Gabino Iglesias

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.

Mark Haddon's latest novel, The Porpoise, inhabits a strange interstitial space between myth, fantasy, tragedy, and adventure. Among other things, it's a reimagining of the ancient legend of Antiochus, a king who develops an incestuous relationship with his daughter following the death of his wife and is ultimately exposed by Apollonius of Tyre, an adventurer dealing with his own set of troubles.

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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