Oprah likes to say, “There is no best life without books.” We couldn’t agree more, which is why we’ve scoured the spring and summer literary landscapes in search of the season’s most tempting new offerings—28 in all.
Book sales rose more than 9 percent in 2021, with fiction powering much of that growth. This year continues that momentum, with new novels by prizewinning, bestselling authors such as Emily St. John Mandel, Jennifer Egan, Monica Ali, Tom Perotta, Emma Straub, Ottessa Moshfegh, and Douglas Stuart, to name a few, as well as exciting work by emerging talents Leila Mottley, Tomi Obaro, Hernan Diaz, Michelle Hart, and more. And just in time for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May comes a panoply of fiction from Asian and Asian American writers such as Vanessa Hua and Japan’s Mieko Kawakami.
Perhaps one of the most important and thought-provoking publications of the year is Linda Villarosa’s groundbreaking Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of our Nation. It’s a stunning exposé of why Black people in our society “live sicker and die quicker”—an eye-opening game changer.
In the coming months, we’ll be regularly updating this roundup to include additional thrilling new offerings from a variety of genres—from riveting mysteries to must-read nonfiction to more from our most beloved literary novelists and short story writers. But in the meantime, head out to your favorite local bookstore with a large tote bag, turn off the TV, and settle into that most absorbing, edifying, transporting world…of reading.
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The Candy House, by Jennifer Egan
In this dazzling and provocative novel, Egan, winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize, asks the essential zeitgeist question: “What’s app with that?” In 2010, Bix Bouton, a Black tech visionary, embarks on a mission to sate his omnivorous curiosity and enrich his family by devising a download that accesses each user’s memories. But not all’s well in cyberspace. Egan’s technical brio enriches her humane and timely novel, hinting at the risks and rewards in a brave new coded world.
Nightcrawling, by Leila Mottley
This electrifying debut was written by Mottley when she was just 17
and marks the introduction of a remarkable new talent. Its heroine, Kiara, is attempting to navigate the world of East Oakland, where she and brother Marcus live without parents in a squalid apartment they can no longer afford. What unfolds is a riveting tale of survival and resilience that is all the more extraordinary for its author’s youth.
Search, by Michelle Huneven
In this delectable novel, a bestselling Southern California food writer joins a committee from her Unitarian Universalist
congregation as they seek to hire a spiritual leader. Under pressure from her publisher, she agrees to chronicle the search as a memoir, with recipes sprinkled throughout. Huneven treats us to a savory plot that blends spiritual yearnings with earthly pleasures. Forks out!
Young Mungo, by Douglas Stuart
Stuart astonished the literary world with his debut, Shuggie Bain, which won the prestigious Booker Prize. His mesmerizing new novel recasts Romeo and Juliet with two teenage boys as the leads. Set in 1992 Glasgow, Young Mungo recalls the religious turmoil between Catholics and Protestants in Scotland’s largest city, pummeled by the iron fist of Margaret Thatcher’s fiscal policies, perpetuating a vicious code of behavior among working-class men. A marvel of language.
Forbidden City, by Vanessa Hua
Hua’s atmospheric novel evokes the brutal 1960s regime of Chairman Mao as teenage Mei rises from poverty to sit at the ruler’s right hand, both protégé and courtesan. The arc of this morally ambiguous heroine, who embodies our unease with powerful women, traces China’s troubled journey into modernity.
Four Treasures of the Sky, by Jenny Tinghui Zhang
The prides and prejudices of the Old West blaze to life in Zhang’s propulsive, fable-like novel about a starving 13-year-old girl spirited out of China and into California during the 1880s. Daiyu must navigate a maze of challenges, from a calligraphy school in Zhifu to a brothel in San Francisco (“pots of rouge for the cheeks and lips, rice powder for the face, black paint for the eyebrows and eyes”) to a mining town in Idaho. Zhang skillfully embellishes her novel with Chinese characters, suggesting that language is our most potent weapon against oppression.
Sea of Tranquility, by Emily St. John Mandel
The lauded author of Station Eleven is back with a novel that serves up a mélange of historical fiction, sci-fi, and autofiction to illuminate our current moment. If Station Eleven (now an HBO Max series) anticipated the pandemic, her latest inhabits and expands on it through time travel and an author from a moon colony visiting planet Earth while on a book tour.
We Do What We Do in the Dark, by Michelle Hart
This sensual, sparkling debut novel explores the connection between young Mallory and a married college professor, their affair seemingly transactional, erotic; but Hart delves into the motivations of both women to dissect what exactly our desires conceal.
