Every month, we select a book that we love so much that we feel confident guaranteeing that you'll love it too, so much so that we'll give you your money back if you don't. Peruse this list if you're trying to remember one you missed or are looking for more recommendations like it. You can also see previous months by clicking here.
Willy Vlautin's milieu is telling the stories of ordinary people facing extraordinary hardship. His characters are always rendered with great sympathy and a big heart. In The Night Always Comes, we meet Lynette as her world is crumbling around her. She has worked hard, battled many setbacks, righted her life and is working towards the goal of owning a home when the rug gets pulled out from under her. Rather than crumple, she sets off to claim what she feels is hers, by any means necessary. Seriously. This is the story of a good person pushed to extremes by the brutalities of gentrification and the American Dream. - kpr
Edie Richter is turning to fog. Edie Richter is longing to feel. Edie Richter is carrying a secret that is eating her up. Edie Richter is going to burst.
Edie Richter is expertly paced. Edie Richter is keenly observant. Edie Richter is bitingly funny. Edie Richter is a well of empathy. Edie Richter is transporting. Edie Richter is an exceptional read. - Kar
A darkly funny take on the residue from the Trump era, including the pleasures of lying and the comfort found in conspiracy theories. After our narrator learns her boyfriend has a secret life as an online right-wing crank, she decamps for Berlin where she tries on new personalities of her own among strangers. For fans of Ottessa Moshfegh and Zadie Smith, and those in doomed relationships with their phones. Oyler is the best literary critic of her generation and now one of its best novelists, too. - Benjy
A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is refreshing, warm, and educational in the best sense of the word. For me, the best non-fiction books—like the best teachers—open your eyes in an engaging way, with personality and passion. And as Saunders takes us through six short stories by Russian masters, we learn to read differently; we slow down; we feel his passion; and we ask questions. Any reader will enjoy this time spent back in school with a smart, kind teacher.
Benson and Mike have been together for four years, but now they're mired in silence and resentment, and find their lives spinning in different directions as each grapples with a father they barely know. Washington manages not only to salvage the great American theme of Fathers & Sons, but also to make something new and beautiful out of it. Both protagonists are painted in precise and unromantic prose as they struggle apart from one another. Neither Benson nor Mike is the bad guy, even though they're both guilty of causing cracks in their relationship. The story never favors either of them, it simply acknowledges their achingly human faults as they come to terms with their fathers and the life they've built together." —Mikayla
"Homeland Elegies is the best book so far to grapple with the cause and effects of the current administration and political climate. There are more than a few uncomfortable moments in Homeland Elegies. There are also moments where I disagreed with the author/narrator. And there are moments of revelation; such as the narrator's visit to Pakistan, the country his parents immigrated from. Watching first and second generation immigrants grapple with what each perceives to be the American dream (and they are always going to be different visions) is what makes Homeland Elegies leave a lasting impression - unlike the flash flood of other books on this administration." - Martin.
This could be subtitled How the West was Won. Chuck Prophet is an sf legend via Nixon's Whittier and Los Angeles' Americana punk scene. The creator of many great records with Green On Red and his own solo work, the man has 6 degrees of separation with everyone who is anyone in the business.
Read the book, hear the music - the rest is history.
Leilani’s debut novel about a black 20-something women navigating her way through a white couple’s marriage is addled, rattled, and incredibly lucid. Each meandering sentence is like a frayed nerve being stretched to its end. You can’t help but rush to the end of the words with the same anxiousness and fervor felt by the narrator. This is a stream of consciousness narrative for the digital age of online dating and the gig economy. But even though the setting is up to the minute modern, Leilani is examining old, tangled themes of human connection, racial and economic disparity, and maybe even love.
“I have said goodbye enough times to know that departure has a way of gilding what are, at best, slow quotidian deaths, but still each time I think of everything I will lose.”
(This book cannot be returned nor exchanged.)
