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13 New Books You Should Probably Read This June

We couldn't even narrow them down to our usual 10.

Wow. If you don’t already have plans for June 6, schedule a date with your favorite independent bookstore. I usually pick 10 books for these monthly previews, but there were eight standouts on June 6 alone, so I had to expand the list to 13. A special shout-out to the two books celebrating the 100th anniversary of Gwendolyn Brooks’s birth, from Haymarket Books and Beacon Press. The latter was technically published in May, but I included here as a “bonus” pick (because it’s really, really good, yet somehow escaped my notice last month).


9781566894647_e777dStephen Florida by Gabe Habash
Coffee House Press, June 6

“A troubled college wrestler in North Dakota falls in love and becomes increasingly unhinged during his final season. Foxcatcher meets The Art of Fielding, Stephen Florida follows a college wrestler in his senior season, when every practice, every match, is a step closer to greatness and a step further from sanity. Profane, manic, and tipping into the uncanny, Stephen Florida a story of loneliness, obsession, and the drive to leave a mark.”


9780374537111_47576Dear Cyborgs by Eugene Lim
FSG Originals, June 6

“In a small Midwestern town, two Asian American boys bond over their outcast status and a mutual love of comic books. Meanwhile, in an alternative or perhaps future universe, a team of superheroes ponders modern society during their time off. Between black-ops missions and rescuing hostages, they swap stories of artistic malaise and muse on the seemingly inescapable grip of market economics. Gleefully toying with the conventions of the novel, Dear Cyborgs weaves together the story of a friendship’s dissolution with a provocative and lively meditation on protest.”


9781250087515_917ebThe Gypsy Moth Summer by Julia Fierro
St. Martins Press, June 6

“It is the summer of 1992 and a gypsy moth invasion blankets Avalon Island, an islet off the coast of Long Island. Leslie Day Marshall—only daughter of Avalon’s most prominent family—returns to live in ‘The Castle,’ the island’s grandest estate. Leslie’s husband Jules is African-American, and their children biracial, and islanders from both sides of the tracks form fast and dangerous opinions about the new arrivals. Maddie Pencott LaRosa straddles those tracks: a teen queen with roots in the tony precincts of East Avalon and the crowded working class corner of West Avalon, home to Grudder Aviation factory, the island’s bread-and-butter. Maddie falls in love with Brooks, Leslie’s and Jules’ son, and that love feels as urgent to Maddie as the questions about the new and deadly cancers showing up across the island.”


9781524733155_a05bcThe Ministry of Utmost Happiness
By Arundhati Roy
Knopf, June 6

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness takes us on an intimate journey of many years across the Indian subcontinent—from the cramped neighborhoods of Old Delhi and the roads of the new city to the mountains and valleys of Kashmir and beyond, where war is peace and peace is war. The tale begins with Anjum—who used to be Aftab—unrolling a threadbare Persian carpet in a city graveyard she calls home. We encounter the odd, unforgettable Tilo and the men who loved her—including Musa, sweetheart and ex-sweetheart, lover and ex-lover; their fates are as entwined as their arms used to be and always will be. We meet Tilo’s landlord, a former suitor, now an intelligence officer posted to Kabul. And then we meet the two Miss Jebeens: the first a child born in Srinagar and buried in its overcrowded Martyrs’ Graveyard; the second found at midnight, abandoned on a concrete sidewalk in the heart of New Delhi.”


9780374100261_8c209The Answers by Catherine Lacey
FSG, June 6

“In Catherine Lacey’s ambitious second novel we are introduced to Mary, a young woman living in New York City and struggling to cope with a body that has betrayed her. All but paralyzed with pain, Mary seeks relief from a New Agey treatment called Pneuma Adaptive Kinesthesia, PAKing for short. And, remarkably, it works. But PAKing is prohibitively expensive and Mary is dead broke. So she scours Craigslist for fast-cash jobs and finds herself applying for the “Girlfriend Experiment,” the brainchild of an eccentric and narcissistic actor, Kurt Sky, who is determined to find the perfect relationship—even if that means paying different women to fulfill distinctive roles. Mary is hired as the “Emotional Girlfriend”—certainly better than the “Anger Girlfriend” or the “Maternal Girlfriend”—and is pulled into Kurt’s ego-driven and messy attempt at human connection.”


