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45 new books we can't wait to read in 2023
We may not be able to predict everything the near year will bring. But based on 2023's new book releases, we have a feeling we'll be reading all year long.
Below, we’re highlighting just a few of the new books coming out in 2023 that you may want to check out. Of course, Prince Harry’s anticipated memoir “Spare ” makes an appearance, as do sequels and follow-ups from authors like Carley Fortune and Elizabeth Acevedo. We have novels and memoirs from Latinx authors ; poetry collections to peruse before bed or first thing in the morning; and more captivating reads.
Keep in mind this is far from an exhaustive list. Think of it as an introduction to the literary delights that 2023 has to offer, selected by book critic and bookstagrammer Lupita Aquino along with TODAY editors — not to mention all the books Jenna Bush Hager will choose for her Read With Jenna book club , like "Sam," the first of 2023 .
We’ll be updating this list with more of our favorites as the year goes on.
'Sam' by Allegra Goodman (Jan. 3)
Sam by Allegra Goodman
The first Read With Jenna pick of the year , "Sam" is a coming-of-age story with language that reflects its protagonist's growing up, evolving as Sam does. Describing the book to TODAY.com, Jenna Bush Hager says, "It explores what happens when one girl loses the wonder of childhood — the innocence of her early years only to reclaim her power and hope."
— Elena Nicolaou
'Age of Vice' by Deepti Kapoor (Jan. 3)
Age of Vice
An epic in every sense of the world, "Age of Vice" will take you on a years-long whirlwind in a character's life ... and then back again, to show the same events from a different character's perspective. As the picture comes into focus, and all the elements of greed, loss, pleasure and love fueling the New Delhi-set story, you'll feel heartbreak for the characters and thrill at the capacity of Kapoor's mind.
'The Survivalists' by Kashana Cauley (Jan. 10)
Aretha knows she can't prepare for every tragedy, especially in the wake of her mother's death. But there are some she can plan for "The Survivalists" follows one lawyer's detour into an underground world of people who believe the apocalypse is coming and are trying to get ahead of it.
'Spare' by Prince Harry (Jan. 10)
Prince Harry's anticipated memoir is billed as being an "honest and captivated personal portrait " of a person the public has seen grown up, but is only recently getting to know on an intimate level. Poised to tell his story "at last," the memoir is expected to cover the death of his mother, Diana, and why he left royal life behind with his wife Meghan Markle.
'Hell Bent' by Leigh Bardugo (Jan. 10)
The second installment in her Alex Stern series, "Hell Bent" returns to a magic-infused Yale University campus, where secret societies cast magic and unleash monsters. Alex Stern was brought from California to the cloistered Ivy League school to keep a watchful eye on them. And in book two, she has to venture to hell to rescue her partner. Read a preview here .
The Faraway World' by Patricia Engel (Jan. 24)
The Faraway World: Stories
In 2021, "Infinite Country," Engel’s latest novel, hit the New York Times bestseller list and took a strong hold over book clubs everywhere. Any fan of Engel’s work will tell you to prepare yourself for unique and intimate layered storytelling. You'll find that and so much more in this new short story collection exploring themes of community, regret and migration.
— Lupita Aquino
'Central Places' by Delia Cai (Jan. 31)
Central Places: A Novel
It's "Meet the Parents" for a new generation. Since moving away from the central Illinois town she grew up in, Audrey Zhou has gotten a high-powered job and found the perfect man. Now, she's bringing her fiancé back to meet her Chinese immigrant parents. There, her past and present collide, as do her parents' expectations for her and her hopes for herself.
'Love, Pamela' by Pamela Anderson (Jan. 31)
After a life in the headlines, you might think you know Pamela Anderson. In this revealing memoir, Anderson describes what it was like to be in her shoes during her ascent to fame and scrutiny, and how she found herself.
'Maame' by Jessica George (Jan. 31)
"Maame" is a coming-of-adulthood with an unforgettable narrative voice. By page one, you'll be invested in Maame's journey as she navigates caring for her ailing father and living at home in her mid 20s; her mother's nosy phone calls from Ghana that can't make up for her absence; her friendships; disappointing work interactions; and more.
'The People Who Report More Stress' by Alejandro Valero (Feb. 7)
The People Who Report More Stress: Stories
Alejandro's debut novel "The Town of Babylon" came out in 2022, and this forthcoming short story collection, full of memorable personalities, explores similar themes: community, relationships, modern queer life, racism and parenthood.
'When Trying to Return Home' by Jennifer Maritza McCauley (Feb. 7)
When Trying to Return Home: Stories
Spanning between Puerto Rico, Pittsburg, Louisiana and Miami, this debut short story collection explores the complexities of belonging and the true meaning of home. Each individual story and the themes mentioned are written through the Black American and Afro-Latino experience.
'The Last Tale of the Flower Bride' by Roshani Chokshi (Feb. 14)
The Last Tale of the Flower Bride
Roshani Chokshi's transfixing first novel for adults is a fairytale-infused story about marriage and the secrets couples keep from each other. That, and an enchanted house off the coast of Washington and hotel fortune . Read a preview here .
'I Have Some Questions for You' by Rebecca Makkai (Feb. 21)
I Have Some Questions for You
Imagine if your life was the stuff of a true crime documentary. Bodie Kane has tried to move on past the 1995 murder of her boarding school roommate. When she returns to the boarding school as an adult, Bodie realizes there are still lingering mysteries about how the case was wrapped up and justice was served.
'Black Candle Women' by Diana Marie Brown (Feb. 28)
Black Candle Women (Original)
If you watched "True Blood" or "Practical Magic," you're sure to enjoy this family saga about a group of women with magic in their blood and secrets in their past. Augusta, the family matriarch, can't speak due to aphasia, but her daughter, grand-daughters and great-granddaughter are living with the ramifications of a decision she made and the powers she passed onto them.
'What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez' by Claire Jimenez (March 7)
What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez
The Ramirez sisters were a tight-knit trio until the sudden disappearance of Ruthy, the middle child, shattered the family. Years after her disappearance, Ruthy seems to reappear in a reality TV show using the name Ruby. This debut novel is a funny and heartbreaking examination of sisterhood, generational trauma and the bonds that hold families together.
'The Mimicking of Known Successes' by Malka Older (March 7)
The Mimicking of Known Successes
Exploring communities in conflict and the loss of ecosystems, this science fiction novella — part sapphic romance, part murder mystery — imagines what life would be like in a human colony on Jupiter.
'Hello Beautiful' by Ann Napolitano (March 14)
Read With Jenna author Ann Napolitano's follow-up to "Dear Edward " is centered on a lonely basketball player and the warm family of four sisters (think "Little Women") that he marries into. Read a preview of the redemptive novel here .
'Take What You Need' by Idra Novey (March 14)
Take What You Need: A Novel
Leah returns to her home in the Allegheny Mountains to clean house after her estranged stepmother's death. Upon arriving, Leah learns that her stepmother had a secret: an inner artist who left behind large, mysterious sculptures out of scrap material. Idra Novey created the portrait of an artist, seen through the eyes of someone who only knew her as a flawed stepmother.
'The Human Origins of Beatrice Porter and Other Essential Ghosts' by Soraya Palmer (March 28)
The Human Origins of Beatrice Porter and Other Essential Ghosts
This debut coming-of-age story weaves in folktales and spirits through the lens of two Jamaican-Trinidad sisters who struggle to understand each other, exploring the power of storytelling and complexities of sisterhood.
'Evil Eye' by Etaf Rum (March 28)
Read With Jenna author Etaf Rum's newest novel follows three generations of Palestinian American women, and was inspired by the idea of a curse. Read a preview here .
'White Cat, Black Dog' by Kelly Link (March 28)
White Cat, Black Dog: Stories
Kelly Link is the master of the modern fairy tale. This collection of short stories is deceptively easy to read – you'll be turning the pages of strange events quickly, but the stories and their strange events are liable to linger in your mind.
'The Mostly True Story of Tanner & Louise' by Colleen Oakley (March 28)
The Mostly True Story of Tanner & Louise
Imagine a classic heist story, but the people at the center of it are a geriatric jewelry thief and her younger roommate, and you'll get Colleen Oakley's next novel. The page-turner will inspire you to think about the secret histories we all carry. Read a preview here .
'Above Ground: Poems' by Clint Smith (March 28)
In this new collection of poems, Smith examines the ways in which parenthood has altered his view on life. He now tries to see the world through his children's eyes. Expressive and intimate, this collection flawlessly captures the vulnerability of the human experience on the page.
'Camp Zero' by Michelle Min Sterling
The climate apocalypse happens — and people keep going. This inventive novel follows the people after the world as we know it has been changed irrevocably, living in the far north.
'Carmen and Grace' by Melissa Coss Aquino (April 4)
Carmen and Grace
Cousins Carmen and Grace share a traumatic childhood that has bonded them together tightly. That is, until they meet a sisterhood of women known as the D.O.D, who are guided by a leader of an underground drug empire, Doña Durka. This plot-driven novel explores the bonds of found family and the ways into which power and ambition can sever relationships.
'Homecoming' by Kate Morton (April 4)
The author of "The Clockmaker's Daughter" returns with her first book in four years. Another epic, "Homecoming" follows the decades-long reverberations of a crime in South Australia for one family.
'Chain Gang All Stars' by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
"Chain-Gang All Stars"
Jenna Bush Hager says her May 2023 book club pick is "not like anything I’ve read before."
Two women prisoners become gladiators, battling each other for their lives and their freedom, in this dystopian novel.
'A Living Remedy' by Nicole Chung (April 4)
A Living Remedy: A Memoir
This riveting and tender memoir is a stunning meditation on grief and guilt, driven by the ways in which the U.S. healthcare system, one of the highest costs of healthcare in the world, fails those that cannot afford it. Detailing her father's inability to access healthcare and his premature death, Chung illuminates the hardships many Americans face caring for aging parents and loved ones in a broken system.
'The Haunting of Alejandra' by V. Castro (April 18)
The Haunting of Alejandra
Weaving in the popular Mexican folklore legend of La Llorona, this horror novel centers on a woman exploring her family’s past deals with an unexplainable inner darkness that wants to consume her. The provocative novel is haunting and packed with dark secrets.
'The Last Animal' by Ramona Ausubel (April 18)
The Last Animal
Stop us if you've heard this one before: A single mother and her two teenage daughters head to the Arctic to attempt to "de-extinct” the woolly mammoth. There, they find a nearly perfectly preserved mammoth ... and embark on a process to bring it back to life. Yes, this book is about scientific discovery, but it's also about being a mom to teenage girls and enjoying the chaos of life with family by your side.
'The Skin and Its Girl' by Sarah Cypher (April 25)
The Skin and Its Girl
In this family saga that explores exile and immigration, Betty, a queer Palestinian American woman, discovers a series of notebooks from her late aunt that help her navigate a difficult decision. Her aunt's notebooks reveal a complex life filled with secrets beyond anything Betty could imagine along with the answer to if she should leave her home country to follow the love of her life.
'The Fitful Sleep of Immigrants' by Orlando Ortega-Medina (April 25)
The Fitful Sleep of Immigrants
Set in San Francisco in the 1990s, this thriller follows attorney Marc Mendes as he navigates addiction and the approaching deportation of his life partner, Isaac. Full of twists and turns, this novel explores the inhumanity found in immigration law and the true meaning of loyalty.
'Rosewater' by Liv Litte (April 25)
Elise, the protagonist of this debut novel, is a 28-year-old living in south London struggling with the possible dread of not knowing if she will ever be able to pursue her passion for poetry full time. She is dealt an additional blow after she is suddenly evicted. Turning to her childhood best friend for help, Elise rediscovers the beauty of the relationships that have always sustained her.
'Meet Me at the Lake' by Carley Fortune (May 2)
Meet Me at the Lake
Like Carley Fortune's hit debut novel "Every Summer After", "Meet Me at the Lake" is a lake-set romance. After an intense, 24-hour meeting a decade ago, Fern and Will meet up again in the lakeside town where she inherited her mother's inn. Read a preview here .
'In Vitro: On Longing and Transformation' by Isabel Zapata (May 9)
In Vitro: On Longing and Transformation
In this essay-like collection, Zapata examines in vitro fertilization and the narratives that drive societal expectations and pressures in conception and pregnancy. Unveiling a nuanced view of motherhood and fertility treatment, "In Vitro" will illuminate aspects of pregnancy not often discussed.
'Quietly Hostile: Essays' by Samantha Irby (May 16)
Quietly Hostile: Essays
Blogger-turned-bestselling author Samantha Irby is back with a new and hilariously relatable essay collection. The essays depict what it's like to balance writing for hit shows like HBO’s reboot of "Sex and City" with the reality of living in a human body. Irby will have you crying and laughing as she writes about exploring therapy, reiki and much more.
'Yellowface' by R. F. Kuang (May 18)
R. F. Kuang is the creator of intricate fantasy novels like "Babel" and the Poppy War series. In "Yellowface," she tells the story of two competitive authors, Athena Liu and June Hayward, whose careers take off at the same time — but only one's star rises. When Athena dies in a freak accident, June takes her chance to steal her manuscript about Chinese laborers during WWII and pass it off as her own.
'The Late Americans' by Brandon Taylor (May 23)
The Late Americans
Previously listed as a nominee for the Booker Prize longlist with his debut novel, "Real Life", Taylor’s sophomore novel "The Late Americans" follows a group of friends as they challenge each other to find themselves.
'The Celebrants' by Steven Rowley (May 30)
The author of "The Guncle" is back with a big-hearted saga about friendship and what makes a life worth living. A group of college friends decide to throw funerals for each other.
'The Male Gazed' by Manuel Betancourt (May 30)
The Male Gazed
Raised in Bogotá, Colombia, Betancourt examines the societal pressures surrounding masculinity as a gay man. This memoir-in-essays weaves in pop culture and cultural criticism within Betancourt’s own story to provide sharp insight into the pitfalls of internalized toxic masculinity.
'Girls and Their Horses' by Eliza Jane Brazier (June 6)
Girls and Their Horses
The author of "Good Rich People" returns with a novel set in the cloistered world of the wealthy — this time, among competitive show jumpers, where big wallets tend to outweigh talent. After coming into a fortune, Heather Parker wants her daughters to have the chances she didn't to become horse-riding stars. Someone winds up dead in the barn — but who?
'When The Hibiscus Falls' by M. Evelina Galang (June 13)
When the Hibiscus Falls
Centering the lives of Filipino American women in seventeen stories, Galanga explores the complexities of ancestry, identity, and community, resulting in a collection that honors the deep connections that exist between descendants and ancestors.
'Save What's Left' by Elizabeth Castellano (June 13)
Save What's Left: A Novel
When her husband Tom leaves her without warning to go on an around-the-world cruise, Kathleen is left with a gaping hole — and a chance to reinvent herself. So she decides to move to a small beachside town across the country and becomes pulled into its ecosystem. Laugh-out-loud funny, "Save What's Left" is a novel about life in a town that makes the perfect escape.
'Rivermouth: A Chronicle of Language, Faith, and Migration' by Alejandra Oliva (June 20)
Rivermouth: A Chronicle of Language, Faith, and Migration
Alejandra Oliva, a translator and advocate for Latin American migrants seeking asylum and citizenship, reflects on the different physical spaces migrants encounter as they navigate the immigration system. Illuminating the difficulties and gaps within the system, she poses crucial questions about American citizenship and the need for radical empathy.
'Family Lore: A Novel' by Elizabeth Acevedo (Aug. 1)
In 2018, Acevedo received the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for her novel-in-verse "The Poet X," which also became a New York Times bestseller. "Family Lore" is Acevedo's first novel for adults and it tells the story of a Dominican-American family exploring their shared history as they approach the wake of one of its members.
Elena Nicolaou is a senior entertainment editor at Today.com, where she covers the latest in TV, pop culture, movies and all things streaming. Previously, she covered culture at Refinery29 and Oprah Daily. Her superpower is matching people up with the perfect book, which she does on her podcast, Blind Date With a Book.
The best books of 2023 so far
The best fiction and non-fiction our reviewers have read this year.
A t last, we’re far enough through the year that this list has acquired a bit of heft. In non-fiction, plunge into the lives of past emperors (all hail Mary Beard), present princes (yes, Spare ’s still on there) and future kings (well, Rory Stewart wishes), plus a sprinkling of personal memoir, social history and the answer to where all Britain’s money goes. Scroll, with a sense of relief, to fiction and you’ll find some truly superb novels: divorce comedies, melancholy Irish family sagas, even David Copperfield on drugs. It’s the season of mists and mellow bookshop excursions — your shopping list is below.
Rory Stewart was born in the wrong age. He sees himself as a hero in the classical mould (his childhood horse was
The 23 Most Anticipated Books of 2023
These are independent reviews of the products mentioned, but TIME receives a commission when purchases are made through affiliate links at no additional cost to the purchaser.
New year, new you, and so many new books to read. The year ahead promises to keep book lovers busy with much-talked about celebrity memoirs from Prince Harry and Jada Pinkett Smith , as well as splashy new releases from best-selling authors Colson Whitehead , R. F. Kuang , and Lorrie Moore, who returns with her first novel in 14 years. Debuts by up-and-comers Jenny Jackson and Amelia Possanza will get you excited for the future of publishing, while Jenny Odell ’s Saving Time might help you figure out how you’ll find the time to read all these books in just one year.
More from TIME
Here, the 23 most anticipated books of 2023.
Bloodbath Nation, Paul Auster, photographs by Spencer Ostrander (Jan. 10)
‘I look for the scary story’: How Alice McDermott turned the Vietnam War novel inside out
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On the Shelf
By Alice McDermott FSG: 336 pages, $28 If you buy books linked on our site, The Times may earn a commission from Bookshop.org , whose fees support independent bookstores.
Alice McDermott is talking about wigs. The National Book Award -winning novelist has never worn one over her short gray hair, but according to one early reader of her new book, “ Absolution ,” many of its characters — women who have followed their military husbands to Saigon in the early 1960s — might have relied on them.
“He wrote that his mother and her friends, when he was 13 or so and living in the Philippines, could never be sure how their hair would look in that climate,” McDermott says during an interview over lunch not far from her home in Bethesda, Md. “It’s been hard for some of the younger people at my publisher to understand that women living in those places were putting on stockings and garter belts for garden parties when the temperature was over a hundred degrees. And they have no idea what dress shields are!”
Her youthful peals of laughter notwithstanding, McDermott is a veteran novelist, and the generational divide she mines in “Absolution,” a novel that one advance reviewer has called “her masterpiece,” is dead-serious.
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May 15, 1988
Since publishing her first novel in 1987, McDermott has become perhaps our most acclaimed chronicler of the Irish American experience, warts and all. “ Charming Billy ,” which won a 1997 National Book Award, focused on Billy Lynch, a great guy — when he was sober. Other books have tackled suicide (“ The Ninth Hour ”), homosexuality (“ Someone ”) and, of course, family dysfunction (“ At Weddings and Wakes ”).
Tying them all together is the presence of Roman Catholicism. Still a practicing Catholic despite her very public disagreements with its doctrine, especially regarding women, McDermott approaches religion on the page not as a political lightning rod but as a source of faith and integrity.
“I guess what I’m looking for is not to impose, but instead let something appear, let something arise that feels essential,” she says. “It’s about the spirit and it’s about our mortality. It’s about our looking for grace. It’s about our hope for redemption. It’s about, How do we forgive one another?”
It isn’t too surprising that McDermott’s protagonist in “Absolution” is a young Irish Catholic, a Navy intelligence officer’s wife named Patricia Kelly. But her journey abroad is fresh territory for the author, far removed from her usual settings among New York City’s “ white ethnic ” boroughs and suburbs.
“Initially, when I heard her voice and she began to share her story, it was like: I’m going to Vietnam?” McDermott was skeptical. “But then COVID hit, and I immediately thought, I’ve had the most vivid experiences of my life through reading. I remember scenes from novels I love more than I remember any of my travels. Saigon in 1963 no longer exists. It’s an imagined place, even for people who were there.”
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The story began with an image. “At first, I saw it as writing an origin story for a Barbie doll dressed in a Vietnamese áo dài ,” she says. In the novel, the doll belongs to Rainey, the daughter of Charlene, an executive wife whom Patricia meets at a (vividly drawn) dinner party. When Rainey’s Barbie has a wardrobe mishap, Charlene’s seamstress whips up a white silk miniature version of the traditional Vietnamese dress.
