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Most Anticipated: The Great 2023A Book Preview

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Welcome to our biannual Great Book Preview! We’ve assembled the best books of 2023A (that is, the first half of 2023), including new work from Nicole Chung, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Claire Dederer, Brian Dillon, Samantha Irby, Heidi Julavits, Catherine Lacy, Mario Vargas Llosa, Rebecca Makkai, Fernanda Melchor, Lorrie Moore, Jenny Odell, Curtis Sittenfeld, Clint Smith, Zadie Smith, Brandon Taylor, Colm Tóibín, and many, many more.

At 85 titles, you may notice our 2023A list is a bit trimmer and more selective than in year’s past. We wanted to make sure that our list comprises the books that we are truly anticipating the most—which is to say, we’ve carefully curated our selections to showcase the very best books coming out in the first half of 2023. We hope you enjoy!

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January

Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor

Part crime thriller and part saga of the powerful Wadia family, Age of Vice roams across India, from the dusty villages of Uttar Pradesh to the cauldron of New Delhi. Three lives intersect in this world of lavish estates, extravagant parties, drugs and seamy business deals: Ajay, the watchful family servant; Sunny, the playboy heir; and Neda, a journalist out to expose the consequences of corruption. The writing has authority. Kapoor, author of the novel Bad Character, grew up in northern India and has worked as a journalist in New Delhi. The result is an addictive, vivid spellbinder of a novel. —Bill Morris

Decent People by De’Shawn Charles Winslow

Winslow returns to the fictional Southern town of West Mills for a second time in this expertly-plotted and character-driven follow-up to his award-winning debut novel. In the 1970s, an investigation into a triple homicide reveals surprising and profoundly sad layers of reality for the townspeople of West Mills—the trauma and ramifications of segregation, class, deeply kept secrets, and underlying homophobia. A haunting, page-turning mystery, Decent People makes a must-read on anyone’s literary list. —Jianan Qian

The Survivalists by Kashana Cauley

In this debut novel, a perpetually single Black lawyer, Aretha, falls in love with Aaron, a coffee entrepreneur who shares a brownstone with a stable of bizarre roommates. When Aretha moves in with Aaron, she gets caught up in their household dramas, which range from illegal gun sales to half-baked schemes to prepare for the end of the world. It will not surprise people who’ve read Cauley’s essays—or seen her work on The Daily Show, or read her excellent tweets—that The Survivalists is, according to Tom Perrotta, an “edgy” and “darkly funny” book. —Thom Beckwith

Still Pictures by Janet Malcolm

Malcolm was a master of reportage, able to dissect and decipher her subjects with startling precision. (Also one of my own writerly heroes.) She often mused on the relationship between journalist and subject; in much of her journalism, she judged her subjects from a cool distance. How, then, would she approach a memoir? What would a self-portrait by one of our most formidable portraitists look like? These were the questions that exhilarated me when I began Malcolm’s posthumous memoir. Still Pictures is as much a look at Malcolm’s own photos and memories as the nature of photography and memory, written with all her characteristic style and clarity. —Sophia M. Stewart

The Half Known Life by Pico Iyer

In this philosophical and theological travelog, Iyer searches the globe for paradise. Not for himself—he wants to understand the idea of paradise, that incentive and dream and goal that undergirds the world’s religions. Maria Popova herself, the brilliant mind behind The Marginalian, has called Iyer “one of the most soulful and perceptive writers of our time” and I expect The Half Known Life will further cement that status. —SMS

OK by Michelle McSweeney

In this slim and lucid addition to the Object Lessons series, which explores the hidden lives of everyday objects, linguist and author Michelle McSweeney unpacks the phrase “OK,” coined 200 years ago and now ubiquitous in spoken English. As an object, “OK” reveals how technologies inscribe themselves into languages—originally, it was an acronym that stood for “all correct,” a phrase which marked some of the earliest printed newspapers as ready for publication. From there, McSweeney traces the word’s evolution through the present, illuminating the ways in which its meaning developed over time. —TB

The 12th Commandment by Daniel Torday

Torday presents a provocative and unexpected tale of contemporary Jewish life that owes less to Philip Roth and Saul Bellow than it does to Cynthia Ozick and Isaac Bashevis Singer. The 12th Commandment concerns the historical sect known as the Dönmeh, Turkish followers of a seventeenth-century Jewish pseudo-messiah who outwardly practice Islam but who are actually adherents of an esoteric kabbalistic faith. “Weird folk,” explains a character, “They’re like Jews and Muslims at the same time. Or something.” Unexpectedly set among an imagined group of Dönmeh in small-town Ohio, with a noirish murder plot driving the action, and The 12th Commandment will appeal to fans of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, but Torday’s unique imagination and vital vision are his own. —Ed Simon

Forbidden Notebook by Alba de Céspedes, translated by Ann Goldstein

The story begins when Valeria Cossati—a 43-year-old office worker, self-sacrificing wife, and mother of two—buys a thick black notebook and begins writing at night—her thoughts, experiences, and fury. What follows over the course of six months are reflections on motherhood and femininity in postwar Rome that were as urgent and revelatory in the 1950s, when the novel was originally published, as they are today in post-Roe America. In the words of Annie Ernaux: “Reading Alba de Céspedes was, for me, like breaking into an unknown universe.” —Jenny Wu

Life on Delay: Making Peace with a Stutter by John Hendrickson

I’ve been waiting for John to write this book since I first read his paradigm-shifting Atlantic article “What Joe Biden Can’t Bring Himself to Say.” Like Biden, John is a person who stutters. In Life on Delay, and with profound intelligence and insight, John examines his own stuttering life, as well as the lives of many other stutterers, to probe the many contradictions of disfluency. John has become something of a torchbearer in our community, and this book is going to be an essential contribution to the (currently very limited) literature of stuttering. I hate when people call certain books “important”—but this book is very important me, and will be important to a lot of people. We’ve been waiting a long time for a book like this. —SMS

The Call of the Tribe by Mario Vargas Llosa, translated by John King

When I began my undergraduate studies, I was disappointed by how little nonfiction appeared on the syllabi of my Spanish literature classes. Then I encountered Llosa, a Nobel-winning nonfictioneer and intellectual heavyweight (and occasional novelist) who rose to prominence during the Latin American Boom. In The Call of the Tribe, he maps out the minds that shaped his own: Sartre and Adam Smith, Friedrich A. Hayek and Isaiah Berlin, and many more (mostly male) writers and thinkers. It’s a pleasure—and a pleasurable challenge—to read Llosa on the roots of his ideology. —SMS

The Once and Future Sex: Going Medieval on Women’s Roles in Society by Eleanor Janega

Ever since I visited the Cloisters for the first time earlier this year, I’ve been hungry to learn more about medieval life, and specifically women’s place in it. Enter The Once and Future Sex, the subtitle of which quite directly addresses this yen of mine. Janega, a medievalist by training, makes middle-age sociology accessible, highlighting how archaic notions of femininity continue to shape modern womanhood in ways both subtle and overt. Beauty, sex, work, labor, motherhood, decorum—no aspect of women’s lives goes unexplored in this rigorous study, which also highlights many of the era’s subversive trailblazers. —SMS

Black and Female by Tsitsi Dangarembga

Zimbabwean writer Dangarembga explores the long shadow cast by imperialism in her own life, and the lives of all African people, in this volume of essays. The personal and political commingle (because, as all feminists know, they’re one and the same) as Dangarembga excavates her own history and the history of her nation. The result is a clear-eyed look at what navigating life and art-making as a woman in Zimbabwe has taught her, as well as the possibilities and limits of a distinctly Black feminism, which she calls “the status quo’s worst nightmare.” —SMS

A Guest at the Feast by Colm Tóibín

One of Ireland’s greatest living novelists, Tóibín is known the world over for his fiction. That’s why I’m so curious to read his new essay collection, to see how he transfers his mastery across genres. A (supposedly) great compliment is to be called a nonfiction writer with a “novelist’s” sensibility—the implication being that nonfiction is best when it reads like fiction. (I disagree!) This isn’t Tóibín’s first foray into nonfiction (he’s written books on Elizabeth Bishop; contemporary queer artists; and the fathers of famous Irish writers)—but it is one of his most intimate. This is clear from the book’s outset, which features one of best opening lines I’ve read in a minute: “It all started with my balls.” —SMS

Vintage Contemporaries by Dan Kois

I always love reading Dan Kois’s criticism (if you haven’t yet read him on Tár, please do yourself the favor—and prepare to have your mind blown) so I was thrilled to hear about his forthcoming novel, a coming-of-age set in New York City at the turn of the millennium that wrestles with art, friendship, and what it means to cultivate a creative life. Our very own Lydia Kiesling blurbed it and gave it what is in my book one of the ultimate compliments: “poignant without being treacly.” A near-impossible literary feat—I can’t wait to see (read?) Kois pull it off for myself. —SMS

Your Driver Is Waiting by Priya Guns

A retelling of the movie Taxi Driver featuring a ride-share driver? An incredible premise for a novel that explores work, class, and solidarity (or the lack thereof). Damani Krishanthan works for an Uber-like company, scraping by after her father dies during his shift at a fast-food restaurant. During a summer of uprising, she drives through throngs of protestors trying to make enough to cover rent. A relationship with a white wealthy protestor goes south, prompting a dramatic ending (considering its cinematic source material, I can only imagine). —Lydia Kiesling

The Guest Lecture by Martin Riker

Abby, a young economist, can’t sleep the night before the talk she is scheduled to present tomorrow, optimism and John Maynard Keynes. A lapsed optimist struggling to support her family, she feels grossly unprepared to offer any insights into Keynes. With wry humor and true wisdom, Riker, co-founder and publisher of Dorothy, a Publishing Project, transforms one woman’s insomnia into an enchanting and playful exploration of literature, performance, and the life of the mind. —JQ

After Sappho by Selby Wynn Schwartz

At the turn of the twentieth century, three queer women—Rina Faccio, Romaine Brooks, and Virginia Woolf among them—make the same decision: They take up their pens or paintbrushes to define their lives and their identities on their own terms. Taking cues from the Greek poet, After Sappho, Schwartz’s Booker-longlisted debut novel, reimagines the intertwined voices of those pioneering women artists in the collective first-person, whose courage and struggles never cease to inspire and encourage those who come after. —JQ

Hanging Out by Sheila Liming

We’ve all heard the admonitions to slow down, drop out, resist the rush—but what does that actually look like? “Hanging out is about daring to do nothing much and, even more than that, about daring to do it in the company of others,” writes Liming in her treatise on the subject, the follow-up to her 2020 book What a Library Means to a Woman on Edith Wharton and book collections. Hanging Out, an endearing and revealing book, is well-timed, but as she notes, “we were having a hard time hanging out well before COVID-19 came along.” She makes a compelling case for us to get together. —Nick Ripatrazone

Call and Response: Stories by Gothataone Moeng

This debut story collection joins a chorus of literary voices rising out of contemporary Africa. Set in the author’s native village of Serowe, as well as in Gabarone, the thrumming capital of Botswana, these stories are spun from the struggles of women seeking to reconcile ancestral expectations with imported dreams—a girl who hides her sexual exploits from her family while her older brother flaunts his conquests; a young widow who ponders the custom of wearing mourning clothes for a year; a woman who returns from America, ashamed to have given up on the land of opportunity. The great Namwalli Serpell praised the collection for its “sharply observed vignettes,” which together amount to a “beautiful” book full of “deep insight.” —BM

Black Empire by George S. Schuyler

Originally published in serial form in the 1930s, Black Empire is the masterwork of George S. Schuyler, a journalist, Harlem Renaissance man, socialist-turned-arch-conservative, and creator of acid satires. This novel is the story of Dr. Henry Belsidus, a Black genius who sets out to cultivate a global network that will reclaim Africa from imperial powers and punish Europe and America for their crimes against the world’s Black population. Schuyler’s earlier novel, Black No More, is a satirical romp about a Black man who turns his skin white. In all his work, Schuyler work confronts an abiding and urgent moral quandary: How far should one go to bring justice to an unjust world? —BM

February

Where I’m Coming From by Barbara Brandon-Croft

Drawn & Quarterly has never let me down, and its winning streak won’t be snapped by this collection from the first Black woman to have a nationally-syndicated comic strip. In the witty and groundbreaking “Where I’m Coming From,” which ran from 1989 to 2005, nine Black girlfriends deliver insights and punchlines in equal measure, touching on politics, race, relationships, and everything in between. Tayari Jones says that Brandon-Croft’s work has “aged beautifully,” hailing the collection as “both ahead of its time and right on time.” —Evan Allgood

Brutes by Dizz Tate

This surreal and ambitious debut novel, written partially in first-person plural and billed as “The Virgin Suicides meets The Florida Project,” follows a clan of teenaged girls in Falls Landing, Florida, as they grapple with the disappearance of the local preacher’s daughter. Brutes’s adolescent cast, time-jumping narrative, and promise of violence evoke the hit show Yellowjackets. Mariana Enríquez calls it “a beautiful and deeply strange novel, full of dread and longing.” —EA

City of Blows by Tim Blake Nelson

I love movies, but Hollywood—both the city and the industry that undergirds it—has never much interested me. Honestly, celebrity culture in America baffles me. But when a Hollywood insider and an accomplished playwright—and, not to mention, a fine actor—decides to satirize the toxic culture of Tinsel Town, I’m in. Nelson’s debut novel follows four men fighting for control of a script and a place in a rapidly transforming Hollywood. There’s something sustaining in a story that shows how beautiful people can be just as petty—just as ugly—as the rest of us. —Il’ja Rákoš

Couplets by Maggie Millner

Lovers of horny, rhyming poetry rejoice: Millner’s “love story in poems,” arrives a week before Valentine’s Day, just in time to tie your brain to its bedposts. Kink and queerness, power and polyamory—this debut by the senior editor of the Yale Review has it all. Read an excerpt in BOMB to see why Elif Batuman, Garth Greenwell, and Leslie Jamison are all head over heels for this clever, seductive story of coming out and coming of age. —EA

The Black Guy Dies First by Robin R. Means Coleman and Mark H. Harris

This collaboration between Coleman, a scholar, and Harris, a journalist and film critic, explores the history of Black horror films since 1968. Named for the well-known cinematic trope, the book spans cult classics like Spider Baby up to commercial and critical successes like Get Out. According to Kirkus Reviews, the book is written with “keen observation, a satirical eye, and a genuine love for the subject.” —Edan Lepucki

Big Swiss by Jen Beagin

“A sex therapist’s transcriptionist falls in love with a client while listening to her sessions”—that was all I needed to hear to get excited about Beagin’s third novel. Throw in blurbs from Melissa Border and A Touch of Jen author Beth Morgan, and I was all but convinced that Big Swiss will be weird and horny and unfettered in all the best ways. “Pick it up because you like cheese,” Morgan urges, “stay for the brilliant sentences.” —SMS

Culture: The Story of Us, From Cave Art to K-Pop by Martin Puchner

So many books these days are described as being “sweeping histories”; Culture, which promises in its subtitle to take us from our most primitive artistic impulses all the way to the machinery of modern-day fandom. But what intrigues me most about Puchner’s latest isn’t its scope—it’s its driving question: “What good are the arts?” In my more hopeless moments, this question bubbles up inside me, and I’m chomping at the bit to hear Puchner’s answer, grounded in history and informed by cultures around the world. —SMS

Dyscalculia by Camonghne Felix

Following her poetry collection Build Yourself a Boat, which landed a spot on the National Book Award longlist, Camonghne Felix makes her nonfiction debut with this memoir, which charts a life-changing breakup and its many consequences for her life. When the author ends up in the hospital, she draws a parallel between her troubles as an adult and her childhood diagnosis of dyscalculia, a condition which makes it difficult to learn math or estimate place value. As she starts to tally her romantic miscalculations, she asks a wide-ranging question: who gets the right to freely express their own pain? —TB

All the Beauty in the World: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Me by Patrick Bringley

A former New Yorker staffer turned museum guard is a pretty compelling tagline, to be certain, and Bringley delivers in this intimate and philosophical debut memoir—he muses on the artworks, coworkers, and museumgoers that surround him. Adding poignancy to the memoir’s conceit, his observations are all permeated with profound grief as he reels from the death of his older brother. Bringly brings the Met to life on a grand scale and granular level. —NR

The Wife of Willesden by Zadie Smith

For her first foray into playwriting, novelist and essayist Smith reimagines Chaucer’s Canterbury Tale about the Wife of Bath for twenty-first century, northwest London. Alvita, a Jamaican-born British woman in her early fifties, tells her life story to strangers in a pub. In its review, The Guardian calls it “a celebration of community and local legends, of telling a good story and living a life worth telling. Not bad for an original text that’s 600 years old.” —EL

Palo Alto: A History of California, Capitalism, and the World by Malcolm Harris

I went to college in the Bay Area, where the allure of Silicon Valley was palpable. My classmates posted about their internships at Twitter and Microsoft, wore t-shirts with emblazoned with the logos of Google and Linkedin, and went on to get jobs with six-figure starting salaries. I remembered my dad’s quaint stories of growing up in nearby Los Altos and struggled to reconcile that history with the present. Harris’s comprehensive history of Silicon Valley, from railroad capitalism to free love to big tech, does just that. Palo Alto spans centuries in order to thoroughly demystifying the region’s economics and unearth its enduring legacy of settler colonialism.

