There’s a rule in our Editor-in-Chief’s household that once the daily temperature hits below fifty degrees, we can listen to the Charlie Brown Christmas album. Infuriatingly, it was an unseasonably warm October here in Chicago. Maybe this month? It’s traditionally a time of Thanksgiving, and also, finally, traveling to see family and friends again after a long time apart. If you’re anticipating traffic snarls and long waits at the airport, and even if you’re not, we recommend taking along one (or more) of the new titles below.
Pity the Beast
By Robin McLean
And Other Stories
For any readers seeking their next Joy Williams-esque fix, look no further than Robin McLean’s mythic debut novel. With a polyphonic perspective that sweeps across millennia, Pity the Beast is a rip-roaring ride through the American West, an area of the country with no shortage of master chroniclers. Based on the instinctive talent on display here, you can add McLean’s name to that list.
1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows
By Ai Weiwei; Translated by Allan H. Barr
One of the most celebrated artists and activists in the world, Ai Weiwei has an ambitious memoir out this month. Both a personal and national history, 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows traces back to his childhood spent in exile following his father’s banishment, through his years in America and current life under a totalitarian regime, illuminating how these experiences shaped his creative work.
By Louise Erdrich
Fresh off her well-deserved Pulitzer win for The Night Watchman, Louise Erdrich returns with this literary mystery set in a Minneapolis bookshop haunted by its “most annoying customer.” If this sounds like a bit of a change of pace, readers shouldn’t fear. Erdrich’s capacious empathy and wicked wit are on full display in this treat sure to delight even the scardiest of cats.
The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity
By David Graeber and David Wengrow
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
If you’re anything like us at the CHIRB, you may have a copy (possibly uncracked) of David Graeber’s massive Debt: The First 5,000 Years somewhere on your shelves. Though the beloved public intellectual and activist passed away in September 2020, his work continues thanks to co-author David Wengrow, resulting in this monumental tome taking on no less than rethinking the whole of human history.
By Natashia Deón
Natashia Deón builds on the promise of her debut novel Grace with this mind-bending blend of speculative fiction and history that recalls the politically-engaged work of Octavia Butler and N.K. Jemisin. Set in 1930’s Los Angeles, The Perishing follows the story of Lou, a Black woman who wakes up in an alley, on her path to discovering her true immortal nature. Perfect for fans of thoughtful sci-fi.
A Splendid Intelligence: The Life of Elizabeth Hardwick
By Cathy Curtis
W.W. Norton & Company
Elizabeth Hardwick was a co-founder of the New York Review of Books and an essayist and novelist of enviable range, but is still mostly viewed through the lens of her turbulent marriage to Robert Lowell. Biographer Cathy Curtis finally sheds full light on her remarkable life and career with a book as complex and unstinting as its subject. Anyone who ate up Red Comet last year shouldn’t miss it.
The Four Humors
By Mina Seçkin
Fans of Elif Batuman’s The Idiot should take note of Mina Seçkin’s debut The Four Humors, another wry and intelligent novel that engages with the Turkish diaspora in America. As twenty-year-old Sibel seeks relief from an unshakable headache, she ends up delving into her family history and dubious medicinal theories, all of which Seçkin captures with a mordant wisdom that belies her own young age.
By Lucille Clifton
Lucille Clifton was a true titan of American letters – still the only writer to have two books of poetry nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in the same year. First published in 1976 and long out of print, her memoir Generations is given a beautiful rebirth this month. Featuring an intro by Tracy K. Smith, a formidable poet in her own right, this new edition is another gem from the team at NYRB Classics.
By Paul Muldoon
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning poet is back this month with his fourteenth collection, named for “the slap in the face a midwife gives a newborn.” Muldoon is hoping to provide a similar wake-up call for readers, and his willingness to play with all manner of forms and references—from Eliot’s The Waste Land to a sequence of ekphrastic poems that recalls Yeats—proves he hasn’t gone soft in old(ish) age.
By Neal Stephenson
Neal Stephenson has never been afraid of engaging with big ideas within genre forms, and Termination Shock might be his most visionary, and timely, book yet. Set in a near-future where climate change has initiated a catastrophic series of compounding disasters, this sweeping speculative adventure may not be the most comforting read of the month, but it will certainly be the most mind-expanding.
People From My Neighborhood
By Hiromi Kawakami; Translated by Ted Goossen
Beloved Japanese novelist Hiromi Kawakami returns with this delightful collection of twenty-six interlocking short stories—small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, as the writer puts it—set in a world that blends the mythical with the mundane. If months of lockdown has you yearning to find the magic in the everyday again, Kawakami’s book has arrived just in time.
Small Things Like These
By Claire Keegan
For anyone who wants to continue riding the Rooney wave of Irish literature, Claire Keegan’s international bestseller Small Things Like These finally lands on American shores this month. Running a relatively scant 128 pages, this little novel is big on impact, engaging with the country’s long history of Catholic Church-abetted abuses and the culture that made them possible. As compact and glittering as a jewel.