Welcome to February, an in-between month for publishing: It isn’t the fall season or the holiday season, and it’s not quite spring, either, and beach season is still way in the distance. (I haven’t even gotten galleys of this summer’s Elin Hilderbrand yet.) There are lots of great books coming out—I’ll get to those in a minute—but why not take some time during this short month of short days to read a long classic? My husband is reading War and Peace—I recommend the Everyman’s Library edition, translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude, because it comes in three handy volumes—and I’m in the middle of E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime, reading along with my son’s high school English class. Every day’s mail brings more books I can’t wait to read, but sometimes it helps to take a step back and remind myself that great books don’t have an expiration date.
When I’m ready to turn to February books, I’m planning to read The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa (Avon, Feb. 4), a romance about a Latina wedding planner who falls in love with her former fiance’s brother. If you’re a romance reader, you’ll have been following along as the Romance Writers of America imploded recently—the situation is changing so quickly it’s almost impossible to write about—and even if you’re not, I recommend checking out some of the stellar romances being written by writers of color, who have been at the forefront of the fight for a more inclusive RWA. Our starred review of Sosa’s book says “the plot is classic ‘enemies to lovers’ and is executed perfectly….A captivating love story about two people who bring out the best in each other both professionally and personally.”
After that you might try Therese Anne Fowler’s A Good Neighborhood (St. Martin’s, Feb. 4): “When the Whitmans, a nouveau riche white family, move into a sprawling, newly built house next door to Valerie Alston-Holt, a black professor of forestry and ecology, and her musically gifted, biracial 18-year-old son, Xavier, in a modest, diverse North Carolina neighborhood of cozy ranch houses on wooded lots, it is clear from the outset things will not end well.” Our starred review calls it “a riveting, potentially redemptive story of modern American suburbia that reads almost like an ancient Greek tragedy.”
When I’m editing reviews, I often spend a lot of time with the novel under consideration, though of course I don’t have time to read the whole thing. One of the books I’ve been most looking forward to getting back to is Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (Grove, Feb. 11), about an alcoholic woman raising three children (Shuggie is the youngest) in Glasgow in the 1980s. Our reviewer compares it to Trainspotting, and it also reminded me of a Roddy Doyle novel in the way it evokes a late-20th-century working-class childhood. Our starred review says “You will never forget Shuggie Bain. Scene by scene, this book is a masterpiece.”
Jenny Offill fans, of which I am one, have been waiting six years for her follow-up to Dept. of Speculation, and it’s finally here. In Weather (Knopf, Feb. 11), we’re invited into the lively mind of a university librarian. Our starred review says “The tension between mundane daily concerns and looming apocalypse, the ‘weather’ of our days both real and metaphorical, is perfectly captured in Offill's brief, elegant paragraphs, filled with insight and humor. Offill is good company for the end of the world.” Sounds like perfect reading for the shortest month of the year.Laurie Muchnick is the fiction editor.