Could there fairly be called an ideal season for reading? One time of year when it seems like everything conspires to bring you and the perfect book together in peace? Well, no. Of course not. Reading is seasonless and is just as easily enjoyed on the coldest, most formidable days of winter, when you’re hopefully tucked away in some warm corner with a book in hand and a tumbler of whiskey within reach (a roaring fireplace is a nice touch, but not strictly necessary), as it is on the hottest days of summer, when you’re lying on your back on the beach, one arm flung over your brow to deflect the sun, water-warped pages sticking hopelessly to lotioned-up fingers.
And yet. There’s something particularly lovely about springtime reading. Perhaps it’s because everything seems so new and undiscovered right now; everything is refreshed, including our capacity to find wonder in the pages of a new book. Plus, there’s no denying that the balmy days of spring seem designed to make us all want to abandon work and any other responsibilities and take off to sit under a flowering tree and lose ourselves in the pages of an unfamiliar world. But what to read once you’re there? Well, that can be the hard part. But not for you. No, for you it’s easy, because we did all the choosing for you this go-around. Here are our choices for the 50 things we’re most excited to read this spring and summer in no particular order. Some are now for sale at a (locally owned, independent) bookstore near you, while others won’t come out for a couple more months. But that’s ok, you can wait… preferably under that flowering tree with one of the books already available.
This follow-up to Attenberg’s beloved novel The Middlesteins shares many of that book’s hallmarks: unflinching examinations of some of people’s more unflattering qualities, compassion for the same, and a clear love and respect for the journeys we all must go on. This novel follows the life of the “big-hearted and bawdy” Mazie Phillips through the 20s and 30s, as she navigates the difficulties of the Great Depression. Attenberg was inspired by the subject of Joseph Mitchell’s Up in the Old Hotel, and her work has the same sense of bonhomie and joy as did the original “Saint” Mazie.
A cops-versus-criminals saga. But in this case —and in most contemporary cases—the line between hero and villain is unclear. We meet Billy Graves, policeman/protagonist, and watch his single-handed pursuit of “the White,” the felonious Moby Dick of Graves’ career.
After Never Let Me Go, Ishiguro’s stark, but sumptuous, runaway hit novel-turned-movie, the author all but disappeared: The Buried Giant is his triumphant return. The novel tracks an elderly couple on a quest to find their estranged son, and in typical Ishiguro fashion, the past—in this case, Arthurian England—is our backdrop, and a romance lurks nearby.
The woebegone anorexic is a familiar trope, yes, but there’s nothing stale about Gerard’s poetic rendering of an eating disorder. In this arresting work, the heroine shoulders self-distortion, destruction, and doubt. It’s not a breezy read, but our 98-pound narrator is nicely human—a complex woman with grit.
In his new book of poetry, Hayes—a winner of the National Book Award—tackles perception, exploring how we see and why. Drawing from his background in visual arts, Hayes reviews perspective, line, color, and form to exhilarating effect.
Ronson explores the very specific-to-now phenomenon of being publicly taken to task for the kind of blunders that might have gone unnoticed in the past (a dumb joke, an off-color comment), but which now—thanks to social media and the disseminating powers of the Internet—can lead to transgressors being universally shamed, hounded, fired, or worse. We’ll admit: We’re not really all that inclined toward retroactive sympathy for people like serial plagiarist Jonah Lehrer, and don’t think it’s a coincidence that most of those who have been publicly shamed are the type of ultra-privileged white people who, historically, aren’t used to having their actions or words come back to haunt them. But still, this book is worth a read if only because everyone’s talking about it.
Not that you should ever judge a book by its cover (though, let’s face it, some covers are just ugly), we must admit that the cover of Benditt’s The Boatmaker is one of the most striking we’ve ever seen. Luckily, what’s inside is a solid match for its strength and beauty. Join the boatmaker on his odyssey from a small island to the big island, and finally on to the mainland; he falls in love (disastrously, as we all do) and has dizzying highs and lows as he figures out what this journey he is on is really all about.
It would be too easy to call Gray’s latest story collection simply “dark.” Yes, many of the stories are somewhat macabre (even gory), but the impression one gets is not of “darkness,” rather of vibrancy, a shocking and vivid quality that is no less lurid for its brightness. It all adds up to a singular reading experience that will stay in your mind, twisting and turning, long after you’ve read the final pages.
