June might be known as the start of summer blockbuster season in terms of movies, but it's also blockbuster season for books. There are so many great ones coming out this month—and, indeed, all summer long. (See our massive summer book preview for proof.) Check out our list below for 20 excellent reads to take with you to the beach, pool, plane, or even just your bed as you lay supine, sweating, loving life, this month.
Invitation to a Bonfire by Adrienne Celt (available June 5)On a sentence-by-sentence level, Adrienne Celt's seductive, searing novel, about a love triangle of sorts in a New Jersey boarding school in the 1920s, is one of the most brilliant books I've read in some time. This is as it should be; Invitation to a Bonfire is, in part, inspired by supreme stylist Vladimir Nabokov and his tempestuous relationship with his wife Véra. Celt, too, has a firm grip on style, and her words have a rhythm and cadence ("Cindy Pink was a peripheral friend…"), which further draws the reader in close, all the better to totally lose yourself in this compelling story that makes you question familiar power dynamics, the complicated ethics of fidelity, and what horrible and beautiful things we give ourselves permission to do, all for the sake of the sublime.
Rough Animals: An American Western Thriller by Rae DelBianco (available June 5)Not that you should judge a book by its author's bio, but I must say, I appreciated the fact that Rae DelBianco's ends with: "She now lives outside New York City." It's not that there's anything wrong with being a writer living in New York, but rather that it's important to get the perspectives of those who don't. And when the author in question is someone who has, like DelBianco, spent a lot of time working with livestock and doing the very things written about so provocatively and viscerally in Rough Animals, it feels all the more important. This novel, DelBianco's debut, centers around a brother and sister, Wyatt and Lucy Smith, who are all alone in the world, trying to make a living on the desolate cattle ranch which was once run by their late father. When a young girl with a gun comes and threatens their existence, Wyatt must strike out on his own and figure out a way to survive in a world that's hostile, but that is also the only one they know.
Small Country by Gaël Faye (available June 5)Told from the perspective of a young boy, Gabriel, who is living with his family in the African nation of Burundi in 1992, experiencing the carefree, joy-filled life that all children should have, Small Country reveals the intimate devastation visited upon individuals when they experience the callous cruelty of war. Faye, like Gabriel, was 10 years old and living in Burundi when civil war broke out in his home country and that of neighboring Rwanda. He tells with great clarity the horrors of that time, one marked by near-incomprehensible violence, made all the more terrifying because of the bright days that had preceded it. This book is a powerful testament to the rapidity with which life as you know it can change forever.
Florida by Lauren Groff (available June 5)I once thought that Florida was a fever, and while that's not exactly untrue, it might be more true to say Florida is a virus, in that there's no real cure for it once it gets inside you, once it's in your blood. But who wants to be cured? Why not let the wild weirdness of Florida live inside you for awhile, and why not get an injection of it by reading Lauren Groff's latest, a collection of wild, weird stories about our wildest, weirdest state. You'll find yourself swept up in tales in which the landscape is an ever-shifting threat, and people find themselves lost and searching, lonely and surrounded. Each page is infused with Groff's singular writing, and reading these stories left me feeling feverish in the best possible way: extra-sensitive to the air around me and in desperate need of a gin and tonic.
In the Distance with You by Carla Guelfenbein (available June 5)This novel spans several tumultuous decades in the life of an enigmatic Chilean author, Vera Sigall (who is based on enigmatic Brazilian author, Clarice Lispector), only it's told not sequentially, but in reveal after reveal, as several of Sigall's young admirers try to better understand the mysterious past of their idol. There's no better season than summer for a mystery, and this one will leave you puzzling over questions, both specific to the book and more relevant to life in general, as you try and figure out not just who Sigall is, but who you are, who anyone is.
Tonight I'm Someone Else by Chelsea Hodson (available June 5)The experience of reading these essays is akin to careening down a desert road on a bike with no brakes while a perfectly full moon hangs plump, as if it's about to start dripping its white drops on you from its perch, in the sky up above; cars do or don't crash around you; you feel the eyes of others on your skin; you know that up there, in outer space, where that moon hangs low, there are people and there are machines, and you feel a small amount of, if not ownership, at least connection to them all, to it all. I guess what I'm trying to say is: Reading Hodson's work feels risky; it's breathtaking, both in its inherent exhilaration and also, often, because it's funny and you inhale sharply because you're laughing (about fixed-gear bikes and the men who ride them: "I didn't understand how a bike without brakes could be an identity.") But it also makes you feel connected to things, as if you are forging new relationships to the things and people in the world around you, uncovering new understandings about permanence, about intuition, about love and sex and lies and secrets and truth, about life.
