December is traditionally a slow month for new books, to be sure–but that doesn’t mean that it’s devoid of them entirely. In fact, some of the most singular works that have come onto our radar this year boast December release dates, from a politically charged memoir to tales of cosmic horror in the Eisenhower era to a trip through a surreal version of Russia. Read on for thoughts on some of the books we’re most excited about for this month.
Drawing Blood, Molly Crabapple
(December 1, Harper)
Molly Crabapple’s work on politics and society have been essential reading in recent years. Whether chronicling political unrest in the Middle East or the effects of income inequality or police brutality closer to home, Crabapple’s words and art are vital and informative. Her memoir Drawing Blood is similarly vital.
The Blizzard, Vladimir Sorokin
(December 1, Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Trying to summarize Vladimir Sorokin’s alternately ecstatic and terrifying novel can lead to unintentionally channelling Stefon. (“This book’s got it all: tiny horses, holographic radios, a zombie plague, Dan Cortese…”) Sorokin meticulously chronicles irrational landscapes and descents into moral horror; this novel is a kind of distillation of his work.
Iterating Grace, Koons Crooks
(December 1, FSG Originals)
The story behind this tech-world satire and its pseudonymous author may well be as interesting as the book itself. But that’s not a bad thing–there’s an interesting narrative surrounding this, of which the publication of this book by FSG Originals is another chapter. In an article on Iterating Grace for Fusion, Alexis Madrigal compared it to “Pynchon in his fun mode.” As recommendations go, that’s a fine one to have.
Rules of Appropriate Conduct, Kirsten Alene
(December 2, Civil Coping Mechanisms)
Kirsten Alene’s surreal fiction encompasses a variety of styles and tones; she’s also the author of the magnificently-titled Unicorn Battle Squad. In this collection of short stories, readers can take in the entire spectrum of her work, which is never predictable and often unsettling.
Nothing But the Dead and Dying, Ryan W. Bradley
(December 2, Civil Coping Mechanisms)
Ryan W. Bradley’s fiction often delves into bleak stories set in bleaker landscapes: his novel Winterswim, for instance, was set in a small Alaskan town in which the lives of a murderous pastor, his teenage son, and an actress visiting her hometown converge. Bradley’s latest book explores his work in the shorter form; as the title suggests, this is another voyage into harsh territory.
Sophia, Michael Bible
(December 8, Melville House)
We’re always up for a good comic Southern novel, and Michael Bible’s Sophia, about a hard-drinking reverend traversing the continent of North America seems to fit the bill nicely. Plus, there’s a Barry Hannah blurb.
The Mysteries of Paris, Eugène Sue
(December 8, Penguin Classics)
If you’ve recently read Luc Sante’s The Other Paris (which we highly recommend), you may have noted the numerous references to this mid-19th-century novel, which set the stage for a host of lauded novels to come. This new translation, by Carolyn Betensky and Jonathan Loesberg, is the first into English in over a century.
X’s For Eyes, Laird Barron
(December 11, Journalstone)
Laird Barron writes some of the most compelling, haunting horror fiction you’re likely to find–he’s fantastic at getting inside the heads of his characters, and creating situations that are unsettling even before the unreal makes an appearance. This novella takes him back to the 1950s, and we’re eager to see how his unsettling sensibility plays out in a period setting.
The Seven Madmen, Roberto Arlt
(December 22, NYRB Classics)
The Argentinian writer Roberto Arlt was admired by the likes of Julio Cortázar and Roberto Bolaño–which isn’t bad, as literary endorsements go. The Seven Madmen, a surreal novel of crime set in 1920s Buenos Aires, is considered one of his major works; if you’re seeking notable works in translation for your winter reading, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start.
This Divided Island: Life, Death, and the Sri Lankan War, Samanth Subramanian
(December 22, Thomas Dunne Books)
Samanth Subramanian’s writings have appeared in Bookforum, The New Yorker, and The New York Review of Books. This book, his second, was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize earlier this year; Amit Chaudhuri’s review for The Guardian makes an impressive case for the book on both historical and literary grounds.
My Kind of Sound: The Secret History of Chicago Music, Steve Krakow
(December 29, Curbside Splendor)
Steve Krakow (aka Plastic Crimewave) has maintained an illustrated column for the Chicago Reader for the last decade, illuminating the contributions of a host of musicians using a distinctive visual style. This book collects over 200 of them, making it both an informative read and a unique reading experience.