Bone up on your World War 1 reading with a little Genre Kryptonite.

Bone up on your World War 1 reading with a little Genre Kryptonite.

"I often turn to darkness, depravity, and intrigue when I want to relax."

roxanegay talks about her Genre Kryptonite: international thrillers and serial killer novels.

What’s your super-specific literary weakness?

Genre Kryptonite: Elvis Literature

This list is a hunka-hunka burning book love!

I think it is the dual forces of constraint and passion that hook me. Think about it; it’s a great literary hook, which has a strong lineage in literary history itself, from Hector in The Iliad through Don Quixote and all the way up to Ahab. A life-pledge to a belief, particularly in these times of conditional morality and relativistic thinking, is a remarkable engine for a character.

I tend to hardcore eye-roll when a novel is about a novelist and a screenplay features a screenwriter as a protagonist. I just think, “Oh, you’re a novelist and you have no other life experience, so that’s all you know how to write about.” I know this is judge-y and probably not fair, but I don’t know what to tell you guys, my brain is judge-y and definitely not fair.

Of course there are exceptions to the rule: Adaptation is a brilliant film about a screenwriter, Wonder Boys is a first-rate novel about a novelist. The exceptions are few and far between for me. That said, when a novel is about ANOTHER kind of artist, I’m in it to win it. I love exploring different artistic mediums through fiction. And if the artist in question is a TORTURED artist? I’m going to eat that book up with a spoon and a fork.

Genre Kryptonite: Tortured Artists and the People Who Love Them
My kryptonite is rather particular though, it’s not the actually math itself that I’m interested in, it’s more the, “OMG THE UNIVERSE IS AMAZING!” thing. Considering we’ve gone from a concept of math that started with “1, 2, Many” to searching for the Higgs Boson, the fact that each number has its own history of discovery is fascinating. It’s amazing. When you start to break down math into its individual pieces, all of a sudden you realize you have numerical biographies, some genius sat down and figured all this stuff out about one number and it changed the world.

Do you prefer your superheroes on the do-right, goody two-shoes side? 

Genre Kryptonite: Superhero Boy Scouts

Genre Kryptonite: New York City Snob Stories

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I’ve always been intrigued by New York blue bloods (like the fictional Darlings of Alger’s novel). I grew up in a small midwestern town, so the private-boarding-school, whisk-off-to-Aspen-for-weekend-skiing, ginormous-trust-fund lives of those folks is infinitely foreign to me, and thus infinitely intriguing.

So here’s a short list of some of the better New York City “snob stories” I’ve read:


The Emperor’s Children, by Claire Messud — Exploring themes of entitlement, coming-of-age, love, and the aftermath of 9/11, this was one of my favorite novels of the 2000s. The novel follows three classmates from Brown trying to make it in NYC, and their “emperor” Murray, looking down upon them from his position of wealth and power. Just a wonderful contemporary literary novel!

A Fortunate Age, by Joanna Smith Rakoff — This novel, almost to a “T,” is the HBO show Girls in print; hell, the characters all even went to Oberlin College! It’s about friends who move to NYC to make their way, with varying degrees of success (and financial backing from parents). There’s the typical tension between the privileged elite and the up-and-comers who are trying to enter that exclusive world. Despite some poor reviews, I actually really enjoyed this book.

All The Sad Young Literary Men, by Keith Gessen — The title here says it all — it definitely delivers what it promises. The story’s about several young guys living in NYC and writing and dreaming of literary fame. Many thought Gessen (an editor with N+1 and Chad Harbach “biographer”) misstepped with this novel, but I enjoyed it, mostly. There are several inventive and intriguing set pieces — like a character comparing the Palestinians to the Boston Red Sox, because neither can hold a lead.

Free Food for Millionaires, by Min Jin Lee — About a daughter of Korean immigrants who gets a taste of the good life, this novel is populated with relatively despicable people doing things to each other. I read this when I’d only been to NYC once, and it made me wonder if anyone in NYC actually has a soul. I wasn’t a huge fan of this novel — mostly because nobody ever learns any lessons — but it has all the drama and intrigue of a typical New York City snob story.

Everything Changes, by Jonathan Tropper — If you’ve never read Tropper, this novel of a dude living rent-free in NYC with his wealthy buddy and engaged to a NYC debutante, is a great place to start. When 32-year-old Zack finds blood in his urine one morning, everything, well, changes. All of Tropper’s signature wit and humor are on full display here, and the resolution to this story may just leave you breathless.

New York: The Novel, by Edward Rutherfurd — I like the chutzpah on British dude Rutherfurd, calling his fictional, Michener-like history of New York “THE” novel. But it’s okay, this is a great book. It follows several families through several generations — and we get to seem them do rich-people things in many different eras. It’s a long book, but definitely worth the time commitment.