15 New Books for February

This month, we’ve got our eyes on Circle Way, How to Date a Flying Mexican, The Swimmers, and 12 other titles by writers from the West.

february alta journal book picks
Alta
1 BLACK CAKE, BY CHARMAINE WILKERSON
black cake, charmaine wilkerson
Ballantine Books

When Eleanor Bennett dies, she leaves behind a black cake and a tape recording for her children, Bryon and Benny. Along with secrets from her past, the message includes a final request for the siblings to “share the black cake when the time is right.” Will the two children overcome the shock of their mother’s confessions, Wilkerson’s novel asks, or will the past drive them apart? Ballantine Books, February 1.

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2 THE BOY WITH A BIRD IN HIS CHEST, BY EMME LUND
boy with a bird in his chest, emme lund
Atria Books

Owen Tanner holds a secret within his chest: a live talking bird named Gail. After years of hiding at home, he is forced to run away, only to form bonds with his extended family as he experiences the joys and tribulations of the world. Lund’s debut novel is a tender bildungsroman that deals honestly with magic, love, grace, and fear. Atria Books, February 15.

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3 CIRCLE WAY: A DAUGHTER'S MEMOIR, A WRITER'S JOURNEY HOME, BY MARY ANN HOGAN
circle way, mary ann hogan
Wonderwell

Circle Way is a beautiful ode to Hogan’s late father, Bill, a longtime editor at the San Francisco Chronicle. Mixing poetry, journalism, art, and ephemera, Hogan goes through her father’s life, while also uncovering secrets about other progenitors. The result is a portrait of a fascinating family. Wonderwell, February 15.

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4 DEAD COLLECTIONS, BY ISAAC FELLMAN
dead collections, isaac fellman
Penguin Books

Fellman, an archivist at the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco, melds LGBTQ romance, fantasy, and a bit of fan fiction into this love story. Elsie, a widow, meets reclusive archivist Sol while donating, and then organizing, the papers of her late wife, a writer of a popular TV series. The two fall in love despite Sol’s secret illness: vampirism, which confines him to his dark office. Penguin Books, February 22.

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5 THE DÉJÀ VU: BLACK DREAMS & BLACK TIME, BY GABRIELLE CIVIL
the dÉjÀ vu, gabrielle civil
Coffee House Press

Civil’s memoir blends performance, personal thoughts and letters, critical analysis, conversational prose and poetry, and much more to create a work that treats memory, time, and space with reverence. She fuses history and Black feminist tradition with personal meditation, moving around and outside the confines inherent in the categorizing of time. Coffee House Press, February 22.

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6 DILLA TIME: THE LIFE AND AFTERLIFE OF J DILLA, THE HIP-HOP PRODUCER WHO REINVENTED RHYTHM, BY DAN CHARNAS
dilla time, dan charnas
MCD

Charnas traces the personal, spiritual, and musical journeys of hip-hop legend J Dilla, from his childhood in Detroit to his untimely death, at 32, from a rare blood disease. Based on more than 150 interviews and packed with graphics that illustrate the music that influenced his style, this biography challenges the reader to “see” the rhythm as Dilla did. MCD, February 1.

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7 HOW TO DATE A FLYING MEXICAN: NEW AND COLLECTED STORIES, BY DANIEL A. OLIVAS
how to date a flying mexican, daniel a olivas
University of Nevada Press

Prompted by tragedy—the death of his father and the pandemic—Olivas revisits decades of writing to produce this collection of new and previously published stories. Olivas’s work is surreal, dystopian, critical, and introspective, ultimately moving into contemporary political rhetoric. University of Nevada Press, February 22.

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8 LESSER KNOWN MONSTERS OF THE 21ST CENTURY, BY KIM FU
lesser known monsters of the 21st century, kim fu
Tin House Books

Fu’s collection of strange and fantastic tales includes monsters, machines, and haunted dolls, as the usual becomes unusual; the unexpected, commonplace. In one story, a woman’s house becomes infested with unshakable bugs. In another, a couple pay to murder each other in a simulation. The book offers commentary on relationships, technology, and what we think we know about one another. Tin House Books, February 1.

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9 THE PERFECT SOUND: A MEMOIR IN STEREO, BY GARRETT HONGO
the perfect sound, garrett hongo
Pantheon Books

From Empire 398 turntables and Hawaiian steel guitars to Dynakit tube amplifiers and arias, Hongo’s memoir captures the beauty, wisdom, and transcendence of music, as well as its myriad delivery systems. Equal parts essay, biography, and love letter, The Perfect Sound is at its heart an exploration of the power of music. Pantheon Books, February 22.

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10 STRING FOLLOW, BY SIMON JACOBS
string follow, simon jacobs
MCD X FSG Originals

In Jacobs’s novel, a malevolent force arrives in the town of Adena, Ohio. At the center of its attention is a group of teenagers, each of whom battles insecurities and inner demons. Any could be chosen by the force, but it wants Sarah, the most pure of them all. The town’s fate hangs in Sarah’s decision—will she bend to evil or fight against it? MCD X FSG Originals, February 1.

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11 THE SWIMMERS, BY JULIE OTSUKA
the swimmers,  julie otsuka
Knopf

Alice’s only hope of battling encroaching dementia involves swimming laps in her public pool. But when a crack appears, she finds herself without this daily solace. Witnessing Alice’s spiral is her daughter, with whom she has only recently reunited after years of estrangement. Regret consumes both in Otsuka’s novel, leaving no option but to look to the past for comfort. Knopf, February 22.

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12 WHAT MY BONES KNOW: A MEMOIR OF HEALING FROM COMPLEX TRAUMA, BY STEPHANIE FOO
what my bones know, stephanie food
Ballantine Books

In this memoir about returning to her hometown of San Jose, radio journalist and producer Foo offers a psychology-informed exploration of the immigrant experience and the impact of generational trauma on a community and an individual. Foo revisits a past of abuse and neglect while trying to understand—and make a record of—how her upbringing has affected her present and how she can find resilience and relief. Ballantine Books, February 22.

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13 WHAT’S GOOD: NOTES ON RAP AND LANGUAGE, BY DANIEL LEVIN BECKER
what’s good, daniel levin becker
City Lights Books

In What’s Good, Becker analyzes the different uses of language in rap. His book performs a unique and exciting rhetorical move, presenting itself as a sort of freestyle in its own right: short, punchy chapters that each focus on a single lyric. City Lights Books, February 1.

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14 WHITE WEDDING, BY KATHLEEN J. WOODS
white wedding, kathleen woods
Fiction Collective 2

Questions of consent, desire, the control we have over our own bodies, and the influence of American cultural values abound in Woods’s novel about a mysterious and unknown woman, covered in bodily fluids, who crashes a wedding looking to give each guest she encounters what they might be seeking, even if it terrifies them. Fiction Collective 2, February 22.

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15 WILDCAT, BY AMELIA MORRIS
wildcat, amelia morris
Flatiron

Morris’s novel attends to the emotions of Los Angeles mother Leanne as she breaks one friendship and makes another. Leanne struggles to maintain her equilibrium while writing a book and managing an increasingly combative social media presence, not to mention holding grudges, attempting to communicate with her dead father, and deciding whether to vaccinate her son. Flatiron, February 22.

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