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These are the big books to read this spring

Haruki Murakami has a new book arriving Tuesday. Elizabeth McCracken's story collection is on the way. 'The Final Revival of Opal an Nev' is worthy of its buzz.

Novels by Dawnie Walton and Andy Weir are two of spring 2021's big books
Novels by Dawnie Walton and Andy Weir are two of spring 2021's big booksRead moreSimon & Schuster / Penguin Random House

If reading tastes change with the seasons, spring is the wild card.

Summer’s easy: thrillers, romances, autobiographies, trashy paperbacks you have to shake the sand out of while taking care not to dislodge the receipt you’re using for a bookmark.

In the fall, it feels right to match the looming chill with an old-school Gothic novel, but also with detective yarns, true crime, or straight-up horror, depending on your baseline level of tension. Maybe throw in one of those suspiciously confident nonfiction books about how paprika changed the course of human history.

Ambitious sagas and dystopias are good for cozying up to during the winter — as are fantasy novels about quests in temperate climates.

The mystery box that is spring feels suited to whims and awakenings. Collections of essays by new authors and stories by old favorites are popping up this year. Bold, brainy books about art, science, and history are in bloom. Lost treasures are being unearthed, reprinted, translated.

At least one of these big spring books should have something to suit your mood. Some are newly published, and others are coming soon to a bookseller near you.

The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, & Dreams Deferred, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein. We live in a golden age of science books that artfully escape their usual bounds — merging astrophysics with poetry, biology with philosophy — and still The Disordered Cosmos stands apart for its interweaving of history and its righteous argument that we can do better. Right now, the way we talk about theoretical physics and science in general is built on rickety assumptions (of whiteness, maleness, accessibility) says first-time author and particle cosmologist Prescod-Weinstein, whose perspective is informed not only by her studies at Harvard, NASA, and MIT, but by her experiences as a woman of Afro-Caribbean and Ashkenazi Jewish descent. “Cosmology is a deeply human impulse — we have always wanted to have a sense of where we came from and why we are here.” And that “we” is everybody. (Bold Type Books/Hachette, available now)

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, Dawnie Walton. In her powerful debut novel, Walton sews a fictional rock duo so seamlessly into the fabric of music history you’ll be tempted to Google as you read to hear Opal & Nev’s nascent Afro-punk sound, to see their pictures, to share shaky footage of their provocative live shows. But they are fictional and can be found only in this sensational book, largely framed as an oral history of the young Black singer from Detroit and the older white British guitarist who somehow found each other and rocked the world in the early ’70s until things came to an infamous, terrible end. Now, the estranged Opal and Nev are considering a comeback tour, but first they’ve got some baggage to unpack. (37 Ink/Simon & Schuster, available now)

A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance, Hanif Abdurraqib. “Stream of consciousness” doesn’t quite do justice to the contemplative and scholarly approach Abdurraqib takes toward social criticism, but it is a joy to watch his mind work. In his new collection of interconnected essays, the author of They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us and Go Ahead in the Rain again excavates the bits of pop culture that often get paved over by white supremacy and our collective short-term memory. As for the parts we think we know — Abdurraqib has lots to say about Whitney Houston, Dave Chappelle, Green Book, Altamont, and more — it’s his pointed and frequently personal re-examinations that set A Little Devil soaring. (Penguin Random House, available now)

First Person Singular, Haruki Murakami. If you’re not into Murakami, I get it. I was once like you, and sometimes I still am. The Japanese author of Norwegian Wood and IQ84 can be bewildering and frustrating in his storytelling, sometimes sabotaging long stretches of realism and emotion with moments so absurd and/or meta that you stop thinking of the characters and start thinking about the writer. But there’s no denying his works are memorable. I’m four stories into the eight that make up First Person Singular, and I can’t stop thinking about their beauty, their charm, and their weirdness. A little discomfort is good for you. Builds character. (Knopf, publishes Tuesday)

Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing, Lauren Hough. Back in 2018, Hough’s hilarious, harrowing essay on the indignities of working as a cable guy got passed around on social media and the consensus was: Get this woman a book deal. Somebody did, and here it is. Armed with a biting wit, a sharp eye for detail, and a laundry list of grievances, Hough unloads on a life’s worth of absurd, sometimes horrible experiences, from growing up in David Berg’s controversial Christian sect the Children of God and serving in the Air Force in the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell era. Like Tara Westover’s Educated, Hough’s Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing offers a glimpse of another America and lets you try to reconcile it with the one you know. (Knopf Doubleday, April 13)

The Souvenir Museum, Elizabeth McCracken. You know how Aaron Sorkin tilt-shifts reality to bring idealism to the forefront? McCracken is like that but for humor. In her realm, everything is funny — to somebody, if not always to the protagonist. Even the darkest and saddest moments may be laced with sweet, tall-tale absurdity. Her new collection The Souvenir Museum has more of what made her 2019 novel Bowlaway such a hit. It’s full of stories set in the real world but just cockeyed enough to pass as apocryphal family folklore told at a Thanksgiving dinner table once everybody’s full of pie and wine. (Ecco, April 13)

Terminal Boredom, Izumi Suzuki. The author is something of a pop culture icon in Japan — a high-school dropout turned model and actress who came late to writing, publishing several memorable sci-fi novels and short stories for one prolific decade before taking her own life in 1986 at 36. The English-speaking world will finally get a glimpse into Suzuki’s world thanks to indie publisher Verso, starting with this collection. Another collection, Love<Death, comes next year. A multitude of translators were enlisted for Terminal Boredom’s seven stories, which play with tech, gender, and tradition in marvelous ways. Highly recommended. (Verso, April 20)

Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir. Best known as the author of The Martian, Weir specializes in extraplanetary, extra-sciencey science-fiction survival stories. And he’s never been as far from Earth as he is in Project Hail Mary. Again, there’s a stranded astronaut, but this one wakes up in very deep space with a bad case of amnesia and a ship full of dead crewmates. Will he remember his important mission and science-up a solution in time to save humanity? Admittedly, Weir can be wordy and a bit corny, but that never stopped Stephen King. And Weir knows his strengths: quips, math, physics, tension, twists, more quips. This latest is another escapist thrill ride. (Penguin Random House, May 4)

Noise: A Flaw In Human Judgment, Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony, Cass Sunstein. Why will two judges hand out very different sentences to very similar defendants? Why might two insurance underwriters come up with vastly different assessments of the same property? Bias, of course, is the usual suspect. Another, underdiscussed factor is noise, the small smudge on the lens of human judgment that can have substantial effects on outcomes. The concept is the focus of this sure-to-be-popular non-pop-psychology book by Daniel Kahneman — Nobel Prize winner and author of 2011 best-seller Thinking, Fast and Slow — and two other experts in the field of behavioral economics. (Little, Brown Spark, May 18)

With Teeth, Kristen Arnett. The author’s debut novel, 2019′s Mostly Dead Things, was bitingly funny but kind of calm, thoughtfully exploring themes of grief, family, queerness, and taxidermy. Some of With Teeth is like that, too — when it’s not tense or explosive. The opening pages describe young mother Sammie racing across a crowded playground to rescue her toddler son from a strange man trying to lure him away. Motherhood is hell in general, but especially for Sammie, whose ceaseless self-doubts are compounded by worries about her put-together breadwinner wife Monika and their eerily quiet son, who’s either just a little odd or a little monster, she’s not quite sure. The reader, meanwhile, is suspicious of all of them. (Riverhead/Penguin Random House, June 1)