May Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

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We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semi–annual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around). Here’s what we’re looking out for this month. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!

Want to know about the books you might have missed? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.

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.)

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt: In the midst of compounding grief, 70-year-old Tova Sullivan takes a night shift custodial job at the local aquarium. In between mopping the floors and wiping glass enclosures, she meets Marcellus, a giant Pacific octopus, who she forms an unorthodox but remarkable friendship with. Their relationship becomes interwoven with the mystery at the heart of Tova’s life: the disappearance of Erik, her 18-year-old son, thirty years earlier. Kevin Wilson writes: “Shelby Van Pelt makes good on this wild conceit, somehow making me love a misanthropic octopus, but her writing is so finely tuned that it’s a natural element of a larger story about family, about loss, and the electricity of something found.” (Carolyn)

Patience is a Subtle Thief by Abi Ishola-Ayodeji: In Ishola-Ayodeji’s coming-of-age debut, 18-year-old Patience Adewale is the eldest daughter of her politically powerful and influential father, Chief Kolade Adewale. After her mother’s mysterious disappearance years earlier, Patience is determined to figure out what happened to her. When Patience leaves for university in Lagos, she reunites with her cousin Kash and becomes increasingly enmeshed in her petty criminal activities. Kirkus’ starred review calls the novel “a poignant, revealing, and rueful tale of how much the political can affect the personal.”(Carolyn)

Holding Her Breath by Eimear Ryan: With what Marie-Helene Bertino calls “patient and searing storytelling,” Banshee Press co-founder Ryan’s debut novel follows Beth Crowe, a competitive collegiate swimmer who begins to redefine herself after a breakdown. As the granddaughter of Benjamin Crowe, a famous poet who died by suicide at 43, Beth must navigate the attention of the campus’ literature department and Justin, a flirtatous postdoc lecturer, who may have ulterior motives. As she navigates a secret affair, an identity crisis, and unearthed familial secrets, Beth must come to terms with who she is and who she could be. (Carolyn)

The Premonitions Bureau by Sam Knight: New Yorker staff writer Knight writes about the 1960s “premonitions bureau,” which was a joint venture between psychiatrist John Barker and science reporter Peter Fairley at the Evening Standard in London. The two set out to collect dreams, visions, and inklings from the public in order to better understand the scientific probability of correct premonitions. Early praise for Knight’s first book include Patrick Radden Keefe (“an enveloping, unsettling book, gorgeously written and profound”); Hilary Mantel (“beautifully ordered, humane, capacious”); and Robert Kolker (“prepare for amazements on nearly every page”). (Carolyn)

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)

How to Be Eaten by Maria Adelmann: Adelmann’s (Girls of a Certain Age) feminist debut novel takes the classic fairy tales of our youth and turns them on their head. Brought together by experimental group therapy, five women begin to process the trauma undergone during each retelling—and consider why they really have been brought together. About the darkly whimsical novel, Rachel Yoder says, ““Even better than it sounds, How to be Eaten presents vividly real women haunted by their fairy tale pasts in this deliciously angsty debut. Pure fun pulsing with a dark  heart.” (Carolyn)

Moldy Strawberries by Caio Fernando Abreu (translated by Bruna Dantas Lobato): A collection of eighteen stories from one of Brazil’s most influential writers appears in English for the first time. The late Abreu explores the lengths people will go to find connections, stifle loneliness, live wildly, and spite death in the face of the AIDS epidemic and a military dictatorship in 1970s and 1980s Brazil. Lucy Ives says: “Lending an almost painfully humane eye and ear to his characters, Caio Fernando Abreu constructs scenarios of staggering psychological depth from everyday gestures and occasions.” (Carolyn)

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)

The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas: Set after the Mexican War of Independence, recently orphaned and destitute Beatriz accepts the proposal of Don Rodolfo Solórzano and goes to live on his estate, Hacienda San Isidro. She quickly begins to hear strange voices, see things, and feel as if she’s being watched, but her concerns are ignored by the staff. Beatriz knows the hacienda is not what it appears and that this dream home is actually a nightmare. In their starred review, Publishers Weekly calls the debut “Mexican Gothic meets Rebecca,” and says that “Cañas clearly knows the genre, alternately deploying and subverting haunted house tropes. The result is a brilliant contribution to the new wave of postcolonial Gothics.” (Carolyn)

Saint Sebastian’s Abyss by Mark Haber: The unnamed narrator of Haber’s newest finds himself on a flight to Germany to be beside Schmidt, his estranged best friend who is on his deathbed. Thinking back on their decades-long friendship, he remembers how they were brought together—and then torn apart—by their mutual obsession and fascination with Dutch Renaissance painter Count Hugo Beckenbauer’s masterpiece, Saint Sebastian’s Abyss. Hernan Diaz says, “Aesthetic value, history, institutions, criticism, authorship, material conditions—these are only some of the terms in the critical constellation that emerges in Haber’s beautiful, elegant novel.” (Carolyn)

Constellations of Eve by Abbigail Nguyen Rosewood: Rosewood’s experimental literary triptych offers three different versions of one couple’s relationship. The narrative variations build and converge to show the ways Eve and Liam remain in each other’s orbit despite different timelines, partners, and life decisions; the novel explores the simultaneous pain and pleasure found in the lives we choose in relation to the ones we don’t. Binnie Kirshenbaum writes: “With each discrete episode chronicling Eve’s life, Rosewood unflinchingly exposes the disturbing complexities, conundrums, and fears that accompany love, marriage, and motherhood.” (Carolyn)

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)

Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance by Alison Espach: Espach (The Adults) returns with a novel about a woman thinking back on the tragic summer that changed her life forever. Moving in and out of time, Sally remembers her older sister Kathy, who died tragically as a teenager, and reunites with Billy, her sister’s ex boyfriend, who she should avoid but is drawn to nevertheless. About the novel, our own Emily St. John Mandel says: “Espach is an immensely talented writer, and her prose unfolds with a devastating lightness of touch. This novel is deeply moving, always excellent, and often unexpectedly funny.” (Carolyn)

Ill Feelings by Alice Hattrick: Hattrick’s debut book chronicles the illness they share with their mother—ME, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome—by blending memoir, history, biography, and literary nonfiction. Exploring case studies, diaries, and letters from ill women and about ill women, Hattrick reveals how sickness and illness narratives defy temporal, genre, and bodily definitions. “Ill Feelings defies neat conclusions as well as easy categorization of the book itself, so that attempting to describe it here seems like misdiagnosis, and to try and name the paradox at its heart seems like a betrayal of its rewards,” writes Olivia Sudjic. “But the thrill of Alice Hattrick’s writing stems from its struggle to be free of its constraints, communicating with unspooling fury the mutability of lived experience rather than presuming to define it.” (Carolyn)

Six Days in Rome by Francesca Giacco: Giacco’s debut novel follows Emilia, a heartbroken American artist, wandering the sights and streets of Rome looking for a way to escape her present and make sense of her past. When she meets American expat John, she begins to rebuild herself and break free from the men who always seemed to overshadow her. Paul Beatty writes: “An ode to funky wine labels, good taste, and true inspiration, Francesca Giacco has penned a stunningly cool and stylish debut.” (Carolyn)

I Who Have Never Known Men by Jacqueline Harpman (translated by Ros Schwartz): With a new afterword by Sophie Mackintosh, Harpman’s post-apocalyptic feminist novel is back in print for the first time since 1997. Living in an underground cage, 39 women and one girl live alone with few memories of the past, no sense of time or space, and uncertainty and fear for the future. About the first edition, Le Nouvel Observateur wrote: “The delirium of I Who Have Never Known Men suggests the work of a feminine Kafka.” (Carolyn)

Jameela Green Ruins Everything by Zarqa Nawaz: Writer and filmmaker Nawaz’s (Laughing All the Way to the Mosque) debut novel follows the eponymous Jameela on her quest to become a New York Times bestselling author. When her imam chides her shallow desires, he challenges her to perform a good deed—which unintentionally leads her into an absurd and dangerous scheme involving terrorists and the CIA. Canadian magazine Maclean’s says, “Nawaz’s understated humour shines in this lovely comedy of errors—and faith.” (Carolyn)

