Look, we love a new hardcover as much as the next book-lovers, but come summer, it’s nice to have a smaller, more flexible book to wedge into the pocket of a carry-on bag or cram in a purse. In addition to being lightweight, paperbacks are lighter on the wallet, too — which makes it a guilt-free experience to load up at the bookstore, right?
This week we’re taking a look at what booksellers call “backlist” — the not-so-new but just-as-fabulous titles we want to make sure you don’t miss. And to help you find something that suits your taste, we’ve paired each paperback suggestion with one of the wildly popular current hardcovers our readers have been talking about. Consider this a fill-in-the-blank exercise: If you love _____, you’ll also like _____.
Have a serious case of Crawdads fever? Then let us suggest The Marsh King’s Daughter. You’ll find a similarly strong sense of place (indeed, a similar place itself — except the marsh in this story is located in the rugged upper peninsula of Michigan). Readers who enjoyed the murder mystery aspect of Owens’ novel will like the fast-paced manhunt that drives Dionne’s story. Bonus: Both have savvy, outdoorsy female protagonists navigating complicated relationships to their families.
Perhaps you’ve just torn through City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert — currently taking up residence in beach bags all over the world — and you’re hungry for more. If you were totally absorbed by the story of Gilbert’s hard-working theater folks trying to make it in New York show business around the time of the Depression, you’ll likely enjoy this classic memoir by playwright Moss Hart. Ann Patchett says, “Nothing tops Act One. This is one of my favorite books of all time.”
Inspired by an actual reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida — and the abuse inflicted upon the boys there — Colson Whitehead’s acclaimed new novel, The Nickel Boys, will captivate and haunt you. On that note: “haunting” is a fitting description of Jesmyn Ward’s National Book Award-winning novel Salvage the Bones — about a desperate group of New Orleans siblings in the days before Hurricane Katrina. File both under “devastating and necessary.”
Normal People follows a young couple through the throes of first love in mid-2000s Ireland. The Great Believers weaves an ensemble story of friendship and heartbreak during the1980s AIDS crisis in Chicago. Yet common themes — growing into yourself and learning which people mean the most to you — transcend these novels’ differences in time and place. Fun fact: Both Normal People and The Great Believers are headed to the small screen as television adaptations.
Nell Freudenberger’s Lost and Wanted proved to be just the complex, thoughtful novel brainy readers wanted this spring. If you were drawn in by the mysterious messages and relationships between women across time and space, you might also try A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. The Venn diagram of these books’ ingredients overlaps when it comes to both friendship and physics, and both are deeply engrossing.
Helen Phillips’ new surreal speculative fiction, The Need, is earning raves left and right for its fearless, mind-bending take on motherhood. If you can’t get enough of Phillips’ eery, supernatural storytelling, now might be a great time to go on a Margaret Atwood binge. Or check out a lesser-known but equally smashing jewel, Clare Beams’ short story collection from a few years ago called We Show What We Have Learned.
The buzz built like crazy leading up to last month’s publication of Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women, an in-depth journalistic look at three women’s lives (specifically their sex lives) over nearly a decade in America. Although Love and Trouble is the story of just one woman — the memoir’s author, Claire Dederer — it travels through some similar territory, taking an unflinching look at female sexuality and desire.
Pretty much everyone on the Parnassus staff fell hard for Ocean Vuong’s debut novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, and customers have, too. If you were both transported and grounded by this story, told in the form of a letter to a mother who’ll never read it, try Lisa Ko’s debut The Leavers. While not quite as lyrical as On Earth (how many books even come close?), The Leavers also explores the love of a mother for her son. It’s especially relevant, still, for how it depicts the effects of immigration policy and family separation in particular.
Madeline Miller’s Circe took the modern world by storm with its fresh, feminist re-telling of a classic story. This particular recommendation may be a little on-the-nose, but just in case: If you haven’t also read Miller’s The Song of Achilles, you’ll want to do so immediately. While Circe is so powerful it feels like a singular work, its predecessor measures up on every level.
In the same vein, we could recommend that everyone who loved Ruth Reichl’s new book, Save Me the Plums, simply pick up a copy of her previous culinary memoirs. And you should — they’re lovely! But for a different voice and just as fascinating a story, don’t miss Edward Lee’s Buttermilk Graffiti. It won the 2019 James Beard Award for Best Book of the Year.
More Paperback Love!
Many of our staff favorites from last year are now available in travel-friendly paperback editions:
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Severance by Ling Ma
Calypso by David Sedaris
Whiskey When We’re Dry by John Larison
The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon
My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite