Considering the fact that it was the end of the decade, and that we’re all trying to distract ourselves from the encroaching heat death of the planet, it’s not surprising that the 2019/2020 list season on the literary internet has been particularly robust—and much too long. That said, we couldn’t help but end it with a bang. For our very last list (of this kind anyway) of the season, we hereby present the 281 (sorry, we couldn’t help it, all other lists must die by our hand) 2020 books most eagerly anticipated by the Literary Hub staff. Get going—this is going to take a while. This is a snapshot of the year to come in books—some of which we’ve read, some of which we haven’t, but all of which we think deserve your attention.
Twelve-year-old Edward Adler is the sole survivor of a plane crash that kills not only his parents and brother, but 191 other passengers. Following two timelines. Napolitano tells the story of Edward and his family boarding the plane at Newark Airport, a narrative somehow filled with suspense, even though we know the ending, and the aftermath of the crash when Edward moves in with his childless aunt and uncle and must figure out how to move on with his life. As Ron Charles so aptly describes in the Washington Post, “Napolitano has written a novel about the peculiar challenges of surviving a public disaster in the modern age. She shows with bracing clarity just how cable news and social media magnify misery and exposure as never before.” It is a devastating novel, of course, but also a story that pointedly asks, and answers, how we can live when living seems impossible. –Emily Firetog, Lit Hub Deputy Editor
Kiley Reid’s much buzzed-about debut, about a young black babysitter working for a white family (the mother of which is an influencer of sorts) in Philadelphia, is the kind of book you have no choice but to read from cover to cover, forsaking all other obligations. (If you can swing it, I recommend tearing through it on a plane, where there’s less chance of interruption.) It’s juicy and smart and timely (and Lena Waithe has already acquired the rights to adapt it into your next favorite film and/or tv show). –Jessie Gaynor, Social Media Editor
In Popkey’s debut novel, a narrator recounts a series of encounters, of conversations spread over 17 years, from 2000 to 2017. Almost all are between women, and the eponymous topics of conversation are just what you might expect: desire, sex, self-loathing, art, being children, being parents, being lovers. Popkey is the closest I’ve read to a millennial Rachel Cusk, but the real pleasure in this novel is the cadence of her sentences, looping and digressive, self-editing—these are sentences that show their work, and the effect is mesmerizing. “Conversation is flirtation,” our narrator tells us. “Tease out enough rope and the listener, she’ll hang on your every word.” Consider me seduced. –Emily Temple, Lit Hub Senior Editor
For many (too many), it took the seismic election of Donald Trump to fully apprehend the racism upon which America is built (being told repeatedly that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice has a way of reconfiguring the histories we’re prepared to accept). Which makes David Zucchino’s propulsive history of the 1898 Wilmington coup as important as it is tragic, a case study in the failure of post-Civil War Reconstruction. Through the 1890s the city of Wilmington, North Carolina was a model for burgeoning black middle class life, an example of what a racially mixed community in the south might look like on the eve of a new century… Until a consortium of white supremacists, in government and out, stepped in to destroy it. –Jonny Diamond, Lit Hub Editor in Chief
Marcial Gala’s The Black Cathedral (translated by Anna Kushner) isn’t an easy novel to pin down: it abounds with narrators, and its sprawling narrative can feel overwhelming at times. But what ultimately emerges is a story of family, an account of a transforming Cuba, an exploration of religious devotion, and a harrowing tale of a sinister man engaged in horrific acts. The Black Cathedral might not be what you first expect, but its unpredictability serves as one of its many strengths. –Tobias Carroll, Lit Hub contributor