Teenager by Bud Smith: Sightseeing, car stealing, and run-ins with townies litter the pages of Smith’s (Double Bird) debut novel. When lovesick teenagers Kody and Tella learn that Tella’s parents are sending her to Rome (and away from Kody), the two teens run away from their homes in New Jersey and toward the open road. Publishers Weekly writes: “Evokes the surreal contrasts of the American landscape in smart, jittery prose. Smith makes this a trip worth taking.” (Carolyn)

Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov (translated by Angela Rodel): Award-winning Bulgarian author Gospodinov’s newest novel follows an unnamed narrator (an amateur novelist) and ageriatric psychiatrist as they work together to build a new therapy technique focused (perhaps dangerously) on the power of nostalgia. Claire Messud writes: “In equal measure playful and profound, Georgi Gospodinov’s Time Shelter renders the philosophical mesmerizing, and the everyday extraordinary. I loved it.” (Carolyn)

You Have a Friend in 10A by Maggie Shipstead: A decades-long love affair takes place on a ranch in Montana. A former child star leaves her life inside a cult. A young woman searches for her lost lover in a desolate ski resort. Booker Prize nominee Shipstead (The Great Circle) returns with her sweeping debut story collection—which Publishers Weekly’s starred review calls “daring, wide-ranging” and “formally inventive and emotionally complex.” (Carolyn)

Family Album by Gabriela Alemán (translated by Dick Cluster and Mary Ellen Fieweger): In a follow-up to her English language debut Poso Wells, Alemán’s eight-story collection explores present-day South America by blending forgotten history, pop culture, folklore, and cultural heritage. Pilar Quintana says: “Gabriela Alemán’s stories unravel a rich and intriguing universe in which nothing, and no one, is what it seems.” (Carolyn)

You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi: National Book Award finalist Emezi (The Death of Vivek Oji) tackles a new genre in their romance debut. Five years after the love of her life died, Feyi is ready to date again. After she meets Nasir at a party, they begin a whirlwind summer romance full of wonder and possibility except for one little complication: she can’t stop thinking about Nasir’s father. (Carolyn)

Ten Essential Fictional Frenemies

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“For our purposes, suffice it to say that centuries of limited access to power have made [women] experts in relationship-building.” These are lines from Esther Perel’s landmark book, Mating in Captivity, but you could almost imagine them opening a Jane Austen novel. For one, Perel’s cadence calls to mind Austen’s “It is a truth universally acknowledged…” but also: Austen’s heroines are largely at the mercy of the landholding male characters, and indeed, if they are to wield any influence at all, they must—at the very least—learn to play nicely with others.
I was thinking a lot about this directive to “play nice,” as well as Austen’s books, when I was writing Wildcat—a novel propelled via the dynamic of two friends who fall out with one another. The word “frenemy” didn’t exist during Austen’s day, but I’m sure she would have understood the concept instantly.
It’s not as if men don’t have frenemies—I’m including one sort-of example below—it’s just that historically, they haven’t needed a friend as much as women have. And here, I think, is where things become even more interesting. Because sometimes the fact that we need a friend to access a, b, or c, is enough in itself to harbor resentment. But then other times, I think a frenemy can be born out of a true, deep connection with another human. You love this person although it’s not romantic. And then when this person hurts you, either intentionally or otherwise, us modern-day humans haven’t quite figured out the protocol. There is no “Frenemies” section in the greeting card aisle at CVS. But here are 10 novels that can maybe make us feel a bit more understood.
1. Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney

Let’s start lightly. In Rooney’s first book, we watch the tension unfold as our narrator, Frances, navigates both a fake friendship with an older, richer, much more professionally established woman with a hot, neglected husband as well as a dear friendship with a woman named Bobbi, who is also an ex-lover.

2. Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

I loved this prickly, confusing book. Are Sarah and Karen frenemies or are they the same person, split into two different characters? I don’t know! But the book is worth mentioning here for one of the best lines about the danger of letting someone in close; when Karen and Sarah lock eyes early in the morning before school, Choi writes: “And right away her gaze went hard with the anger we always feel at the person who spoils our idea of ourself.” Oof.

3. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Written in 1905, this book felt as fresh as ever when I read it in 2021. The stakes couldn’t be higher for our protagonist, Lily Bart, especially in terms of navigating one’s female friendships. Without financial independence, Lily needs to marry well to survive. Or at the very least, she needs to not piss off the rich women in her social circle.

4. Swing Time by Zadie Smith

To call the narrator’s childhood friend, Tracey, a frenemy feels like a slight, but at the same time, the sprawling friendship begs the question: when you know someone for long enough, aren’t they bound to become an enemy at some point or another? The girls first meet in a dance class and are drawn to each other immediately, only our narrator quickly realizes that Tracey is talented and she is not. Decades later, Tracey is harassing the narrator’s dying mother, and while contemplating a response, our narrator declares: “The power she has over me is the same as it has always been, judgment, and it goes beyond words.”

5. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Similarly to Swing Time, it feels almost wrong to refer to the deep, long-suffering friendship between Ferrante’s Lenù and Lila as one of frenemies, but I blame this more on our culture’s way of flattening complicated relationships. Lenù and Lila love each other, hurt each other, and push each other to be better people than they would have been on their own.

6. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Just thinking about the arc of the relationship between Ishiguro’s Kathy and Ruth makes my heart ache. Ruth is essentially a classic mean girl, and yet because of the position she’s put in (I won’t spoil anything in case you haven’t read it), she’s also incredibly vulnerable and needy. She needs her best friend, Kathy, and Kathy, even though Ruth is not a great friend, needs her back.

7. Old School by Tobias Wolff

Maybe one definition of a frenemy could be: friends who compete against one another. Though there’s seemingly less emotional turmoil between these male characters than the female ones in the previous books mentioned, Wolff’s male narrator feels pretty uncomfortable when his story is chosen as a winner in a contest over his roommate’s. “Our balance was fragile enough anyway, with so many complications of ambition and envy and pretense.”

8. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Though the story is set in the early 1800s, the way that Caroline Bingley tacitly weaponizes her higher social status against our heroine Elizabeth Bennet feels timeless. And maybe we can’t even say that Lady Catherine de Bourgh is a friend of Elizabeth’s, but she does have her over to dinner before completely eviscerating her at a later date when she hears the rumor that Darcy is itching to propose (again). Ah, so good it hurts!

9. A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

Can you be frenemies and also relatives? I think so, and will use Forster’s Lucy Honeychurch and her older, often flabbergasted spinster cousin, Charlotte Bartlett, as an example. It’s one thing when Charlotte busts up Lucy’s kiss with George in an Italian meadow of violets, but then she gossips about it to a novelist, who puts the scene in her book!

10. Emma by Jane Austen

I saw Clueless so many times before I actually read Emma, so that Austen’s Emma and Harriet are seemingly entwined with Amy Heckerling’s Cher and Tai. Either way, this was the fictional friendship I thought of the most while writing Wildcat. Emma and Harriet’s friendship is born of a specific order. Emma is the leader and Harriet is a happy follower. This is fine at first, but what happens when the leader loses her footing and the follower loses a bit of belief?

Image Credit: OpenClipArt

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly.

Reading Behind Bars: Eleven Essential Books About Prison

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Would you like to visit the joint without being convicted? Check out what it’s like “Inside” while retaining the right to leave? Maybe sample incarceration across a few cultures and continents, various times and places? Well then, I have the travel package for you! Speaking as an ex-con who spent the years 2003 to 2014 in the prisons of New York state, I’ll be happy to book your tour from the czar’s dens of exile 200 years ago, to the mid-20th-century nightmares of Nazi-occupied Europe, to the hoosegows of today. And you don’t even need to commit five counts of armed robbery in the service of a heroin habit like I did to earn my sentence of “12 flat,” which is 10 years and three months with good behavior. All you need to do is read these 11 standout books about prison—which could easily have been twice as long—and you will have a good idea of the nature of incarceration. Be warned: It ain’t pretty.

1. The House of the Dead by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

This autobiographical novel published in 1862 describes the “life” of Russian convicts in a Siberian prison camp. The author of Crime & Punishment, a classic of moral relativism, served four years for his involvement in a politically liberal movement. His exile began after a “mock execution” followed by a commutation from the czar.

