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By Hanif Abdurraqib
Poet and essayist Hanif Abdurraqib combines his lyrical gifts with his bottomless musical knowledge in this book about the legendary rap group A Tribe Called Quest. Part history and part love letter, it’s a unique kind of music book that will have you revisiting Midnight Marauders ASAP.
Hanif Abdurraqib Recommends: Hard Damage by Aria Aber
“I appreciate a book of poems where the speaker (and, by extension, the self) aren’t let off the hook by whatever other concerns the book is circling. But, even in that process, there’s a real generosity and warmth extended, balancing not only accountability to the always shifting world but also forgiveness.”
By Patrick Radden Keefe
In 1972 a widowed mother of 10 was murdered in Northern Ireland. No one knew who killed her—until now. Deftly fusing the breakneck pace of true crime with crazily in-depth reporting, this account of the Troubles and their ongoing legacy is the most gripping nonfiction read of the year.
Patrick Radden Keefe Recommends: A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves: One Family and Migration in the 21st Century by Jason DeParle
“In A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves, veteran New York Times reporter Jason DeParle uses a panoramic family saga to capture global migration in all its complexity. The reporting is astonishing. Jason DeParle has followed his characters for three decades, which allows him to render this fraught and timely subject in intimate, unforgettable human detail.”
By Valeria Luiselli
No matter your background, Valeria Luiselli will make the refugee crisis feel personal in this smart, poignant novel about a blended family that’s falling apart on a road trip to the Mexican-American border.
Valeria Luiselli Recommends: When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back by Naja Marie Aidt
“A brutal but also beautiful meditation on death that combines family archives and a chorus of literary voices, and with them composes an indelible ode to life.”
By Marlon James
Stick with us here: A hunter with a supernatural sense of smell must battle demons on his quest to find a missing boy, all while navigating his romantic feelings for a shape-shifting leopard. Such is the stuff of the first entry in Marlon James’s ambitious new Dark Star Trilogy. Inspired by the world of African mythology, Black Leopard, Red Wolf is an exciting new classic in the fantasy canon.
Marlon James Recommends: The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa
“What starts out as an elliptical take on loss becomes a darkly sinister warning that just because you can’t remember having something doesn’t mean it wasn’t taken from you.”
By Ben Lerner
Taking aim at toxic masculinity, Ben Lerner’s latest novel explores, in part, how American culture has twisted young men and created our contemporary political moment.
Ben Lerner Recommends: Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming by László Krasznahorkai
“I loved (and sometimes hated) László Krasznahorkai’s Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming—the outrageous, relentless, lyrical, and often very funny last book in the brilliant Hungarian’s quadriptych. No received idea is safe from his ruthless prose. Moments of beauty can be found among the wreckage.”
By Jenny Odell
As the pace of modern life accelerates and social media herds and monetizes our attention, artist Jenny Odell makes a compelling argument for opting out. A cultural critique in the trappings of self-help, How to Do Nothing will persuade you to take some much needed time for yourself.
Jenny Odell Recommends: Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino
“This book made me feel less alone in the Upside Down—and gave me a model for thinking through the seemingly unthinkable.”
By Jia Tolentino
The youth whisperer speaks. These nine new essays from 30-year-old New Yorker staff writer Jia Tolentino cover everything from her time on a reality-TV show to her experience with ecstasy, both religious and psychoactive. The collection further establishes her as a witty, incisive, and essential voice.
Jia Tolentino Recommends: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
“For my money, Ocean Vuong is the best writer of my generation, and as soon as I started reading On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous—and all the way through its sublime, pent-up conclusion, which reduced me to explosive sobs in my kitchen—I knew it would be my favorite novel of the year. Read it and you’ll understand what it means for a book to be a miracle.”
By Ocean Vuong
Written as a letter to the protagonist’s illiterate mother, the debut novel from this award-winning poet is an intimate account of a young Vietnamese immigrant’s struggles. Shining at the intersections of class, race, and sexuality, it’s guaranteed to move you.
Ocean Vuong Recommends: Lot by Bryan Washington
“This is a story collection that feels like a novel—not because the characters return throughout the book, but because Washington’s astute world-building creates an ever widening scope of Houston that imprints itself on the mind and the psyche. He has such an incredible skill at texturizing people and their histories through each story that the two elements feel consequential to each other. It’s a treat and an inspiration to witness. Anything he writes next will be a game changer for me.”
By David Wallace-Wells
The scariest book of the year, bar none. David Wallace-Wells maps out our shockingly short road to ecological apocalypse, paved with floods and pestilence and other assorted disasters so gruesome they’d have made Moses flinch.
David Wallace-Wells Recommends: No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg
“When I turned in my book last September, I was skeptical that dramatic political progress on climate change was even possible, since so little had been accomplished over the past few decades. We’re still moving far, far too slowly to avoid climate catastrophe, but Greta Thunberg’s book of speeches—and even more so, her incredibly inspiring turn as global warming’s Joan of Arc, leading millions of protestors into the streets all across the world—made me realize that my own political cynicism is just another form of naivete. And that climate change is much too important to ever give up on.”
By Taffy Brodesser-Akner
The New York Times staff writer (and former GQ correspondent) updates the marriage novel for our dating-app era, transforming the dark—and darkly hilarious—stuff of a modern separation into the book of summer 2019.
Taffy Brodesser-Akner Recommends: The Mastermind: Drugs. Empire. Murder. Betrayal. by Evan Ratliff
“The best book (among many, many great books) I read this year is Evan Ratliff’s The Mastermind: Drugs. Empire. Murder. Betrayal. It is the insane story, investigated within an inch of its life, of an internet drug lord and the years it took to bring him down. I read this with my heart in my throat—not just because of the violence and mystery, but because it made me jealous as a journalist (how’d he find that out?) and, though it is a true story, as a novelist.”
A version of this story originally appeared in the December/January 2020 issue with the title "Books of the Year."
Originally Appeared on GQ