How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu

Photo: Ben Goldstein/Studio D

1. How to Read the Air
By Dinaw Mengestu
320 pages; Riverhead

"Violence had made and...unmade my world," explains Jonas Woldemariam, the son of Ethiopian immigrants, in Dinaw Mengestu's quiet and beautiful new novel, How to Read the Air. Now a high school teacher in New York, Jonas muses about his solitary midwestern childhood; ever alert to the tripwires in his father's temper and his mother's bruised silences, he has grown into a self-numbing young adult... Read more

Man in the Woods by Scott Spencer

Photo: Ben Goldstein/Studio D

2. Man in the Woods
By Scott Spencer
320 pages; Ecco

Paul Phillips is almost too good to be true. A handsome man's man, and a carpenter by profession, he spends his days building beautiful things with his hands, and his evenings cooking dinner for his recently on-the-wagon girlfriend, Kate, after she comes home from a hard day of promoting her inspirational best-seller, Prays Well with Others. He even does the dishes and puts her daughter, Ruby, to bed... Read more

Salvation City by Sigrid Nunez

Photo: Ben Goldstein/Studio D

3. Salvation City
By Sigrid Nunez
288 pages; Riverhead

A flu pandemic kills millions and leaves survivors to a chaos of shortages, looting, and violence—and that's just the beginning of Sigrid Nunez's wise and richly humane coming-of-age novel, Salvation City. After losing both parents to the virus, 13-year-old Cole Vining is sent to rural Indiana to live with Pastor Wyatt ("PW") and his wife, Tracy, fundamentalist Christians convinced the end of the world is just around the corner... Read more

Half a Life by Darin Strauss

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4. Half a Life
By Darin Strauss
204 pages; McSweeney's

A month shy of his high school graduation, Darin Strauss was driving his father's Oldsmobile when a girl on a bike—a schoolmate—swerved in front of him. It took seconds to kill the girl but 18 years for Strauss to begin to make sense of the tragedy... Read more

Gold Boy, Emerald Girl by Yiyun Li

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5. Gold Boy, Emerald Girl
By Yiyun Li
240 pages; Random House

The tales in Yiyun Li's second collection often take on the otherworldliness of myth, in a country where "big tragedies and small losses [can] all be part of a timeless dream." But what makes Gold Boy, Emerald Girl fascinating is the conflict between traditional and modern-day China... Read more

Bound by Antonya Nelson

Photo: Ben Goldstein/Studio D

6. Bound
By Antonya Nelson
240 pages; Bloomsbury

Antonya Nelson wields words with breathtaking precision in Bound, a novel set in Wichita during the reappearance of real-life killer BTK (bind, torture, kill). As Catherine indulges a lurid nostalgia for the psychopath who first terrorized her hometown 25 years earlier, another part of her past intrudes: A long-out-of-touch friend dies, and Catherine must take in her teenage daughter... Read more

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