How do you single out five books, out of all the hundreds coming out in 2020, for special attention? With great trepidation! Here are five very different books, all highly anticipated, making their way to our shelves in the new year. Here’s hoping it’s full of good reading.
• “Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick: Stories” by Zora Neale Hurston (HarperCollins, $25.99, Jan. 14). The author of “Their Eyes Were Watching God” — a book that mesmerized me when I first read it, many years ago — died in 1960, and some of her work seemed to have died with her. Now, eight of her “lost” stories, dating from her years at Barnard College during the Harlem Renaissance, finally find their way into the light, along with other short works by Hurston combined in book form for the first time. Genevieve West, a professor and Hurston scholar from Texas Woman’s University, edited the stories and wrote the introduction; Tayari Jones, whose novel “An American Marriage” won the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year, contributed a foreword.
• “The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz” by Erik Larson (Crown Publishing, $32, Feb. 25). If you’re a World War II/Winston Churchill buff — or maybe if “The Crown” turned you into one — this book should be just up your alley. Larson, who has a knack for making history come alive (“The Devil in the White City,” “Dead Wake”), will focus on Churchill’s first year as prime minister, beginning in May 1940, and how the newly elected leader taught the British people “the art of being fearless.” I have an early copy of this book on my desk and idly began reading the first pages — and suddenly time disappeared.
• “The Mirror and the Light” by Hilary Mantel (Henry Holt & Co., $30, Mar. 10). With this book, British author Mantel brings to a close her acclaimed historical-fiction trilogy, which began with 2009’s “Wolf Hall” (winner of the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction) and continued with 2012’s “Bring Up the Bodies” (winner of the Man Booker Prize). The new book follows the final years of Thomas Cromwell, after the execution of Anne Boleyn in 1536.
• “Antkind” by Charlie Kaufman (Penguin Random House, $28.99, May 12). In the category of Highly Anticipated Debut Novels comes this one, from a familiar name — Kaufman is the wonderfully trippy screenwriter behind such gems as “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Adaptation,” and “Being John Malkovich.” The novel centers on a “neurotic and underappreciated film critic” named B. Rosenberger Rosenberg, who has stumbled upon an unseen masterpiece — a three-month-long film that took its director 90 years to make. Expect this novel to be bizarre, in (let us hope) a good way.
• “The Lying Life of Adults” by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Europa, $26, June 9). The pseudonymous author of the beloved Neapolitan Quartet — four internationally bestselling novels, beginning with “My Brilliant Friend,” which follow the lifelong friendship of two Naples women — returns with a new novel, also set in Naples and featuring a young woman at its center. Italians lined up at midnight to buy copies of this novel and organized reading vigils when it was published there in November; we’ll have to wait a few more months for the English translation.