Friday, June 2, 2023

Best 3 Books of May (Plus 2 More)

We made it through May, and now it's summer! Everyone has different definitions of what a "summer read" is, but to me, a summer read is big and meaty, something I'm not going to finish in just a few sittings. I have a few of those lined up for the next few months (hello, Chuck Wendig and Haruki Murakami), but I started that trend off in May with the new novels by David James Duncan and Nathan Hill novels out later this summer (see below). May was also about a bunch of other shorter books, here are the best three.

1. Gone To The Wolves, by John Wray -- Let's rage! You may not know this about me, but I love metal -- and this novel about a group of teenagers in late 1980s Florida (the cradle of death metal!) is the novel I was born to read. Wray really knows what he's talking about here. And even if you're not into metal, there's lots here about friendship and loyalty to get you through. 

2. Nightcrawling, by Leila Mottley -- This is a difficult read, but an accomplished debut novel. It's about agency and autonomy -- when our backs are against the wall, what choices do we really have? And it's about corruption, evil cops, and the failures of the justice system. Yes, a lot of the headlines of about this novel involve the young age of the novelist -- which yes, it's pretty amazing to consider she wrote this at ages 17-18 -- but that also shouldn't distract from just how well done this book is.

3. Monsters: A Fan's Dilemma, by Claire Dederer -- This book is the most nuanced, intelligent, and well-thought-out treatment of the age-old and crucial question of how to (or whether to) separate art from artist -- or as Dederer writes it, what do we do with the art of monstrous men? Since I first wrote about this question 13 years ago, it's a question that's hounded me and I haven't found an answer. That's because there isn't one. Or at least there's not one that applies to every artist or every situation. In this book, Dederer gives you all the tools to be able to puzzle out a decision on your own. Really, that's what this comes down to -- you have to make your own decisions about what to do with the art of Roman Polanski, Ernest Hemingway, Woody Allen, Michael Jackson, Miles Davis, and many others. Does the "biographical stain" prevent you a) from continuing to enjoy the art, or b) from consuming the art at all?

Two HUGE Books To Look Forward To:

1. Sun House, by David James Duncan (out August 8) -- Duncan's The Brothers K, published in 1992, is one of my five favorite novels of all time. And he hasn't published a new novel since...until now (or, well, August). This book is, frankly, a lot -- and not just in terms of pages (just shy of 800). We have a bunch of characters searching for truth -- and though they don't know it most of the way through, they're searching for each other, as well. It's a novel about finding the people who are like you and holding onto them fiercely. It took me more than a month to read this, and while nothing will ever be The Brothers K, this is a solid follow-up. You just have to be in the right mood and well-caffeinated. 

2. Wellness, by Nathan Hill (out September 19) -- This is another gigantic (in terms of pages, themes, and probably reader excitement) forthcoming novel that will certainly be a big hit. You know Hill from 2016's mega-debut novel The Nix. He returns with this story of a marriage, and how everything isn't always as it seems. Hill has out Franzen'ed Franzen with this novel, and I think you're gonna love this book -- it may very well vaunt Hill into "household name" status.

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