15 Must-Read Books in January


New year, new must-read list; January is a jam-packed month for publishing and, by necessity, any list only skims the surface of the fascinating offerings of early 2017. As I sorted through the piles of galleys I received with the shadow of the inauguration looming over me, it was hard not to favor books with themes that resonated; immigration and the heavy weight of dark national histories.

Dark at the Crossing, Elliot Ackerman

A novel story about migration, Syria, and chaos in the new Middle East, with an Aleppo setpiece by Iraq War vet and Syria war correspondent Ackerman, is as pertinent as it gets.

Lucky Boy, Shanthi Sekaran

The stories of the birth mother and foster parents of the titular child, Ignacio, combine in this tale of immigration and parental longing from two directions, a novel that Kirkus called “superbly crafted and engrossing.”

Idaho, Emily Ruskovich

Ruskovich’s debut novel follows a wife as she tries to make sense of the tragedy that destroyed her husband’s first family, set against the rugged landscape of Idaho.

Enigma Variations, André Aciman

Aciman (Call Me By Your Name, Harvard Square) returns with the chronicle of one man’s life in love and lust spanning time and space.

A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Difference in My Mood, My Marriage and My Life, Ayelet Waldman

In a sure to be much-discussed memoir, novelist and Bad Mother author Waldman describes how taking tiny, tiny doses of LSD rescued her from various ailments and lethargies.

Insane Clown President: Dispatches from the 2016 Circus, Matt Taibbi

Taibbi’s rollicking writing about the election in handy book form. This one certainly takes the title sweepstakes by storm.

Human Acts, Han Kang, trans. Deborah Smith

In the follow-up to her acclaimed novel The Vegetarian, Kang explores the aftermath of the Gwanju uprising in South Korea. “…Han neatly unpacks the social and political catalysts behind the massacre and maps its lengthy, toxic fallout. But what is remarkable is how she accomplishes this while still making it a novel of blood and bone,” writes the Guardian.

Class, Lucinda Rosenfeld

Rosenfield’s novelistic look at segregation, race and education in gentrifying Brooklyn is a topical novel about the concerns, and hypocrisies, of liberal New Yorkers. These are always a popular subject.

The Gringo Champion, Aura Xilonen, trans. by Andrea Rosenberg

The story of Liberio, a boxer and undocumented immigrant who came from Mexico across the Rio Brava to the United States, is a “fantastic, magnificent, spectacular debut,” says Booklist.

True South: Henry Hampton and Eyes on the Prize, the Television Series That Reframed the Civil Rights Movement, Jon Else

As we consider how to cover and frame protest movements in the Trump era, this historical book about the way the civil rights movement was represented on television, by social justice filmmaker Henry Hampton feels especially crucial.

Homesick for Another World, Otessa Mossfegh,

Stories from the author of Eileen, a favorite among literati. “There’s not a throwaway story in the collection,” says PW in a starred review. “Mosfegh is a force.”

Transit, Rachel Cusk

Cusk’s 2015 novel Outline was revolutionary in its sparseness; in this, her follow-up, she returns that novel’s narrator to London and gives us a sliver more of her actual life.

Difficult Women, Roxane Gay

Stories from the prolific Gay, who got her start writing in this medium. Spoiler alert: she’s good.

Culture as Weapon,: The Art of Influence on Everyday Life, Nato Thompson

A crucial read about the way PR methods have sunk into every aspect of our lives in the modern world, this book makes the culture wars seem even deeper, more far-reaching and more crucial than ever before. Another book that puts 2017 into important context.

Freebird, Jon Raymond

An intergenerational family saga in California from screenwriter Jon Raymond that touches on the Holocaust, the current Middle East wars, and of course, life in LA.

Other releases of note: The Strays, Emily Bitto. The Most Dangerous Place on Earth, Lindsay Lee Johnson. Arthur and Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes, Michael Sims. The Second Mrs Hockaday, Susan Rivers. A Word for Love, Emily Robbins. Fever Dream, Samanta Schweblin. The Futures, Anna Pitoniak. And of course The Trump Survival Guide, Gene Stone.