Jonathan Lethem

“Jonathan Lethem’s extraordinary career is a reminder of the not-so-distant past when working novelists published their new creations regularly and with a seemingly free-flowing hand,” Michael Greenberg writes in the New York Times Book Review. “If one book wasn’t up to snuff, there would be another to redeem it a year or two later. It was all part of the ebb and flow of a lifetime of work.


“Twenty books in 20 years is Lethem’s output thus far (he has just turned 50), consisting of nine novels, one novella, six works of nonfiction and four short story collections including his new one, “Lucky Alan.” In addition, he has edited various volumes on music and amnesia among other subjects, as well as the collected novels of the science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, indicative of his wide-ranging interests.

“Lethem is an attentive decoder of cultural trends and mores, an enthusiastic appreciator of art both pop and arcane. He is a firm believer in the cross-pollination of literary ideas … In Lucky Alan [his new collection of stories], Lethem’s considerable strengths are on display.”

Writing in the Chicago Tribune, Christopher Navratil observes: “Astutely cunning social and political satires sit alongside experimental flights of absurdist fantasy and parable, with traces of Lethem's unique slant on magical realism sprinkled in as well. Comparisons might be drawn to writers ranging from Jorge Luis Borges and Haruki Murakami to Margaret Atwood and J.D. Salinger. All of Lethem's stories are enlivened by his wit and provocative wordplay. Yet ultimately not all of the stories are standouts; the ones leaving more lasting impressions are positioned at the beginning and end of the collection.”

Peter Tonguette offers more praise in the Columbus Dispatch: “In this collection, his best stories drop the reader in strange surroundings, without an obvious context. … His gifts are particularly evident in The Dreaming Jaw, The Salivating Ear, which, the reader gradually realizes, reimagines a blog as a place. … The thoroughly amusing Their Back Pages comes with a Saturday Night Live-like setup — it takes place on an island where a gaggle of comic-strip characters are stuck after a plane crash. … By contrast, the premise of The King of Sentences is largely plausible — a literature-obsessed couple track down an author they hold in high esteem — though the story ends as a bizarre black comedy.”

Jonathan Lethem’s Top Ten List

1. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1860–61).
2. The Trial by Franz Kafka (1925).
3. The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead (1940).
4. The Red and the Black by Stendhal (1830).
5. A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell (1951–75).
6. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865).
7. The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch (1973).
8. New Grub Street by George Gissing (1891).
9. Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne (1759–67).
10. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866).