Well, hello again! If you’ve finished reading all our favorite books published this past January, don’t worry, because we’ve got 10 more excellent books for you to check out this month! Read one, read them all—some, like Terese Marie Mailhot’s powerful Heart Berries, can be read in a single sitting; others, like Tayari Jones’ epic An American Marriage, will take more of your time. But all these books will leave a mark on you, take you to new places you’ve never gone before.
The 10 Best Books To Read This February
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The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara (available February 6)
This fierce, devastating, wildly gorgeous debut takes place in New York City’s 1980s and ’90s Harlem ball scene, a place where gay and transgender kids and adults could go to express themselves as themselves. It was a world full of glamour and glitter—and not a little grittiness—where tackiness and beauty took on totally new heights. It was also a place where addiction and violence were a normal part of life, and AIDS was just beginning to make its horrific presence felt. Cassara takes readers there with enviable skill; it’s impossible not to feel utterly transported, to feel the hum of the music in your cells, to vibrate with the energy of the time and place, with all its attendant exhilarating highs and devastating lows.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (available February 6)
One of America’s finest writers, Tayari Jones has offered up another masterpiece with her latest novel, a tremendously powerful story about love, injustice, inequality, and strength. Centered around Celestial and Roy, a newlywed couple whose future looks brighter than the stars themselves, An American Marriage reveals how quickly dreams can be derailed due to systemic malignant forces all around us. This story isn’t simply about love lost and sorrow and injustice, of course, it is also about rebuilding and redemption. It is a narrative of hope, without ever resorting to easy answers to the huge problems plaguing our society. It’s a novel of vision and grace, and it will root itself in your consciousness with the determination of a lovingly planted hickory tree.
Back Talk by Danielle Lazarin (available February 6)I don’t know about you, but I’m always up for a story collection that centers fully around women. Especially when it doesn’t put women’s traumas at the forefront of the narratives, but rather their desires. Because what do I want more of than to just think about all the things women want, and what they’ll do to get it? Nothing. This isn’t to say that selfishness is the only motivation for the women in Lazarin’s stories, but rather to point out that, so often, fictional women are only praised when they’re driven by a selflessness. Lazarin doesn’t do that, instead celebrating the inherent complications of being a woman, and of being alive.
Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot (available February 6)
This powerful memoir reveals a life of struggle and illness, deprivation and pain, but is so full of strength in the face of adversity and resilience, that it is impossible not to read it and feel real hope and the possibility of triumph and renewal, no matter how dark things seem. Mailhot started writing the essays that comprise this book after being hospitalized and diagnosed with both bipolar II and post-traumatic stress disorders; through her writing, she grapples with her traumatic upbringing, her dysfunctional parents, and her own struggles learning how to love. The result is this singularly moving, poetic book, one full of rage and desire, fear and brilliance. Prepare for it to sink its teeth into your very heart.
We Are Taking Only What We Need by Stephanie Powell Watts (available February 6)
Each of these 10 short stories centers around working-class black Southerners, and all work toward offering a better understanding of the dialogue that exists between generations of black Americans as they work toward understanding who they are as individuals and as part of the collective black American experience. Powell Watts is as comfortable relaying intimate experiences as she is grappling with the institutional failures that have conspired to perpetuate an unjust way of life in this country, and the end result is a powerful book that reveals a full range of emotions and experiences.
Virgin by Analicia Sotelo (available February 6)
Look, I don’t know you, but you probably don’t read enough poetry. Make 2018 the year you start reading more poetry, and perhaps start with Virgin, which gorgeously, sensuously explores the pleasures and problems of the feminine experience. Sotelo’s language is as lush and hot as the inside of a woman’s mouth; her words can feel like a fever, like your eyes will blister if you stare too long at the page. But look closely anyway, what hurts makes us stronger, right? And what a pleasure to be hurt this way, with these words.
Call Me Zebra by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi (available February 6)
Okay, not many authors are compared to Borges, Cervantes, and Kathy Acker all in one breath, but that is exactly what we’re dealing with here: Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi is a twisted, twisty genius, whose latest novel is a wild, trippy ride across countries and, like, philosophies and intellectual theories. Protagonist Bibi is rootless in the way only a brilliant, parentless exile can truly be. She seeks answers, a home, and an identity; she is full of humor and despair and desire. She is in possession of an inimitable (sometimes annoying and self-absorbed!) voice, but it’s all the better to help her—and us—navigate the chaos of this collapsing world.
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi (available February 13)
In this spectacular debut novel, Emezi recounts the experience of Ada, a Nigerian woman who was born with “one foot on the other side.” Ada’s experience in her younger life is one of confusion and dissonance; her identity is in turmoil, her sense of self, fractured. This split only deepens when Ada goes to college in the United States and is the victim of sexual assault, leading to the rise of two new personalities, and a further diminishment of her true self. Emezi writes with power and grace about the labyrinthine depths of our own identities, those things we’re most familiar with, those things we don’t know at all.
Sunburn by Laura Lippman (available February 20)
Any book inspired by The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, and Mildred Pierce (all James M. Cain noir classics) is bound to be... killer. (Pun intended, sorry!) And Sunburn certainly is that. Its plot revolves around Polly and Adam, two damaged people who are supposedly just passing through town when they meet each other and decide to stick around. Mayhem ensues, naturally, and it’s up to us readers to decipher who is lying, who is telling the truth, and if it really matters. This book is exactly the kind of wicked, burning hot fun that we want to read right now—anything to heat up this winter as it comes to a close.
The Mobius Strip Club of Grief by Bianca Stone (available February 27)
Just as everything in life is really about sex and death, so, too, are poems. This is never more apparent than in Bianca Stone’s new book of poetry, which takes place in an afterworld burlesque club of sorts, in which women run the show and living patrons pay the dead to perform all sorts of taboo acts (like holding hands and saying, “I love you,” but, also, so much more). It’s a brilliant, wildly imaginative meditation on grief and loss and coping with being human and then not being at all.