12 Books We Can’t Wait to Read in February
It’s cold, it gets dark at 5 p.m. and COVID numbers are making it mighty tempting to just stay home. Might we suggest curling up under your warmest blanket with a cup of coffee (or glass of wine) and a new book? From a fascinating examination of our culture’s bias against single people to a thriller in the vein of Nine Perfect Strangers, here are 12 of the most fabulous new books to read in February.
1. Tell Everyone on This Train I Love Them by Maeve Higgins
Irish comedian and writer Higgins (Maeve in America) knows that the United States is still an experiment. Some parts work and others don't, but that doesn't stop her from loving the place and the people that make it. Her latest essay collection seeks to unearth answers to the questions we all have about this country. During her quest, Higgins attends the 2020 Border Security Expo to better understand the future of our borders, attempts to connect Ireland's revolutionary history with the struggles of Black Americans today and, in a lighter section, mistakes edibles for regular candies and gets high at Paper Source.
2. The Lonely Hunter: How Our Search for Love Is Broken: A Memoir by Aimée Lutkin
Why, when there are more unmarried adults than ever before, is there so much pressure to couple up? Why does everyone treat you as though your real life won't start until you find a partner? Single in her 30s, Lutkin (whose writing has been featured on Jezebel and in Marie Claire) set out to answer these questions, by going on on hundreds of dates, reading the sociologists, authors and relationship experts exploring singlehood and loneliness, diving into the wellness industrial complex and probing the capitalist structures that make alternative family arrangements nearly impossible. The result is a fascinating account of one woman's experience of being alone, and reveals the deep biases against the uncoupled in our society. Just in time for Valentine’s Day…
3. Don’t Cry for Me by Daniel Black
In this heartbreaking novel, a father tries to make amends with his gay son through letters written on his deathbed. As Jacob lies dying, he writes a letter to his only son, Isaac, who he hasn’t met or spoken to in many years. He writes about his ancestral legacy in rural Arkansas that extends back to slavery, secrets from Jacob's tumultuous relationship with Isaac's mother and the shame he carries from the dissolution of their family. Through it all, Black (They Tell Me of a Home) focuses on the lived experiences of Black fathers and queer sons and offers an authentic and ultimately hopeful portrait of reckoning and reconciliation.
4. This Might Hurt by Stephanie Wrobel
Sisters Natalie and Kit haven’t spoken in months, since Kit discovered Wisewood, a self-help group where guests commit to spending six months off the grid on a private island off the coast of Maine to become their “Maximized Selves.” But when Natalie receives a menacing email from a Wisewood account threatening to reveal the secret she’s been keeping from Kit, she panics and heads to the retreat to come clean and bring Kit home. The issue is, Wisewood won’t let either of them go without a fight.
5. The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka
At a community pool, the swimmers are largely unknown to one another and represent all different ages, abilities and backgrounds. The thing they have in common is the solace each takes in their morning or afternoon laps. But when a crack appears at the bottom of the pool, their reactions are varied. One of the most effected by the pool’s closure is Alice, who began swimming as a final stand against the darkness of encroaching dementia. Without the routine of her daily laps, her condition worsens, and she’s swept into memories of her childhood and the time she spent in a Japanese American incarceration camp. Clever and tender, The Swimmers is an intimate story about the sorrows of loss.
6. Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century: Stories by Kim Fu
The 12 stories in this eclectic collection from the author of For Today I Am a Boy wrestle with themes of death and technological consequence, guilt and sexuality, and unmask the contradictions that exist within all of us. From a group of children stealing a haunted doll and a runaway bride encountering a sea monster, to a vendor selling toy boxes that seemingly control the passage of time, each of Fu’s stories is wholly original, and reminiscent of Carmen Maria Machado.
7. Mercy Street by Jennifer Haigh
For almost a decade, Claudia has counseled patients at the titular Mercy Street, a women’s health clinic in Boston. Inside the clinic’s walls, Mercy Street offers more than health care, but outside, the reality is different, with frequent anonymous threats and a small but determined group of anti-abortion demonstrators appearing each morning. As the protests intensify, Claudia is afraid. She manages her anxiety with trips to an affable pot dealer’s house. It’s there that she meets a lost soul who spends most of his life online, chatting with the mysterious digital alter ego of Victor, an anti-abortion crusader who has set his sights on Mercy Street and is ready to risk it all for his beliefs.
8. Tired as F*ck: Burnout at the Hands of Diet, Self-Help and Hustle Culture by Caroline Dooner
Part memoir, part social criticism, Tired as F*ck examines how treating ourselves like never ending self-improvement projects is a recipe for burnout. More of a cautionary tale than a self-help book, Dooner’s latest (after The F*ck It Diet) empowers us to say no to the things that exhaust us, to carve out time to slow down, feel okay about doing less and honor our humanity.
9. Impossible City: A Hong Kong Memoir by Karen Cheung
Writer and journalist Cheung (whose work has appeared on This American Life and in The New York Times) was born in Hong Kong in 1997. The city, she explains, is a place of extremes—misunderstood and often romanticized. Drawing from her own experience reporting on the politics and culture of her hometown, as well as interviews with musicians, protesters and writers who have watched their home transform, Impossible City is a rare insider's view of Hong Kong at a pivotal moment for the city and, ultimately, for Cheung herself.
10. New Animal by Ella Baxter
Amelia is approaching thirty and her closest relationships—other than with her mother—are through dating apps. She works at the family mortuary business as a cosmetic mortician with her eccentric stepfather and her older brother who’s in a throuple. When Amelia's mother dies out of the blue, she feels unmoored. Fleeing the funeral, she goes to her birth father in Tasmania, where she falls into the local BDSM community, where she is anything but a natural fit. Funny and heartfelt, New Animal is about one woman struggling to find her place in the world without her mother, with the help of well-intentioned family members and her newfound kink community.
11. The Quest for Psyche by Beth C. Greenberg
This fourth—and final—installment of Greenberg’s Cupid’s Fall series is a contemporary reimagining of the Cupid and Psyche myth. Cupid is a mess. Heartbroken after a failed relationship, he resorts to a very human approach to relieving his misery: therapy. His online sessions seem to be working, until his therapist mysteriously cuts him off. Sensing she needs his help, Cupid sets out on a cross-country adventure. What he doesn't know is that this will be his one and only chance at love as he attempts the impossible—a happily eternally after with his reluctant soulmate.
12. When I’m Gone, Look for Me in the East by Quan Barry
This examination of our individual struggle to retain our convictions and discover meaning in a fast-changing world centers on a young monk and his identical twin who are tasked with finding the reincarnation of a great lama somewhere in the vast Mongolian landscape. Their relationship is tested on the journey through their homeland as each possesses the ability to hear the other's thoughts and questions of faith, along with more earthly matters of love and brotherhood, haunt the twins.