Allison Benedikt of Slate reports on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in "The Book Reader."
Two new books out this summer tell the tale of recent-day New York City, each through the eyes of a young male Brooklyn-dweller.
Choire Sicha's "Very Recent History," out this month by Harper Collins, is, in the words of its subtitle, "An Entirely Factual Account of a Year In a Large City."
The year is 2009. The city, though never specified, is New York, and its mayor, never named, successfully runs for and wins a third term in office, though only by a slim margin. An omnipotent voice from the future narrates the book, looking back on the way we lived then, then being 2009, when health care wasn't yet a right and jeans cost hundreds of dollars.
The voice from the future narrows in on Sicha's main character, John, as he stumbles from work, where layoffs loom, to bars, to Fire Island, to goodbye parties for colleagues who have been axed by cost-cutters simply named the Owner or the Boss.
John and his friends have a lot of sex and very little money. They communicate via text message and meet men online. As you can see, despite the fact that Sicha names no one, it's all very true.
Tao Lin's novel "Taipei," published in June by Vintage Contemporaries, is another modern-day tale of a certain segment of the city: young writers who pop Adderall and stay up all night refreshing Twitter.
Our protagonist here is Paul, a novelist who spends the first 100 pages gulping pills, sending texts and trying not to connect with anyone. Eventually, Paul leaves the city for his book tour, during which more drugs are taken and self-expression remains elusive. Paul meets Erin online and then in real life, and later, they travel together to Taiwan, where more drugs are swallowed and snorted.
Lin doesn't do plot twists. Things just happen, and then other things happen. Reading the book is like walking through fog. It can feel like you're heading to nowhere, and yet, the haze envelops you.
Find more reviews of new books in the Slate Book Review at slate.com/books.