Thomas Page McBee was the first trans man to fight in a charity boxing match at the Madison Square Garden in 2016. In his second memoir, Amateur (Scribner, $24), he uses the story of his training to examine masculinity, gender, and navigating the world of boxing as a trans person. McBee is a raw writer: his prose is precise and tender, exposing all his vulnerabilities and worries. He looks at violence and gender stereotypes and what they do to men, and yet his empathy is coupled with the need to be better and be accountable for his thoughts and actions. McBee is one of the most articulate and self-aware authors working today, and Amateur is a beautiful and eye-opening read.
Convenience Store Woman (Grove, $20), by Sayaka Murata, is an intimate glimpse into an ordinary life that, in the eyes of society, is still not ordinary enough. The book’s protagonist, Keiko, is quite content with her self-acclaimed peculiar, quiet existence, but everyone around her is always trying to judge and “fix” her. Keiko’s internal dialogue and her attempts to construct a “normal” identity make this book one of the best character studies in modern literature. This tiny novel packs in a Kafkaesque look at conformity, questions about how to live one’s life and what it means to be “normal.” all with a fiercely feminist voice and sharp insight. Get it for someone who is looking for the perfect entry point into contemporary Japanese literature, or for a slightly quirky and unsettling read.
Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers (Viking, $27) travels through the years, merging past and present with two narratives, one about the AIDS crisis in Chicago in the 1980s, the other about a mother searching for her daughter in Paris in 2015. The stories are connected by subplots, characters, and themes, all propelled by Makkai’s riveting narration. Chicago was hit heavily by AIDS, and yet there are few books written about the city in that time of crisis. Makkai went the extra mile with research and in-person interviews for the novel, and her dedication shows in the intricate and skillful way she chronicles the epidemic from its beginnings until almost the present day. Get this incredible novel for someone who will savor commitment to reading a layered and rich book. This novel is an immersive education, both in history and in storytelling.