Rainey’s doll — inspired by a story McDermott once heard at a real-life party — gives Charlene an idea for one of her money-making schemes. From this origin story, the novel came to life.
Complicating what McDermott insists is not a historical novel, Patricia’s narration addresses a grown-up Rainey, who plays a part in the story. “I knew that my narrator was not a woman who would tell her story unless somebody asked her,” McDermott says. “She would have to be invited to speak. And I knew that before the book started, there’s a question. It’s not in the book, but that’s the silence at the beginning of the story.”
The retrospective telling allows Patricia to reexamine the dramatic events that followed in the wake of that garden party, forcing choices that feel both generationally specific and universal — bearing on parenthood, reproduction, families of choice. What gives “Absolution” its unique depth is that neither the vulnerable newcomer Patricia nor the sophisticated, heedless Charlene has cornered the market on all virtues.
If McDermott’s moral ambiguity reminds readers of the Vietnam War writ large, it feels very intentional. She has taken the worn tapestry of the war novel and turned it inside out, exposing the original colors and throwing the battles and bivouacs into stark relief. And yet the themes are the same — misguided notions of what it means to save people, and to believe in a deity supporting “our side.”
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Patricia’s generation of women, McDermott says, were part of their era’s hidden history, “the good soldiers who made things easier for the men they followed.” She points to a key moment in the novel, “a line Rainey writes in her mother’s obituary. It’s a moment of cruelty, of a woman judging another woman without understanding the other’s experience, and I think that’s the smallest, most intense tragedy.”
McDermott confesses that she sometimes worries readers will miss such brief, telling moments. “I don’t write stories for easy answers,” she says. “I look for the scary story, for the moment when what you thought you were going to say becomes something completely different and slips away from your control.” She sips her iced tea and continues. “I think it’s the agreement that you make with the reader, that if I put it in the novel, there’s a reason for it to be there, and I trust you. I don’t have to knock you upside the head to say, ‘Look! Look at this!’”
When I mention Kirkus Reviews’ proclamation about “Absolution” being her masterpiece, McDermott demurs; she hasn’t read her reviews since novel No. 1. “Actually, my husband said this to me the other night: ‘Do you think this is your best book?’ And I said, you know what? Hearing someone say that, it’s like you’ve had eight children and someone points to one and says, ‘Oh, well, that one is cute.’”
Then she laughs and changes the subject. “That reminds me, I realized at one point that if I were a male writer working on a story about this time and place, and all my characters were men, I would have made the one really good person in the book, whose name is Dominic, the pretty nurse.”
Instead, in McDermott’s story, Dominic — an Army officer — becomes the bridge between Patricia’s experience and Rainey’s, the one who puts them back in touch decades later. That’s not a spoiler. It’s more of a reminder that “Absolution” is a rare work, a novel that subverts the idea of battlefield stories and, in doing so, actually awakens readers to the true scope of war.
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The Best—and Most Anticipated—Books of 2023 (So Far)
By Chloe Schama , Taylor Antrim , Elise Taylor , Lisa Wong Macabasco , and Liam Hess
All products featured on Vogue are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
The year of 2023 is shaping up to be a lot of fun in the book world—with frothy delights like Jenny Jackson's Pineapple Street , the cool and compelling new novel from Emma Cline ( excerpted in Vogue ) , heartfelt family sagas like Ann Napolitano's Hello Beautiful , and effervescent debuts, like Caroline O'Donoghue The Rachel Incident. Worth noting: It’s a very good year for works by female authors. We’ve already lauded Elenor Catton’s Birnam Wood and Allegra Goodman's Sam ; now several of us have tasted Zadie Smith’s masterful new historical fiction; Jhumpa Lahiri’s triumphant return (albeit via Rome), with a collection of delightful short stories; and the powerfully compact Loved and Missed from British writer Susie Boyt—a revelation for many of us from a writer has been around for quite some time. It just goes to show: There's always something new to discover. We hope this list serves as a starting point.
The Shards by Brett Easton Ellis (January)
Bret Easton Ellis’s first novel, Less Than Zero , published in 1985, is hard to shake—a drifting, menacing story about Los Angeles private school kids with monosyllabic names (Clay, Blair, Trent, Rip) who go to parties, do drugs, have sex and try to feel something about any of it. The Shards , Ellis’s hypnotic, prodigious, and unsettling new novel—his first in 13 years—is a time machine back to that early 80s milieu. It stars none other than Ellis himself, a prep school senior writing a novel called Less Than Zero and surrounded by a pack of rich beautiful friends who are themselves shadowed by a serial killer nicknamed the Trawler. Ellis holds nothing back through these 600 pages: baroque violence, startling eroticism, relentless cataloging of mood-specific song and movie titles. His gothic predilections are not for everyone (the Trawler’s kills are grotesque) but the evocation of a certain kind of vacant privilege—a buried longing overlaid with studied dissociation—is masterful.—Taylor Antrim
Sam by Allegra Goodman (January)
There are books that assail you with their importance, and then there are those, like Allegra Goodman’s Sam (The Dial Press), whose modest-seeming ambitions blossom into sweeping works of emotional resonance. Goodman’s novel tells the deceptively simple story of a girl, Sam, growing into a young woman. Her life has many deprivations and few points of brightness—but from these bare contours a powerful portrait emerges. Goodman’s writing mimics the voice of her subject, with earlier chapters echoing the staccato thought patterns of elementary years and later chapters channeling the tender vulnerabilities of young adulthood. Sam may investigate the most acute of emotional growing pains, but there is nothing awkward here.—Chloe Schama
The Survivalists: A Novel by Kashana Cauley (January)
Community gardeners meet doomsday preppers stockpiling weapons above a trendy coffee shop in The Survivalists (Soft Skull Press), a darkly funny look at how people form communities to care for one another amid institutional failures and scarcity. Set in a mostly Black Central Brooklyn, this debut novel from Kashana Cauley, a former lawyer, Daily Show with Trevor Noah writer, and New York Times contributor, finds humor in our hostile, uncertain present while outlining starkly different visions of the future—and how we might prepare for them.—Lisa Wong Macabasco
Spare by Prince Harry (January)
It's almost unheard of for a book to dominate public conversation well before even being published. Yet Prince Harry's memoir, Spare , has done just that after several explosive and intimate claims about his life within the royal family came to light. Of course, we haven't read it yet, but the talent of his ghost-writer, J.R. Moehringer , who also wrote the biographies of Nike's Phil Knight and Andre Agassi, has us excited. The Pulitzer Prize winner has an astonishing ability to plumb the depths of his subjects—crafting a raw, nuanced portrait of a person in the process. “He’s half psychiatrist,” Knight said of Moehringer . “He gets you to say things you really didn’t think you would.”—Elise Taylor
Big Swiss by Jen Beagin (February)
Jen Beagin writes with a zany, overflowing energy, her enthusiasm in stark contrast to the halting, static nature of her protagonist in Big Swiss. Set in a very recognizable Hudson, New York brimming with metropolitan expats and locals who have settled into their roles as the native color, the novel tells the story of a woman running from her past while excavating the emotional travails of others. She is doing this quite literally, as the transcriber for a local sex therapist, ignoring all professional ethics as she does so by falling for one of the clients. She may be privy to the innermost desires of the client—whom she nicknames Big Swiss—but that doesn’t make her more sure-footed when it comes to affairs of the heart. Big Swiss is a comic novel, but it is one with a very tender core. Already in development as a series set to star Jodie Comer, you are sure to hear more about this one.—C.S.
Pat in the City by Patricia Field (February)
Pat in the City: My Life of Fashion, Style, and Breaking All the Rules
Patricia Field’s memoir covers the territory you’d expect it to cover: how she got her gig as the costume designer for Sex In the City (including a charming anecdote about how she convinced showrunner Darren Star that a tutu was far superior to a shift dress for Carrie’s ensemble in the opening credits), her more recent exploits as the force behind the eyeball-scorching outfits on Emily In Paris . But it also covers her more tender years growing up in New York City and Long Island, how her early store, Pants Pub, ignited a small revolution in downtown fashion, and how subsequent boutiques became a refuge for fantastic misfits of all stripes. You didn’t need to have a lot of retail experience to work for Patricia Field, it seems, but you did need to have a whole lot of the right kind of attitude. This is a book for the SATC superfans, but it is also for anyone curious about the lived experience of Downtown culture in the ’70s, ’80s, and beyond.—C.S.
Cold People by Tom Rob Smith (February)
What is the author of a trilogy of elegant historical espionage novels (the bestselling Child 44 books) doing writing a sci-fi monster novel set in Antarctica? I read the summary of Tom Rob Smith’s Cold People (Scribner)–an alien invasion wipes out Earth’s population driving the lone survivors to Antarctica to set up a new society–with bemusement. Had Smith who pivoted into TV writing with The Assassination of Gianni Versace and other shows lost his way? Nope. Cold People is a zany, wildly gripping, dark futuristic fantasy that never remotely achieves plausibility but achieves escapist lift-off nonetheless. The alien invasion that begins the book and prompts a desperate evacuation to Antarctica–the only place the aliens will let humans live–is bizarrely cursory, but Smith is getting it out of the way. The bulk of the book, set in the resulting society of human survivalists on the icy continent tells a story of genetic experimentation that recalls H.P. Lovecraft and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein . I loved this wild, imaginative, fast-moving book and can’t wait to see the inevitable screen adaptation.—T.A.
The Everlasting Meal Cookbook: Leftovers A-Z by Tamar Adler (March)
The Everlasting Meal Cookbook: Leftovers A-Z
Vogue contributing editor Tamar Adler’s new cookbook is a comprehensive, beautifully illustrated, and gracefully written resource for what to do with basically anything in your fridge, larder, or on your chopping board. A kind of spiritual sequel to her 2011 volume, An Everlasting Meal , this hefty, companionable resource suggests new life for, say, overcooked beans, or undercooked ones, discarded crab shells, leftover ramen soup, uneaten waffles (or flat beer, or broken aioli, or pickle brine…seriously, nothing is left unconsidered). There are recipes and strategies for everything you can imagine, and a no-waste ethos permeates these many pages with goodwill, humor, and hope. As with all things Adler, the writing is fantastic: expert and unfailingly elegant.—T.A.
Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano (March)
Ann Napolitano's Hello Beautiful is a tribute to Little Women , telling the story of four sister and the man who enters their orbit when he marries the oldest daughter. So far so similar. But William Waters's tragic past is rendered, on the first page of this novel, with such heartbreaking specificity—his three-year-old sister died in her crib the week he was born, plunging his parents into a state of mourning they never escape—that readers will be forewarned that they have a distinct experience ahead of them. In college William becomes involved with Julia Padavano, a relentlessly ambitious young women from a boisterous Chicago family, and is quickly subsumed by her desires and trajectory. Napolitano has an uncanny ability to pack her paragraphs with rich detail, painting entire landscapes—interior and exterior—with startling emotional economy. This is a warm blanket of a book, one that reminds you of the enveloping power of literature and leaves you very grateful to have encountered it.—C.S.
Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton (March)
Set in modern-day New Zealand, Birnam Wood (Macmillan) is a multi-layered book that reads, at times like a far-left anti-capitalist manifesto, at times like a techno-futurist manual, at times like suburban ennui-driven domestic fiction—in short, it’s a book of contemporary ideas, somehow woven together into a thriller that is subtly poking fun at the absolutism all those perspectives entail. No matter how assured the characters are that they possess the most righteous framework through which to understand the world, their blindspots lead them into sometimes criminal entanglements that they can’t philosophize their way out of. Catton is not just a master at spinning a web of competing philosophies, though; her characters are deeply flawed but you can’t help but root for them. I was one of the few who missed this young New Zealand novelist’s best-selling and critically acclaimed 2013 novel, The Luminaries , but this new book has convinced me that I won’t let that happen again.—C.S.
Pineapple Street by Jenny Jackson (March)
Jenny Jackson’s new novel Pineapple Street (Pamela Dornan) is a delicious new Gilded Age family drama—almost a satire—set in the leafy enclaves of Brooklyn Heights. The book follows three women in the Stockton family, a clan that made their money in real estate and left subsequent generations to alternately indulge in and wring their hands over it, their angst inflected with a very New York 1% class consciousness. Family members make their way from their non-profit jobs and school fundraisers to tennis clubs and private planes. It’s a lighthearted book that captures a slice of New York society, a guilty pleasure that also feels like a sociological text, punctuated with very particular references to restaurants, preschools, nightclubs, and other pillars of urban life in 2023.—C.S.
The Kingdom of Prep: The Inside Story of the Rise and (Near) Fall of J.Crew by Maggie Bullock (March)
The Kingdom of Prep The Inside Story of the Rise and (Near) Fall of J.Crew
Maggie Bullock's cultural history is nominally the story of the rise and fall of one of America's most iconic retailers, but it's also a sociological text and a personal one, charting the brand's influence in popular, commercial, and deeply individual terms. Bullock, who has spent a large part of her career working in fashion magazines, is intimately acquainted with this terrain, not just as an editor, but as a former boarding school novice, transplanted to the Northeast from a decidedly unpreppy family in the South, forced to navigate the choppy social dynamics among her rollneck-sweater-wearing peers. Most everyone is familiar with the Jenna Lyon's era J. Crew aesthetic, which extended its influence to no less prominent spheres than The White House, but fewer people are familiar with the ups and downs of the brand before its hot pink, sequined phase. Bullock unravels it all in this lively, entertaining book.—C.S.
The Lost Wife by Susana More (April)
The Lost Wife
It’s fitting that The Lost Wife (Knopf), Susanna Moore’s first work of fiction in over a decade, should directly follow Miss Aluminum , her lustrous 2020 memoir; this book, like that one, tells the story of a woman continuously transformed by difficult relationships and sweeping changes of circumstance. In the new novel, Moore’s protagonist is Sarah, a 25-year-old wife and mother who leaves an unhappy home in Rhode Island for a fresh start in Minnesota, where white settlers have forged an uneasy peace with the Sioux people. Sarah’s new marriage to a respected (if repressed and opium-addicted) local doctor grants her money and status for the first time in her life—but when she’s abducted during the US-Dakota War of 1862, her loyalty to him, and to so-called civilized society in general, is tested. Even transposed onto the 19th-century American prairie, Moore’s voice is cool and sure, rich with detail.—Marley Marius
Independence Square by Martin Cruz Smith (May)
Independence Square: Arkady Renko in Ukraine
Martin Cruz Smith has been writing highly diverting detective novels starring the Moscow-based investigator Arkady Renko since his 1981 breakthrough Gorky Park . Each is fast-paced enough to read on a beach towel, but so full of detail about Russian life and politics that you leave equally edified and entertained. His tenth Renko mystery, the highly enjoyable Independence Square is set inside the tumultuous months leading up to the invasion of Ukraine. Renko takes on the case of a missing dissident girl, leading him from Moscow to Kyiv to the Crimean peninsula where menacing revanchist biker gangs dream of a return to Soviet times. Smith keeps his plot ticking along but makes room for affecting character work too. In Indepence Square the intrepid Renko must face a Parkinson’s diagnosis (Smith has lived with the disease since the ‘90s) along with a rising body count.—T.A.
The Half Moon by Mary Beth Keane (May)
The Half Moon
Keane’s 2019 novel Ask Again, Yes was a breakthrough: a best-selling portrait of a pair of hard-working Irish-American families in suburban New York whose lives intersect and fall apart. Her deft, satisfying fourth novel The Half Moon returns to a similar milieu and tells a more concentrated story: of Malcolm Gephardt, bar owner, forty-something, as personable as he is emotionally hapless, struggling to save his business and marriage—to an attorney wife who justifiably wants more. Keane writes in a sturdily realist vein–the vivid, domesticated world of Anne Tyler, of William Trevor, of Elizabeth Strout —but her insights into matters of the heart, longing, and restlessness especially, have astonishing delicacy.—T.A.
The Postcard by Anne Berest (May)
Anne Berest’s novel, The Postcard (Europa), falls loosely into the category of what we might call, in this country, autofiction. (The French probably have another term!) The protagonist, a Paris-based writer named Anne, receives a postcard from an anonymous sender inscribed only with the names of four relatives who died in Auschwitz. All this happened as well to the author. But what transpires after is a testament to the power of imagination and an investigation of empathy—because far from haunting her, Berest’s murdered relatives were largely absent from her life, in part because she had never fully considered her Jewish heritage. The Postcard goes on to spin a full and textured rendering of these relatives’ lives before they were cruelly killed, rendering the horrors of the Holocaust horrifically fresh. Once the novel has covered this ground, however, it becomes almost a modern-day thriller, circling in on the mysterious mail at its center. The Postcard is a somewhat strange book, not without the occasional infelicity of translation, almost experimental in its form. But even with all its layered complication, it is undeniably compelling.—C.S.
Traffic: Genius, Rivalry, and Delusion in the Billion-Dollar Race to Go Viral by Ben Smith (May)
Traffic: Genius, Rivalry, and Delusion in the Billion-Dollar Race to Go Viral
I devoured this gimlet-eyed account of painfully recent history–the dizzy rise of digital media rivals such as Buzzfeed and Gawker, companies fueled on human attention, rapacious for virality and traffic, a word that has totemic power in this well-paced narrative. Smith, former Politico star, former Buzzfeed News Editor, former New York Times media columnist, and now the editor-in-chief of Semafor, is well placed to tell the stories of ambitious, restless characters such as Buzzfeed’s Jonah Peretti and Gawker’s Nick Denton and the Faustian bargains they made on the way to enormous valuations, and equally precipitous turnabouts in fortune. Smith, of course, is a protagonist here too, having controversially decided to publish the notorious Steele dossier about President Trump at Buzzfeed when other outlets would not (an episode he recounts and reflects on here). I am not sure I wholly bought Smith’s conclusion—that the harnessing of virality by the likes of Buzzfeed led to the ubiquity of an increasingly remorseless right-wing populism. And yet the argument is made with force and gives this book the shape of a (irresistibly readable) tragedy.—T.A.
The Guest by Emma Cline (May)
Emma Cline's new novel—her first since her breakthrough debut 2016, The Girl s—is a grifter tale for the post-Anna Delvey era, a spellbinding literary rendering told from the perspective of the deceiver herself. Exiled from her quasi-boyfriend's Hampton's home, she convinces herself that all will be forgiven if she can simply hang on for the week and make an unbidden appearance at his weekend party. Like The Girls, and several of the stories in Cline's short story collection, Daddy , Cline is here investigating the power and peril of being female and young, telling a story in which who is being used, and for what, is slippery and ill-defined. Cline is a master of depicting the nefarious and atmospheric menace that often lurks adjacent to our most glittery environments, and she does so here with subdued but no less cutting aplomb.—C.S.
The Rachel Incident by Caroline O’Donohue (June)
The Rachel Incident
Caroline O’Donohue’s delightful novel, The Rachel Incident , is set in the Irish city of Cork in the earlyish 2010s, and is narrated by a woman looking back at her university years a decade later. But The Rachel Incident is as much an investigation of how the events of early adulthood shape us as it is about the events themselves; this is a sneakily philosophical book about growing up that offers its insights with charming, effervescent ease. And about those events—one can’t help but feel a bit bad for O’Donohue whose characters and plot will inevitably be compared to Sally Rooney . (One setup involving two college-age students and an older, glamorously intellectual couple bears uncanny resemblance to the setup of Rooney’s Conversations With Friends .) But O’Donohue is a unique and exciting talent, allowing her characters to puncture their solipsistic preoccupations with humor and self-awareness, even if it arrives after their glittering self-involved young adulthood has faded into the past. I galloped through this book, enchanted by its characters and its full-hearted vision of friendship. This is a book full of love, and it is extremely easy to love reading it.—C.S.
The Quiet Tenant by Clémence Michallon (June)
The Quiet Tenant
Clémence Michalon’s dark and juicy thriller is set in upstate New York. More precisely, it’s set mainly within the confines of a rural house where a serial killer is keeping a victim he has mysteriously decided to keep instead of kill—fun stuff! And yet, like Emma Donohue ’s Room , the novel takes this creepy and claustrophobic premise and spins a paradoxically expansive plot from it, told from the perspective of his victim, his daughter, and a local restaurant owner. The killer is presented not just as a monster but as a member of polite society—something of a stretch, but in Michalon’s assured telling, a compelling one.—C.S.
