A tricky storyteller on three contemporaries whose work he sincerely loves.
Arthur Phillips won plaudits for his novel Prague — a trenchantly observed tale of young Americans abroad — and his books since have spanned continents, eras and genres. His forthcoming novel may be his most ambitious: The Tragedy of Arthur follows a protagonist named Arthur Phillips who discovers an unknown play by Shakespeare — which appears, at full length, in the book.
When we invited the author to tell us a bit about some of his favorite books, Phillips asked that we include the following caveat: “I have taken a fair amount of grief for my policy of only reading dead people. This began accidentally: there are a lot of them to read (more every day) and I haven’t read them all yet. Then, as I became a writer, it was self-protection: I am less cripplingly jealous of a good novel by a dead person than one by the other kind. And yet, here are three novels I read this year, almost completely without jealousy, only with admiration, by writers who are not only kicking, but still early in what I hope will be long, glorious careers.”
By Eleanor Henderson
“A first novel, and you have to wait until July for it, but then snap it up. Set in New York and New Hampshire in the 1980s, a story of music and drugs and growing up and losing friends and moving on. It’s about CBGBs and straight-edge and mixed families and characters unlike anything in my experience, yet still felt precisely and movingly drawn. Youth, this story reminded me in a beautiful coda, is something we survive in order to make a life.”
By Whitney Terrell
“A second novel. Terrell has been compared to John Irving, and while that’s not unfair, it doesn’t begin to do him justice. He is funny and wise, observant and entertaining, empathetic and yet remorseless in depicting injustice. This novel, set in Kansas City in the 1950s, tells a profound family history while also revealing the skeletons and scandals upon which great cities are often built—the tangled roots of modern segregation.”
By Ed Park
“Another debut. In one of those odd burps of culture, 2007-8 produced two novels about office politics and sociology written in the first person plural, Personal Days and And Then We Came to the End. Park’s book is the less well-known, but very undeservedly. It is extremely funny, dead-on in its descriptions of slacker work ethics and corporate compromise. And, then, out of nowhere, it’s somehow very moving, showing how youth’s fragile idealism can shatter under the weight of bad decisions and economics.”