Features Reviews

The 10 Best New Books to Read This March

March is here! Every sane person's least favorite months are over! Plus, a stupid number of great new books

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March is here! Every sane person’s least favorite months are over! Plus, a stupid number of great new books—so many, it was almost impossible to narrow them down to 10 favorites. But we did it anyway, and there’s something for everyone: science fiction, short stories, poetry, horror, and more.


9780765378026_bcef2Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer
Tor Books, March 7

“The second book of Terra Ignota [after Too Like the Lightning], a political SF epic of extraordinary audacity. In a future of near-instantaneous global travel, of abundant provision for the needs of all, a future in which no one living can remember an actual war…a long era of stability threatens to come to an abrupt end. For known only to a few, the leaders of the great Hives, nations without fixed location, have long conspired to keep the world stable, at the cost of just a little blood. A few secret murders, mathematically planned. So that no faction can ever dominate, and the balance holds. And yet the balance is beginning to give way. Mycroft Canner, convict, sentenced to wander the globe in service to all, knows more about this conspiracy the than he can ever admit. Carlyle Foster, counselor, sensayer, has secrets as well, and they burden Carlyle beyond description. And both Mycroft and Carlyle are privy to the greatest secret of all: Bridger, the child who can bring inanimate objects to life. Shot through with astonishing invention, Seven Surrenders is the next movement in one of the great SF epics of our time.”


9781566894609_25f30Camanchaca by Diego Zúñiga
Translated by Megan McDowell
Coffee House Press, March 7

“A long drive across Chile’s Atacama desert, traversing “the worn-out puzzle” of a broken family—a young man’s corrosive intimacy with his mother, the obtrusive cheer of his absentee father, his uncle’s unexplained death—occupies the heart of this novel. Camanchaca is a low fog pushing in from the sea, its moisture sustaining a near-barren landscape. Camanchaca is the discretion that makes a lifelong grief possible. Sometimes, the silences are what bind us.”


9780735212176_8834cExit West by Mohsin Hamid
Riverhead Books, March 7

“In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair, and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through… Exit West follows these remarkable characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are. Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time.”


9781101981085_d97d2The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge
Penguin Press, March 7

“Marina Willett, M.D., has a problem. Her husband, Charlie, has become obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft, in particular with one episode in the legendary horror writer’s life: In the summer of 1934, the “old gent” lived for two months with a gay teenage fan named Robert Barlow, at Barlow’s family home in central Florida. What were the two of them up to? Were they friends—or something more? Just when Charlie thinks he’s solved the puzzle, a new scandal erupts, and he disappears. The police say it’s suicide. Marina is a psychiatrist, and she doesn’t believe them. A tour-de-force of storytelling, The Night Ocean follows the lives of some extraordinary people: Lovecraft, the most influential American horror writer of the 20th century, whose stories continue to win new acolytes, even as his racist views provoke new critics; Barlow, a seminal scholar of Mexican culture who killed himself after being blackmailed for his homosexuality (and who collaborated with Lovecraft on the beautiful story “The Night Ocean”); his student, future Beat writer William S. Burroughs; and L.C. Spinks, a kindly Canadian appliance salesman and science-fiction fan—the only person who knows the origins of The Erotonomicon, purported to be the intimate diary of Lovecraft himself.”

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9781632061423_f1673Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan
Restless Books, March 14

In the United Arab Emirates, foreign nationals constitute over 80 percent of the population. Brought in to construct the towering monuments to wealth that punctuate the skylines of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, this labor force works without the rights of citizenship, endures miserable living conditions, and is ultimately forced to leave the country. Until now, the humanitarian crisis of the so-called “guest workers” of the Gulf has barely been addressed in fiction. With his stunning, mind-altering debut novel Temporary People, Deepak Unnikrishnan delves into their histories, myths, struggles, and triumphs. Combining the irrepressible linguistic invention of Salman Rushdie and the satirical vision of George Saunders, Unnikrishnan presents twenty-eight linked stories that careen from construction workers who shapeshift into luggage and escape a labor camp, to a woman who stitches back together the bodies of those who’ve fallen from buildings in progress, to a man who grows ideal workers designed to live twelve years and then perish—until they don’t, and found a rebel community in the desert. With this polyphony, Unnikrishnan brilliantly maps a new, unruly global English. Giving substance and identity to the anonymous workers of the Gulf, he highlights the disturbing ways in which “progress” on a global scale is bound up with dehumanization.


