WCSU

Gabino Iglesias

Paul Kingsnorth's Savage Gods is a series of questions in the shape of a book.

On the surface, the writing deals with the author trying to make sense of his need to belong to something meaningful, his desire to connect with an older reality tied to the earth. Right underneath that, however, are a series of other questions that wriggle around like termites inside the wood of Kingsnorth's heart: What does it mean to belong? Can we connect to culture in a world where there is none? Can words truly communicate life?

I love books that make me feel uncomfortable. I love books that crawl into an invisible space under my ribs and stay there like a twitching parasite. Rachel Eve Moulton's Tinfoil Butterfly did both. I don't know what her writing process was like, but if it resembled the way I read it, I can picture her bent over a desk in a dimly-lit room, typing away furiously while breathing the short, violent breaths of a scared animal.

Rob Hart's The Warehouse is an entertaining read as a slightly dystopian cyberthriller. But start looking at how plausible it is, notice all the ways in which the things Hart describes — awful healthcare, limited employment opportunities, and global monopolies — are already here, and it becomes a horrific cautionary tale that makes you wonder if we're already too far into a disastrous future, or if there's still some hope for humanity.

Jill Heinerth's Into the Planet starts with the world-renowned cave diver almost dying while being one of the first humans to search for caves inside the B-15 iceberg, the largest moving object on earth.

Investigative reporter Ian Urbina realizes that, for many people, the sea is "simply a place we fly over." That's why in The Outlaw Ocean he works so hard at sharing some of the wildest, darkest dramas taking place in seas and oceans across the world.

Timothy C. Winegard's The Mosquito is as wildly entertaining as any epic narrative out there. It's also all true.

J. Michael Straczynski's Becoming Superman is much more than a rag-to-riches story — and not only because he goes from rags to riches about half a dozen times.

There has to be an equivalent of Americana in each country; art that digs deep into the culture and history of a place in a way that allows those who consume it to get a sense of what that country's shifting zeitgeist is like.

With that in mind, Hwang Sok-yong's At Dusk is a perfect slice of Koreana; a touching, somewhat depressive narrative full of nostalgia that shows the underbelly of a nation through the life of characters inhabiting society's bottom rung.

Pablo Medina's The Cuban Comedy walks a fine line between poetry and political satire. The story is deeply immersed in post-revolution Cuba, in the crumbling country and unmet needs of its people, but poets and poetry are at its core. The blend makes for tragicomedy with a touch of Spanish; it reads like a combination of legendary Cuban comedian Guillermo Álvarez Guedes' irreverent, foul-mouthed humor and the beautiful strangeness of Alejandro Jodorowsky's prose.

Political upheaval tends to push writers to create narratives that enter into conversation with the most salient themes of the time, and Chuck Wendig's Wanderers is one of those. A dystopian, apocalyptic novel that comfortably occupies a space between horror and science fiction, Wanderers is full of social commentary that digs into everything from global warming to racial tension, while never preaching or bogging down the action-packed story.

One of the best ways to get know a country is by talking to its people.

NPR correspondent Frank Langfitt, who has covered China and other countries over a span of nearly two decades, proves this in latest book, The Shanghai Free Taxi: Journeys with the Hustlers and Rebels of the New China. The book is a master class on how to chronicle a changing country through the personal narratives of its citizens.

The role William S. Burroughs played in shaping literature is well known. But his influence on rock and roll hasn't been as well-documented.

"No matter which way we turned the girl, she didn't have a face."

Jostein Gaarder's Sophie's World was one of the most memorable books I read in my early teens. The brilliance of that book came from Gaarder's ability to make complicated concepts easier for young minds to digest. Adam Gopnik's A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism does the same thing with liberalism — but for politically engaged adults.

C.M. Kushins' Nothing's Bad Luck: The Lives of Warren Zevon opens with Zevon waking up in the middle of the night, confused and scared. The narrative quickly spirals into madness from there. Soon Warren is holding a Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum, aiming it at an approaching vehicle. When Zevon finally makes out the driver's face, he realizes it's himself. Then he wakes up again.

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