For half a century, Robert Hass’s companionable voice has been a guiding sound in an age against wisdom. His work approaches the scale of what we do not know with respect and variety. A long-time translator from poets of the east, especially Basho and Buson, Hass also appreciates the clarifying ring of a single image. Still, from Field Guide, his 1973 debut, onward, he has developed his own warm kind of prosody: a loose, rangy, California poetic line that is a West coast sonic cousin to Whitman’s, without the barbaric yawps, and a more pronounced eastward spiritual lean. Hass’ last all new book was thirteen years ago, so Snow in July is an event, and it does not disappoint. This voluminous collection features a host of knock-out new poems, elegies, prose riffs and dispatches from the snowy peaks of a life approaching its eighth decade. –John Freeman, Lit Hub Executive Editor
In 1993, E.J. Koh’s father accepted a job in Seoul, Korea, stashing his teenage daughter with her brother in Davis, California. The job came with perks, but not for the author of this exquisite memoir, who grew up feeling abandoned, stripped of her past. How could her mother leave a daughter behind? Years later, after an itinerant youth, some of it spent as a dancer in Korea, Koh discovers a box of letters from her mother, written in Korean, asking for forgiveness. The Magical Language of Others translates these letters into English, weaving them elegantly into Koh’s own story, crafting a meditation on longing and the ties that were supposed to bind. At first, in the letters, mother and daughter converse in broken Korean, but as Koh’s familiarity with the language grows, so does the complexity of what Koh’s mother can tell her. Eventually, when Koh begins to study Japanese, they switch into that language and the learning begins again—and the stories grow. In the book’s latter parts, we learn that Koh’s maternal grandmother was also separated from her children when she lived in Japan during a tumultuous time, disguising herself as Japanese for her own safety. As Koh describes her own trips to Japan, she powerfully captures the way time accordions in the body. How the tongue contains all the secrets to the past, if only one can teach it the languages of others. –John Freeman, Lit Hub Executive Editor
The Rome Prize for Literature winner and author of The Unseen World (2016) returns with a character-driven literary thriller set in a Philadelphia neighborhood ravaged by opioid addiction. The lives of two once-inseparable, now estranged sisters—Kacey, a homeless addict, and Mickey, a beat cop patrolling the same dangerous streets that have stolen Kacey away from her—converge once again when Kacey disappears at the same time a mysterious series of murders occur in Mickey’s district. Moore’s previous novel was both an intricate, suspenseful mystery story, and a sublimely written meditation on familial love and loss. Long Bright River promises the same immersive, hybrid pleasure. –Dan Sheehan, Book Marks Editor
If Helen Gurley Brown’s 1982 Having It All coined an adage, Why We Can’t Sleep shows what happens when the shine has worn off. Drawing on hundreds of interviews with middle class, middle-age women of all races and from nearly all 50 states, Ada Calhoun shows where Gurley’s motto led Generation X women—the first cohort of women not just told that they could have it all, but that they ought to. Exhaustion, Calhoun reports, has been the destination. Marriage implosions, rising debt, and a constant sense of failure pop up throughout this brief but potent and sometimes funny book. Calhoun tries to take stock of what a mid-life crisis looks like for her generation of overstretched middle class women. Indeed, Gen-Xers carry more debt than Millennials and Boomers around them. How do Calhoun’s subjects respond?
