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Rochester Reads selection is one 'Hell of a Book' 

Writers & Books has named Jason Mott’s 2021 National Book Award-winning novel, “Hell of a Book,” as the 2022 selection for its annual Rochester Reads program.

click to enlarge Author Jason Mott. - PHOTO BY MICHAEL BECKER
  • Author Jason Mott.
The work blends the stories of a Black author setting out on a cross-country promotional tour for his bestselling novel, a young Black boy in a rural setting, and a mysterious, possibly imaginary child, who appears to the author on his tour.

This is Mott’s third novel and, like the others, it grapples with hard realities through both the lens of lived experience as well as fuzzier elements of supernatural or paranormal phenomena. The story revolves around the all-too-common issues of racism and police brutality, and is built like a mystery novel with elements of noir, hence the book’s alternate title: “The Altogether Factual, Wholly Bona Fide Story of a Big Dreams, Hard Luck, American-Made Mad Kid.”

Karen vanMeenen, who is Writers & Books’ coordinator of community reading programs, said that she knew the book was a great choice when she read it last year.

click to enlarge hell_of_a_book.jpeg
“On my first reading of ‘Hell of a Book’ — from the meta-ness of the title to the closing exhortation — I was hooked,” vanMeenen said. “The novel’s narrator is unreliable yet utterly compelling, the pacing is comfortably unrelenting. One could consider the novel as a stereotypical ‘page turner’ or even a kind of road narrative, but it is a book that explores deep issues including loss, memory, mental health, racism and police brutality, and thus deserves a slower, close reading. Ultimately, it is a book about contemporary America, about the struggles of being human and the power of connection. It is truly a book for our time.”

Since 2001, Rochester Reads has served as a region-wide book club that encourages readers to dive into the same book during the summer and early fall. Past selections include “A Lesson Before Dying” by Ernest Gaines, “Kindred” by Octavia Butler, and “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants” by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

The program culminates in a month of book talks and other events held at various libraries and other community spaces, as well as a series of readings and talks with the author during a fall visit. Mott will take part in four public events in Rochester from Nov. 1-3.

“Hell of a Book” is available for purchase at Ampersand Books & Events at Writers & Books. Updated details will be posted at

Rebecca Rafferty is CITY’s life editor. She can be reached at
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  • Rochester Reads! @ Writers & Books

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