15 books to read in 2019
These are the books I'm most excited to read this year
I'm going to let you in on a lifehack that will change your whole year: preorder books. Trust me on this one: Ordering books before they come out is like a magical gift to your future self — a few months go by, and precisely when you forget about the order, you are surprised by a brand new exciting book appearing on your doorstep. What could be better? Plus many libraries will also allow you to pre-order books, meaning you can enjoy the delight of "treating" your future self to a great read for as cheap as the cost of nothing.
This year, you have many, many choices. Meeting New Year's resolutions to "read more" won't be a problem in 2019 — there are dozens of great new books hitting shelves over the next few months. Here are my top 15 picks.
1. You Know You Want This, by Kristen Roupenian (Jan. 15)
It is not exactly every day that a short story goes viral, which makes "Cat Person," published in The New Yorker in the spring of 2017, a rare and exciting phenomenon. At last we get author Kristen Roupenian's full collection, which includes "Cat Person" as well as 11 other stories she sold in a whopping seven-figure deal after her unlikely explosion onto the literary scene. HBO is already reportedly developing an anthology series based on the collection, which is sure to be the biggest, buzziest book event of the turn of the new year.
2. The Collected Schizophrenias, by Esmé Weijun Wang (Feb. 5)
As an award for unpublished manuscripts, Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize is one of the best barometers for your next great read. This is partly why I've been excited for Esmé Weijun Wang's The Collected Schizophrenias since it won in 2016. Opening with an essay titled "Diagnosis," Wang writes that "Schizophrenia terrifies. It is the archetypal disorder of lunacy. Craziness scares us because we are creatures who long for structure and sense." In a voice both laboratorial and poetic, Wang examines her own diagnosis, as well as her PTSD and Lyme disease, with a gentleness and frankness that mesmerizes and demystifies.
3. Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James (Feb. 5)
There is perhaps no book I am more excited to get my hands on this year than the first novel in Marlon James' epic "African Game of Thrones" trilogy. Black Leopard, Red Wolf has been lauded as being "as well-realized as anything Tolkein made" by author Neil Gaiman, and it reportedly draws its characters from the African continent's history and mythology, including a cast of shape-shifters, monsters, and other magical beings. James previously won the prestigious Man Booker Prize for his 2015 novel A Brief History of Seven Killings. This follow-up is one you're definitely going to want to get your hands on fast and early.
4. Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts, by Jill Abramson (Feb. 5)
Jill Abramson, the former executive editor of The New York Times, goes long here on the state of news media in the 21st century. Following four publications — the Times, The Washington Post, and newcomers BuzzFeed and Vice — Abramson probes the questions of truth and trust in journalism. Her book has an unlikely fan; President Donald Trump praised Abramson for allegedly ripping the Times' "'unmistakably anti-Trump' bias." Abraham pushed back at that assessment of her book, telling The Guardian that Trump is "echoing a piece on Fox News (surprise) that distorts and takes what I wrote totally out of context." Still, whatever side you're on, this looks like it could be the first juicy insider scoop of the year — only this time, from within the fifth estate.
Also noteworthy in February: Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest, by Hanif Abdurraqib (Feb. 1); On the Come Up, by Angie Thomas (Feb. 5); Hard to Love: Essays and Confessions, by Briallen Hopper (Feb. 5); Lost Children Archive, by Valeria Luiselli (Feb. 12); Sounds Like Titanic: A Memoir, by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman (Feb. 12); Bangkok Wakes to Rain, by Pitchaya Sudbanthad (Feb. 19); The White Book, by Han Kang (Feb. 19).
5. Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, by T. Kira Madden (March 5)
I am a huge fan of essayist T. Kira Madden and the literary journal she founded, No Tokens, so I naturally can't wait for her debut memoir this spring. In Long Live the Tribe, Madden reflects on her childhood in an affluent community in Boca Raton, Florida, after the death of her father. Her incredible second-person essay, "The Feels of Love," which was published in Guernica in 2016, is reportedly a part of her book, and I highly recommend reading it to get a sense of Madden's mastery over language and her powerful and tender depiction of her life at the age of 12.