One mother takes a hammer to her kid’s iPad when a final warning doesn’t send him back to homework. Another calls in sick and goes to movies during the day to cry in private. It might be easy to make fun of such responses—many people in the country, let alone the world, don’t have an iProduct of any kind to smash, let alone a job to shirk, but Calhoun is quick to acknowledge how for the women she interviews that awareness adds yet more shame to their feeling. Why can’t they get it together, why can’t they just be grateful? Pain and being overwhelmed, Calhoun concludes, at least for the women she interviews, is not an enlarging experience but an isolating one. On that level, Why We Can’t Sleep might do much to let readers like the women Calhoun writes about that they are not alone. –John Freeman, Lit Hub Executive Editor
For most writers (a broad category of aspirational self-identification that warms my heart!) getting an actual book deal is the be all and end all, the final trophy at the end of a thankless, grueling marathon… But wait! There’s more, a lot more. If any of this gives you anxiety—the before or the after—Courtney Maum is here to help, along with the 150 literary stars she’s called on for advice. The key word in the book’s subtitle—“A Writer’s Guide to Finishing, Publishing, Promoting, and Surviving, Your First Book”—is that last one in the series, and Maum should know: a great exemplar of what it takes to make a life in literature, Maum is a tireless advocate of her fellow writers, while also finding the time to publish five books (thus far), and run an annual writers’ retreat, The Cabins. This is the how-to book for a new era of publishing. –Jonny Diamond, Lit Hub Editor in Chief
“Oh god,” I yelled out on page three of this novel. My husband poked his head into the bedroom. “What?” I buried my face, in distress, in literary ecstasy, in relief. “I just love him so much,” I said. “He’s still so good. The sentences!” “Ok dear,” said the retracting head. But the intense elegance of Garth Greenwell’s prose—even when he’s describing rough sex or embarrassing passes or drunkenness—always startles me. It’s insane that anyone should be this good at writing, that anyone should be able to stir up the emotions of strangers so quickly, so deftly. This novel, like Greenwell’s first, What Belongs to You, is set mostly in Sofia, Bulgaria; also like his first, it is a profound meditation on love and ways to love; also like his first, it is sad, beautiful, and cathartic. It may stir up feelings you didn’t know you had, or those you didn’t want to face. But you’ll be glad you did, in the end. –Emily Temple, Lit Hub Senior Editor
Tanen Jones’ debut joins a host of crime novels featuring women teaming up for nefarious ends, including Lisa Lutz’s The Passenger and Amy Gentry’s Last Woman Standing, and I’m delighted to see so much teamwork gracing the page of the feminist thriller (although of course, even the best partnerships can fall apart given the right stressors). After her father’s death, a young woman finds out she won’t inherit anything unless she can find her sister, estranged for over a decade. When she fails to track her errant family down, she hires a drifter to impersonate her missing sister so as to be able to claim her inheritance. At first, the arrangement is working out for everyone—but both women have their own secrets to hide. –Molly Odintz, CrimeReads Associate Editor
James Wood has been writing criticism for 30 years now, but in America his impact emerged in the late 1990s, when The Broken Estate was published, his name built on skewering big-name writers. There was—and has always been—far more to his work than reputation hunting. As an essayist, his ability to climb inside a book and speak of it in the book’s own language is unparalleled. Reading Serious Noticing, a selection of his work since 1999, is to watch Wood wrestle with tradition and new work in ways that feels intimate, hilarious, sometimes almost personal. Metaphors and similes animate each of these essays. “Chekov is more gloomily scrupulous than Hrabal,” Wood notes, “who likes to heat his caught enigmas.” “Krasznahorkai’s work tends to get passed around like rare currency,” he writes in another essay on the Hungarian cult writer. And of Helen Garner, “her unillusioned eye makes her clarity compulsive.”
Essay to essay, even when Wood tromps into the knee high snow drifts of high art, the action easily returns to those of us who live on earth. Perhaps it’s because reading is how Wood notices the world, and, in his own English way, loves it. Unlike his father, who became a priest in his fifties, Wood remains spiritually untethered, his Sundays as free as ever. So he reads. “Often in life,” he writes, “I have felt that an essentially novelistic understanding of motive has helped me to begin to fathom what someone else really wants from me, or another person. Sometimes it’s almost frightening to realize how poorly most people know themselves; it seems to put an almost priestly advantage over people’s souls. This is another way of suggesting that in fiction we have the great privilege of seeing how people make themselves up—how they construct themselves out of fictions and fantasies and then choose to repress or forget that element of themselves.” –John Freeman, Lit Hub Executive Editor
