Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Real Life” as Want to Read:
Real Life
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Real Life

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  1,162 ratings  ·  285 reviews
Named one of the most anticipated books of the year by Entertainment Weekly, Harpers Bazaar, BuzzFeed, and more.

A novel of startling intimacy, violence, and mercy among friends in a Midwestern university town, from an electric new voice.

Almost everything about Wallace is at odds with the Midwestern university town where he is working uneasily toward a biochem degree. An
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published February 18th 2020 by Riverhead Books
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Real Life, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Jason The bird on the cover appears to be a Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis).…moreThe bird on the cover appears to be a Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis). (less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.03  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,162 ratings  ·  285 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Real Life
Sep 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
There is writing so exceptional, so intricately crafted that it demands reverence. The intimate prose of Brandon Taylors exquisite debut novel Real Life offers exactly that kind of writing. He writes so powerfully about so many things--the perils of graduate education, blackness in a predominantly white setting, loneliness, desire, trauma, need. Wallace, the man at the center of this novel, is written with such nuance and tenderness and complexity. He is closed unto himself but wanting to open ...more
Chaima ✨ شيماء
Reading this book was a religious experience. I dont even want to talk. I need to sit with this. I need to remember this.

Full review to come.
Feb 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites, 2020
Contemplative and absorbing, Real Life reflects on what it means to live authentically. Unfolding over the course of a single summer weekend in a Midwestern college town, the story follows Wallace, a reticent biochem grad student, as he nears an existential breakdown. His father has recently passed, he finds academia stultifying, and, as a queer Black man in an overwhelmingly white space, he finds himself estranged from his friends and labmates, subject to constant microaggressions and overt ...more
Paris (parisperusing)
Sep 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Brandon Taylors Real Life is indisputably one of the best novels of our generation, and I say this because it is true. Do you know how wonderful it feels to be represented as a gay black man and by one of our own? Next to living, it is precisely the most euphoric feeling in the world, and so it is with immense joy that I could be one of this books earliest champions. Because when it comes to realizing the anxieties and nuances of our humanity, Taylor has given life to a character gay literature ...more
Cece (ProblemsOfaBookNerd)
Longer review to come. Thanks so much to Riverhead Books for the review copy, clearly I adored this book and Im so glad I got to read it. ...more
Feb 17, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: ew
I cant figure out if its me or the books Ive been reading, but I feel like Im in a bit of a reading slump after a strong beginning in 2020. It took me forever to read Real Life. Its getting a fair bit of attention and is on several books to watch in 2020 lists, but I found it hard to keep focused on the narrative. Wallace is an African American graduate student in biochemistry at a mid western university. He comes from a brutal impoverished family in Alabama. He is gay. His father died recently. ...more
Anna Luce
★★★★✰ 4.25 stars

Is it into this culture that he is to emerge? Into the narrow, dark water of real life?

It had been awhile since I finished a book in one day or since I read a book that made me cry...but once I started Real Life I simply couldn't stop, even if what I was reading made me mad, then sad, then mad again, and then sad all over again.
This is one heart-wrenching novel. Reading it was an immersive and all-consuming experience. I felt both secondhand anxiety, embarrassment, and anger,
Feb 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: usa, 2020-read
Taylor's debut novel is strong when it focuses on the subtle dynamics of social interactions, when it conveys what it means to live in a white world as a black, homosexual man. Wallace, the protagonist, grew up in Alabama and is now enrolled in a graduate program for biochemistry in the Midwest - the only black student in his year. He falls for his white friend Miller who presents as straight and/or isn't sure whether he is gay. They start a relationship on the low, but, much like Wallace's ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Mar 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read2020
This is one of the best books I've read in a while, spread out over a few days because I was worried I'd finish it too quickly. The author uses some of his own experiences as a gay science grad student who is also a person of color. The character Wallace questions the white apology, how much we have to bring in from our past, and how sure we have to be of our life direction. I feel like I'm not doing it justice, still wrapping my head around it, but definitely felt the intensity of this read.

