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Hanya Yanagihara standing in front of a dark gray backdrop, images of each book cover mentioned in this article are superimposed beside her.

'A Little Life' Author Hanya Yanagihara's Favorite Books

There's some really good ones in here.

Hanya Yanagihara, author of The People in the Trees and A Little Life, (for which she was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize in 2015) is a well-read lover of literature, and as such, has some incredible book recommendations for her readers. For those of you who admire Yanagihara's work and wish to get a sense of where she gets her inspiration from, consider picking up one of the following:

 

Kazuo Ishiguro's The Buried Giant

 

Book cover of The Buried Giant

Image via Amazon

 

According to Yanagihara, this book, by the author of Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day, is one of the best books of 2015. Of Ishiguro and his work, she has said:

 

I think that he's really my favorite writer because he has one theme, and that theme is memory, and in every single book he makes a different book, and that is so incredibly hard, you know, I mean to sort of say 'Oh I don't care about genre, I don't care about conventions,' and to really remake an entire universe around this one idea is very, very hard.

 

Like Yanagihara, Ishiguro's work is known for its haunting quality of staying with you long after you've read it.

 

Synopsis:

 

"In post-Arthurian Britain, the wars that once raged between the Saxons and the Britons have finally ceased. Axl and Beatrice, an elderly British couple, set off to visit their son, whom they haven't seen in years. And, because a strange mist has caused mass amnesia throughout the land, they can scarcely remember anything about him. As they are joined on their journey by a Saxon warrior, his orphan charge, and an illustrious knight, Axl and Beatrice slowly begin to remember the dark and troubled past they all share. By turns savage, suspenseful, and intensely moving, The Buried Giant is a luminous meditation on the act of forgetting and the power of memory."

 

Hilary Mantel's The Giant, O'Brien

 

Book cover of The Giant, O'Brien

Image via Goodreads

 

Yanagihara named this author as one she admires for the fact that “mid-career [Mantel] completely switched styles.” Yanagihara acknowledges The Giant, O'Brien as the turning point where “she completely switched forms, she became a historical novelist.” Mantel's work ranks among Yanagihara's favorites because, as she says, “all the books are satisfying and both the styles are distinctly hers.”

 

Synopsis:

 

"London, 1782: center of science and commerce, home to the newly rich and the desperately poor. In the midst of it all is the Giant, O'Brien, a freak of nature, a man of song and story who trusts in myths, fairies, miracles, and little people. He has come from Ireland to exhibit his size for money. O'Brien's opposite is a man of science, the famed anatomist John Hunter, who lusts after the Giant's corpse as a medical curiosity, a boon to the advancement of scientific knowledge.

In her acclaimed novel, two-time Man Booker Prize winning author Hilary Mantel tells of the fated convergence of Ireland and England. As belief wrestles knowledge and science wrestles song, so The Giant, O'Brien calls to us from a fork in the road as a tale of time, and a timeless tale."

 

John Banville's The Sea

 

Book cover of The Sea

Image via Amazon

 

This Man Booker Prize winning author is a favorite of Yanagihara, who says that "No one writes as beautifully as [Banville] does.” The Sea won Banville the Man Booker Prize in 2005, and is widely considered to be one of the best examples of his literary aptitude.

 

Synopsis:

 

In this luminous new novel about love, loss, and the unpredictable power of memory, John Banville introduces us to Max Morden, a middle-aged Irishman who has gone back to the seaside town where he spent his summer holidays as a child to cope with the recent loss of his wife. It is also a return to the place where he met the Graces, the well-heeled family with whom he experienced the strange suddenness of both love and death for the first time. What Max comes to understand about the past, and about its indelible effects on him, is at the center of this elegiac, gorgeously written novel — among the finest we have had from this masterful writer.

 

Peter Rock's My Abandonment

 

Book cover of My Abandonment

Image via Goodreads

 

My Abandonment is something of Yanagihara's dark horse; she has referred to Peter Rock as being a "little-known American author" whose work deserves far more attention. According to Yanagihara, My Abandonment is "one of the best books of the past decade... a beautiful, bleak little book."

 

Synopsis:

 

In this luminous new novel about love, loss, and the unpredictable power of memory, John Banville introduces us to Max Morden, a middle-aged Irishman who has gone back to the seaside town where he spent his summer holidays as a child to cope with the recent loss of his wife. It is also a return to the place where he met the Graces, the well-heeled family with whom he experienced the strange suddenness of both love and death for the first time. What Max comes to understand about the past, and about its indelible effects on him, is at the center of this elegiac, gorgeously written novel — among the finest we have had from this masterful writer.

 

Mona Simpson's Off Keck Road

 

Book cover of Off Keck Road

Image via Amazon

 

Yanagihara recommends this book specifically in relation to her book, A Little Life, saying that it is about "a tiny life, a life that's kind of perfectly lived."

 

Synopsis:

 

In this flawless novella, Mona Simpson turns her powers of observation toward characters who, unlike Ann and Adele August in her bestselling Anywhere but Here, choose to stay rather than go. 

