With each passing year, it seems more and more that publishing front-loads its calendar with quality works of fiction and nonfiction, to the extent that the end-of-the-year literary blockbuster model — publishing’s version of Oscar season — means less. This March, in particular, will see the publication of sure-to-be-discussed nonfiction books, like Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies; likely lit nonfiction sleeper hits, like A Murder Over a Girl; and a run of emotionally and intellectually demanding fictions by young writers who are coming into their prime — the works of Helen Oyeyemi, Danielle Dutton, and Karan Mahajan come immediately to mind. If you’ve been asleep on books so far this year, it’s time to wake up.
Ken Corbett — A Murder Over a Girl: Justice, Gender, Junior High (March 1, Henry Holt)
In 2008, at a junior high school in California, a white youth shot and killed fifteen-year-old Larry King, a brown student who was in the early stages of identifying as Leticia. Ken Corbett, a clinical assistant professor at NYU, flew there to attend the trial, and his resulting study, an unsettling book of clear-eyed empathy, one praised by Tony Kushner and Judith Butler, tells the story that our failing legal system and dehumanized media refused to tell.
Sarah Bakewell — At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails, (March 1, Other Press)
I received Bakewell’s How to Live, a remarkably erudite and accessible study of the life of Montaigne, as a gift. At first skeptical, I was soon warmed over by the author’s preternaturally smooth style. At the Existentialist Café does precisely the same for Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, and Martin Heidegger — just to name a few of the cornerstone existentialist thinkers who helped bring philosophy back to the body.
Rebecca Traister — All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation (March 1, Simon & Schuster)
Traister’s treatment of the historical triumphs and difficulties of women who rejected heterosexual marriage as a first or easy answer should (and will) be discussed widely, especially in an election year when our current politics demands the obvious: that so much for women is right now on the line.
Helen Oyeyemi — What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours (March 8, Riverhead)
Interestingly, it may well be Oyeyemi’s first collection of short fiction, over and above her revered novels, that pushes her into the highest reaches of literary reputation.
Dana Spiotta — Innocents and Others: A Novel (March 8, Scribner)
Profiled by the New York Times weeks ahead of the release of her forthcoming novel, Spiotta, with this novel of alike yet opposed women filmmakers in Los Angeles, could yet become our benchmark of an aesthetically-refined, rapt, yet accessible American realism.
Katie Roiphe — The Violet Hour: Great Writers at the End (March 8, The Dial Press)
A bedfellow of controversy, Roiphe here explores her own “fascination with death” by way of the final days of a disparate collection of writers, including Susan Sontag, John Updike, and Maurice Sendak.
Danielle Dutton — Margaret the First (March 15, Catapult)
Dutton, an accomplished writer and daring publisher, here upends the genre of the historical novel in a brilliant book about Margaret Cavendish, a mold-breaking British Duchess of the 17th century who wrote poetry, drama, philosophy, and even science fiction.
Karan Mahajan — The Association of Small Bombs (March 22, Viking)
As an early fan of Mahajan’s debut, the precocious Family Planning, I have to now admit that it was a small step compared to The Association of Small Bombs. A novel of terror (in more than one sense), it not only deals with the world as it is fearfully and stupidly imagined, it dares to expand it by virtue of what some call empathy and still others call imagination.
Sunjeev Sahota — The Year of the Runaways (March 29, Knopf)
Like the best British filmmakers, Sahota is unafraid to build his political art out of small moments. And so this unabashedly political novel — about immigration in an age of both structural and petty hatreds — claws its way to an America awash in the grandiosity of the xenophobe. Readers will not be surprised that it was a Booker finalist.
Jesse Jarnow — Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America (March 29, Da Capo Press)
A nonfiction study worthy of the paranoiac masters of the American novel, Flavorwire contributor Jesse Jarnow’s Heads looks not just to the Grateful Dead, but also to the “hidden history of the biggest psychedelic distribution system the world has ever known.” It’s likewise an act of militant nostalgia that aims to rescue a subculture from the gloom of mainstream silliness.