The novel describes the brutality of the guards, their wards, the civilian staff, and their commanders, basically positing that the very condition of incarceration brutalizes the human soul. Despite the setting being on the other side of the earth and the era being before the U.S. Civil War, I found the similarities between what I saw every day and what I read about to be shocking. I had an almost psychedelic moment when I read about an entrepreneurial Siberian convict carving a chess set to sell to the novel’s “gentleman” convict hero while the lifer in the cell next to mine was using spittle to make paper mâché chess pieces to sell to me. The more things change…

2. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

Also published in 1862, this giant of 19th-century novels employs Jean Valjean as its hero, an ex-con who served 19 years in the Bagne of Toulon for stealing a loaf of bread (he actually gets five for the carbs; the other 14 years are for all the escape attempts). This is a very poor characterization of prison inmates in my experience. I met not one prisoner who committed his crimes because of poverty, and while I cannot say for sure who was over-sentenced, since almost every prisoner I met except for myself was not in prison for the first time, it seems that second chances are available in our society. I’m on my third, at least.

The story of Jean Valjean is best at helping one understand incarceration when it is the story of #24601. The struggle I felt to remain Daniel Genis and not become #04A3328, the 3,328th prisoner to be registered at Downstate CF in the year 2004, was a very real one. Your identity is removed in every way, from your clothing, substituted with a uniform, to your hair, replaced by a shaven pate, to your very name, erased by a number. That is why prisoners tattoo themselves so much; an identity that can only be removed with a laser is a hurdle the guards cannot (yet) overcome. By the way, #24601 was chosen by Hugo because that date in the year 1801 is when the writer believed he had been conceived!

3. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and 4. The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Perhaps the grandaddy of all writing about “the Zone,” as it’s called in Russian, these works tell you just how great you have it anywhere else but Stalin’s Gulag. Solzhenitsyn wrote his classics after an eight-year stay of his own, which he barely survived. He was saved from labor, cold, and starvation when the authorities realized he could be used in the “Sharashka,” where captive scientists worked for the USSR, a tale further told in his book The First Circle.

One Day in the Life is a short and grasping introduction to sub-zero days spent working to bring down lumber while not allowed the use of a saw. It describes the hunger that leads men to cannibalism and suicide, and the injustice and caprice with which bad things happen to good men while the bad ones are rewarded. Reading the three volumes of The Gulag Archipelago is a bit like serving out a sentence yourself; the grim bleakness that stretches for thousands of murderous pages (with photographs!) is an experience that will never allow you to feel sorry for yourself again. And remember, to share this behemoth among the samizdat circle, dedicated typists would reproduce copies through entire nights of fevered work, when a neighbor’s phone call could result in their own sentence.

5. Papillon by Henri Charrière

This story of a French convicted murderer with a charming butterfly tattooed on his chest and a stainless steel plan d’evasion containing a diamond, a roll of francs, and a razor hidden in his rectum, made for a great film that I only saw years after reading the book in prison. Devil’s Island, where Capt. Alfred Dreyfus was held a generation before Papillon, was meant to be an escape-proof little hell-island off the northern coast of South America, but our hero just couldn’t be discouraged from trying.

In Charrière’s somewhat novelized memoir of life in this tropical inferno and his many escape attempts, we get a feel for the variety of men that wind up in such places, as well as those who work there. The descriptions of solitary confinement—where our protagonist spent years being attacked by huge biting centipedes and starved after his buddy the forger was caught sending him coconuts—is eye-opening. After reading about how skeletal prisoners were no longer able to walk after a multiyear stay in solitary, it is hard to reconcile with the obesity problem among America’s inmates.

6. In the Belly of the Beast by Jack Henry Abbott

This autobiography impressed Norman Mailer enough that he got the author, a convicted murderer, paroled (this was possible 40 years ago) as a literary genius, only for Abbot to murder the waiter at his celebratory dinner. (After all, the man had looked at him funny.)

A friend of mine lived in the cell in which Abbot hanged himself 20 years later, having squandered his bizarre opportunity for redemption. This friend had little interest in Abbot, as his book is despised by most modern prisoners. It describes the inmates of Maximum Security in N.Y. state about two generations ago, when having sex with “kids,” juvenile first-time convicts, was considered okay and even manly. It is no longer seen this way, and the impression which Belly of the Beast makes is one today’s prisoners cannot abide. I mostly didn’t like the last third of the book, which was all about the wonders of Marxism, but apparently Norman Mailer had different standards. This one is definitely a period piece, but the poor waiter’s end did not hurt its reputation.

7. Newjack by Ted Conover

A work of undercover reporting! Conover went through the Correctional Officer’s Academy in Albany in order to get a job at Sing Sing, where all of New York’s old-time gangsters used to take a seat in “Old Sparky,” the electric chair. Reading this memoir gives you a good look at the other side, the life of a prison guard. We don’t hear from this contingent too much, and it’s not a popular field. I think you’re better off telling someone you met in a bar that you are an ex-con or an escaped one than a C.O. Nevertheless, these men are doing a very hard job that can have lethal consequences, and we should not judge them all by the characterization we get from the screen. Like me, Conover met his share of sadists and guys just doing a job. The book is a bit skewed because the author really wanted to see the best in the prisoners, his wards, and I commend him for his Christmas kindnesses…I wish I had seen more of that over my 10 years in, but then again, Conover himself may have worn the uniform but wasn’t a real C.O.

By the way, you have to read this one in County. Upstate it’s censored. Not because of the dastardly truths the author reveals, but because he describes the Sing Sing locker room.

8. Faithful Ruslan by Georgi Vladimov

This more obscure Russian novel from 1975 also tells the story of a camp guard, only a canine one. Of course, it’s all a metaphor, and of course it must be read in the context of the Soviet Union, where millions of people were kept in prison. Ruslan is an abandoned camp dog, and the novel is the sad story of a character made obsolete. His end is a tearjerker…except that he spent his life wishing to bite into the completely innocent, cowering, and helpless prisoners he knew to despise, but not why. It’s a talented author who draws a tear for such a character!

I read Ruslan to better understand my overseers, when they were cruel or sharp with me, and to give them a human face. Of course, Ruslan was a dog. But he was a very Soviet dog and if you’ve also read The Heart of a Dog by Bulgakov, it’s a good pairing.

9. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

A wonderfully interesting tale of crime and punishment in India. Prison in the subcontinent is rough; you’ll have little to complain about once you read about the general acceptance of transparent worms in all available water. The drug abuse that led the author to his fate is a good meditation on the dangers of that path, if all the other “usual suspects” aren’t enough.

Shantaram is 1,000 pages of “Locked up Abroad”; it will terrify you and then mortify you, finally leaving you very grateful for your comfortable cot in a First World facility. Men in New York state prison wouldn’t eat bread that had fallen on the floor; in poorer nations you cannot even count on food without payment. This novel is colorful and exciting and autobiographical without being too much so.

10. Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi

Also called If This Is a Man, this is a dark piece of writing about going from a happy life as a member of an intellectual Jewish family in Italy to living moments away from death in the Nazi extermination camp of Auschwitz. It’s harsh, especially since the narrator knows all of the Jews herded to their deaths or forced labor. He remembers them as Rabbis and professors and doctors and gangsters… only here they are stealing spoons of sugar solution meant for nursing Aryan mothers and being mercilessly killed the moment they are viewed as no longer fit for work.

When the narrator witnesses his father perish, and wails at his absolute inability to help him in any way, it is soul-shaking. I was completely ashamed of every time I had called our guards ‘”Nazis” or complained about the food Inside. After all, just like in the Soviet Gulag, these people were innocent of any crime.

Primo Levi eventually committed suicide, as did so many others who made it through the camps. Perhaps it was the guilt of surviving that was so unbearable. I know that I still feel bad about all the people I remember inside who will never be leaving like I did. They committed more serious crimes than me, but they didn’t seem all that different.