Users by Colin Winnette

I worked for years as a consultant at American-based IT companies with teams in Kyiv, and among those Ukrainians I knew who were handling the code, it was rare to find anyone who worshipped Steve Jobs, loved tech, or saw STEM work as anything particularly noble. No true believers in panaceas or “essential” tech. Here, in the fictional world of Winnette’s latest novel, we encounter a strong critique and timely caution that my Kyiv ITshnyks certainly understood well: the devastation that awaits when we entrust the mechanisms we’ve built to do our thinking, our feeling, and our living for us. —IR

I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai

In her follow-up to her 2018 novel The Great Believers, a Pulitzer and National Book Award finalist, Makkai brings us to a New Hampshire boarding school. Film professor Bodie Kane has been eager to forget her four awful years there, which included a murder of a classmate by the athletic trainer. But when she’s brought back to campus to teach a two-week course, everything she thought she knew about the case is thrown into question. Makkai plays with true-crime tropes to deliver a literary exploration of friendship. —Marie Myung-Ok Lee

Oscar Wars: A History of Hollywood in Gold, Sweat, and Tears by Michael Schulman

Michael Shulman is one of the great profile-writers of our time, and one of our best writers, period. (His New Yorker profiles of Jeremy Strong, Bo Burnahm, and Adam Driver long ago took up permanent residence in my brain.) What Schulman, a student of personality, could accomplish in a study of the Oscars—that most official of personality contests—is limitless. It’s also just a perfect opportunity to spill so much celebrity gossip. I imagine devouring this book poolside, while sipping on a blue drink; a big umbrella overhead, a little umbrella in my glass.

Slime by Susanne Wedlich, translated by Ayca Turkoglu 

Primordial slime has long been considered a cornerstone of life on Earth; without it, the natural world would be unrecognizable. Slimy substances like mucous and slobber are also common features of fictional monsters in popular culture from Lovecraft to Alien. Munich-based science and nature journalist Susanne Wedlich’s ode to the semi-liquids that hold our world together—and our minds in awe—reminds us “we are sticky beings living in a sticky place” (TLS), whether we like it or not. —JW

March

Monstrilio by Gerardo Sámano Córdova

What lengths would you go to get back someone you’ve loved and lost? Just for a bit, to look in their eyes one more time, or tell them what needed to be told? But play that possibility out to its inevitable conclusion and it’s difficult to envision anything good coming from it. In  Córdova’s horror debut, a grieving mother in Mexico City goes to unimaginable extremes to bring her late 11-year-old son back to life, only to discover that there are worse things than death. Grief, she learns, is not something to be trifled with, or worse, avoided. —IR

Francisco by Alison Mills Newman

Though it garnered plaudits from Toni Morrison when it was first published in 1974, Newman’s autobiographical novel has long been out of print. Now, a reissue by New Directions—with a new foreword by Saidiya Hartman—promises to introduce a new generation of readers to Newman’s innovative and genre-bending story, which draws on the author’s experience as a young actress in 1960s Hollywood. —TB

The Fifth Wound by Aurora Mattia

In her new novel, the Mattia reinvents the roman à clef with a magical realist memoir that puts the dusty genre of autofiction to shame. Sifting from multiple narratives—and dimensions—The Fifth Wound is a romance, a meditation on transphobic violence, and a speculative tale of time travel, ecstatic visionaries, and mystical union. Transcending the limiting confines of not just society, but reality as well, and Mattia’s novel promises the reader an experience that recalibrates simplistic notions of truth and fiction, reality and illusion.  —ES

Saving Time by Jenny Odell

I love books that force me to recognize or reconsider the structure of existence—and Odell’s book does just this, in a way that’s both enlightening and generative. Her previous book, How to Do Nothing, was a runaway hit about what happens when we subvert the temporal expectations that are placed upon us: “Letting go of one overwhelming rhythm, you invite the presence of others. Perhaps more important, you remember that the arrangement is yours to make.” Odell demonstrates how it’s never too late to save the time we have left. —NR

The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe

In 1958, at the age of 27, Rona Jaffe published her first novel, a revolutionary portrait of three young women employed at a New York publishing house. Renowned for its frankness and honesty, particularly in its depictions of sexual harassment, The Best of Everything is, per Michele Moses, “what you would get if you took Sex and the City and set it inside Mad Men’s universe.” Now, for its 65th anniversary, Penguin Classics is reissuing the novel, complete with a new introduction by New Yorker staff writer Rachel Syme, who is the perfect voice to prime us for a retro romp through postwar New York and its attendant glitzy patina. —TB

Raving by McKenzie Wark

Wark’s entry into Duke University Press’s Practices series, which spotlights the activities that make us human, invites us into the underground queer and trans rave scene of New York City. A bombastic collision of sound and movement, raving is, to Wark, the ideal activity for “this era of diminishing futures.” An avid raver herself, she blends academic analysis with her own first-hand accounts, all relayed with sensual, staccato prose. “Some come to serve looks; some come to leave their sweat on the dance floor,” she writes. “I’m the latter kind. I want to be animate and animated on the floor.” —SMS

Still Life with Bones by Alexa Hagerty

From 1960 to 1996, more than 200,000 Guatemalans were killed, and tens of thousands more disappeared, after an American-backed coup gave rise to a steady march of genocidal dictators. Decades later, anthropologists like Alexa Hagerty are working to exhume and examine the dead, piecing together their bodies and their stories in an urgent but potentially quixotic quest for resolution, and attempting to bring a sense of humanity to the forensic sciences. —EA

How to Think Like a Woman by Regan Penaluna

In her first book, journalist Penaluna, who has a PhD in philosophy, explores the oft-forgotten and under-taught feminist philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: Mary Astell, Damaris Masham, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Catherine Cockburn. Blending biography, criticism, and memoir, Penaluna explores the lives and beliefs of these thinkers, as well as the ways women—past and present—have been devalued within philosophy, academia, and history. How  to Think Like a Woman serves as an alternate philosophical canon, where women and their intellect are deeply and rigorously examined. —Carolyn Quimby

Y/N by Esther Yi

“Y/N,” short for “[Your/Name],” refers to a type of fanfiction that allows readers to insert their own names into brackets in the story, so as to imagine themselves in romantic scenarios with popular idols. In Esther Yi’s debut novel, our narrator devotes herself to writing fanfic about a K-pop star named Moon. When Moon suddenly retires and retreats from the spotlight, the narrator embarks on a transnational search that unveils the absurd innards of a Korean entertainment company, as well as the loneliness of modern life and the various fantasies we enact to try to escape it. Yi, a Leipzig-based writer, has earned comparisons to Elif Batuman, Thomas Pynchon, Yoko Tawada, and Marie NDiaye. —JW

How Not to Kill Yourself: A Portrait of a Suicidal Mind by Clancy Martin

Clancy Martin has tried to die by suicide more than 10 times. In How Not to Kill Yourself, he speaks frankly about these attempts and the thoughts that fueled them. In probing his own experiences, he inevitably comes to larger conclusions about the nature of the self-destructive mind and the philosophy of suicide. He also turns to other writers who have attempted suicide and written about it, from Yiyun Li to David Foster Wallace. Written with surprising tenderness and humor, this memoir-cum-critical-inquiry is a perspective-shifting study.

Biography of X by Catherine Lacy

With a title that recalls both Alex Haley’s biography of Malcolm X and Gertrude Stein’s consideration of her partner Alice B. Toklas, Lacey audaciously explores the contingencies of identity, memory, and history in her latest experimental novel. Lacey’s novel takes place in an alternative history where the American South separated from the United States and was governed as a fascist theocracy only recently being reabsorbed into the wider nation. Ostensibly The Biography of X is about the titular unknown, a celebrated but mysterious artist, and her widow’s account of that life as much as can be assembled. But with cameos by such twentieth-century luminaries as Sontag and Bowie, the novel is also a biography of American art and theory which understands that sometimes history is best understood at a slant. —ES

The Last Catastrophe by Allegra Hyde

This collection of 15 stories by the author of Eleutheria continues Hyde’s interest in humanity grappling with climate change. Alexandra Kleeman writes that these speculative stories are “dazzling, inventive, and glinting with dark humor.” Spaceships, AI, zombies, and body-switching abound. I, for one, am most excited to read the story about the girl growing a unicorn horn! —EL

The New Earth by Jess Row

A century which began with 9/11, and has so far seen economic collapse, a ground war in Europe, a global pandemic, and the rise of neo-fascism is painfully interesting. Jess Row’s latest novel interlays these interesting times on a family drama among the privileged Wilcoxes of the Upper East Side, from 2000 to 2018. The global perspective becomes synonymous with the vantage point of daughter Winter Wilcox, who on the eve of her wedding must grapple not just with her estranged family, but the ways in which her personal tragedies from years coincide with both parental secrets and historical injustices. “Disguising your origins is a deeply American impulse,” Row wrote in 2014, “but that doesn’t make it any less compromising,” a theme heartily interrogated in The New Earth.  —ES

Chlorine by Jade Song

Song’s debut novel revolves around high-schooler Ren Yu, a competitive swimmer who spends her days in the pool. Her immigrant parents expect her to train hard and secure a college scholarship, but she aspires to transform into a mermaid, freeing herself from the terrestrial world. A spiky, sapphic coming-of-age that embraces fantasy and horror to explore girlhood and its discontents. —JQ

In Search of a Beautiful Freedom by Farah Jasmine Griffin

A new volume of collected essays both new and previously published by Farah Jasmine Griffin, the William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African American Studies at Columbia. Following her last book Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature, these new and previously unpublished essays range in topic from Covid to the efforts to ban Toni Morrison to the life work of Odetta. Griffin’s insights into Black music, feminism, and literature are unparalleled. —LK

Affinities by Brian Dillon

When I read Dillon’s previous books, Essayism and Suppose a Sentence, I considered them a diptych: two close looks at two literary forms (the essay and the sentence) that were driven by what Dillon himself calls his own “affinity.” It turns out, Essayism and Suppose a Sentence were really the first two entries in a triptych! His latest book, Affinities, centers on images, from photographs to paintings to migraine auras. Why do images make us feel the way they do? Why are we drawn to certain images over other ones? Dillon is one of my favorite writers, thinkers, and close-readers, and I can’t wait to read him on the pleasures of looking. —SMS

Above Ground by Clint Smith

I long for a literature—especially a poetry—of joy; life is too short and bland without it. Smith’s new poetry collection teems with images of love and fatherhood. Great poetry comes in many modes and subjects, but there’s something unique about a book of verse that makes me want to hold my own children a little tighter, as I think of his description of delivering a bear hug: “my arms are still / open like a universe / in need of a planet / to make it worth / something.” Juxtaposed with lines of grief and recognition—“men attempting / to unlearn the anger on their father’s / tongues, the heat in their hands”—Smith’s songs of joy are that much sweeter. —NR

Ada’s Room by Sharon Dodua Otoo, translated by Jon Cho-Polizzi

Otoo’s debut novel is about four women, all with the same name: Ada, a mother in fifteenth-century West Africa; Ada Lovelace, the real-life programmer in Victorian England; Ada, a prisoner in a concentration camp in 1945; and Ada, a young Ghanian woman in present day. As Otoo connects their narratives across centuries, the linear confines of history break down and a profound sorority comes into focus. R.O. Kwon calls this one “thrillingly, astonishingly original.” —SMS

April

This Is Not Miami by Fernanda Melchor, translated by Sophie Hughes

Taking place in and around the Mexican city of Veracruz, this collection of crónicas—narrative nonfiction pieces that blend reportage with novelistic structures—explores the criminal underworld, shedding light on social problems that manifest in gory headlines. As in her novels Paradais and Hurricane Season, Melchor draws empathetic portraits of deeply unsympathetic figures, forcing her readers to understand the mindsets of monstrous characters. —TB

Chain Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Ever since the moment I finished Adjei-Brenyah’s surreal, satirical, and original debut story collection, Friday Black, I’ve been not-so-patiently waiting for whatever he wrote next. In his upcoming debut novel, two female gladiators fight to the death for their freedom on the hugely popular and controversial TV show, Chain-Gang All Stars, which airs on CAPE (Criminal Action Penal Entertainment). With his sharp eye for satire and reverence for humanity, Adjei-Brenyah’s latest explores the exploitation, violence, and false promises of the prison industrial complex, capitalism, and the country itself. —CQ

Work-Life Balance by Aisha Franz, translated by Nicholas Houde

This graphic novel, which was originally a comic series published by Colorama, concerns three friends who, disillusioned with their work lives, seek help from the same therapist. Franz, who lives in Berlin, was nominated for a Los Angeles Times book prize for her previous book, Shit is Real, which the Guardian called “a wise and funny journey through loneliness and confusion.” Her latest sounds just as promising. —EL

Ordinary Notes by Christina Sharpe

The latest book by scholar of English literature and Black Studies Christina Sharpe takes the form of a series of 248 notes on history, art, literature, and life whose meanings accumulate over the course of nearly 400 pages. At the center of the resulting polyphonic portrait of Black existence is the figure of Ida Wright Sharpe, the author’s mother. Saidiya Hartman calls Ordinary Notes “an exquisite text” that “demands everything of the reader and, in turn, offers us a vocabulary for living.” —JW

A Living Remedy by Nicole Chung

Chung’s bestselling memoir All You Can Ever Know, published in 2018, cemented her as one of this generation’s great chroniclers of family, both adoptive and biological: its limits and possibilities, what it means, how it shapes us. Her follow-up, which follows Chung as she mourns her parents and navigates the institutional inequities baked into American society, promises to be just as poignant. Blurbers Megha Majumdar, Julie Otsuka, Imani Perry, and Bryan Washington certainly think so. —SMS

Second Star: And Other Reasons for Lingering by Philippe Delerm, translated by Jody Gladding

A runaway hit in France, Second Star is a collection of vignettes about life’s smallest and simplest moments, from washing your windows to peeling a clementine. With evocative descriptions of taste, touch, and sound, Delerm zeroes in on the sensations and pleasures that, while often overlooked or taken for granted, can make us feel most alive. Linger in the moment, he says, stay a while—be here, now. —SMS

Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld 

I first encountered Curtis Sittenfeld in high school, when my dad’s then-girlfriend gifted me a copy of Prep. It was smart and sexy and felt like a portal into womanhood, which I was on the precipice of. Sittenfeld knows how to write romantic comedy without ever slipping into the saccharine, the chivalrous, the cliche. (Also, Brandon Taylor is a fan!) So I can’t wait for her new rom-com, about a comedy writer whose decision to swear off love is rocked when she falls for a pop star. —SMS

Sea Change by Gina Chung

Chung’s debut centers on thirty-something Ro who feels stalled in her life—heartbroken after a breakup, father missing, mother remote, friends drifting away. She’s also stagnating at her job at a mall aquarium, where one of her favorite sea creatures (and last remaining link to her father), an octopus named Dolores, is about to be sold to a wealthy investor intent on moving her to a private collection. Joseph Han called Ro one of his favorite Korean American characters of all time. —MML

The One by Julia Argy

Argy’s debut novel, about a woman who’s a contestant on a Bachelor-style dating reality show, has garnered some killer blurbs. Julie Buntin writes, “I could not stop reading Julia Argy’s smart, funny, and tender debut novel about falling in love and finding oneself on and offscreen,” and Claire Messud calls it “riveting, astute and darkly comic.” —EL

Without Children by Peggy O’Donnell Heffington

As a mother of three myself, I’m interested in why people become parents—or don’t. In Without Children, Heffington, a historian of gender, explores the long history of women who did not become mothers, for a variety of reasons. Situating what seems to some to be a modern phenomenon within a larger historical context, this one seems like an essential read. Ada Calhoun deems it a “timely, refreshingly open-hearted study.” —EL

The Double Life of Benson Yu by Kevin Chong

I hear the word “metafiction” and I usually figure I’m in for a cerebral workout and probably a headache. While Chong’s story of a graphic novelist focusing on his art in an attempt to process his difficult youth is indeed a workout, it’s also a hugely engaging, headache-free read about a world, Chinatown, and a creative outlet, graphic arts, that I know nothing about. Yes, there is a lot of darkness in this story, episodes that could present challenges to some readers, but ultimately the heft of this novel lies in its powerful reminder that unless we confront our demons, we’ll never exorcise them. —IR

Arrangements in Blue by Amy Key

An essay collection about unpartnered life set to the soundtrack of Joni Mitchell’s Blue—so thoughtful of Amy Key to write a book specifically and exclusively for me! Looking back at her past romantic longings and collisions, Key considers the (inflated?) value of romantic love and finds her contradictory feelings on the matter reflected in Mitchell’s lyrics. There’s nothing poor-me about Arrangements in Blue; in Key’s hands, solitary life becomes more capacious—and more complicated—than I ever thought possible. —SMS

