What to read next based on your favorite Tony nominee. ‹ Literary Hub

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June 14, 2024, 1:25pm

This Sunday, Broadway will recognize some of the year’s plays and musicals with a shiny celebration and a great many inside jokes. Maybe you’ve seen some of the nominated plays. Or maybe you will, later, when they reach PBS or your town.

Either way, as a Lit Hub reader, you may be interested to know that some of this year’s biggest tickets are literary adaptations. Which prompted this viewer to wonder, what happens if we reverse-engineer the usual pipeline? And you leave the theatre with a wish to pick up a book? Well, dear reader, I’ve got that urge covered. Here are some prose recommendations based on some of this season’s biggest shows, i.e., your Tony bracket.

WHAT TO READ IF YOU LOVED:

Kalyne Coleman and Maechi Aharanwa in Jaja’s African Hair Braiding. (Matthew Murphy)

Jaja’s African Hair Braiding, Jocelyn Bioh

Kaitlyn Greenidge, Libertie

Like Jaja, this beautifully structured novel depicts a totalizing mother/daughter relationship in which Mom is a charisma magnet who assumes her daughter will follow in her professional footsteps.

And for another fictional exploration of mothering in community, you might revisit Brit Bennett’s stellar debut, The Mothers.

WHAT TO READ IF YOU LOVED:

April Matthis and Rachel McAdams in Mary Jane. (Matthew Murphy)

Mary Jane, Amy Herzog

One of this year’s frontrunners for Best Play is this quiet, powerful meditation on the logistics of caregiving. If you’re likewise compelled by the agony and banality of chronic crises, or the village it can take to manage an emergency, you might appreciate these.

Miriam Toews, All My Puny Sorrows

This is one of my constant recommendations. I love this witty, heartbreakingly frank story about two sisters who can’t save each other. Like MJ, this is a book that models how we bear unbearable things. It is stupid good. Please pick it up, if you’ve been hiding away from it, under a rock.

While I’m in the neighborhood? Patricia Lockwood’s No One is Talking About This is also sage on caregiving. A lot of the criticism of that much-feted debut novel dwelled on its internettiness. But its heart-cracking second half is a bona fide meditation in an emergency.

WHAT TO READ IF YOU LOVED:

Jessica Lange and Celia Keenan-Bolger in Mother Play. (Joan Marcus)

Mother Play, Paula Vogel

The great Paula Vogel is also dancing with motherhood this season, in her aptly titled Mother Play. I have two books for fans of this one.

Samuel Park, The Caregiver

In this lushly told story, the late Samuel Park examines, yes, another vexed mother/daughter relationship. But this one is a moving emotional thrill ride concerning the secrets we keep from our loved ones.

Gwendoline Riley, My Phantoms

For another angle on maddening matriarchs and the psychic ties they bind, look no further than this itchy-making portrait. Riley’s mother might be less glamorously charming than Rachel McAdams or Jessica Lange, but she’s no less plausible. Or mysterious to her children.

WHAT TO READ IF YOU LOVED:

Sarah Paulson and Elle Fanning in Appropriate. (Joan Marcus)

Appropriate, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

In this thorny drama, a white family returns to their Arkansas homestead only to find ghosts in the attic. This script is a great read in itself.

Mat Johnson, Loving Day 

But if you’re looking for fiction that troubles similar waters (re: the spiritual gymnastics some of us do to ignore race and racial violence, the fraught attics of American homes), I’d look to this smart, wicked offering from Mat Johnson.

Allan Gurganus, White People

Appropriate also inclined me to revisit the stories of Allan Gurganus, that self-appointed bard of the Southern white soul. This voicey, hilarious collection is worth digging into.

WHAT TO READ IF YOU LOVED:

Kara Young, Heather Alicia Simms, Leslie Odom, Jr., Vanessa Bell Calloway, Billy Eugene Jones, and Noah Robbins in Purlie Victorious. (Marc J. Franklin)

Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch, Ossie Davis

Ossie Davis’ madcap romp about a Black preacher’s attempts to regain his inheritance in the Jim Crow South is all farce logic and linguistic pyrotechnics. If you likewise relish a belly laugh as much as a founding contradiction, it’s probably time to get your Reed on.

Ishmael Reed, Flight to Canada

This wild, verging-on-preposterous send-up of the fugitive slave narrative is as funny as Purlie’s foils. Start with this one, then get the rest of the canon out of the library. There’s a clear line from this mad genius/satirist to Percival Everett.

WHAT TO READ IF YOU LOVED:

Maleah Joi Moon and company of Hell’s Kitchen. (Joan Marcus)

Hell’s Kitchen, Alicia Keys and Kristoffer Diaz

Alicia Keys’ jukebox musical is a sumptuous coming-of-age celebration, concerning a 17 year old New Yorker with artistic dreams.

Elizabeth Acevedo, The Poet X

That put me in mind of this much lauded young adult novel from Elizabeth Acevedo. This National Book Award nominee is told in verse, and it follows Xiomara, another rising poet living in the big city.

If you (rightly) love the ecstatic prose but prefer the R rating, Acevedo recently published her first novel for adults. Check out her magically tinged, multi-generational novel, Family Lore.

