So what's everyone reading? I'll start. Although the past couple weeks it's just been the New Yorker and the Believer next to my bed, I have read a couple of 5-star works lately I'd be happy to talk about.
1) Duchess of Nothing -- Heather McGowan
I was discussing this book with a friend last night, and I said to her the thing I really loved about it is how the protagonist's voice takes over you life while you're reading it. This book is ALL voice. There's no real plot to speak of, and the narrator is so incredibly self-absorbed that there are no characters except her and a little boy (who I sometimes suspected was imaginary). More of a long short story than a novel, this is one of those books I knew I was reading too quickly. The writing is magnificent and sometimes that is truly enough.
2) Black Hole -- Charles Burns
I read this one quickly, too. I have a tendency to blow through graphic novels, which I feel does an injustice to all the labor that went into them. I had a writing teacher in college who told us this anecdote about a guy coming up to him at a reading and saying, "I read your book in one night!" as if it was some sort of compliment, and my teacher was like, "Great. It took me six years to write it." Burns reputedly spent ten years writing "Black Hole" and publishing it in comic-book-sized installments. It's haunting and powerful but left me feeling very sad -- I think comic artists, like probably most artists, are pretty fucked up. Chris Ware has some serious daddy issues, and Charles Burns is terrified of vaginas (the "black hole" of the title, no less). The transition to adulthood, in Burns' world, is literally mutilating, and spares no one: geeks, jocks, babes, stoners, all eventually become "infected;" how they handle it is ultimately what makes each character who they are.
3) In Persuasion Nation -- George Saunders
Like Saunders' two previous collections, Pastoralia and CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, this book has hits and misses. But the hits in IPN and real hits, particularly the title story, "Christmas," and "Jon," a story I've read probably 4 times but that never fails to get me at the end. Saunders explodes the omnipresence of advertising and consumerism to hyperbolic proportions; at the end of his stories (as in most of his better work) he brings it back to a reality even those of us who are not being advertised to with every footstep can relate to. He has so much heart, and through his own unique dialect creates the situation he has said is the goal of a short story: "Every sentence makes you want to read the next sentence." I'm a member of the Saunders Army, are you?