As we all emerge from isolation, it’s time to start planning summer reading lists. Whether you’re keeping it simple this year in a backyard hammock or traveling to see beloved friends and family, you probably need some ideas for books to keep you entertained and informed. Our suggestions for May releases include historical and literary fiction, a political manifesto and an essay collection from a beloved author:
“The Woman With the Blue Star: A Novel,” by Pam Jenoff (May 4)
Jenoff (“The Lost Girls of Paris”) spent two years in Krakow working for the State Department, and she uses her knowledge of Poland to great effect in this story set during World War II. A young Jewish woman, Sadie Gault, is hiding out in the city sewer when she meets an unlikely ally, Ella Stepanek. What unfolds is a page-turner based on true stories.
“The Premonition: A Pandemic Story,” by Michael Lewis (May 4)
Lewis, who’s known for enlivening complex and otherwise dry subjects (“The Big Short,” “Moneyball”), turns his attention to our nation’s COVID-19 crisis with a “nonfiction thriller” about various people who tried to ring the alarm about the virus’ catastrophic potential, even when the Trump administration tried to shut them down.
“On Juneteenth,” by Annette Gordon-Reed (May 4)
Pulitzer-winning historian Gordon-Reed blends nonfiction and memoir in her new book exploring Juneteenth, the commemoration of June 19, 1865, the day Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger announced the end of legalized slavery in Texas. The author grapples with the question of whether a holiday declared by a white man in her home state fits today’s anti-racist struggle.
“Great Circle: A Novel,” by Maggie Shipstead (May 4)
Shipstead’s sweeping new female-centered epic intertwines the story of Marian, an aviator who wants to circumnavigate the globe, with that of actor Hadley Baxter, cast a century later to play Marian in a film. What can Marian’s life tell Hadley about her own? The fascinating answer to that question is just one reason “Great Circle” should be on everyone’s TBR pile this season.
“Off Our Chests: A Candid Tour Through the World of Cancer,” by John Marshall and Liza Marshall (May 4)
John Marshall of Georgetown University Hospital is a world-class oncologist who thought he knew everything about cancer. But when his wife, Liza, was diagnosed with breast cancer, both Marshalls discovered they needed more than that expertise. In alternating chapters, the couple details what worked and what didn’t, what helped and what hurt on Liza’s path to becoming a survivor.
“Persist,” by Elizabeth Warren (May 4)
Warren may not have become president, but, as her title suggests, that doesn’t mean she’s finished. In her new book, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts explains how her many facets — as a mother, teacher, planner, fighter, learner and American woman—- influence her continued vision and advocacy.
“Project Hail Mary: A Novel,” by Andy Weir (May 4)
If you loved “The Martian,” you’ll go crazy for Weir’s latest. Astronaut Ryland Grace wakes up on a spaceship, but he doesn’t know why he’s there. He doesn’t even know his own name; all he knows is that he’s been asleep for a long, long time. Slowly, as he pieces together his story, he remembers that his mission is crucial to humanity, and he doesn’t have much time to complete it.
“The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet,” by John Green (May 18)
Many will recognize Green’s name from his books for young adults, such as “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Looking for Alaska.” But Green also writes for a grown-up audience, as he does with this collection of shorter works based on his podcast of the same name. Green “reviews” everything from the sunsets we experience to the movies we watch as contemporary humans with uncertain futures.
“The Living Sea of Waking Dreams,” by Richard Flanagan (May 25)
If you read “The Narrow Road to the Deep North,” you’ll understand that Flanagan is one of our greatest living novelists, able to tackle material so wrenching that you can’t stop reading even as you wish you could. His latest is set in a bleak near future filled with fires and extinctions, where a dying woman begins to vanish. First her finger, then her knee — and it happens to others, too.
“Heaven: A Novel,” by Mieko Kawakami, translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd (May 25)
Kawakami’s first novel translated into English was “Breasts and Eggs,” in 2020, a powerful exploration of contemporary Japanese womanhood. “Heaven” takes on the issue of bullying and why a victim might choose not to fight back. Two teenagers bond over their torment, and their passive response reveals many kinds of societal injustice.
Bethanne Patrick is the editor, most recently, of “The Books That Changed My Life: Reflections by 100 Authors, Actors, Musicians and Other Remarkable People.”