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The 10 Best New Books to Read This May

If I were stranded on an island and could only bring 10 books published during May 2017, it would be these.

may

May is the start of summer blockbuster season at the movie theatre (ahem…Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) and at the bookstore (Paula Hawkins’s follow-up to The Girl on the Train, etc.). Nonetheless, like all of our monthly lists, this isn’t the 10 “most-buzzed about” books of May, nor the “10 books most likely to sell bajillions” (though some may). Put simply, if I were stranded on an island and could only bring 10 books published during May 2017, it would be these.


9781250121028_b26a2One Day We’ll All Be Dead and
None of This Will Matter
by Scaachi Koul
Picador, May 2

“In One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, Scaachi Koul deploys her razor sharp humor to share all the fears, outrages, and mortifying moments of her life. She learned from an early age what made her miserable, and for Scaachi anything can be cause for despair. Whether it’s a shopping trip gone awry; enduring awkward conversations with her bikini waxer; overcoming her fear of flying while vacationing halfway around the world; dealing with internet trolls, or navigating the fears and anxieties of her parents. Alongside these personal stories are pointed observations about life as a woman of color, where every aspect of her appearance is open for critique, derision, or outright scorn. Where strict gender rules bind in both Western and Indian cultures, leaving little room for a woman not solely focused on marriage and children to have a career (and a life) for herself. With a sharp eye and biting wit, Scaachi Koul offers a hilarious, scathing, and honest look at modern life.”


9781617755330_95f47Hadriana in All My Dreams by René Depestre
Translated by Kaiama L. Glover
Akashic Books, May 2

Hadriana in All My Dreams, winner of the prestigious Prix Renaudot, takes place primarily during Carnival in 1938 in the Haitian village of Jacmel. A beautiful young French woman, Hadriana, is about to marry a Haitian boy from a prominent family. But on the morning of the wedding, Hadriana drinks a mysterious potion and collapses at the altar. Transformed into a zombie, her wedding becomes her funeral. She is buried by the town, revived by an evil sorcerer, and then disappears into popular legend. Set against a backdrop of magic and eroticism, and recounted with delirious humor, the novel raises universal questions about race and sexuality. The reader comes away enchanted by the marvelous reality of Haiti’s Vodou culture and convinced of Depestre’s lusty claim that all beings—even the undead ones–have a right to happiness and true love.”


9780553419733_31966City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett
Broadway, May 2

“The third entry in Bennett’s acclaimed Divine Cities fantasy series. Sigrud je Harkvaldsson has nothing left to live for. He is a fugitive and an exile, wanted for murder throughout the empire of Saypur. His entire existence has seemed only to visit suffering and death upon those he wants most to protect—while he himself has emerged from each battle cruelly unscathed, inexplicably immune to forces both natural and divine. Then his closest friend and ally, former Prime Minister Shara Komayd, is assassinated. Suddenly, Sigrud’s life has a purpose: to find Shara’s killers and make them suffer for what they’ve done. And Sigrud has much experience in matters of suffering. Yet as he pursues his quarry with his customary terrifying efficiency, Sigrud learns that far more than revenge is at stake. Because Shara’s assassin is no mere mortal, and her murder was just the beginning. Using death after death to fuel his powers, the killer plans to bring down a night of eternal darkness, and rule within it. Only Sigrud—and the strange curse that has destroyed his life—can stop him.”


9781571311269_d0163The Worlds We Think We Know
Stories by Dalia Rosenfeld
Milkweed Editions

“The characters of The Worlds We Think We Know are animated by forces at once passionate and perplexing. At a city zoo, a mismatched couple unite by releasing rare birds. After being mugged in the streets of New York, a professor must repeat the crime to recover his memory—and his lost love. In Tel Aviv, a sandstorm rages to expose old sorrows and fears as far away as Ohio. And from an unnamed Eastern European country, a woman haunts the husband who left her behind for a new life in America. The Worlds We Think We Know is a dazzling debut—clear-eyed, empathetic, and heartbreaking.Fiercely funny and entirely original, this debut collection of stories takes readers from the United States to Israel and back again to examine the mystifying reaches of our own minds and hearts.


9780062470140_59006How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child
By Sandra Uwiringiyimana, With Abigail Pesta
Katherine Tegen Books, May 16

“In this powerful memoir, Sandra Uwiringyimana, a girl from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, tells the incredible true story of how she survived a massacre, immigrated to America, and overcame her trauma through art and activism. Sandra Uwiringiyimana was just ten years old when she found herself with a gun pointed at her head. The rebels had come at night—wielding weapons, torches, machetes. She watched as her mother and six-year-old sister were gunned down in a refugee camp, far from their home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The rebels were killing people who weren’t from the same community, the same tribe. In other words, they were killing people simply for looking different. “Goodbye, life,” she said to the man ready to shoot her. Remarkably, the rebel didn’t pull the trigger, and Sandra escaped into the night. Thus began a new life for her and her surviving family members. With no home and no money, they struggled to stay alive. Eventually, through a United Nations refugee program, they moved to America, only to face yet another ethnic disconnect. Sandra may have crossed an ocean, but there was now a much wider divide she had to overcome. And it started with middle school in New York. In this profoundly moving memoir, Sandra tells the story of her survival, of finding her place in a new country, and of her hope for the future.”


9781555977726_c1566Broken River by J. Robert Lennon
Graywolf Press, May 16

“A modest house in upstate New York. One in the morning. Three people—a couple and their child—hurry out the door, but it’s too late for them. As the virtuosic and terrifying opening scene of Broken River unfolds, a spectral presence seems to be watching with cold and mysterious interest. Soon the house lies abandoned, and years later a new family moves in. Karl, Eleanor, and their daughter, Irina, arrive from New York City in the wake of Karl’s infidelity to start anew. Karl tries to stabilize his flailing art career. Eleanor, a successful commercial novelist, eagerly pivots in a new creative direction. Meanwhile, twelve-year-old Irina becomes obsessed with the brutal murders that occurred in the house years earlier. And, secretly, so does her mother. As the ensemble cast grows to include Louis, a hapless salesman in a carpet warehouse who is haunted by his past, and Sam, a young woman newly reunited with her jailbird brother, the seemingly unrelated crime that opened the story becomes ominously relevant. Hovering over all this activity looms a gradually awakening narrative consciousness that watches these characters lie to themselves and each other, unleashing forces that none of them could have anticipated and that put them in mortal danger. Broken River is a cinematic, darkly comic, and sui generis psychological thriller that could only have been written by J. Robert Lennon.”


9780062476661_40bd5Bad Dreams and Other Stories by Tessa Hadley
Harper, May 16

“The award-winning author of The Past once again ‘crystallizes the atmosphere of ordinary life in prose somehow miraculous and natural’ (Washington Post), in a collection of stories that elevate the mundane into the exceptional The author of six critically acclaimed novels, Tessa Hadley has proven herself to be the champion of revealing the hidden depths in the deceptively simple. In these short stories it’s the ordinary things that turn out to be most extraordinary: the history of a length of fabric or a forgotten jacket. Two sisters quarrel over an inheritance and a new baby; a child awake in the night explores the familiar rooms of her home, made strange by the darkness; a housekeeper caring for a helpless old man uncovers secrets from his past. The first steps into a turning point and a new life are made so easily and carelessly: each of these stories illuminate crucial moments of transition, often imperceptible to the protagonists. A girl accepts a lift in a car with some older boys; a young woman reads the diaries she discovers while housesitting. Small acts have large consequences, some that can reverberate across decades; private fantasies can affect other people, for better and worse. The real things that happen to people, the accidents that befall them, are every bit as mysterious as their longings and their dreams.”


9781632460516_9ce11Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves: Bookmarked by Michael Seidlinger
Ig Publishing, May 16

“‘There was a book. Oh man was there a book. It is still to this day a book I mention it to any book lover if asked for a recommendation. The best books stick with you, often reminding you of the power, and potential, of storytelling, and House of Leaves is one of those books.’—Michael Seidlinger, in this Bookmarked volume on Mark Z. Danielweski’s classic of experimental contemporary literature, House of Leaves.”


9781250080547_b4d09The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir
by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
Flatiron Books, May 16

“Before Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich begins a summer job at a law firm in Louisiana, working on the retrial defense of death-row convicted murderer and child molester Ricky Langley, she thinks her position is clear. The child of two lawyers, she is staunchly anti-death penalty. But the moment Ricky’s face flashes on the screen as she reviews old tapes, the moment she hears him speak of his crimes, she is overcome with the feeling of wanting him to die. Shocked by her reaction, she digs deeper and deeper into the case, realizing that despite their vastly different circumstances, something in his story is unsettlingly, uncannily familiar. Crime, even the darkest and must unsayable acts, can happen to any one of us. As Alexandria pours over the facts of the murder, she finds herself thrust into the complicated narrative of Ricky’s childhood. And by examining the details of Ricky’s case, she is forced to face her own story, to unearth long-buried family secrets, to reckon with how her own past colors her view of Ricky’s crime. But Alexandria is not alone in interpreting the crime through her own life. The judge, the jury foreman, even the victim’s mother and the defense attorney—all see what happened through their own lens of experience. The trial that took place was about Ricky’s past, but also the pasts of everyone touched by the murder. In Alexandria’s hands, THE FACT OF A BODY becomes a book not only about how the story of one crime was constructed—but about how we understand our past, the nature of forgiveness, and if a single narrative can ever really contain something as definitive as the truth. In the thrilling tradition of IN COLD BLOOD, MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL and recent runaway phenoms MAKING A MURDERER and SERIAL, THE FACT OF A BODY is a groundbreaking, heart stopping investigation years in the making that shows how the law is comprised of individual stories and therefore more personal than we like to imagine, and serves as proof that arriving at truth is more complicated, and powerful, than we could ever imagine.”


9780374279981_1307dIsadora by Amelia Gray
FSG Books, May 23

“Using the scaffolding of Isadora Duncan’s life and the stuff of her spirit, Amelia Gray delivers an incredibly imaginative portrait of the artist In 1913, the restless world sat on the brink of unimaginable suffering. But for one woman, the darkness of a new era had already made itself at home. Isadora Duncan would come to be known as the mother of modern dance, but in the spring of 1913 she was a grieving mother, after a freak accident in Paris resulted in the drowning death of her two young children. The accident cracked Isadora’s life in two: on one side, the brilliant young talent who captivated audiences the world over; on the other, a heartbroken mother spinning dangerously on the edge of sanity. Isadora is a shocking and visceral portrait of an artist and woman drawn to the brink of destruction by the cruelty of life. In her breakout novel, Amelia Gray offers a relentless portrayal of a legendary artist churning through prewar Europe. Isadora seeks to obliterate the mannered portrait of a dancer and to introduce the reader to a woman who lived and loved without limits, even in the darkest days of her life.”

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