Marlon James Book Reviews

Welcome to Shelf Life, ELLE.com book column, where authors share their unforgettable reads. If you are looking for a book that will comfort you, move you deeply, and maybe even make you laugh, consider a recommendation from the writers of our history, like you (while you are here), love books. Maybe one of their favorite titles will be yours.

Moon Witch, Spider King (The Dark Star Trilogy)

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Marlon James’ fifth book, Magic Moon, Spider King (Riverhead), out this week, is the second in his Dark Star trilogy after the NYT-selling National Book Award finalist Black Leopard, Red Wolf, film rights acquired by Warner Bros. and Michael B. Jordan’s Outlier Society. James, whose history A Brief History of Seven Murders Winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize, he also writes and produces detective series. Get Millie Black (his mother went from police to police) for HBO. Not bad for someone whose first book was rejected 78 times.

The Jamaican, New York-born author was first inspired to write after reading Laura Ingalls Wilder as a child; studying art writing at Macalester University; it’s on It’s time The 100 Most Powerful People List (authored by Salman Rushdie); he worked as a copywriter in an advertising agency, graphic designer for Kingston’s record label and music director (as president he founded Talk Like a Pirate Day); and do a podcast with his editor, “Marlon & Jake Read Dead People.”

Likes: Prince (he was arrested testing break into Paisley Park); cooking; Grace Jones; Korean zombie moviescomics, master Roman Lucan, Muji pens. Dislikes: Silence. Here are some of his shout outs.

The book will:

… I missed a train stop:

As meat loves salt by Maria McCann. Considering the narrator is a homicidal sociopath with disturbing thoughts about acceptance, that’s saying something.

…I often recommend:

The Time Of Our Music by Richard Powers. It was the last story where I rooted for any character, and the last one that made me cry.

…I promise I will finish it one day:

Middlemarch by George Elliot. Many people I admire think this is the best novel ever written by a Russian man, but I couldn’t go before I was assigned to high school for an exam that was almost I can’t.

…I already bought:

Tom Jones by Henry Fielding. I really hated the first few pages of Middlemarch I went to the examination hall and demanded the syllabus. Tom Jones is at the top of the list.

… has the best opening line:

Janet Malcolm The Journalist And The Murderer. “Any journalist who isn’t too stupid and full of himself to know what’s going on knows it’s impossible.”

… sitting on my nightstand:

Mordew by Alex Pheby. God is dead, and we are alive from his body. The future of the dream begins.

… has the greatest impact:

Sula by Toni Morrison. Morrison’s skill lies in writing scenes that fill you with joy and sadness at the same time, and this gives you the first smile to prevent the tears that will come.

… formed my worldview:

Also, Sula. And one line: “Show? To whom?” Sula said this in response to being asked what she had to show for this great life she said she had. There is only one word that I know that I am the only one who can answer in this world.

… I read in one sitting; that’s good:

Hollywood Women by Jackie Collins. I finished that book at six in the morning, took my 13-year-old son to the mirror and said, “You’re an adult, now.”

… has the greatest impact:

Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls. It does not end, as it stands, with a punch of the last line: “But he did not come.”

… have the best name:

Your mouth is beautiful by Nancy Richler. But it didn’t get to reading. Also, Cowgirls Can Get the Blues by Tom Robbins, but I haven’t read that.

…a sex scene that will make you blush:

The Sluts by Dennis Cooper. It has some feminine features that will send you back in horror, or make you think about the priesthood.

… I was able to find it at Gotham Book Mart:

The evil bird of the night by Jose Doñoso. The type of book you get is because a bookseller insists you read it.

…that’s what keeps food in a favorite dish:

Lime and coconut potato gratin at Yotam Ottolenghi’s Ottolenghi scent. The puttanesca is amazing.

…I want to be a Netflix show:

Ross Macdonald Lew Archer series. No other crime writer has delved deeper into our troubled psyches than Macdonald, and each story is an eight-minute episode waiting to happen.

… surprise me:

The Secret Lives of Church Women by Deeshaw Philyaw. Because not only did I know every nun in that book, but maybe three of them.

…I recently bought:

Everything he took by Tiya Miles. It’s one that has been handed down to three generations of Black women. Black history as an act of personal recovery.

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