most anticipated 2019

37 Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2019

Photo: Vulture

In 2018 there was an abundance of exciting new fiction, most of it written by women, none of which sold nearly as well as political nonfiction (or the subset of it that was about Trump or by Michelle Obama). This year, expect the former trend to continue, alongside some strong non-Trump nonfiction and the return of a few powerhouse novelists (Zadie Smith, Colson Whitehead, Ian McEwan, Marlon James). And did we mention that Margaret Atwood is publishing a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale? The challenge of 2019 may not be finding a breakout work of fiction but figuring out which bestsellers to read.


You Know You Want This, by Kristen Roupenian (Scout Press, 1/15)
The author of “Cat Person” comes out with a debut collection that’s weirder and creepier than fans of her viral short story might expect — and this is a good thing. Roupenian’s so-realistic-it-hurts New Yorker debut may have broken the bookish sector of the internet, but the stories in which she uses her wild imagination to describe the most extreme sexual dynamics are just as compelling. — MK

We Cast a Shadow, by Maurice Carlos Ruffin (One World, 1/29)
This propulsive debut novel follows an unnamed black man who desperately wants to shelter his son from racism, which runs even more rampant in a future America. When skin bleaching is not enough, he’ll turn to experimental medicine to make his son “white,” but of course it comes at a great cost. We Cast a Shadow proves that the eeriest works of speculative fiction are those that hit closest to home. — MK


Bowlaway, by Elizabeth McCracken (Ecco, 2/5)
McCracken writes the kinds of exquisite sentences that contain tiny revelations in every line. Her first novel in 17 years is worth the wait: A big, sweeping saga about a candlepin-bowling alley (Google it if you’re not from Massachusetts) and the triumphs, dramas, and idiosyncrasies of its owners and patrons over a century. — MK

Merchants of Truth, by Jill Abramson (Simon & Schuster, 2/5)
The departed Times executive editor’s sharp elbows and tough reporting have long left people wondering if a tell-all was on the way. It turns out to have been a much better book (though she does tell-some about her firing from the paper). Diving into the business and culture of the Times, the Washington Post, Buzzfeed, and Vice, Abramson examines an exciting and harrowing decade in journalism from the perspective of someone who roots for it with eyes wide open. — BK

Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James (Riverhead, 2/5)
Buzz has been building about the “African Game of Thrones” since James first announced that, after his Booker Prize–winning A Brief History of Seven Killings, he planned to “geek the fuck out.” Indeed he has: A tracker tries to find a kidnapped boy in a mythical Africa populated by shape shifters, mermaids, witches, and flesh-eating trolls. There’ll be more to come in his projected trilogy, not to mention the inevitable cable series. — LS

The Collected Schizophrenias, by Esmé Weijun Wang (Graywolf, 2/5)
Wang is a brilliant writer with tons of medical knowledge and self-awareness who also happens to be living with one of the most stigmatized mental illnesses. This intimate essay collection grapples with her diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder and all the sorrow and searching that comes with it. Always artful and illuminating, never facile. — MK

Lost Children Archive, by Valeria Luiselli (Knopf, 2/19)
Among other gems, Luiselli has recently written a gorgeous novella meant to entertain Mexican factory workers and a slim, sobering essay collection based on her time as an interpreter for undocumented children at the southern border (it was bad enough under Obama). This novel is the epic her fans have been waiting for: the story of a road trip across America, a family journey mirroring the course of a nation in trouble. — MK


Gingerbread, by Helen Oyeyemi (Riverhead, 3/5)
Oyeyemi’s fiction deals in twists on fairy-tale tropes that go in entirely unexpected directions. Gingerbread is her tasty latest, an audacious take on Hansel and Gretel containing deep dark family secrets and sketchy business deals, among other intrigues. As always, Oyeyemi juxtaposes a quaint, storybook setting with Tinder references, Skype conversations, and other signifiers of modernity. — MK