The Ugly History of Beautiful Things by Katy Kelleher

In this deeply researched collection of essays, Paris Review contributor Katy Kelleher explores the hidden histories of our favorite luxury goods, revealing how even the most beautiful objects have dark, unsavory backgrounds. In a blend of historical, scientific and autobiographical writing, Kelleher explains why some red lipstick contains beetle shells, why certain perfumes include rodent musk, and why a fancy class of dishware is made with the ashes of cow bones. Along with helping us understand how these objects came to signify beauty, Kelleher reveals the price workers pay to bring them to us – and suggests a few ways we can ethically appreciate their products. —TB

May

Written on Water by Eileen Chang

It is no exaggeration to say Eileen Chang has shaped our perceptions of modern cities in China. Before her, big cities were monstrous, with myriads of people often seen as sordid sinners. Chang portrayed Shanghai and Hong Kong as the intersections of tradition and modernity, of the East and the West. The pleasures of modernity embody new ways of life. The subtleties of everyday life signify people’s pursuit of happiness. Chang is sharp, rebellious, and unique. You will find even her examination of Shanghainese food eerily resonating. —JQ

Homebodies by Tembe Denton-Hurst 

When Mickey Hayward loses her coveted media job, she pens a scathing letter about the racism and sexism she’s encountered in the industry. It’s met with silence and soon forgotten, until a media scandal catapults the letter—and Mickey—back into the spotlight. This witty take on fame, media, and the institutions that rule our lives, Homebodies already garnered blurbs from Danielle Evans, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, and Bryan Washington. —SMS

Quietly Hostile by Samantha Irby

If you’ve read Irby’s previous collections, or even skimmed her Instagram, you’re likely waiting for her next book of hilarious essays. This one sounds promising: it has a skunk on the front and covers everything from working in Hollywood, to getting a “deranged pandemic dog” (per the jacket copy), to being turned away from a restaurant for being dressed inappropriately. I can’t wait! —EL

Dances by Nicole Cuffy

At the age of 22, Cece Cordell is catapulted to fame when she becomes the first Black principal dancer in the history of the storied New York City Ballet. But her achievement doesn’t feel right, and she she soon embarks on a journey to find a missing older brother— and the pieces of herself that have been devoured by the voracious machinery of the highly competitive ballet world. This debut novel by the author of a decorated work of short fiction, 2018’s Atlas of the Body, is an examination of the physical and spiritual costs all artists must pay in the pursuit of their art. —BM

Monsters by Claire Dederer

How to separate the art from the artist? A question I—and most cultural critics—have been wrestling with for a long time now. In Monsters, Claire Dederer takes a stab. Inspired by her Paris Review essay, “What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?,” Dederer takes on Hemingway and Picasso, Miles Davis and Roman Polanski, to construct a deeply personal theory of art, genius, and cruelty, written from the perspective of both a critic and a fan. I’ve been counting down the days to this one for a while. —SMS

Dykette by Jenny Fran Davis

In her blurb for Davis’s debut novel, the writer Samantha Hunt tells me everything I needed to know: “Like a tightly rolled spliff passed around the room,” she writes, “you will inhale Dykette.” Following three queer couples on a 10-day country getaway, Dykette takes on desire, debauchery, and destruction through a distinctly queer—and propulsively entertaining—lens. —SMS

Avidly Reads Screen Time by Phillip Maciak

Phillip Maciak is one of the best TV critics alive right now, full stop. Whether he’s writing about Girls or Station Eleven or Bluey, his criticism is always characterized by wit, insight, and a remarkable propensity for close-reading. So yes, I was over the moon to learn about his new book of cultural criticism and history, Avidly Reads Screen Time, about how we define screens and how they define us. There are three Mad Men screen caps within the book’s first 30 pages, so, yeah, it’s gonna be ridiculously good. —SMS

Thinning Blood by Leah Myers

Leah Myers is likely the last official member of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe as a consequence of blood quantum laws. In a work of memoir and family excavation of her ancestors lives’ in the Pacific Northwest, Myers explores the meaning of legacy, documentation, belonging, and weaves between and together her own life, the lives of her ancestors, and the hypotheticals of future generations.  —LK

King: A Life by Jonathan Eig

Martin Luther King Jr. has, at this point, been flattened into an icon. The Selma to Montgomery march, “I Have a Dream,” his assassination—this is what his life has been boiled down for many of us, and in the American imagination as a whole. King the leader, the orator, the pastor, the martyr—what about King the man? Eig’s forthcoming tome on King, the first full biography in decades, contains new research and shines a fresh light on King’s life, relationships, and interiority. —SMS

A Life of One’s Own: Nine Women Writers Begin Again by Joanna Biggs

I’ve recently realized that I will read just about any book of nonfiction that has the word “women” in the title. A Life of One’s Own is no exception, though the draw certainly does not end at its title. Biggs’s latest combine memoir, criticism, and biography (my favorite literary concoction) to study how women writers across the centuries—Plath, Woolf, Morrison, et al.— have carved out freedom for themselves in their lives and work. (I suspect this one will be a great companion to the aforementioned How to Think Like a Woman.) —SMS

The Late Americans by Brandon Taylor

Everyone’s favorite Booker Prize shortlister, national bestseller, Story Prize winner, Henry James prefacer, litcrit-newsletter purveyor, tweet-sender, and sweater-enjoyer Brandon Taylor, returns in May 2023 with The Late Americans. Like his acclaimed 2020 novel Real Life, The Late Americans is set in a small midwestern college town; also like Real Life, it is more accurately set in its young characters’ exquisitely sensitive and private psyches. Its three protagonists, and a larger constellation of midwestern eccentrics, artists, and academics, confront and provoke one another in a volatile year of self-discovery leading to a trip to a cabin where they bid goodbye to their former lives—a moment of reckoning that leaves each of them irrevocably altered.  —Adam O’Fallon Price

The Lost Journals of Sacajewea by Debra Magpie Earling

Earling reimagines the well-trodden tale of Sacajewea and her role in the fateful expedition of Lewis and Clark in this historical novel. Endowed agency, authority, and interiority, Earling’s Sacajewea rewrites the version of herself handed down through American history. Her life before the expedition comes into vivid focus, as do her complicated feelings about her role in charting the course for American imperialism. Night of the Living Rez author Morgan Talty praises this “transcendental work of literature” as “striking” and “elegant.” —SMS

On Women by Susan Sontag, edited by David Rieff

Susan Sontag, Merve Emre—the collab of the century? I’ll read anything by either writer, so I will of course be reading this. Sontag’s takes on feminism, sexuality, beauty, fascism, aging, and more are the focus of this seven-essay collection, introduced by Emre and edited by Sontag’s son David Rieff. Always drawn to the grey, the murky, the complicated, here Sontag considers the ubiquitous, amorphous forces that shape women’s lives with her characteristic curiosity and authority. —SMS

Lesbian Love Story by Amelia Possanza

In her debut memoir, Brooklynite Possanza dives into the archives to recover the stories of twentieth-century New York lesbians. Sifting through records she finds role models and cautionary tales, juicy gossip and heart-wrenching regret. Writing with empathy, wit, and imagination, Possanza constructs a personal, political, and romantic history of lesbian life and love. —SMS

June

Where Are Your Boys Tonight?: The Oral History of Emo’s Mainstream Explosion 1999-2008 by Chris Payne

Emo exploded just as I gained consciousness as a human being with aesthetic tastes. For me, and many of my peers, emo music was a formative force in our lives, enunciating the frustration and darkness that many of us found ourselves newly harboring as adolescents. So I can’t wait to read Chris Payne’s oral history of the genre, which uses interviews with My Chemical Romance, Paramore, Panic! at the Disco, Fall Out Boy, and more to reconstruct emo’s meteoric ascent and profound cultural footprint. —SMS

Wannabe: Reckoning with the Pop Culture That Shapes Me by Aisha Harris

Harris, host of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, always has a take. Movies, TV, music—she’s got an opinion and she’s excited to tell you about it. Adapting her radio presence into book form, Wannabe sees Harris turning her talents for critique and criticism inward, looking at the media that has shaped her life and examining its effects. From Clueless to the Spice Girls, New Girl to Chance the Rapper, Harris teases out the connections between her identity and her love of pop culture with wit and elan. —SMS

Rivermouth: A Chronicle of Language, Faith, and Migration by Alejandra Oliva

Oliva is a writer, translator and immigration activist who has translated for people seeking asylum along the US-Mexico border since 2016. In this work of memoir and journalism, which won a 2022 Whiting Nonfiction Award, Oliva describes her experiences of translation, describes her own Mexican-American family’s relationship to the border, and interrogates notions of citizenship and belonging. —LK

I Am Homeless If This Is Not My Home by Lorrie Moore

Moore’s first novel since 2009’s A Gate at the Stairs, I Am Homeless If This Is Not My Home (that title!) is a ghost story set in the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries about grief, devotion, and narrative. I’ll be honest, I have no idea what this book is actually going to be about (the descriptive copy sums up the plot thusly: “A teacher visiting his dying brother in the Bronx. A mysterious journal from the nineteenth century stolen from a boarding house. A therapy clown and an assassin, both presumed dead, but perhaps not dead at all . . .”) but the intrigue makes it all the more anticipated. —SMS

Directions to Myself: A Memoir of Four Years by Heidi Julavits 

My first introduction to Julavits was 2015’s The Folded Clock, which I read the week after I first moved to New York, back in 2020. I’ve been waiting for her next book ever since. It’s finally here—Directions to Myself sees Julavits studying what she calls “the end times of childhood.” She writes about her son’s upbringing as well as her own to find answers about motherhood, family life, and growing up. George Saunders calls it “an absolute stunner.” I predict I’ll feel the same. —SMS

Most Anticipated: The Great First-Half 2022 Book Preview

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In this, our first preview for Pandemic Year Three, we offer up nearly 200 books, with the hope that they can, in some small measure, act as a balm, an escape, a distraction, a source of pleasure, a reason for hope, a source of light in the darkness.

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January


The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan: Frida Liu doesn’t have a career worthy of her Chinese immigrant parents’ sacrifices, and she can’t persuade her husband, Gust, to give up his mistress. Only with Harriet, their cherubic daughter, does Frida finally attain the perfection expected of her—except that one lapse in judgement lands her in a government reform program where custody of her child hangs in the balance. An arresting debut. (Marie)

The Stars Are Not Yet Bells by Hannah Lillith Assadi: Five Under 35 author Assadi’s first novel’s voice-driven narrative was classified “superstitious realism”—as in its telling was “slanted and opaque, scenes haunted and possibly dreamed”—by The Brooklyn Rail. Assadi’s second novel, The Stars Are Not Yet Bells, continues in a similar vein of enchanted and haunting narration, but in a different mode: Elle Rainer suffers from Alzheimer’s and she recounts through its haze tales of her life and love and losses on the island of Lyra, and the search for the source of its mysterious blue light. The end result is “a prophetic fever dream sprung from [Assadi’s] singular imagination,” according to Claire Vaye Watkins. (Anne)

Lost & Found by Kathryn Schultz: New Yorker writer and Pulitzer Prize-winner Schultz can write engagingly on everything from earthquakes to human error and now trains her lens squarely on herself, exploring how loss and joy can coexist if not coincide, examining a year where she lost her father and also fell in love. Marilynne Robinson says “Our lives do indeed deserve and reward the kind of honest, gentle, brilliant scrutiny Schulz brings to bear on her own life.” (Marie)

To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara: After her blockbuster A Little Life, Yanagihara’s third novel is a triptych of stories set in 1893, 1993, and 2093. In 1893 America, New York is part of the Free States, where people may live and love whomever they please (or so it seems). Then in 1993 Manhattan is besieged by the AIDS epidemic. And in 2093, the world is riven by plagues and totalitarian rule. Edmund White promisingly called it “as good as War and Peace.” (Marie)

Yonder by Jabari Asim: Somewhere in the antebellum South, a group of enslaved black people call themselves The Stolen. To their owners they are merely captives, property. Subject to the whims of tyrannical Cannonball Greene, they toil in his quarry by day, endure beatings at night, and suffer the heartache of having a loved one sold off without warning. The bonds that keep The Stolen together begin to fray when a mysterious minister fills their heads with the notion that freedom means the ability to choose things, large and small. Which leads to a freighted question: What would happen if an enslaved person risked everything for love? (Bill)

Free Love by Tessa Hadley: After hitting the bestseller lists with her previous novels Late in the Day and The Past, Tessa Hadley gives us the Fischer family living in leafy suburban tranquility in 1967. The social ferment of nearby London seems worlds away. But when the young son of an old friend of Roger Fischer’s visits one hot summer evening, his wife Priscilla is swept into an affair that upends the family’s conventional life and leads her on a startling quest for romantic love, sexual freedom and the truest version of her life. Hadley is, in the words of Hilary Mantel, “one of those writers a reader trusts.” (Bill)

I Came All This Way to Meet You by Jami Attenberg: After seven books of fiction, Attenberg, who EW calls a “master of modern fiction,” publishes a new memoir about finding a home in the emotional, artistic, and physical sense. Full of wit, charm, and sharp intellect, Attenberg doesn’t hold back as she takes the reader through the defining moments of her life, from growing up as the daughter of a traveling salesman in the Midwest, sleeping on couches, and self-funded book tours to living an independent life as an artist. Kristen Arnett says, “The book is an embrace. It is a love letter to work and to friendship.” (Claire)

All Day Is a Long Time by David Sanchez: Sanchez’s debut follows 14-year-old David as he comes of age on the Gulf Coast of Florida. When he runs away from home, David hits rock bottom over and over again through drug use, sexual trauma, and being stuck in the revolving door of jail-to-rehab, rehab-to-jail. Eventually, he finds a life raft in a community college literature class—and his life becomes imbued with much-needed hope. Justin Torres says, “This book has it all, not only does the harrowing story grip you from the start, but the voice is so insightful, so poetic, so absolutely alive to the world, that you won’t be able to put it down.” (Carolyn)

A Previous Life by Edmund White: White, now in his 80s and firmly ensconced as a major Man of Letters, traverses familiar terrain and new ground with his latest novel, A Previous Life. The central characters—the aristocratic Sicilian musician Ruggerio and his American wife Constance—agree to break their vow and write confessions about their previous lives. Ruggero reveals his many affairs with men and women—and, above all, his passionate love for the writer Edmund White. Given the autobiographical tilt of White’s earlier fiction (notably A Boy’s Own Story and The Beautiful Room Is Empty), the appearance of a character named Edmund White was probably inevitable. It’s definitely delightful. (Bill)

Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez: Puerto Rican siblings Olga, a hotshot wedding planner, and Pedro “Prieto” Acevedo, a popular congressman, navigate their place in their rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood in Gonzalez’s debut. Set in the months surrounding the devastation of Hurricane Maria, Olga’s and Prieto’s secrets, as well as their family’s secrets, begin to bubble to the surface—and they have no choice but to face them head on. Rumaan Alam writes: “It’s a book about a New York that isn’t always celebrated, the one that belongs to immigrant communities; about money, class, and political power; about one vividly-imagined family and the very idea of the American Dream.” (Carolyn)

Devil House by John Darnielle: In his newest novel, author and The Mountain Goats’ singer-songwriter Darnielle (Universal Harvester) dissects the mega-popular, oft exploitative true crime genre. Gage Chandler, a one-hit-wonder true crime writer, moves into the “Devil House” where a grisly murder took place during the 1980s Satanic Panic. As he falls deeper into his research, into the case, into the memories of his past, he begins to question his work—who it serves and who it hurts. Publishers Weekly’s starred review says, “it operates perfectly on many levels, resulting in a must-read for true crime addicts and experimental fiction fans alike.” (Carolyn)

Shit Cassandra Saw by Gwen Kirby: Whether they’re virgins, whores, witches, or warriors, the infamous and unknown women in Kirby’s experimental debut collection take the spotlight. “I want to be friends with all of the women in this collection who refuse to be anything other than exactly who they are,” Rachel Yoder writes. “A barnburner of a book that will set you ablaze with its clear-eyed brilliance.” (Carolyn)

Defenestrate by Renee Branum: The word itself—”defenestrate”—is sadly underused. If it recalls anything, then some history buffs might remember those unlucky emissaries at the “Defenestration of Prague” during the springtime of the Thirty Years War, but it’s a fantastic bit of language that we unfortunately rarely get to use (even while we hope that it doesn’t happen to us). Branum’s odd, lyrical, and gorgeous debut Defenestrate follows twins Marta and Nick as they trace the intricacies of a family curse wherein members of their clan are perennially fated to fall out of windows (a burden that began appropriately enough in Prague centuries ago). Evocative of Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists, Branum’s novel is a magical realist family fable, an allegory about the heaviness of history and the lightness of dropping, because “Something in our bodies wants to fall… we splinter that easily.” (Ed)

Perpetual West by Mesha Maren: While historically shifting, the border between the United States and Mexico has always been permeable, communities on both sides having more in common with one another than they might with cities thousands of miles away, despite what demagogues might otherwise claim. Critically lauded novelist Maren’s sophomore effort Perpetual West is a reminder that there has never been a wall, but that the border is a mirror, and that the U.S. and Mexico have always existed in interdependence. Chronicling the cross-border lives of Alex and Elana, ethnically Mexican though adopted by white Pentecostals and raised in Virginia, Perpetual West embodies the continual draw that that country has on the imagination, that complicated fantasy about how to “Start over fresh… south of the border!” (Ed)

Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson: The nameless narrator of Wilson’s sly third novel runs into an old college acquaintance at LAX who invites him into the airline’s private lounge while they wait for their delayed flight to Germany. What follows is a story within a story of how Jeff once rescued a man from drowning in the ocean…and then became fixated on him. Lauren Groff calls it an “agile novel of ideas with unexpectedly sharp teeth” and Andrew Sean Greer declared it “the best book I’ve read in ages.” I myself loved this riveting and smart novel. And: the perfect ending will make you gasp. (Edan)

The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang: Chang, the director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, follows up her slim and beautiful novel about poets, All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost, with a modern retelling of The Brothers Karamazov. The story concerns the family who owns Fine Chao, a Chinese restaurant in Haven, Wisc. When patriarch Leo Chao is found dead, the three adult sons come under suspicion. In its starred review, Publishers Weekly calls it “timely, trenchant, and thoroughly entertaining.” Jean Kwok says it’s “a gorgeous and gripping mystery.” (Edan)

Goliath by Tochi Onyebuchi: The author of multiple YA novels and the adult novel Riot Baby again enters the world of adult fiction, and that world turns out to be a post-apocalyptic dystopia in which the planet is rapidly emptying out, and those with no choice but to stay behind can do no less than try and make a go of it. Macmillan calls Goliath “…a richly urgent mosaic about race, class, gentrification, and who is allowed to be the hero of any history.” (Il’ja)

The Hard Sell by Evan Hughes: Praised as “revelatory” and as “compelling as a true crime documentary,” Hughes’s second book, The Hard Sell, follows the trail of big pharma start-up Insys and its pedaling of a synthetic opioid in deceitful and fraudulent ways so as to maximize profit and patient use. Think Purdue, think Sackler-like profit and greed, think Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos level hubris. The Hard Sell grew out of Hughes’s 2018 story for The New York Times, “The Pain Hustlers” and has been called “a tour de force” by Patrick Radden Keefe, author of bestselling Sackler exposé The Empire of Pain. (Anne)

Present Tense Machine by Gunnhild Øyehaug, translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson: It’s the 1990s in Norway and a young mother misreads a word. Normally, nothing to worry about; just read it again. But in this, the latest novel from Øyehaug, who has made a mark with her “wily, mercurial prose” (Kirkus), there’s no second chance, and life goes on, though now with mother and daughter living in different dimensions. Separated for eternity but oblivious to the fact. Or not entirely oblivious—life in a parallel universe also comes stocked with lots of free-floating disquiet, unnamable regret, and a heightened sense of the weight of even a single word. (Il’ja)

Thank You Mister Nixon by Gish Jen: Another fantastic story collection from the renowned, award-winning author, Jen. Thank You, Mr. Nixon is an original, mind-blowing exploration of  U.S.-China relations/dynamics since China reopened its borders half a century ago. City girl Lulu Koo gets confused by the American obsession of walking “in the woods with mosquitoes”; Hong Kong parents make extreme efforts to reclaim their “number-one daughter” who now lives in New York; raised under the mantra “no politics, just make money,” Betty Koo grows up to reflect on her family culture. As always, Jen’s signature humor shines through these linked stories. The collection makes you laugh, gasp, wonder, and sometimes gives you pause. In those little moments when you pause to think, you are actually witnessing the astonishing transformations that have been reshaping the world and era we live in. (Jianan)

The Latinist by Mark Prins: The Latinist is a brilliant contemporary thriller about obsession, power, and control. Tess Templeton is a golden girl at Oxford University. Her mentor, professor Christopher Eccles, supports her whole-heartedly. However, just as Tess believes she will secure a promising position in the academic job market, she finds out Christopher has shattered her career picture. He is doing everything to keep her with him at Oxford. Tess struggles to find a way out of his control. Fortunately, she discovers an obscure ancient Latin poet that could potentially turn her into a rising star in academia. The Latinist reminds us of the Daphne and Apollo myth. The novel delves deep to question the blurring line between love and obsession, between a yearning for truth and a desire of power. (Jianan)

Biblioepsy by Gina Apostol: Who hasn’t used books as an escape? For Primi, who is living through the brutal Marcos regime in the Philippines, she is “a vagabond from history, a runaway from time” and sees her favorite authors and literature as a way through the revolution. Originally published in 1997, Apostol’s debut novel is finally available in the U.S. and a perfect read for these chaotic times. (Kate)

Fiona and Jane by Jean Chen Ho: Fiona Lin and Jane Shen have been best friends since second grade. As they grow into messy, restless adults, their connection is a constant reminder of their families’ complicated pasts and lingering insecurities. Their story—hilarious, poignant, and intense—offers a refreshing portrait of friendship in all its limitations and bounty. (Kate)

Manywhere by Morgan Thomas: A collection of short stories following queer and genderqueer characters in the South, spanning states and time. In a starred review, Kirkus praises these “Innovative stories that probe the ineluctable bond between storytelling and identity.” (Lydia)

Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka: Ansel Packer is a convicted serial killer soon to be executed. He’s just not quite ready to go; not until he gets some credit for his work. But the women whose lives he’s shattered—his mother, his wife, his sister-in-law, and the detective who stopped him—aren’t interested in celebrating him, not in life, not in death. Much more than a procedural thriller, HarperAcademic says, that Notes, examines “…our system of justice and our cultural obsession with crime stories, asking readers to consider the false promise of looking for meaning in the psyches of violent men.” (Il’ja)

Joan Is Okay by Weike Wang: Any book that features an introspective, solitary woman living along in a big city is automatically added to my TBR pile. Wang’s debut novel, Chemistry, was an instant favorite, and her follow-up promises an equally complex and intelligent protagonist. Joan is an ICU doctor who is asking all the big, unknowable questions in the wake of her father’s death, and when she’s met with relentless uncertainty, that’s when the adventure begins. (Kate)

The Boy We Made by Taylor Harris: In this memoir, Harris shares the experience of looking for a diagnosis for her toddler son when she knew something was wrong, and how that bewildering and confounding experience of navigating the healthcare system as a Black mother also ended up revealing life-saving information about her own health. Deesha Philyaw says of the book: “Taylor Harris has masterfully captured the wonder and weight of the endurance race that is motherhood. Mothering in the face of illness and uncertainty as a Black woman is downright Olympian. Harris’ beautiful, crisp prose drew me right into her family’s journey. Their story is heart-wrenching, hopeful, and truly unforgettable.” (Lydia)

How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu: Fans of Cloud Atlas and Station Eleven will love this spellbinding and profoundly prescient debut. It’s 2030 and a grieving archeologist arrives in the Arctic Circle to continue the work of his recently deceased daughter, where melting permafrost reveals the perfectly preserved remains of a girl who appears to have died of an ancient virus. Matt Bell calls this prescient debut “A book of incredible scope and ambition, a polyphonic elegy for the possible.” (Marie)

Velorio by Xavier Navarro Aquino: The novel follows the movements of an island utopian community in the aftermath of devastating Hurricane Maria. Justin Torres raved of the book “Velorio recognizes that neither utopia nor dystopia are finite states, that they exist alongside and even inside one another, like the hurricane and the eye, the empire and the island. Xavier Navarro Aquino takes us on a riveting, harrowing journey through the aftermath, where the natural violence of the storm is compounded by disaster capitalists; the dead haunt the living; impossible decisions are made and seemingly impossible futures are born.” (Lydia)

Strangers I Know by Claudia Durastanti, translated by Elizabeth Harris: In her first novel to appear in English, Durastanti composes a riveting portrait of a woman’s eccentric family and her binational upbringing in America and Italy. The book begins with the narrator presenting two different versions of how her parents, each of whom are deaf—“They spoke the same language composed of gasps and words pronounced too loudly”—met for the first time in Rome, both claiming that “they saved the other’s life.” The perceptive, witty narrator chronicles their intense, brief connection and her shambolic coming-of-age in a work that has been compared to Natalia Ginzburg’s. (Matt)

Wahala by Nikki May: A novel of three Anglo-Nigerian best friends whose dynamic is thrown off by the arrival of a glamorous, treacherous fourth. In a starred review, Library Journal wrote, “May seamlessly weaves love, betrayal, self-reflection, and Nigerian food, clothing, and customs into this fast-paced debut.” (Lydia)

The Hummingbird by Sandro Veronesi, translated by Elena Pala: In the second of his books to win the prestigious Strega Prize, the Italian novelist Sandro Veronesi tells the story of an ophthalmologist with a roving wife and a gambling problem, among other troubles that are clouding his vision. Publishers Weekly praised this “chaotic black comedy of blunders” for being “cleverly structured like a jigsaw puzzle,” and a rave in the Guardian proclaimed that “everything that makes the novel worthwhile and engaging is here: warmth, wit, intelligence, love, death, high seriousness, low comedy, philosophy, subtle personal relationships and the complex interior life of human beings.” (Matt)

Brown Girls by Daphne Palasi Andreades: A polyphonic novel celebrating the lives of young brown girls in Queens. Raven Leilani says of the book, “An acute study of those tender moments of becoming, this is an ode to girlhood, inheritance, and the good trouble the body yields.” (Lydia)

Seasonal Work by Laura Lippman: This collection of 11 stories from Lippman hardly needs any selling, but just for the heck of it: if you’re into tales of “deception, murder, dangerous games, and love gone wrong,” this is for you; and if you’re a Lippman devotee and/or Baltimore superfan (synonymous?), rest assured that detective Tess Monaghan does indeed make an appearance. (Nick M.)

Violeta by Isabel Allende, translated by Frances Riddle: The novel’s titular narrator begins with the story of her birth—a rather ominous entry into this world, replete with a storm, lost electricity, and the scourge of the Great Influenza pandemic. Illness, quarantining, fear, and resolve shape the family. Violeta’s expansive tale is told to her grandson Camilo, a Jesuit priest—an appropriate framing for a confession of generational and historical scope. (Nick R.)

High-Risk Homosexual by Edgar Gomez: A memoir of coming of age as a queer Latinx man, taking place in spaces disparate as a cockfighting ring in Nicaragua, a drag queen convention in Los Angeles, and a doctor’s office. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly called the book “A brilliant and provocative interrogation of sex, gender, race, and love.” (Lydia)

Fuccboi by Sean Thor Conroe: This novel was the last editorial project of the late Giancarlo DiTrapano of Tyrant Books, and was then acquired by Little Brown (read a profile of Conroe here.) The book is an exploration of toxic masculinity that Sheila Heti says, “Got under my skin in the way the best writing can.” (Lydia)

No Light to Land On by Yara Zgheib: A novel about a young Syrian couple separated by the Muslim ban on the eve of their child’s birth, and the hellish limbo of bureaucratic cruelty. Hala Alyan says of the novel, ““A masterful story of tragedy and redemption, an entire history told through the prism of a single Syrian couple, beginning and ending with love.” (Lydia)

Call Me Cassandra by Marcial Gala: As a young boy in the Cuba of the tumultuous 1970s, Rauli feels misunderstood by his family and drawn to the myths of the Greeks, especially the Trojan war and the visions of Cassandra. Gala’s novel travels from Cuba to Troy to Angola, interweaving Rauli’s story with the story of Cuba. In a starred review, Kirkus calls it “A haunting meditation on identity and violence.” (Lydia)

South to America by Imani Perry: Brilliant scholar and writer Perry explores the southern U.S., complicating the narratives that persist about it today with real encounters of people and communities. Kiese Laymon says of the book, “South to America marks time like Beloved did. Similarly, we will talk not solely of books about the south, but books generally as before or after South to America. I have known and loved the South for four decades and Imani Perry has shown me that there is so much more in our region’s fleshy folds to know, explore and love. It is simply the most finely crafted and rigorously conceived book about our region, and nation, I have ever read.” (Read Perry’s 2021 Year in Reading here.) (Lydia)

Sticker by Henry Hoke: Part of the Bloomsbury Object Lessons series, Hoke’s “memoir in twenty stickers” weaves memories of different stickers with reflections on his hometown of Charlottesville, site of the infamous violent fascist march that held the attention of the world. Jocelyn Nicole Johnson called it “Funny, nostalgic, and weird in the best possible way.” (Lydia)

A Dream Life by Claire Messud: The great Messud returns with a novel set in Australia, wherein a family moves from New York of the 1970s to a giant mansion by the Sydney Harbor. In what must be one of the best blurbs of all time, the legend Helen Garner says of the novel, “A perfect frolic of a book, puffed on breezes of beauty and wit: it waltzes you through a little fear, a little darkness, and tips you out, refreshed and laughing, into the sun.” (Lydia)

February

Pure Colour by Sheila Heti: This is a touching, funny, and philosophical novel about a woman looking to find her place in the world. When Mira leaves home for school, she meets a charismatic woman named Annie, who, as the publisher describes, “opens Mira’s chest like a portal.” After Mira’s father dies, she enters the strange dimension of acute grief and finds a world of insight inside. As the publisher says, it’s a “contemporary bible, an atlas of feeling, and an absurdly funny guide to the great (and terrible) things about being alive.” (Claire)

Nobody’s Magic by Destiny O. Birdsong: The fiction debut from acclaimed poet Birdsong, Nobody’s Magic tells the story of three women from Shreveport who have albinism, and the way their lives intersect. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly calls the novel “a stunning achievement,” and Angela Flournoy describes the novel as “a world full of complex, memorable characters who feel real, with stories unlike any I’ve read before.” (Lydia)

In Sensorium: Notes for My People by Tanaïs: in this memoir, writer and perfumer Tanaïs—that’s right, perfumer not performer—reckons with their American Bangladeshi Muslim femme experiences, via stories of childhood, love, psychedelics, and fragrances. In addition to personal history, In Sensorium is “an interrogation of the ancient violence of caste, rape culture, patriarchy, war, and the inherited ancestral trauma of being from a lush land constantly denuded…because of colonization, capitalism, and climate change.” Body and scent as history, herstory, theirstory. (Sonya)

Very Cold People by Sarah Manguso: The eighth book by pithy stylist Manguso happens also to be her debut novel. She’s written across genres—from poetry collections to nonfiction works (OngoingnessThe Two Kinds of Decay), and her previous book, 300 Arguments, is an aphoristic autobiography. Her novel, Very Cold People, is an “empathic bildungsroman” about a young girl coming of age in an austere (and very cold) Massachusetts town. Lauren Groff says Very Cold People “knocked me to my knees” with a story that “is devastatingly familiar to those of us who know the loneliness of growing up in a place of extreme emotional restraint.” (Anne)

Recitatif by Toni Morrison: The literary giant Morrison’s first published story, and the only short story she ever wrote, is now republished for the first time since 1983 with an introduction by Zadie Smith, who writes, “When [Morrison] called Recitatif an ‘experiment’ she meant it. The subject of the experiment is the reader.” (Lydia)

Moon Witch, Spider King by Marlon James: The second installment of James’s Dark Star trilogy now arrives, continuing the grand saga of Black Leopard, Red Wolf, and has been greeted with great acclaim. In a starred review, Booklist writes, “If Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a penciled comic panel, Moon Witch, Spider King is the version rendered by James the inker: the geography, myth, magic, and people of this epic setting are revisited to add shading and detail in a recursive procedure that results in a vibrant tapestry begging for infinite return trips.” (Lydia)

Antiquities and Other Stories by Cynthia Ozick: The present edition centers on Ozick’s masterful novella—Antiquities—about the struggles of a former trustee of the long-defunct Temple School for Boys who’s trying to write his memoirs while fending off senescence. But the modern world just keeps butting in on memory. The volume includes four previously uncollected stories by the author: “The Coast of New Zealand,” “The Bloodline of the Alkanas,” “Sin,” and “A Hebrew Sibyl.” (Il’ja)

Chilean Poet by Alejandro Zambra, translated by Megan McDowell: In this story, Gonzalo, an obscure Chilean poet, isn’t much good at relationships, but just maybe his ex-stepson and budding poet Vincente will prove to be. The thing that has always made Zambra’s writing irresistible (to me, anyway) is his attention to the seemingly inconsequential matters that render our lives so flush with consequence. Chilean Poet will almost certainly amble along Zambra’s wonderfully original, laconic literary path. (Il’ja)

The Boy with a Bird in His Chest by Emme Lund: Lund’s debut novel is a magical realist queer allegory that follows a young boy who finds out as a teenager that a bird named Gail lives in his chest—a revelation that has his mother spiriting him away and sending him to live with a cousin with whom he navigates the shoals of growing up in a thorny world. Andrew Sean Greer called it “a modern coming of age full of love, desperation, heartache and magic. An honest celebration of life and everything we need right now in a book.” (Lydia)

Clean Air by Sarah Blake: In a follow-up to her gorgeous, award-winning debut, Naamah, poet Blake explores the post-climate apocalypse where tree pollen poisoned the air and killed billions. Ten years later, the survivors (including Izabel, a restless mother, and her family) live in domes and have begun to build a new normal—until an unknown person begins slashing through the barrier and exposing people to the deadly air. Angie Kim writes, “Clean Air is an amazing blend of page-turning mystery, important commentary about environmental destruction, and poignant portraiture of maternal love.” (Carolyn)

