Best Books of February 2017: George Saunders to Joyce Carol Oates

Every month, Signature combs through the upcoming releases across nonfiction and literary fiction to provide a look at the most exciting titles rounding the bend.

The first month of 2017 has been a trying one for many. As much about our world and contemporary society changes, we have one thing we’ll be able to hold on to, though, and that’s the power of the written word. Whether 2017 has you fired up, stressed out, inspired, or miserable, February brings with it books that will help you through the rest of the year. Joyce Carol Oates is back with a novel on the hot-button issue of abortion rights and those who oppose them (A Book of American Martyrs), George Saunders’s very first novel is finally here (Lincoln in the Bardo), and the Danish way of being may be just the thing you need to make it through this next cold month (The Book of Hygge).

Get reading: these are the best books of February 2017.

  • The cover of the book Autumn


    A Novel

    Set in England in Fall 2016, Autumn is the first installment of Ali Smith’s new Seasonal Quartet, which is broken up—you guessed it—according to the seasons. After a historic summer, the United Kingdom is in pieces, and the transition into fall is bittersweet. In a world becoming increasingly hostile, closed off, and inclusive, Ali Smith’s new series could not be starting at a more appropriate time. Delve into her luscious prose and relish in a novel that is somehow both historical and contemporary fiction at once.

    Out Feb. 7, 2017

  • The cover of the book A Book of American Martyrs

    A Book of American Martyrs

    Joyce Carol Oates addresses a hot point of contention in contemporary American society with her latest thrilling novel, A Book of American Martyrs: a woman’s right to getting an abortion. In small-town Ohio, ardent Evangelical Lester Dunphy murders Augustus Voorhees, an abortion provider. Lester believes himself to be acting out God’s will in killing Augustus, who leaves behind a wife and daughter, both stricken with grief. In this powerful and timely novel Joyce Carol Oates tells the story of the intertwined Dunphy and Voorhees families, and meditates upon the disasters that can ensue when politics get violent.

    Out Feb. 7, 2017

  • The cover of the book The Book of Hygge

    The Book of Hygge

    The Danish Art of Contentment, Comfort, and Connection

    It’s pronounced hoo-gah. There. Out of the way and onto the important stuff. The Danish outlook and way of being is all about arranging the details of our lives to make our environs as cozy as possible. Think of it as the spiritual sequel to KonMari’s Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. You’ll find a bunch of books about the pursuit of hygge on the market today, but none better capture the spirit, the whimsy, and the sheer art of the practice like Louisa Thomsen Brits’s.

    Out Feb. 7, 2017

  • The cover of the book The Book Thieves

    The Book Thieves

    The Nazi Looting of Europe's Libraries and the Race to Return a LiteraryInheritance

    Not to be confused with The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, The Book Thieves is the story of the Nazi pillaging of Europe’s libraries during WWII. The Nazi’s did not only burn books when they pillaged the libraries of Jews, Communists, LGBT activists, and other opposition groups—they also stole them. They appropriated the books of their opposition in order to wage an intellectual war against the free world alongside their physical one, and the majority of the books they stole were never returned. Rydell, along with a small team of heroic librarians in Europe, is working to return these stolen books to their rightful owners. The Book Theives is the story of Rydell’s quest to return one of them in particular, and all he learned about our history along the way.

    Out Feb. 7, 2017

  • The cover of the book Civil Wars

    Civil Wars

    At their core, most wars are alike: products of conquest and control. But each civil war — echoing Tolstoy’s insight into unhappy families — is different in its own way. Such is the premise that ignites the fascinating historical exploration by David Armitage into the many civil wars this world has seen, from ancient Rome to modern-day Syria. Armitage investigates the combustible factors that lead to internal friction, what makes a civil war “civil,” and the meta-politics involved in the consequences of labeling a war as such.

    Out Feb. 7, 2017

  • The cover of the book I Am Not Your Negro

    I Am Not Your Negro

    A Companion Edition to the Documentary Film Directed by Raoul Peck

    That Baldwin’s words are still as relevant today as they were in the 1950s is testament to both his eloquence and our backwardness. We’re reminded of this in I Am Not Your Negro, the companion book to the 2016 Baldwin documentary directed by Raoul Peck, which mines the words of Baldwin across his many interviews, letters, essays, and books. It’s based in part on Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember This House, in which Baldwin set out to tell the story of three friends – Dr. King, Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X – each killed for the cause of equality.

    Out Feb. 7, 2017

  • The cover of the book My Not So Perfect Life

    My Not So Perfect Life

    A Novel

    Living in the age of social media, it’s easy to forget that the lives of the people we follow on Instagram, or are friends with on Facebook, aren’t as perfect as they might look. It’s also easy to get caught up in trying to make our own lives look better than they actually are. Such is life for Katie Brenner, who would do anything to step into the life of her boss, Demeter Farlowe. Katie crafts an image of herself that she wishes were true via her social media profiles, but when Demeter fires her, she’s forced to stare her own life down the nose, sans filters.

    Out Feb. 7, 2017

  • The cover of the book The Net and the Butterfly

    The Net and the Butterfly

    The Art and Practice of Breakthrough Thinking

    Innovation leader and executive coach Olivia Fox Cabane has teamed up with strategic advisor Judah Pollack to address the notion of breakthrough ideas and devise a step-by-step process for accessing the part of the brain that drives these ‘aha!’ moments. The book is filled with both prescriptive advice and anecdotal, and stretches well beyond the world of business. If you’ve got any desire to push your thinking further, this is a book for you.

