After an avalanche of pre-release hype and an endorsement by no less than Stephen Colbert, Edan Lepucki’s dystopian debut, California, is finally out. If you’ve already discovered that all the buzz (“lush, intricate, deeply disturbing” —Jennifer Egan) about this character-based novel of the post-collapse was warranted, try Will McIntosh’s Soft Apocalypse. The celebrated sci-fi author’s debut novel imagines the end of the world slipping in on little cat feet. No pandemic, no nuclear war, no zombies, just a slow slide into what comes next. Chilling, if only because it all seems so terrifyingly plausible.
You’ve read Orange is the New Black, by Piper Kerman, and you’ve spent entire weekends glued to Netflix, binge-watching the exploits of the women of Litchfield Prison. Unfortunately, you’ve got to wait until next June to go back behind bars. In the meantime, why not try another true-life account of the unexpected moments of humanity that exist within an inhumane system? Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian, by Avi Steinberg, is a fascinating, funny, and thought-provoking memoir about a directionless young man who stumbles into a job as a librarian in a hard-as-nails Boston prison.
In his half-memoir, half-instruction manual On Writing, Stephen King reveals the method to the madness he has been able to sustain across decades: how to cram the endless voices that speak stories to him out of nowhere in between the covers of book after book. If you enjoy learning how who an author is reflects what and how she writes, Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird is another essential tome. As much an autobiography as a primer on writing, it reminds us that there are real lives and real struggles behind each and every book on your shelf.
The 2016 election cycle has barely begun, and the political gossip machine is already in a tizzy. There’s plenty of scoop to be had in the new tell-all tome Blood Feud: The Clintons vs. the Obamas, by Edward Klein, which purports to reveal what the two most powerful Democratic Party dynasties really think about one another. For some slightly dated dish that still tastes fresh, circle back to Game Change, by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, an addictive account of the momentous 2008 Presidential election (then watch the movie, and decide who gave better “You betcha!,” Julianne Moore or Tina Fey).
Across more than a dozen novels, Alan Furst has proven himself a master of the WWII-era espionage novel. His latest, Midnight in Europe, opens in 1938, just before Europe was plunged into conflict. If you’re willing to look beyond the facts to what might have been, you’ll find an equally tense thriller in Ha’Penny, by Jo Walton, the second installment of her alternate-history Small Change trilogy (the books can be read in any order). In a timeline where Great Britain appeased Hitler, fascism is tightening its grip on Western Europe, spurring a few desperate outcasts to take drastic measures—including a last-ditch plot to assassinate the Führer that recalls the best scenes of Inglorious Basterds.
What are you reading right now?