9781620972939_7f112Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou
Translated by Helen Stevenson
The New Press, June 6

“It’s not easy being Tokumisa Nzambe po Mose yamoyindo abotami namboka ya Bakoko. There’s that long name of his for a start, which means, “Let us thank God, the black Moses is born on the lands of the ancestors.” Most people just call him Moses. Then there’s the orphanage where he lives, run by a malicious political stooge, Dieudonné Ngoulmoumako, and where he’s terrorized by two fellow orphans—the twins Songi-Songi and Tala-Tala. Mabanckou’s vivid portrayal of Moses’s mental collapse echoes the work of Hugo, Dickens, and Brian DePalma’s Scarface, confirming Mabanckou’s status as one of our great storytellers. Black Moses is a vital new extension of his cycle of Pointe-Noire novels that stand out as one of the grandest, funniest, fictional projects of our time.”


9780765382092_5a304Not So Good a Gay Man: A Memoir
By Frank M. Robinson
Tor Books, June 6

“Frank M. Robinson (1926–2014) accomplished a great deal in his long life, working in magazine publishing, including a stint for Playboy, and writing science fiction novels such as The Power, The Dark Beyond the Stars, and thrillers such as The Glass Inferno (filmed as The Towering Inferno). Robinson also passionately engaged in politics, fighting for gay rights, and most famously writing speeches for his good friend Harvey Milk in San Francisco. This deeply personal autobiography explains the life of one gay man over eight decades in America and contains personal photos. By turns witty, charming, and poignant, this memoir grants insights into Robinson’s work not just as a journalist and writer, but as a gay man navigating the often perilous social landscape of twentieth-century life in the United States. The bedrock sincerity and painful honesty with which he describes this life makes Not So Good a Gay Man compelling reading.”


9780374298562_a622aThe Last Kid Left by Rosecrans Baldwin
MCD x FSG, June 6

“When a scandalous small-town crime goes viral, a teen girl takes center stage in the story of a twenty-first-century Puritan witch hunt The Last Kid Left begins when a car smashes into a sculpture of a giant cowgirl. The police find two bodies in the trunk. Nineteen-year-old Nick Toussaint Jr. is arrested for murder, and after details of the crime rip across the Internet, his sixteen-year-old girlfriend, Emily Portis—a sheltered teen who’s been off the grid until now, her first romance coinciding with her first cell phone—is nearly consumed by a public hungry for every lurid detail, accurate or not.”


9781944700232_1da88Fingerprints of Previous Owners by Rebecca Entel
Unnamed Press, June 13

“At a Caribbean resort built atop a former slave plantation, Myrna works as a maid by day; by night she trespasses on the resort’s overgrown inland property, secretly excavating the plantation ruins the locals refuse to acknowledge. Myrna’s mother has stopped speaking and her friends are focused on surviving the present, but Myrna is drawn to Cruffey Island’s violent past. With the arrival of Mrs. Manion, a wealthy African-American, also comes new information about the history of the slave-owner’s estate and tensions finally erupt between the resort and the local island community. Suffused with the sun-drenched beauty of the Caribbean, Fingerprints of Previous Owners is a powerful novel of hope and recovery in the wake of devastating trauma. In her soulful and timely debut, Entel explores what it means to colonize and be colonized, to trespass and be trespassed upon, to be wounded and to heal.”