16 Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids
For all of you who never want to read about whether or not women can have it all, (i.e., career and children), ever again, because that particularly well-trod cultural conversation almost never addresses the very salient fact that maybe some women don’t want to have children at all—well, this is the book for you. Also author of the recent Unspeakable, an excellent collection of essays addressing all the things that we never really say out loud, Daum is no stranger to uncomfortable conversations or unpopular topics, and she handles this sometimes sensitive topic with a frankness that is all too rare, and very much appreciated.
“The whole problem is to -establish communication with one’s self,” wrote E.B. White once, and Julavits quotes him in her latest book, a chronicle of her daily life and a dazzling take on the diary. At once exhilarating and banal (such is life, right?), The Folded Clock is a multifaceted confessional which just so happens to double as an excellent jumping off point for those of us who have been toying with the idea of keeping a diary of our own.
A follow-up to Atkinson’s acclaimed Life After Life, this novel follows Teddy—the little brother of Ursula, Life’s main character—a pilot for the Royal Air Force, poetic soul, husband, and father, as he passes through that special period of time (World War II and onward) that so lends itself to novelistic (and cinematic) intrigue. But just because this historical era is so well-traversed (particularly from the point of view of a white man) doesn’t mean that this book is familiar at all. Rather, Atkinson’s lucid prose and creative approach to linear timelines (i.e. she doesn’t believe in them) makes this book a captivating, highly original read that you won’t soon forget.
Best known as a novelist (Martin Dressler rightly won the Pulitzer, Edwin Mullhouse is simply one of the ten best novels of the last century), here Millhauser turns to short stories and releases a collection of whimsical, fantastical tales which run the gamut from riffs on Biblical tales to an updated telling of Rapunzel and her prince.
in the 21st Century DW Gibson
It is impossible to live in New York City right now and not have strong feelings about gentrification—its effects, its inevitability, its origins, its end-point. And yet it feels all too frequently like the same things are being written about it over and over, like nothing new has been introduced to the larger conversation. Well, that’s all changed with Gibson’s incredibly thorough oral history of gentrification in New York City, in which he talks to everyone from developers and politicians, to landlords and renters. At turns infuriating and illuminating (and oftentimes both!), this book is essential reading for anyone who lives in New York City now, and would be a pretty damned perfect Welcome-to-New-York gift for all incoming NYU students this fall.
Toni Morrison has a new novel out. Do we really need to sell you on this one? Well, just in case: God Help the Child explores the often-toxic influence of parents on their children, and the subsequent damage each generation can inflict on the other. But, of course, this book isn’t simply about the problems that arise within families, rather it’s about the larger damages inflicted on our society as a whole by those in power upon the powerless. And it serves as a reminder that we should always keep these words of Morrison’s close: “What you do to children matters. And they might never forget.”
Confessions of a Comma Queen
Norris wrote one of the best essays of 2015 (thus far) in The New Yorker’s recent anniversary issue. In the essay, Norris—who has worked at the venerable publication for over 30 years—wrote beautifully on everything from her feelings about the Oxford comma (who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma? she does) to James Salter’s at-times puzzling way of separating adjectives. Read this book for witty remembrances of TNY office-life, as well as elucidation on topics as eternally vexing as “who” vs “whom.”
A wickedly funny but also undeniably tragic look at the entrenched state of race relations in this country. Beatty touches on everything from tacitly allowed segregation in public schools, to appropriation of black culture and art, to murder at the hands of the police. And Beatty does it all with his uniquely poetic voice, which will leave you laughing as you cry, and crying as you laugh, until it’s all just one big wail over this world of ours.
Author of one of our favorite short story collections of all time, And Yet They Were Happy, Phillips now presents us with a stunning novel that manages to retain the sense of wonder and surreality that is omnipresent in her shorter fiction, while also weaving a complex, chilling plot involving a young wife newly employed at a mysterious company, her suddenly missing husband, and other enigmatic events which all seem to add up to something much bigger than simple workplace/life malaise. There are definitely shades of Murakami in The Beautiful Bureaucrat, but Phillips’ style is uniquely her own, and makes for an incredibly compelling read.
This novel explores the journey of Katherine Carlyle, a young woman conceived via IVF who loses her mother at the age of 19 and then tries her hardest to lose herself. In some ways a coming-of-age story, and in others an origin story (not just of Carlyle, but of all of us), this lovely, haunting novel left us thinking for a long time about where we came from, what it means, and how it made us who we are.
