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5 new books to read in February

5 new books to read in February

Every month, a deluge of new books comes flooding out from big publishers, indie houses, and self-publishing platforms. So every month, The A.V. Club narrows down the endless options to five of the books we’re most excited about.


100 Boyfriends by Brontez Purnell (February 2, MCD x FSG)

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Image: MCD x FSG

Brontez Purnell is a tireless creative force. A cult figure in the Oakland punk and queer scenes, he started out making zines (Faggot School) and go-go dancing in the electroclash band Gravy Train!!!! He’s assumed all manner of roles as an artist: musician, choreographer, filmmaker, actor. Now the Whiting Award winner (Since I Laid My Burden Down) is publishing his fifth book, the first with a major publisher. Billed as a novel-in-stories, 100 Boyfriends follows the sex lives of queer Black men, from Alabama to California, from one-night stands and hookups to longer-lasting couplings. In “Early Retirement,” published in The Atlantic, a failing Bay Area actor who works on a pot farm to stay afloat, describes himself as “fragile yet strong (or faux brave) and always spiraling,” which could apply to the book as well. At times reminiscent of the work of Eve Babitz, 100 Boyfriends is simultaneously tough and vulnerable, bawdy and knowing, and relayed with a deceptive ease.


Mike Nichols: A Life by Mark Harris (February 2, Penguin)

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Since Mike Nichols’ death in 2014, the EGOT-winning filmmaker, theatrical director, actor, and improv-comedy pioneer has been the subject of an HBO documentary (2016’s Becoming Mike Nichols) as well as a book-length oral history (2019’s Life Isn’t Everything: Mike Nichols, As Remembered By 150 Of His Closest Friends). But if there’s anyone whose story could be covered so extensively and still have 100 or so additional people who could reflect on his unparalleled showbiz run, it’s Nichols, the guy who was Elaine May’s perfect comedic match, the wunderkind who brought Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate to the screen, and the director who remained Broadway’s hottest ticket even after he made a movie with the tagline “unwittingly, he trained a dolphin to kill the president of the United States.” In journalist Mark Harris’ telling, misfires like The Day Of The Dolphin are as fascinating as the monster hits, and he assembles a staggering array of primary sources—May, Meryl Streep, Stephen Sondheim, Tom Hanks, Natalie Portman, to name a few—on hand to not only tell the behind-the-scenes stories, but to forge more than a half-century of material and nearly 700 pages of biography into a definitive picture of the man calling “Action!”


A Year With Swollen Appendices: Brian Eno’s Diary (February 9, Faber & Faber)

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Originally published in 1996, A Year With Swollen Appendices bundles Brian Eno’s diaries from 1995—a particularly prolific year for the producer—with essays, interviews, correspondence, and short stories. The result, in Eno’s own words, is a “mishmash of ideas, observations, admirations, speculations, and grumbles” with insight into his thoughts on ambient music, generative music, and music copyright. The new edition, an elegant hardcover, comes with a striking new introduction in which Eno shares an exhaustive list of words that exist now that didn’t when he initially wrote his book. He uses this list as a means to explore the evolution of language in such a short period, specifically as it pertains to what he calls “the dissolution of a certain quality of public discourse.”


No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood (February 16, Riverhead)

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Patricia Lockwood is the kind of writer that you stop and read immediately whenever she publishes something new. Whether it’s her highly praised comedic memoir, Priestdaddy; an essay about John Updike; or the disorienting effects of the coronavirus on her ability to read and think, her supreme intelligence and wildly imaginative, offbeat sense of humor always comes to the fore. As with her extraordinary lecture “The Communal Mind,” in her first novel, No One Is Talking About This, Lockwood explores, as only she can, what it feels like to be extremely online. What may be even more remarkable than the novel’s humor and insight is just how much heart it has, too.

Read the A.V. Club’s review of Priestdaddy.


Appropriate: A Provocation by Paisley Rekdal (February 16, W.W. Norton)

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Image: W.W. Norton

Two-time Pushcart Prize winner and University Of Utah professor Paisley Rekdal takes on the dual role of student and teacher in Appropriate: A Provocation. It’s an epistolary collection, full of prompts and conscientious, open-minded essays on cultural appropriation, cultural appreciation, and adaptation. These letters double as responses to the student who once asked the poet and writer to define cultural appropriation, in part out of a desire to avoid committing such an act. But an answer isn’t the goal of this thoughtful series because, as Rekdal notes, “The reality is there is no one set of questions about appropriation that, if answered clearly and correctly, will grant you universal permission, just as there are no political sentiments or empathetic desires that will produce unassailable results.”


