“Spring has returned,” Rainer Maria Rilke famously wrote. “The Earth is like a child that knows poems.” Then again, if you ask Dorothy Parker, “Every year, back comes Spring, with nasty little birds yapping their fool heads off and the ground all mucked up with plants.” Whichever side you take, this month will see great books popping up even faster than daisies and dandelions, and in some cases even making more noise than those fool birds. This month, settle in among the flowers with graphic memoirs, new novels from American legends, wine manuals from literary party boys, and lots of other stories great and small. Click through to read our list of must-reads for May, and let us know which books you’re most excited to read this month in the comments.
Are You My Mother: A Comic Drama , Alison Bechdel (May 1)
We loved Alison Bechdel’s first graphic memoir, Fun Home, which covered her relationship with her father and his suicide, but like many other fans, we wanted more — and in particular, we wanted to hear more about Bechdel’s eccentric, withholding mother. She has obliged with a second memoir, in part written about writing the first one (for some satisfying in-the-know intertextual payoff), that delves more deeply into their rather fraught relationship. “I would love to see your name on a book,” her mother tells her at one point. “But not on a book of lesbian cartoons.” Well, for our part, we love to see Bechdel’s name on almost anything, and especially this memoir, which is just as good as her first, and perhaps even more honest.
The Lola Quartet , Emily St. John Mandel (May 1)
If you like your literary fiction with a strong shot of detective novel, Emily St. John Mandel is your girl. In The Lola Quartet, members of a performing arts high school jazz ensemble reunite after ten years to find that their lives have not shaken out quite the way they had imagined. Gavin, newly fired from his journalism job, finds out that he may or may not be the father of a 10-year-old named Chloe. Daniel has morphed into a bitter and twice-divorced cop, Jack and Sasha each into their own private kind of addict. The noir-ish storyline will hook you from the first page, but you’ll stay for the well-drawn relationships and all-too-familiar grown-up angst.
The Newlyweds , Nell Freudenberger (May 1)
In 20-under-40 author Nell Freudenberger’s second novel, a Bangladeshi woman comes to America as an e-mail–order bride of a Rochester, NY native ten years her senior. Everything else aside, we’re fascinated by how the antiquated concept of arranged marriage might play out in the modern world — somewhat awkwardly, as you’d probably guessed.
Home , Toni Morrison (May 8)
Toni Morrison is a national treasure, so we think we’d read just about anything she would care to write for us. In this beautifully rendered, truly powerful novel, a defeated, self-loathing veteran returns from the Korean War to his hometown, the “worst place in the world, worse than any battlefield” and his very troubled sister Cee. Through the anger, he must figure out a way to save the only person who still means anything to him, and of course, in the process, save himself.
Funnyman essayist Augusten Burroughs is back with a collection of supposed self-help missives — everything from your standard “how to find love” and “how to be thin” to the more pointed “how to be fat” and “how to finish your drink.” As usual, Burroughs builds a resonating memoir out of his witty personal stories, black humor and young man crotchety observances, even if you mean to forget his advice the next day.
Search Sweet Country , Kojo Laing (May 8)
Originally printed in 1986, Laing’s novel about the bumbling, bustling city of Accra and its inhabitants in the mid-70s is a figurative, comic treat, filled with wild characters and dizzy, wink-filled prose. This new and very lovely edition, published by McSweeney’s, is sure to convert many to the cause.
The Juice: Vinous Veritas , Jay McInerney (May 8)
You may think of Jay McInerney as the ex-playboy author of Bright Lights, Big City, and he is, of course, but he also happens to be a guy that Salon called “the best wine writer in America.” In this book, a collection of his columns on the red stuff, it’s easy to see why — quirky and charming, with a cheeky bad boy’s approach to description, it’s clear McInerney has almost unlimited tricks up his sleeve.
Bring Up The Bodies , Hilary Mantel (May 8)
The follow-up to Mantel’s 2009 Man Booker Prize-winning historical tome Wolf Hall (the second in a planned trilogy) has all the same grammatical quirks and alarming tenses as the first, so you already know if you’re going to love it. In this installment, Henry is totally over Anne Boleyn, and calls on our friend Thomas Cromwell to bring him her head. If you’ve seen The Tudors, you may have an inkling of what to expect.
The Chemistry of Tears, Peter Carey (May 15)
After the sudden death of her colleague and married lover, London conservator Catherine Gehrig throws herself into her work, bringing life to a 19th-century automaton. In her work, she discovers a series of notebooks written by the automaton’s first owner, a man also desperate, consumed with love and racked by grief. Carey is the best at writing these kind of stories and characters, and he doesn’t disappoint.
Aerogrammes: and Other Stories , Tania James (May 15)
In her first short story collection, James, whose debut novel Atlas of Unknowns dazzled us, returns with a vengeance, with nine expertly crafted, beautifully set tales that careen from tender to funny to crisp, but always say exactly what they mean.