The 6 New Books You Should Be Reading This February

A baseball novel, a new kind of George Washington biography, 1970s cinema and more

best books february 2020
Remembering "Chinatown," great baseball fiction and a new bio of George Washington

The first thing that pops out to me about this month’s list is there is a book about baseball. Nothing makes me think of better days ahead more than knowing that America’s Pastime is soon to return, and lord knows that with all the impeachment and caucuses and whatever other garbage is in the news, we could all use the promise of a sunnier future.

The Cactus League leads off this list of great books, which also includes a look into 1970s cinema that we can’t seem to get enough of, a new kind of George Washington biography and soccer.

The Cactus League by Emily Nemens (Feb. 4)

Here’s a working theory: there are plenty of reasons why baseball has taken a backseat to basketball and football in America, and one of the biggest is we just don’t write about the sport anymore. Think about it: Updike on Ted Williams, The Natural, heck, even Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding was great, but that came out almost a decade ago and is probably the last great American baseball fiction we’ve seen in some time. Paris Review editor Emily Nemens has stepped up to the plate to offer up her contribution, and the results are this energetic book that presents a number of different stories that link together through spring training. The book isn’t all about baseball, but that’s why it works so well. We love sports for the excitement and the feats of athleticism, but there is always something deeper to the games we love. Nemens gets that with this excellent debut. 

The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood by Sam Wasson (Feb. 4)

There is a real reason we obsess over 1970s cinema in a way we don’t other decades. It broke from the past and shaped the future. Sam Wasson uses Roman Polanski’s classic as the way to explain that time, and shows why we’re so damn obsessed with the movie as well as the time. 

You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington by Alexis Coe (Feb. 4)

Everything you thought you needed to know about our first president you learned in school, right? Anything else you needed you probably supplemented with History Channel shows you watched when nothing else was on. But in this new and refreshing biography, Alexis Coe makes learning about the good, bad and ugly of our founding father fun and engaging. There’s really no such thing as a saint when it comes to American politics — Coe understands that, and shows that’s been the case from the start. 

Real Life by Brandon Taylor (Feb. 18)

Brandon Taylor has made a name for himself as one of the rising young stars in the literary world in recent years. His fiction is scattered all across the internet, and when you pick any one story you realize pretty fast that this is a writer who is tuned in. Not plugged in, mind you, but somebody who has a great deal of empathy for people both real and the fictional. Real Life is one of the 2020 books I’ve been anticipating the most because of that.

The Age of Football: Soccer and the 21st Century by David Goldblatt (Feb. 18)

Every few years there is a new book that tries to explain soccer’s import around the world to any American curious enough to read it, but few have shaped the conversation like David Goldblatt’s The Ball Is Round. This book feels like a followup of sorts, a bit more philosophical while showing why people from South America to the Middle East react the way they do to “The Beautiful Game.”

Apartment by Teddy Wayne (Feb 25)

As his 2017 novel Loner showed, Teddy Wayne has a knack for taking the darkest thoughts and feelings men might have, holding a mirror up to them and then churning out books that will stick with you long after you finish them. We’re not talking some mid-century, forgive-the-man-for-his-transgressions deal, either. In this latest book, Wayne uses an actual apartment to explore masculinity once again, but also throws in an exploration of class and race for good measure. Read Loner and Apartment to find out why Wayne is one of our most important contemporary authors.

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