Don’t Cry for Me by Daniel Black: A father writes letters to his son on his deathbed, making amends for years of silence and the rifts caused by his reaction to his son’s coming out. The letters share stories of his past and the past that came before them in rural Arkansas, back to the days of slavery and the fallout of the intervening years. Jesmyn Ward calls the novel “a perfect song.” (Lydia)

Be Here to Love Me at the End of the World by Sasha Fletcher: Fletcher’s debut is a surreal comedy about endless debt and the perversities of American life. Amelia Gray raves, “Fletcher’s full-throated talent shines in this tender, funny, time-jumping novel spanning faith, love, and the modern world. A bold and open-hearted work, like nothing else.” (Lydia)

How to Be a Revolutionary by CA Davids: A novel connecting China during the Great Leap Forward and the Tiananmen uprising with Apartheid-era South Africa through the story of a South African diplomat posted in China and her explorations of Langston Hughes’s travels in China with a Chinese friend who eventually disappears. Publishers Weekly calls it “exquisite and eye-opening.” (Lydia)

Vladimir by Julia May Jonas: Jonas’s unnamed narrator—a 50-something, tenured English professor at a small liberal arts school—finds herself at the center of a campus scandal: her husband is under investigation for having inappropriate relationships with his students. As she navigates the notoriety, she finds herself becoming deeply sexually obsessed with her new colleague, Vladimir, a young, married novelist. A book that explores power, gender, and desire, which Adrienne Brodeur calls “a whip smart and ferociously clever tale of swirling allegiances, literary rivalries, and romantic tripwires detonating hidden mines.” (Carolyn)

Scoundrel by Sarah Weinman: As the Crime columnist for The New York Times Book Review, author of The Real Lolita, and editor of Unspeakable Acts, Weinman is one of the best at getting beyond sensation to understand the intersection of crime and our larger culture. This book is her investigation into the wrongful exoneration of killer Edgar Smith and how his editor, the women who loved him, friends, and the courts were among those he manipulated into helping set him free—only for him to re-offend again. Booklist calls it, “a psychologically fascinating must-read.” (Claire)

Wildcat by Amelia Morris: Morris’s debut explores new motherhood and toxic female friendships set against the backdrop of contemporary Los Angeles. Our own Edan Lepucki said of the book, “Wildcat is that rare novel I’m always in the mood to read: at once laugh-at-loud funny and deeply serious, page-turning and smart. Amelia Morris tackles contemporary motherhood—with its social media-induced peer pressure, its confusing isolation, its complicated beauty—with the sharpest wit and a tenderness that takes my breath away. I loved this book. I want to press it into the hands of…everyone.” (Lydia)

The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb: Why are priceless string instruments so hard to keep track of? Yo-Yo Ma left his Stradivarius cello in a cab, and two other musicians have in recent decades forgotten their multi-million-dollar violins in a taxi and on a train. In Slocumb’s debut novel, a talented Black violinist from rural North Carolina faces this nightmarish scenario when his priceless Strad goes missing before a music competition. From this setup, Slocumb composes a mystery around the disappearance of the violin and the painful racial history of its provenance. An added bonus: the author has provided an accompanying playlist. (Matt)

Mercy Street by Jennifer Haigh: The abortion debate gets personal in Haigh’s timely sixth novel. Claudia, a counselor at the Mercy Street clinic, smokes weed to cope with the stress of guiding young women through the choice of their lives while a rabidly pro-life activist shames women online for visiting the clinic and plots to travel from his remote cabin to “save” Claudia. “I’m just going to say it: Jennifer Haigh is the greatest novelist of our generation,” says Joanna Rakoff, author of My Salinger Year. “And Mercy Street is her best novel yet.” (Michael)

Cowboy Graves by Roberto Bolaño, translated by Natasha Wimmer: Three novellas—Cowboy Graves, French Comedy of Horrors, and Fatherland—from the Chilean master. The final tale focuses on a young writer of poetry—the genre that defined Bolaño’s vision. Bolaño once noted that Nicanor Parra claimed the best novels are written in meter, while Harold Bloom said the best contemporary poetry is written in prose; the novella form is the perfect synthesis of both modes. (Nick R.)

The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka: A “tour de force of economy, precision, and emotional power,” says Otsuka’s publisher about her new novel; and I utterly believe it. This is what Otsuka does—spare yet unforgettable novels that know exactly what they are about and how to convey their depth of meaning. Here she plumbs the inner lives of a group of recreational swimmers—their quotidian needs, and the fragility of their minds and bodies when these needs are disrupted. I am really looking forward to this one. (Sonya)

How to Be Normal by Phil Christman Though the Midwest is by far the largest geographical region of the United States, diverse in culture, history, and ideology, it’s still often slurred as “flyover country” and reduced to a set of often inaccurate red state stereotypes. Writer, professor, and theorist of the middle American sublime Christman complicated those tropes in his excellent set of essays Midwest Futures, which was both narratively and structurally innovative in how it moved beyond the tired tropes of a million New York Times think pieces. In his follow up How to Be Normal, Christman presents essays on a variety of topics ranging from race and masculinity to religion and pop culture, all written in the tone of a subversive self-help guide. Engaging a belles-lettristic negative capability, Christman takes on the big subjects while always remembering that the point of criticism is to more fully be a person, part of “our little attempts that we make at building a home in this world.” (Ed)

When I’m Gone, Look for Me in the East by Quan Barry: In the latest from the author of We Ride Upon Sticks, two identical twins—brothers who fell out years before after one rejected the monastic life they shared—set out across Mongolia to find a great lama reincarnate. The brother who remained a monk, Chulun, struggles to get along with his estranged twin, Mun, a task that only gets more difficult as the terrain pushes their differences to the breaking point. Throughout, Chulun wrestles with questions of faith and brotherhood, along with the futility in trying to hold on to one set of beliefs in a world that seems to change by the minute. (Thom)

Dead Collection by Isaac Fellman: An archival love story between a TV star’s widow and an archivist with a condition (vampirism) that keeps him hiding in the basement. Jordy Rosenberg called it “A moving and provocative novel, that caresses the decay nibbling at the hard edges of postmodern officescapes, exposing a sexy, neurotic, cinematic vampire love story bubbling up from the ruins.” (Lydia)

Don’t Say We Didn’t Warn You by Ariel Delgado Dixon: Two sisters in a desolate town in New York support each other when their parents disappear, spending stints in homes for troubled teens. Joy Williams calls the book “Eventful, complex, admirably structured, relentless, and spooky.” (Lydia)

The Maiden of All Our Desire by Peter Manseau: Curator of American Religious History at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and cofounder of the excellent religion website Killing the Buddha, which just celebrated its 20th anniversary, Manseau writes excellent books at an unnerving pace. Rag and Bone: A Journey Among the World’s Holy Dead saw Manseau traveling pilgrimage routes to investigate relics, The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln’s Ghost told a story at the intersection of technology and spiritualism, and Vows: The Story of a Priest, a Nun, and Their Son followed his own unusual autobiography. The Maiden of All Our Desires shows Manseau turning to fiction for the second time in his career, but his interest is still in the lived experience of faith. Evoking both Umberto Eco and Lauren Groff, The Maiden of All Our Desires unfolds in a single day at a convent during the 14th-century Black Death, in which issues of belief and heresy are engaged, and the individual must face the enormity of history. (Ed)

Loss of Memory Is Only Temporary by Johanna Kaplan: Kaplan was twice a finalist for the National Book Award, in 1976 and 1981, for O My America! and Other People’s Lives, and her short fiction is collected here for the first time, vibrant stories of post-war Jewish New York. Vogue says the collection “fizzes with the urbane energy of J.D. Salinger, Grace Paley, and Deborah Eisenberg—a restless delight.” (Lydia)


Cost of Living by Emily Maloney: An essay collection by an emergency room technician who came to the work after her teenage suicide attempt put her into the tortuous cycle of medical debt—a burden that might touch anyone who has the misfortune of needing medical care in our broken American system, where a broken leg can lead to financial ruin. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly raves, “Maloney artfully unpacks the fraught connection between money and health in her brilliant debut collection. Maloney is masterful at beginning in a place of skepticism and ending with empathy, all while weaving in her own fascinating story.” (Lydia)
New Animal by Ella Baxter: This strange, sexy, wonderful novel by Australian author Baxter follows a woman who works in her family’s mortuary and processes the grief of a loved one’s passing by an exploration of local kink clubs. Kirkus wrote in a bewildered but supportive review, “this unusual novel navigates the most treacherous of emotional territories—the fault lines between love and grief, sex and death—with a deliberate lack of grace and real charm.” (Lydia)

Away to Stay by Mary Kuryla: A novel of the Inland Empire following a working class immigrant family struggling to keep afloat and housed in an unforgiving economy. Lexi Freiman says of the novel, “Kuryla has an unflinching eye for the dark strangeness of domestic life and her ravishing prose only deepens the provocation. A powerful and stunningly original book.” (Lydia)

March

Digital Communion: Marshal McLuhan’s Spiritual Vision for a Virtual Age by Nick Ripatrazone. At The Millions we’re lucky to have Ripatrazone as a contributing editor, since he has consistently proven himself to be one of the most astute commenters on culture and religion writing today, at sites like Image, Rolling Stone, LitHub, and here. His latest book Digital Communion investigates the religious implications of the celebrated Canadian media theorist Marshal McLuhan, a figure who first explicated the philosophical implications of television. In Ripatrazone’s hands, the Jesuit educated McLuhan is restored to being “the greatest prophet of the digital age.” In our own era of communion administered through Zoom and mindfulness apps that incorporate Zen onto your smartphone, Ripatrazone makes a brilliant argument as to what McLuhan has to say about the benefits and perils of digital faith. (Ed)

Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo: From the author of We Need New Names, which The New York Times called “A deeply felt and fiercely written debut novel,” comes a novel charts the fall of Old Horse, the long-serving leader of an oppressive regime in a fictional country, but inspired by the coup in November 2017 of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. The novel centers on Destiny, who has returned from exile to witness the revolution, and a chorus of animal voices, who call out the absurdity of contemporary politics and, according to the publisher, help “us see our human world more clearly.” (Claire)

Eleutheria by Allegra Hyde: A naïve young woman with idealistic hopes of fighting climate change follows a charismatic leader to a remote island in the Bahamas. She joins a band of eco-warriors only to discover that things aren’t what she expected. This debut novel follows Hyde’s 2016 story collection, Of This New World, and wrestles with similar themes of utopia. (Hannah)

Drowning Practice by Mike Meginnis: In this pre-apocalyptic novel, every person on Earth has a dream that tells them the world will end in November. Lyd, a once-successful novelist who has become a deeply dysfunctional agoraphobe, is forced to leave her home for the first time in years in order to protect her teenage daughter, Mott, who is determined to write her own first book before the world ends. The pair embark on a road trip through a strange and menacing world, fleeing from their dangerous ex-husband/father, David, who believes that they should be forced to spend their last days in his home. Appleseed author Matt Bell called it “the best new novel I’ve read in ages.” (Adam P.)

Body Work by Melissa Febos: The memoirist and essayist has written an insightful and innovative craft book addressing the grueling work of intimate personal writing. Alexander Chee said of the book, “Melissa Febos has written one of the most liberating books on the subject of writing that I can think of.” (Lydia)

Run and Hide by Pankaj Mishra: Returning to fiction after a two-decade hiatus, Indian writer Mishra delivers a new novel that explores the high cost of unbridled ambition. At the center of Run and Hide is Arun, who gets a ticket out of his hometown when he’s accepted at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology. There he makes two friends who will cut any corner to succeed, and soon they’re living a Gatsbyesque life. Arun withdraws, but he is lured out of seclusion by a journalist who is writing an expose of his former friends’ chicanery—and will teach Arun that we can run from our origins, but there’s no place to hide. (Bill)

The Last Suspicious Holdout by Ladee Hubbard: Spanning 15 year—from 1992 to 2007—this collection from the author of The Rib King focuses on a single Black neighborhood in “a southern sliver of suburbia.” In “There He Go,” a young girl copes with her itinerant home life by telling herself stories about her absent grandfather. In “False Cognates,” a formerly incarcerated lawyer struggles to pay tuition at his troubled son’s elite private school. Throughout, characters from one story pop up in another, giving the collection a unified narrative weight. (Thom)

Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou: An Asian American PhD student desperate to claw her way out of academic hell? Sign me up, please! Even better, Alexander Chee calls this an “Asian American literary studies whodunnit.” Ingrid Yang finds herself in the midst of solving a mystery tied to a late canonical Chinese poet that leaves her questioning everything from her romantic life to her academic career. Oh, and her best friend is named Eunice Kim. For everyone with a Eunice Kim in their life, let’s kick off our inaugural book club with Disorientation. I’ll bring the soju. (Kate)

We Had to Remove This Post By Hanna Bervoets, translated by Emma Rault: Employed as content moderators at a social media company, Kayleigh and her colleagues watch and evaluate endless streams of the most horrifying and disturbing content the Internet has to offer. The unending violence and hate begins to take a toll and the team, and Kayleigh, fall apart. Ling Ma writes: “This novel gives us an acid glimpse into a new form of labor existing today, a job that extracts an immeasurable psychic toll. Fascinating and disturbing.”  (Carolyn)

Border Less by Namrata Poddar: Poddar’s debut, which was a finalist for the Louise Meriwether First Book Prize, is divided in two sections tracing the migratory journey of Dia Mittal, an airline call center agent in Mumbai who supports her family and who is looking for opportunity, leaving on a journey that brings her together with South Asians from across the spectrum of class and circumstance. A beautiful narrative approached with what Ananda Devi calls “heart-breaking delicacy and precision.” (Read Poddar’s 2021 Year in Reading here.) (Lydia)

A Ballad of Love and Glory by Reyna Grande: A love story of the Mexican-American War about the romance between a Mexican healer and an Irish American soldier who defects and joins the fight for Mexico’s freedom, forming an Irish battalion. Julia Alvarez writes of the novel, “Grande integrates a sweeping Tolstoyan vision and command of language with her very own Latin American popular traditions…This is indeed a grand and soulful novel by a storyteller who has hit her full stride.” (Lydia)

Ancestor Trouble by Maud Newton: Essayist and critic Newton’s first book length work is memoir, a fascinating combination of a journey to find out more about the flamboyant characters in her family going back generations, mixed seamlessly with “America’s Ancestry Craze,” her Harper’s article about the genealogy craze that has become a serious even all-consuming hobby for many Americans. An unflinching exploration into the history of a troubled family tree and the universal but also peculiarly American need to discover “roots.” (Marie)

Groundskeeping by Lee Cole. This debut coming-of-age novel is a love story set in Kentucky during the run-up to the 2016 election. It centers on Owen Callahan, an aspiring writer who moves back home to Kentucky to live with his Trump-supporting uncle and grandfather. He takes a job as a groundskeeper at a local college, in exchange for writing classes. There he meets Alma Hazdic, a writer in residence who hails from a Boston, and whose immigrant family is much more liberal than Owen’s. They are from different worlds, and as they begin to fall in love, Alma struggles to understand Owen’s complicated relationship with his conservative relatives and his home state. (Hannah)

Homesickness by Colin Barrett: The good folks at Grove Atlantic say that Homesickness contains “…eight character-driven stories.” Here’s what I say: Young Skins, Barrett’s first short story collection (2015), destroyed me. So good. I’m not paid to be objective, and it would be impossible anyway since Young Skins won ALL the awards, not just the Irish ones. With an ARC of Homesickness in hand, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’d read Barrett’s grocery lists should he choose to publish them. A major writer in the making. No less than Anne Enright calls his work “lyrical and tough and smart.” Anne Enright is correct. Expect stories of the down and out, the oddballs and misfits, the working class. Characters with flaws and nary a tidy, dignified outcome within sniffing distance. (Il’ja)

A House Between Earth and the Moon by Rebecca Scherm: A House Between Earth and the Moon is a page-turning exploration of a potential human future. As climate change makes our planet less and less habitable, scientist Alex accepts an offer from giant tech company Sensus to set his lab in outer space on Parallaxis. However, as soon as Alex and six other scientist arrive in the outer space, they become the hard laborers of Sensus. Yet, they persevere, hoping they will reunite with their families soon. On Earth, wildfires and storms are tormenting humanity. People struggle not only with the elements, but also with the surveillance of the Sensus phones. How can humanity find a way out of these apocalyptic events? Contemporary literature does not lack dark sci-fi to warn us of the possible futures that we are headed toward. But A House Between Earth and the Moon dedicates its most vivid imaginations to not only a scary future, but to human tenacity and the power of love. (Jianan)

A Novel Obsession by Caitlin Barasch: Naomi Ackerman wants to write a novel, but she’s having trouble coming up with a novel-worthy idea. She meets a man; she’ll write a novel about love! The man has an interesting ex-girlfriend; maybe Naomi should write about her instead. But first she’ll have to get to know her. Lies unfold; chaos ensues; the line between fact and fiction, real life and invented, blurs and then disappears. In a starred review, Kirkus calls Barasch’s “dread-laden psychological novel” of a debut “an incisive study of female friendship…smart, jarring, and funny.” (Kaulie)

Mecca by Susan Straight: Straight’s return to fiction in the time of Covid, Mecca follows her recent memoir and shares with it a fascination with California and the generations of dreamers and desperates who have made their home in the west. At the novel’s core is the Latinx community of Southern California—highway patrolmen, ICU nurses, animal control workers, gardeners; representatives from the web of people who sustain others’ golden dreams—and the interconnected lives of characters facing drought and fire as well as ICE and viruses. A novel of “fierce compassion” (PW) and “a hymn to all that have called the Golden State home” (Walter Mosley). (Kaulie)

The World Cannot Give by Tara Isabella Burton: The Secret History meets Fight Club, sort of, but younger, more feminine, more queer. In Burton’s second novel, sensitive Laura transfers to a Maine prep school, the alma mater of her favorite novelist, a Byronic figure who died tragically young. There, she finds her place in the cultish chapel choir, a group fervently devoted to the novelist and held in thrall by their charismatic leader, Virginia. Laura becomes infatuated with Virginia, but when charisma turns dangerous, she has to decide how deep her devotion goes. (Kaulie)

Páradais by Fernanda Melchor, translated by Sophie Hughes: In her second novel to reach the U.S., Melchor moves from Hurricane Season’s rain-soaked villages into an upscale apartment building called Páradais. There, two boys from different economic strata find common ground: drinking and scheming. Translator Hughes deftly rendered Melchor’s vivid, powerful prose in Hurricane Season, so buckle up for what’s next. (Nick M.)

