The New Books You Should Read This Month
Florida gothic, 19th New York City's shadiest character and the history of fast food are the subjects of a few of our June book picks
Tis’ the season for reading on the beach, a blanket in the park, a hammock or anywhere outside, really. It’s June and that means summer, summer means lazy days, lazy days mean you have a little more time to pick up a few books. Thankfully, this sixth month of 2019 has way more than we deserve in terms of new books, from a new Southern gothic classic (albeit one that takes place in Florida, which some southerners try not to associate with), a poet’s new novel, the story of New York’s original gangster and the history of America’s fast food obsession.
Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett (June 4)
Florida: It’s the land of alligators, cocaine, grandparents, Cuban sandwiches, Disney World and, of course, Florida Man. It’s a strange and beautiful state that we can’t seem to get enough of, so of course it makes a great setting for fiction. Anybody who has read any of Karen Russell’s novels and short stories or seen movies like Moonlight and The Beach Bum can attest to that. Here, with her debut novel, Kristen Arnett gives us the story of the Morton family of taxidermists. It takes place in the Sunshine State, and really, that’s all you need to know to give you some idea that Mostly Dead Things blisters like a person that forgot to put suntan lotion on before they went jet-skiing off the Panhandle. This is pure Florida gothic in its finest form.
The Last Pirate of New York by Rich Cohen (June 4)
Rich Cohen has made a career out of finding those stories that shaped the world in ways you may have never imagined. From telling the tale of the 1985 Chicago Bears, Jewish mobsters or the United Fruit Company boss (not to mention this article on the mobster that bought his kid a minor league hockey team), he goes a little further back with his latest. Focused on the 19th century NYC criminal Albert Hicks, Cohen has resurrected the story of one of Manhattan’s first truly great shady characters and delivers it in unforgettable fashion.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (June 4)
We’re living in a golden age of poets writing great books that aren’t always poetry books. Between Melissa Broder’s The Pieces, Hanif Abdurraqib ascending to the top of our most important music critics’ list and Kevin Young putting out one of the best history books of the last few years, it’s a nice time. Ocean Vuong is in that company, putting out this achingly beautiful novel that will crush you in all the ways you want a novel to.
The Great Eastern by Howard Rodman (June 4)
Here it is, the great big weird literary mashup you never knew you wanted so badly. Captain Nemo and Captain Ahab clashing in this fantasy fever dream of a novel that sounds so damn weird on paper, but gets its hooks into you from the very start. Rodman took a big risk and it paid off with one of the most interesting ideas for a book you’ll find in 2019.
Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn (June 4)
Life, disappointment and motherhood are all things explored in this stunning debut novel, but what’s at the heart of Patsy is what we leave behind. The places and people that we walk away from because we think the grass is greener on the other side. With her first novel, Nicole Dennis-Benn shows she’s a writer with a deep well of wisdom and compassion.
My Parents: An Introduction / This Does Not Belong to You by Aleksandar Hemon (June 11)
Quietly building a case to be considered among our greatest writers over the last two decades, Aleksandar Hemon’s latest, two books bound together in a flip dos-à-dos layout, is vital. While any of his books or essays could be considered great, his family story of struggle and survival, about his parents immigrating to North America from war-torn Bosnia, feels especially important right now.
A Philosophy of Ruin by Nicholas Mancusi (June 18)
How do you cope? That is at the heart of this sharp work by Nicholas Mancusi. This debut is a literary thriller with shades of Denis Johnson and Cormac McCarthy, but the balance of heart, humor and dialogue is what makes it stand out from the rest of the writers that derive influence from those dirty realist masters. It’s the sort of novel that Breaking Bad fans should make sure to pick up asap.
Fast Food Dreams by Adam Chandler (June 25)
Listen, we know it’s sweet to say something is as American as apple pie, but as Adam Chandler so succinctly lays out in this fun history of all things fast food, it should be “As American as Big Macs.” While, yes, the food will clog your arteries, Chandler’s deep dive into the life and times of American strivers, businessmen, huxters, showmen and often people who are all of those things (looking at you, Col. Sanders) will have you appreciating that Arby’s or Burger King you pass by on your way to work a little more.
Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner (June 18)
Taffy Brodesser-Akner has carved out a comfortable place as the great profiler of our time, writing about everybody from Gwyneth Paltrow to Jonathan Franzen. Here, with her debut about sad, divorced Toby Fleishman, Brodesser-Akner digs back to find some influence from midcentury realist masters like Updike and Roth (the book’s title itself is one I imagine Saul Bellow would be jealous of), except she puts a fresh, original twist on things and makes Fleishman is in Trouble a book that is entirely her own.