Love Marriage, by Monica Ali
In her fiercely imagined new novel set in London, the author of Brick Lane peels away the illusions we conjure when our core relationships are threatened. Yasmin, daughter of a conservative, striving Muslim clan, is engaged to Joe, who hails from an affluent, progressive, narcissistic tribe. As the families attempt a peaceful merger, crisis looms: Joe’s mother once posed nude for a photo as a kind of feminist statement. Culture clashes, political satire, Oedipal conflicts—they’re all here in this romp of a book.
All the Lovers in the Night, by Mieko Kawakami
From the celebrated author of Breasts and Eggs comes Kawakami’s most accomplished novel yet, plumbing the ennui of Fuyuko, an anxiety-prone proofreader who is something of a social misfit. Once she resolves to transform herself, Fuyuko sets in motion a chain of events that propel things in unexpected ways.
The Evening Hero, by Marie Myung-Ok Lee
An immigrant from Korea, Dr. Yungman Kwak works as an ob-gyn at Horse Breath’s General Hospital in rural Minnesota. Lee, the author of the acclaimed young adult novel Finding My Voice, among others, returns with a fictional adult saga deftly moving between Korea and the Midwest, the past and the present, to capture the duplicitous nature of the American Dream.
Shine Bright, by Danyel Smith
A pioneering culture critic blends singular reportage with personal testimony to document the stories of icons such as Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin alongside lesser-known influences on pop music, like the poet Phillis Wheatley, who sang her poems, and singer Deniece Williams (“Let’s Hear It for the Boy”).
Post-Traumatic, by Chantal V. Johnson
Vivian is the protagonist of this sardonic, searching novel. She’s a survivor of many kinds of violence and abuse, as well as a publicly appointed attorney and advocate who labors long hours at a psychiatric hospital. Her singular musings—on dieting, dating, and self-medication—entertain and enlighten.
You Have a Friend in 10A, by Maggie Shipstead
Great Circle novelist Shipstead’s debut collection spans the globe, from a dude ranch to the deathbed of a Parisian patriarch, each story tenderly, incisively probing our quirky human foibles.
A virtuoso performance by an emerging talent whose first novel was a finalist for the Pulitzer and PEN/Faulkner, Trust is four books in one: a novel within a novel, a partial manuscript, a memoir, and a diary. Diaz’s spellbinding tale parses the truth of just what happened to a patrician Manhattan couple during the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression, and the role money played in all of it.
This Time Tomorrow, by Emma Straub
Time travel is a popular trope in fiction, and Straub deploys it brilliantly in her effervescent latest. On the cusp of her 40th birthday, Alice frets about her ailing father until one morning she wakes and the years have magically rewound to 1996. Teenage Alice rekindles her relationship with her youthful dad, and faces her own shortcomings. A shrewd chronicler of social mores and inner lives, Straub delivers a surefire bestseller.
Woman of Light, by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
In 1930s Denver, Luz “Little Light” Lopez is a tea leaf reader and laundress, a link in a chain of Latinx and Indigenous peoples. When her brother, Diego—a factory worker and snake charmer—flees a white mob, Luz is left to provide for her family, becoming the new protector of their stories and myths. A gorgeous follow-up to Fajardo-Anstine’s Sabrina & Corina.
Lapvona, by Otessa Moshfegh
As fans of Lauren Groff and Bruce Holsinger can attest, medieval history is fertile soil for rich, resonant storytelling. Moshfegh, the author of My Year of Rest and Relaxation, returns with the captivating tale of Marek, a motherless shepherd boy whose ties to a blind midwife ripple through their community and threaten to topple a church hierarchy. Moshfegh expertly creates a world with its own superstitions and laws, both timeless and topical, “made of limestone, the air heavy with the blood smell of iron.”
Dele Weds Destiny, by Tomi Obaro
Decades-long Nigerian friends Funmi, Zainab, and Enitan reunite 30 years after college for the wedding of Funmi’s daughter Destiny. That coming together is the richly entertaining foundation for Obaro’s debut novel of loyalty, betrayal, and ultimately the unwavering love that courses through our most intimate bonds.
Tracy Flick Can’t Win, by Tom Perrotta
Everyone’s favorite scheming politico is back for an encore performance in a black comedy that peers backward in time through the lens of our #MeToo moment. Now an assistant principal at a New Jersey high school, Tracy Flick jumps at the chance to advance her career when her boss retires, but before she can lock it down, a cabal of men swoop in to thwart her ambitions. Rare is the sequel that delivers the punch of a classic, but Perrotta pulls it off with élan.