11. A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe

This 1998 novel only has about 120 pages set inside prison, but boy are they on point! I would have loved to have asked Tom Wolfe how he knew? How did he get the sights and sounds so right, and most of all the fear? Prison wears away at your soul and takes years off your life by keeping you in an unnatural state, afraid from the moment you get up until the cell door closes, and even then the fear follows you into your nightmares. In this novel, the hero is terrified of being raped and just when it looks like there can be no reprieve, Tom Wolfe allows such a deus ex machina that its very placement is tongue in cheek. An earthquake brings down the prison walls and allows our protagonist to escape his fate in all senses. Never have the walls of Jericho fallen with such good timing.

This is a very good novel to read about prison because it also deals heavily with Epictetus and the Stoic philosophy. This is what allows a man to suffer, especially when things are not going to get better, maybe not for a while, maybe never. I knew that situation well, and somehow, despite being a literary celebrity, so did Tom Wolfe!

Bonus: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

I don’t mean that this particular volume of the Harry Potter septet has any special significance to incarceration. It’s just emblematic of all the escapist reading prisoners like me do to get through their limited lives. I actually did read all of Rowling, even if it was through clenched teeth towards the end, and the amount of science fiction and Cold War espionage I read as dessert after Heidegger is embarrassing. Prisoners don’t necessarily want to read more about prison, although the books listed above—plus those that didn’t make the cut—help one to understand the condition of incarceration. But if you ever find yourself in a real prison, leave room for the books that take you away from the walls and bars that define your life already!

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly.

April Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

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We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semi–annual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around). Here’s what we’re looking out for this month. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!
Want to know about the books you might have missed? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.
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.)

Let’s Not Do That Again by Grant Ginder: Ginder’s (The People We Hate at the Wedding) newest novel follows Congresswoman Nancy Harrison as she runs for the U.S. Senate. Everything seems to be going well on the campaign trail until her daughter Greta is caught at a violent political protest in Paris. Crackling with humor and heart, Emily Gould says, “Grant Ginder is not afraid to ask what it means to fight for what’s right—for the country you serve, the world at large, and the flawed and impossibly complicated people you are bound to love.” (Carolyn)

Things They Lost by Okwiri Oduor: Caine Prize for African Writing winner Oduor explores a complicated mother-daughter relationship in her magical debut novel. Ayosa, the young protagonist, is deeply lonely, pained by past memories, and looking for an escape from her mother’s intoxicating yet detached presence. Onyeka Nwelue writes: “A narrative so profound, its humour shining so bright, that you’d think the author had written hundreds of books to have mastered the art of perpetual storytelling.” (Carolyn)

When Women Kill by Alia Trabucco Zerán (translated by Sophie Hughes): Illuminating the transgressive and disturbing nature of violence by and against women, International Booker Prize finalist Trabucco Zerán (The Remainder) explores four homicides committed by Chilean women during the twentieth century. About the genre-blurring new work, Giuseppe Caputo writes: “Equal parts essay, detective story, diary, and feminist discourse, its most moving and brilliant moment may be when Trabucco Zerán dramatizes the only case not yet depicted in art: the portrait of a new Medea, tragic and unsettling, but more than that, transgressive, hungry for another life.” (Carolyn)

Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel: In her debut novel, Patel reimagines the life of the titular Kaikeyi, the queen from the Indian epic, Ramayana. Born the only daughter of Kekaya’s kingdom, Kaikeyi looks to the Gods for guidance after her mother is banished—but it’s within the books of her youth that she discovers a life-changing (and reality-threatening) magic that was within her all along. Publishers Weekly’s starred review says: “Readers familiar with the source text will be wowed by Patel’s reimagining, while those new to the story will be won over by its powerful, multilayered heroine and epic scope.” (Carolyn)

I’ll Be You by Janelle Brown: Identical twin sisters and former child stars Sam and Elli were once close enough to be nearly one person, but their lives have drastically diverged in adulthood. When Elli goes missing, Sam must piece together the broken bits of Elli’s life and look back on the secrets that bond them. Angie Kim calls Brown’s (Pretty Things) newest novel a “powerful and moving portrait of the fiercely tenacious bonds of familial love.” (Carolyn)

The Lonely Stories edited by Natalie Eve Garrett: Garrett, who previously edited Eat Joy, compiles a 22-essay collection about the beauty, struggle, and universality of loneliness and solitude. Contributors include literary luminaries including Anthony Doerr, Yiyun Li, Megan Giddings, Jesmyn Ward, and Lidia Yuknavitch. “Surprising, sly, heart-stopping, celebratory—the essays in The Lonely Stories evoke the gamut of emotions, in the way of isolation itself,” says Claire Messud. (Carolyn)

Bomb Shelter by Mary Laura Philpott: In a follow-up to her bestselling memoir-in-essays, I Miss You When I Blink, Philpott’s newest collection explores the extraordinary and the mundane with humor, anxiety, and hope. Poet Maggie Smith writes: “At the heart of Bomb Shelter is a truth parents know deeply: ‘I felt the universe had entrusted me with so much more than I could possibly keep safe.’ I put this book down feeling less anxious as a mother and more inspired as a writer.” (Carolyn)

Indelible City by Louisa Lim: Journalist Lim (The People’s Republic of Amnesia) uses reporting and memoir to sketch a vivid portrait of her native Hong Kong’s past and present. Often hidden from its own citizens, Lim uncovers the inspiring, complicated, and rebellious history of her city and its citizens. “The best book about the indelible city to date,” says Ai Weiwei. “Irresistibly real and emotionally authentic, it shines with a shimmering light rarely seen in political narrative. A truly extraordinary elegy.” (Carolyn)

Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black by Cookie Mueller: Initially published as the first volume of Semiotext(e)’s Native Agents series, a new edition of Mueller’s 1990 classic is being republished in full alongside two dozen additional stories and essays. Olivia Laing’s introduction grounds the work in its historical, social, and personal contexts, while the collection at large offers a fuller understanding of the life and work of Mueller, the legendary underground actress, artist, and East Villager. (Carolyn)

The Sign for Home by Blair Fell: Fell—a playwright, television writer, and two-time winner of the Doris Lippman Prize in Creative Writing—publishes his debut novel about Arlo Dilly, a DeafBlind Jehovah’s Witness, who falls in love with a mysterious girl at boarding school only to lose her. Years later, Arlo uncovers the lost memory and goes on a journey with his friends to find the love he lost—and, perhaps more importantly, who he can be. (Carolyn)

New to Liberty by DeMisty D. Bellinger: Set in rural Kansas, Bellinger’s debut novel in three parts follows three women living decades apart—but connected nonetheless. In 1933, Greta falls in love with a woman from a nearby farm. In 1947, Greta begins a secret interracial relationship with a white man. In 1966, Sissily makes an unexpected stop in Liberty, Kansas and stumbles upon long held secrets. Chris Harding Thornton says: “The novel’s imagery, whether steeped in beauty, horror, love, or terror, stitches itself into your own fabric, becoming a part of you long after you’ve turned the last page.” (Carolyn)

A Revolution of the Mind by MV Perry: Ellen “Boo” Harvey is caught in a depressive spiral that leaves her isolated from her friends and family, and alone with a manic mind she no longer recognizes. Boo’s mental and physical illnesses feel totally inescapable and all-consuming until she meets Jude, a mental illness advocate who teaches her how to advocate for those who are often left behind. In the Independent Book Review, Audrey Davis calls the direct and unsparing debut “a provocative, emotional novel unafraid to bare its teeth.” (Carolyn)

Burning Butch by R/B Mertz: In their coming-of-age memoir, Mertz explores growing up in a divorced, ultraconservative, Catholic household in the early aughts. Clinging to Catholocism while exploring their sexuality and queerness, Mertz wonders if they will have to choose between their selfhood and the community they’ve always known. “Mertz’s extraordinary and stunning debut memoir extends and deepens the tradition begun by Feinberg for ‘butch’ life, butch recognition, gender non-conformity, and queerness by writing the catastrophic and world-shattering repressions that radical Christianity can inflict on children, people, and communities,” writes Dawn Lundy Martin. “In this gorgeously written, powerful and moving literary accomplishment, Mertz reminds us of the sheer miracle that any of us queer kids are alive.” (Carolyn)

