spring preview 2017

Spring Book Preview: David Letterman, Elizabeth Strout, and 8 More Books We Can’t Wait to Read

So many books, so little time. We know you’re too busy to find your next great page-turner, so we’ve sifted through the stacks of new releases and found spring’s most exciting new titles. Below, 10 books we can’t wait to get our hands on.

American War, by Omar El Akkad (Knopf, April 4)
1984 may be a best seller again, but there’s a brand new dystopian novel that’s even more relevant to politics today. In the year 2074, the U.S. (now a smaller country due to global warming) enters its second Civil War: The use of oil for energy has been outlawed, and the South is rebelling. Told through the lens of a young Southern refugee who comes of age in a time of horror, American War is terrifying in its prescient vision of the future. Author Omar El Akkad has been a reporter covering the Black Lives Matter movement, the Arab Spring uprising, and the Guantanamo Bay trials, and his fiction debut is the culmination of all he’s seen of humanity at its best and worst. —Maris Kreizman

Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions, by Valeria Luiselli (Coffee House Press, April 4)
Since 2014, Mexican writer and novelist Valeria Luiselli has been volunteering as a translator of intake questionnaires for unaccompanied minors coming into the U.S. from the Mexican border, most of whom face deportation. Luiselli’s prose is always lush and astute, but this long essay, which borrows its framework from questions on the cold, bureaucratic work sheets with which she became so familiar (for example, “Did anything happen on your trip to the U.S. that scared or hurt you?”), is teeming with urgency. No need to evoke Kafka; he haunts every page. In this slim volume about the spectacular failure of the American Dream, she tells the stories of the unnamed children she’s encountered and their fears and desires, as well as her own family’s immigration story. —MK

Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night, by Jason Zinoman (Harper, April 11)
New York Times comedy critic Jason Zinoman has chosen a worthy subject for his latest biography: David Letterman’s contributions changed both late-night television and the comedy world in general. With unprecedented access to Letterman’s production company (and a few hours with the man himself) Zinoman presents a well-rounded portrait of the late-night legend, including some of his less-than-shining moments (he does talk about that affair). This is a must-read for any comedy fan, especially those who know that Stupid Pet Tricks are profound. —MK

Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America, by James Forman Jr. (FSG, April 18)
This will be the big spring book to argue about. As a former public defender, Supreme Court clerk, charter-school founder, law school professor and son of a civil-rights activist, Forman can catalogue more dysfunctional systems at close range than The Wire did. Focusing on D.C., he traces the explosion of black incarceration from the ground up, and calls to account not only white conservatives and disengaged liberals but also African-Americans, some of whom he considers complicit in the devastation. —Boris Kachka

Anything Is Possible, by Elizabeth Strout (Random House, April 25)
Though technically a novel told through stories, and a kind of sideways sequel to Strout’s last novel, My Name Is Lucy Barton, this excavation of the tortured family and stunted town that Barton left behind for the big city not only stands on its own; it’s more multilayered, rich and raw than its parent narrative — closer in its complexities of character and class to Strout’s Pulitzer Prize–winning story cycle, Olive Kitteridge. —BK

Radical Hope: Letters of Love and Dissent in Dangerous Times, edited by Carolina De Robertis (Vintage, May 2)
This anthology is like the book version of a Justice League of superheroes: a collection of writers to guide us through tumultuous political times. They share our fear, our frustration, our concerns, and our rage way more eloquently than your second cousin can do on Facebook. With contributions from Junot Díaz, Celeste Ng, Roxana Robinson, Katie Kitamura, Hari Kunzru, Claire Messud, Jeff Chang, and many more, the essays in Radical Hope come in letter form, addressed to parents and children, protesters and politicians, strangers on the street, baby-boomers and millennials. This is a quick turnaround book for anyone who wants to unplug but not disengage with the world around us. —MK

The Dinner Party and Other Stories, by Joshua Ferris (Little Brown, May 2)
Ferris’s three novels have earned him a reputation as a high-concept high-wire artist, always working the line between comedy and tragedy, the domestic and the outlandish. His stories, by comparison, are compact gems of timing and everyday absurdity, and finally, here they are in one place. Hollywood satire, marriage-ending secrets, cracked minds, broken families: Ferris renders contemporary life as a parade of sad clowns. —BK

The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories, by Penelope Lively (Viking, May 9)
The celebrated British novelist’s past life as a historian animates many of these 15 stories, most literally in the title piece, narrated by the lonely exotic pet in a cold Pompeii household in the year 79, just before the eruption of Vesuvius. Others feature historians and biographers never quite getting the past right, or couples working out the discrepancies in their more personal histories. But despite the loose theme, this book is a smorgasbord of styles and tones — impressive, surprising, and fun. —BK

Isadora: A Novel, by Amelia Gray (FSG, May 23)
Gray isn’t the first or the last novelist to take on Isadora Duncan’s outsize, groundbreaking, tragic life. But she might be the weirdest, in a good way. Gray’s stories have tended toward fabulist absurdism. Her treatment of Duncan in the wake of her children’s death by drowning is relatively conventional — half-crazed first-person narration intercut with the perspectives of those struggling to keep Duncan’s life together. But Gray attacks it without the usual guardrails of fictional biography, emerging with something perhaps more emotionally accurate. —BK

Chemistry, by Weike Wang (Knopf, May 23)
If you loved both the brains and the heart of Jenny Offill’s short yet emotionally epic novel Dept. of Speculation, Chemistry will be your next favorite read. Weike Wang’s eloquent debut is full of short vignettes on the nature of love and overbearing families and academic failures and complicated relationships, all told through the lens of science. Chemistry proves to be a useful metaphorical tool for describing the messy moments in life for which no perfect formula exists. —MK

Spring Books Preview: Letterman, Strout, and 8 Others