The 10 Books You Should Be Reading This January
Including John Darnielle’s new novel, a Carl Bernstein memoir and a history of exercise
January: What do we think of it? This January in particular is a frustrating one, with a two-year-old pandemic, now on its third variant, relegating people to the confines of their own abodes once again. Even so, it’s also the start of a new year, which can make for the perfect time to try learning about something new or losing yourself in a compelling story. January’s best new books have plenty of both to offer — from insightful looks into games and fitness to uncanny novels from some old favorites. Here are 10 suggestions for your next great wintry read.
Oliver Roeder, Seven Games: A Human History (Jan. 25)
What can we learn about humanity from studying the games we play? Roeder’s book encompasses backgammon, checkers, chess, bridge, poker, Go and Scrabble. He explores the histories of each, some notable players and what the future of gaming might hold.
Jessie Greengrass, The High House (Jan. 4)
Environmental apocalypses have long had a home in fiction, but in recent years they’ve become even more widespread. (Can’t think why.) Jessie Greengrass’s The High House focuses on a quartet of characters trying to survive in a slowly flooding city. This book drew plenty of acclaim on its release in the U.K.; now, Stateside readers can see what the buzz is about.
Bill Hayer, Sweat: A History of Exercise (Jan. 18)
Did you make a New Year’s resolution to exercise more? Perhaps reading about the subject can help. Bill Hayer’s new book encompasses the millennia-long history of exercise, from ancient Greece to the present day. This includes a detailed discussion of a 16th-century tome. Is Renaissance exercise the new paleo? Read on and see for yourself.
Kendra James, Admissions: A Memoir of Surviving Boarding School (Jan. 18)
In the last few years, more and more people have been examining the process of admissions to elite colleges and universities, with the Varsity Blues scandal being but one example. Kendra James’s memoir Admissions focuses on her time working at the Taft School, a private school whose alumni have gone on to distinguish themselves in politics and business. James’s book offers a candid look at race and class in light of institutions like the one where she worked.
Carl Bernstein, Chasing History: A Kid in the Newsroom (Jan. 11)
Few investigative journalists can say that their work brought down a president. Carl Bernstein has that distinction, however — and he’s had a storied career since then as well. In his new memoir, he recounts the story of his formative years as a journalist, which involved working a reporter before he was out of his teens.
John Darnielle, Devil House (Jan. 25)
John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats is a fantastic songwriter. John Darnielle is also a National Book Award-nominated author. It’s a little daunting, when you think about it. His newest, the novel Devil House, follows a writer researching a true crime book set against the backdrop of the Satanic Panic. Darnielle is equally skilled at getting weird and getting inventive, and the result has made for a host of memorable books.
Rachel Krantz, Open: An Uncensored Memoir of Love, Liberation, and Non-Monogamy (Jan. 25)
Award-winning journalist Rachel Krantz ventured into her own personal history for Open, chronicling her experience being in an open relationship. Krantz compares accounts of her lived experience with those of other people, as well as scientists and other experts in their field. The result is a candid and enlightening work of nonfiction.
Travis Lupick, Light Up the Night: America’s Overdose Crisis and the Drug Users Fighting for Survival (Jan. 4)
What is the best way to deal with an epidemic of overdoses across the country? It’s something that public health officials and activists have been exploring for years. Travis Lupick’s latest book, Light Up the Night, offers a unique perspective on drug use and how best to save lives and reduce harm.
Ken Babbs, Cronies, a Burlesque: Adventures with Ken Kesey, Neal Cassady, the Merry Pranksters and the Grateful Dead (Jan. 11)
If you were a close friend of psychedelic novelist Ken Kesey, odds are good that you probably have some stories to tell as well. With his new memoir, Ken Babbs recounts scenes from his decades-long friendship with Kesey — which also includes appearances by the Grateful Dead, Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson.
Sjón, Red Milk (Jan. 18)
You’re going to be hearing Sjón’s name a lot this year — he’s also the co-writer of Robert Eggers’s forthcoming film The Northman. (He also co-wrote last year’s Lamb and is a frequent collaborator of Björk.) His books cover a wide range of tones, styles and genres, and his latest is an unsettling mystery novel involving post-World War II Iceland and the legacy of fascism.
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