How Strange a Season by Megan Mayhew Bergman: “I’m not a fan of the moral filter in fiction,” Bergman has said in an interview. “I don’t want to write about what we should think, feel, or do. I want to write about our ugly, exquisite humanity, our desperate inner selves navigating the world’s obstacles.” Bergman’s characters are unfailingly human—steeped in paradox and grace—and her new collection is pensive, playful, and ambitious. Stories like “The Heirloom” and “Peaches, 1979” alone are masterclasses in dynamic detail, in the lineage of Jayne Anne Phillips. Equally talented as a writer of nonfiction—about subjects ranging from the environment to music to family—Bergman is a sensitive, essential writer. (Nick R.)

Let Me Count the Ways by Tomás Q. Morín: A memoir from the skilled poet (most recently, the collection Machete) and translator of Pablo Neruda. Morín has described his memoir as an exploration of “what it was like for me to grow up in a rural town in South Texas surrounded by a culture of drugs and machismo,” the formative influence of the men in his family, and how he tried to cope with the struggles of his youth. “My parents taught me early that their love had its limits,” he writes early in the book. “I wish I could have mapped out their love. My counting is a way for me to return the things people have made to the blueprint stage.” (Nick R.)

Good Intentions by Kasim Ali: This debut novel from Londoner Ali, is the story of young man torn between family and love, culture and individuality. “Honest” is a word that comes up repeatedly in blurbs and reviews (emotionally, absorbingly, heartbreakingly). “Unafraid of the gray areas of race, faith, sexuality, and love,” writes novelist Lillian Li. (Sonya)

Booth by Karen Joy Fowler: In the seventh novel by the Man Booker finalist, the reader travels back to 1822, where the Booth family—progenitors of John Wilkes Booth—move to a farmhouse near Baltimore to live their lives in seclusion. Over the next 16 years, the family has 10 more children, and Junius Booth, the family’s unstable patriarch and a Shakespearean actor, trains his children for their own careers on the stage. But the background for this training is a country descending into civil war—and one of the Booth children starting down a path that ends with his name in infamy. (Thom)

Checkout 19 by Claire-Louise Bennett: Irish author Bennett’s second novel, a Bildungsroman in which a woman recounts the upbringing that led to her becoming a writer, takes us through the unnamed narrator’s childhood in a town west of London. As she grows up, she develops a unique attention to detail, not to mention a growing pile of books and manuscripts. As she navigates her own relationships and her own connection to literature, she forges the talent that leads to her eventual career. (Thom)

Homo Irrealis by Andre Aciman: In his new essay collection, the author of Call Me by Your Name expounds on topics that range from subway poetry in New York to the legacies of Sigmund Freud, W.G. Sebald, Marcel Proust, and more. Aciman focuses on the power of the imagination to shape our memories, using himself as an example—though he admits his readings of certain authors may be “erroneous,” they shaped him nonetheless, and so they retain a certain power. This contradiction (among other things) gives the book its narrative throughline. (Thom)

Red Paint by Sasha taqʷšəblu LaPointe: A memoir of a poet and artist from the Upper Skagit and Nooksack tribes who weaves her experience in the punk scene with her experience as a child moving around the Pacific Northwest, and the influence of her great-grandmother, a linguist who helped to preserve her indigenous language of Lushootseed. In a starred review, Kirkus calls the memoir “an engaging, poetic, educative examination of the search for home and personal and cultural identity.” (Lydia)

Vagabonds! by Eloghosa Osunde: A novel of the dispossessed of Lagos, Nigeria—poor, queer, sex workers, rogues, and how their lives intersect. Marlon James says of the novel, “You don’t read this novel. You swan dive into its sea of gods and monsters, lost girls, violent boys, and well-behaved people both righteous and wicked. And when you finally surface, that sound will be you, gasping in wonder.” (Lydia)

April

Memphis by Tara Stringfellow: This debut bildungsroman, a blend of fact and fiction, draws on three generations of the Stringfellow family’s involvement in the civil rights struggle. It opens in 1995 when 10-year-old Joan New, her mother, and sister seek refuge from her father’s violence at the ancestral home in Memphis. There Joan comes of age while painting portraits and learning family history and secrets—among them that her grandfather was lynched and her grandmother was a mistress of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Stringfellow, an attorney and poet, told Book Pipeline: “I hope girls growing up in the North Memphis projects will read it and say, ‘Wow, somebody wrote a story about me.’” (Bill)

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel: Another twisty, intellectually meaty novel of the uncanny and otherworldly from Mandel, longtime Millions staffer and bestselling author of Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel. This one spans 500 years, from 1912 to 2401, and features a bestselling author visiting Earth from her moon-based colony on a book tour, where she must field a million and one questions about her novel about a “scientifically implausible flu,” while the news warns of a mysterious new virus. That Mandel herself found herself answering a million and one questions about her own pandemic novel during the present pandemic no doubt lends this plot element some verisimilitude. (Michael)

Binding the Ghost by Ed Simon: Simon’s essays are some of the true hidden gems in our contemporary literary world. After the deconstructionism and with the rise of cultural studies, literature is often used as a vehicle to form a political conversation. “Art for art’s sake” seems to be a tradition that we now consider not only outdated but also narrow-minded. Binding the Ghost helps restore our pure pleasures in reading literature as what literature actually is. Simon’s essays are never dogmatic. He guides us through a theological perspective and inspires us to meditate on the many significant, yet often neglected, literary evolvements: the development of the alphabet, the mystic power of punctuation, how the novel and Protestantism construct a relationship with people. Binding the Ghost sings a genuine, beautiful hymn to the magic and wonder of poetry and fiction. (Jianan)

The Age of Astonishment: John Morris in the Extraordinary Century―From the Civil War to the Cold War by Bill Morris: Our own Morris (Motor City Burning, American Berserk) is back with a work of nonfiction that mixes the personal with history and traces the life of his grandfather, John Morris, who was born into a slave-owning Virginia family during the Civil War and died at the peak of the Cold War. In a starred review, Kirkus, hailed the book—which covers everything from Reconstruction, women’s suffrage, and Prohibition to the horrors of Jim Crow, two World Wars, and the advent of nuclear weapons—as “An entertaining combination of domestic and world history,” adding “[Morris] does a superb job of recounting a life amid a series of significant decades. His imaginative ‘mongrel’ approach—a mix of…biography, history, reportage, memoir, autobiography, and, when the record runs thin, speculation that flirts with fiction—is successful. An entertaining combination of domestic and world history.” (Adam B.)

Song for Almeyda & Song for Anninho by Gayl Jones: The new flow of published work from the brilliant and elusive Jones continues with this extension of the universe of Palmares, a love story for two of its characters entirely in epic verse. (Lydia)

Forbidden City by Vanessa Hua: Hua follows up her extraordinary novel A River of Stars and the collection Deceit and Other Possibilities with a novel that illuminates a figure from history—Mei, Mao Zedong’s protege and lover, a teenager who came from her village to be a dance partner for party elites. Hua deftly explores a tumultuous period in what Maxine Hong Kingston calls “an intriguing and suspenseful story.” (Lydia)

Easy Beauty by Chloé Cooper Jones: Jones—tennis reporter, Pulitzer Prize finalist (for her profile of Ramsey Orta, who filmed the police killing of Eric Garner), philosophy professor, fiction writer, too—is indisputably of exquisite mind. In her first book, Easy Beauty, she investigates and interrogates the Western ideals of beauty philosophically and experientially, as a woman living assessed, judged, and often othered for her own disabled body. Cooper Jones’s examination is performed with “the rigor and precision of Joan Didion and Maggie Nelson,” according to playwright Sarah Ruhl. The resulting book is “utterly remarkable,” according to The Millions’ own Lydia Kiesling. (Anne K. Yoder)

The Memory Librarian by Janelle Monáe: Singer-songwriter, actress, fashion icon, producer Monáe has written a book, y’all. Building on the Afrofuturistic mythos of her third album Dirty Computer—a totalitarian, mind-controlling world where queerness, race, gender plurality, and love are all subjugated—Monáe has collaborated with a team of creatives on this collection of stories that “fully explore what it’s like to live in such a totalitarian existence…and what it takes to get out of it.” If anyone can speculate engagingly on such liberation, it seems to me Monáe can. (Sonya)

The Candy House by Jennifer Egan: Described as a sibling novel to her Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit From the Goon Squad, The Candy House begins with tech entrepreneur Bix Bouton and his venture called Own Your Unconscious, wherein people can download and view their own memories, and share and exchange the memories of others. The rest of the novel explores the consequences of such a phenomenon, and as with Goon Squad, it spans decades and narrative styles, from the omniscient to the epistolary, to a chapter told in tweets. Technology, intimacy, privacy—these are subjects Egan has tackled before, and with such brilliance and formal daring. I cannot wait! (Edan)

Constructing a Nervous System by Margo Jefferson: The fantastic critic and memoirist follows up Negroland with another work of memoir that uses a physiology as its architecture: the human nervous system. Vivian Gornick called it “one of the most imaginative—and therefore moving—memoirs I have ever read.” (Lydia)

Sleepwalk by Dan Chaon: Chaon’s eighth book and fourth novel tells the story of Will Bear—a man who, at 50, has been living off the grid for nearly half his life. He’s never paid taxes, never held a full-time job, and never been in a monogamous relationship. What he has done is carry out “errands” for his employer, a powerful organization whose exact nature Will remains hazy about. One day, Will gets a call from a stranger on one of his burner phones, a woman in her 20s who claims to be his long-lost daughter. She needs his help, she says. One problem? The people she needs help dealing with might work with Will’s employer. (Thom)

Shelter by Lawrence Jackson: A memoir of homecoming, by a Black son of Baltimore who returned to the city to teach at Johns Hopkins, buying a house for his sons in a covenanted, predominantly white neighborhood and reflecting on the paradoxes of the city. The memoir weaves his own story of making a home for his family with a history of the city. Edward P. Jones raves: “There are an endless number of wonderful things to say about Lawrence Jackson’s Shelter―from luminous to breathtaking to just being outright admirable.” (Lydia)

The Unwritten Book by Samantha Hunt: Hunt publishes her first book of nonfiction, a work of memoir and literary inquiry that begins when Hunt finds her late father’s unfinished manuscript. Maggie Nelson said of the book, “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.” (Lydia)

Four Treasures of the Sky by Jenny Tinghui Zhang: A novel set against the background of the American West during the era of the Chinese Exclusion Act, following a young woman from calligraphy school to a San Francisco brothel to the mountains of Idaho. Ann Patchett called Four Treasures of the Sky “an engulfing, bighearted, and heartbreaking novel.” (Lydia)

Search by Michelle Huneven: Huneven’s fifth novel is based in southern California and revolves around a Unitarian Universalist Church and its search for a new minister. Food writer and memoirist Dana Potowski agrees to join the committee, thinking it will be fodder for a new book. The committee’s choices bring her lots of colorful material but when it comes time to make the decision, Dana finds herself more invested than she realized, and fights for her choice. (Hannah)

The Trouble with Happiness by Tove Ditlevsen, translated by Michael Favala Goldman: It’s no secret we’re often woefully late to read and celebrate foreign authors here in the States—case in point is the 50 year lag in the (re)translation of celebrated Danish poet and author Ditlevsen’s devastating memoirs, The Copenhagen Trilogy. This “brilliant” and “stunning” accomplishment is one of the most oft-cited books on this year’s “best of” lists despite Ditlevsen having died nearly half a century ago. The one upside for us English language readers is the remaining trove of her work that awaits us. Next up is Ditelevsen’s story collection, The Trouble with Happiness, never before translated to English. It features precisely observed stories from the 1950s and ‘60s, quiet and understated tales of characters yearning and struggling to escape the roles assigned to them while not knowing quite what they’re looking for. (Anne)

Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li: Think Indiana Jones but with generations of filial piety and Chinese history behind him. In Li’s debut novel, questions of art and the diaspora are explored as a group of Chinese-American students ransack museums of priceless Chinese art and return it to their homeland. Part thriller, part crime fiction, and part intriguing examination of identity, Portrait Of a Thief is the heist novel art history majors have been waiting for. (Kate Gavino)

Happy for You by Claire Stanford: Stanford’s debut novel follows Evelyn Kominsky Kumamoto, a young woman at a personal and professional crossroads, as she leaves academia for a research job in Silicon Valley. Tasked with developing an app that helps people quantify their happiness, a struggling Evelyn must find a way back to her own joy. “Happy for You is the optimal novel for the strange times we find ourselves in,” writes Rachel Khong. “This is a book for anyone who’s ever looked around at this brave new world—and wondered about your own place in it.” (Carolyn).

Probably Ruby by Lisa Bird-Wilson: Probably Ruby is about a Métis woman in her 30s, whose life is spinning out of control. In interwoven narratives, the novel brings together Ruby’s story, from being given up for adoption and raised by white parents to how she finds meaning in kindship and her roots. Imbolo Mbue calls the novel “a celebration of our universal desire to love and be loved.” (Claire)

Young Mungo by Douglas Stewart: The follow-up novel to the Booker prize-wining Shuggie Bain, exploring masculinity, love, queerness, and growing up in Glasgow. In a starred review, Kirkus writes, “You wouldn’t think you’d be eager to return to these harsh, impoverished environs, but again this author creates characters so vivid, dilemmas so heart-rending, and dialogue so brilliant that the whole thing sucks you in like a vacuum cleaner.” (Lydia)

A Tiny Upward Shove by Melissa Chadburn: The L.A. writing community has been anticipating this debut novel from one of our most passionate and engaged members since we learned of its sale. Inspired by Chadburn’s Filipina heritage and her own time in the foster care system, A Tiny Upward Shove begins with a young woman’s death and her transformation into an aswang, or Filipino shapeshifter, able to venture into the minds and experiences of those she has known—including her own killer. Hector Tobar writes: “Melissa Chadburn is a fiercely original, brave writer. She writes with the voice of the survivor she is, finding the lyrical and the deeply human in seemingly dark and impenetrable landscapes.” (Edan)

Heartbroke by Chelsea Bieker: Bieker follows her beloved first novel, Godshot, with this collection of stories about desperate people in Central Valley, California: a woman who steals a baby from a homeless shelter, a mother and son selling dreamcatchers along the highway, teenagers taking too many risks online. Stephanie Danler writes that this book is “astonishing…absolutely devastating” and Lauren Groff calls Bieker “an absolute crackling talent.” (Edan)

Woman, Eating by Claire Kohda My interest in this debut novel was first piqued when I read about it in Ruth Ozeki’s Year in Reading for The Millions. I love the title. And a mixed-race vampire, you say? Lydia is a young woman in a London sublet, rooming with artists, away from her vampire mother for the first time. She can only consume blood—and, yet, she doesn’t want to. She wants to be an artist. Kohda, is a British book critic and violinist, and of her debut book, Ozeki writes, “The spell this novel casts is so complete I feel utterly, and happily, bitten.” (Edan)

End of the World House by Adrienne Celt: In Celt’s exhilarating, inventive third novel—the follow-up to Invitation to a Bonfire–Bertie and Kate are long-time friends who take a trip to Paris before Kate moves from Silicon Valley to LA. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if the world weren’t, essentially, ending in a slow-motion apocalyptic buffet that includes terrorist attacks, pandemics, and freak weather brought on by climate change. When Bertie and Kate get a chance to tour the Louvre on a day it’s closed, they find themselves in a time loop and must figure out how to rediscover one another, and get to the bottom of their tension, codependence, and resentment. This book about love, friendship, and the cruel nature of time is catnip for fans of Groundhog Day and Rumaan Alam’s Leave the World Behind. Rufi Thorpe writes: “Reading Adrienne Celt is like being granted access to a secret kingdom, another layer of reality you didn’t know existed.” I agree. (Edan)

