December is a grim month for publishing, with all eyes focused on the big spring releases. But we’ve mined the available books and found some true gems, including long-forgotten short stories, sharp essays, and cozy novels. There’s something for everyone, a little literature to throw light on the darkest month of the year.
Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?, Kathleen Collins
This book, by the pioneering director of Losing Ground , is compiled from stories her daughter dug out of her trunk. It’s been on my “can’t miss” shelf for months and is already generating discussion; Dwight Garner writes that “two or three of her stories are so sensitive and sharp and political and sexy I suspect they will be widely anthologized.”
Island of the Mad, Laurie Sheck
An homage to Dostoevsky and to Venice. Publishers Weekly says of this experimental novel: “Sheck pulls readers through the time-worn canals of Venice on a literary romp that will please fans of the historical and the fantastic alike.”
A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women: Essays on Art, Sex, and the Mind, Siri Hustvedt
Novelist and critic Hustvedt’s much-anticipated book of essays comes on the heels of the acclaimed The Blazing World, her fictional exploration of gender and the art.
The Gardens of Consolation, Parisa Reza (translated by Adriana Hunter)
A family saga set against the backdrop of early to mid-century Iran’s political upheaval, Reza’s novel (translated from the French) contrasts a bright, politically ambitious son with his simpler but no less interesting peasant parents.
Moshi Moshi, Banana Yoshimoto (Translated by Asa Yoneda)
Yoshimoto’s novels have a devoted American following as well as being bestsellers in her native Japan. This novel about a girl haunted after her father’s death — while also trying to begin life anew — was a huge hit in 2010, when it was released in Japan.
Everything Love Is, Claire King
A multigenerational story set in the South of France that is the surefire book-club pick of the season, from the British author of The Night Rainbow.
The Great American Songbook, Sam Allingham
Short stories that vary widely in subject and style. “Allingham writes in a lilting prose which makes even the more cheeky stories earnest. Alternately roguish and melancholy, always mellifluous,” says Kirkus.
The Way of the Writer, Charles Johnson
A craft book from one of America’s foremost people of letters, author of the novel Middle Passage among others. Sharing short essays, a personal history and musings on the connection between the novel and philosophy, Johnson’s book is “eloquent, inspiring and wise,” according to one critic.
The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars, Dava Sobel
The Astronomer’s Daughter author looks at another untold chapter of scientific history, this time focusing on the path-blazing women of the Harvard Observatory. Like this year’s Hidden Figures, it’s filling in the missing pieces of the history of women in science.
The Private Life of Mrs. Sharma, Ratika Hapur
This novel got rave reviews last year when it was first published abroad; according to the Irish Times, the story of the social and romantic awakening of a cheerful, pragmatic but confined Indian housewife is “tender and funny.”