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12 Must-Read Books for May

12 Must-Read Books for May

  • The new books you should read in May 2021.

May is typically a month of new beginnings: students are graduating, flowers are blooming, vacations are on the horizon along with the promise of warmer weather. That could be said of this year more than most. Many of us are starting to take our first trepidatious steps into the world after a long hibernation. We may feel a bit unsteady on our feet, maybe a little awkward, having gotten used to living our lives through a screen. But if you’re anything like the staff here at the CHIRB, you’re looking forward to afternoons outdoors, lounging in a park or lakeside with a good book in hand. Below are twelve titles coming out this month that we think would make fine companions.

Cover of Voices in the Evening

Voices in the Evening
By Natalia Ginzburg; Translated by D.M. Low
New Directions

Long out of print in the U.S., Natalia Ginzburg’s stunning novel of a postwar Italian town emerging from the brittle ruins of fascism is revived by New Directions with their trademark care. Featuring an introduction from Colm Tóibín, Voices in the Evening builds on previous translations of Ginzburg’s work, sure to both dazzle devoted fans and make her plenty of new ones.

Cover of Love Like Water, Love Like Fire

Love Like Water, Love Like Fire
By Mikhail Iossel
Bellevue Literary Press

The former U.S.S.R. continues to cast a long shadow on our current affairs, but Mikhail Iossel brings a fresh eye to the region with this collection of twenty short stories. Engaging equally with the absurdity and brutality of life in a repressive regime, it’s perfect for fans of Gogol and George Saunders alike.

Cover of The Essential June Jordan

The Essential June Jordan
Edited by Jan Heller Levi & Christoph Keller
Copper Canyon Press

Spanning over three decades of a remarkable career, this volume of verse presents a full and definitive portrait of June Jordan’s radical work. A highly respected public figure during her lifetime and a vocal advocate for social justice, her words have never been more relevant and this collection makes them accessible to a whole new generation of readers.

Cover of The Parted Earth

The Parted Earth
By Anjali Enjeti
Hub City Press

Former attorney, journalist, and activist Anjali Enjeti makes an auspicious fiction debut with The Parted Earth, which spans almost fifty years to explore the influence of India’s partition on three generations of women. Enjeti has been very open on social media about the difficulties she faced in getting this story told, but it proves more than worth the wait.

Cover of Sorrowland

By Rivers Solomon

Rivers Solomon’s previous novels have been honored with Lambda, Hurston/Wright, Nebula, Hugo, and Locus award nominations, and Sorrowland is set to break them out in a big way. A genre-bending blend of science fiction, gothic horror, and fairy tale that reckons with our nation’s dark history, it will enchant and challenge readers in equal measure.

Cover of Second Place

Second Place
By Rachel Cusk
Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy is a staff favorite, so anticipation is high for her first fictional work since completing that series. Second Place bears the writer’s trademark talents for excavation and provocation as it navigates the interior worlds of its characters. While brief in page count, it’s expansive in inquiry, and proves just how much she still has to offer serious readers.

Cover of Solo Viola

Solo Viola: A Post-Exotic Novel
By Antoine Volodine; Translated by Lia Swope Mitchell
University of Minnesota Press

Antoine Volodine has been exploding the boundaries of fiction for decades in his native France; now University of Minnesota Press brings one of his most fascinating experiments to U.S. readers with this new translation of Solo Viola. Its vision of performers and prisoners held under the sway of an authoritarian buffoon echoes eerily with our tumultuous present.

Cover of Unsettled Ground

Unsettled Ground
By Claire Fuller
Tin House Books

Recently shortlisted for the Women’s Fiction Prize in the U.K., award-winning writer Claire Fuller’s third novel arrives on American shores this month. A transfixing tale of an unusual family, this one is sure to appeal to fans of Marilynne Robinson, Louise Erdrich, and Lauren Groff, who proclaimed of Unsettled Ground, “I found myself holding my breath while reading.”

Cover of Dead Souls

Dead Souls
By Sam Riviere

See Also

Hailed by The Guardian as one of the 10 best debut novelists of the year and boasting blurbs that namecheck everyone from Nabokov to Bolaño to Bernhard, Sam Riviere seems poised to make a splash with Dead Souls. Fitting for a book that nicks its title from Gogol, it asks fraught questions about artistic ownership and cultural engagement with a postmodern flourish that’s sure to delight adventurous readers.

Cover of Punch Me Up to the Gods

Punch Me Up to the Gods
By Brian Broome
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Ambitiously structured around Gwendolyn Brooks’s iconic poem “We Real Cool,” Brian Broome’s debut memoir of growing up Black and gay in 1980’s Ohio is an electrifying read. Vulnerable and poetic but filled with a ferocious fire, it grabs you from the first page to the last. Perfect for fans of Sarah Broom, Kiese Laymon, and Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight.

Cover of Let the Record Show

Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York, 1987-1993
By Sarah Schulman
Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Sarah Schulman is one of our most prolific and rigorous writers, and she brings her years of dedicated activism for queer and women’s rights to bear on this extensive work of political history. Built from hundreds of interviews with ACT UP members and infused with the radical spirit of today’s protest movements, Let the Record Show is the can’t miss nonfiction book of the season.

Cover of My Begging Chart

My Begging Chart
By Keiler Roberts
Drawn & Quarterly

Chicago-based artist Keiler Roberts has been called “one of comics’ preeminent humorists” by fellow city dwellers The A.V. Club. Here Roberts mines the mundane moments of family life, juggling her roles as a mother, daughter, wife, and artist while coping with chronic illness, with a deadpan frankness that feels like a missive from your smartest, funniest friend.

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