Kristopher Jansma

Kristopher Jansma’s debut novel, The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, bustles with life. Brimming with colorful characters and vivid locales, it depicts two aspiring writers, the woman they mutually covet, and the jealousies and deception that ensnare this star-crossed trio. Traversing from Manhattan to Sri Lanka, Leopards follows in the footsteps of the eclectic works Jansma here recommends: fiction of experimentation, wit, and profound inquiry into the eccentricities of being human.

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler
By Italo Calvino

“Several works by Calvino were required reading in my freshman writing class, which might explain my penchant for tales that keep twisting in on themselves. But he never lets his postmodern games get the best of him, and the entertainment of his reader always seems tantamount. This book begins, in fact, by encouraging you, the reader, to shut yourself in your room and settle in for a good time as you begin reading If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino. The book begins, and then — abruptly — is cut off. On the following page, the ‘you’ in the book is likewise startled by the interruption, and goes off back to the bookstore in search of the remainder. What ‘you’ soon find is not that at all, but the beginning of another book, which also abruptly cuts off and…well, you get the picture. Somehow what should be the most irritating structure ever — a novel consisting of interrupted novels — winds up being hilarious and touching and triumphant as only Calvino can be.”

The Aspern Papers
By Henry James

“I’m sure I’m not the only one who prefers James in more condensed form. This nifty little novella is often paired up with his better-known The Turn of the Screw, but I love it far, far better. The unnamed narrator is a scholar and would-be biographer of famed poet Jeffrey Aspern, and the story follows his devious attempts to obtain some papers and letters belonging to his literary idol by going to Venice to seduce the innocent niece of Aspern’s ancient, former lover. His malicious obsession with the poet and his papers will strike a chord with anyone who has loved a book so much that they became infatuated with the writer behind the work.”

By Lorrie Moore

“The cover of my copy of Anagrams declares it to be ‘a novel,’ but like so many books I love, its meaning here might be further from ‘a linear narrative consisting of 200+ pages’ to ‘something new.’ Anagrams is structurally a series of brief stories and then a novella about a woman named Benna Carpenter and her neighbor, Gerard, whom she listens to through the bathroom wall, and her alter ego and drinking companion, Eleanor. Is it the same Benna and Gerard and Eleanor in each story? Benna is a nightclub singer and an art history professor on one page and a poetry teacher the next — but on every page she is the quintessential Lorrie Moore anti-heroine, brimming with cynical wit and hopes that can’t quite be dashed.”

Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer, 1943-1954, by Jeffrey Cartwright
By Stephen Millhauser

“As the title indicates, this book purports to be the biography of America’s greatest writer, an eleven-year-old boy named Edwin Mullhouse, as written by his neighbor and brief-life-long companion, Jeffrey Cartwright. The biography begins with Jeffrey’s recollections as a six-month-old, whose mother brings him over to meet the newborn Edwin, whose literary greatness was allegedly apparent even then, in every drooling noise. As the faithful servant to this genius next door, Jeffrey watches and chronicles from the sidelines as they grow up together. Unreliable and utterly unparalleled, Jeffrey describes the life of an American boy genius: Edwin works on his literary masterpiece, a short novel called Cartoons, falls madly in love with grade school classmate Rose Dorn, and then dies tragically young under circumstances you’ll have to read to — believe?”

The Real Life of Sebastian Knight
By Vladimir Nabokov

The Real Life of Sebastian Knight is one of my favorite Nabokov novels. Sebastian Knight, a world-class novelist on his deathbed, asks the narrator to burn two stacks of his letters after he’s gone. The narrator obeys this wish but immediately regrets it, and thus sets out on a quest to unravel the truth about his brother’s mysterious life and novels, and most of all his affair with a mysterious woman who ultimately ‘destroyed him.’ The narrator’s detective work is constantly being upset: he travels to visit people who aren’t home, stops and interviews old friends that can’t remember things properly, and has a long interview with Sebastian’s former assistant, who misleads him completely because the assistant is just about to publish his own biography of Sebastian. It is a literary detective novel like none other, where uncertainty leads only to more uncertainty, and the final truth about Sebastian Knight’s real life becomes more and more elusive.”