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May 2020 books Maggie Doherty Naoise Dolan

All the books to read this May instead of sitting in the park

Kate Zambreno’s latest novel is a timely chronicle of loneliness, while Maggie Doherty draws on the power of female friendship, and Naoise Dolan’s debut is a fearless, caustic story of knotted modern love

As we enter another month of worldwide lockdown, our habits and behaviours might still be a little haywire. Maybe you’re devouring books like never before, or the thought of concentrating on a complex storyline tires you out. Whatever your mood or attention span right now, it’s totally okay to dip in and out of a Twitter-approved novel, to escape into a familiar fantasy series from childhood, to read some non-fic or spiky political drama to have you raring to destroy capitalism once we’re out of quarantine. For the month of May, we’ve rounded up some of the most satisfying, urgent, and illuminating new reads. There’s a dazzling, deadpan debut from Irish writer Naoise Dolan, to Kate Zambreno’s timely survey of modern loneliness. Photographer Alina van Ryzin gives us an intimate look into Bryn Mawr, a historic all-women’s college in Pennsylvania, and Jenny Zhang’s poetry is a vicious, beautiful exploration of motherhood and womanhood.


A highly anticipated debut, an extract of Naoise Dolan’s Exciting Times appeared first in Irish literary magazine The Stinging Fly’s Sally Rooney guest edit. The story follows Ava, an Irish expat and TEFL teacher in Hong Kong, through to a head spinning love triangle with English banker Julian and Hong Kong-born lawyer Edith. It’s a story of class and status, the challenge of human connection, and sexual power dynamics, with modern Ireland looming close behind. Withering, stylish prose that is at times deceptively simple but always flush with caustic wit, Dolan harnesses technology and social media to deftly tell a story that our protagonist Ava refuses to do outright. Her humour, badinage with both Julian and Edith, and self-sabotaging behaviours are protective measures – her romances, intimacies, and vulnerabilities play out in the writing, redrafting, and deletion of texts, while she aches over Instagram story views, and freaks over the dot-dot-dot of imessage. I savoured every shrewd line. (AC)

Out now, Orion Books


Set in the years following the Palestinian exodus in 1948, where more than 700,000 people Arabs were forced to flee their homes before the Israeli declaration of independence, Minor Detail follows the rape and murder of a young Bedouin woman, and of another woman’s fascination with this ‘minor detail’ in the modern day. Originally written in Arabic, this first English translation of the text by Elisabeth Jaquette is a haunting meditation on the Palestinian experience of dispossession, life under occupation, and the fight to reclaim a narrative in the face of ongoing, systematic erasure. It is Fitzcarraldo (one of Dazed’s fave publishers) first Palestinian book too. (GY)

May 6, Fitzcarraldo Editions


In the 1960s, a century after Harvard’s president said he wouldn’t admit women to the university because “the world knows next to nothing about the capacities of the female sex”, the landscape of the Massachusetts institute was almost unrecognisable. By 1961 when the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study opened, women were thriving at Harvard’s sister school, and were just on the cusp of being recognised as official Harvard students. It’s against this backdrop that Maggie Doherty’s The Equivalents is set, telling the true story of five women who received paid fellowships to the Institute: poets Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin, painter Barbara Swan, sculptor Mariana Pineda, and writer Tillie Olsen. Drawing from notebooks, letters, recordings, journals, poetry, and prose, The Equivalents explores art and activism, love and heartbreak, and the deep bonds that later inspired each artist’s most ambitious works. (BD)

May 19, Knopf


In Clothes… and Other Things That Matter, former British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman explores the meaning of how we dress. Part memoir, part fashion history, part social commentary, Shulman explores how women’s wardrobes intersect with the wider world, from career progression and ambition to motherhood, sexual identity, and body image. Drawing on her own life experiences, Clothes… and Other Things That Matter is a light-hearted look at the more personal world of fashion, encouraging its readers to consider what their own clothes mean to them. (BD)

Out now, Cassell


The first-person narrator of Kate Zambreno’s new novel is trying to write a novel. In our current state of isolation, the things that prevent her from actually doing so might sound familiar. “The heat, the dog, the day, air-conditioning, desiring to exist in the present tense, constant thinking, sickness, fucking, groceries, loneliness, and sadness, the internet, political depression, my period, obsession with skin care, late capitalism, binge-watching television on my computer, competition and jealousy over the attention of other writers, confusion over the novel, circling around but not finishing anything, reading, researching, masturbating, time-passing.”

