Are you getting tired of shoveling your driveway? Do you need a break from drinking hot chocolate? Would you like a little less holiday cheer, and a little more literary escape? Never fear: Bookish is here with this year’s must-read winter fiction. These far-ranging titles will take readers as far away as Norway and Nigeria, and tackle subjects as fascinating and diverse as bowling alleys and a highly contagious disease that puts victims into a dreaming state. Grab a cozy blanket and settle into your favorite reading nook: It’s going to be a bookish winter.
Milkman by Anna Burns
Milkman is the winner of the 2018 Man Booker Prize and is sure to be one of the season’s most talked-about novels. In it, readers travel back in time to the Troubles in Northern Ireland, where an unnamed young woman (who serves as the story’s narrator) is living quietly, reading books and spending time with her mother and siblings. A man named Milkman who has a reputation as a dissident begins following her, and she soon finds herself at the center of a swirl of rumors in her town. At such a tense historical moment, these events will have far-reaching repercussions for the narrator, her family, and Milkman.
On shelves: December 4
North of Dawn by Nuruddin Farah
Famed Somali novelist Nuruddin Farah tells the story of a husband and wife grappling with the aftermath of a tragedy in his new book North of Dawn. Gacalo and Mugdi are Somali and have lived happily in Oslo, Norway for many years. Not everyone in their family was content in Norway, however: Their son Dhaqaneh moved back to Somalia and immersed himself in radical Islam. Then, one day, Dhaqaneh kills himself in a suicide bomb attack at an airport. In the wake of the attack, Gacalo and Mugdi open their home to their son’s wife and two children. The new living situation is not an easy one to adjust to, and the whole family will struggle to navigate their grief and identity together.
On shelves: December 4
In a town on the Thames in the late 1800s, something strange is afoot at the local inn. A man staggers into the establishment, holding an apparently dead young girl in his arms. Inexplicably, the young girl begins to breathe again, and those gathered at the inn scramble to determine her identity and how she could have come back to life. Three different families are convinced that the girl is, in fact, one of their own. As this novel unfolds, readers will come to understand the lives of those families, the circumstances that took a young girl from each of them, and exactly what happened that night at the inn.
On shelves: December 4
Nigerian farmer Chinonso Solomon Olisa raises chickens for a living, and pours a lot of care and attention into looking after them—particularly since the death of his father. One day, he saves the life of Ndali, a woman contemplating jumping to her death from a bridge. Chinonso talks Ndali down, and before long, the two are in love. But there are obstacles to them being together: The two come from very different backgrounds, and Ndali’s family is less than pleased at the thought of Ndali marrying a poultry farmer. Chinonso decides to pursue an education to gain their respect, but in a cruel twist of fate, he is scammed and loses nearly everything. This far-ranging tale is being billed as a modern Odyssey, and we think you’ll enjoy it.
On shelves: January 8
In Santa Lora, California, an epidemic is underway. It starts on the local college campus before spreading to first responders, and then, to the town at large. Victims fall asleep and do not wake up despite showing extremely high levels of brain activity. This is the world into which Karen Thompson Walker plunges her readers in her new novel, The Dreamers. As the contagion spreads and the town scrambles to figure out what is happening and how to stop it, readers will peek into the lives of those who are trying—successfully or otherwise—to avoid becoming infected.
On shelves: January 15
Perhaps you, like so many other people, read “Cat Person” in The New Yorker in late 2017 and were both captivated and unsettled by it. If so, You Know You Want This is the perfect short story collection to pick up this winter. In one story, a couple ponders whether a parasite might be ruining their lives. In another, a man grapples with the pain of unrequited love. Another takes readers to a bachelorette party where characters marvel at the strangeness of the roles they play as adults. You Know You Want This seems poised to become one of the buzziest books of the season, and we know you won’t want to miss out. Check Bookish in January for an interview with Roupenian.
On shelves: January 15
In Chris Cander’s new novel, two paths cross over an old Blüthner upright piano. Katya first encounters the piano when she is a young child living in the Soviet Union. The piano is given to her, and she becomes an incredible musician by practicing on its keys. Life happens, however, and years later when she moves to California with her husband, the piano doesn’t make it to their new home. Instead, it eventually finds its way into the home of a 26-year-old named Clara. Clara doesn’t play, and in the midst of a tumultuous time in her personal life, she decides to get rid of the instrument. An acquaintance she makes while trying to sell the piano just might change her life.
On shelves: January 22
Dana Czapnik’s debut takes readers to the Big Apple in the 1990s, where a basketball-playing high school senior named Lucy Adler is grappling with life on the cusp of adulthood. She’s utterly infatuated with Percy, her basketball teammate, but he is completely unaware. She’s considering the kind of life she wants to live as an adult and New Yorker, and frequently consults her artist cousin Violet. In a starred review, Kirkus raved: “Coming-of-age in Manhattan may not have been done this brilliantly since Catcher in the Rye. That comparison has been made before, but this time, it’s true. Get ready to fall in love.”
On shelves: January 29
Lace up your bowling shoes, readers! In Elizabeth McCracken’s latest, you’ll travel to the town of Salford, Massachusetts, where a bowling alley is at the center of the community. The alley was opened by a mysterious and larger-than-life figure named Bertha Truitt who claims to have invented candlepin bowling. The town has loved to talk about Bertha ever since she first showed up (passed out in a cemetery) with her bowling ball. Bertha is a central figure in Salford, and years after her arrival, her sudden death leaves a gaping hole in town life. Her past was complicated, however, and determining who will inherit the alley just might unearth some secrets.
On shelves: February 5
A family takes a long road trip in this new novel from Valeria Luiselli. There are two parents and two children, and they are driving from New York to Arizona (specifically, the the land once inhabited by the Apache people). Along the way, they listen to news on the radio. There are reports that thousands of children are attempting to enter the United States. The family talks, they listen to an audiobook, and they begin to see the crisis unfolding around them as they drive closer and closer to the border. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly wrote of Luiselli: “Her superb novel makes a devastating case for compassion by documenting the tragic shortcomings of the immigration process.”
On shelves: February 12