What We’re Reading

Book recommendations from Slate’s Culture Gabfest.

Collage of book covers.
Photo illustration by Slate

Every week, our Culture Gabfesters spend a moment waxing enthusiastically about their favorite cultural obsessions—books, movies, music, and more. Our listeners often request book recommendations, so we’ve rounded up some of the Gabfesters’ fiction endorsements for your perusal. The crew’s eclectic taste ranges from beloved classics to more obscure contemporary graphic novels.

Julia Turner

The Witch Elm by Tana French
Turner calls crime master Tana French’s mystery The Witch Elm “one of the single best interrogations of white male privilege that I’ve seen in the culture in the last few years.”

Recommended on the “Just Wanted to Take Another Look at You Edition” on Oct. 10, 2018.

The Witch Elm

Less by Andrew Sean Greer
“I love it, and I’m dying to talk about it a year late,” says Turner of Less, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2018. Less is the story of Arthur Less, a 49-year-old gay man whose young lover of nine years breaks up with him, and what follows in that aftermath. Turner says, “It reads like light romantic fiction” but is “absolutely deserving of every prize … it takes this light comedic touch and tone … but does something incredibly profound and beautiful.”

Recommended on the “You Will Never Be Enough Edition” on Aug. 22, 2018.


Stephen Metcalf

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Metcalf calls the celebrated author’s unsettling mystery “a tone-perfect, exquisitely executed small novel. I mean, talk about the elegance of concision, total control of every aspect of fiction writing. It’s just a master class—a mistress class—in great fiction writing.”

Recommended on the “As in Her Royal Highness Edition” on Feb. 20, 2019.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney
Metcalf praises Rooney’s debut novel about the intricacies of female friendship: “She’s got a very simple, straightforward style that’s meant to show you what people, especially young people, are no longer able to say to one another or themselves.”

Recommended on the Prosthesis Statement Edition” on Jan. 30, 2019.

Conversations with Friends

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
“It’s such a deeply humane novel,” says Metcalf of Nabokov’s darkly comic masterpiece, which parodies literary aspirations and scholarship. “It’s so clearly not only a book about human suffering … but also [Nabokov’s] own suffering.”

Recommended on the “Angry at the Lollipop Edition” on Dec 12, 2018.

Pale Fire

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante
Metcalf praises the third book in Elena Ferrante’s series about girls growing up in the outskirts of Naples: “It’s a perfect bildungsroman that’s also utterly unique to itself.” While he loves the entire four-part series, he calls the third installment “completely magnificent.”

Recommended on the “Hegemonic Victimhood Edition” on Aug. 29, 2018.

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

June Thomas

Talent by Juliet Lapidos
Thomas recommends Lapidos’ debut novel, a literary mystery featuring Anna Brisker, a graduate student in search of inspiration for her dissertation about … inspiration. “There’s a lot of content that people who did their time in the graduate school salt mines will really relate to,” says Thomas, who used to work with Lapidos at Slate. “But even those of us who didn’t will find it hilarious and great.”

Recommended on the “No Bad Horses Edition” on Aug. 15, 2018.


Isaac Butler

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew
Butler recommends this graphic novel that takes place in Singapore as an accompaniment to the portrayal of the country in Crazy Rich Asians: “It’s a really fascinating book because it … poses as a coffee table art book about a fictitious cartoonist and then within that, and in telling his life story … it tells the whole story of Singaporean independence.”

Recommended on the “You Will Never Be Enough Edition” on Aug. 22, 2018.

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye