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15 Best Books Coming Out Winter 2020
For many people making New Year’s resolutions, “read more” is high on the list. Yet if you’re looking to read more, where to start? The year’s newest crop of books offer a number of compelling launch pads, from visionary novels about our political moment to trenchant nonfiction about issues like sexuality, income inequality, and Silicon Valley. Here are our favorite books of the season.
Topics of Conversation, by Miranda Popkey
Formally adventurous and blisteringly current, this debut novel spanning almost two decades of conversations between women wrestles with the stories women tell about desire, friendship, and violence, among other subjects. In glittering prose, Popkey illuminates the performative nature of storytelling, assessing the degree to which the stories we tell about our lives are fictions.
Boys & Sex: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity, by Peggy Orenstein
In this follow-up to her groundbreaking Girls & Sex, Peggy Orenstein turns her reportorial lens to young men, who, in compassionate, candid interviews, reveal the fears, pressures, and longings that shape their burgeoning sexual identities. Combined with testimony from psychologists and academics, what arises from Orenstein’s thorough, sensitive exploration of the subject is a clear-eyed portrait of how toxic masculinity takes root—and how we must course-correct in raising our boys before it’s too late.
Cleanness, by Garth Greenwell
In Cleanness, Garth Greenwell returns to the stark Eastern European landscape of What Belongs to You, his sensational 2016 debut novel. In post-Soviet Bulgaria, an American teacher sifts through the romantic entanglements of his years abroad, with bruising vignettes of love and brutality coalescing into an evocative portrait of desire’s vagaries. Melancholy and lyrical, this slim volume confirms that Greenwell is among our finest writers on sex and desire.
Sexual Citizens: A Landmark Study of Sex, Power, and Assault on Campus, by Jennifer S. Hirsch and Shamus Khan
Through data-driven academic studies and tireless reporting, Hirsch and Khan explore the ubiquity of sexual assault on college campuses. What emerges from their exhaustive dive into the subject is a clear, intersectional picture of the forces breeding a campus culture that bulldozes consent, as well as a path forward that emphasizes empathy, mutual respect, and bodily autonomy.
Uncanny Valley, by Anna Wiener
In this hyper-detailed, thoroughly engrossing memoir, tech journalist Anna Wiener narrates her coming-of-age in Silicon Valley during the early years of the startup boom. Yet Uncanny Valley is so much more than a memoir—it’s a vivid, unflinching portrait of a changed San Francisco, a onetime haven for artists and dreamers now dangerously in thrall to the capitalist chokehold of tech monoliths. At the intersection of exploitative labor, entitled men, and ungodly amounts of money, Wiener bears witness to the fearsome future as it unfolds.
American Dirt, by Jeanine Cummins
Heartfelt and hopeful, American Dirt is a novel for our times. This is the story of Lydia, a Mexican bookseller who must flee to America by freight train with her eight-year-old son in order to evade the long arm of a violent drug cartel. As Lydia and her son become migrants, the novel explores the terrifying forces that drive families to seek a better life, even when they must endure life-threatening risks and abandon their homes. Thrilling, epic, and unforgettable, this story of human hope and a mother’s love puts a deeply human face on the refugee crisis.
My Dark Vanessa, by Kate Elizabeth Russell
My Dark Vanessa is a singular achievement—a masterpiece of tension and tone that will simultaneously grip you, horrify you, and move you. In 2000, teenage Vanessa Wye is drawn into an affair with her much-older English teacher; in 2017, when her teacher is brought to account for his abuses of underage girls amid a widespread cultural reckoning, Vanessa must reassess her mythology of their years-long relationship. With utmost sensitivity and vivid, gut-churning detail, Russell illuminates Vanessa’s struggle to see the story of her life for the tragedy it truly is. Before you start My Dark Vanessa, clear your schedule for the next few days—this harrowing account of sexual abuse and its lifelong aftershocks will utterly consume you.
Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader, by Vivian Gornick
One of our finest essayists returns to the form with a celebration of the books that have shaped her and a love letter to the practice of reading. In exploring her relationship to works like Colette’s The Vagabond and Marguerite Duras’ The Lover, Gornick illuminates the essential truth of reading: that it reveals as much about the reader as it does the writer.
Weather, by Jenny Offill
Compact and wholly contemporary, Jenny Offill’s third novel sees a librarian find deep meaning and deep despair in her side gig as an armchair therapist for those in existential crisis, including liberals fearing climate apocalypse and conservatives fearing the demise of “American values.” As she attempts to save everyone, our protagonist is driven to her limits, making for a canny, comic story about the power of human need.
Something That May Shock and Discredit You, by Daniel M. Lavery
Lavery brings his trademark fusion of genres to this uproarious collection of essays, which span pop cultural properties ranging from House Hunters to William Shatner. Vulnerable and searching when writing about his journey as a transgender man, yet hilarious and unself-serious when skewering pop culture, Lavery is never anything less than refreshingly honest.
In the Land of Men, by Adrienne Miller
In this riveting memoir, the first female literary editor of Esquire, appointed at twenty-five years old, narrates her remarkable experience as a cultural gatekeeper in a rarefied, male-dominated world. Miller’s recollection of that formative chapter of her life explores her complicated friendship with David Foster Wallace; meanwhile, she also reckons with power, and the dark truth about who gets to have it.
Apeirogon, by Colum McCann
In this moving novel about the ties that bind, two men, one Palestinian and one Israeli, form an unlikely friendship after their daughters’ deaths through politically-motivated violence. McCann is as interested in ever at stretching the formal constraints of the novel, making for a poignant, singular story about borders and the power of human connection.
The Velvet Rope Economy: How Inequality Became Big Business, by Nelson D. Schwartz
In this timely and essential book, New York Times business reporter Nelson D. Schwartz explores the invisible line that divides the ultra-wealthy from the average Joe, and the myriad ways in which businesses turn a profit by exploiting that division. Through careful reporting and entertaining storytelling, Schwartz unpacks the degree to which wealth insulates the privileged, as well as the dangers of our free-falling transformation into a caste-based society.
Recollections of My Nonexistence, by Rebecca Solnit
One of our foremost thinkers on womanhood explores the journey of her becoming in this deeply personal memoir about her youth in San Francisco. In her searing, sensitive voice, Solnit recalls the epidemic of violence against women in San Francisco circa the 1980s, tracing her journey as a writer through her journey to speak out on behalf of women.
Enter the Aardvark, by Jessica Anthony
Little, Brown and Company
Weird, wonderful, and very much of the moment, Enter the Aardvark is a landmark political novel of the Trump era. Anthony bridges political and temporal divides through a time-traveling taxidermied aardvark, which shuttles between Victorian England, where it was hunted and stuffed, and present-day Washington D.C., where its appearance on a young Republican congressman’s doorstep threatens to upend his career. With heart and humor, Enter the Aardvark expertly skewers our current political climate.
Adrienne Westenfeld is a writer and editor at Esquire, where she covers books and culture.