Martin Riker

The Guest Lecture

(Grove Press, 2023)

Publisher's website & ordering

An NPR Best Book of 2023

A New Yorker Best Book of 2023

I talked with Hilary Leichter at the Center for Fiction

Lynn Steger Strong wrote a profile for the LA Times

I talked to the Across the Pond podcast

I talked on zoom with “The Avid Reader” podcast

Lincoln Michel asked me some questions about writerly craft

I made a list of favorite books for Shelf Awareness


“Anyone who has tried to house their entire life within the confines of a form—an idea, a theory—knows all too well the futility of the task. Just as economic theories break down in the dynamics of the real market, and the mind's polyphonic potential narrows to a single spoken voice, so the purity of any abstract concept becomes brittle and untenable when imposed upon the complexity of waking life. This is, in the end, the fundamental paradox of being ‘a thinking person in the world.’ If The Guest Lecture is trying to persuade us of anything, it is not any particular idea but rather the value of the interior drama itself—and the heroic efforts required of those who are willing to attend to it.”—Meghan O’Gieblyn, New York Review of Books

“The Guest Lecture lit me up in thrilling ways about all the possibilities still alive—at least for books… Ebullient, lively, often very funny; Abby describes what's most important to her in writing as ‘the life inside the language,’ and this whole book is so gleefully, wondrously full of that life.”—Lynn Steger Strong, Los Angeles Times

“Martin Riker's light, charming and shyly philosophical second novel, The Guest Lecture, details a tortured night inside the head of a young academic, an economist named Abigail … Riker pulls it off because he's observant, and he has a grainy, semi-comic feel for what angst and failure really feel like. His antinovel resembles books that split commentary on a writer with more personal material—books like Julian Barnes's novel Flaubert's Parrot and Geoff Dyer's quasi-biography of D.H. Lawrence, Out of Sheer Rage … In the vein of Nicholson Baker, Riker is a noticer … In Riker's hands, Abigail is good company.”Dwight Garner, New York Times

“If you've ever spent a sleepless night worrying about your career, your family and the gross inequality of American life, then chances are you will love, or at least relate to, The Guest Lecture … A quirky second novel of breathtaking genius. ”Ann Levin, AP News

“Mesmerizing … The Guest Lecture is a novel of ideas and feelings, of feelings about ideas and ideas about feelings. If this lecture will be her final word on her subject, Abigail naturally wants to express everything. Living in ‘an era of overload’ can feel like a rush, and the book doesn't deny us that. It bursts with philosophy, jokes, factoids, tense academic social dynamics and fragments of formative memory.”Maggie Lange, Washington Post

“The novel's juggling act is in combining an affectionate depiction of Abigail's neuroses with a contemplation of ideas, specifically those connected to Keynes's economic theories, which it fascinatingly unpacks. Keynes's humanistic optimism for the future of civilization serves as a challenge to Abigail's habit of regret, and in the dialectic between them Mr. Riker skips among a multitude of issues, from Abigail's trenchant commentary on sexism in academia to her wry memories of broken relationships.”—Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

“‘Nothing happens’ in these works in the sense that they have little or no plot, but like The Guest Lecture, reading them turns our sense of the phrase inside out. What begins as a statement of absence transforms into a positive construction of an alternate world: one that questions our inherited sense of reality and shows how much we take for granted in our everyday lives.”Dan Kubis, Chicago Review of Books

“Abigail, the narrator of this formally innovative novel, lies awake in a hotel, running through the next day's lecture, on the economist John Maynard Keynes. Her method of remembering is the loci technique: she envisions herself walking through her house, its rooms corresponding to her talking points. In her mental tour, Abigail is accompanied by a mental version of Keynes who tries to keep her on track, even as she careers off onto tangents, about problems domestic and professional … The novel succeeds in interweaving an essayistic impulse with the vulnerabilities attendant on any dark night of the soul.”The New Yorker

