10 Great Books To Read This January
Because it’s too cold to do anything but read
Hello, hi. It is cold out. (Okay, maybe it's not cold where you are, although probably it is, because you made better life choices than the rest of us human-popsicles. IDK.) Anyway. You know what is a good thing to do in the cold? Read. It is good because it does not require that you go outside, or even get out of bed! Both these things are part of why I love to read. And so, if staying in bed under the covers also sounds good to you, then let me help you by recommending some books to keep your mind busy while you await the spring thaw.
Here, then, are 10 great books coming out this month, all perfect for hunkering down with and forgetting the snowy hellscape just outside your window.
Neon in Daylight by Hermione Hoby (available January 9)
This book pulses with the sticky heat of summer and sex and power and desire. It's quiet, but insistent, that pulse, and you'll find yourself responding to its movement as you read Hoby's sharply observed debut novel, which centers around the intersecting lives of three people living in New York—a very secular trinity, indeed. There's no need to worry yourself with anything so reductive as what this book is about, exactly, because it's about everything important: infatuation and loneliness, the way in which art and life are impossibly serious and superficial all at once. It's about wants and needs and dead ends and new beginnings, and it's about Hoby masterfully spinning a sometimes deliriously beautiful, sometimes tragic tale of ambition and currency and lust and sloth. It's about New York in the summer. It's about being alive.
The Afterlives by Thomas Pierce (available January 9)
Pierce's debut novel has been eagerly anticipated by all who read his excellent 2015 short story collection, Hall of Small Mammals, and The Afterlives, in all its witty, existentially provocative glory, does not disappoint. It centers around the only question that matters really: What happens after we die? Or, rather, it centers around the actual only question that matters: Since we know we're going to die, what should we do with our lives? This, anyway, is what 30-year-old Jim Byrd grapples with after a near-death (or actual-but-very-brief-death) experience, as he and his wife seek to find some understanding of permanence now that they know for sure that everything—even their love—is transitory thanks to that unfortunate thing known as mortality.
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin (available January 9)
Speaking of death: Chloe Benjamin's latest novel starts off with the arrival of a woman who professes an ability to predict the date of anyone's death. What she tells the four Gold children—Simon, Varya, Daniel, and Klara—will set them off on myriad paths as they seek to fulfill or subvert their supposed destinies. A meditation of fate and free will, faith and reason, The Immortalists grapples with all the biggest issues in life, in a profound and unforgettable way.
The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani (available January 9)
"The baby is dead." Where, you might wonder, does a novel go after opening with a sentence like that? Straight to the top of the best-seller lists, of course. At least, such was the case with Leila Slimani's novel about a murderous nanny when it was released in France last year under the title La Chanson Douce (The Lullaby), and it's not hard to believe that a similar event will occur upon the book's American launch. Lest you think Slimani's book is merely a lurid page-turner based on its subject matter, think again. Slimani instead uses this most horrific of narrative foundations—murdered children—to explore commonly experienced issues like imbalances in power, breaches in trust, and tensions surrounding class and race. In doing so, she has created a truly chilling story that promises to leave you questioning all your long-held thoughts on motherhood and the different prices paid as women try to achieve something resembling domestic bliss.
The Largesse of the Sea Maiden: Stories by Denis Johnson (available January 16)
This latest story collection by Denis Johnson (whose first book of stories was the incomparable Jesus' Son) has been published posthumously; Johnson died last spring, at the age of 67. It's fitting, then, that this collection grapples with questions about mortality, transcendence, and the ways we find grace while still here on earth. Of course, all of Johnson's work dealt with these topics in one way or another, and always in language so profound, so poetic, that his words find a place inside your very being, inhabiting your conscious and subconscious selves forever after.
Red Clocks by Leni Zumas (available January 16)
This dystopian novel follows five women living in an America in which abortion has been banned, as has in vitro fertilization; in fact, embryos are granted full personhood status, leading to questions about what, exactly, a woman's purpose is, beyond bearing children. While, yes, this novel is part of a grand tradition of dystopian fiction which wrestles with topics surrounding women's identity and freedom (or lack of it), Zumas' book stands out from the crowd for its thoroughness in revealing the hypocrisy inherent to valuing the lives a woman brings into this world, but not the life of the woman herself.
Brass: A Novel by Xhenet Aliu (available January 23)
Calling it now that 2018 will be the year of compelling mother-daughter narratives. Maybe it's the lingering effect of Lady Bird or maybe it's just because mother-daughter narratives have always been super-compelling, but I think we'll be seeing more and more of them entering into our cultural conversation at-large. Need a good example of one? Please read Brass, the debut novel from Xhenet Aliu, which centers around the dynamic between Lulu and her mother, Elsie. After realizing that her post-high school plans aren't going to be exactly what she thinks they are (don't worry, Lulu, at least you won't graduate with the kind of NYU-created debt Lady Bird will!), Lulu decides to unravel the mystery of who her father is, and find out more about her mother in the process. Full of humor, love, and empathy, Brass is a stunner of a debut, making us excited for all still to come from Aliu.
Peach by Emma Glass (available January 23)
This marks the debut novel for Emma Glass, and it's a stunning read. I don't use that word lightly, by the way; I found myself under the spell of Glass' words while reading her provocative prose, which thrummed in my head, words plucking at my very nerves. The narrative centers around a young woman, Peach, who has survived an assault, but must deal with the fact that life goes on as normal around her, even though she feels anything but. Glass makes clear the cost of reckoning with sexual assault, and while it's a particularly pertinent topic to be reading about right now, the mythic dimensions of Peach's struggle with her trauma make clear that this is an age-old story, and it must never stop being told until everyone starts to actually listen.
This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkins (available January 30)
This is the debut essay collection by Jerkins, and signifies a great new voice entering the cultural stage. Here, Jerkins explores with intelligence and empathy the most important issues of today, ones revolving around identity and inclusiveness, and what it means to be a woman of color in a country long ruled by a white supremacist patriarchy. It's heavy stuff! But Jerkins' writing is also full of wit and a boundless curiosity, guaranteeing that nothing in this collection ever feels overly ponderous or oppressive.
The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory (available January 30)
Do you need a fun read this winter? Yes! Of course you do. And you can do no better than to pick up Jasmine Guillory's effervescent, witty, and sexy novel, which serves as a reminder that romantic fiction doesn't need to be a guilty pleasure—it can just be a straight-up pleasure. Let yourself get swept away in the story of a pair of ultra-busy professionals who don't have time for real romance, so they fake it instead. Will they eventually make it work between them? I mean, no spoilers here, but, you know, sometimes it's liberating to read a book not just for a happy ending, but for the joy it contains on every single page.