9781594205613_4ae25The Idiot by Elif Batuman
Random House, March 14

“The year is 1995, and email is new. Selin, the daughter of Turkish immigrants, arrives for her freshman year at Harvard. She signs up for classes in subjects she has never heard of, befriends her charismatic Serbian classmate, Svetlana, and, almost by accident, begins corresponding with Ivan, an older mathematics student from Hungary. Selin may have barely spoken to Ivan, but with each email they exchange, the act of writing seems to take on new and increasingly mysterious meanings. At the end of the school year, Ivan goes to Budapest for the summer, and Selin heads to the Hungarian countryside, to teach English in a program run by one of Ivan’s friends. On the way, she spends two weeks visiting Paris with Svetlana. Selin’s summer in Europe does not resonate with anything she has previously heard about the typical experiences of American college students, or indeed of any other kinds of people. For Selin, this is a journey further inside herself: a coming to grips with the ineffable and exhilarating confusion of first love, and with the growing consciousness that she is doomed to become a writer.”


9781571314734_754f7Sycamore: Poems by Kathy Fagan
Milkweed Editions, March 14

“Meditative and richly written, this collection of poems by Kathy Fagan takes the sycamore as its inspiration—and delivers precise, luminous insights on lost love, nature, and the process of recovery. “It is the season of separation & falling / Away,” Fagan writes. And so—like the abundance of summer diminishing to winter, and like the bark of the sycamore, which sheds to allow the tree’s expansion—the speaker of these poems documents a painful loss and tenuous rebirth, which take shape against a forested landscape. Black walnuts fall where no one can eat or smell them. Cottonwood sends out feverish signals of pollen. And everywhere are sycamores, informed by Fagan’s scientific and mythological research.”


9780316262347_e8375New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson
Orbit, March 14

“As the sea levels rose, every street became a canal. Every skyscraper an island. For the residents of one apartment building in Madison Square, however, New York in the year 2140 is far from a drowned city. There is the market trader, who finds opportunities where others find trouble. There is the detective, whose work will never disappear — along with the lawyers, of course. There is the internet star, beloved by millions for her airship adventures, and the building’s manager, quietly respected for his attention to detail. Then there are two boys who don’t live there, but have no other home– and who are more important to its future than anyone might imagine. Lastly there are the coders, temporary residents on the roof, whose disappearance triggers a sequence of events that threatens the existence of all– and even the long-hidden foundations on which the city rests.”


9780374272180_17d12Swimmer Among the Stars: Stories
by Kanishk Tharoor
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, March 14

“In one of the singularly imaginative stories from Kanishk Tharoor’s Swimmer Among the Stars, despondent diplomats entertain themselves by playing table tennis in zero gravity—for after rising seas destroy Manhattan, the United Nations moves to an orbiting space hotel. In other tales, a team of anthropologists treks to a remote village to record a language’s last surviving speaker intoning her native tongue; an elephant and his driver cross the ocean to meet the whims of a Moroccan princess; and Genghis Khan’s marauding army steadily approaches an unnamed city’s walls. With exuberant originality and startling vision, Tharoor cuts against the grain of literary convention, drawing equally from ancient history and current events. His world-spanning stories speak to contemporary challenges of environmental collapse and cultural appropriation, but also to the workings of legend and their timeless human truths. Whether refashioning the romances of Alexander the Great or confronting the plight of today’s refugees, Tharoor writes with distinctive insight and remarkable assurance. Swimmer Among the Stars announces the arrival of a vital, enchanting talent.”


9780451493699_50a6dWhite Tears by Hari Kunzru
Knopf, March 14

“Two twenty-something New Yorkers. Seth is awkward and shy. Carter is the glamorous heir to one of America’s great fortunes. They have one thing in common: an obsession with music. Seth is desperate to reach for the future. Carter is slipping back into the past. When Seth accidentally records an unknown singer in a park, Carter sends it out over the Internet, claiming it’s a long lost 1920s blues recording by a musician called Charlie Shaw. When an old collector contacts them to say that their fake record and their fake bluesman are actually real, the two young white men, accompanied by Carter’s troubled sister Leonie, spiral down into the heart of the nation’s darkness, encountering a suppressed history of greed, envy, revenge, and exploitation. White Tears is a ghost story, a terrifying murder mystery, a timely meditation on race, and a love letter to all the forgotten geniuses of American music.”


9781941531860_b86b0Inside My Pencil: Teaching Poetry in Detroit Public Schools
by Peter Markus
Dzanc Books, March 21

“For over twenty years, award-winning short story writer and novelist Peter Markus has made his living teaching creative writing in the Detroit Public Schools. As a teaching artist with Detroit’s longest enduring literary non-profit — InsideOut Literary Arts Project — Markus has inspired thousands of students to become believers in the power of words, armed with nothing but an ordinary pencil — the same beat-up, unsharpened pencil Markus has carried with him, story has it, since he was in the third grade. With nods to Pablo Neruda, Mark Strand, T.S. Eliot, and the vital honesty of his own poetic experience, he invites children to explore the dreamscapes of their imaginary worlds, encouraging even the most resistant students to see what magic and wonder awaits them.”

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