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What are the best books to read in May 2023? We’ve previously shared a list of the most anticipated new book releases of May 2023.  If you’re in search of additional ideas, here’s our take on 12 books – novels and nonfiction – to read that are best for feeling the vibe and mood of the month of May. And not just this May – any May.

recommended reads for the month of May

So many books, so little time! Reading can be one of life’s sweetest luxuries. But how to quickly find the next great volume to dive into? To lend a hand, every month we’ll share our Dandelion Chandelier Recommended Reads: books that we’ve personally read and loved – some brand new, and some published long ago. Selected to suit the season, we think they deserve a place on your nightstand. Or your e-reader. In your backpack. Or your carry-on bag.

You get the idea.

Our picks for the best books - novels and non-fiction - to read right now to feel the vibe and the essential mood of the month of May.

Our picks for the best books – novels and non-fiction – to read right now to feel the vibe and the essential mood of the month of May.

In this edition: the perfect books to read in the month of May. We think these books best capture the mood  and the essential spirit of the month of May.

which books capture the true mood of May?

May is meant to be our reward for having survived April. The flowers that come after the showers. It’s a time of nurturing, and being grateful for those who’ve nurtured us: we tend our gardens, celebrate motherhood, start new projects and revel in the light. Longer days, balmier nights, the smell of suntan lotion, the roar of the surf and the splash of a pool.

May is basically all good.

But the issue when it comes to the perfect books to read in May is one that confronts every artist at some point or another: is it possible to create something bright and optimistic that’s not also treacly, twee and ultimately full of empty calories?

Said another way, can a novel be both intelligent and inspiring? Can a book of essays be both intellectually interesting and invigorating? Or is darkness the only road to seriously good writing? Hmm . . . crafting this list is tougher than it looks, dear reader.

Our picks for the best books – novels and non-fiction – to read right now to feel the vibe and the essential mood of the month of May.

what’s the perfect book to read to feel the vibe of the month of May?

So, what makes for the list of perfect books to read in May, a list that captures the mood of the month?

We think the perfect books for this month should be light in spirit – celebratory, even. But not mindlessly dopey. Smart and fresh is what the situation calls for.

It’s the month we celebrate mothers, so there should be at least one tale of maternal love. We’re always up for a surprising and enduring romantic love story, too, so we’ve tossed one in.

Because people are often on the move in May, it’s a good month for books of collected essays – which are supremely easy to dip in and out of.

Finally, for some reason we’re feeling the pull of Paris this month. Whether in fiction or in fact, we’re in the mood for a good read about the City of Lights.

perfect books for May

Our picks for the best books – novels and non-fiction – to read right now to feel the vibe and the essential mood of the month of May.

the perfect books to read in the month of may

Here’s our list of twelve books ideal for the month of May.

Our picks of 12 perfect books – novels and non-fiction – best to read right now to feel the vibe and the essential mood of the month of May

Tuck one into your tote on your way to the beach; or crack one open during your morning commute; curl up with one while you’re out glamping under the stars; read one aloud while your friend or family member is grilling something delicious on Memorial Day; or pour a glass of rose and dive into one as you lounge by the pool.

‘Cause nothing says spring like a smart sunny read.

1. American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson.

the best books, both fiction and non-fiction, perfect to read now to feel the mood vibe spirit of the month of May.

American Spy is a smart, sexy, diamond-sharp political thriller that just happens to star a brilliant black woman. Marie Mitchell is an intelligence officer with the FBI. Ambitious, young, and surrounded by the usual old boys’ club, she’s stagnating in her job and grieving the loss of her beloved sister. She’s offered the chance to head to Africa on an undercover assignment to help bring down the regime of a charismatic, Communist black leader. The CIA is intent on replacing him with someone America can support (the novel is based on the real-life story of Thomas Sankara, known as “Africa’s Che Guevara”).

What happens next is fascinating, twisted, heartbreaking and poignant. This is a protagonist you’ll be really happy to hang around with whether in Harlem, Martinique or Burkina Faso. You’ll love her, and you’ll love this book.


2. Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner.

Fleishman Is in Trouble is now a popular Netflix series, and it’s easy to see why. Here’s the set-up: high-achieving Manhattan ex-wife drops off the kids, and then promptly disappears. Somewhat hapless single dad is left to juggle his newfound status as a healthy single straight man in New York, the online dating technology that developed while he was cocooned his now-defunct marriage, and the aforementioned kids.

In this satirical yet emotionally compelling take on modern relationships, the entire Fleishman family is in trouble. And it may be their oldest friends that can save them.


3. How Did You Get this Number by Sloane Crosley.

the best books, both fiction and non-fiction, perfect to read now to feel the mood vibe spirit of the month of May.

How Did You Get this Number is a fantastic essay collection that’s a round-the-the-world journey narrated by an author you’d happily follow anywhere. We think its one of the best non-fiction books to read if you hope to capture the carefree adventurous vibe of the month of May.

Crosley has made her name writing humorous essays that cut deeply – she’s also the queen of the one-liner. In this collection, she takes on a bear-infested wedding in Alaska, a run-in with clowns in Portugal, and other challenges of living life as a smart single young woman. Her other essay collections – I Was Told There’d Be Cake and Look Alive Out There – are equally good. Grab all of them and head for the nearest park, or the beach.