"Thea Matthews' debut collection is as stunning as it is powerful. A deeply-rooted work of the spirit, Matthews' poems are both resistant and resilient. It unearths and re-earths us, moving the reader in a way that's nearly cosmic. What a pleasure to share time with a voice like Thea Matthews'."—Kar
"Alia Volz's parents are what you would call real hippies, not just the tie-dye and flowers-in-your-hair kind of hippies. Her father was a self-professed psychic, and her mother Meridy rarely made a decision large or small without consulting the I Ching. Meridy is the star of this show, an everywoman of the Summer of Love. A wide-eyed innocent from Wisconsin, she inherited a marijuana brownie business. Her charm, open heart, and natural business acumen turned a small time operation into a citywide force. Home Baked is a sweet and loving portrait both of Volz's parents and of San Francisco in the '70's. Her depiction of the pre-AIDS Castro captures a wondrous moment in time of love and freedom before it came crashing down." -KPR
"Godshot announces the arrival of a powerful new voice. Chelsea Bieker’s debut novel kept me mesmerized till the very end. I felt the heat, the sand, the want, the confusion, and the pain on every page. This is the sundrenched California nightmare of Claire Vaye Watkins and Joan Didion, and yet it is also an incredible story of resilience and rebirth. Godshot is sure to be one of the most talked about novels of the year." -Emily
We all make choices throughout our lives, choosing different paths to follow, different roles to play. But who selects the options we choose from? Interior Chinatown is like a rapier taken to stereotypes that inhabit society's attitudes towards Asian Americans. The main character, Willis Wu, is a minor actor in an ongoing cop drama who wants to be more than a generic Asian male in the background, maybe even someday becoming "Kung Fu Guy." The novel bounces back and forth between the script Wu is inhabiting and an interior monologue. And one of the strengths of this book, for this reader, is how thin the line sometimes feels between these stereotypical roles that Willis is acting, and the ridiculousness of the particular situations. Interior Chinatown is a brilliant novel, one that challenged this reader in the best possible ways. —Martin
These sentences zag when you expect them to zig. And don't get me started on the zigging. Trying to recount any of these stories will take way longer than it will to read them; they are masterworks of compression that unfold into sagas of falconers and an Air Conditioning Museum. But they also finish with tidy endings, landing the dismount from each trick with a word, a gesture that somehow makes sense of the fantasia preceding. Oh, yeah: and it's really, really funny. —Benjy
I couldn't put The Revisioners down once I started it! It's an inter-generational tale focusing on the women of a Louisiana Black family, from Ava in 2017 to her great-great-great-great grandma Josephine in 1924, and then to 10-year old Josephine in 1855 who is still a slave. Sexton highlights the cyclical nature of history and family, the connections between generations, and a natural magic that infuses the prose as well as the characters. I loved the fierce loyalty the women show each other and themselves throughout their various ordeals with racism and "well-meaning" (emphasis mine, not Sexton's) white people. The Revisioners is both a warning and a beacon of hope for a country that hasn't healed or overcome its white supremacy. It's definitely one of my 2019 faves! —Sara
I’d read a Jamison essay about asphalt. She’s that smart, big-hearted, and funny. I was so often moved and thrilled by the 14 essays in this book that I had to pause and just let them sink in before reading more. She’s true master of the form. — STS
Award-winning writer Ibram Kendi takes us on a personal and historical journey through racism. He also incorporates science, law, and ethics as he updates the definition of racism, explores its negative effects (on whites, too!), and helps teach readers to be anti-racist (rather than a neutral "not racist."). We can all do better, and Kendi is here to help. —Pete
Jia Tolentino's first book of essays takes on topics from her fundamentalist upbringing and her teenage stint on an early aughts reality show (Boys vs. Girls) to 21st Century capitalism's push to make us all productive -- and all of us products-- in every spare moment. At the heart of the book is always our idea of the self, and our current misunderstanding of it. Am I my Instagram selfies? Are we the spandex in our athleisure? Even as she takes down mainstream feminism's acceptance of hours-long skincare regimes and barre exercise classes (not for a man, for 'me'), she allows for empathy and understanding for each of us, how we're all coping with what sometimes feels like the end of the world. Economic precarity, political unpredictability and impossible standards of beauty notwithstanding, Tolentino is still finding moments like church, moments of wonder, in everything from bio luminescence to the chopped and screwed Houston sound. And she's writing the hell out of all of it.--Leigh
Like Marilynne Robinson or Alice Munro, San Francisco writer Lila Savage's first novel is a tender, generous sliver of compassion about the difficulties in caring for ourselves and for others. Ella is a home care worker who floats between other people's tragedies, hired to join a family just long enough to witness her clients' decline. Ella has a girlfriend but there’s an immediate attraction between her and a new client's husband. While that fraught relationship is the center of this novel, the real excitement here is the language, which recasts the steady and familiar (our bodies, our hopes) as quivering ephemera. Seriously, read the first page and you’ll feel sad about jellybeans. An exquisite, heartbreaking novel that dwells in the quiet moments when people know they are falling short of their best selves. —Benjy
Incredibly well-written & totally engaging, it would be an understatement to say this book covers a broad territory. Landscape, travelogue, memoir & literary criticism... But also science & history. Each section could be a brilliant short book. Together they form something grounded & sublime. I particularly enjoyed the underlands of Paris. To encounter Macfarlane running with a pack of subterranean guerilla explorers while at the same time meditating on Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project...What could be better?—E.H.
Black Death at the Golden Gate is a fast-paced, fascinating narrative of local history. Centering on cases of The Plague in early San Francisco, it's a story about epidemiology, racism, public health versus individual rights, a burgeoning California, and bacteriology. Don't let the "ologies" turn you off, though. This is not too technical. More just a lively history. —Pete
If you are a fan of Amy Hempel, then we have some good news for you: she is still writing distilled, wry, tragicomic stories. If you haven’t had a chance to read her work, this new collection is an excellent introduction to one of the best short fiction writers working today. —Andrew
So, let's say we build a wall. A great big beautiful wall all around the country. What then? A wall without soldiers is just a physical barrier, not very hard to cross. So we staff the wall with an appropriate amount of soldiers. And to make the soldiers effective, they'll need ammunition, and a clearly defined set of orders to defend the homeland at all costs. What does that say about a country, that it is so afraid of 'the other' that it is willing to kill to defend what it sees as its rightful way of life? And what does one do with the 'others' who make it across the border? Sometimes the only difference between "us" and "them" is pure chance and luck. John Lanchester writes a tale eerily appropriate for our not so distant future.
-Martin & Jessica
Samanta Schweblin's short story collection brings the same, stunning strangeness we came to expect of her in Fever Dream. Arresting and peculiar, these tories will engross you in their brutal irony, restored hope, and magical logic. Schweblin's work carries the deftness and surrealist satisfaction of writers like Julio Cortázar and Kelly Link. Eerie and enticing, you might need to close this book, if only for a moment, before reaching for it hungrily. —Kar