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Editors’ Selections: Top Literary Gems of the Year

Amidst an extraordinary year brimming with literary exploration, our reading list reached new heights. Perhaps it was the expansive free time post-academia or our engaging interviews with authors for Our Culture, but we’ve found ourselves delighted by remarkable debuts, seasoned writers’ follow-ups, and some utterly engaging reads.

In a celebration of bibliophilic delights, Our Culture’s avid readers, Svetlana Sterlin and Sam Franzini, share the treasures they discovered among this year’s book releases.

Highlights from Svetlana’s Shelf

Heartstopper: Volume Four by Alice Oseman

The captivating journey of Nick and Charlie’s affection continues in the fourth entry of Alice Oseman’s beloved graphic novel series, Heartstopper. This latest volume delves into the intricate emotions surrounding mental health struggles and young love with a careful, nuanced touch. Fans will find the familiar warmth and light-hearted spirit throughout, making it yet another cherished addition to their bookshelves.

Cleopatra and Frankenstein by Coco Mellors

Set against the backdrop of New York City, we enter the whirlwind romance that blooms between 24-year-old British artist Cleo and Frank, a marketing executive in his forties. Mellors’ debut novel spins an intricate tale of love, hastily made vows, societal scrutiny, and confronting the ghosts of past traumas. With a cast of vivid characters, shifting perspectives, and lyrical storytelling, this multifaceted narrative captures the reader’s imagination.

Exactly As I Am by Rae White

Rae White’s sophomore poetry collection brings a burst of gender euphoria from a non-binary trans viewpoint. These poems dance between playfulness and defiance, eschewing convention while also engaging and challenging seasoned poetry aficionados. Exactly As I Am pairs harmoniously with White’s debut compilation, Milk Teeth, constructing a sublime literary exploration of identity.

Svetlana’s Must-Read of the Year: The Jaguar by Sarah Holland-Batt

Holland-Batt’s third compendium of poetry is an intimate dive into the essence of human emotion, touching on themes of mortality, love, loss, and life’s transient nature. The Jaguar laces its powerful imagery, lyrical mastery, and poetic prowess throughout the collection, leaving a lasting impression that reverberates in the soul of the reader.

Top Picks from Sam

Checkout-19 by Claire-Louise Bennett

Claire-Louise Bennett’s second work of fiction takes the reader on an enigmatic journey through the life of its protagonist—or so it seems. With rich, stream-of-consciousness prose and a distinct disregard for conventional structure, Checkout-19 will enchant or perplex, earning a spot as either a cherished favorite or an eccentric departure, depending on the reader’s tastes.

Little Rabbit by Alyssa Songsiridej

The intricate ballet of power within relationships is masterfully choreographed in Songsiridej’s debut novel, Little Rabbit. The story follows a novelist’s intense affair with an older choreographer, infused with poignant themes of visibility, erotic surrender, and boundary-pushing desire.

Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield

When Leah returns from an enigmatic expedition at sea, she is not herself. Her wife, Miri, wrestles with the transformation, navigating a new dynamic with a person who has become inexplicably altered. Armfield’s stirring narrative blends everyday life with uncanny elements, creating a memorable and disconcerting descent into the unknown.

Reward System: Stories by Jem Calder

A microcosm of human interaction and technology is artfully sketched in Calder’s interlinked short stories. With a unique perspective, Calder investigates human connection, the peculiarities of the digital age, and the poignancy of mundane life, magnifying the defining moments that often pass unnoticed.

The Hop by Diana Clarke

Within the sanctum of a Nevada brothel, Lady Lane (Kate Burns) finds more than just employment. As she and her colleagues navigate a world of desire and danger, Clarke pens an intricate tale of belonging, capitalistic impulse, and unseen violence, delivering a narrative that both captivates and challenges.

Sam’s Book of the Year: The Candy House by Jennifer Egan

Egan’s latest inventive narrative, The Candy House, transports the reader into a near-future filled with radical technological advancements and the consequences of sharing consciousness. As an interconnected sequel to the famed A Visit from the Goon Squad, Egan’s latest effort continues to exhibit her admittedly non-personal, outwardly-focused storytelling prowess. With prescience and imagination, Egan crafts a tale that probes the nexus of memory, self, and the technologically suffused society we navigate, possibly heralding the future trajectories of our online selves.

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