Not Brand New

Working in a library means hearing about future best sellers long before they’re published, and then having easy access to them once they hit the shelves. It’s truly an embarrassment of riches, and undoubtedly one of the major perks of the job, but it has skewed my perception of what constitutes a “new” book. This became evident recently when I described a novel I was reading—published in March of this year—as “older.”

My colleague Kelly’s recent blog post about under the radar fiction for young adults got me thinking about books I’ve encountered when they’re not brand new. They may not have been promoted as aggressively by their publishers or won any major awards, but they share a quiet power. These are stories that have snuck up on me, then curled up and stuck around—often well beyond the new releases that I tear through with New York Times reviews and NPR interviews ringing in my ears.

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The aforementioned March 2018 novel is Happiness by Aminatta Forna. It follows a Ghanaian psychiatrist and an American biologist as they pursue urban wildlife, a missing child, and the meaning of resilience. Among the book’s secondary characters are some of the immigrant workers (street sweepers, dishwashers, parking attendants) who make London tick. Forna renders them not only visible, but complex and distinctive.

Vendela Vida’s The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty (2015) is a short, tense novel about a tourist in Morocco whose wallet and passport get stolen. It could be described as a psychological thriller, but I wouldn’t want readers to go in expecting another Gone Girl. Here, the mystery that drives the plot is counterbalanced by thoughtful passages about travel and musings on identity in the age of identity theft.

On the other end of the spectrum from short and tense is the epic, wide-ranging In the Light of What We Know by Zia Haider Rahman (2014). The book opens in 2008 with two friends reuniting in London after two decades apart. As they reconstruct the intervening years, they learn how the upheavals of the new century have already shaped each of them, albeit in very different ways.

We do our best to keep your waiting times for the latest blockbuster books to a minimum, but the next time you’re in line for a best seller, try one of these “older” books. (Looking for more? Fill out our form to get personalized recommendations!)

– Brita, Digital Services Librarian

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