9780765383297_1f2f0Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom
by Bradley W. Schenck
Tor Books, June 13

“A madcap, illustrated mashup of classic Buck Rogers and Futurama! Ray-guns! Robots! Rocket-cars! Retropolis! Alliteration! Exclamation points! If Fritz Lang’s Metropolis somehow mated with Futurama, their mutant offspring might well be Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: A Novel of Retropolis. Inspired by the future imagined in the 1939 World Fair, this hilarious, beautifully illustrated adventure by writer and artist Bradley W. Schenck is utterly unlike anything else in science fiction: a gonzo, totally bonkers, gut-busting look at the World of Tomorrow, populated with dashing, bubble-helmeted heroes, faithful robot sidekicks, mad scientists, plucky rocket engineers, sassy switchboard operators, space pirates, and much, much more—enhanced throughout by two dozen astonishing illustrations.”


9781627798976_62242I Was Told to Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad
By Souad Mekhennet
Henry Holt, June 13

“For her whole life, Souad Mekhennet, a reporter for The Washington Post who was born and educated in Germany, has had to balance the two sides of her upbringing – Muslim and Western. She has also sought to provide a mediating voice between these cultures, which too often misunderstand each other. In this compelling and evocative memoir, we accompany Mekhennet as she journeys behind the lines of jihad, starting in the German neighborhoods where the 9/11 plotters were radicalized and the Iraqi neighborhoods where Sunnis and Shia turned against one another, and culminating on the Turkish/Syrian border region where ISIS is a daily presence. In her travels across the Middle East and North Africa, she documents her chilling run-ins with various intelligence services and shows why the Arab Spring never lived up to its promise. She then returns to Europe, first in London, where she uncovers the identity of the notorious ISIS executioner “Jihadi John,” and then in France, Belgium, and her native Germany, where terror has come to the heart of Western civilization.”


9781608467631_36826The Whiskey of Our Discontent:
Gwendolyn Brooks as Conscience and Change Agent
Edited by Quraysh Ali Lansana and Georgia A. Popoff
Haymarket Books, June 20

Poet, educator, and social activist Gwendolyn Brooks was a singular force in American culture. The first black woman to be named United States poet laureate, Brook’s poetry, fiction, and social commentary shed light on the beauty of humanity, the distinct qualities of black life and community, and the destructive effects of racism, sexism, and class inequality. A collection of thirty essays combining critical analysis and personal reflection, The Whiskey of Our Discontent, presents essential elements of Brooks’ oeuvre—on race, gender, class, community, and poetic craft, while also examining her life as poet, reporter, mentor, sage, activist, and educator.


9781101973950_d6796Amatka by Karin Tidbeck
Vintage, June 27

“Vanja, a government worker, leaves her home city of Essre for the austere, wintry colony of Amatka on a research assignment. It takes some adjusting: people act differently in Amatka, and citizens are monitored for signs of subversion. Intending to stay just a short while, Vanja finds herself falling in love with her housemate, Nina, and decides to stick around. But when she stumbles on evidence of a growing threat to the colony and a cover-up by its administration, she begins an investigation that puts her at tremendous risk. In Karin Tidbeck’s dystopic imagining, language has the power to shape reality. Unless objects, buildings, and the surrounding landscape are repeatedly named, and named properly, everything will fall apart. Trapped in the repressive colony, Vanja dreams of using language to break free, but her individualism may well threaten the very fabric of reality. Amatka is a beguiling and wholly original novel about freedom, love, and artistic creation by an idiosyncratic new voice.


9780807025048_1d7fbBonus pick:
A Surprised Queenhood in the New Black Sun:
The Life and Legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks
By Angela Jackson
May 30, Beacon Press

“In A Surprised Queenhood in the New Black Sun, fellow Chicagoan and award-winning writer Angela Jackson delves deep into the rich fabric of Brooks’s work and world. Granted unprecedented access to Brooks’s family, personal papers, and writing community, Jackson traces the literary arc of this artist’s long career and gives context for the world in which Brooks wrote and published her work. It is a powerfully intimate look at a once-in-a-lifetime talent up close, using forty-three of Brooks’s most soul-stirring poems as a guide. Jackson deftly unpacks it all for both longtime admirers of Brooks and newcomers curious about her interior life. A Surprised Queenhood in the New Black Sun is a commemoration of a writer who negotiated black womanhood and incomparable brilliance with a changing, restless world—an artistic maverick way ahead of her time.”

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