5 new books to read in May

Laura Adamczyk and William Hughes
·7 min read

Every month, a deluge of new books comes flooding out from big publishers, indie houses, and self-publishing platforms. So every month, The A.V. Club narrows down the endless options to five of the books we’re most excited about.


Pop Song: Adventures In Art And Intimacy by Larissa Pham (May 4, Catapult)

We’re big fans of essays that combine cultural criticism with memoir, and Larissa Pham’s Pop Song especially sings when the writer turns her eye to art and pop culture. In her debut book of nonfiction—memoir by way of interconnected essays—Pham interweaves a recounting of her life thus far with her thoughts on James Turrell, Anne Carson, Frank Ocean, and Agnes Martin (extra points for not mentioning Maggie Nelson in “Blue,” Pham’s essay on Martin). Through her sensitive, curious telling, Pham lobbies for the way in which art can help people learn more about themselves.

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Personhood by Thalia Field (May 5, New Directions)

Personhood begins with a photograph: a black-and-white image of an easel and about two dozen blobs of paint scattered about the canvas, some connected by vertical lines, suggesting a bouquet of flowers or a blooming tree. Touching one of the blobs is a paint brush held by the unmistakable tip of an elephant’s trunk. In her latest cross-genre work, Thalia Field explores the relationship between humans and animals, in particular the former’s often ill-advised insistence on their own narratives about the world’s fauna, like the pathetic fallacy. In one section, a wildlife sanctuary, full of injured, often self-mutilating parrots, acts as a microcosm for the domestication of wild animals that are ill-suited to a life among humans. Or rather, it’s the humans that are ill-suited to them. Field writes, “Looking at these birds exposes our shame, not theirs.”


Press Reset by Jason Schreier (May 11, Grand Central)

Why do video game studios die? It’s the question at the heart of Jason Schreier’s new Press Reset, which attempts—through oral histories and carefully indexed original reporting—to fish a thesis out of the tales of ego, bad luck, and rampant profit-seeking that killed off the teams behind some of the most popular and successful video games (Deus Ex, Bioshock: Infinite) of all time. As with his earlier Blood, Sweat, And Pixels, Schreier’s clear prose highlights the human costs of these rampant shutdowns, without losing track of gaming’s most absurd burnouts—most notably the long history of how baseball star Curt Schilling’s video game maestro ambitions transformed him into a bitter and sworn enemy of the tiny state of Rhode Island.


The Atmospherians by Alex McElroy (May 18, Atria)

The wellness industry, social media influencers, men’s rights activists, cancel culture—each would be enough to fill a book all by itself, but Alex McElroy takes them all on in their satirical debut novel, The Atmospherians. The plot is set off when the protagonist, a successful twentysomething wellness influencer, gets canceled and doxxed after a disturbing confrontation with an abusive troll. She loses her waitressing job and is about to get kicked out of her apartment when an old friend proffers her a new opportunity: to start a cult that rids (white) men of their toxic masculinity. It’s a pretty wild premise—and a risky one, given all the hot-button topics at play—and we’re intrigued to see what McElroy does with it.


Heaven by Mieko Kawakami (May 25, Europa)

With her bestselling novel Breasts And Eggs, published in English in 2020, Mieko Kawakami attracted both praise and controversy in her native Japan for her frank portrayal of women’s lives. From the sounds of it, her latest novel to be translated into English takes a no less unvarnished outlook, this time at violence in contemporary society. Heaven’s 14-year-old protagonist is the victim of cruel bullying who soon strikes up a friendship with a girl at school who’s also the target of incessant teasing. Rather than fight back, the two decide that the best way to overcome their bullies is to actively succumb to their torment, no matter how severe. This one sounds like it’ll be about as dark as we like it, which is to say very.


More in May: Second Place by Rachel Cusk (May 4, Farrar, Straus & Giroux); Yearbook by Seth Rogen (May 11, Crown); In Defense Of Ska by Aaron Carnes (May 4); Everybody: A Book About Freedom by Olivia Laing (May 4, W.W. Norton); Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead (May 4, Knopf); The Penguin Book Of The Modern American Short Story, edited by John Freeman (May 4, Penguin); Living In Data: A Citizen’s Guide To A Better Information Future by Jer Thorp (May 4, MCD x FSG); Films Of Endearment: A Mother, A Son And The ’80s Films That Defined Us by Michael Koresky (May 4, Hanover Square); Secrets Of Happiness by Joan Silber (May 4, Counterpoint); Monkey Boy by Francisco Goldman (May 4, Grove); Notes From Childhood by Norah Lange (May 4, And Other Stories); The Touch System by Alejandra Costamagna (May 4, Transit); Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon (May 4, MCD x FSG); Things We Lost To The Water by Eric Nguyen (May 4, Knopf); The Secret Talker by Geling Yan (May 4, HarperVia); Sunshine Girl: An Unexpected Life by Julianna Margulies (May 4, Ballantine); The Secret To Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel (May 4, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt); The Mysteries by Marisa Silver (May 4, Bloomsbury); A Lonely Man by Chris Power (May 4, Farrar, Straus & Giroux); Donna Summer’s Once Upon A Time by Alex Jeffery (May 6, 33 ⅓, Bloomsbury); Roxy Music’s Avalon by Simon Morrison (May 6, 33 ⅓, Bloomsbury); Duran Duran’s Rio by Annie Zaleski (May 6, 33 ⅓, Bloomsbury); The Rock Eaters by Brenda Peynado (May 11, Penguin); While Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams (May 11, Doubleday); That Summer by Jennifer Weiner (May 11, Atria); Notes On Grief by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (May 11, Knopf); King Kong Theory and Vernon Subutex 3 by Virginie Despentes (May 11, FSG Originals); There’s A Revolution Outside, My Love, edited by Tracy K. Smith and John Freeman (May 11, Vintage); Brat: An ’80s Story by Andrew McCarthy (May 11, Grand Central); Boyz N The Void: A Mixtape To My Brother by G’Ra Asim (May 11, Beacon); The Seventies: The Decade That Changed American Film Forever by Vincent LoBrutto (May 12, Rowman & Littfield); Let The Record Show: A Political History Of ACT UP New York, 1987-1993 by Sarah Schulman (May 18, Farrar, Straus & Giroux); Punch Me Up To The Gods by Brian Broome (May 18, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt); The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green (May 18, Dutton); Tante Eva by Paula Bomer (May 18, Soho); Goblin: A Novel In Six Novellas by Josh Malerman (May 18, Del Rey); Highway Blue by Ailsa McFarlane (May 18, Hogarth); On Violence And On Violence Against Women by Jacqueline Rose (May 18, Farrar, Straus & Giroux); Among The Hedges by Sara Mesa (May 18, Open Letter); Nervous System by Lina Meruane (May 18, Graywolf); Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga (May 18, Graywolf); The Book Of Not by Tsitsi Dangarembga (May 18, Graywolf); Good Behaviour by Molly Keane (May 18, NYRB); Dead Souls by Sam Riviere (May 18, Catapult); A Door Behind A Door by Yelena Moskovich (May 18, Two Dollar Radio); Phase Six by Jim Shepard (May 18, Knopf); Languages Of Truth: Essays 2003-2020 by Salman Rushdie (May 25, Random House); A Bathroom Book For People Not Pooping Or Peeing But Using The Bathroom As An Escape by Joe Pera (May 25, Forge Books); You People by Nikita Lalwani (May 25, McSweeney’s); Don’t Applaud. Either Laugh Or Don’t (At the Comedy Cellar) by Andrew Hankinson (May 31, Scribe)