As a high school student in Green Bay, Bea Maxwell raised money for good causes; later, she became a successful real estate agent and an accomplished knitter. The one thing missing from her life is a romantic relationship. She soon settles comfortably into the role of stylish spinster and do-gooder. Woven into Bea's story are stories of other lifelong residents of Green Bay and the changes time brings to a town and its residents. This pure and simple work once again proves Mona Simpson one of the defining writers of her generation.

 

Anita Brookner's Hotel du Lac

 

Book cover of Hotel du Lac

Image via Amazon

 

Yanagihara has praised Anita Brookner's work as “perfect, consistent books about loneliness and about the smallness of life.” 

 

Synopsis:

 

"In the novel that won her the Booker Prize and established her international reputation, Anita Brookner finds a new vocabulary for framing the eternal question 'Why love?' It tells the story of Edith Hope, who writes romance novels under a pseudonym. When her life begins to resemble the plots of her own novels, however, Edith flees to Switzerland, where the quiet luxury of the Hotel du Lac promises to restore her to her senses.

But instead of peace and rest, Edith finds herself sequestered at the hotel with an assortment of love's casualties and exiles. She also attracts the attention of a worldly man determined to release her unused capacity for mischief and pleasure. Beautifully observed, witheringly funny, Hotel du Lac is Brookner at her most stylish and potently subversive."

 

Neel Mukherjee's The Lives of Others

 

Book cover of The Lives of Others

Image via Lonesome Reader

 

Yanagihara has named Mukherjee as an author whose work is relatively new to the States. She says that he is known for writing "these very odd books.” 

 

Synopsis:

 

"The aging patriarch and matriarch of the Ghosh family preside over their large household, made up of their five adult children and their respective children, unaware that beneath the barely ruffled surface of their lives the sands are shifting. Each set of family members occupies a floor of the home, in accordance to their standing within the family. Poisonous rivalries between sisters-in-law, destructive secrets, and the implosion of the family business threaten to unravel bonds of kinship as social unrest brews in greater Indian society. This is a moment of turbulence, of inevitable and unstoppable change: the chasm between the generations, and between those who have and those who have not, has never been wider. The eldest grandchild, Supratik, compelled by his idealism, becomes dangerously involved in extremist political activism―an action that further catalyzes the decay of the Ghosh home.

Ambitious, rich, and compassionate, The Lives of Others anatomizes the soul of a nation as it unfolds a family history, at the same time as it questions the nature of political action and the limits of empathy. It is a novel of unflinching power and emotional force."

 

Peter Cameron's Coral Glynn

 

Book cover of Coral Glynn

Image via Goodreads

 

Yanagihara refers to this as a "really strange shapeshifter of a book” that blends genre and convention into a really well-done story.

 

Synopsis:

 

"Coral Glynn arrives at Hart House, an isolated manse in the English countryside, early in the very wet spring of 1950, to nurse the elderly Mrs. Hart, who is dying of cancer. Hart House is also inhabited by Mrs. Prence, the perpetually disgruntled housekeeper, and Major Clement Hart, Mrs. Hart's war-ravaged son, who is struggling to come to terms with his latent homosexuality. When a child's game goes violently awry in the woods surrounding Hart House, a great shadow―love, perhaps―descends upon its inhabitants. Like the misguided child's play, other seemingly random events―a torn dress, a missing ring, a lost letter―propel Coral and Clement into the dark thicket of marriage.

A period novel observed through a refreshingly gimlet eye, Coral Glynn explores how quickly need and desire can blossom into love, and just as quickly transform into something less categorical. Borrowing from themes and characters prevalent in the work of mid-twentieth-century British women writers, Peter Cameron examines how we live and how we love―with his customary empathy and wit."

 

 

Patrick Flanery's I Am No One

 

Book cover of I Am No One

Image via Amazon

 

Yanagihara read this work before its publication, describing it as “about the surveillance state with a very unreliable narrator.”

 

Synopsis:

 

"After a decade living in England, Jeremy O'Keefe returns to New York, where he has been hired as a professor of German history at New York University. Though comfortable in his new life, and happy to be near his daughter once again, Jeremy continues to feel the quiet pangs of loneliness. Walking through the city at night, it's as though he could disappear and no one would even notice.

But soon, Jeremy's life begins taking strange turns: boxes containing records of his online activity are delivered to his apartment, a young man seems to be following him, and his elderly mother receives anonymous phone calls slandering her son. Why, he wonders, would anyone want to watch him so closely, and, even more upsetting, why would they alert him to the fact that he was being watched? 

As Jeremy takes stock of the entanglements that marked his years abroad, he wonders if he has unwittingly committed a crime so serious as to make him an enemy of the state. Moving towards a shattering reassessment of what it means to be free in a time of ever more intrusive surveillance, Jeremy is forced to ask himself whether he is "no one," as he believes, or a traitor not just to his country but to everyone around him."

 

 

 

Featured Image Via Het Financieele Dagblad, Amazon, Goodreads, Lonesome Reader, and Amazon. Synopses via Amazon.