Features

The Best Books of 2019 So Far

Including novels, short story collections, poetry, and nonfiction

It’s hard to believe the year is only half over when so many great books have already hit our shelves. From stunning novels and short-story collections to powerful poetry collections to mind-changing works of nonfiction, this list includes our editorial staff’s favorite books to come out between January and June 2019. Happy reading!

Novels

Black Leopard, Red Wolf
By Marlon James
Riverhead Books

“In the stunning first novel in Marlon James’s Dark Star trilogy, myth, fantasy, and history come together to explore what happens when a mercenary is hired to find a missing child.”

Trust Exercise
By Susan Choi
Henry Holt and Co.

“In an American suburb in the early 1980s, students at a highly competitive performing arts high school struggle and thrive in a rarified bubble, ambitiously pursuing music, movement, Shakespeare, and, particularly, their acting classes. When within this striving “Brotherhood of the Arts,” two freshmen, David and Sarah, fall headlong into love, their passion does not go unnoticed—or untoyed with—by anyone, especially not by their charismatic acting teacher, Mr. Kingsley.”

The Heavens
By Sandra Newman
Grove Press

“A work of rare literary brilliance and emotional power, The Heavens is a mesmerizing novel of love and dreams that moves between a reimagined New York City and Elizabethan England and asks how our world comes to be.”

Bowlaway
By Elizabeth McCracken
Ecco

“A sweeping and enchanting new novel from the widely beloved, award-winning author Elizabeth McCracken about three generations of an unconventional New England family who own and operate a candlepin bowling alley.”

The Old Drift
By Namwali Serpell
Hogarth

“1904. On the banks of the Zambezi River, a few miles from the majestic Victoria Falls, there is a colonial settlement called The Old Drift. In a smoky room at the hotel across the river, an Old Drifter named Percy M. Clark, foggy with fever, makes a mistake that entangles the fates of an Italian hotelier and an African busboy. This sets off a cycle of unwitting retribution between three Zambian families (black, white, brown) as they collide and converge over the course of the century, into the present and beyond. As the generations pass, their lives—their triumphs, errors, losses and hopes—emerge through a panorama of history, fairytale, romance and science fiction.”

Dream Sequence
By Adam Foulds
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

“Adam Foulds, the award-winning author of The Quickening Maze, pens a stunning and terrifying vision of the damage done between a fan and a celebrity in Dream Sequence—where the borders between inner and outer life have been made porous in a world full of flickering screens large and small.”

The New Me
By Halle Butler
Penguin Books

“Thirty-year-old Millie just can’t pull it together. She spends her days working a thankless temp job and her nights alone in her apartment, fixating on all the ways she might change her situation–her job, her attitude, her appearance, her life. Then she watches TV until she falls asleep, and the cycle begins again.”

Normal People
By Sally Rooney
Hogarth

“At school Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other. He’s popular and well-adjusted, star of the school football team, while she is lonely, proud, and intensely private. But when Connell comes to pick his mother up from her job at Marianne’s house, a strange and indelible connection grows between the two teenagers—one they are determined to conceal.”

Lost Children Archive
By Valeria Luiselli
Knopf

“A mother and father set out with their two children, a boy and a girl, driving from New York to Arizona in the heat of summer. Their destination: Apacheria, the place the Apaches once called home. Why Apaches? asks the ten-year-old son. Because they were the last of something, answers his father. In their car, they play games and sing along to music. But on the radio, there is news about an “immigration crisis”: thousands of kids trying to cross the southwestern border into the United States, but getting detained—or lost in the desert along the way.”

Mostly Dead Things
By Kristen Arnett
Tin House

“One morning, Jessa-Lynn Morton walks into the family taxidermy shop to find that her father has committed suicide, right there on one of the metal tables. Shocked and grieving, Jessa steps up to manage the failing business, while the rest of the Morton family crumbles. Her mother starts sneaking into the shop to make aggressively lewd art with the taxidermied animals. Her brother Milo withdraws, struggling to function. And Brynn, Milo’s wife―and the only person Jessa’s ever been in love with―walks out without a word. As Jessa seeks out less-than-legal ways of generating income, her mother’s art escalates―picture a figure of her dead husband and a stuffed buffalo in an uncomfortably sexual pose―and the Mortons reach a tipping point. For the first time, Jessa has no choice but to learn who these people truly are, and ultimately how she fits alongside them.”

Women Talking
By Miriam Toews
Bloomsbury

“One evening, eight Mennonite women climb into a hay loft to conduct a secret meeting. For the past two years, each of these women, and more than a hundred other girls in their colony, has been repeatedly violated in the night by demons coming to punish them for their sins. Now that the women have learned they were in fact drugged and attacked by a group of men from their own community, they are determined to protect themselves and their daughters from future harm.”

Short Stories

Song for the Unraveling of the World
By Brian Evenson
Coffee House Press

“A newborn’s absent face appears on the back of someone else’s head, a filmmaker goes to gruesome lengths to achieve the silence he’s after for his final scene, and a therapist begins, impossibly, to appear in a troubled patient’s room late at night. In these stories of doubt, delusion, and paranoia, no belief, no claim to objectivity, is immune to the distortions of human perception. Here, self-deception is a means of justifying our most inhuman impulses—whether we know it or not.”

