The change of the seasons means a lot of things, we guess, but for us, it symbolizes a prime opportunity to restock our reading lists. Read one or all of these, and maybe read them at a bar? Scratch that: Definitely read them at a bar.

1) The Kindness of Enemies by Leila Aboulela (Grove)
Caine Prize winner Aboulela grew up in Khartoum, Sudan, and now lives in Aberdeen, Scotland. Her protagonists in her latest (and fifth) novel have a similarly international bent: one is a Muslim history professor in present-day Scotland, another a 19th-century Muslim leader in the Caucasus, the third the leader’s son raised by Russians and assimilated into their culture. Both ambitious and subtle, it’s a complex story that connects the past to the present and blurs the lines between foreigner and native.

2) Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett (Graywolf)
A wry examination of race, identity and metamorphosis in Nigeria: the novel’s protagonist, a native of Lagos, wakes up one morning white—except for the titular body part. The parallels to Kafka are clear, though this novel’s attention soon swerves from the existential to the social.

3) Apostle: Travels among the Tombs of the Twelve by Tom Bissell (Pantheon)
I first read Bissell in The Believer, his long piece, “Protesting All Fiction Writers” from 2003 pokes at the self-styled literary pariahs of the day. He’s done a lot between then and now: Apostle is his eighth book. But his choice of subject, the story of the early Christian church through the lives of its first evangelists, is as close to my heart as the parts about readings at Housing Works in The Believer essay. I’m not sure what new Bissell is bringing to this millennia-old topic, but I’m also sure I’ll enjoy his take on it.

4) Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn (Liveright)
Set in Jamaica, Dennis-Benn’s debut novel reveals the many complications which lurk in the shadows of what many outsiders view as little more than a sunny paradise. Her prose is lyrical and vibrant, but Dennis-Benn has a deeper purpose, and she takes the reader on a trip that is impossible to forget.

5) Youngblood by Matt Gallagher (Atria)
A first novel from former U.S. Army Captain and memoirist Gallagher, it follows a young officer Jack Porter leading his platoon on a counterinsurgency mission in a small Iraq town more than a decade after the U.S. first invaded the country. He struggles with a seasoned second-in-command whose philosophy of war diverges dramatically away from Porter’s, and the Rules of Engagement. The book represents powerful shift from Gallagher’s visceral, immediate nonfiction towards a thoughtful, moving story that nods towards something larger.

6) Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay (Harper)
A novelist who makes me cry (sob), an essayist who makes me cry (sob), and a legendary online warrior, Roxane Gay deserves all the tiny baby elephants in the world and all the Ina Garten dinner dates in the chef’s Hamptons home. Gay’s fourth book and second work of nonfiction (following her New York Times-bestselling Bad Feminist), this is a memoir about the body, about self-image, about food, about safety and self-care. It’s difficult, moving, and important book, all adjectives that are code words for me crying.
Available in May

7) What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell (FSG)
A roundly hailed debut, Greenwell’s first novel grew out of his award-winning novella, Mitko. The story follows an American academic in Bulgaria who strikes up a paid relationship with a local sex worker, Mitko. The men meet in the public bathroom of the National Palace of Culture in Sofia, and continue their relationship at the professor’s apartment and then on a vacation to the Black Sea, to Mitko’s hometown. Their relationship is often tenuous and painful: they break up, they reunite. Greenwell’s detailed, rich prose style carries his readers into this exploration of desire, suffering, and personal history.

8) Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (Knopf)
Gyasi’s debut novel one of the most lauded books of the year, and publication is still months away. The cause for excitement is just: this epic story follows the fate of two half-sisters from 18th century Ghana—one marries an Englishman and joins the colonial elite, another is kidnapped into chattel slavery and sold to the United States—and their families. It’s a book that hits the ground running and one I’ve had a hard time putting down.
Available in June

9) From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America by Elizabeth Hinton (Harvard University Press)
Another Harvard University history professor, Hinton’s attention is turned to the history of mass incarceration and policing in the United States. A clear-eyed and timely book, it traces the country’s cannibalistic prison industrial complex back to the social welfare programs created by Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. This history is heartbreaking, but it is one that affects an enormous percentage of the country: not only the nearly seven million Americans currently under correctional supervision (that’s one in every 35 adults) but also their families and communities—a ripple effect with devastating consequences. Read it and vote—especially for the state legislators, judges, and district attorneys who exert the greatest influence over the system.
Available in May

10) Jane Jacobs: The Last Interview by Jane Jacobs (Melville House)
With a new opera detailing her relationship to the city and to Robert Moses and a new biography out this year, Jane Jacobs is experiencing somewhat of a revival. Patron saint of pedestrians, savior of Washington Square Park, and the David to Moses’s Goliath, Jacobs was both an activist and an intellectual of paramount importance, especially for those living in, or making a living from, cities. Melville House publishes her last interview (as a part of their similarly titled series) as well as several other conversations she had in public in the final decades of her life.
Available in April

11) Lab Girl by Hope Jahren (Knopf)
Real life scientist (she’s a professor of geobiology at the University of Hawaii) and prolific blogger (check her New York Times opinion piece on gender and STEM fields) Jahren has written a love letter to plants and the work of studying them. Bonus points for depicting the slow bloom of a sweet friendship. Don’t let the lab coat fool you, Jahren knows her way around language, and this dark and funny memoir is testament to her talent.
Available in April

12) Olio by Tyehimba Jess (Wave)
A mixture of prose and poetry and song, fact and faction, Jess explores the mostly unexplored lives of black American performers from the mid-19th century to the early 20th. It’s a complicated period in the history of black American art (though when isn’t?) and Jess works towards understanding: complicating these artists’ relationships with prevalent racist stereotypes. A tremendous, and tremendously accessible, book of poetry.
Available in April


13) Summer of the Cicadas by Cole Lavalais (Willow Books Press)
A story of mental health, family history, and memory, this debut novel follows a freshman at Florida A&M recovering from traumatic self-induced injury as she struggles to take possession of her present life through a reclamation of her past. Lavalais has a flair for striking imagery, and the subtle shifts in her protagonist’s sometimes shrewd, sometimes hallucinatory state of mind are masterful.
Available in May

14) Joe Gould’s Teeth by Jill Lepore (Knopf)
I am maybe a little bit obsessed with long-ago New Yorker staff writer Joseph Mitchell, and so the past twelve months have been a bonanza. First the New Yorker published some of the first of Mitchell’s writing (from his unfinished autobiography) that had been in the magazine since 1964, then a biography came out in April 2015, then Janet Malcolm (who knew Mitchell) wrote about it, then novelist Jami Attenberg spun out a big-hearted novel, Saint Mazie, from one of Mitchell’s early stories. Now New Yorker staff writer and Harvard historian Lepore takes on one of the most enduring mysteries of Mitchell’s career: Joe Gould. Jackpot. Gould, born to an upper crust Massachusetts family, died in Manhattan as a pauper. He spent the years in between writing—so he claimed—a massive history titled The Oral History of Our Time. Mitchell wrote one lighthearted profile of Gould and then, after Gould’s death, a more somber one. “Joe Gould’s Secret,” which would be the last piece Mitchell published in his lifetime, is a long confession by the reporter that, in his belief, Gould’s never wrote the book at all. Lepore has dug up evidence that proves otherwise. Her biggest discovery, however, is also her most disturbing: Gould’s obsession with Harlem Renaissance sculptor Augusta Savage, an unwilling object of his attention.
Available in May

15) Kill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for the Real James Brown by James McBride (Spiegel & Grau)
A musician, novelist, and memoirist, McBride returns to nonfiction with this examination of the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. The topics at hand: what the movie (Get On Up) got wrong, what Al Sharpton and James Brown’s relationship (the latter unofficially adopted the former) got right, and how James Brown’s children—their father’s estate held hostage by legal battles—got nothing. I really can’t think of a better writer to tackle the legendary figure.
Available in April

16) What Is Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi (Riverhead Books)
I can’t stop talking about this book, and likely won’t anytime soon. Helen Oyeyemi is one of the great writers of our time, a fabulist grounded in character and with a musical ear for language. In Oyeyemi’s first collection of short fiction, themes (and characters) weave in and out of stories about hopeless love, sentient puppets, and YouTube-inspired curses. Run—yes I am telling you to run—to your local bookstore to buy this book.