Mar 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The other day I was at my daughters swim lesson and observed a fellow parent wearing a sweatshirt that said ADULTING IS HARD in obnoxiously large, all-caps print. She spent most of her childs lesson on her phone and/or sipping her Starbucks coffee. When she rose from her seat to greet her child as class concluded, she appeared visibly put out; it seemed as though she were in midst of texting someone else, that retrieving her kid was some monumental disruption to this activity. I felt bad for ...more
Jessica Woodbury
Feb 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars.
This book is so steeped in loneliness that you cannot help but feel lonely when you read it. It infuses every word on every page and it seeps into you as you read. There are many emotions in this book, but all of them except for loneliness are held by Wallace at arms length, through a fog, through the fog of anhedonia, numbness, and stagnation. It's also through the fog of trauma and loss. The book begins a few weeks after the death of Wallace's father, something Wallace hasn't
Darryl Suite
Feb 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Book of the Year (that's all I've got for now)
Traci at The Stacks
Feb 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
The writing in this book is beyond. On a sentence level I dont know that it gets much better. Taylor is so incredibly talented as a writer. There are parts of this book that made me hold my breath. He captures the feelings of being human and insecure. He also tackles so so much in this book. He doesnt stick the landing at points, and it does run on in spots. But holy cow, worth a read for sure, especially if youre a lover of contemporary fiction. ...more
Garrard Conley
Jul 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Such a great combination of humor and seriousness, w surprising insights on intimacy. Ill be thinking about this one for a long time. Theres also a breathless chapter I dont think Ill ever stop thinking about. An amazing debut. ...more

Brandon Taylor's debut novel Real Life left me with such a bookish hangover. After finishing the book, I felt like my world was rocked, I had to sit with that feeling for a moment.

In Real Life we meet Wallace, originally from Alabama, he moved to the Midwest to pursue a degree in biochem. As a black gay man from the South, Wallace took the first opportunity given to put some distance between him and his barely there family. An introvert at heart Wallace tries to come out of his comfort
Dec 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I tend to get a little personal in my book reviews, considering reading is a highly personal act for me. I typically read not for "escape" but for self-illumination. But when books like the upcoming novel by Brandon Taylor, *Real Life*books so in tune with how I live and fear and lovecome along, I almost freeze up to talk about it.

My immediate response when I started reading was that Taylor writes amazing dialogue between men. The restraint, often amid great emotional feeling, of many of the
Jan 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels, debut-novels
PERFECT BOOK. REAL LIFE was my most anticipated novel of 2020. I feel like Ive been reading Brandon Taylors work forever, and remember clearly the day on Twitter when he got into Iowa. This debut novel exceeded my expectations. Its a stunner.

REAL LIFE follows Wallace, an introverted biology grad student in the Midwest, a Southern gay black man navigating the predominately white higher ed, over the course of a single late summer weekend. The writing is profound & beautiful. Wallace, Miller,
Jan 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Real Life was an unmerciful novel that tore down the walls of the fiction we have all come to know and love. Brandon Taylor manages to navigate pinpoint dialogue in the way only Rachel Cusk can currently do, and also descriptively break you by constant heartache and feelings towards his protagonist reminiscent of Toni Morrison and James Baldwin. A feverish novel that literally takes place over three days but managed to open my eyes to a lifetime of misfortunes and unheralded simple everyday ...more
Reggie Snead
Jan 22, 2020 rated it it was ok
I got an early copy of this from my bookseller, who couldn't make up her mind about it. I get that this book has a lot of in-crowd support right now, but it just feels tedious and self-congratulatory, mostly interested in its own cleverness. Wallace can't make up his mind about anything, and it feels like the author is wringing him dry for the sake of the story, rather than that pain coming from the character. It's also a book where very little happens--there's a lot of looking back--and that ...more
Karen (idleutopia_reads)
Dec 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I was drained after reading Real Life as I accompanied Wallace on a weekend that was filled with micro and macroaggressions, entitlement, perceived acceptance, impostor syndrome, science (written in such a way that is so understandable), and academia (and all the hurdles that accompany Black people and POCs in it). It was tiring to accompany a Black gay man surrounded by white people and having to watch as the unperceived (by them) slights were hurled his way. Tiring because I was on the outside ...more
Dec 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions are my own.

This debut novel is a gift to the world of novels. It is so quietly stirring that you wont know what hit you by the end. Following an introverted PhD candidate named Wallace in close third person, Taylor skillfully weaves a story of friendship and superficiality, the subtle and ubiquitous ways in which white supremacy plays out in a white-dominant Midwestern friend group, queer love and queer infatuation.
Mar 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
A lot of the times I'll read literary fiction that proves unbearably irritating because it is so intent on blowing every single one of its moments out of proportion: every word of dialogue, every glance, every movement becomes imbued with monumental implications, the author somehow gleaning paragraphs and paragraphs' worth of information out of a moment that seems, to put it simply, Not That Deep. Oftentimes this kind of attempt to make a novel brim with meaning backfires and instead makes it ...more
Adrian Chiem
Mar 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It feels clichéd to draw comparisons to Baldwin but Wallace feels like an extension of Rufus in Another Country, of characters so intimately acquainted with their depression and so unmoored. It is isolation that Wallace feels. He is punctured by the sharp crags of being black and queer, being poor, and being a survivor in the unforgiving world of academia and whiteness, so focused on minutiae, so stuck, so married to rationality and production as means of progress. I hope he finds peace beyond ...more
Charlie Smith
Nov 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I finished this only five minutes ago.

