Feeling a little blasé about your bookshelf contents? Want something fresh to read but don’t know where to start? Ready to get that new Harper Lee novel, but want something more obscure as well? The following seven book recommendations have a little something for everyone, from families in exile to badass muralists and everything in between. Happy reading.
1. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Today, die-heard fans and lit nerds alike can finally get their hands on Go Set a Watchman
, the earliest known work of Harper Lee. Although much anticipated, it has been steeped in controversy—for decades she claimed she would never publish again, and the manuscript was “discovered” when she was in poor health. Still, it’s hard not to get excited at being able to see Scout Finch as an adult returning home to Alabama to visit her father, Atticus, smack dab in the middle of the civil rights movement in the segregated south.
2. In the Country by Mia Alvar
The debut collection from Mia Alvar is perfect for anyone who thinks they can’t get down with short stories. The characters are Filipinos living under martial law in their own country in the 1970s, or working abroad in the United States and the Middle East. While the subject matter is indeed fresh, the real appeal belongs to the lush sentences, rapid pacing, and morally conflicted characters. The last and title story is a novella-length tale that Alvar is reportedly using as fodder for a novel. We can only hope.
3. The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson
First-time novelist Naomi Jackson brings readers a story that jumps from Brooklyn in the 1980s to Bird Hill, a small community in Barbados. At the center of this coming-of-age tale are sisters Phaedra and Dionne, and their grandmother, Hyacinth. The lyrical writing, humor, and evocative scenes will suck you in, and tension comes from clashing cultures, an increasingly depressed mother, and tragic plot twists.
4. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Ta-Nehisi Coates' latest non-fiction book deals with what it means to be black in America today is not only timely, but also imperative. Inspired by James Baldwin’s 1963 The Fire Next Time
, the memoir takes the form of a letter to his 14-year-old son, Samori. Coates mediates on the perils of being a black boy or man, on Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Walter L. Scott, and Freddie Gray, on misguided dreams, and on life in general. It's quite a feat to have Toni Morrison call your book “required reading.”
5. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Published less than two years after Hayna Yanagihara's debut novel, The People in the Trees
, this thick, 700-plus-page book feels, paradoxically, like it’s too short. The book’s strengths are in the small and large issues: the ebb and flow of four boys’ (and then men’s) friendship; the power a destructive past can have on a person; and the necessity of love—both for oneself and for others. While all four friends initially take center stage, Jude—lame, brilliant, and a cutter—soon shines on his own in heartbreaking ways. It is the rare book that will visit you in dreams and follow you throughout the day. This is one of the best novels of the year, perhaps even the last decade.
6. The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma
Set in Nigeria during the 1990s (when Gen. Sani Abacha held a military dictatorship) nine-year-old Benjamin narrates this biblical parable. The youngest of four brothers, they deal with an absent father by fighting with rival boys, smashing windows, and fishing in the once clean Omi-Ala River. As their bad luck intensifies (murder, anyone?) things fall apart in this well-crafted and vibrant tale.
7. Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older
Fading murals, family secrets, and shadowshapers (aka sorcerers) abound in the urban fantasy set in Brooklyn. Teenager Sierra Santiago is the bold, brave protagonist and the story is a much-needed one: voices of color abound and the work of artists refuse to be erased. Yes, Shadowshaper
is technically YA, but both young and old will enjoy this and other offerings from Daniel José Older.
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