Nobody Gets Out Alive by Leigh Newman: Alaskan Newman follows up her memoir Still Points North with a collection of short stories that show her home state from all angles, from its sprawling suburbs to wilder regions haunted by the frontier past. Newman debut collection includes prize-winning stories “Howl Palace” and title story, “Nobody Gets Out Alive,” which centers on a bride who returns to her hometown of Anchorage only to blow up her own wedding reception. (Hannah)

Post-traumatic by Chantal Johnson: A lawyer at a New York psychiatric hospital deals with her own trauma at home, self-medicating and unraveling as the high-wire act of professionalism and personal trauma becomes untenable. Myriam Gurba raves, “Chantal V. Johnson has blessed us with a cool, stylish, and violently funny novel about survival. It made me smile, laugh, cringe, shiver, and think. Like life, Post-traumatic is richly triggering and highly recommended.” (Lydia)

The Red Zone by Chloe Caldwell: In her new memoir, essayist Caldwell explores her struggles with PMDD, a severe form of PMS that drastically affects her mood and mental well-being. Caldwell describes her attempts to treat her condition, and how it affected her relationships and sense of self. I’m here for any memoir that talks honestly about women’s health issues, but the truth is I’d read whatever Caldwell writes. (Hannah)

The Odyssey by Lara Williams: An employee on a cruise ship is selected by her captain for a bizarre mentorship program, and her adherence to it breaks up her life. Mateo Askaripour says of the book, “I have never read anything like this, which is a testament to Lara Williams’s craft, as well as her fearlessness in diving into the more absurd, cringeworthy, and downright uncomfortable aspects of life.” (Lydia)

Rouge Street by Shuang Xuetao, translated by Jeremy Tiang: Shenyang, a major city in Northeast China, was once a thriving industrial hub under Mao Zedong. But as China transforms into a market economy, the once glorious city finds itself burdened with various social ills: poverty, unemployment, domestic violence, alcoholism. Born in Shengyang, Shuang Xuetao presents a vivid picture that captures the various voices of Shengyang’s natives. Undefeated by life, Shuang’s characters fight a giant fish to survive beneath a frozen lake, consider burning a sorghum field for revenge, and imagine leaving their tough neighborhoods in a flying machine. Shuang’s stories are fundamentally about hope, aspiration, and resilience. (Jianan Qian)

Activities of Daily Living by Lisa Hsiao Chen: The debut novel from poet and Rona Jaffe Award winner Chen, Activities of Daily Living follows Alice, a Taiwanese immigrant in New York, as she struggles to work on a “project” about the renowned and elusive performance artist Tehching Hsieh when she’s not working a mindless day job. The deeper she gets into her project, the more of her own life slips in. Highly recommend for: fans of Chen’s poetry; fans of Olivia Laing and/or Ben Lerner; anyone who’s ever found themselves consumed by art; anyone who’s fighting the very nature of time (and, really, who isn’t?). (Kaulie)

An Unlasting Home by Mai Al-Nakib: It’s 2013, and though Sara, a professor of philosophy, returned to Kuwait 11 years ago, her feelings about her country remain… complicated, and only more so after a class on Nietzsche leads to an accusation of blasphemy and the threat of execution. In the 1920s, her grandmothers, still only girls, are beginning to make the choices that will shape their lives; a generation later, Sara’s mother is planning a political life while her ayah leaves her own children to mother Sara. An Unlasting Home, the debut novel from the author of The Hidden Light of Objects, follows the lives of five women and, through them, of Kuwait itself through a long century of change. (Kaulie)

At the Edge of the Woods by Masatsugu Ono, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter: From one of Japan’s most celebrated writers and translators—Ono’s won the Mishima Prize and the Akutagawa Prize, the country’s highest literary honor, among others—At the Edge of the Woods is an eerie allegory of climate apocalypse and unnatural nature. A family moves to, well, the edge of a wood, which turns out to be full of dark laughter, figures that appear and disappear, sounds of violence and gnashing teeth. Bryan Washington calls it “beautiful and seductive,” writing “Ono illustrates modern life’s horrors alongside the wonder of the unknown” and “balances wonder and disquiet with incomparable grace and precision.” (Kaulie)

Out There by Kate Folk: The debut collection from Folk, Out There is, as Chang-Rae Lee puts it, “wondrously perverse, often creepy and hilarious, and always sneakily heartbreaking.” The title story, first published in The New Yorker, sees a San Francisco woman seek love through a dating app despite the threat posed by stunning artificial men designed by foreign hackers. Other stories dig even deeper into the eerie and weird—a void slowly swallows the world; patients battle a bone-melting disease and a dangerous hospital-ward love triangle—but most uncanny of all is Folk’s own voice, imaginative, sharp, and unsettling, human and alien together. (Kaulie)

People from Bloomington by Budi Darma, translated by Tiffany Tsao: First published in Indonesia 40 years ago, this story collection from celebrated author Darma gets a second life—and an English translation—as a Penguin Classic. Across seven stories set in the gridded streets and rented rooms of Bloomington, Ind., Darma’s characters navigate their morbidly funny lives in this meditation on alienation, failed connection, and the universal strangeness of the human mind. (Kaulie)

Ruin by Cara Hoffman: A collection of anarchistic stories from a founding editor of the Anarchist Review of Books and celebrated author of So Much Pretty, Be Safe I Love You and Running. American society is falling apart; Ruin is a look at what it may look like to survive the collapse, if survival was as surreal and funny as it was brutal. A little girl disguises herself as an old man, a dog begins to speak, separated lovers communicate across the penal colony via technical drawings. The New York Times Book Review has said Hoffman “writes with a restraint that makes poetry of pain,” and in Ruin both the pain and poetry are present in force. (Kaulie)

True Biz by Sara Novic: Set in a boarding school for deaf students, Novic’s novel follow teens and adults navigating the personal and the political in a novel that Alexandra Kleeman calls “Rollicking, immersive, and boldly, exquisitely felt…delves into the deepest questions about community, communication, and collective action, inviting the reader into a world of language made new.” (Lydia)

Violets by Kyung-Sook Shin, translated by Anton Hur: This novel takes us to 1970s rural South Korea, where a young girl named San who is ostracized from her community meets a girl called Namae. Following a moment of physical intimacy, Namae violently rejects San, setting her on a troubling path. This novel is one of Shin’s first, written while she was in her 20s. The author of the worldwide sensation Please Look After Mom, Shin is one of the most widely read authors in Korea and the first South Korean and first woman to win the Man Asian Literary Prize. (Marie)

I Was the President’s Mistress! by Miguel Syjuco: A rollicking polyphonic novel from the winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize for Illustrado. A satire of political scandal, social upheaval, and absurdity, of which Salman Rushdie says, “This brilliant black comedy is a wild, and wildly unpredictable, ride through the dark side of the Philippines. Miguel Syjuco is his country’s most original and unflinching literary voice.” (Lydia)

Unlikely Animals by Annie Hartnett: Ghostly narrators, omniscient after death; a drop-out medical student returned home to take care of her dying father; her brother, fresh out of rehab; her oldest friend, a missing addict the local police refuse to search for. Also, hallucinated animals. The second novel from the author of Rabbit Cake, Unlikely Animals is, as our own Lydia Kiesling writes, “a warm, joyful, generous novel about families and human frailty—an homage to the dead and a celebration of the living, one that embraces the complexity and fullness of both.” (Kaulie)

The Return of Faraz Ali by Aamina Ahmad: In a literary noir set in Lahore, a chief of police moves through the red light district, caught up in a conspiracy to cover up the murder of a young woman and revisiting his own memories of being abducted as a child from the same neighborhood. Anthony Marra calls the novel “mesmerizing. That a novel so epic in scope can remain so intimate at heart is nothing short of astonishing.” (Lydia)

Some of My Best Friends by Tajja Isen: Catapult editor-in-chief and voice actor Isen publishes a collection of essays on how issues of race and identity surface in both the cartoon and the literary arenas, and how efforts at change have faltered. (Lydia)

All the Secrets of the World by Steve Almond: The debut novel from the prolific story writer and co-host of the Dear Sugars podcast is also one of the first titles from Zando Projects, a new independent publisher founded by Molly Stern. The novel tells the story of two teenage girls on the trail of a mystery, a “mashup of Jane Eyre and The Wire.” Hector Tobar says of the book, “Almond, a master of the short form, has now set himself loose on a vast canvas, giving us a rollicking, wide-ranging, unpredictable novel. This book is sharp, fast-moving, juicy…a wild ride and a great deal of fun.” (Lydia)

May

The Evening Hero by Marie Myung-Ok Lee: In the Millions’ own Lee’s long-awaited new novel, a Korean immigrant pursuing the American Dream must confront the secrets of the past or risk watching the world he’s worked so hard to build come crumbling down. Dr. Yungman Kwak has worked as an obstetrician for 50 years, treating the women and babies of the small rural Minnesota town he chose to call home. But a letter arrives, and Yungman faces a choice—he must choose to hide his secret from his family and friends or confess and potentially lose all he’s built. The Evening Hero is a moving and darkly comic novel about a man looking back at his life and asking big questions about what is lost and what is gained when immigrants leave home for new shores. (Adam P.)

Either/Or by Elif Batuman: This novel is a continuation of the story of Selin, Batuman’s protagonist from The Idiot, which was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in the UK. It’s 1996 and Selin, the one in her family who got to go to Harvard, is now in her sophomore year. Guided by her literature syllabus and more worldly peers, she tries to figure out how to live a worthwhile life. (Claire)

Essential Labor by Angeles Garbes: Garbes wrote a modern classic of pregnancy with Like a Mother, and she follows that with another major contribution to the nonfiction of caregiving and childrearing, with a challenge to reshape the way we think about caregiving and family life in a book that seamlessly weaves together memoir and cultural analysis. This is an incredibly resonant book in pandemic year three, a book I wish we’d had long ago, and a book I’ll never forget. (Lydia)

The Immortal King Rao by Vauhini Vara: A sweeping, biting, elegant book for our time that follows the imprisoned daughter of a tech mogul who began life as a Dalit worker on an Indian coconut plantation before launching an invention that would reorganize the world and profoundly upend his place in it. A novel that explores tech, race, class, politics, and power, from a journalist who was previously the Wall Street Journal’s first Facebook beat reporter, The Immortal King Rao is also one of the only American novels by a Dalit author. R.O. Kwon calls it “Utterly, thrillingly brilliant. From the first unforgettable page to the last, The Immortal King Rao is a form-inventing, genre-exploding triumph.” (Lydia)

Trust by Hernan Diaz: The Pulitzer Prize finalist follows up his brilliant western In the Distance with Trust, a story of the Wall Street tycoons of the Gilded Age with a reality-bending literary mystery at its heart, in keeping with the postmodern historical beauties of In the Distance. Of the novel, Rachel Kushner said, “Its plotlines are as etched and surreal as Art Deco geometry, while inside that architecture are people who feel appallingly real. This novel is very classical and very original: Balzac would be proud, but so would Borges.” (Lydia)

This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub: What would you do if you could travel back to 1996? Personally, I would go to the book launch of The Secret History and ask Donna Tartt for style advice. But Alice Stern, heroine of Emma Straub’s fifth novel, has a much better mission: make the most of her time with her eccentric novelist father, Leonard. If you think you know the rules of time travel, think again and pick up this thoughtful, insightful exploration of the complicated connections between parents and children. (Kate)

Valleyesque by Fernando Flores: The followup to Flores’s acclaimed Tears of the Truffle Pig, this collection of stories from the U.S.-Mexico border gathers up tales as disparate as a muralist taken on a journey by a Zapata tee-shirt, or a young Lee Harvey Oswald. Matt Bell calls Flores “one of the rare truly singular fiction writers of our time, and his stories are endlessly innovative, surprising, and fun.” (Lydia)

Circa by Devi S. Laskar: The second novel from poet, photographer and author Laskar, Circa follows Heera and her friend Marco as they try to navigate their changed lives and find a way back to each other after their youthful rebellion leads to a sudden and devastating loss. Heera also must balance the expectations of her Bengali-American family with her own desire for freedom and the life in New York she imagined she’d lead before the night everything went wrong. As lyrical and rebellious as Heera herself, Circa comes highly recommended for fans of Claire Messud’s Burning Girl. (Kaulie)

Acts of Service by Lillian Fishman: When young, queer Brooklynite Eve posts nude photos of herself one night, she sets off a series of events leading her to Olivia and Nathan—and soon the three begin an affair that’s equal parts thrilling and distressing. Raven Leilani writes: “Acts of Service doesn’t kiss you first; it gets right to it—depicting the liquid frequencies of need and power with a thoughtful, savage eye.” (Carolyn)

Little Rabbit by Alyssa Songsiridej: A chance meeting at an artists’ residency leads a young, queer artist headlong into a sexual affair with an older, established choreographer. This sensual and gripping coming-of-age explores desire, art, obsession, and selfhood. Ling Ma calls the debut “a darkly sensuous tale of awakening that will quietly engulf you in flames.” (Carolyn)

Son of Elsewhere: A Memoir in Pieces by Elamin Abdelmahmoud: Abdelmahmoud is a culture writer for BuzzFeed and host of the CBC’s podcast Pop Chat. This collection weaves together a story of his life, from arriving in Canada at age 12 from Sudan and his teenage years in a homogenous city to learning to become, “every liberal white dad’s favorite person in the room.” The essays reflect on how experiences and environment shape our identity, covering everything from The O.C., to wrestling, and the long shadow of colonialism. As the publisher says, it’s a book, “with the perfect balance of relatable humor and intellectual ferocity.” (Claire)

Companion Piece by Ali Smith: The title says it all: Smith’s latest novel is a companion piece to her beloved seasonal quartet. As with the previous titles in the collection, it is a time-sensitive work that attempts to capture the way we live now. (Hannah)

The Year of the Horses by Courtney Maum: The author of Costalegre and I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You returns with a touching and insightful memoir of depression and healing. Maum has a privileged past, a mortgage, a husband, a healthy child, and a published novel—she feels no right to her depression, but that does not make it go away. When other treatments fail, she returns to her childhood passion of horseback riding. Maum alternates timelines and braids historical portraits of women and horses into her own story in The Year of the Horses, an inspiring paean to the power of animals that Lisa Taddeo calls “A memoir of power and beauty and pain that moves across the world like the beautiful horses that carry it.” (Adam P.)

We Do What We Do in the Dark by Michelle Hart: In the midst of grieving her mother, college freshman Mallory strikes up an all-consuming affair with an older, married, and enigmatic woman. Unsure of who she is and what she wants, Mallory must come to terms with how the relationship upended her life and who she wants to become in the aftermath. About Hart’s debut novel, Meg Wolitzer says: “Michelle Hart’s first novel is a haunting study of solitude and connection, moving and memorable.” (Carolyn)

Boys Come First by Aaron Foley: Only a year away from its 10th anniversary, Cleveland-based independent publisher Belt has compelled writing mavens in New York to finally pay attention to the rich literary culture of the industrial Midwest. Long focusing on new nonfiction, reprintings of classic rust belt titles and their celebrated city anthologies, Belt’s first novel is Foley’s Boys Come First, an account of three Black gay friends in Detroit that upends popular expectations about race, class, gender, sexuality, and masculinity. Foley’s novel evokes Brian Broome in its hilarious and very millennial perspective on what it means to be a 30-something as the first quarter of this century comes to a close, a love letter to gay Michigan, which receives less attention than New York, San Francisco, or Atlanta. But as Foley writes in his Detroit Neighborhood Guidebook, it’s still a “city that works hard, gets tired, gets defeated, and picks itself up every day and keeps going.” (Ed)

The Shore by Katie Runde: Life in a vacation town isn’t all sunshine and sea breezes; when the last tourists leave and the weather turns sour, locals and longtimers are forced to reckon with their families, choices, and secrets. In Runde’s debut novel, The Shore, a mother and her two daughters, year-round residents of idyllic Seaside, face enormous tragedy and change. Rather than fall to pieces, they react in erratic ways—one daughter pretends to be a middle-aged mother on an Internet forum, for example—but they never really lose each other. Our own Lydia Kiesling calls The Shore “a delicious page turner” and “a deft, deep meditation on illness, grief, and loss…a lovely, expansive look at the hard work of caregiving, saying goodbye, and keeping on.” (Kaulie)

Rainbow Rainbow by Lydia Conklin: Stegner Fellow Conklin publishes her debut collection of short stories, each following queer, trans, and gender non-conforming characters as they navigate life and look for connection. Lorrie Moore said of the book, “Lydia Conklin writes with humor and tenderness about the way we love now. Rainbow Rainbow is an impressive and beautiful collection.” (Lydia)

We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies by Tsering Yangzom Lama: A debut following a family over 50 years of exile and migration, from Tibet to Canada. Maaza Mengiste says of the book, “We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies showcases a writer of rare talent and uncompromising vision. In these pages that speak of exile and loss, of longing and sorrow, Tsering Lama also manages to remind us–with startling beauty and compassion – how much can still survive. This novel is a testament to a people’s resolve to love, no matter what. A triumph.” (Lydia)

Linea Nigra: An Essay on Pregnancy and Earthquakes by Jazmina Barrera, translated by Christina MacSweeney: Part notebook, part audiovisual anthology, Barrera’s hybrid essay Linea Nigra is not your typical book on motherhood. Instead it’s a collection that serves as representation—a comprehensive “compilation of images, citations, and references from women who have conceived of pregnancy, birth, and lactation through art and literature.” (Nick M.)

