The best new books to read in May

There’s a tendency to sum up entire social media platforms by their most annoying users: tweeters sharing bad takes, Facebookers spreading bad news, YouTubers complaining about YouTube, etc. But every platform has a books section, and so at least some value in my listening.

Over the past few decades, I’ve enjoyed how social media has enhanced my reading experience with recommendations, discussions, and, especially on a certain mean-spirited subreddit with an unprintable name, jokes about certain authors and their fans. For every enlightening literary post on Reddit, there’s a “what’s your favorite book?” thread dominated by The Martian. (I’m not saying it’s bad, I’m saying Redditors should read more books.)

I also enjoyed some personal and thoughtful video book reviews on YouTube. For now, Twitter is a decent place for new authors to reveal their book covers and start arguments with their fanbase for the hell of it. I kinda like Goodreads to see what my friends are reading, but Amazon owns it, so it’s known on principle.

A recent article in Publishers Weekly reported that book sales increased 9% last year. Why? PW cites the pandemic (it makes sense), celebrity book clubs and recs (Reese, Oprah, Hermione, etc.) and of course “new social media phenomena like #BookTok.”

Sigh. I don’t need another distracting app in my life, but that’s okay. TikTok download. Doomscrolling. OKAY.

So it’s BookTok. Lots of covers. Batteries illuminated by a ring. Color coded shelves. A running gag about people who will use anything as a bookmark: a sheet, a backpack, another book, a dog, etc. It’s surprising how many people use those thin strips of post-it notes to mark favorite or important passages. I could go in there. Right now I take pictures of the pages I like and then never look at them again.

Taylor Jenkins Reid and Madeline Miller seem to be having a lot of success on BookTok. Ocean Vuong, Sally Rooney and Matt Haig too. But genre fiction is everywhere, especially romance, YA, and fantasy. “Only 150 pages and already gagged how geeky this book made me,” one user says of a novel by Christina Lauren (aka hit romance duo/BFFs Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings).

Here is an article titled “books to read when you hate to read but want to get into it” and another titled “books that I think everyone should read at least once in their life”. Lists like these almost always reserve a spot for YA/romance author Colleen Hoover, who’s gone from self-publishing to bestseller list over the past decade, though users still include a content warning: 💔 + 😭.

Weirdly, the moment I downloaded TikTok, I started getting needy alerts from Instagram – this person is going to live, this friend just uploaded a new story. Oh. I’m sorry, Bookstagram. BRT.

And now here are some new books guaranteed to stimulate your brain and inspire content 🤮.

“Because he had enjoyed nearly every privilege since birth, one of the few privileges denied to Benjamin Rask was that of heroic ascent.” So begins the witty and elegant second novel by Hernan Diaz, which somewhat rashomonically unpacks the life story of an otherwise unremarkable young man who decides to turn an already sizable inheritance into a colossal fortune at Wall Street, for no better reason than “a hunger in the heart.” Set in the 1920s (before and after Roaring), Trust is a multi-faceted saga of class, wealth, and myth-making that should resonate with readers today who wonder about capitalism. Buy shares in Diaz now; her first novel, 2017′s In The distance, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and Trust looks like another winner. (Riverhead, $28, May 3)

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Whenever disaster strikes – a crash, a war, a pandemic – a hundred lonely voices cry “I told you so”. Most of the time they’re plot gnats and timed Cassandras, but sometimes they’re just ordinary shmo who had a nightmare and then woke up to see it come true. This seems to be what happened in 1966; an avalanche of coal mine waste crushed a school in a small British town, killing 144 people, and a music teacher saw it coming. Inspired by this story and others like it, a journalist and a psychiatrist soon founded the Bureau of Premonitions and began soliciting stories from accidental clairvoyants across the UK. Would they find meaning in the data? Could disasters be avoided? If so, what does that say about time itself? Like his subjects, New York writer Sam Knight is driven by a fearless curiosity in his quick and fascinating start in nonfiction. (Penguin Press, $28, May 3)

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It’s a clever craft in how Nghi Vo weaves the fantastical into the earthly in her story of a queer Chinese-American actress bursting into the world of cinema at the dawn of the walkie-talkie era. . Especially at first, readers may find themselves baffled to separate the mere metaphor from the terrifyingly tangible in this dreamy, mystical version of Old Hollywood, a place where names hold power, fame is a transformative curse, and evil studio executives lock up. disposable items. starlets in Faustian contracts. Indeed, monsters abound in mermaid queen; the trick is to align yourself with the good guys, and become one yourself if necessary. (Tordotcom, $26.99, May 10)

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Akwaeke Emezi is probably best known for his best-selling literary novel of 2020 The Death of Vivek Oji, but you can really find the Nigerian-born trans author all over the bookstore: memoir, poetry, speculative YA, etc. With the new hot and heavy You made a fool of death with your beauty — a title borrowed from the lyrics of drama-pop queen Florence + The Machine — Emezi slips into the romance section like it’s your DMs. Both an emotional journey and a sexy adventure, YMAFODWYB introduces us to the likeable Feyi, a hot and she knows it widow who is making an impulsive cannonball in the dating pool five years after losing her husband. (Atria, $27, May 24)

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Although Elif Batuman’s novels push the boundaries of the typical “coming of age novel” – their narrator is, at least legally speaking, an adult – 2017′s The idiot and its sublime new suite have this same Dickens/wonderful years-y the vibe of watching a serious, malleable naive navigate her way through a fascinating, confusing, and harrowing world. Maybe we’ve never been to Harvard or Hungary, and we’ve never spent a lot of time studying Dostoevsky or Kierkegaard (I for one haven’t done any of those), we can still recognize something of ourselves in Selin and want good things for her. More than that, we want her to remain herself: sincere, curious and uninfected by cynicism. Do you have to read the first book to read the second? Nobody can force you to do anything, but yes: Read both. (Penguin Press, $27, May 24)

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The Georgetown philosophy professor and author of Reconsider repairs, (published in January) analyzes here how important conversations about race, opportunity, and capitalism are sidetracked by bad actors, stifling systems, and unquestioned norms. Elite Capture is light and straightforward, and requires careful reading. (Haymarket, $16.95, May 3)

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This graphic-heavy memoir by Emma Grove recounts the trans artist/author’s therapy sessions that not only unearthed memories of a dark past, but also led to a diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder. The Third Person contains over 900 pages of simple black and white drawings, but only your arms will get tired. (Pulled and Quarterly, $39.95, May 3)

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Ali Smith adds a surprising fifth novel to his COVID-inspired Seasonal Quartet series. what comes next Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer? The well titled side piece, of course, a distinct but worthy addition full of jokes, puns and parables to make sense of the modern era of the pandemic. The Guardian (UK) calls it “a lockdown tale of capricious genius”. (Pantheon, $28, May 3)

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The best-selling physicist and storyteller returns with a collection of captivating essays on life, the universe and everything. As always, Rovelli draws on history and humor to illustrate the deeply theoretical, whether it’s the nature of time or the consciousness of octopuses. (Riverhead, $26, May 10)

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A micro-dosing henchman on warrant for some very bad people recalls his wild and murderous career as he drove across the country and did maybe some more killing. There’s a lot of heart and humor in Chaon’s devious dystopian thriller, and our narrator is a likable guy despite, you know, all those murders. (Henry Holt and Co., 27.99, May 24)

➡️ Buy it now at | Borrow it from the free library

Other books to come

Look for Patrick Rapa’s monthly summary of good reads on and in the Inquirer on the first Sunday of the month.

Colin L. Johnson