I’ve eased up on the book club because I think it’s hard for a critical mass of folks to keep up—we all have a lot on our pop culture agendas. But some people have been asking me what I’m reading or what I’m looking forward to this summer. So here are five books that are either coming out, or are relatively new releases that I think are worth making time for if you’re escaping to the beach somewhere.
-Alif the Unseen, G. Willow Wilson, Out on July 3: Alif The Unseen may not be the first major fictional take on the Arab Spring, but it’s definitely the first to examine what would happen to a censorious oil state if a talented young hacker of Indian-Arab origin, after having his heart shattered by the upper-class girl he’s in love with, goes on the run with his veiled neighbor and best real-life friend and a djinn. It’s a terrifically fun novel about the connections between literature and coding, magic and Islam, and the identities we create for ourselves.
-Shadow and Bone, Leigh Bardugo, Out on June 5: For all my YA readers of all ages in the house, Bardugo’s fantasy set in a Russia where the tsar’s advised by both a Rasputin-like holy man and a powerful wizard is the first part of a trilogy, and by the end of Shadow and Bone, you’ll be glad that’s the case. Fictional authoritarians don’t always pack the punch or capture the rot of unstable regimes, but Bardugo’s does. Plus magic and smooching and some super-scary demons.
-Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel, Out on May 8: Wolf Hall, the first book in Mantel’s trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, is one of my favorite books of recent years, a rich, strange volume that actually captures what it feels like to be inside a non-modern mindset. I’m excited for the HBO adaptation, if it ever comes to fruition. But I’m even more excited for this sequel.
-The Orphan Master’s Son, Adam Johnson: Johnson’s novel of life in North Korea has been out for a while, and at first blush, it might not seem like beach reading. But it’s gorgeously written, and a propulsive adventure, a reminder that life as we know it can be so strange as to approach magical realism. If you want a reckoning with American inability to comprehend the world beyond ourselves, this is one of the most innovative ways to have that conversation with yourself and a piece of literature.
-Are You My Mother?, Alison Bechdel: I feel like I shouldn’t even have to make the case for this graphic novel memoir, given how wonderful Bechdel’s meditation on her father, Fun Home, is. But for those of you who are unfamiliar, Alison Bechdel is a genius, and Dykes to Watch Out For, her long-running syndicated comic strip about a lesbian community, was fantastic, no matter what your sexual orientation.