Have you been wanting something fresh? Check out this list!
Scoundrel by Sarah Weinman: One of our finest true crime writers returns with the chilling story of Edgar Smith, a convicted murderer freed from Death Row by virtue of his connections with various powerful people, including National Review founder William F. Buckley. Smith’s deceptions set him free and catapulted him to literary fame, but ultimately, he nearly took another innocent woman’s life, leaving blood on the hands of Buckley and his other champions. Exhaustively reported and compassionately told, Scoundrel shows how the justice system is easily manipulated, and how it often fails vulnerable women. Like The Real Lolita before it, Scoundrel proves once again that Weinman is a modern master of the genre.
The Invisible Kingdom by Meghan O'Rourke: “I got sick the way Hemingway says you go broke: ‘gradually and then suddenly,’” O’Rourke writes in The Invisible Kingdom, describing the beginning of her decades-long struggle with chronic autoimmune disease. In the late nineties, O’Rourke began suffering symptoms ranging from rashes to crushing fatigue; when she sought treatment, she became an unwilling citizen of a shadow world, where chronic illness sufferers are dismissed by doctors and alienated from their lives. In this elegant fusion of memoir, reporting, and cultural history, O’Rourke traces the development of modern Western medicine and takes aim at its limitations, advocating for a community-centric healthcare model that treats patients as people, not parts. At once a rigorous work of scholarship and a radical act of empathy, The Invisible Kingdom has the power to move mountains.
True Story: What Reality TV Says About Us by Danielle J. Lindemann: Have you ever been bashed for watching Survivor or The Bachelor? Pick up this definitive sociological guide to reality television, and next time someone mocks your “guilty pleasure,” you’ll know exactly what to say. In compulsively readable chapters on everything from COPS to Honey Boo Boo, Lindemann illuminates how reality television both reflects and creates us, while also codifying our deep conservatism and fragile hierarchies of power. “Reality television teaches us how the categories and meanings we use to organize our worlds are built on unsteady ground,” Lindemann argues. Reading True Story is like seeing the matrix—you’ll never watch Bravo the same way again.
Anthem by Noah Hawley: In Anthem, it's the end of the world as we know it, and only teenagers can see the big picture. This epic literary thriller is set in a not-too-distant future, where the nation is hopelessly divided, the political system is broken, and the climate is barreling toward irrevocable disaster. (Familiar, right?) Crippled with anxiety about the sorrowed world they stand to inherit, high schoolers respond with a disturbing protest movement: mass suicide, “an act of collective surrender.” Three unlikely young heroes resist the movement and journey into the American West, where wildfires rage through the redwoods and homegrown terrorists stoke lethal violence. Together they embark on an epic quest to save a friend from the Wizard, a Jeffrey Epstein-like monster; ultimately, they may just save the world. Anthem is a Great American Novel for these tumultuous times—a provocative work of fiction that sees to the heart of things, cuts through the noise, and asks, “How can we change, before it’s too late?”
Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez: In this Technicolor novel from an astounding new voice, we meet Olga and Prieto Acevedo, two Brooklyn-born children of Puerto Rican revolutionaries who now live successful but precarious lives in their gentrifying borough. Olga, a wedding planner working with well-heeled Manhattan clientele, wonders if she’ll ever find a love story to call her own; meanwhile, popular Congressman Prieto fights for the siblings' Latinx neighborhood while concealing his sexuality. Blanca, their demanding and absent mother, chose fighting for Puerto Rican independence over her children long ago, but when Hurricane Maria blows her back into their lives, Olga and Prieto must reckon with the wounds of the past. Olga Dies Dreaming proves the truth of that oft-quoted aphorism, “the personal is political.” Packed with richly imagined characters and vivacious prose, the novel asks how we can live meaningful lives in a world rife with inequality. (A Hulu adaptation starring Aubrey Plaza is already in the works, so get in on the ground floor while you can.)
To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara: In this grand and sweeping novel, her first since 2015’s much-lauded A Little Life, Yanagihara crafts a symphony from three disparate stories, each one set in an alternate America. In 1893, the scion of a wealthy family resists an arranged marriage as he falls for a penniless music teacher; in 1993, a young Hawaiian paralegal hides his past from his much-older lover; finally, in 2093, a woman in totalitarian, pandemic-ridden New York uncovers the mysteries of the men she’s loved. Resounding across these narratives, linked by a Greenwich Village townhouse, are themes of family, fate, and national identity. To Paradise is yet another masterwork from a visionary writer who never fails to surprise and astound.
How Civil Wars Start by Barbara F. Walter: In the past twenty years, the number of active civil wars around the globe has doubled—and now, a leading political scientist insists that we’re on the verge of one of our own. In this urgent guide to how countries come apart at their seams, Walter reveals the warning signs of civil unrest, arguing that the United States is now an “anocracy,” somewhere between a democracy and an autocratic state. If we’re to come back from the brink of collapse, Walter argues, we’ll need to shore up the American experiment by protecting voting rights, reforming campaign finance laws, and curbing extremism on social media, among other changes. Rigorously researched and lucidly argued, How Civil Wars Start is an arresting wake-up call.
How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu: Maybe you’ve had enough of pandemic novels by now, but hear us out: How High We Go in the Dark is exactly the white-hot missive of hope, humanity, and compassion you need. This pyrotechnic novel opens in 2030, when an archeological dig in the Arctic Circle unleashes an ancient plague destined to reorganize life on Earth for generations to come. Through a formally dazzling novel-in-stories structure, Nagamatsu envisions how life goes on. Each story is a marvel of imagination: this plague-riddled world contains euthanasia theme parks for terminally ill children, talking pigs raised for organ farming, and robo-dogs programmed with the memories of the dead. By the time mankind takes the stars in search of a new, plague-free home, you’ll be long bewitched. Rich in scope and vision, with each nested story masterfully rippling across others, this is a visionary novel about grief, resilience, and how the human spirit endures.
Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka: “Average men become interesting when they start hurting women,” Kukafka writes in the preface to this mesmerizing novel, sure to be one of the year’s most lauded. “I am tired of seeing Ted Bundy’s face. This is a book for the women who survive.” As serial killer Ansel Packer awaits his execution on Death Row, Notes on an Execution counts down his final twelve hours through remembrances from the women who survived knowing and loving him—as well as those who didn’t. Through characters like the teenage mother who abandoned him and the determined detective who brought him to justice, Ansel comes into view, but so do we, the crime-hound readers, indicted in the funhouse mirror of our own dark obsessions. Why do we seek meaning in the lives of violent men, while overlooking the lives of women who pay the ultimate price? At once blistering with righteous anger and radical empathy, Notes on an Execution is destined to become a contemporary classic.
South to America by Imani Perry: The American South is often cast as a backwater cousin out of step with American ideals. In this vital cultural history, Perry argues otherwise, insisting the South is, in fact, the foundational heartland of America, an undeniable fulcrum around which our wealth and politics have always turned. Fusing memoir, reportage, and travelogue, Perry imparts Southern history alongside high-spirited interviews with modern-day Southerners from all walks of life. At once a love letter to “a land of big dreams and bigger lies” and a clarion call for change, South to America will change how you understand America’s past, present, and future.
*Book descriptions provided by Good Reads