Two weeks from now, I’ll write in this space about some of my favorite books from 2018. Here, in the meantime, are four books I’m looking forward to in the coming year.
I can’t remember how old I was or in what setting I first grasped the notion of “forthcoming books,” but ever since then they’ve been in my head. At any given moment there are dozens of them floating around, beckoning. The sheer variety is intoxicating. The following are “chosen at random,” as we say.
Due in February from Harvard University Press, Sara Lodge’s Inventing Edward Lear should be read alongside Jenny Uglow’s brilliant Mr. Lear, published in the U.K. a year ago and in the U.S. this past spring. I haven’t seen a galley of Lodge’s book, but I love reading (and reading about) Lear and his contemporary Lewis Carroll, both masters of nonsense. I’m also a fan of Lear’s travel-writing and painting, to which Lodge promises to give attention. (And speaking of Lear biographies: A couple of reviews of Mr. Lear deprecated in passing Peter Levi’s Edward Lear: A Life, published in 1995. Levi’s book isn’t flawless, but—like everything he wrote—it’s very much worth your time.)
In a recent piece for Forma, I described Amy Gentry’s novel Last Woman Standing, due in January from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, as “a dark and twisty tale for the #metoo moment, much deeper than the endless chatter on that theme; it made me think of Dostoevsky, if Dostoevsky were a woman writing in 2018 and if, alas, he’d mostly lost his Orthodox faith.” I first encountered Gentry as a fellow reviewer in the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row (back when it was in print as a weekly stand-alone production; it now exists online only, in a sadly attenuated state). That led me in due course to read her superb first novel, Good as Gone, at which point I signed on for the long haul.
Also due in January, from Harper Perennial, is Michael Chabon’s Bookends: Collected Intros and Outros, a “collection of introductions and afterwords (plus some liner notes).” Ah, Michael Chabon. Here’s one of my favorite pieces on him, written by Alan Jacobs. When a new Chabon book appears, fiction or nonfiction, I read it at the first opportunity. I found this collection of occasional pieces delicious, and I’ll be back for seconds when the finished book is out. When you visit an actual bookstore in the New Year, pick up a copy of Bookends and read Chabon’s “Meta-Introduction.” If you’re not charmed and beguiled, as I was, no worries—there’s no accounting for taste. But if you like the opening bit, this book is definitely for you.
Christina Thompson’s Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia is coming from Harper in March. This is one, like the Sara Lodge book, that I haven’t seen in an ARC but am eagerly looking forward to nonetheless. The publisher calls it “a blend of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel and Simon Winchester’s Pacific, a thrilling intellectual detective story that looks deep into the past to uncover who first settled the islands of the remote Pacific, where they came from, how they got there, and how we know.” If it really has such a strong whiff of the blustering Guns, Germs, and Steel, I’ll be unlikely to get too far in it. But I suspect—based in part on a brief interview with the author in Publishers Weekly—that the “thrilling intellectual detective story” claim is true; it reminds me a bit of one of my favorite books of 2018, Craig Childs’s Atlas of a Lost World: Travels in Ice Age America (more on that in a couple of weeks; also see my column in the Advent 2018 issue of The Englewood Review of Books, coming soon).
I could go on and on. One of the books I was most looking forward to for 2018, then for 2019—a volume from Columbia University Press’s splendid Russian Library—is now slated to come out in 2021! That’s In Gogol’s Shadow, by Andrei Sinyavsky, translated by Josh Billings. (If you missed my column on Sinyavsky several months ago, you can read it here.) It’s occurred to me more than once that a time will come when books I’ve been looking forward to will be published after I’m dead, assuming I don’t first descend into dementia or merely the great detachment that sometimes accompanies old age.
In the meantime, I’d like to hear from you about some of the books you’re looking forward to in 2019: books on baseball, the blues, the Old Testament, or whatever is on your list.
John Wilson is a contributing editor for The Englewood Review of Books.