This spooky thriller by England’s most brilliant mid-career novelist feels like an apocalyptic sequel to I, Robot directed by Samuel Beckett. It’s sometime in the near future and software giant Beetle has created a new algorithm so powerful, so good at surveilling us, that there are no more surprises. And of course, no free will. That is until one morning, Beetle employee Douglas Barley wakes to learn that a man has gone home after a hard night on the booze to murder his wife and family. What follows is a brilliant satire of how hard tech giants work to pretend what they’re doing is merely handing us a tool, when in fact they’ve scrambled the very functioning of our minds—which, originally, were meant to work together. Full of hilarious riffs on the way language itself fights back against control, and plot twists that seem to borrow from a gumshoe crime caper, Zed is a fabulously intelligent rejoinder to the idea that a tech dystopia is inevitable. –John Freeman, Lit Hub Executive Editor
The normcore title of Hannah Sullivan’s T. S. Eliot prize-winning collection doesn’t prepare you for the tenderness that lives in its pages. Seven decades after Frank O’Hara’s famous walk among the humdrum cabs of Manhattan, Sullivan to comes to New York to see it for herself and is perplexed, simultaneously glad and underwhelmed. The long opening poem, told in second person, is hymn to that complex emotion: of arriving after the party is over. How you have to learn to see around what you expected. Not long after a first season in the city, the poem’s heroine is “listening to Bowie in bed, thinking about the hollows / Of his eyes, his lunatic little hand jigs, longing for Berlin in the seventies.” What is nostalgia, the poems seem to ask, if it emerges out of experiences not yet had? Of things one did not actually live through? Sullivan’s ability to enfold the ongoingness of seeing into being lends her poems a companionable air in a time of bewildering media. Right up front they admit they do not have the American sublime figured out, and as Sullivan moves from love to its crinkled aftermath you feel as a reader like you’ve been befriended by an honest and true voice in the old-fashioned sense, one you’ll want to hear from again. –John Freeman, Lit Hub Executive Editor
Well, this novel is literary catnip if I’ve ever seen it: young writers, bad teachers, revenge, poetry. A Eugenides-esque chorus of students narrate the events of their time at a low residency MFA program in Vermont (the author graduated from the Bennington Writing Seminars, and is now a Senior Editor at Henry Holt), piecing together what they know, imagining what they don’t know, and telling the story of what happens when one brilliant student dies, and when the mysterious girls who love him make it their business to make those responsible pay. –Emily Temple, Lit Hub Senior Editor
Thank God for archives. In 2016, Amistad at last released Zora Neale Hurston’s Baracoon, which grew out of her interviews with Cudjoe Lewis, the last remaining survivor of the Middle Passage. The book, written in the 1940s, had languished unpublished in the Alain Locke collection archives at Howard University. Not long ago, a handful of short stories from very early in Hurston’s career also turned up in the infrequently visited stacks of a research library. Here they are now as Hitting a Straight Light with A Crooked Stick, and they do not need any dusting off.
Take Hurston’s first published story, “John Redding Goes to Sea,” issued in 1921 in Howard University’s literary journal, published the year after Hurston earned her associate’s degree, before leaving for New York. In the tale, a young boy who dreams of going to sea becomes upset when the twigs he imagines are boats are caught in the reeds at the bank. Attempting to console his son, John’s father inadvertently warns him that life might be getting used to things “getting tied up.” The older man then swiftly corrects himself. “Now, no, chile, doan be takin’ too much stock of what Ah say. Ah talks in parables sometimes.” Reading these stories now, it’s hard not to see Hurston herself inhabiting this exact contradiction—telling the reader something hard, then allowing the form’s necessary obliqueness to apologize if what she says hurts. Read longitudinally, eventually leaving Florida and coming to Harlem, the collection feels like a narrative-based parallel to Jacob Lawrence’s Migration series, only here there’s a variety of sound and texture to the gesture, as if Hurston knew from the beginning how important it was for sound to migrate too, from country to the city, from speech into books. As a result, in her pages, Harlem sounds more like itself: a place full of people from far away, trying and failing to unlearn where it was they were from. –John Freeman, Lit Hub Executive Editor