The New Me, by Halle Butler (Penguin, 3/5)
Stories of female disaffection are everywhere right now (see: Moshfegh, Ottessa). But this compact story of a millennial temp worker’s daily struggles to reinvent herself — with snappier tights, a can-do smile, and small, almost-manageable goals — is a brilliant excoriation of the marketers telling us that life offers an unending parade of do-overs. Butler nails the unspoken hierarchies of contemporary office life in this wry and utterly terrifying work. — HK

The Wall, by John Lanchester (W. W. Norton, 3/5)
The British journalist and novelist has dealt before (in Capital­) with the impact of global forces on neighborhoods, but this, his foray into dystopia, looks to be vastly more ambitious. In a likely future in which climate change and a refugee onrush have melded into one world catastrophe, Britain has erected a wall to keep out both the literal and the human sea, and a Draconian system maintains the peace — until it doesn’t. — BK

Billie the Bee, by Mary Fleener (Fantagraphics, 3/5)
Chalk it up to sexism that Mary Fleener isn’t a household name, even for comics nerds. This enormously talented underground writer/artist returns to the drawing board for an environmentalist graphic novel about a bee beset by invaders. It seems like kids’ stuff, but it’s quite harrowing for anyone concerned about ecological Armageddon. — AR

Instructions for a Funeral, by David Means (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 3/5)
It’s always an event when one of the country’s best short-story writers — in this case someone who took a break to write a wild, powerful novel (the Man Booker–nominated Hystopia) — returns to the form. Here, in his fifth story collection, Means eases up on the violence and shock to score more intimate gut-punches, plumbing everything from parental estrangement to looming death. — BK

Look How Happy I’m Making You, by Polly Rosenwaike (Doubleday, 3/19)
We may have just entered Year of the Mother in fiction. Chris Power’s collection Mothers comes out in January, as does the English translation of Yuko Tsushima’s powerful Territory of Light, about a single mother. In March, Rosenwaike’s stories of expectant, avoidant, ambivalent, and childless mothers will join the fray, unpacking the hand-wringing that goes on whenever the question of conception comes up. — HK

Murder By the Book: The Crime that Shocked Dickens’s London, by Claire Harman (Knopf, 3/26)
Tales of shocking, grisly Victorian murders are stacked up on every Barnes and Noble entry table in the country. But Harman, who has delivered riveting, image-shifting biographies of larger-than-life Brits like Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë, has such a special touch that this particular story of an 1840 high-society murder inspired by the rise of macabre literature itself will surely raise the stakes for the entire genre. — HK

Good Talk, by Mira Jacob (One World, 3/26)
When novelist Jacob’s 8-year-old mixed-race son asked her a lot of complicated questions about identity and Michael Jackson, she was as honest with him as she could be, informed by her own experience as an Indian-American woman. The resulting graphic memoir is simultaneously charming, vulnerable, and rightfully angry. In the age of Trump, some questions about tolerance and hate remain unanswerable, but Jacob’s beautiful book is a great place to start. — MK

The Other Americans, by Laila Lalami (Pantheon, 3/26)
Following a novel set in contemporary Morocco (Secret Son) and a work of inventive revisionism (The Moor’s Account), Lalami will turn this year to the contemporary U.S., spinning a kaleidoscope of first-person narratives around the mystery of a hit-and-run that causes the death of a Moroccan-American — and delving deep into relationships between classes, races, and especially members of the same family. — BK, by Nathan Englander (Knopf, 3/26)
There’s a simplicity to Englander’s third novel — and a focus on Jewish guilt — that feels closer to his first story collection than it does to his more sprawling novels. But there’s also a hum of suspense behind this slim tale that belies its subject: A lapsed Orthodox Jew hires an internet mourner to say daily Kaddish for his father, and spends his whole life paying off the spiritual debt of that sin. — BK


A Wonderful Stroke of Luck, by Ann Beattie (Viking, 4/2)
I would read anything by Beattie, whose elegant, enigmatic short stories have stayed with me for years — decades! — after reading them. Her 21st book opens at a New England boarding school for smart screwups, where the protagonist falls under the sway of a charismatic and manipulative teacher. — LS

Trust Exercise, by Susan Choi (Holt, 4/9)
Not far into Choi’s newest mind-bender of a novel, a group of theater kids sit in a darkened classroom, emboldened by their brilliant but eccentric teacher to do whatever they might feel moved to do. From there, Trust Exercise spins out in entirely unexpected directions, including a shocking #MeToo reckoning, but remains fixated on who gets to control the narrative. Part One lures you in, Part Two reshuffles everything, and Part Three makes you wonder if you understand anything about fiction. — HK

Normal People, by Sally Rooney (Hogarth, 4/16)
Not yet 30, Rooney has been hailed as the “first great millennial writer.” This follow-up to her acclaimed debut, Conversations With Friends, promises more glittery prose, deadpan sex, and witty repartee played out on social media, email, and text. A former champion debater at Trinity College, Rooney switched to writing in part because she had qualms about advocating morally dubious positions. The new book is set at Trinity, like her last one, and already picking up raves and awards. — LS

Women Talking, by Miriam Toews (Bloomsbury, 4/19)
This haunting work of fiction based on real events is not marketed as horror, but few premises are more ghastly. In a Mennonite community, everyone from babies to elderly women were drugged and raped repeatedly by a group of their own men. The women must decide whether to leave the settlement or stay and fight their attackers. Toews gives voice to illiterate women clinging to their humanity and morality even when their community fails them. — MK

Machines Like Me, by Ian McEwan (Nan A. Talese, 4/23)
A master of uneasy realism, McEwan has occasionally dipped his toes in the waters of speculative fiction, most recently in 2016 with a take on Hamlet narrated, bizarrely, by a fetus. His next book is another foray into strange territory — set in an alternate version of 1980s London in which Alan Turing has made a breakthrough discovery in artificial intelligence. — LS


The Den, by Abi Maxwell (Knopf, May 14)
I’d read virtually anything set in New England back when it was simultaneously the world’s hotbed of ideas and a crucible of religious prudery. The Den — about two women ostracized from the same community for giving in to their sexual desires, 150 years apart — seems promising on both fronts. If there’s any novel that needs a contemporary remake it’s The Scarlet Letter, and this one is primed to deliver. — HK

Once More We Saw Stars, by Jayson Greene (Knopf, 5/14)
After a freak accident — a brick falling from a windowsill — killed Greene’s 2-year-old daughter Greta, he didn’t know how he’d ever climb out of the dark well of sadness that engulfed his life. His memoir confronts the internal cacophony that never ceases when the worst thing in the world happens. Parents of young children, like me, should plan on reading it through barely parted fingers. — HK

The Witches Are Coming, by Lindy West (Hachette, 5/28)
When Woody Allen complained of #MeToo’s “witch hunt atmosphere,” New York Times columnist Lindy West wrote a piece titled, “Yes, This Is a Witch Hunt. I’m a Witch and I’m Hunting You.” The author of Shrill is as culturally astute as ever in the book that grew out of the column, examining a culture that enables all sorts of entitled men (yes, Trump) to feel persecuted whenever they face any negative consequences for their actions. — MK


On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong (Penguin Press, 6/4)
What a thrill it is to discover that a bold young poet’s prose is as lyrical as his poetry. Vuong’s debut novel comes in the form of a letter written from a son to his illiterate mother, a Vietnam War refugee in America plagued by PTSD and unmoored in her new country. It’s an unforgettable attempt to make sense of a life, tragic and hopeful all at once. — MK

City of Girls, by Elizabeth Gilbert (Riverhead, 6/4)
Take or leave Eat, Pray, Love: Gilbert’s fiction — especially as it deals with the unlikely routes women take when the familial mold is shattered — is where it’s really at. (The illicit masturbation scenes in The Signature of All Things will permanently imprint themselves on your brain.) City of Girls, about a young women in the sparkling and salacious theater world of 1940s New York, looks to be another story about the barriers women face — and catapult — while pleasure-seeking. — HK