Also in February: History In One Act: A Novel Of 9/11 by William M. Arkin (February 1, Featherproof); Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler (February 2, Catapult); Live; Live; Live by Jonathan Buckley (February 2, New York Review Books); Germs: A Memoir Of Childhood by Richard Wollheim (February 2, NYRB Classics); Wild Swims by Dorthe Nors (February 2, Graywolf); My Year Abroad by Chang-Rae Lee (February 2, Riverhead); Land Of Big Numbers by Te-Ping Chen (February 2, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt); Four Hundred Souls: A Community History Of African America, 1619-2019, edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain (February 2, One World); This Close To Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith (February 2, Grand Central); God I Feel Modern Tonight: Poems From A Gal About Town by Catherine Cohen (February 2, Knopf); Love Is An Ex-Country by Randa Jarrar (February 2, Catapult); A Bright Ray Of Darkness by Ethan Hawke (February 2, Knopf); Milk Fed by Melissa Broder (February 2, Scribner); Truly Like Lightning by David Duchovny (February 2, Farrar, Straus & Giroux); Pure America: Eugenics And The Making Of Modern Virginia by Elizabeth Catte (February 2, Belt); The Low Desert: Gangster Stories by Tod Goldberg (February 2, Counterpoint); The Weak Spot by Lucie Elven (February 9, Soft Skull); Eleven Sooty Dreams by Manuela Draeger (February 9, Open Letter); Zorrie by Laird Hunt (February 9, Bloomsbury); Rabbit Island by Elvira Navarro (February 9, Two Lines); We Run The Tides by Vendela Vida (February 9, Ecco); The Delivery by Peter Mendelsund (February 9, Farrar, Straus & Giroux); Nuestra América: My Family In The Vertigo Of Translation by Claudio Lomnitz (February 9, Other); Fragments Of An Infinite Memory: My Life With The Internet by Maël Renouard (February 9, New York Review Books); Kink: Stories, edited by R.O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell (February 9, Simon & Schuster); Want Me: A Sex Writer’s Journey Into The Heart Of Desire by Tracy Clark-Flory (February 16, Penguin); Shonen Knife’s Happy Hour: Food, Gender, Rock And Roll by Brooke McCorkle Okazaki (February 11, Bloomsbury, 33⅓); Nenes’ Koza Dabasa: Okinawa In The World Music Market by Henry Johnson (February 11, Bloomsbury, 33⅓); Jaguars’ Tomb by Angélica Gorodischer (February 15, Vanderbilt); The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey (February 16, Tor); A Court Of Silver Flames by Sarah J. Maas (February 16, Bloomsbury); Let’s Get Back To The Party by Zak Salih (February 16, Algonquin); Girls Of A Certain Age by Maria Adelmann (February 16, Little, Brown); Cowboy Graves by Roberto Bolaño (February 16, Penguin); Consent: A Memoir by Vanessa Springora (February 16, HarperVia); The Good Hand: A Memoir Of Work, Brotherhood, And Transformation In An American Boomtown by Michael Patrick F. Smith (February 16, Viking); Vibrate Higher: A Rap Story by Talib Kweli (February 16, MCD x FSG); Confessions Of The Flesh: The History Of Sexuality, Volume 4 by Michel Foucault (February 16, Pantheon); True Believer: The Rise And Fall Of Stan Lee by Abraham Riesman (February 16, Crown); Raceless by Georgina Lawton (February 23, Harper Perennial); Tom Stoppard: A Life by Hermione Lee (February 23, Knopf); We Own This City: A True Story Of Crime, Cops, And Corruption In An American City by Justin Fenton (February 23, Random House); Arriving In A Thick Fog by Jung Young Moon (February 23, Deep Vellum); Speak, Okinawa by Elizabeth Miki Brina (February 23, Knopf); In The Company Of Men by Véronique Tadjo (February 23, Other); Never Have I Ever by Isabel Yap (February 23, Small Beer); The Girl With The Louding Voice by Abi Daré (February 23, Dutton); Tomorrow They Won’t Dare To Murder Us by Joseph Andras (February 23, Verso); The Private Joys Of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu (February 23, Dialogue); An Orphan World by Giuseppe Caputo (February 25, Charco)