The last few years have brought a renewed public conversation around sexual assault on college campuses, involving both a reconsideration of the legal landscape around it and a debate about the language we use to enact it. In Sexual Citizens, Jennifer S. Hirsch and Shamus Khan discuss the ways that social environments can exacerbate the risk factors for assault, drawing from the Sexual Health Initiative to Foster Transformation (SHIFT) at Columbia University and stressing the roles of cultural norms and gendered power structures. Their book promises to add important insight to a complicated, often-maligned set of issues, and I’m curious to see what they have discovered. –Corinne Segal, Lit Hub Senior Editor
There are lots of memoirs about the tech industry, but Anna Wiener’s “literary-minded outsider’s insider account” does more than reveal the surreal extravagance of tech-bros in Silicon Valley. Wiener tracks her own motivations for leaving her publishing job in New York, the promises of the digital economy, and the promise of the utopian future that economy claims to want to build. Come for the unmasking of start-up culture, stay for the personal narrative of aspiration and disillusionment. –Emily Firetog, Lit Hub Deputy Editor
In Thomas’s latest, Tash, the 15-year-old daughter of what she has only recently discovered is a Russian oligarch lands at a minor boarding school in England, where all of the girls are obsessed with a) the legend of Princess Augusta, whose portraits coat the walls, and who may or may not have been “ravaged” by a sultan, and b) starving themselves. Tash quickly joins in, but eventually she begins to wonder if there is something more behind the institution’s reputation for anorexia. Like all of Thomas’s work, it is weird, and clever, and dark, though it’s rather smaller in scope than 2015’s The Seed Collectors. –Emily Temple, Lit Hub Senior Editor
A teacher, his pregnant wife, and their young son walk into a clinic late one night. It sounds like the start of a joke, but it’s actually the start of a wildly surreal novel, in which this family tells the surgeon that they have been killed and given a chance to come back to life, if he can mend their wounds by sunrise. (We love an ominous one-night-only challenge!) Written by an actual physician-scientist, Night Theater dredges up ethical/existential questions and a whole lot of wonder. –Katie Yee, Book Marks Assistant Editor
When an oyster gets a splinter, it produces a pearl. (Its organs create a hard shell around the foreign object.) This is what the stories in Nicolette Polek’s debut collection remind me of. It’s a world we recognize, but something is always off. In the first story, a woman carries a rope barrier with her everywhere, to separate herself from the world. In another, at the supermarket, “a group of people circle their carts around a watermelon display like a death dance.” Both halves of a couple want to go dancing, but they stay in instead for fear of dragging the other out of their comfort zone. Imaginary Museums reads like a kind of Twilight Zone, in which everyday people living their everyday lives find themselves in a prison of their own making. There’s something dark about them, but then you turn the page and find yourself laughing at her dry wit. Each story is tightly coiled, brightly polished, and they’re all a delight to discover. –Katie Yee, Book Marks Assistant Editor
When 17-year-old Liya’s mother—a brilliant physicist who kept her secrets, including the identity of Liya’s father—dies, Liya makes a pilgrimage to Beijing, where she was born, determined to find out the truth of both her mother’s life and her own. An ambitious and artful debut. –Emily Temple, Lit Hub Senior Editor
In 2015, I became obsessed with Hungarian novelist Magda Szabó’s elusive, elevated novel The Door—read if you have not, I beg you!—and so the prospect of a newly translated work, especially one that is apparently the favorite of Szabó’s countrymen, and also especially one about a rebellious teenager who is sent to a horrid boarding school (this is very much my jam, guys) gives me the purest thrill of anticipation. –Emily Temple, Lit Hub Senior Editor
For decades, fascism, displacement, mass exile, and the looming threat of war have not felt so universally salient as they do now. Isabel Allende returns with an epic novel, A Long Petal of the Sea, that charts these themes, following a young widow, Roser, and an army medic, Victor Dalmau, who flee to Chile after Franco and his fascist party come to power in Spain. Roser and Victor’s new lives do not mark the end of their troubles, however, as the specter of European warfare continues to hound them. The exiles hold onto their dream of returning home, but where is that now in the wake of such widespread desolation? –Aaron Robertson, Lit Hub Assistant Editor
Diane Ravitch’s latest book opens with an eye-popping quote. “If a foreign country had inflicted upon our public education system what Ed Reform plutocrats and their toadying political sycophants have imposed upon it,” this anonymous source says, “we would have considered it an act of war.” Is this an exaggeration? Slaying Goliath reminds us that it is not, as Ravitch, a former US assistant secretary of education under George H. W. Bush, quickly lays bare the four decade-long fight to unplug, defund, and ultimately make money off one of the biggest non-businesses in American life: educating our young.
