Mother Mais Oui — 21 Great New Reads for Spring Time

If this week in Nashville is any indication, April showers bring … May showers. And some flowers, too. More importantly for our purposes, May brings another whopping batch of handpicked staff picks to go along with those flowers that have, indeed, begun to pop open everywhere. The occasion of this post also represents your very last chance to get an extra-special gift for that mom in your life: a handwritten card from Ann Patchett! Sign her up for a 6- or 12-month membership to our First Editions Club, and Ann will write her a note. Simple as that. More about FEC, along with this month’s pick, are down at the bottom of this post. But first, some recommended reading!

Recommended by Karen

Whereabouts: A novel Cover ImageWhereabouts: A novel

Set in Rome, this slim novel portrays the interior life of a single woman in middle age who chooses to live a life on her own. What is the price paid when you live a solitary life?

Recommended by Karen

Nives Cover ImageNives

By Sacha Naspini, translated by Clarissa Botsford

After finding her husband face down in the pig pen after a fatal stroke, Nives finds that Giacomina, a chicken, is her only comfort. When one night Giacomina is accidently hypnotized by a television commercial, Nives frantically calls her old friend, the town’s veterinarian to figure how what to do. The conversation they have ends up being about a lot more than a chicken.

Recommended by Karen

Project Hail Mary: A Novel Cover ImageProject Hail Mary: A Novel

The author of The Martian gives us another entertaining read. Ryland Grace is the unlikely choice to save humanity, but when he finds out he is the only one left alive on his interstellar mission that is exactly what he must do.

Recommended by Karen

Ariadne: A Novel Cover ImageAriadne: A Novel

I’ve become obsessed with novels featuring women in Greek Mythology. Here Jennifer Saint expands the stories of the princesses of Crete, Ariadne and Phaedra, the sisters of the Minotaur and daughters of Minos. It is so fun seeing how Saint weaves new tales of these women through the old.

Recommended by Lindsay

Such a Fun Age Cover ImageSuch a Fun Age

One of my favorite novels of 2020 is now out in paperback! Such a Fun Age opens with Emira, a young Black woman who nannies for a white family, being accused of kidnapping the toddler she’s watching over. From there, things only get more complicated. This debut has some of the sharpest writing on race, class and gender in America that I’ve read in a long time.

Recommended by Elyse

Secrets of Happiness Cover ImageSecrets of Happiness

A beautifully written story of life’s complexities, told from the perspective of six very different but related characters. Silber’s book, only 288 pages, uses an economy of words that made a big impact on this reader!

Recommended by Chelsea

Dial A for Aunties Cover ImageDial A for Aunties

Mix an accidental murder in with Crazy Rich Asians and you get Dial A for Aunties. This was the hilarious, endearing read that I needed.

Recommended by Sarah

Things We Lost to the Water: A novel Cover ImageThings We Lost to the Water: A novel

This debut novel is about a mother and her two sons who flee Vietnam, leaving their husband and father behind, and settle in New Orleans in the late 1970s. Nguyen powerfully describes the immigrant experience, shifting family dynamics, and loss as we follow the family through several decades. He approaches LGBTQ issues and racism with care and poignant insight. I only wish I had more time with these characters!

Recommended by Sissy

The Absolutist: A Novel by the Author of The Heart's Invisible Furies Cover ImageThe Absolutist: A Novel

A gay English boy too young to fight manages to join the army during the Great War. He’s haunted for the rest of his life by events before and during the fighting. I could not put this novel down.

Recommended by Ben

Thirst Cover ImageThirst

By Amélie Nothomb, translated by Alison Anderson

This super-slim French novella is told in the voice of a first-person, corporeal Jesus, opening with people complaining how they’ve been worse off since he worked miracles for them. The prose is irreverent and comedic, while also humanizing and philosophical. In fewer than 100 pithy and wise pages, Nothomb meditates unforgettably on desire, loneliness, friendship, death, connection.

Recommended by Hannah

The Dictionary of Lost Words: A Novel Cover ImageThe Dictionary of Lost Words: A Novel

Calling all word and language lovers! This spellbinding historical fiction debut has gorgeous writing, dynamic characters and a memorable storyline. Based on the true events of creating the Oxford English Dictionary, this is an empowering novel that will forever make you ponder our words and how they came to be.

Recommended by Ben

The Everlasting: A Novel Cover ImageThe Everlasting: A Novel

An ambitious and strikingly original book I loved is out in paperback! Four lives that play out in four time periods of Rome subtly interlock, exploring the different ways desire shapes and haunts our human hearts. Also, a heartbroken and relatable Satan interjects throughout the book, which is a tad weird but quite entertaining and thought-provoking.

Recommended by Sissy

The Girl Who Died: A Novel Cover ImageThe Girl Who Died: A Novel

The Turn of the Screw gets a modern twist. I had no idea what was going to happen and I read all night to find out. Rural Iceand is a perfect setting for this chilling tale.

