BY frieze in Books | 05 APR 24

What to Read This Spring

From a posthumously published book by Elias Canetti to Lauren Oyler’s latest collection of essays, the frieze team recommend the new books they’re most excited about

BY frieze in Books | 05 APR 24

The Book Against Death (May, 2024) By Elias Canetti

Elias Canetti, The Book Against Death, 2024
Elias Canetti, The Book Against Death, 2024, book cover. Courtesy: New Directions

This heterogeneous collage of vignettes, literary theory and personal musings against the notion of dying, from the Nobel Prize-winning author of Auto-da-Fé (1947), is stitched together by a humorous, analytically sharp tone, with a healthy dose of anger and despair. Canetti – who died 30 years ago – did not go gently, famously accepting his death only after he had read all his obituaries and corrected them. Skilfully translated here by Peter Filkins (I also recommend his English version of Ingeborg Bachmann’s poetry), the novel plunges the reader headlong into existential dread and joy.

– IVANA CHOLAKOVA, editorial assistant

Until August (March, 2024) By Gabriel García Márquez

Gabriel García Márquez, Until August, 2024
Gabriel García Márquez, Until August, 2024, book cover. Courtesy: Knopf

There’s nothing more sacrilegious than denying the dying wish of an esteemed novelist. But that is exactly what has happened with the posthumous publication of Until August; the Colombian writer instructed his sons to destroy the manuscript he wrote in his final years while living with dementia. ‘Yes, it was a betrayal,’ García Barcha Márquez told BBC’s Front Row radio programme in March, ‘but that’s what children are for’. Until August reads more like a sketch for a play than a fully conceived novel and many critics believe it should never have seen the light of day. But I heartily disagree. Otherwise, the world would never have been gifted with the author’s only book centred on a female protagonist. A gift, no matter how poorly packaged, is still a gift.

– ANGEL LAMBO, associate editor

The Eighth Moon (May, 2024) By Jennifer Kabat

Jennifer Kabat, The Eighth Moon, 2024
Jennifer Kabat, The Eighth Moon, 2024, book cover. Courtesy: Milkweed Editions

I’m looking forward to this memoir by long-time frieze contributor Jennifer Kabat, whose idiosyncratic interests range from the ‘secret history of weeds’ to Lynn Hershman Leeson’s doppelgängers. In this first part of a diptych, Kabat writes with characteristically lyrical incision about her Catskills community in upstate New York, its historic, farmer-led ‘Anti-Rent War’ and her parents’ own interests in collectivity. Volume two publishes next year.

– MARKO GLUHAICH, associate editor

Blue Ruin (May, 2024) By Hari Kunzru

Hari Kunzru, Blue Ruin, 2024
Hari Kunzru, Blue Ruin, 2024, book cover. Courtesy: Scribner

Hari Kunzru’s last book Red Pill (2020) – a reference to The Matrix (1999) – was an Orwellian novel fomented by four years of the Donald Trump presidency. In his forthcoming book, Kunzru takes on the COVID-19 pandemic and the art world in an age-old tale of a failed artist turned delivery man. Jay – an undocumented Indian man living in upstate New York – finds himself in an awkward encounter with a former lover and smug gallerists at the height of the pandemic. The book’s premise felt a bit cringe to me, which was part of the appeal – another opportunity for Kunzru to bring his brilliance out of the most unassuming plots.

– TERENCE TROUILLOT, senior editor

Notice (March, 2024) By Heather Lewis 

Heather Lewis , Notice, 2024
Heather Lewis, Notice, 2024, book cover. Courtesy: Serpent's Tail

Semiotexte just reissued Heather Lewis’s second – and final – novel, first published posthumously by Serpent’s Tail in 2004, shortly after the author’s suicide. A brutal meditation on sexual violence, early readers were mortified by Lewis’s account of a teenaged sex worker who is arrested and incarcerated in a hospital intent on destroying the patient. It is a difficult yet necessary read, a brutal book of the most bitter truths.

– ANDREW DURBIN, editor-in-chief

Revolutionary Acts: Love & Brotherhood in Black Gay Britain (March, 2024) By Jason Okundaye

Jason Okundaye, Revolutionary Acts: Love & Brotherhood in Black Gay Britain, 2024
Jason Okundaye, Revolutionary Acts: Love & Brotherhood in Black Gay Britain, 2024, book cover. Courtesy: Faber 

I highly recommend this debut for the level of care, attention and rigour paid to the power of oral history and the task of telling the stories of those older than us while they are in a position to do so. Okundaye hones on Brixton in south London as a central node of queer connection and protest by telling the stories of older Black gay men, such as photographer Ajamu X and campaigner Alex Owolade, which he gathered over many hours of interviews. Okundaye visits their homes and navigates archival records to weave together a rich, vital story about those who formed powerful networks of love, friendship and camaraderie, despite the multiple forms of discrimination meted upon them due to their race and gender. The story traverses the 1980s and ’90s, a turbulent moment in British politics marked by Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act, which prohibited ‘promoting homosexuality by teaching or publishing material’. Okundaye treats his subjects with sensitivity and care, acknowledging from the outset that his project can feel like a ‘rescue effort’ against the erasure occasioned by the passing of time, while also conceding that every archive has its blind spots: stories, objects and narratives can be excluded just as easily as they are included. The author’s compassion for his subjects is mirrored by the care they show each other – offering housing to those kicked out by parents or family members, for instance –  and there’s another rhyme in the way that gossip comes to be a valuable form of storytelling. Revolutionary Acts is unique in scope, and highlights the importance of asking biographical subjects to record their stories while they are alive: it is rich in desire, political difference, contradiction and humour.

– VANESSA PETERSON, associate editor

No Judgment (March 2024) By Lauren Oyler

 Lauren Oyler, No Judgment, 2024
Lauren Oyler, No Judgment, 2024, book cover. Courtesy: Virago

Lauren Oyer first made her name taking down some of the biggest authors in contemporary literature in caustic longform reviews for the New Yorker, Harpers and London Review of Books, which she (rather bravely) followed up with novel of her own, Fake Accounts, in 2021. Published by Virago at the beginning of March, No Judgement is Oyler’s first essay collection, and sees her widen her focus from the 21st-century novel into eight unpublished texts on topics such as living in Berlin, revenge, gossip and anxiety. I haven’t started on my copy of No Judgement yet, but early takes – such as a review by Rachel Cooke for The Guardian that accuses the book of ‘Small Circulation Lit Mag’ preoccupations – suggest it’s going to be at least as divisive as I’d hoped.

– CHLOE STEAD, assistant editor

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