Rachel Kushner: TOP TEN BOOKS

Rachel Kushner photographed by Chloe Aftel

Rachel Kushner is the author of four novels, including 2008’s Telex from Cuba, and 2013’s The Flamethrowers, both finalists for the National Book Award in their respective years, and The Mars Room, a finalist for the 2018 Man Booker Prize, for which she dove deep into the American prison system. Through meeting the real life versions of her characters in their cells, Kushner was able to extract their essences and distill it into her writing. As she told the New Yorker, about one inmate, “I just felt his person, like he went into my skin. You get a whiff of somebody’s essence, whether you wanted it or not, and that’s enough to write a whole character.” Kushner’s other works of fiction have appeared in Harper’s, the Paris Review, and the New Yorker, and in 2013 she was the recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship, receiving the Harold D. Vursell Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2016.

Below are Rachel Kushner’s favorite books, available to purchase individually or as a set.


The Ravishing of Lol Stein

Marguerite Duras
Duras… There is no one like her, who speaks with such simple and yet high-flown authority. Her tone is Biblical, absolute. She brushes off mediocre narrative expectations, and with this novel, a critical moment in her extraordinary writing career, and life, made something entirely new.
Add to cart

Ingrid Caven

Jean-Jacques Schuhl
I can’t help but include this book on any list I’d ever make of books I love. It is bewitching, playful, poetic, and really beautiful. Ingrid Caven looks like Marlene Dietrich and sings like Lotte Lenya. She was Fassbinder’s muse on film and Schuhl’s in life, and the book creates a fictive plane of reality in between all four, plus postwar German history, plus the 1970s.
Add to cart

Innocents and Others

Dana Spiotta
This novel deserves its place on my desert island for how subtle it is, how moving. There is a lightness to its artfulness that deserves reading and rereading. I adore this novel about vision, and film, and women.
Add to cart


Ariana Reines
Until she writes another book of poetry, this collection, “Mercury,” for me is the apotheosis of Reines’s output and voice. You can read it like it’s a novel, turning pages until you get to the end, building a sense in your mind of the funny, gorgeous, odd, dirty, gnostic visions of one female gaze.
Add to cart

Morvern Callar

Alan Warner
This book is like girlhood to me somehow, even though I was already in my twenties when I first read it. I reread it every few years and it reminds me, every time, of the magical feeling I had when I first encountered the hypnotic and cool voice of its narrator, Scottish raver—and super young widow—and chainsmoker of Silk Cuts: the unforgettable Morvern Callar.
Add to cart

The Unseen

Nanni Balestrini
The only novel really to do anything true with the waves of revolt in Italy in the mid and late 1970s (until I wrote mine, heh). The voice here is transfixing. The end is so incredibly moving. You will need to adapt to Balestrini’s style of forgoing punctuation, but once you do, you’ll be riding a bike with no hands on the bars and you won’t even notice that you, too, are doing something new.
Add to cart

The Skin

Curzio Malaparte
This novel, a linked series of strange and acid and darkly comic vignettes on life in Naples at the end of World War II, gets at the material reality of a liberator (the American military) as occupier and at the contradictory and surreal world of Naples. In sum, no one is innocent, not even Malaparte.
Add to cart

Reflections in a Golden Eye

Carson McCullers
This is McCullers’s most vicious and finest work, though I love all her work. The narrative stars a closeted army captain on a Southern military base, and a surrounding cast of depressed, outrageous, flamboyant, and cruel characters, or rather, people.
Add to cart

Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life

Karen E Fields and Barbara J. Fields
Okay, so this book is really so very important. And its arguments ask to be revisited on multiple occasions. You might recall the title if you read “Between the World and Me.” This book is not personal like Ta-Nehisi Coates’s; it is objective and rigorous. Scholars Barbara J. Fields and Karen E. Fields explain what race is, and what it isn’t. I feel I waited my whole life to read their primer, in chapter four, on ideology—what it is, and how it works. Now I know.
Add to cart

The Brothers Karamazov

Fyodor Dostoevsky
This novel will shatter those who are ready for it, ready for Dostoevsky’s courage to plunge into the abyss of human cruelty, and his wisdom at locating what grace there is. This is a novel of ultimate destruction and grace. It has in it the whole lived world, also heaven, also hell.
Add to cart