Under the Skin, by Linda Villarosa
The groundbreaking journalist and editor investigates why African Americans “live sicker and die quicker” in this comprehensive look at the key factors driving persistent racial health disparities in everything from maternal mortality to mental health and medical education. Drawing on three decades of reporting, Villarosa balances scathing exposé with a cautious hope that we can reengineer the healthcare system to make it more equitable.
The Immortal King Rao, by Vauhini Vara
King Rao, raised on a coconut farm in South India, immigrates to the United States and becomes the CEO of a tech firm and leader of the world. Vara, an ex–Wall Street Journal reporter who covered the tech industry, conjures its high jinks and lowdowns with an insider’s flair in this multilayered novel exploring global capitalism and climate change.
His Name Is George Floyd, by Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa
In this groundbreaking work of reportage by a pair of Washington Post journalists, the man whose death at the hands of police sparked a global movement comes to vivid life. The writers recorded hundreds of hours of conversations with people close to Floyd—they conducted more than 400 interviews in all—to produce the definitive work on who Floyd was and what his murder triggered. Gripping, heartbreaking, revelatory.
The Latecomer, by Jean Hanff Korelitz
The bestselling author of The Plot and You Should Have Known (which was made into HBO’s The Undoing, starring Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman) is back with an ingenious family epic featuring the Oppenheimers. They are a Brooklyn Heights–based family—husband and wife Salo and Joanna and their triplets, Harrison, Lewyn, and Sally. Suffice it to say that this is not one big happy family. As the triplets—products of IVF, and yes, that becomes important to the story—prepare to leave for college, the quintet’s dysfunction shifts into high gear. It’s left to the “latecomer,” an unexpected fourth child, to perhaps prove that maybe people can change after all.
The Emergency, by Thomas Fisher
“None of us have seen anything like this,” Thomas Fisher observes of the Covid pandemic, midway through his eloquent, candid The Emergency: A Year of Healing and Heartbreak in a Chicago ER. “The coronavirus is making us relearn medicine.” Fisher captures his turbulent challenges as an attending physician in the emergency department of the University of Chicago Medical Center, on the city’s largely Black and disadvantaged South Side, bringing into sharp relief the gross racial and socioeconomic inequities that stymie better health for all our citizens. Equal parts policy manifesto, philosophical treatise, and nonfiction thriller (with a splash of autobiography), The Emergency frames 12 critical months—November 2019 through November 2020—as Fisher and his team cycle through their usual trials—gunshot trauma, pulmonary embolisms, cancer—while also playing 11-dimensional chess with a relentless microbe. He finds pleasure and pride in their work: “Like attending physicians in EDs across the country, I don’t get involved with every decision, but I meet and examine each patient, and I am ultimately responsible for their diagnosis, treatment plan, and outcome. The residents are the ones who put their hands on every patient,” he writes. “The nurses and techs spend more time with patients than any doctor does. If anyone on the team is off their game, the whole choreography falls apart. But when the dance is flowing as it should, it takes on a kind of frantic beauty.”
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, by Ntozake Shange
A reissue of the groundbreaking 1975 choreopoem by the late trailblazing poet Ntozake Shange features a reflection from Shange herself on her journey crafting the poem and behind-the-scenes challenges, augmented by introductions from both Jesmyn Ward and Camille A. Brown, the director and choreographer of the recently opened Broadway revival of For Colored Girls. The effect of this blend of perspectives, along with a new poem, is an important affirmation of the production’s significance for audiences new and old. For Colored Girls remains timeless and resonant because it brought representation of the nuanced private lives of Black women and girls to the stage—along with tackling previously undiscussed matters such as intimate partner violence, confidence, faith, and joy. Vivid photographs from the play’s productions from 1976 to 2019 to round out a refreshed and refreshing offering of the classic work.
French Braid, by Anne Tyler
In her 24th book, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author observes the Garretts from their first and last family vacation in the 1950s through the present day, examining the challenges and joys of our daily intimacies with those closest to us. Some of the novel’s dynamics and themes will at first seem familiar to Tyler aficionados—and we are passionate about her work-—but subtly, gently, the iconic novelist nudges into new territory, pulling back from the quotidian and giving us an elegy to what falls away when our kids grow and we age and grapple with what remains and what will never be.
Nobody Gets Out Alive, by Leigh Newman
From the winner of a National Magazine Award comes an austere, winning, atmospheric collection that broods on desperate lives amid Alaska’s “shiny flotsam of airplanes and speedboats and snow machines.” Newman navigates the emotional fissures in her characters—a distraught woman willing to drive thousands of miles from an abusive marriage; a wife caught in an affair, “her face a blur of panic”—but the 49th state is the real star, from oil-rich Anchorage to the solace of wilderness, landscape as destiny.
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