WHAT TO READ IF YOU LOVED:

Ben Cook and company of Illinoise. (Matthew Murphy)

IllinoiseSufjan Stevens, Jackie Sibblies Drury, and Justin Peck

This movement theatre piece scored by Sufjan Stevens’ opus-of-the-aughts is effectively an Odyssey. (Boy leaves home, trouble befalls him, boy fightsor danceshis way back home.) Its cipher-y hero also put me in mind of the flaneur, who wanders the world of a book in search of spiritual transformation.

Olivia Laing, The Lonely City 

For another genre-queer meditation on great American cities, and the saving graces of art, look no further than excellent amble.

WHAT TO READ IF YOU LOVED:

Tom Pecinka and Sarah Pidgeon in Stereophonic. (Julieta Cervantes)

Stereophonic, David Adjmi

Adjmi’s opus follows a 70s rock band as they struggle through all kinds of interpersonal drama to make a masterpiece. My personal favorite contribution to the whole, rangy canon of rock n’ roll texts is an autobiography from a recurring fly on a similar studio’s wall.

Pamela Des Barres, I’m With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie

Written by the woman who inspired Penny Lane in Almost Famous, this memoir is, on the one hand, just an outrageous good time. But there’s tenderness under the sweat. In lush, earnest prose, Des Barres captures what it really feels like to be a fan.

Dawnie Walton, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev

And on the fiction tip, the rock stars in this historical collage novel are as lovingly imagined as Adjmi’s unnamed underdogs.

WHAT TO READ IF YOU LOVED:

Jason Schmidt, Renni Anthony Magee, Daryl Tofa, Tilly Evans-Krueger, Sky Lakota-Lynch, Joshua Boone, Brent Comer, and Brody Grant. (Matthew Murphy)

The Outsiders, Jonathan Clay, Zach Chance, and the Jamestown Revival

If you love The Outsiders musical, you might love, um, S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. But for fear of being on the nose, I’ll recommend another vibrant coming-of-age novel instead.

Justin Torres, We The Animals

We’ve lauded this one before on the site, so suffice it to say: please go get this book, if you haven’t already. It’s a truly luminous look at childhood with a “poetic soul.”

If you dig that, you might also enjoy Tommy Orange’s juggernaut debut, There, There. For its sweeping epic-ness, and the humane attention paid to young boys in class conflict.

WHAT TO READ IF YOU LOVED:

Shaina Taub in Suffs. (Joan Marcus)

SuffsShaina Taub 

This eager new musical about the long road to passing the 19th amendment sparkles with history lessons. Alice Paul, Mary Church Terrell, and Ida B. Wells-Barnett are all starring cast-members.

Vanguard, Martha S. Jones

If the beautiful songs leave you hungry for a deeper dive, consider this sharp, elegantly structured account of Black women in the suffrage movement.

And for more inspiring tales of femme organizing in the face of oppression, pick up Saidiya Hartman’s beautifully woven history, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments.

WHAT TO READ IF YOU LOVED:

The cast of Water for Elephants. (Matthew Murphy)

Water for Elephants, PigPen Theatre Company and Rick Elice

Here’s another case with obvious inspo, given that the Water for Elephants musical is adapted from Sara Gruen’s best-selling novel. But if you’ve already inhaled that book, you might consider some other show-biz tales.

Angela Carter, Wise Children

This fizzy vaudeville saga following two sister-performers is a bright, bracing, totally singular contribution to the family circus narrative.

On the slightly more unsettling end of the spectrum, there’s a classic circus novelKatherine Dunn’s Geek Love. And for rangier, character-driven fare, look to László Krasznahorkai’s The Melancholy of Resistance.

WHAT TO READ IF YOU LOVED:

Gayle Rankin, Eddie Redmayne, and company of Cabaret. (Marc Brenner)

Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club, John Kander, Fred Ebb, and Joe Masteroff

Irmgard Keun, The Artificial Silk Girl

If you’re rooting for Cabaret this Sunday, you may not particularly enjoy sit-ting /a-lone in-your-room. But if the club ever fails to sate, I recommend staying in with this shimmery novel. As ominous as it is engaging, this diaristic book sees pre-war Berlin through the eyes of Doris, a good-time girl who has a lot in common with Sally Bowles.

And speaking of the toast of Mayfair? You can find the original Sally in Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories

WHAT TO READ IF YOU LOVED:

Victoria Pedretti, Caleb Eberhardt, and Jeremy Strong in An Enemy of the People. (Emilio Madrid)

An Enemy of the PeopleHenrik Ibsen

Ibsen’s play about a small town facing ecological disaster is a true talkie. People argue and rationalize. They wrestle toward action. If this kind of polyphony appeals to you, why not pick up another high-stakes conversation?

Miriam Toews, Women Talking 

This thrilling, anxious-making novel, told in the minutes of an emergency meeting, portrays a community of Mennonite women debating whether or not to leave their homes after suffering horrific abuse. It’s taut and sharp, but also readable. And yes, it is the second Toews title on this list.

For a more direct analog to the play’s environmental themes, look to non-fiction. Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement is a favorite for muscular, philosophical wrestling with what it means to face climate catastrophe.

This list of compelling climate fiction is also a great trampoline.

Meet you under the marquee!

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