Chorus by Rebecca Kauffman: Seven siblings remember two pivotal events in their collective life, all their own way: the death of their mother and one sibling’s teen pregnancy. The novel explores the fallout from these events in what Publishers Weekly, in a starred review, calls “a superbly executed saga.” (Lydia)

Neruda on the Park by Cleyvis Natera: A novel following a Dominican family in New York City as they face family drama, gentrification, and family secrets. Naima Coster calls the novel “The rare book that manages to be chilling, fun, and profound all at once.” (Lydia)

The Red Arrow by William Brewer: A debt-saddled writer down on his luck ghostwrites a doctor’s memoir until the doctor disappears, leaving him in limbo and sending him toward an experimental psychedelic treatment. Charles Yu writes, “The Red Arrow is bold and thrilling—a work of unbridled imagination. Unlike anything I’ve read in a long time.” (Lydia)

A Down Home Meal for These Difficult Times by Meron Hadero: Winner of the 2021 AKO Caine Prize for African Writing and the Restless Books Prize, Hadero’s collection of short stories traces borders and migrations. In the citation, the Restless Books Prize judges write, “With enormous power and wonderful subtlety, Meron Hadero grants us access to the inner worlds of people at moments when everything is at risk.” (Lydia)

Mirror Made of Rain by Naheed Phiroze Patel: When Noomi breaks out of her privileged circle of partying to forge her own path as a journalist in Mumbai, she falls in love with a man and then finds the marriage plot leads her to the same self-destructive impulses and familial patterns she fought to avoid. Brandon Taylor says of the novel, “Everything feels so lush and gorgeous as the story at the heart of the novel emerges and eventually coheres to devastating effect.” (Lydia)

Be Brief and Tell Them Everything by Brad Listi: Creating art is hard in a vacuum, but it’s never created in a vacuum. Artists have lives, writers have families, and each of us is simply trying our best. In this dark, touching, and often funny work of autofiction, Listi examines the grandeur and minutiae of work, parenting, and let’s face it, simply existing. (Nick M.)

June

Nighcrawling by Leila Mottley: The debut novel by the 2018 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate follows a young woman trying to support herself, her brother, and an abandoned neighbor child in gentrifying Oakland, turning to nightcrawling prostitution as a job until she becomes a key witness in a police scandal. Ayana Mathis says of the novel, “Leila Mottley’s commanding debut, inspired by the life events of one woman’s struggle for body and soul against crushing exploitation, is fierce and devastating, rendered with electrifying urgency by this colossal young talent.” (Lydia)

Greenland by David Santos Donaldson: A feverish novel within a novel taking the outer frame of a writer on a three-week deadline to write an entire book from the perspective of Mohammed el Adl, E.M. Forster’s Egyptian lover who once spent six months in a jail cell, an intense and frenetic process that eventually has him merging his own memories with those of his subject, blending past and present. (Lydia)

Blithedale Canyon by Michael Bourne: The Millions’ own Michael Bourne publishes his debut novel, Blithedale Canyon, following the down-and-out Trent Wolfer who comes out of rehab and lands in his hometown near the San Francisco Bay, running into a beautiful woman he knew long ago, now a single mother of two. The novel chronicles the pull of home and the way a place changes over time, and it paints a portrait of a man trying very hard to get something right. Teddy Wayne says the novel “is an ode to the pleasures and pains of the return to the familiar, to the gravitational pulls of addiction, old friends, and Springsteen on a car stereo, but mostly of home. Blithedale Canyon is a tenderly nostalgic and page-turning portrait of a man who can’t control his worst impulses, written by an author in full command of his own tools.” (Lydia)

The Invisible Things by Mat Johnson: While orbiting Europa, a moon of Jupiter, the crew of The Delaney discovers a domed city on the surface that upon closer inspection turns out to be “a funhouse mirror of the United States” (Penguin Random House). And the inhabitants are all alien abductees. And they’re holding elections. And their politics are polarized, their environment is scaring them, and there’s an emerging NIMBY movement. Maybe, the delocalized locals conclude, it’s time to move. Sounds like another trippy ride through the mechanics of survival from this modern master of allegory. (Il’ja)

Lapvona by Ottessa Moshfegh: Since her debut in 2015 with the disquieting but darkly funny novel Eileen, Moshfegh has proven herself to be one of the most immaculate crafters of disturbed, unreliable first-person narrators. From the nameless performance artist in My Year of Rest and Relaxation who drugs herself into a coma to the disturbed widow investigating a murder that may or may not have happened in Death in Her Hands, Moshfegh’s voice is part Dostoevsky, part Poe, and entirely her own, as filtered through a jaundiced millennial sensibility. If anybody would be apt to get into the weird head space of our current moment it’s Moshfegh, who in her new novel, Lapvona, written during Covid lockdown, ironically imagines a medieval setting of depraved feudal lords and witchy, cunning women. Fantasy might seem more the realm of a Robert Jordan than Moshfegh (the title of the book is the imagined kingdom where the narrative is set), but as the author told Vox, “In a time where there has been so much trauma and loss…Humanity finds purpose where it can. It’s like flowers growing out of the cracks in the sidewalk.” (Ed)

Avalon by Nell Zink: One of our most original novelists returns with an updated Cinderella story. Bran’s Southern California upbringing is anything but traditional. After her mother joins a Buddhist colony, Bran is raised on Bourdon Farms—a plant nursery that doubles as a cover for a biker gang. She spends her days tending plants, slogging through high school, and imagining what life could be if she were born to a different family. And then she meets Peter—a charming, troubled college student from the East Coast—who launches his teaching career by initiating her into the world of art. The two begin a seemingly doomed long-distance relationship, and Bran searches for meaning in her own surroundings—she knows how to survive, now she must learn how to live. (Adam P.)

Learning to Talk by Hilary Mantel: For those whose only familiarity with two time Booker Prize winning author Mantel is her crystalline trilogy of historical fiction based on the life of Henry VIII’s counselor Thomas Cromwell—Wolf Hall, Bring up the Bodies, and The Mirror & the Light—the rerelease of her 2003 collection of short stories Learning to Talk might come as a surprise. Learning to Talk features no palace intrigue, no Renaissance poets, or Reformation disputes, but it’s, if anything, more representative of Mantel’s oeuvre. These interconnected short stories take place in a nameless, northern English hamlet that’s “scoured by bitter winds and rough gossip tongues.” Mantel eyes provincial culture and dashed dreams, the hardship of work and the inscrutability of families. If the Cromwell trilogy shares anything with these stories, it’s a sense of what it means to come from nowhere and wish you were from anywhere else. (Ed)

Raising Raffi by Keith Gessen: As a mother of three kids, I’ve read Gessen’s essays about parenting his son Raffi with interest, in part because Raffi sounds a lot like my oldest son: at once brilliant and completely maddening. In an essay for The New York Times Magazine, Gessen writes about how Raffi doesn’t like sports, and for N+1 (the magazine he co-founded), he writes about choosing a school for Raffi. I was pleased to learn Gessen has penned an entire book about life as a father, charting the first five years with his son. As a novelist, translator, and journalist, Gessen is sure to be thoughtful about an experience that so many have delighted in and grappled with. (Edan)

The Twilight World by Werner Herzog, translated by Michael Hofmann: For those who thought Werner Herzog made movies, that’s likely still true. But now Herzog, 79, is sending out his first novel. Penguin Random House says it “tells the incredible story of Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese soldier who defended a small island in the Philippines for twenty-nine years after the end of World War II.” I don’t know what you could possibly expect me to add to that. (Il’ja)

The Angel of Rome by Jess Walter: We all live like celebrities now: we polish up our social media profiles, edit our identities, and keep in the closet the aspects of ourselves that we don’t want to show others. However, we seem to find it ever more difficult to understand who we are and where we belong. The Angel of Rome is a stunning story collection in which all the characters try to reconcile with those contemporary paradoxes. An adolescent girl scrambles to live up to the image of her glamorous, absent mother. An elderly couple has to cope with a fiction writer who fabricates tales out of their lives. A movie star in recovery has a one-night stand with the world’s most scathing critic. Walter’s signature witty humor lights up those darkest sides of humanity. These stories are funny, provocative, inspirational. After reading the collection, your understanding of the perhaps overused phrase “reinventing oneself” may never be the same. (Jianan)

X by Davey Davis: Davis follows up their fantastic debut, The Earthquake Room, with a novel about politics, sex, identify, and power that follows Lee, a sadist whose brief encounter with the dominating X leads to a race against the clock to keep X from being swept up in a government removal program for “undesirables.” Torrey Peters raved: “Davis is an astounding writer, seemingly unconstrained by taboos and waist deep down in the maw of life, examining what the rest of us shy away from—never more than here in X, the rare book that can thrill and entertain, while simultaneously causing you to question everything about how you’re living.” (Lydia)

Mother Ocean Father Nation by Nishant Batsha: Batsha’s debut novel explores the fallout of the colonial system that brought workers from India to the Pacific, and the fractures that occurred during the subsequent era of independence and change, following a young woman from her island home to the San Francisco Bay. Amitav Ghosh called it “A moving saga about the experience of Indian migrants in the South Pacific.” (Lydia)

Hurricane Girl by Marcy Dermansky: In the author’s fifth novel, a modern day masterpiece of swimming pools, trademark turkey sandwiches, climate change, Ashley Judd, and an ill-advised romance, an unhinged narrator contemplates her future after losing her home to a hurricane. (Marie)

More Than You’ll Ever Know by Katie Gutierrez: Gutierrez’s debut is a stylish literary thriller about a true-crime aficionado wrapped up in a case where a woman married two men, and one husband murdered the other. Julia Fine says of the novel, “As addictive as a real-life whodunnit, with thoughtful attention to the ethical implications of the true crime genre, More Than You’ll Ever Know explores how we entangle ourselves one choice at a time, and what it costs to unravel the damage.” (Lydia)

Nuclear Family by Joseph Han: Set in the days leading up to the 2018 false missile launch alarm, Han’s novel follows a Korean family in Hawaii, franchising their lunch restaurant and watching with alarm as their son is caught trying to sneak across the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Bryan Washington says of the novel: “Joseph Han’s novel is heartfelt and propulsive, immersing readers in a narrative whose questions of family, borders, queerness, and forgiveness constantly surprises and astounds.” (Lydia)

Thrust by Lidia Yuknavitch: The author of such dystopian fiction as The Book of Joan, The Small Backs of Children, and the memoir The Chronology of Water, Yuknavitch has an unmatched gift for capturing stories of people on the margins—vulnerable humans leading lives of challenge and transcendence. In this novel, she offers the story of Laisvė, a motherless girl from the late 21st century who is learning her power as a carrier, a person who can harness the power of meaningful objects to carry her through time. (Marie)

The Kingdom of Sand by Andrew Holleran: The first novel in 13 years from the author of Dancer from the Dance, which was published in 1978 and called in Harper’s “An astonishingly beautiful book. The best gay novel written by anyone of our generation.” The new novel follows a man as he watches the decline of a friend, reflecting on all the other loved ones he has lost in the years before. (Lydia)

Cult Classic by Sloane Crosley: On a quiet night out with friends, Lola, a soon-to-be-married New Yorker, ducks out for cigarettes and runs into an old boyfriend. And then another. And … another. What at first seems like mere coincidence turns into something far stranger as Lola must contend not only with the viability of her current relationship but the fact that her former boss, a magazine editor-turned-guru, might have an unhealthy investment in the outcome. “Cult Classic is a romantic comedy set in a new age mind control cult on the Lower East Side,” Crosley told Entertainment Weekly. “My hope is that what sets it apart from every other romantic comedy set in a new age mind control cult on the Lower East Side is that it’s also a mystery.” (Michael)

Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta by James Hannaham: The latest from the PEN/Faulkner winner (for the novel Delicious Foods) introduces us to Carlotta Mercedes, a trans woman who wins parole after more than 20 years in prison. Since Carlotta transitioned during her sentence, her family and friends have never known her as a trans woman, and she struggles to reconnect with her son and the rest of her family. All the while, she’s forced to comply with onerous parole restrictions, which make it nearly impossible for her to stay out of jail. (Thom)

Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine: A multigenerational western saga about a “wildly entertaining and complex family,” Fajardo-Anstine’s debut novel has been described as a “cinematic, epic story” written in “lyrical, unpretentious prose.” Set in 1930s Denver, the novel is centered around Luz Lopez, who becomes the seer and keeper of her Latinx and Indigenous family stories. (Sonya)

Dele Weds Destiny by Tomi Obaro: Obaro’s debut follows three friends at university in Nigeria who reunite decades later in Lagos, and find out where life has taken them and what it still has in store. Rumaan Alam said of the novel: “This enchanting debut is an affectionate portrait of a three women at middle age, cannily exploring the ways the self is forged in youth. With an admirably light touch, Tomi Obaro documents how class, race, faith, and power define the lives of women in Nigeria and America, past and present.” (Lydia)

The Seaplane on Final Approach by Rebecca Rukeyser: A woman in pursuit of sex and adventure goes to work in a tourist lodge on a remote Alaskan island. What could go wrong?! Carmen Maria Machado said of the book: “I didn’t realize how much I needed this lusty, funny, heartbreaking book until I devoured it in a single sitting. The Seaplane on Final Approach is a novel set at the edge of the world, about people who belong everywhere and nowhere and the vast, unknowable wilderness of desire. A sharp, flawless debut.” (Lydia)

The Midcoast by Adam White: Ed Thatch, a Maine man from a lobstering family, strikes it big, and his old high school acquaintance Adam is curious about his immense success when he attends a party at his mansion. Like any guest worth his salt, Adam snoops around the house and comes up with quite the catch: a file with disturbing images of a burned body. Channeling Balzac (“Behind every great fortune is an equally great crime”), White, a high school teacher and lacrosse coach, dredges up the long-submerged origins of the Thatch money in this dark social portrait of a small Maine town. (Matt)

Tracy Flick Can’t Win by Tom Perrotta: Yes, that Tracy Flick. The protagonist of Perrotta’s beloved 1998 novel Election, the one Reese Witherspoon played in the movie. She’s back, now a single mom working as an assistant principal at a high school in the New Jersey suburbs. Deep in the mid-career blues, she learns that her school’s principal is planning to retire, give Tracy a shot at the top spot. But this is Tracy Flick, so nothing is ever easy. (Michael)

A Trail of Crab Tracks by Patrice Nganang, translated by Amy B. Reid: In the third installment of Patrice Nganang’s historical fiction trilogy, a father “chronicles the fight for Cameroonian independence through the story of a father’s love for his family and his land,” and in the process reveals to his son “the long-silenced secrets of his former life.” (Nick M.)

Brown Neon by Raquel Gutierrez: Ranging from memoir to criticism to travelogue, the essays in Gutierrez’s collection serve as “meditation[s] on southwestern terrains, intergenerational queer dynamics, and surveilled Brown artists that crosses physical and conceptual borders.” By exploring the places where stories are set, Gutierrez reveals more about who’s in them. (Nick M.)

Counterfeit by Kirstin Chen: Chen follows up Bury What We Cannot Take with a novel that takes on fashion, crime, and friendship through the story of two women who create a global empire out of a counterfeit handbag scheme. As someone who has sported a fake bag or two in her time, I cannot wait for this novel that sparked a television bidding war and which Claire Messud called “Sly and thoroughly compelling.” (Lydia)

Ghost Lover by Lisa Taddeo: The first short story collection by the celebrated author of Three Women features nine arresting stories about love, desire, and the modern attention economy, among other things. In the titular story, a mysterious group of cool, beautiful girls manage a dating service called Ghost Lover, which comes up with pre-written texts for people to send to their love interests. In another, three women at a ritzy Los Angeles fundraiser compete to win the attention of a feted guest of honor. As is the case with Taddeo’s most famous work, readers can expect a nuanced portrayal of desire. (Thom)

Nevada by Imogen Binnie: Binnie’s 2013 debut, a queer and trans literary classic, gets a deluxe reissue from MCD this year. The novel—a finalist for the 2013 Lambda Literary Award for Trans Fiction—tells the story of Maria, who’s trying to uphold her punk values while living as a young trans person with no money. When her girlfriend breaks up with her, Maria steals her car and drives west, eventually meeting a new friend named James, who reminds her of her younger self. As Maria assigns herself the tentative position of trans role model, she has to grapple with her place in the world—and what she wants. (Thom)

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