Though the narrator of DRIFTS resembles her author in many ways, Zambreno is very unlike this narrator in that she is extremely prolific – but fans of her fragmentary works of memoir and cultural criticism like Heroines and Appendix Project haven’t actually seen a novel from the Brooklyn-based writer in nearly a decade. A chronicle of loneliness that builds to an unexpected pregnancy, DRIFTS has come along at a creepily appropriate time – its protagonist, ruminating over the lives of her neighbours from her stoop, examining the precise texture of her dog’s shits, and looking at her email inbox just to “remind herself she exists”, feels like a sympathetic comrade for any woman who is unravelling slightly within four walls right now, haunted by the spectre of her potential productivity. (CMH)

May 19, Riverhead Books


Photographer Alina van Ryzin was grappling with her sexual and gender identities when she was admitted to Bryn Mawr, a historic all-women’s college in Pennsylvania. Turning to the camera in her darkest times, she found the light by photographing the women she met in her time there. In van Ryzin’s images we see love, desire, pleasure, joy, discovery, and much more. Now, for the first time, her images are to be published in a book titled Bryn Mawr. Depicting the rocky road to finding ourselves, van Ryzin captures the universal growing pains of coming-of-age. (AK)

May 5, Kris Graves Projects


In 2015, photographer Lewis Khan undertook a residency at the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, London. During the four years he’s spent capturing the “intimate realities” of the NHS, Khan has stitched together a visual portrait which embodies “the fragility and strength of the body and spirit” of human beings undergoing medical operators and examinations. Being granted such unprecedented access wasn’t a privilege Khan took for granted, and he would often spend days and weeks with members of staff before bringing out his camera. His body of work is now published as Theatre, a photo book which offers deep insight into our beloved NHS. 100 per cent of the book’s profits will go back to the NHS. (AK)

May, Lost Light Books


From trans pioneer and activist Marsha P. Johnson to Lady Gaga, Harvey Milk, Wanda Sykes, and Laverne Cox, Loud & Proud curates some of the most exuberant voices in the LGBTQ+ community and its allies across the decades. Covering expansive issues from gender identity to marriage equality, parenthood, politics, and bullying, each defining speech is introduced with a small bio by public speaker and activist Tea Uglow. Hopeful and galvanising, the anthology spans a sprawling 150 years of queer brilliance, and shows us how far we’ve come, and what work there still is to be done. (AC)

Out now, White Lion Publishing


When diving into a novel or non-fic feels like a mammoth task in an uncertain world, poetry may be the salve you need – and specifically, it’s Jenny Zhang’s new book of poetry that you definitely want to get at. It follows her fierce short story collection Sour Heart from 2017, an aching look at the Chinese immigrant experience in America. Here, Zhang offers more of her vivid, visceral writing, exploring the trauma, triumphs, fetishisation and gendered expectations of motherhood and womanhood. The poems, tender and violent, emotionally head-on and openhearted, pulsate on capitalism and patriarchy, race, and the most feral and primal human instincts. My Baby First Birthday will leave you breathless. (AC)

Out May 12, Tin House


Little Eyes offers up a disturbing, Black Mirror-esque and Orwellian technology: known as kentukis, the animalistic surveillance devices can randomly connect a person in Berlin to a person in Shanghai, where one can observe the other through the creature. The Argentinian author’s unsettling story – translated by Megan McDowell – is told through multiple characters and countries, each vignette getting more weird and creepy, adding up to a startling survey on surveillance and loneliness. It is longlisted for the International Man Booker Prize 2020 too, FYI. (AC)

Out now, Oneworld Publications