Little Monsters by Adrienne Brodeur (June)
Adrienne Brodeur knows her way around a family drama; in her first book, 2019’s Wild Game , she recalled abetting her own mother’s long affair with the married man who later became her stepfather. Now, with the novel Little Monsters (Avid Reader Press), Brodeur weaves a story dense with stinging secrets and simmering resentments, rooted in another context that she knows well: the manicured towns and wild fringes of Cape Cod. (Brodeur divides her time between the Cape and Cambridge, Massachusetts.) Unfolding between April and October of 2016—with that year’s looming election offering its own grim disquiet—the book centers on the Gardner clan, anchored by patriarch Adam, a formerly esteemed, now dangerously flailing marine biologist staring down the barrel of 70; son Ken, a tightly wound aspiring politician concealing great depths of childhood trauma; and daughter Abby, an oddball artist slowly emerging from her father and brother’s towering shadows. (Rounding out the central cast are Jenny—Abby’s best friend from RISD and Ken’s wife—and Steph, a police officer from Boston lingering on the periphery.) Set against the island’s rippling dune grasses and scrub pines, their narrative is as elegantly rendered as it is compulsively readable.—M.M.
The Imposters by Tom Rachman (June)
Tom Rachman’s bustling, globe-trotting new novel manages to be about a writer’s life ending, quietly, lonesomely–even as it bursts with characters, plots, humor, and drama. The writer is Dora Frenhofer, a prickly Dutch novelist in her seventies, living alone in London, who is determined to write another novel, a final act of creation in the face of the literary world’s indifference. The Imposters is that manuscript, a novel-in-stories interrupted by diary entries from Frenhofer herself, who can’t quite find her subject so she tries many—like a young man adrift in India (inspired by Dora’s lost brother), a linguist who lost her children in a horrific crime (a double of a London friend), a comedy writer in L.A. who longing for affection and company (Dora’s estranged daughter). Rachman, a former A.P. foreign-news editor, has a far-and-wide imagination, and his novel is ingenious: investing a protagonist at the twilight of her life with grand, restless vision.—T.A.
Young and Restless: The Girls Who Sparked America’s Revolutions by Mattie Kahn (June)
Young and Restless: The Girls Who Sparked America's Revolutions
Mattie Kahn's Young and Restless feels born of the current moment: a book about the Gretas and the Xiyes of the world, and the outsized role they seem to play in fixing our broken world. But it is also an interrogation into why we pay these captivating young women such attention—are young women seemingly over-represented in the climate fight because that cause is generally associated with the need to make altruistic sacrifice and women have traditionally been more associated with those tendencies? The book is also a look at why and how girls have been sidelined by history in the past—turned into objects cultural fascination while simultaneously being denied agency and power, especially in the historical record.—C.S.
Holding Pattern by Jenny Xie (June)
In Jenny Xie’s Holding Pattern, Kathleen Cheng has moved back home to Oakland, reeling from a devastating breakup and having dropped out of a graduate program. There she finds her Chinese immigrant mother somehow newly engaged to a tech entrepreneur. Signing up to be a cuddle therapist at a curious start-up moves Cheng to reconsider the relationships in her life. Driven by Xie’s irresistible voice, this is a warm and funny debut about longing and belonging, the mother- daughter bond, and finding intimacy in an increasingly alienated world.—L.W.M.
I Am Homeless If This Is Not My Home by Lorrie Moore (June)
I Am Homeless If This Is Not My Home
Lorrie Moore’s darkly funny and occasionally unhinged new novel is a bit of a collage, a jittering, syncopated series of narrative sequences that add up to something sneakily profound–a suggestion of an afterlife that could be more joyous than our own. It starts with a letter written by the owner of a 19th-century boarding house named Libby to her sister. For fans of Moore, whose slim short story collections of contemporary life— Self-Help, Like Life, Bark —are masterclasses of compression, Libby’s antique register (“A good scalawag sticks to the late-night cipher of her diary”) is startling, musical if knotty. (One senses Moore had fun writing these pages, which are about a handsome, flirtatious boarder who has come to stay.) Soon enough, though, the mood darkens as we leap forward to 2016: A high school teacher named Finn is visiting his dying brother Max in hospice in New York, preparing himself to say goodbye. As soon as you’ve settled into that mordant, bleakly funny sequence, it is interrupted again as Finn is called back to his midwestern home where his ex-girlfriend has committed suicide. This is Lily, who dominates the second half of this book as a decaying zombie. Are you still with me? If you’re new to Moore this is perhaps not the book of hers to start with but over nearly a 40-year career, she has more than earned the loyalty of her fervent fans. This lunar, screwball novel is brief and unexpectedly powerful in its meditations and riffs on love and purgatory as it swerves and skids toward an offbeat finish.—T.A.
After the Funeral and Other Stories by Tessa Hadley (July)
After the Funeral and Other Stories
Ghosts of the short story masters—Alice Munro, William Trevor, Katherine Mansfield among them—haunt the wonderful new collection from Tessa Hadley, After the Funeral and Other Stories . Hadley published her first novel just 20 years ago. Since then we’ve been treated to a steadily growing body of work—eight novels and four collections in total—all of it astonishing in its consistency. Hadley writes graceful domestic narratives, generally set in England—stories of daughters and wives and widows and sisters and lovers, whose lives are upended by emotional reversals. What’s not captured in any summary is how gripping her work is. In the title story, a mother and two daughters find their way after the death of their husband and father, while a love affair with a prosperous local doctor upends their domestic equilibrium. In "Dido's Lament" an unsteady encounter between two former lovers ends in an especially unsparing way. "Funny Little Snake" conjures extraordinary tension from the rivalry between a young wife named Valerie—who is all middle-class propriety—and the shambolic bohemian Robyn, with a nine-year-old girl caught between them. The quality of suspense and satisfaction in Hadley’s stories—quiet, patient, exquisitely wrought—is miraculous.—T.A.
The Last Ranger by Peter Heller (July)
The Last Ranger
What could be more companionable than a suspenseful novel set in Yellowstone and starring a sturdily capable park ranger (Ren) who drives a truck, loves a flat white, and is determined to protect the wolves, elk, foxes, and bears from tourists and poachers alike? Peter Heller’s sixth novel, The Last Ranger (Knopf), is a lovingly written mystery populated by wildlife, militiamen, and starring a mid-30s loner who can’t help but fall for an expert wolf researcher named Hilly. Heller draws a spirit of romance from the Montana landscape even as he keeps his plot ticking along. When Hilly is nearly killed by a deliberately laid poacher’s trap, Ren must untangle the motives of a group of locals, driven by revenge or rebelliousness or simply a common desire to escape into the wild.—T.A.
The Spider by Lars Kepler (July)
Some readers fill their summers with narratives of love and romance; others need a serial killer to pass the time. Fresh from Sweden, The Spider (Knopf) is the latest thriller from Lars Kepler (the pseudonym for a best-selling husband-wife team), and like Kepler’s other breathless procedurals, it stars the preternaturally brilliant detectives Joona Linna and Saga Bauer. In The Spider, they’re on the trail of an elusive killer who sends eerie figurines and cryptic riddles before striking. Everything is turned up to 11 in Kepler’s novels, which are wry, fast-moving, and ever so slightly perverse. A beach read for the dark-hearted, The Spider is vivid, wicked fun.—T.A.
The Quickening: Creation and Community at the Ends of the Earth by Elizabeth Rush (August)
The Quickening: Creation and Community at the Ends of the Earth
Elizabeth Rush’s The Quickening is one part memoir, one part reporting from the edge—think Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction —a book that feels as though it was written from the brink. In this case, the extreme scenario is literal: Rush, a journalist, joins a crew of scientists aboard a ship headed for a glacier in Antarctica that is, like much of the poles, rapidly disappearing. The book brings the environmental crisis into a personal sphere, asking what it means to have a child in the face of such catastrophic change. Threaded throughout this intimate investigation are the stories of the scientists and crew, each with their own take on the challenges they are facing. Rush writes with clarity and precision, giving a visceral sense of everything from the gear required to traverse an arctic landscape to the interior landscape of a woman facing change both global and immediate.—C.S.
Learned by Heart by Emma Donohue (August)
Learned by Heart
Inspired by the real correspondence and (extensive) diaries of Anne Lister—an English landowner often dubbed “the first modern lesbian”—and her erstwhile lover Eliza Raine, Learned By Heart (Little, Brown and Company) is Emma Donoghue’s richly imagined novelistic account of a 19th-century love affair. (Donoghue, the Booker Prize–winning author of Room , has also produced several significant works of historical fiction, including 2016’s The Wonder , recently adapted for Netflix.) Raine, the Madras-born daughter of an English surgeon, first meets the rule-flouting, Latin-spouting Lister at their small boarding school. With time, the intimacies of isolated schoolgirls yield to full-tilt desire. That first fire eventually sputters, but not without leaving behind some beautiful embers.—M.M.
The Fraud by Zadie Smith (September)
Zadie Smith ’s searingly original sixth novel, The Fraud, is also her first foray into historical fiction. Set in 1873, some 40 years after Britain’s Slavery Abolition Act, it masterfully depicts post-emancipation Britain as it ruptures along fault lines of class and race. At its center are the real-life figures of William Ainsworth, a successful and prolific, if hopelessly bloviating author (and something of a rival to Charles Dickens), and Ainsworth’s cousin’s widow, Eliza Touchet, who serves as his housekeeper and sometime lover. Just as you think the novel might be a Victorian comedy of manners—and it is certainly very funny in parts—Smith introduces Andrew Bogle, a former slave who is now the key witness in a controversial trial of fraudulent identity that gripped England in 1873. As Bogle unfurls his past to Touchet in a chophouse over a hot meal, the whole rancid history of England’s involvement with the slave trade—its plantations steeped in human misery and blood—comes crashing to the fore like a rush of blood to the head.—Zing Tsjeng
Omega Farm: A Memoir by Martha McPhee (September)
Omega Farm: A Memoir
Martha McPhee ’s spirited and ruthlessly honest memoir, Omega Farm, begins with a familiar COVID scenario: a daughter sheltering in place with her aging mother (and her husband and kids) on a rural, densely forested family farm, thinking it’s just a temporary measure. But McPhee finds herself stuck, not just by the pandemic, but by the needs of her dementia-stricken mother and those of the hopelessly neglected property—and by her own whirlpool of memories. McPhee describes her 1970s childhood, which was presided over by her mother, her Gestalt therapist stepfather, and her nine siblings as a kind of bohemian chaos, where boundaries were crossed in the name of freedom. There’s a darkness to these recollections, and McPhee’s willingness to reckon with them and with the needs of the shambolic property form the memoir’s hypnotic narrative. McPhee’s adventures in forestry are as involving as her unearthing of family secrets.—T.A.