In Reign of Error, Ravitch reminded us that this movement began as a way to break the teacher’s union, that it has been funded by a handful of multimillionaires and billionaires, including the Walmart family, Mayor Mike Bloomberg—yes, that one—and our current secretary of education. Most of the premises they beat public school with are false. Even if you believe, as many educators do not, that test score matrixes are a valid way to measure education, there is no evidence privatized schooling improves test scores. Instead it has been proven to increase segregation, impoverishment of public schools, and can lead to corruption.
The good news is that a decade on, Betsy Devos’s appointment aside, there are some victories to celebrate, Slaying Goliath dedicates most of its pages to drawing attention to the many forces that have amassed in defense of public schooling, from the teachers and activists who defeated the outrageously well-founded Question 2 in Massachusetts, to the NAACP’s leadership role in standing against the expansion of charter schools. Ravitch argues powerfully for other activists to follow suit, keep their message simple, and remind voters of the importance of an educated populace. The fight continues, but Slaying Goliath ought to be required reading for any educator today who still has to deal with the teacher-demeaning logic which a small, rich lobby has been pumping into our public space. –John Freeman, Lit Hub Executive Editor
“This book is not simply the great American novel,” Sandra Cisneros wrote of this story of a woman and her child fleeing the violence of their Mexico town for the northern border, “it’s the great novel of las Americas. It’s the great world novel! This is the international story of our times. Masterful.” –Emily Temple, Lit Hub Senior Editor
Speculative fiction rarely depicts alien invasions as benevolent, but Chana Porter’s delicious first novel, The Seep, does just that. Bodiless, multi-dimensional aliens—“the Seep”—have communed with humanity, helping our poor, flesh-anchored souls to see that life and meaning extend beyond the corporeal, are rooted in the interconnectedness of everything. Whatever humans can imagine is now possible, including the complete avoidance of pain, regret, and despair. The only problem? Those are exactly the things that make us human. The Seep is a glorious interrogation of human feelings and relationships and how they shape who we are. –Amy Brady, Lit Hub contributor
How’s this for a premise: Ada and her father possess the power to heal human illness by temporarily burying bodies in the mystical healing Ground, near their home at the edge of a village. Locals come to them for help. There’s a good, careful system. Then one day, Ada meets Samson, and their affair threatens to disrupt everything. Sue Rainsford’s beautiful debut novel works its own kind of magic. This wildly inventive story reads like a centuries’ old myth you can’t believe you’ve never heard before, and her prose will hold you captive like a spider’s thread. –Katie Yee, Book Marks Assistant Editor
Two young women, Vicki Durian, 26, and Nancy Santomero, 19, were murdered on June 25, 1980 in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. Three girls were on their way to a gathering called the Rainbow Festival, and two were murdered en route. What happened to the third? Emma Copley Eisenberg was living in West Virginia when she first came across the story of the murders, and her time spent in the state helps get the texture and nuance right. The result is dazzling. –Lisa Levy, CrimeReads Contributing Editor
I remember beginning Danez Smith’s breakout 2017 collection Don’t Call Us Dead on the subway on the way home from work—and then getting to my stop and not being able to put the book away. I read it while walking from the station to my apartment, and I read it while climbing the stairs, and I finished it in the hallway, with my coat still on. So . . . it’s good. Which means I’m obviously looking forward to Smith’s next volume, which is officially titled Homie and which the publisher describes as “part friendship diary, part bright elegy, part war cry.” –Emily Temple, Lit Hub Senior Editor
