10 New Must-Reads for February

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Ladies and gentlemen, it’s getting cold out there. February is our traditional hibernation time, so as far as we’re concerned, for the next month we’ll be eschewing nightlife and staying inside with various hot beverages and various room-temperature books. This month, we’re looking forward to blistering essays, masterful short stories, incredible debut novels, and a posthumous book from Maurice Sendak. Sounds good right? But as we all know, February’s a short month, so you’d better get cracking. Let us know what you’re most excited to read over the next few weeks in the comments.

Wise Men , Stuart Nadler (February 5)

Way back in August, a certain Ms. Emma Straub gushed, “the last book I finished that I can tell you for sure is capital-G Great is Stuart Nadler’s Wise Men, which just blew my mind. It’s really beautiful, it’s an epic American story, it’s about love and race and money and Cape Cod. I don’t know. It’s so amazing. So I look forward to everyone reading that in February and understanding what I already know, which is that Stuart Nadler is a genius and that we should love him.” That time, literary friends, is upon us.

My Brother’s Book , Maurice Sendak (February 5)

Like any sane person, we worship at the altar of Maurice Sendak. But his final work, coming fifty years after the publication of Where the Wild Things Are, is more reserved, more personal, than any we’ve seen before. If Sendak is still on his journey through the underworld, we hope it looks like this, and we hope his brother is there waiting.

How Literature Saved My Life , David Shields (February 5)

If you’re anything like us, you can’t get enough of writers dissecting, paying homage to, and (let’s face it) ranting about books, and you agree that literature is one of the precious things that make life worth the slog. Shields is, as ever, encyclopedic in his references and manic in his presentation, and in this manifesto-cum-memoir, still pushing the boundaries of form.

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine , Teddy Wayne (February 5)

We can’t believe it took this long: somebody has written a novel about Justin Bieber. Well, sort of. Whiting Writers’ Award winner Wayne’s Jonny is an 11-year-old pop phenom with an old soul, his entire life a glaring, gilded reminder of the absurdity of the modern condition. Poignant coming of age novel and send-up of our dual obsessions with celebrity and youth all at once, this novel will appeal to anyone with Bieber fever — or its opposite.

See Now Then , Jamaica Kincaid (February 5)

This is Kincaid’s first novel in a decade, and we couldn’t be more excited. See Now Then is the deeply felt story of the breakdown of a marriage and the complex interior life of a woman and a mother living in Bennington, VT. Fun fact: Kincaid lives in Bennington herself, and the parallels between the protagonist’s ex-husband and the author’s make for (even more) fascinating reading.

The Dinner , Herman Koch (February 12)

Start with drinks — you’ll need them. This dark, delicious novel, which unfolds sneakily over a single meal, turns from a sugary satire to a psychological thriller as the courses come out. After all, that’s what happens when your children have done something awful, and you’re left to talk (and eat) around it — until there’s nothing else to swallow.

This is Running for Your Life: Essays , Michelle Orange (February 12)

She’s not one of the culture makers to watch this year for nothing — film critic Michelle Orange’s debut essay collection is filled with whip-smart observations on the state of the world, the Facebook generation, and culture at large. It will make you smarter, whether you’re still wearing your jammies or no.

Vampires in the Lemon Grove , Karen Russell (February 12)

We’ve all been distracted by Swamplandia!, but it’s time to remind ourselves that Russell is a damn good short story writer (after all, that’s how her runaway bestseller of a novel began). In this new collection, you’ll find silkworm transmutation, malleable tattoos, citrus-munching vampires, plus the disturbing surreality of the everyday world in sharp relief. Can’t get much better than that.

White Girls , Hilton Als (February 12)

Culture critic Hilton Als has certainly drummed up some controversy when it comes to “white girls,” but that only makes us more interested in his new book of insights, his first in fourteen years. Plus, apparently in this book, the category of white girls stretches from Flannery O’Connor to Truman Capote to Louise Brooks to Malcolm X.

The Office of Mercy , Ariel Djanikian (February 21)

Ah, to live in America-Five, where everyone has a job, no one is hungry, and you don’t have to deal with any of that pesky money. Or, as in all supposed utopias, perhaps not. This is a cool and compelling dystopian bildungsroman from a debut author we imagine we’ll be hearing a lot more from.

Also on our radar this month:

Nothing Gold Can Stay, Ron Rash Frances and Bernard, Carlene Bauer Benediction, Kent Haruf Rontel, Sam Pink The City of Devi, Manil Suri Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked, James Lasdun Fight Song, Joshua Mohr The Teleportation Accident, Ned Beauman The Freddie Stories, Lynda Barry A Natural History of Dragons, Marie Brennan