Work by Columbia Writers Named Among 'Best Books of the Year' by New York Times Critics

BY Zoe Contros Kearl, December 7, 2018

The New York Times’s staff critics gave their choices of the best fiction and nonfiction works of the year and three Columbia writers were among those named. 

Alumna Rachel Kushner '01 was named for her novel The Mars Room, Faculty member Deborah Eisenberg was named for her book, Your Duck Is My Duck and Alumna and Adjunct Sigrid Nunez '75 was name for her National Book Award-winning book, The Friend.


The Mars Room book coverFrom critic Dwight Garner, “The title of Kushner’s grainy and persuasive novel refers to a notorious strip club in San Francisco. Romy, the young narrator, worked there before being sent to prison for life for killing the man who stalked her. Kushner’s portrait of Romy’s anarchic, near-orphaned childhood in San Francisco is a great, subversive portrait of the city. This is a brooding book, one that dwells on Dostoyevskian notions of innocence and evil. It moves like a muscle car, oozing down the side roads of your mind.”


Rachel Kushner is also the author of The Flamethrowers, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and a New York Times Top Five Novel. Her debut novel, Telex from Cuba, was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award and a New York Times bestseller and Notable Book. A collection of her early work, The Strange Case of Rachel K, was published by New Directions in 2015. Kushner’s fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, and The Paris Review. She is the recipient of a 2013 Guggenheim Fellowship and the 2016 Harold D. Vursell Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She received her MFA from Columbia University.


Your Duck is My Duck book coverFrom critic and Alumnus Parul Sehgal '10, “Eisenberg is a writer of legendary exactitude, and slowness. This is her first new collection since 2006, and well worth the wait — so instantly absorbing that it feels like an abduction. These are stories of painful awakenings and refusals of innocence, emerging out of the ashes of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, despoliation and environmental plunder. The sentences are full of syntactic fireworks, breakneck swerves and very black humor. ‘I’m hurtling through time, strapped to an explosive device, my life,’ the narrator of the title story tells her therapist. ‘Plus, it’s beginning to look like a photo finish — me first, or the world.’”


Deborah Eisenberg is a MacArthur Foundation Fellow and the recipient of numerous honors including the 2011 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, a Whiting Writer’s Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Eisenberg has published four collections of stories: Transactions in a Foreign Currency (1986), Under the 82nd Airborne (1992), All Around Atlantis (1997), and Twilight of the Superheroes (2006). Her first two story collections were republished in one volume as The Stories (So Far) of Deborah Eisenberg (1997). All four volumes were reprinted in 2010 in The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg (2010). Her review of Magda Szabo’s novel The Door was recently published in The New York Review of Books. Her newest collection, Your Duck is My Duck, was published in 2018.


The Friend book coverAlso from Dwight Garner, “Nunez’s dry, allusive and charming new novel has the makings of a broad comedy. It’s about what happens when a woman who lives in a tiny Manhattan apartment inherits, after the suicide of a former mentor and lover, his harlequin Great Dane. The novel’s tone, however, is frequently mournful and resonant. Nunez has an interesting mind, and she shakes the dust from every topic — grief, writing, academia, sexual politics — she picks up.”


Sigrid Nunez has published seven novels, including A Feather on the Breath of God, The Last of Her Kind, Salvation City, and, most recently, The Friend, which won the 2018 National Book Award for Fiction. She is also the author of Sempre Susan: A Memoir of Susan Sontag. Her writing has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Paris Review, Harper’s, McSweeney’s, The New Yorker, and elsewhere. Sigrid’s honors and awards include a Whiting Writer’s Award, a Berlin Prize Fellowship, and two awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters: the Rosenthal Foundation Award and the Rome Prize in Literature. She lives in New York City.