These are independent reviews of the products mentioned, but TIME receives a commission when purchases are made through affiliate links at no additional cost to the purchaser.
The most exciting new books coming in February are easy to love and hard to put down. In Get The Picture, journalist Bianca Bosker shows why art is worth obsessing over. Shayla Lawson sets out to decolonize her life in her globe-trotting memoir How to Live Free in a Dangerous World. Notable authors like Sloane Crosley, Tommy Orange, and Leslie Jamison return with releases that are considered some of the most anticipated of the year. And poets DéLana R. A. Dameron and Phillip B. Williams’s debut novels Redwood Court and Ours, respectively, should make their authors ones to watch for years to come.
Here, the 13 best books to read this month.
Alphabetical Diaries, Sheila Heti (Feb. 6)
With Alphabetical Diaries, Sheila Heti takes apart a decade’s worth of her personal journals and puts their sentences together from A to Z. The Canadian author known for experimentation started this reconstruction project in earnest in 2014 in hopes of identifying patterns and preoccupations in her personal writing. She believed that by loading 500,000 words from her old journals into an Excel spreadsheet and putting them in alphabetical order, she might be able to see herself in a new way. After making edits and cuts, Heti told the New York Times in 2022 that her latest release blurs the line between fact and fiction. Whether it should be considered a memoir or something else entirely, Alphabetical Diaries looks at how we see ourselves and how we’d like to be seen.
Get the Picture, Bianca Bosker (Feb. 6)
Seven years after award-winning journalist Bianca Bosker released Cork Dork, her expertly reported deep dive into the wine business, she’s back with Get the Picture, a gripping and often hilarious investigation into the art world. To understand the inner workings of the fine art scene, Bosker goes full Tom Wofe and embeds herself within the community. She stretches canvas until her fingers are raw while interning at a downtown New York City gallery, schmoozes with billionaire collectors at Art Basel Miami, guards master works at the Guggenheim, and lets performance artist and “ass influencer” Mandy allFIRE sit on her face. It’s through these outrageous experiences that Bosker learns to cultivate her artistic “eye” and appreciate the beauty that surrounds her.
How to Live Free in a Dangerous World, Shayla Lawson (Feb. 6)
Shayla Lawson’s How To Live Free in a Dangerous World is Eat, Pray, Love for a new generation. In 2021, Lawson was diagnosed with Ehlers–Danlos syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that causes chronic pain. With hope and humor, they explore how their race, gender identity, and disability affect how they see the world and how the world sees them. It is by traveling to Indiana and Italy, and countless locales in between, that they begin to rethink their sexuality, identity, and mortality. How to Live Free in a Dangerous World is a poignant look at how Lawson learned to liberate themselves from the things that held them back.
More From TIME
Redwood Court, DéLana R. A. Dameron (Feb. 6)
Poet DéLana R. A. Dameron's tender debut novel, Redwood Court, follows a teenage girl in the 1990s. As the baby of her family, Mika Tabor has spent much of her life in the house on the titular cul-de-sac in an all-Black middle class neighborhood in Columbia, S.C. There, she grew up listening to her grandparents and parents’ stories of making it in the United States. Her family’s triumphs and struggles become her guide to navigating racism, sexism, and poverty as she comes of age at the start of a new millennium. Dameron is a native of Columbia—and her knowledge of the community shines through this portrait of a Southern Black family doing all they can to hold on to the American dream.
The Book of Love, Kelly Link (Feb. 13)
Pulitzer Prize finalist and short story master Kelly Link’s long awaited debut novel, The Book of Love, begins with best friends Laura, Daniel, and Mo realizing that they’ve been dead for nearly a year. The teens have been resurrected by their high school music teacher, an unlikely spiritual guide who offers them an opportunity to return for good if they can complete a series of magical tasks. With each new challenge, the three get closer to solving the mystery of their deaths and reclaiming the lives they left behind. As it becomes clear that there are darker forces at play, The Book of Love turns into a heart-wrenching exploration of love and loss.
The Fox Wife, Yangsze Choo (Feb. 13)
Inspired by Chinese and Japanese folklore, Yangsze Choo’s The Fox Wife follows a hard-boiled private detective named Bao who is tasked with uncovering the identity of a woman found dead in an alleyway in 1900s Manchuria. His investigation soon leads him to Snow, a mom seeking vengeance for her daughter, who also happens to be a shape-shifting fox. Bao follows Snow on a trek from northern China to Japan in hopes of catching a predator, not knowing he may just become her prey in this enchanting tale of murder, revenge, and the power of a mother’s love.
