuit of Julia alternate with the plots of the increasingly crazed soaps. Truly brilliant and funny.
From the first line to the last line of this remarkable collection, Diaz sensuously explores her place in the world as a Native American, lesbian, basketball player. Whether she is describing making love or unspeakable violence against her ancestors, Diaz’s language is lush and vibrant while remaining direct and accessible. These poems are an absolute joy to read aloud.
Lacey is a fresh voice on the literary scene and these stories show off all of her strengths as a writer. Many of her characters are young women searching for something that eludes their understanding. They speak in conversational tones, often in long, hilarious sentences, and almost accidentally seem to stumble upon wisdom. I could never predict where a story was going, but was thrilled by the little surprises.
Irvine and Houston live on opposite sides of the continental divide separated by the San Juan Mountains. A sense of place has always played an integral part in both of their writings. In late March (as a project for Orion magazine) they began writing letters back and forth about the pandemic. They started as admiring strangers and by the beginning of May they were sisters in arms. The pandemic brought into sharp focus just how much our patriarchal system has threatened the health and environment. Air Mail is a really powerful indictment of greed and power while still offering the possibility of hope in our relationships to each other and the environment.
Mengiste gives us many different points of view in this novel about women soldiers in Ethiopia’s war against Italy. We mainly see the conflict through the eyes of two women. One was kept in a state of near slavery by the other before the war. Now, they are warriors fighting side by side. Mengiste also writes of an Italian soldier who has brought his camera to the battles and ends up taking photos of atrocities. The Shadow King is an ode to never giving up against a seemingly implacable foe.
LaLa gives up her dream of being a vet and begins robbing houses to raise money for her father's criminal defense. It's a skill she learned from her father when she was a girl. LaLa is also an animal empath and to alleviate the guilt of what she's doing, she only robs houses where she senses animals are suffering. She turns the heat up for a freezing parrot, gives a hurting dog a massage before she rifles through the jewelry. In this heartfelt novel, you can't help rooting for LaLa and falling in love with the animals she cares for.
Virgil Wounded Horse makes his living by settling scores on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. He's the enforcer when the white federal agents have neglected their duty and let a rape or a robbery go without prosecution. Virgil is asked by a tribal council member to look into who is bringing in heroin onto the reservation. The investigation imperils all those around Victor including his nephew and girlfriend. Weiden's depiction of the reservations are stark, but he manages to find hope and humor in the resilience of the people enduring such difficult circumstances.
In this delightful absurdist Spanish novel, our narrator Damian finds himself trapped in an antique wardrobe as he tries to elude a mall security guard who has witnessed him shoplifting. Waiting to make his escape, Damian imagines that he is being interviewed for a talk show. The escape never comes. Damian shut in the wardrobe is carried off to a suburban home where he chooses to stay and haunt the residents.
Pam Houston’s writing is both brutally honesty and beautifully lyrical in this memoir of life on her ranch in the Colorado high country. Lucky to escape her violent childhood home with her life, Houston found a place where she can sit still with herself and her animals. However, that quiet has led to the realization that there is no haven from the dangers of climate change.
In this surrealistic collection of stories brides are abandoned at a highway rest stop, a teenage girl only eats live birds, and a murdered wife’s body is considered high art. Schweblin examines the intersection of violence, gender and art in these dreamlike tales that constantly surprise us and challenge our assumptions of storytelling.
No one is at fault in Tayari Jones' portrait of a marriage in crisis. Roy and Celestial are already experiences some rough patches in their marriage, but when Roy is jailed for a crime he did not commit, the strain becomes unbearable. In beautiful prose that expresses tenderness to all of her characters, Jones evokes the real life consequences of America's mass incarceration of black men.
Vale returns home from New Orleans to search for her mother after Hurricane Irene has swept her away. We get the stories of three generation of Vermont women as the novel fill us in on how we came to the moment that Vale's mother was wandering alone in the streets when the hurricane hit. I loved how MacArthur weaves music into almost every scene giving the book an emotional soundtrack.
This powerful depiction of the life of a woman born into slavery who lives to see the Civil Rights movement is a remarkable feat in storytelling. Miss Jane Pittman survives the depredations of violent Rebel soldiers, white supremacists and plantation owners to become a beacon for her community as they fight against segregation. Through it all, she knows her own mind and refuses to live in fear.
In this deeply emotional and sensual novel, Pritchett reminds us that even in dark moments there are sparks of joy and renewal. Each character gets their own chapter, and together their stories form a tapestry of a community blessed with love and humanity. Pritchett’s book will let you forget the turmoil in the world around us, and luxuriate in what it means to be simply and beautifully human.