“Ironhead” by Aimee Bender can be found in the short story collection, Willful Creatures (Knopf). A.J.’s writeup of the story is incorrect. The parents’ heads are not “made from pumpkins”; they are pumpkins. Similarly, the baby’s head is not “made from iron.” This mistake was meant to reflect the difficulties A.J. is beginning to have with language.
“Bullet in the Brain” by Tobias Wolff originally appeared in the September 25, 1995 issue of the New Yorker. It can be read online, with subscription. I was very close to calling this chapter “Bullet in the Brain” instead of “Ironhead,” but ultimately, I decided that “Bullet in the Brain” seemed too on the nose. It would have almost been a spoiler. Still, this is the only chapter in the book where A.J. makes two recommendations.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way, Volume 1 by Marcel Proust – I imagine he read the Modern Library edition (translated by Moncrieff and Kilmartin, revised by Enright), because that is the edition I have on my shelf.
The House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III