When We Cease to Understand the World, by Benjamin Labatut

Staff Pick

Sometimes there’s a book every bookseller evangelizes for and this year it’s Benjamín Labatut’s When We Cease to Understand the World. Nominated for the Booker International and the National Book Award for translated literature, this is a true nonfiction novel about math and physics and faith that brilliantly slips between fiction and fact to humanize some of our greatest mathematical breakthroughs. Labatut beautifully illuminates the horror and transcendence of science in the last century through the lives of some it’s most recognizable geniuses; Werner Heisenberg, Fritz Haber, Alexander Grothendieck are characters in a narrative that resonates acutely with a time when we question the ethics of scientific discovery and confront the knowledge that improving some lives may come at the expense of others and of the planet itself. The most strangely compelling book I’ve read in a long time. 

When We Cease to Understand the World Cover Image
By Benjamin Labatut, Adrian Nathan West (Translated by)
ISBN: 9781681375663
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: New York Review Books - September 28th, 2021

Zazen, by Vanessa Veselka

Staff Pick

I’ve been waiting for this book to be republished since 2012, when I stumbled on a chapbook featuring Veselka, in conversation, considering the interrelationships of writing, violence, and the body; it utterly blew my mind. Which is just to say, Zazen is incredible and I can’t wait to share it with others looking for strange, challenging, transcendent books about community and identity at the end of the world. Della is trying to survive in an America on the brink of war. Torn between those who leave and those who stay, she finds a small joy calling in bomb threats to capitalist enclaves, but must reckon with her actions (and inactions) when bombs actually go off in the sports bars and corporate parks she's targeted. Della is a perfect window into a generation terrified of the destruction passed down to it and desperate to find beauty and a path into change. “Every generation gets to decide its own relationship with the universe,” Della says. “And whether I liked it or not, this was my generation.” There are few apocalyptic novels which make me hopeful, but Zazen was one and Veselka is a writer I would follow anywhere.

Real Life, by Brandon Taylor

Staff Pick

Taylor’s debut novel is a rich and intimate portrait of the life of a Black gay grad student on the fringes of predominantly white normative academia. Unfolding over a single weekend , it follows Wallace as he  endures the aftershocks of painful memories from his growing up as well as the abrasions that come with being an outsider. Taylor is a master at conveying his character's acute discomfort, and what initially seems a typical campus novel soon becomes a stirring meditation on  race, sexuality, grief, trauma, and how these affect one’s personhood. In prose as accomplished as his psychological insight, Taylor delivers a difficult and beautiful work that avoids tidy resolutions and demonstrates the ways pain helps make life real.



Real Life: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780525538899
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Riverhead Books - February 16th, 2021