“Martin Riker's The Guest Lecture is like Ducks, Newburyport meets The Good Place meets The Chair, which is to say it's an incredible book that you need to read right now … what follows is a bunch of gleeful tangents, diversions, deep dives into Abby's past, and one Alice-in-Wonderland-inspired fever dream of a courtroom scene. There's something so delightfully playful about this novel, about its willingness to explore the corners of the mind and to follow the firing synapses of imagination … The Guest Lecture boldly asks: how can we hold hope for our tomorrow?“—Katie Yee, Literary Hub

“This propulsive, brainy novel spans just one sleepless night, as a wry academic prepares for her swan song: a lecture on the economist John Maynard Keynes. The Guest Lecture presents lots of ideas about feminist economics and the biography of a pre-WWII intellectual, but it's also very, very funny. It's a true gift to step inside the protagonist's unusual, playful mind.“—Bustle

“A campus novel without the campus, a novel of ideas about the failing infrastructures that used to support ideas, a confession of the academic soul that's also a tragicomedy of the first-world political conscience: Riker's novel is a dark, layered, yet somehow also buoyant reflection on how very damaged intellectual life can be.”—Nicholas Dames, Public Books

“The novel itself is governed by a finely orchestrated sense of instability … a paradoxically frenetic illustration of this paralysis.”—Nathan Goldman, The New Yorker

“With The Guest Lecture, Martin Riker has written this year's must-read academic novel.”—Joshua Kim, Inside Higher Education

“In this welcome addition to the academic-novel genre, highly relatable to those suffering from imposter syndrome, Riker challenges the trope that men can't write successfully about women; Abigail's voice feels authentic, and her ambiguity about choosing the academic life and the economics field, and balancing that with family life, calls to mind Elena Ferrante's The Lost Daughter (but with more humor). The dream section is also reminiscent of Kazuo Ishiguro's The Unconsoled.”—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

“Riker spins a brilliant and innovative exploration of modern economic history in the form of a late-night waking dream … It's a transporting, clever, and inspired work of fiction.”— Publishers Weekly, starred review

“A wonderfully playful novel! The Guest Lecturefollows a sleepless mind restlessly roving through major economic questions and inviting those questions into conversation with the everyday problems of inhabiting a house and a job and a life. It's a fun read and an education, like the best of lectures.”— Eula Biss, author of Having and Being Had and On Immunity

The Guest Lectureis so funny and sad and smart about its sadness. Its topicality isn't cheap, but deep and earned—our own—founded in the way thinking and feeling have been ceded to politics, often by those of us who think and feel the most. Martin Riker has written a major novel of bizarro feminism, language, love, family, money, and whatever the hell it means to own, or make, or be, a ‘property,’ in a voice as clear, sincere, and wry as any I've read in current American fiction.”— Joshua Cohen, author ofThe Netanyahus, winner of the Pulitzer Prize

“This funny, audacious and deliciously self-critical novel can be read as a fruitful attempt at fulfilling that old and beautiful dream of reuniting literature and life.”— Alejandro Zambra, author of Chilean Poet

“Rocking back and forth on a lectern made out of insomnia and darkness, brilliance and humor, Martin Riker gives us a gorgeous novel that turns the lecture inside out. Riddled with ghosts and stage-fright and love, everything it takes to give an idea breath is showing. As formally masterful as it is gutsy, The Guest Lectureis the spiel of a lifetime, a life's work, a working life. If all lectures were like Riker's, I'd plant myself in the very front row, dead center, and never go home.”— Sabrina Orah Mark, author of Wild Milk and the forthcoming Happily

The Guest Lectureis a funny and surprising novel about failure, economic history, the logic of memory, and what it means to care for one another at this terrifying moment in history. Abby's dark night of the soul left me feeling something I had not felt in a long time—hope.”— Christine Smallwood, author of The Life of the Mind

Samuel Johnson's Eternal Return

(Coffee House, 2018)