    Out Feb. 7, 2017

  • The cover of the book The One Inside

    The One Inside

    Writer Sam Shepard has earned his stars as the author of more than fifty-five plays and three story collections. In 1979, his play ‘Buried Child’ won the Pulitzer, and he’s also the recipient of ten Obies and two best play Tony nominations. Now he offers his first work of long fiction with The One Inside, the story of one man as presented through the lens of his memory.

    Out Feb. 7, 2017

  • The cover of the book A Separation

    A Separation

    A Novel

    Already being compared to both Elena Ferrante AND Gone Girl (what?!), A Separation is the gripping story of what happens to a young woman when she agrees to go looking for her missing husband shortly after separating with him. Christopher goes missing in the south of Greece and, because the woman at the center of our story has not yet made their separation public, she is obliged to go after him. As her search for him reaches its crescendo, she begins to realize that she knew very little about the man she once loved.

    Out Feb. 7, 2017

  • The cover of the book The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down

    The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down

    How to Be Calm and Mindful in a Fast-Paced World

    Haemin Sunim is a Buddhist monk from South Korea where this book was originally published to rapturous reviews and sold more than three million copies. In this translated version, readers of English get to see why. The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down is an antidote to the polarization that has gripped our waking lives: It’s quiet, meditative, radical in its simplicity, and organized into relatable bite-size chapters that will have you breathing easier and appreciating the small things in life. Few books have the power to pull us out of our indignant turrets and cynical worldviews like this one.

    Out Feb. 7, 2017

  • The cover of the book Gilded Cage

    Gilded Cage

    In an alternate-universe England, class tensions and servitude mix with magic and revolution to create an engrossing read reminiscent of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and Dan Vyleta’s Smoke.

    Out Feb. 14, 2017

  • The cover of the book Insomniac City

    Insomniac City

    Dr. Oliver Sacks was without a doubt one of the most beloved minds of this lifetime, and his 2015 death – a death that he publicly anticipated through his writing – left a near-tangible void in the literary community. It also left a void in the life of Bill Hayes, Sacks’s partner whom he met in 2008. In his memoir, Insomniac City, Hayes weaves together his experience of New York City with stories of his own life and of his life with Dr. Sacks. The result is a poignant, thoughtful, insightful meditation on love and life.

    Out Feb. 14, 2017

  • The cover of the book Lincoln in the Bardo

    Lincoln in the Bardo

    A Novel

    Given how much weight his name carries in literary circles, it’s almost hard to believe that this is George Saunders’ first novel, but fans of his previous novellas and short stories will be thrilled to find the same weird, kind, crude-yet-beautiful sensibility present here. The novel is inspired by the apocryphal story that Abraham Lincoln, distraught over the death of his son Willie, rode to the cemetery the night after the funeral and embraced his son’s body. Here, though, the tale is told in short snippets of writings both real and invented, from a cast of characters both living and dead. Formally adventurous and deeply touching, this is a novel not to be missed.

    Out Feb. 14, 2017

  • The cover of the book With Blood Upon the Sand

    With Blood Upon the Sand

    Bradley P. Beaulieu’s richly imagined Song of Shattered Sands trilogy continues with the sequel to Twelve Kings in Sharakhai – Çeda, now a Blade Maiden in service to the kings, must navigate a world rife with rebellion, ghouls, blood mages, and slavery. The series, set in a Middle East-inspired desert kingdom, is part of a growing movement to explore fantasy worlds beyond the standard European feudal model.

    Out Feb. 17, 2017

  • The cover of the book Extreme Measures

    Extreme Measures

    Finding a Better Path to the End of Life

    Jessica Nutik Zitter dreamt of becoming the kind of emergency room physician that saves lives—she dreamt of being a hero. But once in the emergency room, she realized that being that kind of hero often entailed inflicting pain on patients in order to “save” them. At what point is medical interference with the approach of death more distressing than it is merciful? Dr. Zitter decided to reevaluate her understanding of what it means to be a hero. Now, she pays more attention to what the patient wants rather than preserving life at all costs—and sometimes, what the patient wants is to die with dignity. Extreme Measures is the story of one doctor’s journey to accepting that care can come in many different forms.

    Out Feb. 21, 2017

  • The cover of the book The Inkblots

    The Inkblots

    Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing

    We’ve all heard of the Rorshach Inkblot Test, and could probably all recognize one of the amoeba-like splotches immediately. But beyond that, what do you know about them? In all-consuming prose, writer and translator Damion Searls uncovers the story of the man behind the inkblots – including his artistic leanings, the introduction of the test to the U.S., its ties to the military and the Nuremberg trials, and beyond.

    Out Feb. 21, 2017

  • The cover of the book Cravings


    How I Conquered Food

    Now in her mid-seventies, Judy Collins has not slowed down. She’s currently on a tour that will take her all over the United States through the end of the summer. Additionally, the artist behind more than forty albums has just received her sixth Grammy Award nomination, this time for best folk album, for “Silver Skies Blue.” Her latest literary endeavor, Cravings, is a refreshingly raw account of her own battle with food – and a no-holds-barred peek inside the life of the music star.

    Out Feb. 28, 2017