In William Gibson’s follow-up to The Peripheral, the inventor of cyberpunk has a harrowing new tale of apps gone awry. In the present day, an app-whisperer works to design a personal assistant with some surprising combat skills. 100 years in the future, powerful figures attempt to change the path of history, and perhaps avert an apocalypse. –Molly Odintz, CrimeRead Associate Editor
The last few years have seen the proliferation of a number of new products and services aimed at promoting a certain image of “minimalism,” from mid-century furniture to digital detox. The word has become a catchall for any product or idea that promises to simplify or ease our lives, but, in the process, mostly encourages us to accumulate more stuff. In The Longing for Less, Kyle Chayka draws on his experience as a cultural critic to look past this consumerist ethos at the philosophers, artists, and writers who pioneered the concepts underlying minimalism, from Jun’ichirō Tanizaki to Donald Judd and John Cage, as well as the ways their ideas surround us in our everyday lives. –Corinne Segal, Lit Hub Senior Editor
Luna’s compelling PI Alex Vega and her partner Max Caplan return, and this time, they’re investigating the murders of two young women. The case takes them into the shadowy world of human trafficking and the sex trade, as the two work to not only find the murderer but also do what they can to restore humanity to the victims. Luna’s thrilling novels have established her as a powerful up-and-coming voice in the genre, and we can’t wait to see what she does next. –Molly Odintz, CrimeReads Associate Editor
I’ve followed Marcelo Hernandez Castillo’s work as a poet for years, including on the Undocupoets Campaign, where he worked with co-founders Javier Zamora and Christopher Soto to eliminate citizenship requirements from poetry book prizes. Children of the Land is his story of migration from Mexico in 1993 and everything that followed as his family was subject to the violence and dehumanization of the US immigration system. The book also addresses Castillo’s changing relationship with language as he progresses through his education, eventually enrolling in an MFA program at the University of Michigan. It’s a moving, gripping testament to the ways in which US immigration policy fractures lives. –Corinne Segal, Lit Hub Senior Editor
Focusing on six declarations of war, this book tells a century’s history of colonialism from a Palestinian perspective that is often erased from academic and Western political discourse. Khalidi draws on familial archives, from documentation of his great-great-uncle and former mayor of Jerusalem, Yusuf Diya al-Khalidi, which debunks several colonial myths imposed on pre-Balfour Palestine, to stories Khalidi’s father revealed to him just months before passing. This book is a masterful work of scholarship and personal history excavating unlike any I’ve seen before; this will become a major force in the Palestinian historical cannon in the years to come. –George Abraham, Lit Hub contributor
Flattery is a rising star back in the UK and Ireland (where she already has a heap of awards to her name), and with very good reason. Her debut collection is a magnificently mordant work, full of delicious one-liners, perennially creeping menace, and hypnotically nihilistic depictions of cold-eyed young women trapped in strange, lonely, sometimes dystopian situations, often surrounded by predatory or unhinged older men. In one story, “Hump,” an office worker develops a hunchback after her father’s death. In another, “Abortion: A Love Story,” two female college students join together to tell their stories in the format of a play. Reminiscent of the writing of Mary Gaitskill, Lorrie Moore, and Ottessa Moshfegh, Show Them a Good Time is a deft and dazzling work of pitch-black humor and deep, disquieting sorrow. –Dan Sheehan, Book Marks Editor
We are living in a time of zombie ideas, Paul Krugman has been arguing. Ideas that should have died long ago when hit by evidence—trickle-down tax breaks, the madman syndrome of leadership—but have refused to go away. What have they wrought? This collection of Krugman’s pieces for the New York Times takes readers on a tour of that world. From the road to Obamacare to its long (and ongoing) pushback, to the election of Donald Trump and the “revelation” that he would leave the American worker behind, it’s not a pretty picture. In short it’s become a time against truth.