There are novels you read which transcend "reading", and, instead, vibrate and resonate so deeply in your soul, you feel connected to the world in a way you had not before, because you can say of the author, "Ah, there is someone who understands my experience, my life, my heart, the very marrow of my bones, my substance."

Brandon Taylor's debut novel explores the bloodcurdling-ly terrifying experience of learning to live with one's pain, one's damage, one's
The Artisan Geek
Nov 30, 2019 marked it as to-read
Shelves: bookcase

A sincere thank you to Riverhead Books for gifting me a copy of Real Life :)

You can find me on
Youtube | Instagram | Twitter | Tumblr | Website
Feb 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lgbt, poc-authored
Looking out at life as a fish does, caught in captivity in a tank, afraid of what might happen if we let ourselves go wild: it's scary, but is it worth it? Brandon Taylor in "Real Life" asks just this question: how do we escape from our own self-imposed, and others-imposed, internal prisons in order to live?

"Real Life" tells the story of Wallace, a gay, black man in graduate school at University of Wisconsin, Madison. Constantly confronted by racist lab mates and professors, white friends who
Ah man, if I heard "I am sorry" one more time....

I really looked forward to listening to this one. I follow the author on twitter and love reading his feed. You'd have to be living under a rock to not have seen all of the positive reviews it's garnered, and it's received so much social media attention, and ok, yes, I should have stopped right there. That should have been a big red flag for me, because me and books that the general public rave about, we rarely get on well.

I swear, this is one of
Vincent Scarpa
Aug 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This too could be his life, Wallace thinks. This thing with Miller, eating fish in the middle of the night, watching the gray air of the night sky over the roof next door. This could be their life together, each moment shared, passed back and forth between each other to alleviate the pressure, the awful pressure of having to hold on to time for oneself. This is perhaps why people get together in the first place. The sharing of time. The sharing of the responsibility of anchoring oneself in the ...more
Nov 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I read this book as a first draft and just finished the ARC. What strikes me between those two pieces of work is the way BT has shaved down the language to the sharpest most poignant themes. Theres no getting away from the harsh truths in this novel: cruelty, (feigned) intimacy, racism, family and friendship. I understand Wallace probably as well as I understand myself. Sometimes hes wrong and sometimes hes absolutely right about the way he sees the world.

Heres my interview with Brandon at The
Grim, grim, grim. But also honest, insightful & true. A provocative and provoking read, one that was akin to worrying your tongue over a raw socket where a tooth was once rooted, slippery and jellied, tender yet intoxicating in a hurts so good kind of way. Taylor tackles brutal topics in beautiful ways... the very definition of brutiful. Definitely has shades of A LITTLE LIFE but more grounded and introspective (and woke, I suppose). An impressive debut that will leave you shook. ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Cleanness
  • Apartment
  • Weather
  • I Know You Know Who I Am
  • Under the Rainbow
  • This Town Sleeps
  • My Autobiography of Carson McCullers
  • Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning
  • Verge: Stories
  • Homie
  • In the Dream House
  • Deacon King Kong
  • How We Fight For Our Lives
  • Children of the Land
  • Luster
  • New Waves
  • Riot Baby
  • Topics of Conversation
See similar books…
Brandon Taylor is the senior editor of Electric Literature's Recommended Reading and a staff writer at Literary Hub. His writing has received fellowships from Lambda Literary Foundation, Kimbilio Fiction, and the Tin House Summer Writer's Workshop. He holds graduate degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Iowa, where he was an Iowa Arts Fellow at the Iowa Writers ...more

Articles featuring this book

In honor of Black History Month, we rounded up some of the most anticipated 2020 novels by authors of color. And, of course, these books also r...
75 likes · 44 comments
No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »
“He felt chastened by that. Yes, it was his father. He knew that. But the trouble with these people, with his friends, with the world, was that they thought things had to be a certain way with family. They thought you had to feel something for them, and it had to be the same thing that everyone felt or else you were doing it wrong.” 2 likes
“Miller: "You are so determined to be unknowable."
Wallace: "We are always unknowable.”
More quotes…