17) Some Possible Solutions by Helen Phillips (Henry Holt)
Phillips was responsible for one of the strangest, most lyrical books we read last year, The Beautiful Bureaucrat, whose slim profile belied the huge impact it had on the reader. This year, check out the latest from the lucky-for-readers very prolific author; a collection of stories, Some Possible Solutions, is captivating, relatable, disturbing, and never less than wildly thought-provoking—usually all at the same time.
Available in May

18) Among Strange Victims by Daniel Saldaña París, translated by Christina MacSweeney (Coffee House)
Critics have drawn comparisons between París’s latest novel (his first to be translated in the United States) and the work of his blockbuster predecessor, Roberto Bolaño. Both Among Strange Victims and The Savage Detectives are set in Mexico City and then the remote Mexican countryside, both follow a legendary poetic figure from a seemingly impossible and distant past. This protagonist, if you can believe it, is more lackadaisical and less directed than Bolaño’s “heroes.”
Available in June

19) Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond by Sonia Shah (Sarah Crichton)
Shah—whose book on malaria, The Fever, combined history, reporting, and memoir to great effect—returns to epidemiology with an eye towards the future. Her latest book, on the future of global epidemics, asserts that a pandemic will happen to humanity in the near future, and that it is only a matter of when. She uses as examples the international spread of cholera in the 19th century and the relatively limited reach of ebola in the 21st. Shah is a science writer working at the top of her form.

20) Modern Lovers by Emma Straub (Riverhead Books)
In this novel of gentrified Brooklyn, three college friends struggle with midlife crises in Park Slope and Ditmas Park. Straub’s touch is light but perceptive. Among the maybe-divorces and failed attempts at purpose, there’s also a pair of teenagers navigating sex for the first time and a dead classmate whose famous legacy forces her living friends to grapple with their shared past. A charming and well-plotted book, it’s also a vivid look into Brooklyn’s most famous demographic.
Available in May

21) Sunny’s Nights by Tim Sultan (Random House)
Iconic fourth-generation bar owner, neighborhood fixture, and artist Sunny Balzano passed away this month, and there’s no better way to remember him—or the institution he built—by diving into Sultan’s ode to all things Sunny and Sunny’s. A beer at the beloved Red Hook watering hole wouldn’t hurt either.

22) Dear Fang, with Love by Rufi Thorpe (Knopf)
Thorpe’s second novel (after The Girls from Corona del Mar) details a father-daughter trip to Lithuania and trades perspectives back and forth: the father, Lucas, gets the narration; the daughter, Vera, gets the epistolary. She is the one who writes to the eponymous Fang, her boyfriend back home: a refreshing and impressive use of voice. A very funny book because of, rather than despite, its close attention to mental illness, the Holocaust, the relationship between children and parents.
Available in May

23) All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister (Simon & Schuster)
All the fire emojis for Rebecca Traister’s latest book. You don’t have to take my word for it—her long essay “The Single American Woman” in New York Magazine  is adapted from the book. I want to quote nearly every line from it, but it’s the central point is damning enough: “marriage itself continues—contra the conservative dogma that it is a cure for poverty—to hobble women’s chances at equality.” Say no to marriage!

24) Shelter by Jung Yun (Picador)
In this debut novel, the protagonist faces impossible debt and an almost-as-impossible task: asking his wealthy parents if he and his wife can move in with them. After a violent crime takes place in his parents’ home, he chooses to take them in to his over-mortgaged home. Often thrilling, this book also knows where and how to take its time.



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