How to Adjust to the Dark by Rebecca van Laer: In van Laer’s debut novella, poet Charlotte looks back on her early twenties through her poetry. Blending prose, poetry, theory, and analysis, she analyzes her poems, remembers the selves she birthed and buried, and questions whether pain is necessary in order to make art. Lindsay Lerman writes: “Like Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be, van Laer takes so-called ‘women’s writing’ and opens it up, showing us what exists beyond cliché and easy answers.” (Carolyn)

Benefit by Siobhan Phillips: A debut novel exploring a literature student looking back on her elite fellowship at Oxford University. Years after she completed the Weatherfield fellowship, literature PhD Laura is struggling to find her footing in academia—until she’s drawn back into the secret-filled world of the academic elite and discovers long buried secrets. Jessica Winter says, “Deadpan and dread-filled, shadowed by the specters of war and late capitalism, Benefit probes both the futility and necessity of intellectual work, all in the wry, wise voice of an uncommonly clear-eyed friend.” (Carolyn)

Paradais by Fernanda Melchor (translated by Sophie Hughes): In her newest novel, Melchor (Hurricane Season) explores racism, classim, and violence through two teenage outsiders orbiting around and wreaking havoc in a luxury apartment complex. Samanta Schweblin writes: “Fernanda Melchor has a powerful voice, and by powerful I mean unsparing, devastating, the voice of someone who writes with rage and has the skill to pull it off.” (Carolyn)

The Millions Top Ten: February 2022

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We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for February.

This Month
Last Month

Title
On List

1.
1.

Ulysses: An Illustrated Edition
2 months

2.
2.

The Morning Star
3 months

3.
3.

Cloud Cuckoo Land
5 months

4.


The Socratic Method: A Practitioner’s Handbook

1 month

5.
5.

These Precious Days: Essays
4 months

6.
10.

When We Cease to Understand the World
2 months

7.
6.

The Penguin Modern Classics Book
2 months

8.
4.

The Book of Form and Emptiness
6 months

9.
9.

Matrix: A Novel
5 months

10.
7.

Beautiful World, Where Are You
5 months

We joked last month that Ludwig Wittgenstein was on the cusp of reaching our site’s Hall of Fame, if only Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus placed on our Top Ten once more. (It has five months; it needs six.) The book’s been a Millions favorite since Ed Simon described it as “poetry that gestures beyond poetry.” Well, sorry Wittgenstein, but your work is among our “Near Misses,” so the wait continues. After 100 years, what’s another month?

In any event, it’s not surprising to see Ward Farnsworth’s The Socratic Method: A Practitioner’s Handbook on this month’s list. Once again, it’s Ed Simon’s fault. A couple weeks ago, in a piece where he called Socrates a “schmuck,” Simon drew a through-line from the Greek philosopher into Larry David, Twitter, and so much of “what ails the body politic.”

Meanwhile, The Other Press’s illustrated edition of Ulysses, which features art by Eduardo Arroyo, holds the top spot on this month’s list⁠—fitting for the centennial of James Joyce’s original. (Now that I think of it, what is it with Millions readers and works from 1922?)

This month we also saw Benjamín Labutut’s When We Cease to Understand the World rise four spots from 10th to sixth. This book on the relationship between genius, madness, and the observable world is unlike anything I’ve read. It would not shock me, Heisenberg, or Schrödinger, to see it rise more or drop off the list completely—perhaps both at once, if you catch my drift.

This month’s near misses included: Crossroads, Intimacies, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, and The Magician. See Also: Last month’s list.

Ten Groundbreaking True Crime Books

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How long do moments last? For the genre of true crime, this current moment is roughly seven and a half years old, dating back to the immense popularity of the podcast Serial’s first season in the fall of 2014. But crime and murder are a perennial fascination, dating back centuries. Think of the preacher Cotton Mather’s pamphlets in the late 17th century, or Benjamin Franklin’s early yellow journalism. Or, well, the Bible. We love to consume stories about the worst humanity can do and seek to understand how and why it happened.
Murder is, of course, an awful, ugly business, and Americans in particular continue to crane their necks to get a peek at the worst of the wrecks. We want answers, we want justice, we want heroes, we want villains, and real-life crime offers so many of these and then some. Crime fiction may desire order out of chaos, but true crime grapples with the chaos while hoping for catharsis in the meantime.
These larger issues, and the connections between crime and society and human behavior, have preoccupied me for much of my life. Peering into the abyss—and hoping that same abyss doesn’t swallow me up if I take the wrong step, or cross a gossamer-thin line. These 10 books helped me make sense of the world’s darkest corners.

1. Classic Crimes by William Roughead (1951)

Modern-day true crime could not exist without the writings of Roughead (1870–1952), a Scottish lawyer with an avid interest in criminal trials. His write-ups of the legal proceedings he attended and cases he researched, collected in this single volume, are infused with delight and brio, as well as bursts of outrage at obvious wrongs (including that of Oscar Slater, subject of Margalit Fox’s outstanding Conan Doyle for the Defense.)

2. Crime and Science by Jürgen Thorwald (1966)

My freshman college roommate gave me a copy of this book for my birthday, and I know it played a huge role in why I pursued a master’s degree in forensic science (even if it’s one I never used, except as fodder for writing about crimes of all kinds.) Thorwald writes with exceptional clarity about cases obscure and famous solved with forensic techniques like blood typing and elemental analysis of gunshot residue. DNA and CSI-style glamorization make those older techniques seem quaint, but current criminalists owe a lot to their chemically minded pioneers. It still amazes me that this book and its earlier companion volume, The Century of Detective—which lost the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime to In Cold Blood—have yet to be rescued from out-of-print oblivion.

3. A Death in Canaan by Joan Barthel (1977)

This infuriating story of a son wrongfully convicted for the murder of his mother, and the campaign by the likes of William Styron, Renata Adler, Philip Roth, and Arthur Miller to free him, was on my mind a great deal as I wrote Scoundrel. Barthel’s book, first published in 1977 and reissued in digital format in 2016, focuses on the 1973 murder of Barbara Gibbons in Connecticut, and how her 18-year-old son, Peter Reilly, ended up in the crosshairs of local police and prosecutors. Their continuous bungling means that it’s unlikely, if impossible, that we’ll ever know (with proof) who killed Gibbons.

4. The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm (1989)

That searing opening paragraph. That excoriating criticism of Joe McGinniss’s methods where he gained access to Jeffrey MacDonald, presumed killer of his wife and children, by professing belief in his innocence only to turn on him in print. But I’ve always thought Malcolm’s brilliant, merciless book didn’t really care much about the MacDonald case—it was just a perfect, legally fraught example of the failures of the journalist-subject relationship. And it’s why I returned to it while working on Scoundrel—my own account of the porous bonds between a journalist and a murderer.

5. Redrum the Innocent by Kirk Makin (1992)

I wish this watershed true crime account from Canada, admittedly an 800-page doorstopper, was more widely available, or that it would be reissued with updates. It deals, exhaustively and comprehensively, with one of the most troubling criminal chapters in that country’s history. Nine-year-old Christine Jessop was raped and strangled to death in 1984, and law enforcement convinced themselves that neighbor Guy Paul Morin killed her. He was acquitted, then convicted (Canada doesn’t have double jeopardy), and then DNA testing freed him for good in 1995. Jessop’s real killer was finally discovered via genetic genealogy, and knowing this makes the systemic failure to capture a suspect living in plain sight all the more infuriating.

6. Under the Bridge by Rebecca Godfrey (2005)

Here is another standout true crime work by a fellow Canadian. Godfrey, whose novel The Torn Skirt is an underground classic, essentially taught herself journalism in order to report this harrowing account of the 1997 murder of Reena Virk, an Indigenous teenager living in Victoria, B.C., and the subsequent arrests and trials of several classmates. Godfrey renders the victim and the perpetrators in stunning, three-dimensional detail, an acuity made more sensitive as befitting a novelist.

7. True Crime edited by Harold Schechter (2008)

When a genre finally makes it into the hallowed halls of the Library of America, that is a sign of its growing respectability. (Psychological suspense did with my own two-volume set, Women Crime Writers, in 2015.) As a writer, Schechter has done more work and research on historical serial murderers than anyone else (and become, alas, ripe for pilfering by true crime podcasters.) Editing this volume demonstrates the breadth of his knowledge and his astute choices of other nonfiction crime writers and their pet cases. Someday, I hope, there will be a follow-up anthology.

