Why you should care
Because every New Year’s resolution should include a good book.
How does one select a dozen “best” titles from the hundreds, maybe thousands, of excellent new books published in English each year? It’s impossible! But every year, I look forward to a few familiar writers whom I consider masters at combining truth, art and story, as well as to discovering new authors taking bold and innovative leaps with their art. This year, I’m guided by the many conversations around immigrants and those considered outsiders, and by brave stories about women at a time when their stories and experiences are center stage. Here are some thoughtful chroniclers to help us navigate the New Year.
All the Women in My Family Sing, edited by Deborah Santana (January)
Mothers, sisters, daughters, grandmothers — the essays in this collection are written by women of color from around the world and range from an escape from the “killing fields” of Cambodia to stories of love and desire. Many shine a light on current racial and gender-based inequalities.
The Monk of Mokha, by Dave Eggers (January)
In 2018, Eggers, a master of fiction and creative nonfiction alike, publishes his first full-length nonfiction book in a decade. This is the story of Mokhtar Alkhanshali, a Yemeni-American who grew up in San Francisco and then reinvented himself at the age of 24 to become a coffee importer operating in Yemen, only to find himself caught up in civil war.
An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones (February)
This story of intimacy and history, set in America’s New South, is about a young marriage torn apart when the husband (Roy) is arrested and sentenced for a crime he didn’t commit. Told partly through letters while Roy is in prison, this is a love story and a story of racial injustice.
Freshwater, by Akwaeke Emezi (February)
Freshwater is the story of a young Nigerian woman, Ada, that is narrated through her fractured selves. This startling debut novel, so innovative in form and content, is an exploration of trauma and spirituality.
Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith (February)
Smith, well known for her fiction, is also a master essayist. Following her last collection, Changing My Mind, Smith is feeling free with this new collection of essays on culture, politics and life in general.
Happiness, by Aminatta Forna (March)
From the Windham-Campbell prizewinner comes a new novel about immigrants in London and the search for a lost boy. This story of resilience is also a reverse gaze in which Africans view the West, rather than the other way around.
She Called Me Woman, edited by Azeenarh Mohammed, Chitra Nagarajan, and Rafeeat Aliyu. (April)
In the first collection of its kind, queer Nigerian women explore what it means to be gay in Nigeria, a country where same-sex relations are illegal. These 30 first-person narratives are both powerful and brave.
America Is Not the Heart, by Elaine Castillo (April)
Set in the Philippines and America, this startling debut novel follows the lives of three generations of women from one immigrant family who leave behind homes to set up new ones in America. But just how real is the American dream?
Bird of the Indian Subcontinent, by Subhashini Kaligotla (April)
This debut collection is by a Yale art historian and the winner of the 2017 Emerging Poets Prize from the (Great) Indian Poetry Collective. Kaligotla’s poems draw from both classical mythologies and contemporary milieus to explore the sordid and ecstatic nature of desire — between hearts, across geographies and within the soul.
All the Ever Afters: The Untold Story of Cinderella’s Stepmother, by Danielle Teller (May)
Thought you knew the story of Cinderella’s wicked stepmother? Think again. In this retelling of a classic tale, nothing is what it seems. Beauty is not always desirable, and love can take on many guises.
Barracoon, by Zora Neale Hurston (May)
Hurston, the American novelist and short story writer, died in 1960, but a previously unpublished nonfiction book of hers will now be released. Barracoon is about Cudjo Lewis, the last known person to have survived the transatlantic slave trade, and the community that he founded in Plateau, Alabama.
All the Lives We Never Lived, by Anuradha Roy (June)
Roy (not to be confused with another Booker Prize long-listed writer) has written a war-within-a-war story. The novel, which begins during India’s independence movement and spans several decades, is the story of an artist who abandons family in search of freedom.
Shatila Stories, translated by Nashwa Gowanlock (July)
This collaborative piece of literature is written by nine Syrian refugee writers from the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut. The story is that of two young men who learn to live with dignity in inhumane conditions.