Loved and Missed by Susie Boyt (September)
Loved and Missed
Susie Boyt ’s Loved and Missed (New York Review Books) is a disarming and heartrending little book—little in the sense that the scale is small and the text less than 200 pages. It is the story, essentially, of a grandmother raising her granddaughter when her addict daughter relinquishes parental control. Ruth—the grandmother—is proud, exacting, strong, insecure, and damaged; she pours all this into raising the baby, Lily, who grows up under her watch. Ruth saves Lily, but her granddaughter returns the favor, giving her love and purpose. Like a painterly miniature, Loved and Missed contains a wide-ranging emotional landscape within its precise and intricate scenes. Boyt packs her writing with such intensity it is sometimes difficult to read; there’s no filler here, just the soaring and plunging sensations that come along with unrelenting love—and what could be a bigger topic than that?—C.S.
How I Won a Nobel Prize by Julius Taranto (September)
How I Won a Nobel Prize
Julius Taranto’s razor-sharp debut, How I Won a Nobel Prize (Little, Brown), comes with an intriguing premise: Helen, a prodigiously talented graduate student, decides to follow her professor and mentor after he is booted from their university following a sex scandal. Their destination is an institute for “canceled” academics on an island off the coast of Connecticut, where a protest movement aiming to bring the high-flying academic pariahs to their knees has taken root. That might sound like the start of a clunky cancel culture diatribe, but Taranto’s compelling dissections of moral gray areas and nail-bitingly tense passages on Helen’s superconductivity experiments make the novel bracingly clever. A viciously funny page-turner with plenty of surprises up its sleeve.—Liam Hess
The Vaster Wilds by Lauren Groff (September)
The Vaster Wilds
Lauren Groff has long been fascinated by stories of female survival, and in her new novel, The Vaster Wilds (Riverhead), she places her protagonist in extreme circumstances: an early period of the Jamestown colony, when famine decimated almost the entirety of that settlement. Our heroine flees to the surrounding wilderness, where, by wits and tenacity, she manages to maintain a tenuous purchase on life. The Vaster Wilds is a page-turner with a built-in engine: What will she have to do to survive? Inspired by the language of Elizabethan English, the book takes a minute to metabolize. But once you slip into its rich rhythms, it’s an engrossing and rewarding journey.—C.S.
The Secret Hours by Mick Herron (September)
The Secret Hours
Spy novelists are often hailed as successors to the late John le Carré. Mick Herron with The Secret Hours (Soho Crime), his teemingly complex story of the British Secret Service, rife with post-Brexit infighting and festering Cold War secrets, earns the comparison. The novel has exciting set pieces and plenty of cloak-and-dagger maneuvering, but what elevates it is Herron’s clear-eyed portrait of state power, in which lowly civil servants joust with formidable MI5 leaders who may, in turn, be toppled by spies who have long ago come in from the cold. Amid his careful plotting Herron manages to be acidly funny too, a quality fans of his best-selling Slough House novels (adapted by Apple TV+ as the terrific series Slow Horses ) know well.—T.A.
Roman Stories by Jhumpa Lahiri (October)
Jhumpa Lahiri ’s Roman Stories (Knopf) is a delectable, sun-washed treat: a series of tales set in and around the Italian capital, told from the perspective of natives, expats, migrants, and other transplants. When a city invites you in—with all its alluring splendor—who ultimately gets to lay claim to it? Lahiri wears that geopolitical question lightly, enveloping the reader in birthday parties and summer heat waves; the adrenaline of teenage delinquents and the anxieties of nonnas keeping a watchful eye; flings that are mere flights of imagination and real, life-transforming affairs. Like Lahiri’s two most recent books, this collection was written in Italian and translated for an English audience, and the stories have the beating heart of the city itself, a place of magnificent decay and vibrant, varied life. —C.S.
Vengeance Is Mine by Marie NDiaye (October)
Vengeance Is Mine
The unsettling Vengeance Is Mine (Knopf) from Marie NDiaye, winner of France’s prestigious Prix Goncourt, has the magnetism of a thriller and the mysteriousness of an existential riddle. Maître Susane, a lawyer of middling success in Bordeaux, is asked by the husband of an imprisoned woman to defend her. What has she done? Murdered her three children—an unimaginable crime that NDiaye allows to sit in the background of her storytelling like an ominous dream. What concerns NDiaye’s heroine is a flickering memory from her child- hood that involves the defendant’s husband, a passive-aggressive relationship with her Mauritian housekeeper, a sense of rejection by her parents, and her too-modest car. This is a novel of unraveling certainties and of a middle-class life encroached upon by nightmares. You may not fully unlock its mysteries—it’s slim, a good length for a reread—but you won’t be able to put it down.—T.A.
Let Us Descend by Jesmyn Ward (October)
Let Us Descend
Let Us Descend (Scribner), the latest novel from Jesmyn Ward —the virtuosic author of 2011’s Salvage the Bones and 2017’s Sing, Unburied, Sing, both winners of the National Book Award for Fiction—takes its title from a passage in Dante’s Inferno, verses of which Ward’s protagonist, an enslaved teenager named Annis, can hear through the door as her white half-sisters sit for their lessons. It resonates: Working in her sire’s house feels distinctly like hell—dark, endless, full of dangers—the only grace, Annis’s fierce bond with her mother, Sasha. Yet after Sasha is sold, and Annis herself is sent on a harrowing walk from the Carolinas to Louisiana, she descends to yet another circle, enduring the searing loneliness and fresh terrors of life on a sugar plantation. The novel is not for the faint of heart, but Annis’s story, told in Ward’s musical prose, is nothing short of epic, magical, and intensely moving.—M.M.
Sonic Life by Thurston Moore (October)
Sonic Life: A Memoir
In 2015, Kim Gordon ’s memoir, Girl in a Band , gave Sonic Youth fans a tantalizing glimpse into the group’s past—but a fractured one. Gordon’s book was written in the aftermath of her divorce from her bandmate Thurston Moore and the breakup of the group after decades of defining a beautifully angular, frequently dissonant art-house, post-punk sound. Girl in a Band , powerful and personal as it was, felt hurt and a little angry, even withdrawn. Now comes Moore’s exuberant and widescreen memoir, Sonic Life , a book that details Sonic Youth’s New York City origin story in a fascinatingly fine-grained way—and fans will devour every page. Moore is a music obsessive, a Connecticut kid who came to Manhattan in the 1970s to talk his way into Max’s Kansas City and CBGB’s to gawk at punk bands, and his account of those years is meticulous, romantic, and transporting. Sonic Life packs in seemingly every gig, every night out, every record Moore saved up for and bought as he moved to the East Village and eeked out an existence in a downtown scene that was evolving by the day. It’s a vivid recollection of a lost world, a feral, scuzzy Manhattan where artists and musicians and fans were mixing and colliding and getting fucked up and trying new things. Moore would eventually meet Gordon , Lee Ranaldo, and Steve Shelley and they would tour and make records as Sonic Youth that would change music forever. That road is well mapped here; the demise of his marriage and the breakup of his band is not. Sonic Life is withholding in its own way, a book that can’t seem to face the unhappy endgame of a band that meant so much to so many.—T.A.
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What to read this autumn: 2023’s biggest new books
Sara Pascoe’s new novel, rare Terry Pratchett, memoirs from Barbra Streisand and Britney Spears, plus the essential reading on today’s hot button topics – all the releases to look out for
Historical delights Zadie Smith’s The Fraud (Hamish Hamilton) kicks off a strong season for historical fiction. Also in September, AK Blakemore follows her acclaimed The Manningtree Witches with a darkly exuberant novel about one man’s insatiable hunger. Set in revolutionary France, The Glutton (Granta) is inspired by contemporary reports of a peasant who would eat anything, from dead rats to forks; and explores poverty, desire and social chaos in thrilling prose. Look out too for Lauren Groff’s wilderness-survival novel The Vaster Wilds (Hutchinson Heinemann), set in colonial America, as an English servant girl goes on the run in a strange new land; and the epic North Woods by Daniel Mason (John Murray), focusing on one patch of New England soil over four centuries and weaving a Cloud Atlas-style narrative of humanity under pressure and nature under threat.
Bestselling crime and spies September means the annual offerings from Britain’s big three. Richard Osman’s elderly amateur sleuths get a fourth outing in The Last Devil to Die (Penguin), the latest in his Thursday Murder Club cosy crime series, as the worlds of art forgery and drug dealing collide. The Running Grave (Little, Brown), the seventh Cormoran Strike novel by JK Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith, sets the continuing romantic tension between her detective duo against an investigation into a religious cult in Norfolk. And in The Secret Hours (John Murray), Mick Herron takes a busman’s holiday from his Slough House series about washed-up MI5 agents. A historical inquiry into the secret service uncovers dodgy goings on in the “spooks’ zoo” of post-Wall 90s Berlin; it’s pitched as a standalone, but fans will enjoy joining the dots as Herron adds new layers to his shadow world of compromise and betrayal. Meanwhile, Stephen King’s prolific late flowering continues with a new outing for his detective Holly Gibney, chasing down serial killers in Holly (Hodder & Stoughton, Sept).
Prize winners return Jesmyn Ward is feted for her visceral narratives of racial inequality in today’s US. With Let Us Descend (Bloomsbury, Oct), she looks back to the era of slavery, in the story of a girl’s forced march across America after she is sold by her white slaver father. Mike McCormack follows Goldsmiths winner Solar Bones with the “metaphysical thriller” This Plague of Souls (Canongate, Oct), as a man returns to a mysteriously empty home. Nobel laureate JM Coetzee’s The Pole and Other Stories (Harvill Secker, Oct) is led by a novella about a pianist’s infatuation. And Anne Michaels, known for the multi-award-winning Fugitive Pieces, returns with Held (Bloomsbury, Nov), which spans generations in the aftermath of the first world war.
The cult classic “If it weren’t such a pleasure to read, I’d say it was an instrument of torture.” You can see why Ottessa Moshfegh is a fan of Dinah Brooke’s pitch-black 1973 novel Lord Jim at Home (Daunt, Oct). A nihilistic satire on upper-class Englishness and emotional violence, it’s shocking and brilliant.
Dystopian visions In Julia (Granta, Oct), Sandra Newman opens out the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four by looking at that novel’s events from a female point of view. From Julia’s life in a women’s dormitory through her affair with Winston Smith and torture by the Thought Police, on to a meeting with Big Brother himself, it’s a fascinating reflection on totalitarianism as refracted through Orwell’s times and our own. Prophet Song (Oneworld), Paul Lynch’s horribly convincing portrait of Ireland falling under fascist control, has already been longlisted for the Booker; while The Power author Naomi Alderman takes a very different approach in November with The Future (4th Estate, Nov), an explosive tech-thriller about love and survival at the end of the world.
T wisted fairytales Margaret Atwood recently described Mona Awad as her “literary heir apparent”. (Of Awad’s BookTok sensation Bunny , Atwood remarked: “You think, ‘She’s not going to go there … yes, she is.’”) Rouge (Scribner, Sept) plays with horror and humour in a surreal, gothic tale about a mother-daughter relationship that is also a biting satire on the beauty industry.
Translation highlights David Diop follows At Night All Blood Is Black with Beyond the Door of No Return (translated by Sam Taylor, Pushkin, Oct), again drawing on historical sources, here to illuminate the slave trade through the story of a French botanist in 18th-century Senegal. The Postcard by Anne Berest (translated by Tina Kover, Europa, Oct), which uncovers the stories of her ancestors killed in Auschwitz, has been a bestseller in France. Meanwhile the Nobel-tipped Jon Fosse, Norway’s “Beckett of the 21st century”, publishes A Shining (translated by Damion Searls , Fitzcarraldo, Nov), following a man’s metaphysical journey through a dark wood; and Karl Ove Knausgård continues his new series with The Wolves of Eternity (translated by Martin Aitken, Harvill Secker, Oct).
The mythic retelling “Goddess, sing of the cataclysmic wrath / of great Achilles …” Six years ago Emily Wilson became the first woman to translate Homer’s Odyssey; her lean retelling of the companion epic of war and destruction The Iliad appears in September from Norton.
Uncovered Terry Pratchett A Stroke of the Pen (Doubleday, Oct) assembles early short stories by the late Discworld creator, written under a pseudonym for newspapers in the 70s and 80s and only discovered after superfans combed through the archives. Expect comic fantastical fragments riffing on everything from cave people to Father Christmas.
The one to make you laugh In the funny and deeply relatable Weirdo (Faber, Sept), standup Sara Pascoe brings her quirky observational comedy to the story of a young woman navigating the trials of life – love, money, purpose – while trying to seem normal.
The queer history Drawing on documents and images from real-life pioneers, the hugely ambitious Blackouts by Justin Torres (Granta, Nov) is an intimate, playful account of an old and a young man talking; but it builds into a rich, poetic reclamation of cultural inheritance.
Elegant autofiction In Open City and Every Day Is for the Thief , the Nigerian-American writer and photographer Teju Cole has built up a wide-roaming, groundbreaking body of work. In Tremor (Faber, Oct), a west African professor working in the US considers the meaning of art and storytelling in the face of a brutal past and violent present.
Alternative world-building Golden Hill author Francis Spufford spins a sideways entertainment with Cahokia Jazz (Faber, Oct), a murder mystery set in a version of 1920s America. Cahokia was a Native American city in the centuries before European contact; here it lives on into the age of gangsters and speakeasies, a melting pot of drama and possibility.
Magical worlds for children Katherine Rundell took a break from children’s fiction to publish her effervescent biography of John Donne ; now she begins a fantasy series in the vein of Narnia and His Dark Materials with Impossible Creatures (Bloomsbury, Sept), set around a hidden archipelago where the animals we consider myth – griffins, unicorns, kraken – live and thrive. Meanwhile, the first in an epic fantasy trilogy from Kiran Millwood Hargrave, In the Shadow of the Wolf Queen (Orion), celebrates magic, nature and adventure.
Immersive YA The epistolary novel Yours from the Tower by Sally Nicholls (Andersen, Sept) explores the hopes, struggles and first loves of three friends at the end of the 19th century, who have left boarding school for very different lives.
The big graphic novel The creator of Ghost World , Daniel Clowes, returns in October with Monica (Cape), one woman’s life assembled through a kaleidoscope of stories and genres.
Out-of-this-world nature writing Samantha Harvey is a beautiful stylist; in Orbital (Cape, Nov) a group of astronauts look down on our fragile Earth. It’s a slim, profound study of intimate human fears set against epic vistas of swirling weather patterns and rolling continents.
And if you only have one hour … From the short stories in Walk the Blue Fields to her stunning novella Foster, Claire Keegan is known for Tardis-like narratives that are bigger on the inside. In 2021, Small Things Like These , a tale of compassion and indifference in an Irish community, became the shortest book shortlisted for the Booker. In September a new story, So Late in the Day (Faber), gets a standalone publication. The memories of a man over one evening as he looks back on a failed romance, it illuminates individual limitations and misogyny across Irish society.
The months leading up to Christmas are typically when famous actors and musicians spill the beans in books. Among the A-listers putting pen to paper this autumn is Barbra Streisand, whose memoir My Name Is Barbra (Century, Nov) will look back at her six-decade career spanning stage, screen and the recording studio. The book remains firmly under lock and key, but promises to be “frank, funny, opinionated and charming” as she traces her path from her Brooklyn childhood to international fame.
The actor Patrick Stewart’s pre-fame story is one of extreme sadness and hardship: growing up in poverty in Mirfield in West Yorkshire, he was the son of a soldier who returned from the second world war with PTSD that would manifest in violence towards his wife. In Making It So (Gallery, Oct), Stewart poignantly recalls those early years as well as his first forays in theatre, his long and recently reprised stint as Captain Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation and late-career superstardom via the X-Men franchise.
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Werner Herzog’s Every Man for Himself and God Against All (Bodley Head, Oct), translated by Michael Hofmann, recounts the film-maker’s impoverished childhood in a Bavarian village where the family had to make a loaf of bread last a week and the children went without shoes in the summer. Herzog goes on to chronicle his early jobs herding cows, fishing for squid and working as a rodeo clown before rising to become a celebrated director of films including Grizzly Man , Fitzcarraldo and Rescue Dawn.
There have been plenty of books written about Britney Spears, including Heart to Heart, which the singer co-wrote with her mother in 2000. But her autobiography The Woman in Me (Gallery, Oct) promises a new level of candour as it covers not just her childhood and early years of fame but the controversial conservatorship that placed her father in control of her medical and financial affairs in 2008, and which was terminated after a sensational court hearing two years ago.
Sly Stone, the funk supremo behind Everyday People, Family Affair and I Want To Take You Higher, has joined forces with journalist and author Ben Greenman for the memoir Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) (White Rabbit, Oct). The book chronicles Stone’s early life as a musical prodigy, his rise to fame in Sly and the Family Stone and his gradual descent into cocaine addiction and destitution. As his friend Questlove notes in the foreword: “Sly has lived a hundred lives and they are all here.”
Sonic Life (Faber, Oct) will see Thurston Moore looking back at his career with Sonic Youth and the sounds and scenes that shaped him, while in Scattershot: Life, Music, Elton and Me (Octopus, Sept), lyricist Bernie Taupin discusses, among other things, his creative partnership with Elton John and his move to Los Angeles in the mid-1970s.
In the debate around the South African athlete Caster Semenya , her biological identity and her right to compete in international tournaments, one voice has often been missing: hers. In The Race to Be Myself (Merky, Oct) the double Olympic champion finally makes herself heard as she reflects on her rural beginnings and early running career, the shock at learning of her hyperandrogenism (meaning she has no womb and naturally elevated testosterone levels) and her treatment at the hands of the press and sporting bodies.
The Taiwanese-American author and New Yorker contributor Hua Hsu’s Pulitzer prize-winning Stay True (Macmillan, Sept) is finally publishing in the UK. A portrait of Hsu’s friendship with a college friend who died tragically young, it is a richly observed examination of grief, being an outsider and the healing power of art. In the melancholy Father & Son (Picador, Sept), the Soft City author Jonathan Raban , who died at the start of this year, reflects on his relationship with his army captain father, and tells the intertwined stories of his father’s war years, as revealed in his letters to Raban’s mother, and his own recovery from a life-changing stroke.
Lastly, in the essay-length The Young Man (Fitzcarraldo, Sept), translated by Alison L Strayer, the Nobel prize-winning French author Annie Ernaux recounts her affair with a student 30 years her junior when she was in her 50s. Their relationship prompts the author to recall moments from her own youth and to reflect, acutely and without sentimentality, on memory and the passing of time.
If you read one book about ...
AI The Coming Wave: Technology, Power, and the 21st Century’s Greatest Dilemma (Bodley Head, Sept) by Mustafa Suleyman Suleyman is one of the co-founders of DeepMind, the British startup that was snapped up by Google in 2014 and whose mission is to develop artificial general intelligence, the kind of AI that most resembles the human brain. So, he knows whereof he speaks, and that makes his message all the more sobering. Suleyman believes that massive transformational change – the wave of his title – is now inevitable, and that there is only a narrow path for humanity to tread between catastrophe and authoritarian dystopia. This book sets out what we need to do to avoid either.
