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Activities of Daily Living

Lisa Hsiao Chen (Norton)

The premise is deceptively simple: a Taiwanese American woman takes care of her white stepfather, who has dementia, while working on an unspecified project about a Taiwanese performance artist. With these spare components, Chen pulls off an astounding meditation on the nature of art, time, and mortality.

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All the Lovers in the Night

Mieko Kawakami, trans. from the Japanese by Sam Bett and David Boyd (Europa)

The best of a wondrous, loosely connected trilogy from Kawakami (after Breasts and Eggs and Heaven), this lush ambulatory narrative offers an unsparing examination of the loneliness and alienation of a young proofreader in Tokyo and her gradual emergence into the city’s nightlife. The author’s beautiful descriptions provide a feast for the senses, one that’s merely hinted at by the film Lost in Translation.

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The Birdcatcher

Gayl Jones (Beacon)

What a treat to find Jones publishing again, with last year’s massive Palmares ending a two-decade hiatus. This one’s even better, not only because of its wickedly funny premise—an artist keeps trying to kill her husband, and he keeps taking her back—but because of its striking and stubbornly relevant commentary on the racial inequities faced by its Black characters in the 1980s.

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Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands

Kate Beaton (Drawn & Quarterly)

Beaton astonishes in this career-making graphic memoir, relaying her time working in remote, male-dominated oil drilling camps in northern Canada. She navigates relentless sexism, isolation, and trauma, and distills the humor and pathos in the antics of hoary fellow crewmembers—all in service of a profound larger story of the social and environmental costs of global reliance on fossil fuel.

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The Furrows

Namwali Serpell (Hogarth)

A straightforward description of this inspired and wildly inventive novel is that it’s about grief, as a young woman repeatedly wonders whether she’s seeing her dead brother’s face in the faces of strangers (he drowned when he and the woman were children, his body never recovered). But a breathtaking shift halfway through, in which Serpell riffs on Hitchcock’s Vertigo, makes this one of a kind.

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G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century

Beverly Gage (Viking)

Drawing on newly released files, this sweeping biography of the long-serving FBI director recounts with equal perceptiveness matters personal (his father’s struggles with depression, his intimate relationships with men) and political (the 1919 Palmer raids, the JFK assassination, COINTELPRO). The nuanced and exhaustive portrait that emerges casts the man and his century in an astonishing new light.

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The Grimkes: The Legacy of Slavery in an American Family

Kerri K. Greenidge (Liveright)

This scrupulous and often enthralling family history uncovers the complex relationship between white abolitionist sisters Sarah and Angelina Grimke and their slaveholding brother’s three sons, who were born to an enslaved woman. In a brilliant account enriched by compassionate character sketches and incisive analyses of the tensions between white privilege and Black freedom, Greenidge plumbs the depths of America’s racial divide.

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An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us

Ed Yong (Random House)

Flip to any page in Pulitzer winner Yong’s stunning work and there’s something remarkable to be found: whale songs can traverse entire oceans, insects send vibrational messages through plant stems, and fish use electricity to communicate. It’s peak pop science, and an awe-inspiring study of the world beyond human senses.

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The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness

Meghan O’Rourke (Riverhead)

Poet and Yale Review editor O’Rourke offers a powerful account of living with chronic illness and navigating the labyrinthine path to recovery. She looks beyond her personal experience to shed light on the plight of marginalized patients and the shortcomings of medical professionals. Empathetic and searingly relevant, O’Rourke’s narrative gives hope to those who suffer in silence.

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The Rabbit Hutch

Tess Gunty (Knopf)

Gunty’s titanic debut reads like the assured and focused work of a writer five books deep. The story is about a bunch of semi-feral teens and other residents of a building in a fictional rust belt city, and it centers on a young woman’s horrific stabbing. The excellent character development and harrowing details are conveyed in some of the best prose around.

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