7 Books You Need to Read This June

From Milan Kundera’s first book in more than a decade to Aziz Ansari’s guide to romance, bookworms have plenty to latch on to this month

Best of the West

Valley Fever

mechanical(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26, out June 9)
By Katherine Taylor

Ingrid Palamede has traveled the world running from her past, but in the wake of a crippling breakup, she returns to her family’s once-magnificent vineyard just outside of Fresno. Taking the reins from her ailing father, she attempts to bring the family’s crops around for a successful harvest. And, reunited with her family, an old friend, and a could-have-been lover, she begins to find healing. Taylor’s novel is dusty, drunk on the sweltering Central Valley summer. It shows us how life can be influenced by landscape—how devotion to the nourishment of crops can be both harsh taskmaster and salve to the soul. It’s a story of forgiveness, of finding serenity in day-to-day ennui of manual labor and family life. Reading it is a sensory experience: it’s as potent as an old wine with all the zing of a frozen grape on a hot day. But that’s not to say the story is free from intrigue, treachery, and compelling plot—it has all those, too. Sensitively crafted, Taylor’s sophomore novel is a delight (and it pairs wonderfully with a nice Cabernet Sauvignon).


Naked at Lunch: A Reluctant Nudist’s Adventures in the Clothing-Optional World

jobrani(Grove Press, $25, out June 2)
By Mark Haskell Smith

Did you hear about the hole in the nudist colony wall? The police are looking into it—and what they see is Mark Haskell Smith. In typical Gonzo won’t-know-‘til-you-try spirit (he got stoned—a lot—while researching Heart of Dankness, his book on cannabis farmers), Smith drops trou and dives in to the bizarre and brazen world of nudism. Naked at Lunch provides an inside look at the rise and fall of nudist clubs, the banning of San Fran nudity by Supervisor Scott Wiener (yes, he gets the irony of his name), what exactly a nudist fashion show entails, the phenomenon of Tobias-Funke-esque gymnophobia, and what a man at a nudist resort is supposed to do if he gets…well, you know. Join Smith for a cruise on the Big Nude Boat with a bunch of senior citizens for a new appreciation of the human body—a healthy, unabashed acceptance of the droopy, wrinkley, unsexiness that is everyone except for maybe Halle Berry’s destiny. As long as you don’t mind Smith’s tendency to ramble (and aren’t bothered by having to read the phrase “waggling penises” on every other page), Naked at Lunch is worth an ogle.


The Cartel

goldenstate(Knopf, $27.95, out June 23)
By Don Winslow

In this sequel to international best-seller The Power of the Dog, DEA agent Art Keller is back and once again facing off against Adán Barrera, former head honcho of the El Federación cartel and murderer of Keller’s partner/best friend. Set against the harrowing backdrop of the Mexican-American drug wars, The Cartel is a tale of what happens when the quest for justice gets personal. It’s an adrenaline rush, addictive as crack, and epic in the pre-Del-Taco-marketing-their-burritos-as-“epic” sense of the word. Don Winslow deals in corruption, subversion, and revenge with an intensity that makes him irresistible.

Best of the Rest

Stalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva

holycow(Harper, $35, out June 2)
By Rosemary Sullivan

Spoiler: Stalin had a daughter—she lived in Wisconsin—who you’ve never heard of until now. In this biography, Rosemary Sullivan weaves together interviews, letters, and information from the CIA, the KGB, and Soviet files to construct a comprehensive portrait of Svetlana Alliluyeva, a woman whose primary goal in life was to distance herself from her father’s infamy. From Alliluyeva’s lonely, detached life as Communist royalty through her gradual realization of her father’s savagery to her fresh start in the United States in 1967 after the death of her Bronchiectasis-afflicted Indian lover, Sullivan chronicles it all. With a gentle literary touch, she lets readers follow Alliluyeva as she wanders the U.S. and U.K., running from her past—how would you grapple with the knowledge that your father was a mass murderer?—or, perhaps, searching for her future.


The Seven Good Years

girlband(Riverhead Books, $26.95, out June 16)
By Etgar Keret

If the cover of Years seems reminiscent of the popular iPhone game Angry Birds, it’s intentional: in his new memoir, bestselling Israeli author Etgar Keret lives with a constant threat of violence, and yes, he comments on the apparent terrorist attitude underpinning everyone’s favorite bird-related app. The Seven Good Years is Etgar’s first nonfiction book to be released in the States, and it has all the keen observation and sardonic wit of his best fiction (Suddenly, a Knock at the Door). The memoir is bookended by his son’s birth and his father’s death, and it cunningly details the interplay between tragedy and joy. Etgar ruminates on the fact that his son will someday be conscripted into the army. He describes the result of drastically different siblings coming together—The Darjeeling Limited-style—around a parent’s death. This is a story of mustaches, half-hearted exercise, minimalist architecture, and the looming shadow of war—but it is also a story of the hope that somehow rises out of devastation.


Modern Romance

girlband(Penguin Press, $28.95, out June 16)
By Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg

If Aziz Ansari had coauthored, say, Thinking About Sociology: A Critical Introduction, we all would have paid a lot more attention in SOC 101A. As it stands, the Parks and Recreation star has joined forces with Eric Klinenberg, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University, to write a book about romance. What the two of them are doing here is marrying comedy and science, and the result is a book full of smarts, empathy, and meticulous research.

After all it’s a treacherous world out there when it comes to online dating, Tinder, and asking that girl you like out to pizza over text. Treat yo’ self to Ansari’s book, and you’ll find it’s a timely investigation of all the technological tremors that have shaken the way we do romance.


The Festival of Insignificance

girlband(Harper, $23.99, June 23)
By Milan Kundera

In a prior novel, Slowness, Czech expatriate/French author Milan Kundera alluded to his desire to write a book “that would not have a single serious word in it.” Insignificance, which suggests we stop taking life so seriously, might be that book. With his first release in more than a decade, Kundera embraces the unending folly of civilization, not so much with irony or scorn but with good humor. The novel is a sort of epilogue to his prior work, and we can imagine Kundera penning it with a grin: here is a vignette in which Stalin tells a long story to a comrade who desperately has to pee; here is a timely reflection on the erotic nature of the navel (particularly pertinent considering the crop top’s currently en vogue status). Unsurprisingly, Nietzsche’s notion of “eternal recurrence” again influences Kundera’s writing, as, near the end of the novel, life plays itself out as a drama in the Luxembourg Gardens. By its final pages, we started to wonder if there wasn’t a sort of seriousness underscoring the comedy of this wonderful and baffling novel.

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