The Reading List: 13 Book Picks for May

Looking to dig into some new books this month? Check out our reading guru Emily Landau’s 13 best picks.

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The Canadian prairies aren’t familiar territory for American lit stars, but Richard Ford is game. His much-anticipated Canada follows Dell Parsons, a teenage boy in 1960s Montana who is whisked north after his parents commit a robbery. Ford’s Saskatchewan is so vivid you can almost hear the tumbleweeds blowing. (Available May 29)

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The Headmaster's Wager

The Headmaster’s Wager

A novel about the struggles faced by a Chinese family living in Saigon during the Vietnam War sounds run-of-the-mill, yet Vincent Lam’s story-a shady headmaster’s son is labelled a dissident after a prank goes awry-is packed with suspense. Lam brought flawed characters to life in the Giller winner Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures-here he proves he can do plot, too.

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Are You My Mother?

Are You My Mother?

In her New York Times bestseller, Fun Home, Alison Bechdel aired her daddy issues. Now it’s Mom’s turn. For a graphic novel, the book positively luxuriates in words-letters, journals, obscure psychoanalytic texts-and Bechdel fuses her prose and illustrations beautifully, piecing together an intimate but never sentimental portrait of a family in crisis.

Sneak peek: “This image of my childhood as an emotional deep freeze was the opposite, I’m certain, of the psychological atmosphere my parents thought they were providing.”

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Best Reason to Quit Facebook
The Virtual Self: How Our Digital Lives Are Altering the World Around Us

CBC journalist Nora Young probes the insidious ways that technology trickles into our lives. Some of them are fairly terrifying (like the data trails left by social media), but Young balances the scarier aspects with more hopeful possibilities of what digital tech can do for politics and society.

Best Blonde Joke
The Blondes

Emily Schultz’s hilarious apocalyptic satire takes girl-on-girl spite to the extreme. In her novel-which is part Barbarella, part The Walking Dead-all of New York City’s blonde women are transformed into vicious, unstoppable killers. (Available August 14)

Best Old-Hollywood Dish
Full Service

Eighty-eight-year-old Scotty Bowers writes a juicy, tell-all memoir about his years as a Hollywood rent boy, during which he had liaisons with Spencer Tracy and Cary Grant, found women for Katharine Hepburn and engaged in orgies with Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII. Certain tales stretch the limits of believability, but that doesn’t make the final product any less delicious.

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Best History Lesson
1861: The Civil War Awakening

Civil War historian Adam Goodheart is best known as one of the authors of the popular Disunion blog for The New York Times. In this, his gripping first book, he documents the minute-to-minute lives of a disparate group of Americans on the eve of the Civil War.

Most Satisfying Comeuppance
At Last

Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose series has documented the ecstatic highs and bitter lows of its pathologically privileged antihero. The British saga’s conclusion is an elegant and restrained coda: Melrose, financially and emotionally exhausted, reflects on the factors that led to his downfall.

Best Nobel Laureate You’ve Never Heard Of
The Hunger Angel

When Herta Müller won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2009, a resounding “Who?” was heard around the world. Set in a Soviet work camp in 1945, Müller’s new novel is a poetic, feverish meditation on the psychological terrors of hunger-both literal and emotional.

Most Salacious Canadiana

As a rule, the CanLiterati tends to keep a polite distance from sex. Not Tamara Faith Berger. Her latest novel-the third in her “porn trilogy”-is unabashedly smutty in its exploration of the onset of teenage sexual awakening.

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Best Reimagined Classic

The worlds conjured by British steampunk writer China Miéville are weird and wonderful. His brand new novel reimagines Moby Dick in an eerie setting where the railroad has replaced ships, and a giant burrowing mole has replaced the great white whale. (Available May 15)

Best Anti-Bodice Ripper
Bring Up the Bodies

Hilary Mantel brought thoughtful historical fiction back in vogue with her Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall, which depicted Henry VIII’s advisor Thomas Cromwell as a man rather than a moustache-twirling villain. Now she’s taking a sobering look at the downfall of the oft-misunderstood Anne Boleyn. (Available May 11)

Best Ironic Social Commentary
The House of Mirth

Edith Wharton, one of the literary world’s top social satirists, would have turned 150 this year. The House of Mirth is her masterpiece: the devastating chronicle of society belle Lily Bart’s nightmarish slide down the social ladder.

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