8. The Five by Hallie Rubenhold (2019)

The more time passes, the more in awe I am of this book. Rubenhold flips the usual script and elevates the stories of the five women known to have been murdered by a man roaming the streets of East London’s Whitechapel neighborhood in 1888. In doing so, she restores them—Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine, and Mary-Jane—as complex, flawed, human figures struggling to live in a world rife with poverty, homelessness, and cruelty towards women, while shattering a great many myths about who and what they were not.

9. We Keep the Dead Close by Becky Cooper (2020)

I thought of this book often in the wake of the recently-launched sexual misconduct lawsuit from three Harvard anthropology graduate students, an eerie reminder that this same department—and the school—have been rife with gross power imbalances, sexism, and criminal misdeeds for decades, if not longer. Cooper delves into the life of Jane Britton, abruptly cut short by her murder, at age 21, in 1969, and unsolved for decades. There is resolution, but what matters more is the unsettled aftermath, lingering suspicion, and permanent culpability.

10. Last Call by Elon Green (2021)

Green is a good friend (we also share literary agents) and it’s worth disclosing these details because he read multiple drafts of Scoundrel just as I read multiple drafts of Last Call. Here’s the thing: each time I read this book, I felt myself getting sucked in as if it was the first time. The way Green writes about New York’s late 1980s queer subcultures, and how he portrays the lives of the four men known to be victims of the Last Call Killer while giving little narrative weight to that person, is a revelation, and another model for true crime’s next directions.

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly.

March Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

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We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semi–annual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around). Here’s what we’re looking out for this month. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!
Want to know about the books you might have missed? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.
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)

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)

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)

Tell Me an Ending by Jo Harkin: In Jo Harkin’s dystopian debut, a tech company named Nepenthe has been deleting people’s memories (à la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) for the past 20 years. When Nepenthe becomes embroiled in scandal regarding trace memories, four characters (alongside a doctor at the flagship clinic) begin to come to terms with what they forgot and whether they can live with those memories again. Jessamine Chan says the book is “suspenseful, richly imagined, and brimming with compassion” and “poses tantalizing questions about technology, ethics, capitalism, memory, trauma, and fate. How far would we go to live a happier life? Who are we without the memories that have shaped us?” (Carolyn)

Jerks by Sara Lippmann: In her newest short story collection, Lippmann (Doll Palace) offers 18 stories of characters—from gossiping moms to young girls at summer camp—as they yearn, desire, pine, and, in spite of everything, hope. “Efficient, daring and fearless—Sara Lippmann aims right for the heart of our confused desire,” says Steve Almond. “She gets us inside the female experience, not just of lust but of the tedium and resentment, the long grind that lurks beneath the slow burn.” (Carolyn)

The Doloriad by Missouri Williams: Williams’ lyrical and strange debut follows a brutal survivalist family led by the Matriarch in the wake of environmental disaster. When the Matriarch decides to send her daughter Dolores into the woods as a reproductive sacrifice, their family and world changes forever. “Unlike anything I’ve ever read. The Doloriad is—somehow—Old Testament origin story, Shakespearean family feud, Greek epic, philosophical parable, and absurdist sitcom, all in one,” Jac Jemc writes. “Horrible and riveting, I could not look away.” (Carolyn)

The Fell by Sarah Moss: Single mother Kate is under a strict two week in quarantine when she falls after stepping out on a quick walk to get fresh air and clear her mind. Without a phone and with her teenage son home alone, she realizes that her prohibited walk will now turn into a rescue mission (at best) or a missing persons case (at worst). Kirkus’ starred review says: “This portrait of humans and their neighboring wild creatures in their natural landscape and in their altered world is darkly humorous, arrestingly honest, and intensely lyrical.” (Carolyn)

Hammer by Joe Mungo Reed: In Reed’s newest novel, Martin, a junior auction house employee, has a chance encounter with Marina, a friend from university, that changes his whole life. Marina’s husband Oleg, an art-collecting Russian oligarch, wants to sell his prized and priceless collection, and Martin wants to buy it—but he doesn’t quite realize what it might cost him personally. The book, which Kirkus’ starred review called “richly textured, compulsively readable, and brilliant throughout,” explores the intersection of art, wealth, and power.” (Carolyn)

On a Night of a Thousand Stars by Andrea Yaryura Clark: During her family’s annual polo match and party, Paloma, the 21-year-old daughter of Argentinian diplomat Santiago Larrea, meets a woman from her father’s mysterious past. When Santiago is appointed to an United States ambassadorship, Paloma begins a fact-finding mission that leads her to uncover the atrocities and disappearances that happened during Argentina’s “Dirty War”—and how her family fits into this history. Jennifer Egan says, “On a Night of a Thousand Stars turns one woman’s genealogical quest into a searing indictment of the complicity inherent in cultural silence.” (Carolyn)

Fencing with the Kings by Diana Abu-Jaber: When her father Gabriel is invited to the King of Jordan’s 60th birthday, Amani offers to accompany him to his native Jordan to learn more about his mysterious past. They stay with Gabriel’s brother Uncle Hafez, one of the King’s advisors, who has invited his brother to this event with an ulterior motive. During their visit, their decades-long sibling rivalry threatens to unravel everything and ruin everyone. Etaf Rum writes: “Ambitious, vivid, compelling, and full of life, this rich family story tells so many truths and uses family myths and fables to explore complex history, intergenerational trauma, and the wounds of exile and displacement.” (Carolyn)

When I Sing, Mountains Dance by Irene Sola (translated by Mara Faye Lethem): Winner of the European Union Prize, Sola’s novel touches down and takes root in a village in the Pyrenees. When the patriarch of a family dies by lightning bolt, the village’s spirits, animals, and land begin to speak; the distinct, unique points of view reveal the ways the human experience and natural world are interconnected. About the book, Max Porter writes: “Translated with great musicality and wit, it is rich and ranging, shimmering with human and nonhuman life, the living and the dead, in our time and deep time; a fable that is utterly universal, deadly funny, and profoundly moving.” (Carolyn)

You Sound Like a White Girl by Julissa Arce: Arce, the author of My (Underground) American Dream and Someone Like Me, offers a narrative that questions and dismantles the idea that assimilation will lead to belonging, success, and acceptance in America for citizens of color (and specifically immigrants). She offers that belonging is not found in mimicking whiteness, but in embracing one’s unique history and culture. José Olivarez says: “A love letter to our people—full of fury and passion. You Sound Like a White Girl tells us about who we are, where we came from, and most importantly, helps us imagine a future where we can live in all our beauty and power.” (Carolyn)

Chevy in the Hole by Kelsey Ronan: In Flint, Michigan, two families (one white, one Black) grow and nurture their roots over the course of multiple generations. When Gus returns to his family’s home after his latest overdose, he meets Monae, a Black urban farmer who dreams of turning empty lots into lush community gardens. As they fall in love, the debut keeps the city and its history at the heart of the book. “She makes a city that has so often been made flat by the world around it alive and filled with the potholes and gardens and people that make it, despite all its traumas, bloom,” says Megan Giddings. (Carolyn)

The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd: Shepherd’s (The Book of M) newest novel follows Nell, the daughter of now-deceased cartography legend Dr. Daniel Young, as she investigates an emotionally-charged but seemingly unimportant map hidden in his desk. As Nell uncovers the truth about the map, she begins to unspool her family’s best kept secret. Publishers Weekly’ starred review says, “Shepherd’s convincing blend of magic from old maps with the modern online world both delights and thrills.” (Carolyn)

The Last Confessions of Sylvia P. by Lee Kravetz: Stretching from the past to the present, Kravetz’s fiction debut employs three fictional characters—a psychiatrist, rival poet, and an auction house curator—to reimagine Sylvia Plath’s life during the tumultuous period when she wrote The Bell Jar. About the literary mystery, Adam Johnson says, “It’s a book full of ideas about inspiration and a love for language that translates across borders, physical and generational.” (Carolyn)

