If you look around right now, you might be thinking, “Wow. The weather is amazing, the streets are alive and it’s time for me to get outside again. The worst of the pandemic has passed (hopefully), the summer is here and it’s finally time for me to safely, responsibly engage with the people I love. Heck, even the people I’m not so crazy about!”
A classic mistake. Now, more than ever, it is time to stay inside with the best new books that our sprawling multinational publishing conglomerates have to offer. You owe it to yourself, this paper and, most of all, to me.
Below, we’ve separated the wheat from the literary chaff.
Edward St. Aubyn (June 1)
St. Aubyn is known for his Patrick Melrose series, five short novels about British people who are rich, sad, angry and on drugs. They’re mostly excellent and make you feel like you’re reading the world’s best-written gossip column, with no blind items. St. Aubyn’s newest, about three close friends bound together by love, the pursuit of knowledge and ecology, doesn’t sound quite so dishy or salacious, but the strength of his past work should be enough to sell you on this one. Beautiful cover, too.
“Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch”
Rivka Galchen (June 8)
When it comes to a sense of the weird, Galchen stands alone among the big name, young-ish American Jewish novelists — Englander, Krauss, Safran Foer, Cohen, etc. Her first novel, “Atmospheric Disturbances,” is a favorite of mine, the story of a one Dr. Leo Liebenstein and his “missing” wife. “Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch” tells the story of Katharina Kepler, a 17th-century German illiterate widow accused of practicing witchcraft. Widowed and persecuted, Katharina has to rely on her son, her few friends and her wits to survive.
Marina Jarre, translated by Ann Goldstein (June 22)
The rare case where the work of the translator is what got me interested. Ann Goldstein, a longtime editor at The New Yorker, is best known for her translations of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet, which, if you’re pressed for time, you should read instead of this article. But if you have the wherewithal to soldier on, check out Goldstein’s translation of Jarre’s memoir. Jarre, who died in 2016, barely escaped the Latvian iteration of the Holocaust to become a novelist of the new, forged-in-fire Europe, and Goldstein does her work justice in this translation.
Brandon Taylor (June 22)
Taylor is both a wonderful novelist and a great Twitter follow, which is rare, because usually it’s one or the other. His 2020 novel, “Real Life,” was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and if a Bernstein Prize existed, it would have made my 2020 shortlist as well. I’m not yet big-time enough to have received a galley of his newest, a collection of linked short stories about sexy artists called “Filthy Animals,” but I’m looking forward to checking it out.
Dana Spiotta (July 6)
Spiotta’s “Eat the Document” is a genuine classic among contemporary novels, and I’m not certain why she’s not much more well-known. Her forthcoming novel, “about aging, about the female body and about female difficulty–female complexity–in the age of Trump,” and also about a woman who flees her family, sounds like the sort of thing Spiotta will do well.
Simon Rich (July 27)
It’s actually amazing how many different funny things Simon Rich has had a hand in over a short period of time. The once-upon-a-time “Saturday Night Live” writer has many funny collections of stories to his name, and his four-part series for The New Yorker served as the source material for “An American Pickle.” Check out this new one for a good introduction to Rich.
Anthony Veasna So (August 3)
I didn’t know much about Anthony Veasna So before he died in December. I knew his work for the magazine n+1, but in the months since he passed there’s been an incredible outpouring of love and grief from the writers and editors that knew him, and I was inspired to look back into what I’d already read. There was only one conclusion: I want to read “Afterparties,” So’s first and only short story collection, and I look forward to spending time with the type of writer that is in short supply.
“More Than I Love My Life”
David Grossman, translated by Jessica Cohen (August 24)
David Grossman is one of Israel’s worthiest exports. His novels and essays are consistently thoughtful, generous and worth reading for the language, even when translated. For that, thank Cohen, who has translated many of Grossman’s works into English, alongside books from other big-name Israeli writers. If you don’t believe me, check out this newest novel of his.