Days of Awe by A.M. Homes (available June 5)This latest story collection from an author responsible for some of the darkest, funniest takes on the human condition which we've ever read is full of reliably, well, dark and funny takes on the human condition, perhaps most notably seen in the book's titular story, which takes place at a genocide convention (just think of the sponsorship opportunities!) and revolves around a quick love affair between long-lost friends.
Sick: A Memoir by Porochista Khakpour (available June 5)This memoir of chronic illness, addiction, pain, and hope is an absolutely essential look into our flawed health care system and the devastating effects that a sustained uncertainty about what, exactly, might be wrong with you can have on your psyche. Porochista Khakpour's unsparing account of the impossibly difficult journey she endured while searching for the root cause of her longtime illness is beautifully written, thought-provoking, and an illuminating look at the myriad impacts chronic illness can have. And in a time when so many people's ability to access health care (affordable or not) is tenuous at best, Sick feels like something we should all be reading to better understand the devastating effects un- or inadequately treated illness can have on an individual and a population at large.
Tiny Crimes: Very Short Tales of Mystery and Murder by Lincoln Michel and Nadxieli Nieto (available June 5)For fans of short stories and mystery, these bite-sized tales of murder and mayhem are absolutely perfect. And even if you don't necessarily gravitate toward these genres, considering that this smartly edited collection contains work from some of the greatest writers working today, you're bound to love this book, full as it is of depravity, double crosses, and intrigue—perfect for giving you chills on the hottest of days.
Wait, Blink: A Perfect Picture of an Inner Life by Gunnhild Øyehaug (available June 5)This is the Norwegian author's first book translated into English, and it heralds the arrival of a thrilling talent who has centered her novel around the stunning strangeness of being a person in the world. Both expansive and intimate, Wait, Blink offers a glimpse into the chaos of a life being lived, and all the beautiful, weird, and happy accidents that accompany being engaged with life, both externally and internally.
Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl (available June 5)Who wants to read a book that feels like a living nightmare? Everyone, right! Right. But not just any living nightmare. No, you want one that is so creepy and finely wrought that you don't even notice at first the ways in which it's shredding through your psyche, disturbing your mental well-being, permanently affecting the way you think about life and death. Well, Marisha Pessl's new young adult novel is that one. It centers around five friends who return to their boarding school a year after graduation (they have very boarding school-ish names, like "Kipling" and "Whitley"), where they meet a mysterious man who guides them through a purgatorial place that must have something to do with their now-dead sixth friend. Pessl uses this premise to explore philosophical issues surrounding existence, making this more than just your average supernatural thriller. It's a truly eerie reading experience, no matter your age.
Never Anyone But You by Rupert Thomson (available June 5)For anyone who likes their escapist novels to usher them into the glamour-filled, politically fraught days of Europe in the '20s and '30s, Thomson's latest should be your pick for this summer. Never Anyone But You tells the fictionalized account of the real-life love story of artists Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, two young women who have reinvented themselves in the bohemian paradise that was entre-deux-guerres Paris, a place where they can mingle with Breton and Dali, even as the specter of fascism looms in the not-so-distant future. Cahun and Moore fled Paris for the island of Jersey, but couldn't escape the Nazis, and lived—and actively resisted—throughout the war. Though knowing that Cahun and Moore were real people adds a keen edge to the novel's power, it is Thomson's brilliant writing and ability to evoke the love and commitment these two women had toward each other and toward their principles that will stay with you, so that you carry it around with you, as if slipped in your pocket, this extraordinary, inspiring, heart-breaking tale.
The Terrible: A Storyteller's Memoir by Yrsa Daley-Ward (available June 5)The risk of a memoir, both as the writer and then as the reader, is how staunchly it can rely on litany: This happened, and then this happened, and then this happened. There is a formula, a framework, and most memoirs usually exist within it. Such is not the case with poet Yrsa Daley-Ward's profoundly beautiful, lyrical memoir, The Terrible, which interweaves verse and prose to great effect, offering less a simple retelling of her life, and more of an impression of it, a sense of how it must feel to live it. Much of what Daley-Ward recounts of her childhood is devastating—severe depression, poverty, addiction—and she has a unique ability to tell these parts of her life with an unflinching intensity, the kind that sears itself onto your skin; and yet this is not a story without hope or love. It is essentially a tale of self-discovery, of learning the value in how you process the world around you, in the colors you see, in the things you feel, in the person you are.
Who Is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht (available June 12)Why, yes, I do want to read a woman-led spy thriller that takes me from the underground gay scene of '60s New York City and straight to a covert CIA operation to infiltrate student activists in Buenos Aires. Don't you want to read that? Of course, you do, and thanks to Rosalie Knecht's clever, hilarious writing, you'll find yourself wanting everyone you know to read it so that you can discuss together the wholly original, brilliantly subversive character that is Vera Kelly.
Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin (available June 12)Let this thriller take you on a journey into the wilds of Appalachia, where Rice Moore has come to escape some trouble he found himself in back at home (it involved a drug cartel, so you know it was real trouble). Moore's wooded peace is soon interrupted when dead bears begin turning up on the nature preserve he's tending. His willingness to expose the poachers and bring them to justice is impacted by his desire to remain anonymous and unidentifiable from his past enemies. Tightly plotted and beautifully written, Bearskin marks an auspicious debut for McLaughlin and has us thinking quite a bit about what lurks in the darks of deepest Appalachia.
A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza (available June 12)So many great novels have centered around the American family, and this book—a brilliant debut from Fatima Farheen Mirza—is the latest to enter that grand tradition. The story centers around a Muslim Indian-American family, who have gathered together to celebrate the wedding of the eldest daughter. There are, of course, struggles amongst generations over issues like tradition, loyalty, adaptation, and faith, and, as the narrative jumps from one character's perspective to another's, we see ever more clearly the ways in which a lack of empathy and an inability to trust our loved ones can lead to ruin. But ultimately, this is a story about hope, and about the ways in which, if we open ourselves up to forgive the flaws in those we love, we can better move forward toward a brighter future.
Something Bright, Then Holes by Maggie Nelson (available June 12)First published in 2007, the reissue of Maggie Nelson's gorgeous, expansive book of poetry feels like a necessary summer read, not least because of Nelson's ability to so palpably, grotesquely, beautifully make clear the urgency of love and fucking, as she does in the book's titular poem, with the lines: "I reread your/ letters, and remember/ correctly: You wanted to eat/ through me. Then fall asleep/ with your tongue against/ an organ, quiet enough/ to hear it kick." See? Necessary.
When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri (available June 19)This smart, funny novel, Perri's second, fills a space in the romantic comedy genre by giving readers something missing in the genre: a celebration of queerness, in all its dynamic glory. The setup is a familiar one: Katie is dumped by her fiancé and doesn't know quite what to do. Luckily, she finds herself meeting an attractive stranger in a well-tailored suit: Cassidy. The two fall for each other, and it leads to both of them figuring out what love, intimacy, and identity mean to them.
Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession by Alice Bolin (available June 26)From the blue-lipped face of Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks to the blood-covered face of Lilly Kane in Veronica Mars, the "dead girl" has served as an obsession in pop culture for decades. But, of course, it's not only the fictional dead girl with whom we're fascinated; as a culture, we've long been intrigued by abuse and trauma visited upon the female body, fetishizing the destruction of something that clearly is not seen as being quite human. In this collection of lucid, provocative essays, Bolin examines the ways in which the "dead girl" has been used to diminish and disenfranchise living women. Bolin's writing is diamond sharp, and the way in which she conceives a dialogue between the fiction and fact of the "dead girl," in a stunning analysis and indictment of our patriarchal, white supremacist culture, feels nothing short of revelatory.
Squeezed: Why Our Families Can't Afford America by Alissa Quart (available June 26)Not every book can be about futuristic ant farms, and so if you want to do a little serious reading in 2018, you should definitely check out Alissa Quart's look at why it's becoming unsustainable to raise a family in America. (Made even more unsustainable by the recently passed tax bill, which only benefits billionaires and Paul Ryan's ability to sustain an erection!) Anyway: Quart details the many ways in which our country has failed its middle-class families, and it's a necessary, if not at all feel-good, read. It's okay to feel angry after reading this. In fact, you should. Let this inspire you to protest the rampant inequality in this country, which is dooming millions of people to lives of desperation and destitution and despair.
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