Smoke and Ashes, Amitav Ghosh (Feb. 13)
In Smoke and Ashes, Amitav Ghosh offers a kaleidoscopic look at how opium shaped the global economy. The celebrated Indian author first became interested in the addictive drug’s impact on the world while writing his ambitious Ibis trilogy, a series of historical novels set in the years leading up to the First Opium War, a conflict between Britain and Imperial China over the opium trade. With exquisite prose and thorough reporting, Ghosh lays out how the narcotic secretly built some of the world’s biggest corporations and reveals his own family’s connection to the “opium-industrial complex.” By laying out the parallels between the early opium epidemic in 19th century China and the current opioid crisis in the U.S., Smoke and Ashes offers a sobering reminder of how history is doomed to repeat itself when we choose to forget it.
Ours, Phillip B. Williams (Feb. 20)
Poet Phillip B. Williams’s transcendent debut novel Ours is a surreal saga set in the antebellum South that looks at the complex nature of freedom. After a conjurer named Saint brings destruction to the plantations of Arkansas, she creates a safe haven for formerly enslaved people and their families located just north of St. Louis. For decades, Saint is able to protect the community from the evils of the world, but soon the people living there begin to worry that they’re experiencing a different kind of subjugation.
Splinters, Leslie Jamison (Feb. 20)
Leslie Jamison’s new memoir, Splinters, offers a candid and perceptive look at divorce, motherhood, and personal reinvention. A year after her daughter was born, The Recovering authorends her marriage with a husband who has grown cold and resentful. With unbridled vulnerability, she writes of being a child of divorce, the challenges of dating as a single mom, and the overwhelming nature of juggling childcare and working. Splinters is a window into how difficult it is to pick up the pieces of one’s own life while caring for another.
The American Daughters, Maurice Carlos Ruffin (Feb. 27)
Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s second novel, The American Daughters, is an enthralling tale of a secret resistance movement run by Black women in pre-Civil War New Orleans. After the death of her mother, a rebellious enslaved girl named Ady finds a mentor in Lenore, a free African American woman who runs the Mockingbird Inn, an integrated establishment in the French Quarter. But, as Ady soon discovers, the Mockingbird doubles as the headquarters for “the Daughters,” a network of female spies trying to defeat the Confederacy.
Dead Weight, Emmeline Clein (Feb. 27)
In her debut Dead Weight, Emmeline Clein writes candidly of her own struggles with disordered eating, knowing that she is not alone. With compassion and rage, she wrestles with the root causes of the ongoing eating disorder epidemic in the U.S., which has seen an uptick in anorexia, bulimia, and disordered eating among young women in recent decades. Across 12 deeply researched essays, she calls out Kim Kardashian for “impl[ying] the customer’s natural form is a problem to be solved” with her influential company SKIMS, and analyzes the role pro-eating disorder content on social media plays in the current crisis. Dead Weight is by no means an easy read, but a sobering and necessary look at a pervasive problem in American culture.
Grief Is For People, Sloane Crosley (Feb. 27)
In 2019, novelist and essayist Sloane Crosley suffered two losses within the span of a month that would become inextricably linked: her New York City apartment was robbed and her closest friend and mentor died by suicide. (To top it all off, six months later, the COVID-19 pandemic would leave the whole world in mourning.) Crosley’s debut memoir, Grief Is For People, is a sardonic and lyrical meditation on grief and a mournful eulogy for a complicated friend that offers a powerful lesson in how to navigate life’s most painful moments with humor and grace.
Wandering Stars, Tommy Orange (Feb. 27)
Its expansive timeline makes Tommy Orange’s Wandering Stars both a prequel and a sequel to his breakout 2018 debut, There There. And much like its best-selling predecessor, Wandering Stars is a crushing and breathtaking exploration of Indigenous history and identity. With his latest, the Cheyenne and Arapaho author traces the effects the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, an institution dedicated to the eradication of Native history, culture, and identity, has had on three generations of one family. The novel begins with Star, a young survivor of the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre, being forced to assimilate, only to pick up 144 years later in Oakland, CA where his descendent, There There protagonist Orvil Red Feather, struggles with addiction and poverty. Wandering Stars is an empathetic look at the cost of generational trauma.
More Must-Reads From TIME
- Meet the 2024 Women of the Year
- Greta Gerwig's Next Big Swing
- East Palestine, One Year After Train Derailment
- In the Belly of MrBeast
- The Closers: 18 People Working to End the Racial Wealth Gap
- How Long Should You Isolate With COVID-19?
- The Best Romantic Comedies to Watch on Netflix
- Want Weekly Recs on What to Watch, Read, and More? Sign Up for Worth Your Time
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org