Page-Turners: Compelling Books — and Authors — to Check Out This Spring

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Critic’s Pick: Worlds Apart 

Raised in a working-class family in southeast London, Kate Tempest witnessed firsthand how generational poverty gives rise to drug use and violence, how souls get crushed under the tedium of manual labor. At sixteen, she attended a local open-mic night to spit rhymes on the subject; since then, she’s shaped her lyrical creations into unconventional poetry and spoken-word performances. Now she’s written a novel: The Bricks That Built the Houses (May 3, Bloomsbury USA, 416 pages), which tells the story of three strapped young Londoners getting the hell out of town. Given Tempest’s considerable talent for penetrating the inner lives of the down-and-out, we should expect a tale of struggle on multiple planes — between friends and within individual psyches — as our protagonists oscillate between confidence and self-doubt, ambition and hopelessness, in the face of leaving everything they’ve ever known behind. Also coming this season is a short-story collection from Helen Phillips, whose funny but unsettling The Beautiful Bureaucrat — a 2015 novel set in a surreal workplace where employees are forced to keep silent and never take lunch breaks — drew comparisons to Kafka. Some Possible Solutions (May 31, Henry Holt and Co., 240 pages) guarantees even more peculiar worlds, including one wherein everyone knows the exact date of their death, and another that brims with romantic couplings between earthlings and hermaphrodites from outer space. If these stories keep pace with Phillips’s writing to date, then they will more than startle — her work already forces readers to confront life’s biggest questions while finding humor in our own world’s irrationality and cruelty. — Amy Brady

John Jodzio
March 24
Powerhouse Arena, 37 Main Street, Brooklyn,

It might seem like John Jodzio relies on shock factor, and in a way, he does, but not how you think. Sure, his stories almost exclusively depict fringe-living weirdos in even weirder situations: navigating the buyer’s market for used sex chairs, extreme agoraphobia, tiger abduction. But even though his themes elicit a “what?” and then a prompt “no!” usually from the first sentence on, Jodzio’s real ability to surprise comes across in his characters’ humanity: They’re really just like us. For those willing to go down that rabbit hole, Knockout promises more of the same dark humor. See Jodzio in conversation with Emily Condon, Jonathan Goldstein, and Sean Cole at this book launch. — Heather Baysa

Barney Hoskyns
April 4
The Strand, 828 Broadway,

Even this deep into the digital era, the derisive “small-town mentality” observation still gets tossed around, as if geography alone determines how people think. So what is it about certain places that will win the approval of urbanites? Barney Hoskyns tells the tale of one beloved New York City outpost in his new book, Small Town Talk: Bob Dylan, The Band, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Friends in the Wild Years of Woodstock. At this event, Hoskyns banters with fellow music writer Michael Azerrad about how an upstate hamlet became the site of rock’s most iconic event. — Heather Baysa

Poetry 2016: Past Is Present
April 8–9
BAM Fisher, 321 Ashland Place, Brooklyn,

The artists in this program represent the intersection of literature and performance — theirs is work that must be seen and heard to be fully appreciated. For this reason, it’s one of the livelier annual readings, having become a showcase for hip-hop artists, dancers, musicians, and DJs as much as poets. This year’s roster features Liza Jessie Peterson, Climbing PoeTree, Jennifer Cendaña Armas, Flaco Navaja, and music by Yako440 with DJ Reborn. — Heather Baysa

Kelly Link + Helen Oyeyemi
April 20
Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway,

Working in genres that have become largely associated with y.a. (fairytales, supernatural horror), Helen Oyeyemi (Boy, Snow, Bird) crafts complex but no less magical adult fiction about race and identity. Kelly Link (Get in Trouble) is similarly attuned to the strange and inexplicable, wresting the human emotion from all things fantastic in her wistful story collections. Here, BuzzFeed‘s Isaac Fitzgerald hosts a reading, conversation, and performance based on the two authors’ work. — Heather Baysa

Independent Bookstore Day
April 30
Various locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens,

IBD is the perfect time to gather a group, indulge in a complicated coffee beverage of some kind, and bookstore-hop the day away. Now in its third year, the nationwide celebration of brick-and-mortar bookshops features sixteen exclusive titles and art pieces, as well as sales, games, snacks, and other surprises depending on the location. New York City is home to nine of the four hundred participating stores. — Heather Baysa

Don DeLillo
May 3
Scribner, 288 pages,

DeLillo is one of America’s greatest living influencers of modernism, postmodernism, and whatever other -ism comes after that. As he approaches his eightieth year and seventeenth novel, DeLillo’s go-to themes are still as resonant as they were four decades ago: disaster, technology, war, love, death, life, and the tall task of coping with them all in uncertain times. Zero K‘s protagonists wrestle with wealth, biomedical advances, and something like cryogenics, leaving a father and a son at odds over the meaning of human nature. — Heather Baysa

Lindy West
May 18
Word Bookstore, 126 Franklin Street, Brooklyn,

West, the unapologetically badass writer/editor/performer behind #ShoutYourAbortion and the support blog I Believe You | It’s Not Your Fault, is back in the service of femme-kind with Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman. In her literary debut, West recounts her transition from quietude to out-loud activist, ruminating on the special hostility pop culture reserves for fat, funny women. She’ll read selections at this afternoon’s launch. — Heather Baysa

Arthur Lubow
May 23
New York Public Library, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street,

Few photographers have challenged traditional standards of beauty as tenaciously as Diane Arbus, who depicted her pantheon of marginalized subjects as simultaneously tragic and defiant. Drawing on exclusive interviews and newly unearthed letters, Lubow’s biography, Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer, explores the artist’s incredible body of work and unique technical approach. Here, Lubow talks Arbus with the author Wendy Lesser. — Heather Baysa