With Memorial Day weekend upon us, there’s no better time to dip into some summer reading, whether you’re relaxing by the pool or escaping into a novel on your lunch break at your desk. The following titles are some of the most anticipated releases of the year, from comedian and And Just Like That… writer Samantha Irby’s latest collection of uproarious essays, to journalist Elise Hu’s incisive investigation into the $10 billion K-beauty industry. Whether you prefer a heartfelt exploration of identity, a stylish murder mystery, or a frothy summer romp, read on for the books to add to your library now:
The Late Americans by Brandon Taylor
You may know Brandon Taylor as one of the funniest people on Twitter, but the highly celebrated author, best known for the award-winning novel Real Life and the story collection Filthy Animal, a national bestseller shines his brightest in long form. His latest novel, The Late Americans finds an eclectic circle of friends and lovers living in Iowa City, all of them facing their own crossroads. With the sharp wit and perceptive depth Taylor is known for, the book explores themes of chosen family, friendship, sex, and love.
The Guest by Emma Cline
Much like the release of her breakthrough 2016 novel, The Girls, the buzz has been at a fever pitch for Emma Cline’s The Guest. The suspenseful novel is about a young woman pretending to be someone she’s not over a hazy summer on the rarefied East End of Long Island. When the older man she’s been staying with drops her at the train station back to the city following a misstep at a dinner party, she’s left on her own to drift through the lofty, exclusive world of the Hamptons in the week leading up to Labor Day. As she manipulates her way from one place and person to the next, she leaves a path of destruction behind her in what’s been hailed as a “spellbinding” literary achievement. Ultimately an examination of class anxiety, The Guest is a sultry, hypnotic take on the delusions of luxury and the fear underlying the things we hold onto most tightly.
Oh My Mother! by Connie Wang
This heartfelt, hilarious collection of essays from journalist Connie Wang explores the complexity of one of the most impactful relationships in anyone’s lifetime: mother and daughter. The memoir, which takes its title from the Chinese expression wo de ma ya (“oh my god,” but literally translated, “oh my mother”), details Wang’s complex relationship with her own mom through a series of stories about their travels together. From hitting Magic Mike’s strip show in Vegas to taking edibles in Amsterdam together, the duo journey around the world and in the process grow together.
Quietly Hostile by Samantha Irby
Samantha Irby is as delightful as ever in her latest collection of essays about the messy particulars of modern life. The beloved comedian and writer (who writes for And Just Like That…) skewers the challenges of simply existing better than anyone can, covering everything from getting turned away from restaurants for being inappropriately dressed to adopting “a deranged pandemic dog.” In it, Irby peels back the layers of ordinary life, reveling in the truism that what you see online is only a tiny slice of the whole, hilarious picture.
Bad Summer People by Emma Rosenblum
In what’s being hailed as the book of the summer, Emma Rosenblum draws back the curtain on a wealthy community in the fictional Salcombe, a beach town loosely based on Fire Island’s Saltaire. Among its summer residents, all of whom have known each other since childhood, there are lifelong grudges, sordid affairs, and possibly, a murder cover-up. The perfect poolside read, Bad Summer People is a darkly comedic take on the lengths people will go to in order to maintain a pretty façade that’s far from perfect. Think The White Lotus but with a lot more tennis.
The Three of Us by Ore Agbaje-Williams
In her splashy debut, Agbaje-Williams presents a story told during the course of a single day but from three perspectives—a wife, a husband and the wife’s snarky best friend. What’s supposed to be a lazy afternoon for the two women drinking wine and laughing about the shortcomings men, suddenly shifts when the husband comes home and a series of confessions are made. This humorous, subversive novel explores cultural truths exemplified in the minutiae of domestic life—the daily happenings that, when put together, can have massive consequences regarding betrayal, loyalty and love.
Congratulations, The Best Is Over! by R. Eric Thomas
From the author of the bestselling collection of essays Here For It, which explored life in America as a Black, gay, Christian man, comes a new set of personal reflections inspired by Thomas’s move back to his hometown of Baltimore. With his signature insightful wit, Thomas outlines everything from his twentieth high school reunion (where he’s given a badge with someone else’s face on it) to a group of decidedly gay frogs taking over his backyard. For those who love thoughtful, funny meditations of whether one can ever really return home, Congratulations will strike a chord.
The Elissas: Three Girls, One Fate, and the Deadly Secrets of Suburbia by Samantha Leach
When Bustle editor at large Samantha Leach’s childhood best friend, Elissa, passed away at the age of eighteen, she was understandably devastated and confused. In seeking answers about her friend’s untimely death, Leach uncovered a complex story; the years before she died, Elissa had been living at one of the many unregulated boarding programs that make up America’s scandal-ridden troubled teen industry. As Leach further investigated what happened to her friend, she learned of Alyssa and Alissa, Elissa’s closest friends at the school who, in addition to sharing a penchant for partying and matching Save Our Souls tattoos, also died young, in their early twenties. The Elissas explores the secret lives of wealthy young suburban women, the impacts of reform school, and the fate that led to their paths diverging in such a tragic way.