Panpocalypse by Carley Moore: Initially published as a serialized online novel, Moore’s (The Not Wives) newest novel is set in New York City during summer 2020. Heartbroken Orpheus—a disabled, queer, poly poet—spends most of her days riding her bike through the empty streets, yearning for connection and community. Unstuck in time yet firmly rooted in early pandemic NYC, “Orpheus’ desperate search for autonomy, relationships, and self-actualization feels perennial,” according to Kirkus. (Carolyn)

Serious Faces by Jon Mooallem: New York Times Magazine writer Mooallem’s essay collection features 13 pieces exploring the paradoxical gulf and intimacy between the individual and the universal. Publishers Weekly’s starred review writes: “Mooallem has a real knack for evoking places, people, and emotions, and the individuals he writes about put a human face on larger issues such as climate change and conservation. This is well worth the price of admission.” (Carolyn)

Portrait of an Unknown Lady by María Gainza (translated by Thomas Bunstead): The author of the critically-acclaimed novel Optic Nerve returns with a tale of an art critic/auction house employee as she tracks down a master forger in the Buenos Aires art scene. “Vividly detailed and saturated with intricate feeling, Gainza’s novel is an engrossing exploration of authenticity, obsession, and the enveloping allure of art,” says Alexandra Kleeman. (Carolyn)

Refuse to Be Done by Matt Bell: In his craft book, novelist Bell (Appleseed) offers practical advice and expert tips to writing, rewriting, and polishing your book. Broken into three parts, the book places special focus on the rewriting tasks that take place during every stage of writing a book (fiction or otherwise). “This is the CrossFit of craft books, a literary piece of gym equipment that will help you progress dynamically through your creative projects with agency, clear-sightedness, and a new appreciation for the often overlooked, but utterly essential act—and art—of revision,” Courtney Maum writes. “Refuse to Be Done is a must-have for the writer who is ready to up their writing game.” (Carolyn)

In the Margins by Elena Ferrante (translated by Ann Goldstein): In four new essays, Ferrante, the infamous and enigmatic Italian author, writes about her rich inner life as a reader and writer. She explores how she broke free of trying to mimic male writers and instead found her place among the women writers who came before her (including Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein). A starred review by Publishers Weekly calls the collection “dazzling” and that “the author’s legions of fans are in for a treat.” (Carolyn)

The Old Woman with the Knife by Gu Byeong-mo (translated by Chi-Young Kim): The story of an aging female assassin who is called into action just when she is settling down to relax with her rescue dog and routine. (Lydia)

The Millions Top Ten: January 2022

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We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for January.

This Month
Last Month

Title
On List

1.


Ulysses: An Illustrated Edition
1 month

2.
3.

The Morning Star
2 months

3.
4.

Cloud Cuckoo Land
4 months

4.
2.

The Book of Form and Emptiness

5 months

5.
5.

These Precious Days: Essays
3 months

6.


The Penguin Modern Classics Book

1 month

7.
6.

Beautiful World, Where Are You
4 months

8.
8.

Bewilderment
5 months

9.
9.

Matrix: A Novel
4 months

10.


When We Cease to Understand the World
1 month

Close counts in curling, or so the Winter Olympics announcers say, but close does not count for our site’s Hall of Fame. You need six strong showings to reach the Hall. Alas, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus came up short by one. Ludwig Wittgenstein, if your ghost is reading this, you can take consolation in the fact that Ed Simon’s piece got Millions readers so excited about your work that for five months they dutifully purchased copies of your 100-year-old book. Also, get off the internet. Ghosts have better things to do.

On the other hand, The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell is off to our site’s Hall of Fame this month. It’s the author’s first appearance, and we congratulate them.

These opened spots—plus another vacated by Jonathan Franzen’s Crossroads—made way for three titles on this month’s list:

In first position is The Other Press’s illustrated edition of Ulysses, which features 300 color and black-and-white works by Spanish painter Eduardo Arroyo, and which was published this year for the centennial of James Joyce’s original. Last month, Sophia Stewart interviewed publisher Judith Gurewich about Arroyo’s legacy and the development of the illustrated edition. Gurewich explained that “anybody will tremendously enjoy turning the pages—the drawings are at once complex, satirical, and super easy to grasp. No art history course required!”

Henry Eliot’s encyclopedic series on Penguin Modern Classics earned sixth position on this month’s list, demonstrating that Millions readers appreciated art books and books about books in addition to good old fashioned books.

Finally, Benjamín Labutut’s When We Cease to Understand the World joined our list in the 10th space after making last month’s “near misses.” Having recently finished the book myself, I can personally sing its praises—or at least, I would like to sing its praises but I am still reeling from the experience, and words fail. Trust me. It’s great.

This month’s near misses included: Intimacies, The Magician, and Nightbitch. See Also: Last month’s list.

Nine Haunting Postapocalyptic Novels

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I started reading postapocalyptic fiction in my teens, somewhere between my Herman Hesse phase and my Russian phase, collectively known as the Billy No-Mates Years. It was the mid-90s. Thatcher was a memory and the Berlin Wall was half a decade down. The IRA was on the verge of declaring a ceasefire. Hope was a marketable commodity and it seemed that progress was irreversible. Things could only get better. As I read my way though the nuclear fables of the ’50s and ’60s, it seemed like I was looking through a window onto a world we’d superseded, and I found it both fascinating and horrifying that people had managed to exist alongside so much anxiety, so much existential dread. That’s the paradox of imagined apocalypses, of course—they’re always more about the present than the future. No wonder, then, that we should be seeing an upswing in the genre now.

1. On the Beach by Nevil Shute
Every summer as a child I went to my grandparent’s house and was allowed free range of the books. My grandfather’s were the shelves of an autodidact—he read me the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles at bedtime and closed all the curtains on sunny afternoons so we could watch the Ring Cycle on VHS. My nanny’s, by contrast, were the stuff of holiday dreams. Shelves of Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh, John Grishams in glossy hardback—I spent days lying in the garden, working my way through pages and pages of glorious escapism until, sandwiched between Requiem for a Wren and A Town Like Alice, I came across Shute’s On the Beach and scared myself witless. Years later I woke up in the night to find an adaptation of it on the radio and was once again transfixed by the horror of its central idea: a nuclear event in the northern hemisphere has left the citizens of Australia waiting, powerless, for the fallout cloud to reach them.

2. The Death of Grass by John Christopher
A novel virus decimates East Asian rice crops, leading to widespread famine. Before long, the virus mutates to infect all other grasses—including wheat, barley, rye—and spreads across any part of the planet it can reach. In England, Jon Custance attempts to get his family out of London and to a possible haven in Wales as, around him, anarchy descends. Written in 1958, The Death of Grass can’t possibly have seemed more relevant than it does now.

3. The Sixth Seal by Mary Wesley
Before Mary Westley found late literary fame with The Camomile Lawn, she wrote two deeply strange children’s novels, both sadly neglected. This is, by a hair’s breadth, the weirdest of them. A woman, her son, and her son’s friend camp in an old well overnight and, in the morning, emerge to find that everyone else has evaporated, leaving behind nothing but hair and the odd set of false teeth. What follows is a story as much about grief as anything else. I’ve read it upwards of a dozen times and always feel as though I’m on the edge of understanding it, but I never quite have.

4. The Day of the Triffids by Jon Wyndham
Less a recommendation than a (dis)honorable mention. Much of Wyndham’s novel has aged badly, particularly the rampant ableism and the suggestion that the future is a baby farm on the Isle of Wight, but I can still remember reading it for the first time, and the chill I got from its description of a world that has become unsafe overnight. The mass blindness and the killer plants are really all MacGuffin—what Wyndham demonstrates is that the nature of the apocalypse isn’t important at all; the horror is in the familiar made threat.

5. Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban
Not only one of the great postapocalyptic novels, but also one of the best novels of the late 20th century, Hoban’s book is nothing short of extraordinary. Set in a far future version of Kent, written in an English which is yet to exist, it is haunting, beautiful, and deeply sad, a single-author myth of loss and the shame of losing. Any attempt to summarize it is doomed to failure, but anyone who hasn’t read it, should.