Zink’s The Wallcreeper was one of our (and Jonathan Franzen’s) favorite books of 2014, and with Mislaid, she further proves her narrative chops as she spins a darkly satirical story of a young white woman in Virginia in the 60s, who winds up leaving one of her children with his father and taking the other one with her as she assumes a new identity—that of an African-American woman living in a housing project. Zink’s frankness on topics like gender, racial, socioeconomic, and sexual identity politics is refreshing and bold, but it is her strong writing and lucid sentences which truly reel readers in—and keep them there.
Leckert’s exploration of Brooklyn through 50 of its iconic “spaces” (everything from art galleries to DIY hubs) is both a paean to the borough’s current cultural climate as well as a testament to the fact that, no matter how much rents have spiraled and no matter how far out onto the fringes Brooklyn’s creative class has needed to go to find viable venue space, art—to paraphrase Jeff Goldblum in that movie about dinosaurs—finds a way.
The final book in Larson’s compulsively readable, uniquely strange Dewey Decimal trilogy, The Immune System features Larson’s patented ability to play with words and sentence structure in a way that mirrors the disorienting events happening in the plot. And yet, because the reader is in such good hands with Larson, it doesn’t matter if everything is clear right from the start. Just trust that Larson knows where he’s taking you, and enjoy the slightly surreal, definitely funny ride.
We don’t know anyone who read Nelson’s Bluets who wasn’t completely blown away by her spare, poetic words. Which is why, in some circles (the only ones we travel in, frankly), Nelson’s The Argonauts is easily the most anticipated book of the year. (Sorry, Purity.) And, happily and perhaps obviously, it transcends all expectations as it explores topics like love, care-taking, pregnancy, marriage, and gender fluidity, all in Nelson’s inimitable, uncompromising style.
Gaiman, ever the rebel, has written a volume that defies genre—and any and all of the reader’s expectations. As his title might suggest, Gaiman’s intention is to provoke and uproot the reader; story after story delivers a disturbance. This supernatural collection includes some greatest hits—the famed Doctor Who story—but also plenty of fresh works.
Queen of fantasy Link has conjured a new collection, and she doesn’t restrain her weirdness—much to the delight of her fans. The stories feature (in no particular order): Mann Man, a superhero endowed with the gifts of Thomas Mann; a pool governed by Disney mermaids; an Appalachian schoolgirl with mysterious visitors; and that classic horror novel trope—a teenage girls’ slumber party gone wrong. Be prepared for the obscure, otherworldly, and everything in between.
Makkai’s first short story collection demonstrates why the already-acclaimed novelist is also a master of this more succinct form. Each of the stories in the collection is vividly wrought and individually compelling, and features a precision and beauty that leaves the reader full of wonder. Several are inspired by Makkai’s own family’s history, which is perhaps why there seems to be so much emotion imbued in them. Or, more probably, it’s just because Makkai is a master of the form.
- Love Maps, Eliza Factor
- The Last Word, Hanif Kureishi
- The Harder They Come, T.C. Boyle
- The Dead Lands, Benjamin Percy
- City by City: Dispatches from the American Metropolis, edited by Keith Gessen and Stephen Squibb
- The Invaders, Karolina Waclawiak
- Loving Day, Mat Johnson
- The Book of Aron, Jim Shepard
- Odd Woman in the City, Vivian Gornick
- The Festival of Insignificance, Milan Kundera
- The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty, Vendela Vida
- The Dying Grass, William T. Vollman
- The Sacrifice, Joyce Carol Oates
- Confession of the Lioness, Mia Kouta
- The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory, Stacy Wakefield
- The Marriage of Opposites, Alice Hoffman
- Academy Street, Mary Costello
- The State We’re In: Maine Stories, Ann Beattie
- The Turner House, Angela Flournoy
- Barbara the Slut and Other People, Lauren Holmes
- The Ghost Network, Catie DiSabato
- Garlic in Fiction, Shirley Jackson
- The Making of Zombie Wars, Aleksandr Hemon
- God and Jetfire, Amy Seek
- Flood of Fire, Amitov Ghosh
Bonus Pick: Purity, Jonathan Franzen (because, who are we kidding, everyone’s going to be talking about it, and we’ll want to join in).