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Yiyun Li's Top Book Recommendations

Want to know what books Yiyun Li recommends on their reading list? We've researched interviews, social media posts, podcasts, and articles to build a comprehensive list of Yiyun Li's favorite book recommendations of all time.



A Memoir

With the same grace and lyrical precision that distinguish his vibrant short stories, James McPherson surveys the emotional upheaval of his last twenty-one years. From Baltimore, Maryland, to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Iowa and Japan, Crabcakes witnesses McPherson's confrontation with the past, and his struggle to make sense of it and to bind it, peacefully, to the present. His elliptical search for meaning -- and his ultimate understanding of what makes us human -- finds in Crabcakes a powerful and enduring voice. less
Recommended by Yiyun Li, and 1 others.

Yiyun LiJames Alan McPherson was always trying not to be reduced, not to be pushed into being one kind of writer. (Source)

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Excursions in the Real World

A modern master of the short story brings his precise and compassionate observations to bear on his own life, in a book of recollections that is at once funny, poignant, and revealing. As William Trevor records his migration from the shabby-genteel precincts of Ireland's Protestant middle-class to the sleek vulgarity of London in the swinging sixties, from Cork and Dublin to New York and Isfahan, he yields luminous portraits of the people whose paths crossed his. There is the roaring schoolmaster with the passion for spelling bees; the glamorous emigre with a weakness for faithless poets.... more
Recommended by Yiyun Li, and 1 others.

Yiyun LiThe conflict between the external world and the internal landscape of the mind is what William Trevor does so well in his short stories (Source)

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Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life is a partial autobiography describing Lewis' conversion to Christianity. The book overall contains less detail concerning specific events than typical autobiographies. This is because his purpose in writing wasn't primarily historical. His aim was to identify & describe the events surrounding his accidental discovery of & consequent search for the phenomenon he labelled "Joy". This word was the best translation he could make of the German idea of Sehnsucht, longing. That isn't to say the book is devoid of information about his life.... more
Recommended by Yiyun Li, and 1 others.

Yiyun LiThis book is more about thoughts than about straight experience – it’s about a man tracing back his mind (Source)

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Family Sayings

Hailed upon publication as a groundbreaking memoir, giving the form “a new dimension, new possibilities, and . . . an aspect that is entirely new” (Times Literary Supplement), Family Sayings is Natalia Ginzburg’s masterpiece and a classic of contemporary Italian literature. Although it asks to be read as fiction, the author, one of Italy’s finest twentieth-century writers, admits that it is highly autobiographical. The book spans the period from the rise of Fascism through World War II (in which her first husband perished at the hands of the Nazis) and its aftermath. Its subject... more
Recommended by Yiyun Li, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, and 2 others.

Yiyun LiYou don’t need the author to say ‘And I experienced it like this… and I was changed by this event and then that event’, because you feel it yourself in the way she writes. (Source)

Ruth Ben-GhiatFamily Lexicon, which is more like a novelized memoir, is a valuable testimony of how private life unfolded during Fascist Italy. (Source)

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Sakhalin Island

The only edition in print of Chekhov's exposé of the Tsarist penal system, with many topical reverberations

In 1890, the 30-year-old Chekhov, already knowing that he was ill with tuberculosis, undertook an arduous 11-week journey from Moscow across Siberia to the penal colony on the island of Sakhalin. Now collected here in one volume are the fully annotated translations of his impressions of his trip through Siberia, and the account of his three-month sojourn on Sakhalin Island, together with author's notes, extracts from Chekhov's letters to relatives and associates, and...
Recommended by Yiyun Li, and 1 others.

Yiyun LiYou can feel Chekhov on every page, watching, listening, noting, feeling for the people he meets. (Source)

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