Another year, another stack of books to add to the “to-be-read” list.
At Midtown Scholar, we’re always on the lookout for the next great read, so we’ve dug up some of the most anticipated books expected to hit our shelves this year. Ranging from poetry and literary fiction to science fiction, fantasy and history, the year promises to deliver entertaining, thoughtful and educational reads from authors at the top of their game. Let us know what we missed and make sure to check out these books when they drop at the Scholar.
“Oculus” by Sally Wen Mao (Graywolf Press, Jan. 15)
Booksellers have learned to pay close attention to Graywolf Press. The indie darling of small publishers, Graywolf’s acclaim is starting to add up. Poetry lovers have a lot to look forward to in 2019, and that includes Sally Wen Mao’s second collection, “Oculus.” With poems that probe the violence of the spectacle—through technology, science, and film—Mao has crafted a collection that is unique and widely imaginative. With opening lines like, “Before everything was stolen, our lives were ours,” Wen, according to the publisher, “confronts the paradoxes of seeing and being seen, the intimacies made possible and ruined by the screen, and the many roles and representations that women of color are made to endure in order to survive a culture that seeks to consume them.” Sign us up.
“Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive” by Stephanie Land (Hachette Books, Jan. 22)
For readers of “Evicted” and “Educated,” Stephanie Land’s eye-opening memoir details her years working as a maid, probing the underbelly of upper-middle class America and the reality of what it’s like to be in service to them. “I’d become a nameless ghost,” Land writes, offering an insightful look at the stories of overworked and underpaid Americans. This one’s been on our radar for months now, and booksellers across the country are eager to get it on the shelves. American essayist Roxane Gay highly recommends Land’s memoir, writing that she delivers on “the ways in which our society is systemically designed to keep impoverished people mired in poverty, the indignity of poverty by way of unmovable bureaucracy, and people’s lousy attitudes toward poor people.”
“Black Leopard Red Wolf” by Marlon James (Riverhead Books, Feb. 5)
Here it is, readers—the must-read novel of the year. The first book in the Dark Star trilogy from Man Booker Prize winning author Marlon James, “Black Leopard, Red Wolf” draws from African mythology, fantasy and history to explore what happens when a mercenary is hired to find a missing child. Breathtaking in scope and ambition, James delivers a world that will satisfy the most ardent fantasy readers. But don’t take my word for it. Acclaimed British author Neil Gaiman boldly claims that James has created “a fantasy world as well-realized as anything Tolkien made.” Mic, drop.
“On the Come Up” by Angie Thomas (Blazer & Bray, Feb. 5)
It’s finally here—the highly anticipated second novel from the No. 1 New York Times bestselling author, Angie Thomas. If you enjoyed The “Hate U Give,” odds are you’ll fall in love with Thomas’s equally delightful YA novel, “On the Come Up.” The story follows a 16-year-old who wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all-time—against some pretty tough odds. Thomas has established herself as one of her generation’s most influential literary voices. So, if you’re a fan, don’t walk—run—to your nearest independent bookstore when this one drops in February.
“The City in the Middle of the Night” by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor Books, Feb. 12)
She’s already been called this generation’s Ursula K. Le Guin with notes of Philip Pullman. That’s high praise for Charlie Jane Anders, who has developed a following with her speculative fiction short stories and novels. In her new novel, “The City in the Middle of the Night,” Anders doesn’t disappoint. Set on a dying planet divided between a permanently frozen darkness on one side and blazing endless sunshine on the other, humanity clings to life. But life inside the cities is just as dangerous as the wastelands outside. Anders is writing science fiction at the top her game—readers should take note.
“The Other Americans” by Laila Lalami (Pantheon, March 26)
A Moroccan immigrant falls victim to a hit-and-run accident in California. With only one witness—whose fear of deportation prevents him from coming forward—the tragedy sparks a narrative “informed by the treacherous fault lines of American culture,” according to the publisher. Told through multiple points of view from a cast of several different characters, Laila Lalami’s “The Other Americans” is a timely, heart-rending novel that illuminates the Muslim-American experience in the 21st century. Her first book since the critically acclaimed novel, “The Moor’s Account”—a Pulitzer Prize finalist—Lalami is likely back with another hit.
“Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow” by Henry Louis Gates (Penguin Press, April 2)
When Henry Louis Gates writes a book, you pay attention. From one of our foremost scholars on American history, “Stony the Road” chronicles the African-American experience from the abolition of slavery and reconstruction to the rise of Jim Crow and the Harlem Renaissance. With appearances from historical figures like Frederick Douglass and W.E.B Dubois, Gates paints a vivid historical picture of one of America’s greatest tragedies.
“Naamah” by Sarah Blake (Riverhead Books, April 9)
Told from the perspective of Noah’s wife Naamah, Sarah Blake’s debut novel is a meditative re-telling of the flood from the reluctant heroine who rescued life on earth. With poignant and spare prose, “Naamah” captures the doubt, the resilience and the bravery of the woman at the heart of the great flood in Genesis. Riverhead Books continues to churn out hit after hit (and with the best book covers in the business, hands down), so it’s easy to get excited about this one. While different in style, “Naamah” is a thoughtful, complementary read to Madeline Miller’s “Circe.”
“Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming” by Laszlo Krasznahorkai (New Directions, May 28)
Susan Sontag has called him the “Hungarian master of the apocalypse,” and noted critic James Wood once described the experience of reading his prose as “profoundly unsettling.” If that doesn’t sell you, Laszlo Krasznahorkai himself explained his last work was about “drawing our attention away from this world, speeding our body toward annihilation.” Krasznahorkai is a rare writer—eschewing traditional forms of plot, character and narrative. His sentences can go on for pages at a time, digressing into a stream of thought that might even make James Joyce roll his eyes. Kafka, Dostoevsky, Beckett and Nietzsche come to mind as philosophical and literary influences, and while this novel won’t hit the shelves until May, it will be worth the wait.
“On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” by Ocean Vuong (Penguin Press, June 4)
Poet Ocean Vuong made shockwaves in the literary world back in 2016 with his acclaimed debut poetry collection, “Night Sky With Exit Wounds.” Now, Vuong is back with another debut—this time a novel (and just as delightfully titled)—“On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.” Written as a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read, Vuong’s powerful debut is as much about the power of telling one’s own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard. Writing with raw honesty, compassion and grace, Vuong proves to be a literary force in whichever form he chooses to write.
Alex Brubaker is manager of Midtown Scholar Bookstore.