Love in all its many incarnations is, naturally, featured prominently in the best new books coming in February. In some selections, it’s an obvious theme; in others, more subtle. A new anthology, Anonymous Sex, tasks high-profile writers with sharing their best erotica, while From Hollywood with Love goes deep into that most maligned of movie genres, the rom-com. Other novels and memoirs, including by Charmaine Wilkerson and Alejandro Zambra, examine family love, self-love and love between friends. Here, the 10 best new books to read in February.
Other People’s Clothes, Calla Henkel (Feb. 1)
Calla Henkel’s claustrophobic debut novel centers on two American exchange students in Berlin who get caught up in a web of celebrity, paranoia and murder. The expats are renting an apartment from an eccentric novelist who they believe is watching them to source material for her next book—so they decide to put on a show. That includes hosting wild parties, a form of performance art that spins out of control. Other People’s Clothes is a gritty take on toxic female friendships, partly inspired by the time Henkel spent abroad right after Amanda Knox’s murder trial in Italy. Expect a slow burn that’s deliciously dark.
Anonymous Sex, Hillary Jordan and Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan (Feb. 1)
Authors Hillary Jordan and Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan assembled this anthology of fictional erotica by big-name writers: Rebecca Makkai, Mary-Louise Parker, Jason Reynolds, Téa Obreht and Louise Erdrich are among the contributors. But there’s a twist. No names are attached to the stories, leaving readers to wonder who wrote about sex in the afterlife and whose story is inspired by Rapunzel. There’s funny sex, revenge sex and senior sex, and tales of obsession, dominance and love. It’s hard to say what’s more entertaining: the guessing game or the stories themselves.
From Hollywood with Love: The Rise and Fall (and Rise Again) of the Romantic Comedy, Scott Meslow (Feb. 1)
Are you just a reader, standing in front of an author, asking him to evaluate the last 30 years of rom-coms? Journalist Scott Meslow grants that (Notting Hill-inspired) wish in From Hollywood with Love, a delightful new homage to films ranging from Pretty Woman to Crazy Rich Asians. In addition to trivia and interviews with directors and stars, Meslow thoughtfully examines how the genre has evolved and why it remains under-appreciated. The text is paired with striking black-and-white sketches of iconic movie scenes.
The Books of Jacob, Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Jennifer Croft (Feb. 1)
This sweeping novel by Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk was published in her native Poland in 2014. Now, the long-awaited English translation is here, weighing in at just under 1,000 pages. It centers on Jacob Frank, the charismatic and controversial religious leader behind the Frankist sect of Judaism in the 18th century. The Books of Jacob—an immersive and complex undertaking—spans two centuries, seven borders, five languages and three major religions. In a nod to Hebrew bookbinding, the novel is paginated in reverse, beginning on page 955 and ending on page 1.
In the Shadow of the Mountain, Silvia Vasquez-Lavado (Feb. 1)
Silvia Vasquez-Lavado was struggling with alcoholism, repression and abuse—so she started climbing mountains. Eventually, the former eBay executive became the first Peruvian woman to reach Everest’s peak, and the first openly gay woman to climb the highest mountain on each of the seven continents. In this remarkably candid memoir, she describes those experiences, and how they led her to self-acceptance, resilience and community. It’s an inspiring story that’s being adapted for film, with Selena Gomez set to portray Vasquez-Lavado.
Black Cake, Charmaine Wilkerson (Feb. 1)
In her debut novel, Charmaine Wilkerson unites two estranged siblings who must set aside their differences in the aftermath of their mother’s death. Eleanor Bennett leaves her kids a traditional Caribbean black cake and an eight-hour voice recording that reveals family secrets spanning decades and continents. What the kids discover alters their perception of their mother, and of themselves. Black Cake is a character-driven, multigenerational story that’s meant to be savored, just like a piece of Eleanor’s cake. It’s thought-provoking and poignant.
The Nineties, Chuck Klosterman (Feb. 8)
In the ‘90s, we traded landlines for cell phones, watched and rewatched Titanic and rocked out to Nirvana and Liz Phair. Ross Perot may have decided a presidential election, and O.J. Simpson—well, you know the story there. It was, Chuck Klosterman argues, the most significant shift in consciousness that humans have experienced in any decade yet. In The Nineties, Klosterman—whose previous books include But What If We’re Wrong? and Sex Drugs and Cocoa Puffs—examines the social, political and cultural history of the era with his signature wit. It’s a fascinating trip down memory lane.
Moon Witch, Spider King, Marlon James (Feb. 15)
Two years after opening his Dark Star trilogy with Black Leopard, Red Wolf, Marlon James returns to Africa in the much-anticipated second installment. Moon Witch, Spider King spins the story forward by focusing on women—specifically, Sogolon the Moon Witch, who’s 177 years old. The novel retells the adventures of the first book from Sogolon’s perspective, while examining her century-long feud with Aesi, chancellor to the king. James, who won the 2015 Man Booker Prize, has crafted an imaginative story that advances the trilogy in a satisfying way, deepening and expanding an already epic world.
Chilean Poet, Alejandro Zambra, translated by Megan McDowell (Feb. 15)
At the start of Chilean Poet, teenagers Gonzalo and Carla break up—but years later, following a chance encounter, reunite. By then, Carla has a young son, Vicente, and Gonzalo assumes the role of stepfather. Though the couple later split again, Gonzalo’s love of poetry leaves an impression, and the second half of the book explores Vincente’s own identity as a poet. Perhaps it will eventually help the two find their way back into each other’s lives.
When I’m Gone, Look for Me in the East, Quan Barry (Feb. 22)
Quan Barry’s lyrical new novel transports readers to Mongolia, where a crisis of faith is simmering between estranged twin brothers. Chuluun and Mun, who have starkly different relationships with Buddhism, nevertheless set out together to find the reincarnation of a great lama (spiritual teacher). Along the way, the brothers—who, in an interesting twist, can hear each other’s thoughts—try to reconnect with each other while coming to terms with their spirituality. Like Barry’s previous novel, We Ride Upon Sticks, this is a wholly original, enlightening read.
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