Recommended by Kathy

Zorrie Cover ImageZorrie

Zorrie’s life of hard work, sacrifice and living close to the land spans the 20th century. You feel her joys, sorrows, struggles and triumphs as she lives a life of quiet dignity. This wonderful book reminded me of Carol Shields’ The Stone Diaries and the novels of Willa Cather.

Recommended by Steve

Crying in H Mart: A Memoir Cover ImageCrying in H Mart: A Memoir

Michelle Zauner (aka the musical mastermind behind Japanese Breakfast) confronts the death of her mother and its aftermath. I’m so grateful for how this book walks through grief not as a way to leave it behind, but as a way to remember its exact shape. I love its funny, self-deprecating and wise observations, and its difficult beauty.

Recommended by Sissy

You Can Do Anything, Magic Skeleton!: Monster Motivations to Move Your Butt and Get You to Do the Thing Cover ImageYou Can Do Anything, Magic Skeleton!: Monster Motivations to Move Your Butt and Get You to Do the Thing

By Chuck Wendig, illustrated by Natalie Metzger

Is your mom … different? Does she roll her eyes when something is too sentimental? Does she like a little gross humor here, a few motivational (not cheesy) quotes there? This is the perfect Mother’s Day gift for her.

Recommended by Patsy

Useful Delusions: The Power and Paradox of the Self-Deceiving Brain Cover ImageUseful Delusions: The Power and Paradox of the Self-Deceiving Brain

The host of the popular podcast Hidden Brain, Shankar Vedantan, adeptly demonstrates the hidden influences that shape our lives. This study of delusion, using case studies and other research, shows its effects on individuals, groups and societies, with particular attention to the placebo effect and cognitive dissonance. Anyone who’s been asking “How can they believe that?” will appreciate this engaging book.

Recommended by Sissy

The Unfit Heiress: The Tragic Life and Scandalous Sterilization of Ann Cooper Hewitt Cover ImageThe Unfit Heiress: The Tragic Life and Scandalous Sterilization of Ann Cooper Hewitt

Hewitt and her mother were locked in a years-long court battle after her mother had her sterilized against her will. What makes this story so fascinating is how the public’s ideas of reproductive rights change throughout Hewitt’s life. This is a timely and fast-paced read.

Recommended by Ben

Refugee: A Memoir Cover ImageRefugee: A Memoir

In this timely, direct book, Mbolela recounts his harrowing experiences fleeing political instability in the DRC, including crossing the Sahara Desert only to be marooned in Morocco for years. With a clear eye on the horrors female migrants face and the West’s role in propping up regimes that lead to such crises, this inspiring account sheds light on how far people will go for a chance at freedom, safety and opportunity.

Recommended by Becca

Why We Swim Cover ImageWhy We Swim

As someone who grew up on the coast, spending every summer as a lifeguard, water is the thing that I miss most in my day-to-day life. I miss seeing it, I miss hearing it, and I really miss swimming. This book (now out in paperback) is a celebration of water for and about people who, like me, are called to swim.

Recommended by Steve

I Am Not Trying to Hide My Hungers from the World (American Poets Continuum #185) Cover ImageI Am Not Trying to Hide My Hungers from the World (American Poets Continuum #185)

The first poem in this profound, sometimes daffy collection is titled “I Pump Milk Like a Boss,” and the very last word in this book is “need.” Between those two endpoints, Kendra DeColo does with the sacred and profane what few others can do, in poems that are as sacred and likely much more profane than any you’ll read this year.

View our virtual event with Kendra DeColo, in conversation with Ciona Rouse!

First Editions Club: May Selection

Secrets of Happiness Cover ImageSecrets of Happiness

Whenever I’m sure I know what a story is about, it turns out I’m wrong. Or I’m not wrong exactly, the book is about what I thought it was about, but it’s also about a hundred other things I never considered. I’m not just talking about novels here, I’m talking about life. And I have a real fondness for novels that operate more like life and less like … well … novels.

Welcome to Joan Silber’s Secrets of Happiness, which at first appears to be the story of Ethan, a young New York lawyer who discovers his father had a second family. And that is the story, but as the book unfolds it turns out to be so many other stories as well. Like life, Secrets of Happiness shows us our connections to people we never suspected were essential to our narrative.

You may wonder how Silber could improve on her last novel, Improvement, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award AND the PEN/Faulkner, and all I can tell you is I have no idea. That book was amazing, and this one is even better. I regard her as the great unsung genius of this literary age.

I’m betting you’re going to love it.

Yours in reading,
Ann Patchett

More about our First Editions Club: Every member receives a first edition of the selected book of the month, signed by the author. Books are carefully chosen by our staff of readers, and our picks have gone on to earn major recognition including the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the PEN/Faulkner Award. Plus, there’s no membership fee or premium charge for these books. Build a treasured library of signed first editions and always have something great to read! Makes a FABULOUS gift, too.