Sabrina & Corina
By Kali Fajardo-Anstine
One World

“Latinas of Indigenous descent living in the American West take center stage in this haunting debut story collection—a powerful meditation on friendship, mothers and daughters, and the deep-rooted truths of our homelands.”

Wounds
By Nathan Ballingrud
Gallery / Saga Press

“In his first collection, North American Lake Monsters, Nathan Ballingrud carved out a distinctly singular place in American fiction with his “piercing and merciless” (Toronto Globe and Mail) portrayals of the monsters that haunt our lives—both real and imagined: “What Nathan Ballingrud does in North American Lake Monsters is to reinvigorate the horror tradition” (Los Angeles Review of Books).

Rag
By Maryse Meijer
FSG Originals

“A man, forgotten by the world, takes care of his deaf brother while euthanizing dogs for a living. A stepbrother so desperately wants to become his stepsibling that he rapes his girlfriend. In Maryse Meijer’s decidedly dark and searingly honest collection Rag, the desperate human desire for connection slips into a realm that approximates horror.”

Exhalation
By Ted Chiang
Knopf

“In these nine stunningly original, provocative, and poignant stories, Ted Chiang tackles some of humanity’s oldest questions along with new quandaries only he could imagine. Including stories being published for the first time as well as some of his rare and classic uncollected work, Exhalation is Ted Chiang at his best: profound, sympathetic—revelatory.”

Lot
By Brian Washington
Riverhead Books

“In the city of Houston – a sprawling, diverse microcosm of America – the son of a black mother and a Latino father is coming of age. He’s working at his family’s restaurant, weathering his brother’s blows, resenting his older sister’s absence. And discovering he likes boys.”

Nonfiction

Furious Hours
By Casey Cep
Knopf

“The stunning story of an Alabama serial killer and the true-crime book that Harper Lee worked on obsessively in the years after To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Underland
By Robert Macfarlane
W. W. Norton & Company

“Hailed as the great nature writer of this generation (Wall Street Journal), Robert Macfarlane is the celebrated author of books about the intersections of the human and the natural realms. In Underland, he delivers his masterpiece: an epic exploration of the Earth’s underworlds as they exist in myth, literature, memory, and the land itself.”

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls
By T Kira Madden
Bloomsbury

“Acclaimed literary essayist T Kira Madden’s raw and redemptive debut memoir is about coming of age and reckoning with desire as a queer, biracial teenager amidst the fierce contradictions of Boca Raton, Florida, a place where cult-like privilege, shocking racial disparities, rampant white-collar crime, and powerfully destructive standards of beauty hide in plain sight.”

I Miss You When I Blink
By Mary Laura Philpott
Atria Books

“In this memoir-in-essays full of spot-on observations about home, work, and creative life, Philpott takes on the conflicting pressures of modern adulthood with wit and heart. She offers up her own stories to show that identity crises don’t happen just once or only at midlife; reassures us that small, recurring personal re-inventions are both normal and necessary; and advises that if you’re going to faint, you should get low to the ground first.”

Meander Spiral Explode
By Jane Alison
Catapult

“Novelist and writing teacher Jane Alison illuminates the many shapes other than the usual wavelike “narrative arc” that can move fiction forward. The stories she loves most follow other organic patterns found in nature—spirals, meanders, and explosions, among others. Alison’s manifesto for new modes of narrative will appeal to serious readers and writers alike.”

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming
By David Wallace-Wells
Tim Duggan Books

“In his travelogue of our near future, David Wallace-Wells brings into stark relief the climate troubles that await—food shortages, refugee emergencies, and other crises that will reshape the globe. But the world will be remade by warming in more profound ways as well, transforming our politics, our culture, our relationship to technology, and our sense of history. It will be all-encompassing, shaping and distorting nearly every aspect of human life as it is lived today.”

Landfill: Notes on Gull Watching and Trash Picking in the Anthropocene
By Tim Dee
Chelsea Green Publishing

“Landfill is the original and compelling story of how in the Anthropocene we have learned about the natural world, named and catalogued it, and then colonized it, planted it, or filled it with our junk. While most other birds have gone in the opposite direction, hiding away from us, some vanishing forever, gulls continue to tell us how the wild can share our world. For these reasons Landfill is the nature book for our times, groundbreaking and genre-bending.”

Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow By Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Penguin Press

“A profound new rendering of the struggle by African-Americans for equality after the Civil War and the violent counter-revolution that resubjugated them, as seen through the prism of the war of images and ideas that have left an enduring racist stain on the American mind.”

The Collected Schizophrenias
By Esmé Weijun Wang
Graywolf Press

“In essays that range from using fashion to present as high-functioning to the depths of a rare form of psychosis, and from the failures of the higher education system and the dangers of institutionalization to the complexity of compounding factors such as PTSD and Lyme disease, Wang’s analytical eye, honed as a former lab researcher at Stanford, allows her to balance research with personal narrative. An essay collection of undeniable power, The Collected Schizophrenias dispels misconceptions and provides insight into a condition long misunderstood.”

Era of Ignition: Coming of Age in a Time of Rage and Revolution
By Amber Tamblyn
Crown Archetype

“A passionate and deeply personal exploration of feminism during divisive times by actor, filmmaker, and activist Amber Tamblyn.”

Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing
By Robert A. Caro
Knopf

“From the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Power Broker and The Years of Lyndon Johnson: an unprecedented gathering of vivid, candid, deeply revealing recollections about his experiences researching and writing his acclaimed books.”

How to Do Nothing
By Jenny Odell
Melville House

“Nothing is harder to do these days than nothing. But in a world where our value is determined by our 24/7 data productivity . . . doing nothing may be our most important form of resistance. So argues artist and critic Jenny Odell in this field guide to doing nothing (at least as capitalism defines it). Odell sees our attention as the most precious—and overdrawn—resource we have. Once we can start paying a new kind of attention, she writes, we can undertake bolder forms of political action, reimagine humankind’s role in the environment, and arrive at more meaningful understandings of happiness and progress.”

Go Ahead in the Rain
By Hanif Abdurraqib
University of Texas Press

“The first chronicle of A Tribe Called Quest—the visionary, award-winning group whose jazz-infused records and socially conscious lyrics revolutionized rap in the early 1990s.”

Poetry

1919
By Eve Ewing
Haymarket Books

“The Chicago Race Riot of 1919, the most intense of the riots comprising the nation’s Red Summer, has shaped the last century but is not widely discussed. In 1919, award-winning poet Eve L. Ewing explores the story of this event—which lasted eight days and resulted in thirty-eight deaths and almost 500 injuries—through poems recounting the stories of everyday people trying to survive and thrive in the city. Ewing uses speculative and Afrofuturist lenses to recast history, and illuminates the thin line between the past and the present.”

Losing Miami
By Gabriel Ojeda-Sagué
Civil Coping Mechanisms

Losing Miami is an experiment in grieving the potential loss of Miami to rising sea levels. What are we losing if we lose Miami, a seemingly impossible city formed out of Caribbean migration and the transformation of language? This book asks how we cope with loss at such a grand scale, all while the world continues to rapidly change.”

The Twenty-Ninth Year
By Hala Alyan
Ecco

“A vivid catalog of heartache, loneliness, love and joy, The Twenty-Ninth Year is an education in looking for home and self in the space between disparate identities.”

Magical Negro
By Morgan Parker
Tin House

Magical Negro is an archive of black everydayness, a catalog of contemporary folk heroes, an ethnography of ancestral grief, and an inventory of figureheads, idioms, and customs. These American poems are both elegy and jive, joke and declaration, songs of congregation and self-conception. They connect themes of loneliness, displacement, grief, ancestral trauma, and objectification, while exploring and troubling tropes and stereotypes of Black Americans. Focused primarily on depictions of black womanhood alongside personal narratives, the collection tackles interior and exterior politics―of both the body and society, of both the individual and the collective experience. In Magical Negro, Parker creates a space of witness, of airing grievances, of pointing out patterns. In these poems are living documents, pleas, latent traumas, inside jokes, and unspoken anxieties situated as firmly in the past as in the present―timeless black melancholies and triumphs.”

Comics

Ironheart Vol. 1: Those With Courage
By Eve Ewing and Kevin Libranda
Marvel

“Riri Williams steps boldly out of Tony Stark’s shadow to forge her own future! When one of Spider-Man’s old foes holds a group of world leaders hostage, Ironheart must step up her game. But she’s thrown for a loop when an old acquaintance from Chicago re-enters her life! Caught between her need for independence and her obligations at M.I.T., Ironheart needs to make some tough decisions! Luckily, Riri has a will of steel, a heart of iron and a new A.I. on her side! Unluckily, the search for a kidnapped friend will send her stumbling into an ancient power — and it’s deadly! Plus: When Miles Morales goes missing, who better to search for him than his fellow Champion, Riri — who he’s never actually gotten along with that well!”

Baseball Epic: Famous and Forgotten Lives of the Dead Ball Era
By Jason Novak
Coffee House Press

“In this work of cartoon revisionist history, Jason Novak explores the little-talked-about dead ball era of baseball—from 1900 to 1920, when a single ball was used for an entire game—and the men and women who shaped its course. Ranging from mischievous in-game antics to the racial barriers being crossed well before Jackie Robinson, these miniature biographies highlight the joys and struggles, both on and off the field, of the unsung heroes who played pro ball before it was a profession.”

BTTM FDRS
By Ezra Claytan Daniels and Ben Passmore
Fantagraphics

“Once a thriving working-class neighborhood on Chicago’s south side, the “Bottomyards” is now the definition of urban blight. When an aspiring fashion designer and her image-obsessed BFF descend upon the hood in search of cheap rent, they discover something far more seductive… and deadly.”

2 comments on “The Best Books of 2019 So Far

  1. Ooops. that book is coming out in July. So read it since I’m sure it will make your next list!

    Like

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