Yellowface by R.F. Kuang
In Yellowface, the fifth novel from author R.F. Kuang, who predominantly works in fantasy, unreliable narrator and failed writer June Hayward finally finds the literary success she has been craving when she passes off her deceased friends’ manuscript as her own. As the title suggests, June, a white woman, blurs the lines of racial identity in order to pass as a Chinese writer to legitimize writing historical fiction novel that becomes a hit. Written in first person and present tense, this breezy book skewers modern day commercial publishing while also interrogating the “bad art friend” questions we as readers have come to love.
Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond the Clock by Jenny Odell
Jenny Odell’s first book, How to Do Nothing, explored the importance of disconnecting from the “attention economy” that we are all so bound to, to spend time in quiet contemplation. Her latest offering, Saving Time, asks what happens when we have no time to spend. Like How to Do Nothing, Saving Time shows us how our modern relationship to time is built for profit, not pleasure—and explains why even moments of leisure feel like something to be produced and processed as efficiently as possible. This thoughtful investigation is hopeful in its criticism of capitalist systems and offers solutions to the ever-present problem of never having quite enough time.
Raving by McKenzie Wark
Spend a summer evening or two considering the art of pulsating beats on the foggy dance floor with Raving, the latest from Australian-born writer and New School professor McKenzie Wark. Best known for books like 2004’s A Hacker Manifesto and her writing on media theory, Wark’s aptly-named Raving takes readers on a journey through New York’s thriving, underground queer rave scene—exploring how techno is an artform particularly suited for apocalyptic-feeling times.
Dykette by Jenny Fran Davis
Jenny Fran Davis’ addictive debut novel tells the story of an adventurous young couple from Brooklyn who go on a ten-day getaway to the country home of a pair of older, richer lesbians. A third queer couple joins the mix, adding complexity to a trip filled with sumptuous meals and sweaty sauna confessions. As each member of the group starts to reveal themselves more fully, shifting motivations rise to the surface and a web of infatuation and jealousy emerges. At heart a love story, Dykette seductively examines themes like queer nonconformity and its place in a heteronormative world.
Flawless: Lessons in Looks and Culture From the K-Beauty Capital by Elise Hu
For a truly eye-opening summer read, look no further than Flawless, NPR host-at-large and Ted Talks Daily host Elise Hu’s ambitious journalistic exploration of the current (and future) state of beauty. Through the lens of South Korea’s highly influential, $10 billion K-beauty industry, Hu examines the darker stories underneath the carefree consumerism and “self-care” pushed by beauty marketing. When does optimizing ourselves—with the end goal of perfection—go too far? As technology evolves to address an ever-shifting goalpost of flawlessness, what does beauty really mean? What are the true financial, physical and emotional costs of beauty, and who bears the brunt of them? With deep reporting—including hours of interviews with South Korean women—and insightful historical context, Hu explores these questions and more, and ultimately offers an alternative vision for the future.
Homebodies by Tembe Denton-Hurst
While stories about young women working in the high-pressure media industry have always fascinated, few are told from the perspective of Homebodies. In New York Magazine writer Tembe Denton-Hurst’s striking debut novel, Mickey Hayward, a young Black writer from Maryland, is living with her devoted girlfriend in New York City, paying her dues up the corporate ladder toward her dream job in media. Despite being overlooked and mistreated, she continues to put her best foot forward, until she finds out she’s being replaced. After sending off a letter detailing the racism and sexism she’s experienced as a Black woman in media that is largely ignored, Hayward returns home and almost manages to leave the thought of New York behind. That is, until a media scandal makes her letter go viral, and suddenly everyone wants to hear from her. Denton-Hurst deftly crafts a story of ambition, identity and love, as Hayward must decide between the glamorous life she dreamed of and the simplicity she left back home.
Working Girl: On Selling Art and Selling Sex by Sophia Giovannitti
Sophia Giovannitti was a young artist in New York when she turned to sex work to pay her rent. At first, she told herself it was an extension of her art, but it quickly became the most obvious way to make the kind of money needed to make it in the city in the shortest amount of time. In Working Girl, Giovannitti explores both her own experiences in sex work with broader analysis of the art world, the sex industry, and the connections between the two. The provocative work tackles political questions about the commodity of desire and creativity while questioning what it really means to sell authenticity and intimacy. Ultimately, Giovannitti finds a way to make her life its own artwork and finds freedom on her own terms.
Crook Manifesto by Colson Whitehead
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author Colson Whitehead returns with Crook Manifesto, a continuation of the author’s Harlem saga that began with Harlem Shuffle, a work of crime fiction set in 1960s Harlem. Crook Manifesto examines 1970s New York “in all its seedy glory,” and is sure to be a powerful and hugely entertaining read.
Raven Smith’s Men by Raven Smith
In Raven Smith’s Men, the subject of masculinity gets skewered with the hilarious precision and wit the the Vogue writer and bestselling author of Raven Smith’s Trivial Pursuits is known for. As its description says, “this book is about men because, in an annoying way, everything is.” Part memoir, part essay collection, Smith’s Men explores the power dynamics of gender and specifically, maleness that permeate every fold of society and seemingly every aspect of our personal lives and the lives of the men we know (and sometimes) love.
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