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Must-read books in 2018 by Meg Wolitzer, Ben Dolnick, Rachel Kushner and more

The desire to take refuge in art — to forget about the cares of the world — can be irresistible, particularly when all news is breaking and dire and fake. 

Luckily, a new year brings with it new releases to get lost in, at least temporarily. 

For books that simultaneously entertain and enlighten, these 12 titles from both emerging and established authors in 2018 are sure to stand out over the next six months — either for the new voices they introduce, the timely subject matter they tackle or simply the way they tell their tales.

But if you must completely tune out, skip straight to numbers 4 and 11.

1. ‘Winter’ by Ali Smith

1. 'Winter' by Ali Smith (Jan 9, Pantheon)
Photo Credit: Pantheon

Sophia, an entrepreneur and accidental mother, falls ill over Christmas. Her son Arthur, visiting with his hired “girlfriend” Lux, calls on his estranged, idealistic aunt Iris to help out. Smith is a kaleidoscopic writer who eschews linear storytelling, filling her work with subtle wordplay and unexpected excursions. This impassioned appeal to our shared fate as the U.K. faces down Brexit and the U.S. withdraws into “America First” could finally garner Smith the Man Booker prize that has eluded her. (Jan. 9, Pantheon)

2. ‘Beautiful Days’ by Joyce Carol Oates

2. 'Beautiful Days' by Joyce Carol Oates (Feb.
Photo Credit: Ecco

These insightful short stories focus on flawed characters who continue to question and find fault and yearn for more, despite all the beauty around them. Which is to say they are human. Oates is the doyenne of American letters, one of the most prolific authors of her generation with nothing left to prove, and yet she continues to turn out sharply observed narratives about people you feel like you recognize. (Feb. 6, Ecco)

3. ‘The Ghost Notebooks’ by Ben Dolnick

3. 'The Ghost Notebooks' by Ben Dolnick (Feb
Photo Credit: Pantheon

Hannah loses her job and applies to be live-in caretaker of the Wright Historic House upstate. She and her fiance Nick leave Astoria with dreams of a simpler, reinvigorated relationship. And then Hannah disappears. This Brooklyn author delivers an affecting and original take on love, loss and grief in assured writing that is both poignant and laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes in the same sentence. (Feb. 13, Pantheon)

4. The Kremlin’s Candidate’ by Jason Matthews

11. 'The Kremlin's Candidate' by Jason Matthews (Feb.
Photo Credit: Scribner

This author has the credentials to free you from the real world. Matthews, a retired CIA officer, concludes his Red Sparrow trilogy (soon to be blockbuster films starring Jennifer Lawrence) about Russian spy Dominika Egorova and CIA agent Nathaniel Nash. (Feb. 13, Scribner)

5. ‘All The Names They Used For God’ by Anjali Sachdeva

4. 'All The Names They Used For God'
Photo Credit: Spiegel & Grau

The nine short stories in this remarkable debut collection are utterly unique. They defy easy classification, chronologically or stylistically, becoming timeless and universal. They are triumphant, destructive, terrifying and therapeutic all at once. No matter her topic — be it alien overlords, a mermaid, an Egyptian tomb, a prairie cave that offers bleak deliverance, abducted child brides or cosmic retribution — Sachdeva is seemingly fearless and her talent limitless, as she memorably and devastatingly lays bare our humanity. (Feb. 20, Spiegel & Grau)

6. ‘Rainbirds’ by Clarissa Goenawan

5. 'Rainbirds' by Clarissa Goenawan (Mar. 6, Soho
Photo Credit: Soho Press

Ren Ishida copes with the murder of his older sister, Keiko, by taking on her teaching job and befriending one of her students, the precocious 17-year-old girl he calls Seven Stars. With its dream sequences, chance encounters and leisurely attention to music and food, this debut novel evokes the simple joys of early Haruki Murakami. It is not a mystery that will haunt you, but a satisfying heartfelt tale about letting go. (March 6, Soho Press)

7. ‘The Italian Teacher’ by Tom Rachman

6. 'The Italian Teacher' by Tom Rachman (Mar
Photo Credit: Viking

Bear Bavinsky bullies and bellows and abuses his way through life, getting away with it all because he is a capital-A artist. There is no #MeToo reckoning with Bear’s actions, only a frustratingly realistic examination of the sacrifices and excuses that are made to justify the “great.” Rachman’s outsized and messy novel is the story of Bear’s favorite child Pinch, but the father and son’s lives and legacies are inextricable. (March 20, Viking)

8. ‘The Female Persuasion’ by Meg Wolitzer

7. 'The Female Persuasion' by Meg Wolitzer (April
Photo Credit: Riverhead Books

Greer Kadetsky is sexually assaulted at a fraternity party her first week of college and meets Faith Frank, a towering figure in feminism, soon after. The two encounters will shape her life as she establishes her own identity and fights her own battles. Wolitzer tackles a litany of timely topics, from unwanted sexual advances to the underrepresentation of women in film to Gamergate-type abuse. (April 3, Riverhead Books)

9. ‘The Mars Room’ by Rachel Kushner

8. 'The Mars Room' by Rachel Kushner (May
Photo Credit: Scribner

Romy Hall is going to prison for life. Her 6-year-old son is with her mother, a woman who did “favors” for men throughout Romy’s drug-addled youth. This essential novel is about women ignored or denigrated or discounted in our society, and the adult men who obsess over them and abuse them and abet their self-destruction. Kushner is a bit of a magician, exploring bleak territory with pathos and urgency that makes it nearly impossible to stop reading. (May 1, Scribner)

10. ‘They Come in All Colors’ by Malcolm Hansen

9. 'They Come in All Colors' by Malcolm
Photo Credit: Atria Books

Irrepressible Huey Fairchild is 8 years old in 1962, the son of a light-skinned black woman and a white peanut farmer in Georgia. Racial tension and riots overwhelm his small town, sweeping Huey up and eventually out, carrying him and his mother to New York City. Hansen’s confident and ambitious debut novel deftly moves back and forth between the two worlds, as Huey comes to accept his heritage and grasp the reality of being biracial in America. (May 29, Atria Books)

11. ‘The President is Missing’ by Bill Clinton and James Patterson

11. 'The President is Missing' by Bill Clinton
Photo Credit: Little, Brown and Company

For a thriller binge after “The Kremlin’s Candidate,” check out this anticipated collaboration. Together the wonky bookworm that is Clinton and the thriller institution that is Patterson should be able to craft Bubba’s Oval Office experience into an electrifying ride. (June 4, Little, Brown and Company)

12. ‘Florida’ by Lauren Groff

10. 'Florida' by Lauren Groff (June 5, Riverhead
Photo Credit: Riverhead Books

These short stories center on lonely, scared, angry or simply frustrated women who are trying to survive. Whether their problems stem from other people, their own actions, or simply Florida — with its torrential rains and heat waves, its panthers and snakes and lizards and other creeping beasts — the desperation is the same. Groff’s engaging animated writing bristles as she plucks at the tenuous threads that ties us to society and our lives. (June 5, Riverhead Books)


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