You might not know it from the ridiculous weather we've been having in New York, but summer is nigh. This is the perfect time to start planning what books you'll be lugging to the beach, slipping into your carry-on, or proudly showing off as you lie in Sheep's Meadow with a thermos of wine. May is going to be a great month for books, so there's something for everyone. Skip to the bottom for some paperback love.
In One Person, by John Irving
May 8thI have a love-hate relationship with Irving, but this novel sounds intriguing to me. In it, Irving returns to the "sexual suspect" topics that have intrigued him since early in his career (the term was coined by Irving himself in The World According to Garp). The narrator of In One Person is Billy, a bisexual man "dedicated to making himself 'worthwhile'" as he navigates the world with his theatrical friends. In a world that is quick to apply labels, it would be so very refreshing to read about people who "defy category and convention." I have high hopes for this one.
May 8thAs if there weren't already a surplus of credible authors this month, America's only living Nobel Laureate for literature is releasing a novella-sized new book. Set in the 1950s, this slim volume follows a Korean War vet struggling to come to terms with racism and the trauma of war. Early reviews suggest that while Home lacks the magical realism or heftiness of other Morrison novels, it still packs a mighty punch. Critic Ron Charles suggests that the pared-down prose puts an even sharper focus on her incredible skills as a writer, making this a great read for Morrison fans as well as the uninitiated. Added bonus: the slim size is perfect for beach reading or traveling (never say I don't watch out for you).
May 1I have a long history of struggling to read more nonfiction. As such, I am totally not suited to this book (or any of the earlier volumes Caro has written on the life of Lyndon B. Johnson). But this series has tremendous prestige going for it. Leaving it off a list of big books releasing this month would be crazy. Think of this as props to my history-loving homies out there. I used to handsell the books in this series like gangbusters when I worked at Borders. Their impressive size makes them unwieldy for jet-setting, but Father's Day is coming, you guys. So keep this one in mind.
People Who Eat Darkness, by Richard Lloyd Parry
This is another nonfiction title, a true crime piece that author Chris Cleave has called "In Cold Blood for our times." Parry is an award-winning foreign correspondent who followed the gruesome case of Lucie Blackman, a woman who went missing in Tokyo and whose dismembered remains were found the following winter. This is the story of the detectives who investigated and the convoluted legal system that tried the accused--a man described by the judge as "unprecedented and extremely evil." Guaranteed to give you the chills even during the dog days of summer.
Canada, by Richard Ford
"First I'll tell you about the robbery our parents committed. Then I'll tell you about the murders, which happened later." Pretty killer (pun not intended) hook for a novel, am I right? Allow me to seal the deal for you: Richard Ford is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author (for Independence Day). Let's visit the book blurb for more: "Canada is a profound novel of boundaries traversed, innocence lost and reconciled, and the mysterious and consoling bonds of family." Are you pre-ordering your copy yet?
Let's end with three titles I've already discussed on the blog.
Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel
Thanks to an ARC, I've already read and reviewed this one. It's the follow-up to the Man Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall, and it's a tremendous achievement. Expect to see it on numerous best-of lists come December. It's that good. This installment in the life and career of Thomas Cromwell, advisor to King Henry VIII, centers on the downfall and execution of Anne Boleyn. It's a compelling subject matter that has been done to death (no pun intended) by historians and novelists, but Mantel manages to make it feel fresh and dangerous all over again. Highly recommended.
Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel
May 1If you've read Fun Home this one is a given. It continues the graphic memoir saga of Alison Bechdel, a lesbian cartoonist trying to come to terms first with her relationship to her closeted father and coming out, and now exploring the complex relationship she continues to share with her mother. Some scoff at graphic works as a whole, but Bechdel's work is highly literary. She uses the comic format to heighten the emotion and set the mood, enhancing her story on every level. It helps that the impeccably well-read author is also a brutally honest, skilled writer.
The Newlyweds, by Nell Freudenberger
The moment Ron Charles compared this book to the novels of Jane Austen I knew I was adding this book to my reading list. The blurb call it "a surprising, suspenseful story about the exhilarations—and real-life complications—of getting, and staying, married." Add the fact that Freduenberger's two previous books have been well received and you have yourself a fun summer read with literary credibility to back it up. You can be proud to carry this one around.
New in Paperback
If paperbacks are more your scene, think about these:
The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach's debut novel: a coming of age story of sorts about five people at a fictional college whose lives intertwine after one of them (a star baseball player) throws a wild pitch. May 1st.
In the Garden of Beasts, a nonfiction work by Erik Larson--the bestselling author of The Devil in the White City--about the US Ambassador to Germany in the years leading up to WWII. May 1st.
State of Wonder, the latest novel from critical darling Ann Patchett (author of Bel Canto), about a doctor's odyssey in the Amazon. May 8th.
The Leftovers. Tom Perrotta's most recent novel explores the aftermath of the Rapture and the psychological damage it inflicts on those who were left behind. May 22nd.
Hope this helps you plan your summer reading. See you next month with more!