Publisher's website & ordering

Millions interview with Stephen Sparks

Excerpts at Brooklyn Rail & LitHub


“Riker is a gifted storyteller, and his novel's enchanting exploration of humanity and philosophy, of how humans connect with their environment and community, is unforgettable.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Riker brings a unique, cheerfully grotesque sensibility to his crack at this hallucinatory mini-genre, emphasizing the bleakest aspects of his premise as he roves through a swath of the past half-century of American life.” — The New York Times

“The debut of Riker's first novel, Samuel Johnson's Eternal Return, is so thrilling for us bookish types.” — The Millions

“This is a comic-philosophical novel, the other side of the same coin as Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being.” — The Wall Street Journal

“A lush, comic, and bighearted journey through the minds and experiences of American strangers.” — Literary Hub

“Like a television rerun, Samuel's situation repeats, but the story of his eternal return does end, as all books must, in a manner that is absolutely dazzling.” — Los Angeles Times

“A quirky, multi-bodied story.” — Shelf Awareness

“Reincarnation, cycles of violence, and the history of television: Martin Riker's debut novel finds an intriguing overlap between a host of seemingly disparate subjects.” — Vol. 1 Brooklyn

“A darkly funny contemporary story.” — St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Samuel Johnson's Eternal Return is the needle and thread that connects life and death, grumpy old man and flâneur.” — New Pages

“A philosophical yet fast-paced tale filled with satisfyingly unexpected turns.” — Booklist

“One of our finest readers is now one of our most exciting novelists… . A funny, amiable, wholly original time-bender of a debut.” — Ed Park

“By turns hilarious and tragic, Samuel Johnson's Eternal Return is a haunting and bizarre novel of twentieth-century television and other forsaken American landscapes.” — Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi

“Samuel Johnson's demonstrates how beginning with a familiar object of interest (a quirky nineteenth century novel, for instance) can lead—if followed rightly—to a site of novelty and abundance.” — Gulf Coast

“Funny, gorgeous, haunted.” — St. Louis Magazine

“This peripatetic novel somehow manages to be a thoughtful treatment of TV AND a beautiful statement on why we write books.” — Josh Cook, Porter Square Books (Cambridge MA)

“After his violent death, Samuel Johnson inhabits multiple souls as he strives to reunite with his now orphaned young son. Traveling between dark humor, unfathomable tragedy, and tracing the history of television in America, Martin Riker’s outstanding debut novel Samuel Johnson's Eternal Return illustrates how the human spirit can persevere.”— Caitlin Luce Baker, University Book Store (Seattle WA)

“Ambitious and memorable, deadly serious and unexpectedly comic, Samuel Johnson's Eternal Return is the ghost story you've been waiting for.”— Michael Hermann, Gibson's Bookstore (Concord NH)

“One of my favorite books of the year. Martin Riker's debut novel spans decades of lives both remarkable and accurately unremarkable. As Samuel Johnson's spirit transmits from body to body, he's not so much reborn as forced to live again and again, all the while in search of his son and trapped in an existence he has no control over. This is a book of Homeric proportions, a hidden epic, like a long lost novel at last transcribed from the vault.” — Spencer Ruchti, Harvard Book Store (Cambridge MA)

“Samuel Johnson's Eternal Return is about Samuel Johnson, who dies only to find himself inside someone else’s body a mere passenger. Though seemingly powerless to influence his host, Samuel is desperate to get back to his son and the life he left behind. That's a fun and creative plot, which alone would probably sell me on the book. But Martin Riker's debut novel is full of so much more. It’s also about Nietzsche and friendship and what we spend our time doing and especially television. Riker's long subplot about television is almost as extraordinary as Samuel Johnson’s own journey. Is life merely one long repetition? Does television unite us or divide us? Can you live a life without all the boring parts? I don't know if Riker answers these questions, but with witty and captivating prose, the journey to ask them sure is worth it.” — Kyle Curry, The Book Cellar (Chicago IL)

“A perfectly wondrous tale, wildly engaging from the start, so sure and graceful in the telling, so crazyhuman in the best ways. It is now one of my favorite books.” — Rikki Ducornet