6. Doggerland by Ben Smith
Out in the North Sea, alone besides each other, two men inhabit a vast wind farm. Nominally, their job is to maintain it, but much of it is now beyond repair. Perhaps they have been forgotten about. Perhaps no one needs the turbines any more. The suspicion that back on the shore, something has crumbled is omnipresent but never fleshed out. Whatever might be going on elsewhere, though, the two men have nowhere else to go, and no way of getting there. They spend their time fishing for rubbish and fermenting alcohol. This is the end point of capitalism as imagined by Beckett.

7. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
Butler’s novel is set in 2024, and this date’s proximity to ours does nothing to ameliorate the sense that it’s becoming more relevant as time passes. In a failed-state version of America, water is scarce and safety the preserve of the rich; for the overwhelming majority, survival is a matter of choosing between wage slavery, scavenging, and, for the very poorest, cannibalism. Despite this, it’s a profoundly hopeful book, centered on the transformative power of care. Traveling north from California in search of relative safety, its young narrator, Lauren Olamina, grasps her way toward a new philosophy, and, as she does so, gathers around her a small band of followers who find solace in their companionship.

8. A Psalm for the Wild-built by Becky Chambers
The premise for Chambers’s novella is simple, but feels oddly radical: imagine that, after screwing everything up, we learnt from our mistakes, and built a better world. What if we all tried hard to be kind? A Psalm for the Wild-built is ingenious and charming—a salve in a dark year.

9. The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang
I can think of few writers as capable as Chiang of exploring both the practical and emotional implications of a hypothesis. His stories are fully fleshed-out, beautifully rendered thought experiments in the ethics of technology, deeply perceptive and empathetic. In The Lifecycle of Software Objects, he reminds us that not all apocalypses are human ones. A company creates a marketable line of intelligent virtual pets. Their owners are invited to raise them, socialize them, teach them to speak; but eventually the pets are superseded by newer models, and then by other forms of entertainment all together. At last, the platform they run on, now obsolete, is due to be turned off. A haunting parable of humanity’s lack of compassion for what no longer interests us.


This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly.

February Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

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We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semi–annual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around). Here’s what we’re looking out for this month. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!

Want to know about the books you might have missed? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.

 

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

Nightshift by Kiare Ladner: Set in late-nineties London, Ladner’s debut novel follows Meggie, a twenty-three-year-old literature student, as she becomes deeply obsessed with Sabine, her mysterious and fascinating coworker. Meggie takes the night shift alongside Sabine in order to be closer to her, even though she’s giving up everything she knows for a person who she may never know. “Nightshift is one of the most exciting and provocative debuts I’ve read in years,” Julianne Pachico says. “Daring and dark, it explores themes of nihilism, escape, and desire, with classic noir echoes of Patricia Highsmith.” (Carolyn)

The Goodness of St. Rocque by Alice Dunbar-Nelson: Danielle Evans (The Office of Historical Corrections) writes the introduction to this short story collection from Dunbar-Nelson, the Harlem Renaissance poet, essayist, and activist, that explores the Creole community—from Bourbon Street to the bayou—in the late-nineteenth century. This edition, published as part of the Modern Library Torchbearer series, also features selected stories from Dunbar-Nelson’s first collection, Violets and Other Tales. (Carolyn)

The Last Wild Horses by Maja Lunde (translated by Diane Oatley): The newest novel by Lunde, whose debut The History of Bees won the Norwegian Bookseller’s Prize, touches down in multiple timelines—1881 Russia, 1992 Mongolia, and a dystopian 2064 Norway—with takhi, a rare ancient breed of horses, serving as the through line. In each of the eras, people risk and sacrifice everything and everyone to save these magnificent creatures from certain extinction. Publishers Weekly’s starred review says: “Throughout, Lunde delivers a perfect blend of gripping human stories, historical and scientific fact, and speculative elements. This standout should win her wider attention in the U.S..” (Carolyn)

Love by Maayan Eitan: Following the life of a young sex worker, Eltan’s ethereal and emotional debut novel caused an uproar when it was originally published in Israel. As she meets men and befriends others in the business, the woman presents a hazy, truth-blurring narrative of her life in and out of the male gaze. Nell Zink calls Eltan “a pensive rebel seductress and a literary trickster” and her novel “so emotionally persuasive, so transparently metaphorical, so startlingly concrete, so obviously not true, that it had everyone in Israel convinced it was straight-up autofiction.” (Carolyn)

Other People’s Clothes by Calla Henkel: Two New York City college art students studying abroad in Berlin sublet an apartment from Beatrice Becks, a notorious thriller writer. In the darkened apartment the girls become increasingly obsessed with Beatrice and convinced she is using them as inspiration for her next novel —so they decide to give her something to write about. Megan Abbot calls the novel “darkly funny, psychologically rich and utterly addictive,” and a “witty, harrowing tale of twisty female friendships, slippery identity and furtive secrets.” (Carolyn)

Pages by Hugo Hamilton: The protagonist of Hamilton’s latest is a copy of Joseph Roth’s novel, The Rebellion, who narrates the story of its life, existence, and rescue from a Nazi book burning. Nearly a century after it was written and saved, Lena Knecht—the granddaughter of the book’s safeguard—travels to Germany with the book in tow to decipher a handwritten map on its last page. Sebastian Barry calls the novel “A masterpiece. Full of great sentences. But also sort of obliteratingly moving, strange, and right.” (Carolyn)

The Selfless Act of Breathing by J.J. Bola: When Michael, a British-Congolese high school teacher, suffers a life-changing loss, he decides to leave his life in London behind and travel to America. In an attempt to leave his painful past behind, Michael finds himself making new connections, having adventures, and realizing no one can outrun themselves. Mateo Askaripour writes: “In a world that makes it difficult for many of us to articulate our suffering, The Selfless Act of Breathing is a necessary invitation to scream when we feel like screaming, cry when we feel like crying, and prioritize our own often-neglected needs for love.” (Carolyn)

Please Miss by Grace Lavery: In her genre-blurring debut memoir, UC Berkeley professor Lavery uses humor, criticism, and philosophy to explore themes such as addiction, queerness, academia, and trans identity. About this smart, erotic, and metafictional book, Maggie Nelson writes: “Come for the laugh out loud miniature windsock on page one, stay for the fascinating analysis of a discarded pig part in Jude the Obscure, end up profoundly moved and profoundly grateful for this supremely intelligent, innovative, and important tale which is, as Lavery brilliantly puts it, ‘like all the rest, different from all the rest.’” (Carolyn)

The Books of Jacob by Olga Tokarczuk (translated by Jennifer Croft): Paginated in reverse, Nobel laureate Tokarczuk’s newest novel follows Jacob Frank, a charismatic religious leader, as he gathers followers and spreads his gospel throughout Eastern and Southeastern Europe in the late 18th century. Narrated by those who came in contact with him, the novel offers a kaleidoscopic and fictionalized view of a beloved, reviled, and controversial historical figure. Publishers Weekly’s starred review calls the book a “subtle and sensuous masterpiece” that “will undoubtedly be read and talked about by lovers of literature for years to come.” (Carolyn)

Cleopatra and Frankenstein by Coco Mellors: When Cleo, a twenty-four-year-old British painter, meets Frank, a forty-something businessman, her life is on the brink: her expiring student visa means she will have to leave Manhattan. Frank can offer everything she could dream of and more—and six months after meeting the two are married. Their whirlwind romance changes their lives and the lives of their friends and families forever. Kirkus’ starred review says: “At its core, it’s a novel about how love and lovers are easily misinterpreted and how romantic troubles affect friends and family…A canny and engrossing rewiring of the big-city romance.”

They Said They Wanted Revolution by Neda Toloui-Semnani: Journalist Toloui-Semnani’s debut novel explores her family’s devastating, complicated, and activist past. In 1979, her Iranian political activist parents left the U.S. to join the revolution in Iran, which was a decision that left her father dead and changed her family’s trajectory forever. “The old quote (turned old cliché) that a revolution devours its own (or its children) is not just a truism for Neda’s Persian family but a tragedy that came to define her,” says Hooman Majd. “This history—of not just revolution but also dual identity—is seldom told with such raw emotion and devastating beauty.” (Carolyn)