How Could She, by Lauren Mechling (Viking, 6/25)
Mechling is a former Vogue staffer and current proprietor of Clog Life, an Instagram account that captures a very specific slice of style among New Yorkers who value comfort but make it fashion. Her quirky but elegant aesthetic pervades this comedy of manners about female friendships set in the media world, in which change is the only constant and the devil wears “highly curated” outfits that may or may not include Prada. — MK


The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday, 7/16)
Whitehead’s novel The Underground Railroad turned a seventh-grade history lesson into a piece of living, breathing, suffering live action that revivified the horrors of the slave trade and its aftermath. (It also won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Carnegie Medal for Fiction. Ahem.) So don’t be surprised if The Nickel Boys, a based-on-reality tale of one black young man’s life in a juvenile reformatory in 1960s Tennessee, awakens you to fresh horrors while lyrically transporting you to a place you really ought to discover. — HK


Trick Mirror, by Jia Tolentino (Random House, 8/6)
According to Tolentino, this collection of essays is “loosely organized around the concept of self-delusion,” a favorite subject of the New Yorker writer, who approaches it with clear-eyed self-reflection. All of these pieces are new (for one, she re-watched Girls v. Boys, a reality show she was on when she was 16). But as an appetizer, try Tolentino’s essay, “The Year We Played Ourselves.” — LS

Inland, by Téa Obreht (Random House, 8/13)
With the Orange Prize–winning The Tiger’s Wife, Obreht, 25 at the time, proved herself as a literary wunderkind, capable of fictional magic. (It was one of Michiko Kakutani’s top-ten books of 2011.) Since then she’s kept her head down — and readers waiting. Inland, set in the Arizona desert in the 1890s, augurs another journey through a rugged landscape and an unexpected past. — HK

Doxology, by Nell Zink (Ecco, 8/27)
Nell Zink is the sardonic bard of radicalism, skewering and celebrating (and somehow also really getting) a generation that came after her, all while breaking taboos with casual flair. Mislaid and Nicotine were short and powerful proofs of her talent; this novel will show what she can do at twice the length, following a child of punk rockers navigating the period between 9/11 and the Resistance. I can’t wait. — BK


Olive, Again, by Elizabeth Strout (Random House, 9/3)
Sometimes I feel like I can smell the inside of Henry Kitteridge’s pharmacy, with its smooth wooden counter and dust motes in the air. That’s how vivid Olive Kitteridge remains, more than ten years after it won Strout the Pulitzer Prize. In a surprise move, Strout is revisiting the gruff but beloved character and her small Maine town in a follow-up that will hopefully double down on her commitment to marvelously un-bullshitable women.

Sontag, by Benjamin Moser (Ecco, 9/3)
Is there anything left to learn about Susan Sontag — anything not amply covered in her many songs of herself? Apparently so, because Moser’s biography was moved from Sontag’s home publisher, FSG, after he turned in the draft, raising the possibility of material she might not have approved of. Moser’s care and thoroughness, his compelling subject, and his access to private archives puts this high on the list of 2019 biographies. — BK

The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood (Nan A. Talese, 9/10)
It is, unfortunately, a perfect time for a Handmaid’s Tale sequel. In The Testaments, Atwood will return to her vision of an America conquered by Über-Christian tyrants. Little is known about the book other than that it’s set 15 years after the first novel and features three narrators. Blessed be. – AR

The Diver’s Game, by Jesse Ball (Ecco, 9/10)
Ball’s experimental, high-concept novels are both quickly plotted and difficult to shake after reading, full as they are of disturbing imagery and philosophical quandaries that taunt you for days. His latest is an intensely political book set in a society replete with xenophobic violence — one unsettlingly like our own. — MK


Grand Union, by Zadie Smith (Penguin Press, 10/8)
One of the rare superstars equally at home in novels and essays, Smith has also published short fiction, and her long-awaited first collection will include a batch of new material too. She’s always been adept at bending the various styles of modern and contemporary lit to her own ends; a compendium of shorter work might give readers an even better sense of her range and flexibility. — BK

37 Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2019