What a ghoulish assortment of villains who emerge in its pages, from Trump to McConnell to Paul Ryan—remember him!—and others. Krugman might be a Nobel Prize winning economist, but he is plugged in to Washington power and reminds us where our politicians call from and who they heed. Kavanaugh isn’t just unfit to be a judge, for example, Krugman reminds, he’s also an anti-worker extremist. Kavanaugh even decided a worker killed by a whale at Seaworld should have known better, and that Seaworld was’t liable for her death. In a time when keeping oneself educated against the tsunami of lies pouring out of Washington can feel like a full-time job, this collection is far more than a hunk of old journalism, it is a lamp in a storm. –John Freeman, Lit Hub Executive Editor
History never really ended and its sitting in a prison cell in The Hague. Radovan Karadzic, the “charming” poet-psychiatrist and leading voice of genocidal Serbian nationalism, will spend the rest of his life locked up for his role in the Bosnian War, and the subsequent massacre of 8,000 Bosniaks, mainly men and boys, at Srbrenica in July 1995. For a two-year period between October 2014 and November 2016 Karadzic was visited by terrorism expert Jessica Stern, who sought, as we must, to understand the psychology of genocide: its motivations, its acts, its perennial surfacing among so-called civilized society. What followed was a series of interviews that form the backbone of this chilling account of how quickly societal order can collapse, particularly when given just the right push from intelligent, charismatic men. –Jonny Diamond, Lit Hub Editor in Chief
I think about the first story in Charles Yu’s 2012 collection Sorry Please Thank You, “Standard Loneliness Package,” about once a week. I won’t describe it (you can read it here) but it has never quite left my mind, and as a result, I am always here for new work from Yu. His latest novel, Interior Chinatown, is a metafictional send-up of Asian American tropes, and it sounds perfectly odd and funny and deep, like the rest of his writing. Can’t wait for another story to mull over until the end of time. –Emily Temple, Lit Hub Senior Editor
Ezra Klein is a born explainer. In his podcast (Impeachment, Explained) and many television appearances, Klein has the energized, sleeves-rolled up demeanor of a person holding important information. He often does, and lately that information concerns the ways that loopholes and outright misinterpretation can be used to subvert the democratic process. In his first book, Klein takes a step back from the current mayhem to ask, how did we get so far gone that a mainstream political party could resort to such tools? To essentially shutting down government to control it? Why We’re Polarized tells this story, and while it does not go as far back as Michael Tomasky’s fantastic If We Can Keep It—Why We’re Polarized focuses on the Goldwater election and its aftermath—Klein’s book is more up to date. It is also more hopeful. Demagoguery on par with Trump is a sign that the Republican party has been losing power and its hold over American people, Klein impressively argues. A few key changes, after a very important election—such as giving Washington DC and Puerto Rico statehood, overhauling the electoral college—would restore people to the equation, diffusing the partisan based polarization. Let’s hope the explainer can become a predictor. –John Freeman, Lit Hub Executive Editor
The first chapter of this novel gave me major Tom Ripley vibes—which is about as high a compliment as I can pay to a crime novel. But while Bollen’s latest is as sumptuous and fraught as Highsmith’s classic, it’s a satisfyingly updated version (the thieves are a gay couple, one white, one black, in a well-rendered contemporary Venice), and full of delights all its own. –Emily Temple, Lit Hub Senior Editor
This new novel by Young Lions Fiction Award winner Paul Yoon (Snow Hunters, The Mountain) is the story of Alisak, Prany, and Noi—three orphan teenagers trying to survive in a war-ravaged, and unexploded ordinance-littered, Laos in 1969. After seeking shelter in a bombed-out field hospital, the trio become medical couriers for an impassioned French doctor who eventually secures them safe passage out of the country. What follows is a decades-spanning journey of horror and hope, as Yoon tenderly traces the divergent paths of these four wounded souls, still haunted by their past but determined to persevere. –Dan Sheehan, Book Marks Editor
Ide is one of the rising stars of crime fiction, and he’s back this month with the fourth installment in his celebrated IQ series, which follows the investigations and adventures of a young, community-spirited, crime-solving man nicknamed IQ, born, raised, and operating out of South Central L.A. In Ide’s latest, IQ gets dragged into a case by a local arms trafficker and heads to new terrain to solve a murder in toney Newport Beach. The twist this time around is the key person-of-interest has multiple personalities, each one with a different story. –Dwyer Murphy, CrimeReads Managing Editor
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