4. The New Yorkers by Cathleen Schine.

The New Yorkers is delightful. And if you love dogs, or Manhattan, or both, then this is the novel for you. On a quiet block near Central Park, five lonely New Yorkers find one another, compelled to meet by their canine companions.

Over the course of four seasons, they emerge from their apartments, in snow, rain, or glorious sunshine to make friends and sometimes fall in love. It’s a graceful account of life the city – it may sound twee, but it’s not. There’s just enough melancholy beneath the banter of these denizens of Gotham to make it achingly real.


5. Morningside Heights by Cheryl Mendelson.

Morningside Heights is a lovely novel – also set in Manhattan – about a family of musicians and intellectuals. It stuck in our heads for quite a long time after we first read it because of its absolute conviction that sunny optimism is a realistic way in which to view the world – even if your world is the Upper West Side of Manhattan, near Columbia, circa 1999. It’s an unusual conceit in literary fiction, executed here with charm and intelligence. Sometimes things really do work out alright.


6. Le Mariage by Diane Johnson.

Our picks for the best books - novels and non-fiction - to read right now to feel the vibe and the essential mood of the month of May.

Le Mariage is a comedy of manners set in the world of Americans in Paris. A proper Frenchwoman married to an American journalist finds herself in the midst of a scandal involving a stolen manuscript, a reclusive film director, and his actress wife. The voice is knowing and sharp, but none of the knives go in too deeply.

This is the second book in a trilogy about the intersection of America and France in matters of the heart – Le Divorce and L’Affaire are the other two, and as a set they’ll keep you happily occupied on a long flight, a weekend away, or a quiet curl-up at home.


7. Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik.

Our picks for the best books - novels and non-fiction - to read right now to feel the vibe and the essential mood of the month of May.

Paris to the Moon is a lovely collection of essays written when the New Yorker correspondent moved to Paris in the mid-1980s with his wife and young son. In one of the best non-fiction books to read to feel the vibe of May, he recounts the expatriate experience in a wry and honest voice.

And as reviewers noted: “the dual processes of navigating a foreign city and becoming a parent are not completely dissimilar journeys–both hold new routines, new languages, a new set of rules by which everyday life is lived.” This is the perfect way to be present in spring in the City of Lights, at least in spirit.


8. This is My Life by Meg Wolitzer.

This is My Life (originally published as This is Your Life) is a wonderful novel about being a mother and being a daughter. Dottie Engels, comedienne extraordinaire, performs her act in Vegas and on late-night TV.  Her two daughters, Opal and Erica, live on the periphery of her glittering life, seeing her on the television screen more often than they do at home. She struggles to balance her career with the needs of her children, and when Dottie’s ratings begin to slide, it takes both of her daughters to save Dottie from herself.


9. Diary of a Bad Year by J.M. Coetzee.

Diary of a Bad Year is a novel that is – in the words of its protagonist – “a response to the present in which I find myself.” We first read an excerpt of it in The New Yorker and loved it so much that we went looking for the completed work. Aging author “Senor C” has been commissioned to write a series of essays entitled “Strong Opinions,” of which he has many. After being injured on a bike ride, he hires a young typist named Anya to help him complete the manuscript.

The two embark on a genuine friendship that profoundly impacts them both after Anya’s no-good boyfriend develops designs on Senor C’s bank account. Coetzee is famous for many of his other novels, but we have a soft spot for this one: it’s smart, poignant and genuinely funny.


10. The Country Life by Rachel Cusk.

Our picks for the best books - novels and non-fiction - to read right now to feel the vibe and the essential mood of the month of May.

The Country Life is a wonderful novel about one young woman’s attempt to flee a job in London for a new one in the countryside in the hopes of transforming her life.

Stella Benson answers a classified ad for an au pair, arriving in a tiny Sussex village that’s home to a family that is slightly larger than life. Her hopes for the new job are high, but her social station turns out to be low. Cusk’s incredible talent shines brightly here – it’s a funny and charming comedy of manners with a beating heart.


11. Good Eggs by Rebecca Hardiman.

The debut novel Good Eggs is a sharp and funny read about a multigenerational Irish family.  The members of the Gogarty family include an eighty-three-year-old widowed grandmother who has been caught shoplifting numerous times. And her harried and unemployed journalist son. His always-at-work wife. And their four kids, with most of the focus on their rebellious teenage daughter.

When a new caregiver arrives, at first it seems as if she’s the Mary Poppins of their dreams. The truth is far more interesting – and the spunk and moxie of the Gogarty women will leave you smiling long after you’re done with this sparkling read.


12. Beginners by Tom Vanderbilt.

Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning is the true account of a middle-aged man’s decision to devote a year of his life to learning something new, purely for the sake of learning. He tackles five main skills, choosing them for their difficulty to master and their distinct lack of career marketability: chess, singing, surfing, drawing, and juggling. It’s one of the best non-fiction reads for the month of May – a time when the world is in bloom and we can choose to make a fresh start, too.


novels and nonfiction books to read that best capture the mood of May

That’s it. Twelve perfect novels and nonfiction books to read in May that we think accurately capture the vibe and mood of the month. What’s on your reading list? Whatever you decide, perhaps approach it in this spirit: when the month comes calling, just say May oui.

Pamela Thomas-Graham

Pamela Thomas-Graham is the Founder & CEO of Dandelion Chandelier. She serves on the boards of several tech companies, and was previously a senior executive in finance, media and fashion, and a partner at McKinsey & Co.