Happy new year, readers! After finishing more than 200 books in 2018 — largely novels and short stories — my resolution this year is to read more nonfiction, which may explain why this month’s list includes less fiction than usual (although the three novels that made the cut are stellar).
Billed as instructions for everything from “pruning roses to patching drywall,” this might be the tome to give young householders — or anyone looking to learn a new skill. Caveat lector: Recent photos of Stewart may make you want her lessons on cosmetic surgery rather than cosmetic DIY.
“Thick: And Other Essays,” by Tressie McMillan Cottom (Jan. 8)
The professor and author of “Lower Ed” could school us all on the intersections of race, gender and capitalism. Consider her collection this year’s “Bad Feminist” and buy a copy for everyone you know.
“Scrublands,” by Chris Hammer (Jan. 8)
My pick for debut thriller of the month (and maybe of 2019): Hammer, a journalist, uses Australia’s bleak rural territory to great effect in the story of a priest’s killing rampage set against the backdrop of a small town where drought, economic decline and drugs combine in a toxic stew. Beautifully written, this would make a terrific small-screen series.
“The Truths We Hold: An American Journey,” by Kamala Harris (Jan. 8)
The political memoir is alive and well with this installment from Sen. Harris (D-Calif.), in which she revisits her upbringing as the daughter of a Jamaican economist and a South Asian cancer researcher who were both active in the civil rights movement.
“The Water Cure,” by Sophie Mackintosh (Jan. 8)
Longlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize and praised by Margaret Atwood, Mackintosh’s sinister dystopian tale hardly needs my recommendation — but I’ll give it in the hopes that readers find this novel about a family living in a ramshackle dwelling where four daughters are raised to control all emotions and shun men. Blend “The Virgin Suicides” with “My Family and Other Animals” and “The Decameron” and you’ll have some idea of the strange atmosphere Mackintosh creates.
“An Orchestra of Minorities,” by Chigozie Obioma (Jan. 8)
Last year saw a new translation of Homer’s “The Odyssey,” by Emily Wilson, as well as Madeline Miller’s reimagining, “Circe.” This year’s version? A love story between a Nigerian chicken farmer and a wealthy young woman. Gorgeously written, with a twist of magical realism and a heavy dose of sad reality, this is your big novel of the winter.
“Act Natural: A Cultural History of Misadventures in Parenting,” by Jennifer Traig (Jan. 8)
Lay your baby on her back. No, prop her on her side. Wait, let her sleep on her stomach! Or are you supposed to wear her in a sling at all times? Traig has a PhD in English and several books to her name, but when she became a parent she was as confused as the rest of us. Her analysis of over a millennium of parenting advice will make you laugh so hard you’ll forget you have children.
“Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love,” by Dani Shapiro (Jan. 15)
Shapiro has already written a number of memoirs, including “Hourglass,” “Devotion” and “Family History,” but she didn’t know she would be writing “Inheritance” until DNA analysis revealed her father was not really her father. For a writer who has focused so intently on identity, this news was a bombshell, leading Shapiro on a hunt to discover who she really is.
“Shameless: A Sexual Reformation,” by Nadia Bolz-Weber (Jan. 29)
Stand-up comic, recovering alcoholic and Lutheran minister Bolz-Weber wants you to heal from your sexual pain. While the frank, funny former pastor has penned her new book with Christians foremost in mind, anyone whose ideas about sex have been informed by their upbringing (hello, Planet Earth) can benefit from her manifesto to “burn it . . . down and start over.”
“Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style,” by Benjamin Dreyer (Jan. 29)
Dreyer is a VP and copy chief at Random House, not to mention the unofficial language guru on Twitter, where he dispenses grammar bon mots such as: “Only godless savages eschew the series comma.” Talk to the AP Style hand, Mr. Dreyer . . .
Bethanne Patrick is the editor, most recently, of “The Books That Changed My Life: Reflections by 100 Authors, Actors, Musicians and Other Remarkable People.”
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