May 2019 Books to Read!

It’s May! We’ve had some great weather here, we’ve been tending to the flowers and trees. It’s so lovely to go out on the porch and watch the sun set with a book. It’s one of my favorite months of the year. A few of the books below have been keeping me company this season. What books are you excited about and reading?

The links to Amazon.com are affiliate links, so if you purchase the book (or any item) by going there from this page, we’ll make a bit of money for the site. Do not feel obligated, of course — we’ll keep going regardless! Release dates are based on the U.S. release date.

May 7

Castle Gripsholm
by Kurt Tucholsky
translated from the German by Michael Hofmann
NYRB Classics

Buy from Amazon.com here.

Here is the blurb from NYRB Classics:

Castle Gripsholm, the best and most beloved work by Kurt Tucholsky, is a short novel about an enchanted summer holiday. It begins with an assignment: Tucholsky’s publisher wants him to write something light and funny, otherwise about whatever Tucholsky wants. A deal is struck and the story is off: about Peter, a writer; his girlfriend, known as the Princess; and a summer vacation far from the hurly-burly of Berlin. Peter and the Princess have rented a small house attached to a historic castle in Sweden, and they have five weeks of long days and white nights at their disposal; five weeks for swimming and walking and sex and talking and visits with Peter’s buddy Karlchen and with Billy, the Princess’s best friend. It is perfect, until they meet a weeping girl fleeing the cruel headmistress of a home for children. The vacationers decide they must free the girl and send her back to her mother in Switzerland, which brings about an encounter with authority that casts a worrying shadow over their radiant summer idyll. Soon they must return to Germany. What kind of fairy tale are they living in?

My Friends
by Emmanuel Bove
translated from the French by Janet Louth
NYRB Classics

Buy from Amazon.com here.

Here is the blurb from NYRB Classics:

My Friends is Emmanuel Bove’s first and most famous book, and it begins simply, though unusually, enough: “When I wake up, my mouth is open. My teeth are furry: it would be better to brush them in the evening, but I am never brave enough.” Victor Baton is speaking, and he is a classic little man, of no talent or distinction or importance and with no illusions that he has any of those things, either; in fact, if he is exceptional, it is that life’s most basic transactions seem to confound him more than they do the rest of us. All Victor wants is to be loved, all he wants is a friend, and as he strays through the streets of Paris in search of love or friendship or some fleeting connection, we laugh both at Victor’s meekness and at his odd pride, but we feel with him, too. Victor is after all a kind of everyman, the indomitable knight of human fragility. And, in spite of everything, he, or at least his creator, is some kind of genius, investing the back streets and rented rooms of the city and the unsorted moments of daily life with a weird and unforgettable clarity.

The Unpassing
by Chia-Chia Lin
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Buy from Amazon.com here.

Here is the blurb from Farrar, Straus and Giroux:

In Chia-Chia Lin’s debut novel, The Unpassing, we meet a Taiwanese immigrant family of six struggling to make ends meet on the outskirts of Anchorage, Alaska. The father, hardworking but beaten down, is employed as a plumber and repairman, while the mother, a loving, strong-willed, and unpredictably emotional matriarch, holds the house together. When ten-year-old Gavin contracts meningitis at school, he falls into a deep, nearly fatal coma. He wakes up a week later to learn that his little sister Ruby was infected, too. She did not survive.

Routine takes over for the grieving family: the siblings care for each other as they befriend a neighboring family and explore the woods; distance grows between the parents as they deal with their loss separately. But things spiral when the father, increasingly guilt ridden after Ruby’s death, is sued for not properly installing a septic tank, which results in grave harm to a little boy. In the ensuing chaos, what really happened to Ruby finally emerges.

With flowing prose that evokes the terrifying beauty of the Alaskan wilderness, Lin explores the fallout after the loss of a child and the way in which a family is forced to grieve in a place that doesn’t yet feel like home. Emotionally raw and subtly suspenseful, The Unpassing is a deeply felt family saga that dismisses the American dream for a harsher, but ultimately more profound, reality.

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Latest Trial of Harper Lee
by Casey Cep
Knopf

Buy from Amazon.com here.

Here is the blurb from Knopf:

Reverend Willie Maxwell was a rural preacher accused of murdering five of his family members for insurance money in the 1970s. With the help of a savvy lawyer, he escaped justice for years until a relative shot him dead at the funeral of his last victim. Despite hundreds of witnesses, Maxwell’s murderer was acquitted–thanks to the same attorney who had previously defended the Reverend.

Sitting in the audience during the vigilante’s trial was Harper Lee, who had traveled from New York City to her native Alabama with the idea of writing her own In Cold Blood, the true-crime classic she had helped her friend Truman Capote research seventeen years earlier. Lee spent a year in town reporting, and many more years working on her own version of the case.

Now Casey Cep brings this story to life, from the shocking murders to the courtroom drama to the racial politics of the Deep South. At the same time, she offers a deeply moving portrait of one of the country’s most beloved writers and her struggle with fame, success, and the mystery of artistic creativity.


May 14

Orange World and Other Stories
by Karen Russell
Knopf

Buy from Amazon.com here.

Here is the blurb from Knopf:

Karen Russell’s comedic genius and mesmerizing talent for creating outlandish predicaments that uncannily mirror our inner in lives is on full display in these eight exuberant, arrestingly vivid, unforgettable stories.  In“Bog Girl”, a revelatory story about first love, a young man falls in love with a two thousand year old girl that he’s extracted from a mass of peat in a Northern European bog.  In “The Prospectors,” two opportunistic young women fleeing the depression strike out for new territory, and find themselves fighting for their lives.  In the brilliant, hilarious title story, a new mother desperate to ensure her infant’s safety strikes a diabolical deal, agreeing to breastfeed the devil in exchange for his protection. The landscape in which these stories unfold is a feral, slippery, purgatorial space, bracketed by the void—yet within it Russell captures the exquisite beauty and tenderness of ordinary life. Orange World is a miracle of storytelling from a true modern master.

The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies
by Robert Kirk
NYRB Classics

Buy from Amazon.com here.

Here is the blurb from NYRB Classics:

Late in the seventeenth century, Robert Kirk, an Episcopalian minister in the Scottish Highlands, set out to collect his parishioners’ many striking stories about elves, fairies, fauns, doppelgängers, wraiths, and other beings of, in Kirk’s words, “a middle nature betwixt man and angel.” For Kirk these stories constituted strong evidence for the reality of a supernatural world, existing parallel to ours, which, he passionately believed, demanded exploration as much as the New World across the seas. Kirk defended these views in The Secret Commonwealth, an essay that was left in manuscript when he died in 1692. It is a rare and fascinating work, an extraordinary amalgam of science, religion, and folklore, suffused with the spirit of active curiosity and bemused wonder that fills Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy and the works of Sir Thomas Browne. The Secret Commonwealth is not only a remarkable document in the history of ideas but a study of enchantment that enchants in its own right.

First published in 1815 by Sir Walter Scott, then reedited in 1893 by Andrew Lang, with a dedication to Robert Louis Stevenson, The Secret Commonwealth has long been difficult to obtain—available, if at all, only in scholarly editions. This new edition modernizes the spelling and punctuation of Kirk’s little book and features a wide-ranging and illuminating introduction by the critic and historian Marina Warner, who brings out the originality of Kirk’s contribution and reflects on the ongoing life of fairies in the modern mind.


May 21

Spiritual Choreographies
by Carlos Labbé
translated from the Spanish by Will Vanderhyden
Open Letter Books

Buy from Amazon.com here.

Here is the blurb from Open Letter Books:

By blinking his eyes and moving his pupils, a paraplegic man—the onetime vocalist in a famous rock band—composes a kind of anti-biography that is corrected and expanded upon by an unknown editor. Alternating between the vocalist’s impressionistic recollections and the editor’s “corrections,” an asynchronous story emerges, evoking the vocalist’s childhood in southern Chile and telling of the rise and fall of the band that he grew up to lead, while hinting at a multiplicity of other narrative possibilities.

At once an exploration of collection creation as a kind of real community and a reflection on the fragility of memory, Spiritual Choreographies is an undaunted and entirely original novel by one of Latin America’s most innovative contemporary writers, whose body of work has been described as “a response to the imminent destruction of the known world.”

The Organs of Sense
by Adam Ehrlich Sachs
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Buy from Amazon.com here.

Here is the blurb from Farrar, Straus and Giroux:

In 1666, an astronomer makes a prediction shared by no one else in the world: at the stroke of noon on June 30 of that year, a solar eclipse will cast all of Europe into total darkness for four seconds. This astronomer is rumored to be using the longest telescope ever built, but he is also known to be blind?and not only blind, but incapable of sight, both his eyes having been plucked out some time before under mysterious circumstances. Is he mad? Or does he, despite this impairment, have an insight denied the other scholars of his day?

These questions intrigue the young Gottfried Leibniz?not yet the world-renowned polymath who would go on to discover calculus, but a nineteen-year-old whose faith in reason is shaky at best. Leibniz sets off to investigate the astronomer’s claim, and over the three hours remaining before the eclipse occurs?or fails to occur?the astronomer tells the scholar the haunting and hilarious story behind his strange prediction: a tale that ends up encompassing kings and princes, family squabbles, obsessive pursuits, insanity, philosophy, art, loss, and the horrors of war.

Written with a tip of the hat to the works of Thomas Bernhard and Franz Kafka, The Organs of Sense stands as a towering comic fable: a story about the nature of perception, and the ways the heart of a loved one can prove as unfathomable as the stars.


And one I missed from last month:

Springtime in a Broken Mirror
by Mario Benedetti
translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor
The New Press

Buy from Amazon.com here.

Here is the blurb from The New Press:

The late Mario Benedetti’s work was often ranked with “such esteemed Latin American writers as Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes and Julio Cortázar” (The Washington Post) and his novel The Truce has sold millions of copies around the world. His extraordinary novel Springtime in a Broken Mirror revolves around Santiago, a political prisoner in Uruguay, who was jailed after a brutal military coup that saw many of his comrades flee elsewhere. Santiago, feeling trapped, can do nothing but write letters to his family and try to stay sane.

Far away, his nine-year-old daughter Beatrice wonders at the marvels of Buenos Aires, but her grandpa and mother—Santiago’s beautiful, careworn wife, Graciela—struggle to adjust to a life in exile.

Published now for the first time in English, Springtime in a Broken Mirror tells with tenderness and fury of the indelible imprint politics leaves on individual lives. Generous and unflinching, it asks whether the broken bonds of family and history can ever truly be mended. Written by one of the masters of the Latin American novel, this is the story of a fractured continent, chronicled through the lives of a single family.

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