Required Short Fiction Reading with n+1’s Keith Gessen


n+1’s Keith Gessen has a piece upon HTML Giant about his top three books of the year. In it, he explains that when he was a New York Magazine book critic, and asked by them to write on the same topic he refused, calling it a “dishonest exercise.” So they had the mag’s TV critic, John Leonard, do it instead, and thus Gessen figured out how these things tend to work:

“…basically what he did was name his friends. Or maybe two friends plus a Nobel Prize winner. This was a very elegant solution to the problem of the best-books list — because unless you’re a full-time working fiction critic, and how many of those do we have in this country?, you really just don’t know. So why not just name your friends? It’s what everyone else does, and your friends probably wrote good books.”

So, for this year, his nepotistic picks are Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask, Elif Batuman’s The Possessed, and Perfect Rigor, by his sister Masha Gessen. (For the record, we’ve read The Ask, and it is fantastic.) He also names his favorite recent pieces of short fiction, which we’ve included after the jump.

1. “Dr. Atomic,” Imraan Coovadia “I love this story.”

*2. “Hygiene,” Ludmilla Petrushevskaya “I’m not exactly her friend, but I am her translator–and that story is awesome.”

3. “Among Friends,” Juan Villoro “This story is funny and mean and about Mexico City.”

4. “Another Manahttan,” Donald Antrim

*5. “Dreams Where I Can Fly,” Eric Barnes “I actually don’t know Eric Barnes, but this is a really good story about the financial crisis.”

6. “The Lady and the Dragon,” Lydia Millet “I was once on a panel with Lydia Millet, but that’s not why I liked her story. I liked it because it combined her two interests, one of which (radical environmentalism) I am really interested in, and another (making fun of celebrities) that I’m less interested in—but in this case it really worked.”

* text not available online