“A beautiful, inventive collection shot through with wildness and grace.” —Maggie Nelson, author of On Freedom
From Samantha Hunt, the award-winning author of The Dark Dark, comes The Unwritten Book, her first work of nonfiction, a genre-bending creation that explores the importance of books, the idea of haunting, and messages from beyond.
I carry each book I’ve ever read with me, just as I carry my dead—those things that aren’t really there, those things that shape everything I am.
An unconventional work of nonfiction, Samantha Hunt’s The Unwritten Book explores ghosts, ghost stories, and haunting, in the broadest sense of each. What is it to be haunted, to be a ghost, to die, to live, to read? Books are ghosts; reading is communion with the dead. Alcohol is a way of communing, too, as well as a way of dying.
Each chapter gathers subjects that haunt: dead people, the forest, the towering library of all those books we’ll never have time to read or write. Hunt, like a mad crossword puzzler, looks for patterns and clues. Through literary criticism, history, family history, and memoir, inspired by W. G. Sebald, James Joyce, Ali Smith, Toni Morrison, William Faulkner, and many others, Hunt explores motherhood, hoarding, legacies of addiction, grief, how we insulate ourselves from the past, how we misinterpret the world. Nestled within her inquiry is a very special ghost book, an incomplete manuscript about people who can fly without wings, written by her father and found in his desk just days after he died. What secret messages might his work reveal? What wisdom might she distill from its unfinished pages?
Hunt conveys a vivid and grateful life, one that comes from living closer to the dead and shedding fear for wonder. The Unwritten Book revels in the randomness, connectivity, and magic of everyday existence. And at its heart is the immense weight of love.
About the Author
Samantha Hunt is the author of the story collection The Dark Dark and the novels Mr. Splitfoot, The Invention of Everything Else, and The Seas. Hunt is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Bard Fiction Prize, the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 prize, and the St. Francis College Literary Prize, and she was a finalist for the Orange Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award. She lives in upstate New York.
A New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice
Named a Must-Read by The Chicago Review of Books, Esquire, Wired, Lit Hub, The Millions, Chronogram, Inside Hook
“Eerie, profound, and daring, this is a book only the inimitable Hunt could write.”
—Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire
“Expansive and inventive . . . The Unwritten Book is by turns mesmerizing, philosophical and funny."
—Michele Filgate, The Los Angeles Times
“A provocative meditation on family and haunting.”
—Kat Chow, The New York Times Book Review
“Intense . . . Hunt gazes into [the] darkness, but she never stops looking for the cracks.”
—Jake Cline, The Washington Post
“The Unwritten Book feels like a book that will last as a polestar for writers in years to come. It's a handbook for writing about loss and death that isn't sunk in morality and sentiment. It offers us permission to use the oddest, unlikeliest pieces of ourselves as object lessons in mortality. And it's an example of how to write about the subject with verve and openness.”
—Mark Athitakis, The Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A thrilling meta-detective novel . . . The Unwritten Book is a treatise on fiction disguised as a work of fiction . . . or a work of fiction cleverly hidden in a nonfiction book.”
—Patrick Brennan, The Chicago Review of Books
“An ardent investigation into life, love, death, and creativity . . . Rendered in exceptionally honed, often ravishing prose spiked with hilarious or stunning candor . . . A literary performance of uncommon perception, vitality, daring, and heart.
—Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
“Like lush flowers in a picturesque old cemetery . . . The Unwritten Book is a very necessary addition to the haunted nonfiction library.”
—Bruce Owens Grimm, New City Lit
“In Hunt’s agile hands, the lens of death-adjacent thinking becomes a prism through which to consider motherhood, literature, hoarding, addiction, marriage, and more . . . A bracing chat with a wise woman about the harsh beauty of life on earth.”
“Hunt writes in touching detail and with heartfelt prose . . . Both intimate and incisive, this genre-melding collection will make readers want to hold their loved ones close.”
“Part literary criticism, part memoir, part family history, this new book explores the things that have a hold on us. I, for one, am ready to be haunted by Samantha Hunt once again.”
—Katie Yee, Lit Hub
“A vulnerable, wide-ranging, and at times deeply affecting patchwork of ruminations on the unknown.”
“Both a moving exploration of the concept of haunting and a powerful reverie into [Hunt’s] own family history.”
—Tobias Carroll, Inside Hook
“I’m utterly entranced, educated, and vitalized by Samantha Hunt’s The Unwritten Book, a beautiful, inventive collection shot through with wildness and grace. I can’t remember the last time I read something so heavy with grief and darkness that made me feel so accompanied in the human condition, so inspired to return to my life with more curiosity, love, and wonder.”
—Maggie Nelson, author of On Freedom
“Samantha Hunt’s writing is always precise, elliptical, and magical, whether she’s weaving a fictional tale or, as in The Unwritten Book, delving into the mysteries of life, family, and especially the power of books, both real and imagined. The result is mesmerizing and truly marvelous.”
—Susan Orlean, author of On Animals
“The Unwritten Book is a disobedient work—not quite memoir (even as the author interrogates her own life), not quite philosophy (though with much to say on art, faith, ethics, and more), not quite classifiable. Samantha Hunt’s readers already know she is one of the best American writers of fiction of her generation; it’s little surprise her nonfiction would be this thrilling, this haunting, this smart.”
—Rumaan Alam, author of Leave the World Behind
“Like a trunk in the attic, The Unwritten Book offers up the most extraordinary, eclectic, and heart-wrenching insights, historical facts, stories, and advice on how to live closer to the dead. This book within a book is a tonic to our efficiency-addled present. I feel more alive and wiser for having read it.”
—Cathy Park Hong, author of Minor Feelings