History Emperor of Rome (Profile, Sept) by Mary Beard Mary Beard’s regular book-length forays into ancient Roman culture include her 2015 bestseller, SPQR , and 2021’s Twelve Caesars, about the enduring influence of the empire’s rulers in art. While Emperor of Rome attempts to answer grand questions about those rulers – where did their power come from and what did it consist of? – it also drills down into their daily lives, fly-on-the-wall style. We are given snapshots of the emperor “at home, at the races, on his travels”. But the portrait also includes the people who helped keep the show on the road, from wives to jesters, slaves and soldiers, as well as the ordinary citizens who wrote in asking for help with their problems. Culture Opinions: A Decade of Arguments, Criticism, and Minding Other People’s Business (Corsair, Oct) by Roxane Gay In the 10 years since her breakout collection of essays, Bad Feminist, cultural critic Roxane Gay’s razor sharp intellect has ranged far and wide: from police violence to gay pride, from the Roseanne reboot to why she hates the beach. She has interviewed Madonna , Janelle Monae , Nicki Minaj and Pamela Anderson. Opinions is a new collection of the best of her nonfiction writing, all powered by a dry wit and penetrating insights into how society works, and who it works for.
Politics What Went Wrong With Brexit: And What We Can Do About It (Canongate, Sept) by Peter Foster The rollercoaster of the last few years has seen a rash of “setting the record straight” book deals from turfed-out politicians. Boris Johnson’s still doesn’t have a publication date, but this autumn sees Nadine Dorries’s The Plot, about his downfall, alongside unlikely shelfmate Theresa May, who has written about political corruption in The Abuse of Power. For a less axe-grinding take, and one that gets to the issues underlying so much of the recent chaos, try Peter Foster’s What Went Wrong With Brexit. Now the FT’s public policy editor, he was a balanced voice at the Telegraph where he covered Europe during the negotiations, and here presents prognosis and prescription for Britain’s Brexit-related woes.
Science Eve: How the Female Body Drove 200 Million Years of Human Evolution (Hutchinson Heinemann, Oct) by Cat Bohannon A sprawling survey of the evolution of women’s bodies over 200m years, Cat Bohannon’s deeply researched book covers everything, as the author herself puts it, “from tits to toes”. Partly, it’s a bid to correct the “male norm” – the fact that scientists default to male bodies, be they mouse or human, when studying things in the lab. That means that models of normal functioning and disease all skew male, as do the treatments that are then developed. But this isn’t just a book for women: Bohannon invites you to “think of yourself: to think about where your body comes from, how the evolution of biological sex shapes it – whether you identify as a man, a woman, or another gender”.
Music Listen: On Music, Sound and Us (Canongate, Oct) by Michel Faber Faber is best known for his novels Under the Skin and The Crimson Petal and the White, but he’s been incubating a different kind of book for years, one about his greatest passion, music. The result is a series of finely tuned observations formed from personal memories, nuggets of neuroscience and interviews with musical luminaries, in which he attempts to explain “what really happens when we hear, and what’s really going on when we listen”. The answer is a combination of biology and biography. Sounds simple enough: Faber’s kaleidoscope-like book explains why it really isn’t.
Explore all the featured books at guardianbookshop.com . Delivery charges may apply.
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Now Showing, an Ancient Spell Book for the Dead
An exhibition at the Getty reveals the Egyptian Book of the Dead, long relegated to a dark vault, in the light of day.
A piece of the Papyrus of Pasherashakhet, dated roughly to 375 B.C. to 275 B.C., is part of several ancient Egyptian funerary scroll fragments collectively known as the Book of the Dead. Credit... The J. Paul Getty Museum
By Franz Lidz
- Published Oct. 31, 2023 Updated Nov. 1, 2023
In the mid-19th century, a British antiquarian named Sir Thomas Phillipps announced his intention of owning one copy of every book in the world. A professed “vello-maniac,” Mr. Phillipps, a quarrelsome baronet, bought manuscripts indiscriminately from booksellers with whom he engaged in ceaseless battle. Soon there was hardly room in his moldering Cotswolds mansion for his second wife, Elizabeth, who eventually moved to a boardinghouse in Torquay, an English working-class seaside resort. By the time Mr. Phillipps died in 1872, he had amassed an unparalleled collection of 60,000 documents and 50,000 printed books.
His descendants auctioned off his private library bit by bit, and by the late 1970s his collection of 19 ancient funerary scroll fragments — each a part of what is today collectively known as the Egyptian Book of the Dead — was acquired by the New York book dealer Hans P. Kraus. Together with his wife, Hanni, Mr. Kraus donated the lot to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles in 1983. For the last four decades, the writings, which span a period from around 1450 B.C. to 100 B.C., have been stowed in a vault, fragile and easily damaged by light. On Nov. 1, an exhibition at the Getty will present seven of the most representative pieces to the public for the first time. The show will run until Jan. 29.
Rita Lucarelli, an Egyptologist at the University of California, Berkeley, said, “I am glad that the Getty finally decided to disclose and exhibit what has been until now an almost forgotten part of its glorious collection of antiquities, but that contains in fact important specimens of one of the most famous ancient Egyptian corpus in the world.”
You only live twice
A standard component in Egyptian elite burials, the Book of the Dead was not a book in the modern sense of the term but a compendium of some 200 ritual spells and prayers, with instructions on how the deceased’s spirit should recite them in the hereafter. Sara E. Cole, the curator of the Getty exhibition, called the incantations a kind of supernatural “travel insurance” designed to empower and safeguard the departed on the long, tortuous journey through the afterlife. Unlike today’s insurance policies, no two copies were the same.
Despite the book’s title, it was life rather than the afterlife that preoccupied ancient Egyptians, who lived for 35 years on average. “Your happiness weighs more happily than the life to come,” reads one inscription from the New Kingdom period, which lasted from 1550 B.C. to 1069 B.C.
“The texts are a means to assuage your mortal anxiety and control your destiny,” said Foy Scalf, an Egyptologist at the University of Chicago and the editor of the exhibition catalog.
Indeed, the original name for the text translates to the “Book of Coming Forth By Day.” In 1842 the German scholar Karl Richard Lepsius published a translation of a manuscript and coined the name Book of the Dead (das Todtenbuch), which reflected longstanding fantasies about the nature and character of Egyptian civilization. The numbering system he used to identify the various spells is still used today and figures prominently on the Getty’s exhibition panels.
Compiled and refined over millenniums since about 1550 B.C., the Book of the Dead provided a sort of visual map that allowed the newly disembodied soul to navigate the duat, a maze-like netherworld of caverns, hills and burning lakes. Each spell was intended for a specific situation that the dead might encounter along the way. For instance, Spell 33 was used to ward off snakes, which had an unsettling taste for chewing “the bones of a putrid cat.”
Without the right spells, you could be decapitated (Spell 43), placed onto a slaughter block (Spell 50) or, perhaps most humiliating of all, turned upside down (Spell 51), which would reverse your digestive functions and cause you to consume your own waste (Spells 52 and 53).
In a hellscape primed with booby traps and populated by some of antiquity’s most fearful imaginings, magic mattered. Among the spookier illustrations on display at the Getty are depictions of gods (the jackal-headed Anubis; the falcon-headed Horus) and monsters (Ammit the Devourer, a crocodile-headed hybrid of a lion and a hippopotamus).
“The reason that the creatures are terrifying is not to scare souls trying to access these places, but to keep out those who don’t belong there,” Dr. Scalf said. “Entering in among the gods is a very restricted thing.”
The intended destination was the realm of the gods and the safe haven of eternal paradise, a field of gently waving reeds that resembled an idealized version of the Egypt that the deceased had left behind. The lush landscape had field hands who helped each arrival sow, plow and harvest the grain that supplied sustenance for the gods .
“Not only are the dead worshiping and feeding the gods, but worshiping and feeding their deceased ancestors and even themselves,” Dr. Scalf said. “This isn’t servitude, this is pious work that shows your piety toward the gods.”
Having attained divinity, the deceased joined the sun god Re as he traversed the sky in a solar boat. At sunset, they crossed in the West and merged with Osiris, god of the netherworld, and assumed regenerative powers. Near dawn, Re would fight the giant serpent Apep, lord of chaos, and emerge victorious in the East to complete an endless cycle of renewal and rebirth.
Scrolling at the Getty
Ownership of the Book of the Dead was largely limited to nobility, priests, courtiers and other patrons who could afford the extravagance. Individuals of high status would commission a scribal workshop to produce a customized selection of spells that mentioned them by name.
Two of the four papyrus scrolls in the Getty show belonged to women named Aset and Ankhesenaset, both of whom were priestesses and ritual “singers of Amun” at the god’s temple in the Karnak complex of Thebes. The scrolls are tattered scraps, having been removed from tombs during an unregulated age of European colonialism and altered for the art market.
The oldest roll of papyrus in the Getty collection was the property of a woman named Webennesre and includes Spell 149, in which the deceased encounters 14 mounds in the netherworld, each with its own inhabitants. “Spells were inscribed on nearly every available space in burials,” Dr. Scalf said. Some were painted on the interior and exterior of sarcophagi, others were imprinted on shrouds, statuettes, amulets and “magical bricks” embedded in the walls of tombs.
Another of the exhibition’s highlights are three thin linen strips that were inked with spells and then wrapped around mummified bodies as part of the ritual embalming process. “The bandages brought the sacred texts in direct physical contact with the deceased, enveloping and protecting them,” Dr. Cole, the show’s curator, said. “That made the relationship of people to the Book of the Dead even more personal.”
Once part of longer textiles applied to the cadavers of two men named Petosiris, the wrappings were torn off during the 19th century and sold in pieces. The bodies themselves may have been pulverized and sold as paint pigment (mummy brown) or medicine (mummia, a powder found on apothecary shelves throughout Europe).
The show’s coup de théâtre is a papyrus rendering of the Hall of Judgment made for Pasherashakhet, a “doorkeeper” who served the moon god Khonsu at Karnak. The vignette detail shows an episode from Spell 125, in which the deceased appears before Osiris and a tribunal of gods while his heart — believed to be the site of the intellect — is weighed by Anubis, keeper of the kingdom of the dead.
On one side of the scale is the heart; on the other, the feather of the goddess Maat, the embodiment of truth and justice. If Pasherashakhet’s heart equals the weight of the feather, he will be admitted into the next world. If the heart is too heavy, meaning his sins outweigh his good deeds, the crouching, open-mouthed Ammit the Devourer will consume and consign him to a second, and lasting, death.
In the accompanying hieroglyphics, Thoth, the ibis-headed god of writing, announces the result: “His heart is safe upon the scale without fault found.”
Pasherashakhet has passed the test. It is time to join Re and climb aboard the solar boat.
There is a spell for that, too.