6. Gingerbread, by Helen Oyeyemi (March 5)
The author of the loose Snow White retelling Boy, Snow, Bird returns to fables and magic with the scrumptious novel Gingerbread, inspired by the mysterious allure of the spicy, wintery treat in children's stories. Helen Oyeyemi specifically focuses on the Lee family, and their gingerbread recipe handed down through the generations. Based on the plot summary there is also "surprisingly verbal vegetation," in this book, as well as a possibly non-existent land called "Druhástrana," and a girlhood friend named — what else? — Gretel. It sounds like an Oyeyemi book all right, and that is the highest compliment.
7. The White Card, by Claudia Rankine (March 19)
MacArthur fellow Claudia Rankine gutted me with her 2014 sui generis "poem" Citizen: An American Lyric, and I am anxiously awaiting Graywolf Press' publication of her first play, which asks, "Can American society progress if whiteness remains invisible?" Or, in other words, "this is a play about the extent to which well-intentioned white people just don't get it," wrote Boston's WBUR in a review of a production of the show last year. Taking place in two parts, The White Card focuses first on a dinner party thrown by a Manhattan couple for a rising artist; the second half takes place a year later in the artist's studio. A one-act play, the book itself is only 80 pages long (including an introduction), but anyone who has read Rankine before knows that it does not take many words for her to leave you breathless.
Also noteworthy in March: Daisy Jones & the Six, by Taylor Jenkins Reid (March 5); Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America's Heartland, by Jonathan M. Metzl (March 5); The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick, by Mallory O'Meara (March 5); The Tradition, by Jericho Brown (March 8); Normal People, by Sally Rooney (March 16); Lot, by Bryan Washington (March 19); So Much Longing in So Little Space: The Art of Edvard Munch, by Karl Ove Knausgaard (March 26); Sing to It: New Stories, by Amy Hempel; The Other Americans by Laila Lalami (March 26).
8. Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump, by Rick Reilly (April 2)
I'm a big believer in the fact that sportswriting can be a lens onto any part of our culture, and Rick Reilly, a member of the National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame, proves my point with his book about Trump as assessed through the lens of golf. Reilly, a former Sports Illustrated and ESPN writer who has spent time with Trump on the green, looks at how Trump "shamelessly cheats at golf" by means of lies and intimidation, and uses that to explore his presidency. This book promises to be a laugh, while also offering a clever new way to make sense of White House chaos.
9. Nobody Hugs a Cactus, by Carter Goodrich (April 16)
Meet Hank. Hank is a cactus. Correction: Hank is a cranky cactus. This picture book, by the lead character designer of Despicable Me and Ratatouille, tells the story of Hank softening up to the world around him — only to realize that no creature big or small wants to hug a prickly, mean ol' cactus. With soft, lovely art, and a darling story by a master of the craft, Nobody Hugs a Cactus is an essential addition to a child's bookshelf this year — or your own.
10. Songs of Mihyar the Damascene, by Adonis (April 30)
A perennial favorite to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, Adonis is the pen-name for the Syrian poet Ali Ahmad Said Esber, arguably the most influential living writer of the Arabic language (it is not uncommon to hear him compared to T.S. Eliot). In this new translation of Songs of Mihyar the Damascene by Kareem James Abu-Zeid, English-language readers can experience one of the great works of world literature, in which Adonis assumes the alter ego of Mihyar in the bare, almost psalm-like works. Written while Adonis was studying in Paris between 1960 and 1961, Songs of Mihyar the Damascene is just as arresting in English as it is in Arabic: As an older translation of "The Wound" from Songs goes: "I am the wound that is born/and grows as your history grows." This translation is an unmissable literary event.
Also noteworthy in April: A Wonderful Stroke of Luck, by Ann Beattie (April 2); Prince of Monkeys, by Nnamdi Ehirim (April 2); Women Talking, by Miriam Toews (April 2); Naamah, by Sarah Blake (April 9); Diary of a Murderer, by Young-ha Kim, translated by Krys Lee (April 16); White, by Bret Easton Ellis (April 16); Machines Like Me, by Ian McEwan (April 23); What My Mother and I Don't Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence, edited by Michele Filgate (April 30).
11. Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Loneliest Horse Race, by Lara Prior-Palmer (May 7)
The Mongol Derby is the Iditarod of horse races — a course of more than 600 miles in which riders charge across the Mongolian steppe on the backs of wild ponies, following in the footsteps of Genghis Khan's horseback messengers. In 2013, at the age of 19, Lara Prior-Palmer decided to compete in the famed race, despite having no training. It is no secret how she finished: Prior-Palmer stunningly became the Mongol Derby's first female winner after 10 days on the course. But there is so much more to the story than just that, and in Rough Magic we will get the full, unbelievable scoop.
12. The Witches Are Coming, by Lindy West (May 28)
One of America's preeminent pop culture critics, Lindy West returns after the success of Shrill with this book that expands on her New York Times opinion piece, "Yes, This Is a Witch Hunt. I'm a Witch and I'm Hunting You." In that 2017 essay, West argued that "[w]hen Woody Allen and other men warn of 'a witch hunt atmosphere, a Salem atmosphere' what they mean is an atmosphere in which they're expected to comport themselves with the care, consideration, and fear of consequences that the rest of us call basic professionalism and respect for shared humanity." Oof. The book, which tackles everything from Donald Trump to "political correctness" to #MeToo and Revenge of the Nerds, offers West's unifying theory of rage, mediocrity, entitlement, and consequence, and it couldn't be more timely.
Also noteworthy in May: The Bride Test, by Helen Hoang (May 7); Vibrate Higher: A Rap Story, by Talib Kweli (May 7); I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution, by Emily Nussbaum (May 14); Stay Sexy & Don't Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide, by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark (May 28).
Summer and onward
13. On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong (June 4)
If you have not yet experienced the writing of Ocean Vuong, I am so very envious of what you are about to discover. A critically-acclaimed poet (his 2016 collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds won the prestigious T.S. Eliot Prize), Vuong makes his fiction debut this year with On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous. The book is composed as a letter from an immigrant son to his illiterate Vietnamese mother and shares its name with one of his poems, which reads in part: "I wanted to disappear — so I opened the door to a stranger's car. He was divorced. He was still alive. He was sobbing into his hands … Don't we touch each other just to prove we are still here?" Expect the novel to be similarly devastating and beautiful.
14. Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion, by Jia Tolentino (Aug. 6)
Jia Tolentino is one of my absolute favorite writers (read her in The New Yorker on a variety of subjects, including the sound of Toto's "Africa" playing in empty malls) and I will be first in line for Trick Mirror, her debut collection of nine essays. Despite having one of the best covers of any book on this list, do not be deceived by its throwback appearance — in Trick Mirror, Tolentino tackles our current hyper-plugged-in culture, including "the rise of the nightmare social internet" and "the American scammer as millennial hero." Her publisher is calling her a "peerless voice of her generation," which would just be marketing blabber if it weren't also so true.
15. The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood (Sept. 10)
I am equally nervous and excited for Margaret Atwood's sequel to her 1985 novel The Handmaid's Tale. While we don't know much about the plot details yet, Atwood has said the book will take place 15 years after the events in Handmaid's Tale and that it is narrated "by three female characters." Atwood and her publisher have additionally confirmed The Testaments is "unconnected" to the popular Hulu adaptation of Handmaid's Tale, and that it is partially inspired by "the world we've been living in." While I am apprehensive about The Testaments potentially making explicit what was so carefully handled in its predesessor, a new Margaret Atwood novel is a major literary event, and a sequel to The Handmaid's Tale even more so.
Also noteworthy: Mostly Dead Things, by Kristen Arnett (June 4); City of Girls, Elizabeth Gilbert (June 4); Stalingrad, by Vasily Grossman (June 11); Deep River, by Karl Marlantes (July 2); The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead (July 16); Fleishman Is in Trouble, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner (June 18); God Land: A Story of Faith, Loss, and Renewal in Middle America, by Lyz Lenz (Aug. 1); Doxology, by Nell Zink (Aug. 7); Coventry, by Rachel Cusk (Aug. 20); The World Doesn't Require You: Stories, by Rion Amilcar Scott (Aug. 20); Make It Scream, Make It Burn, by Leslie Jamison (Sept. 24); All This Could Be Yours, by Jami Attenberg (Oct. 22).