July 2019

January 1, 2021
What a year 2020 was. We closed the store to in-person browsing. We boarded up the windows briefly. We learned how to fulfill online sales at a rate we’d never seen before. We added home delivery, curbside pickup, and appointment shopping to our regular routine. We answered more phone calls than we’ve probably ever gotten.

Thank you to everyone who has stuck with us through these trying times. Your curiosity and thirst for knowledge have kept us going. We don’t yet know what the ‘next normal’ will be for us, but we’re heartened to know that there are so many adventurous, avid readers out there. And we’re still here to help you find books to delight, inspire, and inform you.

This first newsletter of the year is a chance to both look back and look forward. We found a few minutes to reflect on our favorite books of 2020, and we’re happy to tell you about some great new books coming out this month. January is perfect reading weather, you know. Make the most of the quiet winter nights, and travel through a good book. As always, we have a lot of suggestions for you. 

Our booksellers' favorite books of 2020

We've made our list and checked it twice.

We love all the books, of course, but there are some we love just a little bit more than the others. They're not always the critical favorites or the big blockbusters. Some are books you'll recognize; some are the oddballs that spoke to us as readers.

Here is our idiosyncratic, highly biased list of our favorite books published in the last year.

Ambergris: City of Saints and Madmen; Shriek: An Afterword; Finch by Jeff Vandermeer

"I nearly got fired at my first-ever job because I couldn't stop reading City of Saints and Madmen at the register. Ambergris is enough of a deep cut that at one time you could bring City to a Vandermeer signing and he'd look at you like excuse me, where did you find this roadkill? But finally-- the whole Gormen-ghastly, delirious, Nabokovian sprawl is back in print."

Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor

"If Marlon James and the ghost of Gabriel Garcia Marquez collaborated on a feminist crime novel, it would look something like this. Melchor's characters are hustlers and whores, full of yearning and violence and loathing for the hellish world they inhabit. Male brutality--and female complicity--are rarely so fully rendered."

Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell

"This book is an imagined account of the family of William Shakespeare, who reside in Warwickshire while he is off writing and producing plays in London. O’Farrell recounts in gorgeous language the passion, grief, and ultimately, reconciliation with this loss. O’Farrell’s sentences have been described as having a music-like cadence that make the book pure pleasure to read. It is one of those rare books you will want to read and reread and to share with friends."


Looking to Get Lost: Adventures in Music and Writing by Peter Guralnick

"A valuable addition to American music writing. Beautiful profiles of genius composers, from Chuck Berry to Merle Haggard to Willie Dixon and beyond. Guralnick is a fantastic journalist who illuminates the fierce creativity of these transcendent artists and their times. Highly recommended."

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

"Please take me away from pandemics. And Osman does. He took me right to over-the-hill folks solving murders and being amusing as well. A great read. People being both smart and wise."

Birds of Minnesota by Robert B. Janssen

"While I read lots of cover to cover books, both fiction and nonfiction, this is the book that gave me some hope and a look forward during this bizarre year. What armchair pleasure, with its gorgeous color photos and detailed maps, it provides as I anticipate searching for some of these birds in the spring. Janssen’s scholarship and dedication to his life‘s work to document the birds in Minnesota—where they can be found and when—just boggled my mind. I’m an amateur birder at best, but this is a great addition to my collection of guides and would be a welcome gift to birders at any level."


Luster by Raven Leilani

"This novel felt like a story I was being told by my closest girlfriend over glasses of wine. Leilani's prose give a unique and realistic perspective to black female sexuality, feminism, extramarital relationships, and microaggressions in modern society. Hilarious, thought-provoking, and intimate."


A Song Below Water by Bethany Morrow

"A story of two friends, Effie and Tavia, who navigate blackness and misogyny in Portland gets an added twist when Tavia is holding a secret: She is a siren. In this magical realist novel, sirens, gargoyles, and other magical creatures roam the world but some are viewed with more suspicion and distrust than others. An allegory, while also not, for what it means to be black women coming of age while also trying to manage family trauma, culture, identity within their journey to seek safety in a society that is systematically built against you. Great for people that loved The Hate U Give or your favorite mermaid fan, A Song Below Water will make you love the characters and the worldbuilding before you've even finished the first chapter."


Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn

"This is the story of the Filipino-Hawaiian Flores family. Life is a near constant struggle for Malia and Augie. But they have each other, their children, and the beautiful Big Island. With the collapse of the sugar cane industry and the declining financial condition of the family, the three children make their way to the mainland to attend university and to pursue lives there, not all happily. When tragedy revisits the family in Hawaii, they’re all forced to reevaluate their beliefs and the meaning of family. This book is so gorgeously written, the story and the characters will stay with me for a long time. One of my favorites this year."


Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

"In Earthlings, Sayaka Murata takes the central theme of her hit novel Convenience Store Woman--a woman’s response to societal pressure towards marriage and motherhood--and turns it up to eleven. Earthlings is raw and shocking, and yet I closed the book wanting even more. Not for the faint of heart, Earthlings is a shocking funhouse mirror held up to the modern world."


New year, new books
We have the hottest new books for cold winter nights.


The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr

"A new kind of epic...A grand achievement...While The Prophets' dreamy realism recalls the work of Toni Morrison...its penetrating focus on social dynamics stands out more singularly." 
--Entertainment Weekly

Isaiah was Samuel's and Samuel was Isaiah's. That was the way it was since the beginning, and the way it was to be until the end. In the barn they tended to the animals, but also to each other, transforming the hollowed-out shed into a place of human refuge, a source of intimacy and hope in a world ruled by vicious masters. But when an older man--a fellow slave--seeks to gain favor by preaching the master's gospel on the plantation, the enslaved begin to turn on their own. Isaiah and Samuel's love, which was once so simple, is seen as sinful and a clear danger to the plantation's harmony.

The Prophets is a singular and stunning debut novel about the forbidden union between two enslaved young men on a Deep South plantation, the refuge they find in each other, and a betrayal that threatens their existence.


Three Simple Lines: A Writer's Pilgrimage into the Heart and Homeland of Haiku by Natalie Goldberg

A haiku is three simple lines. But it is also, as Allen Ginsberg put it, three lines that "make the mind leap." A good one, he said, lets the mind experience "a small sensation of space which is nothing less than God." As many spiritual practices seek to do, the haiku's spare yet acute noticing of the immediate and often ordinary grounds the reader in the pure awareness of now.

Natalie Goldberg is a delightfully companionable tour guide into this world. She highlights the history of the form, dating back to the seventeenth century; shows why masters such as Basho and Issa are so revered; discovers Chiyo-ni, an important woman haiku master; and provides insight into writing and reading haiku.

Natalie Goldberg is the author of fifteen books, including the classic bestseller Writing Down the Bones, which has changed the way writing is taught in the United States.


A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life by George Saunders

From the New York Times bestselling, Booker Prize-winning author of Lincoln in the Bardo and Tenth of December comes a literary master class on what makes great stories work and what they can tell us about ourselves--and our world today.

Saunders approaches the stories technically yet accessibly, and through them explains how narrative functions; why we stay immersed in a story and why we resist it; and the bedrock virtues a writer must foster. The process of writing, Saunders reminds us, is a technical craft, but also a way of training oneself to see the world with new openness and curiosity. A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is a deep exploration not just of how great writing works but of how the mind itself works while reading, and of how the reading and writing of stories make genuine connection possible.


Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

If there’s one thing seventeen-year-old Maverick Carter knows, it’s that a real man takes care of his family. As the son of a former gang legend, Mav does that the only way he knows how: dealing for the King Lords. With this money he can help his mom, who works two jobs while his dad’s in prison.

Life’s not perfect, but with a fly girlfriend and a cousin who always has his back, Mav’s got everything under control. Until, that is, Maverick finds out he’s a father.

Angie Thomas is the author of the award-winning, #1 New York Times bestselling novels The Hate U Give and On the Come Up.


Saving Justice by James Comey

James Comey might best be known as the FBI director that Donald Trump fired in 2017, but he’s had a long, varied career in the law and justice system. He knows better than most just what a force for good the US justice system can be, and how far afield it has strayed during the Trump Presidency.

In his much-anticipated follow-up to A Higher Loyalty, Comey uses anecdotes and lessons from his career to show how the federal justice system works. From prosecuting mobsters as an Assistant US Attorney in the Southern District of New York in the 1980s to grappling with the legalities of anti-terrorism work as the Deputy Attorney General in the early 2000s to, of course, his tumultuous stint as FBI director beginning in 2013, Comey shows just how essential it is to pursue the primacy of truth for federal law enforcement.

Coming this month in paperback

Recent bestsellers--in a softer, pocket-friendly format.

Thanks for reading all the way to the end.

We've got lots more great books in the store. We hope you'll talk to us soon for a recommendation. Follow us on social media for the latest news. We’re Next Chapter Booksellers on Facebook; we’re @nextchapterbooksellers on Instagram; and we’re @NextChapterMN on Twitter.

--all of us at Next Chapter Booksellers