Of Plagues, Hurricanes and Presidents: Mitch Kaplan’s May 2020 Book Picks


Last month, we chatted with Mitch Kaplan, founder of South Florida literary empire Books & Books, about his latest reading recommendations. Given that most of us are still under some form of quarantine, and with more time on our hands to crack open a spine or two, we revisited with Kaplan this week for more of his picks. Here’s his top selections for May, with links to order them from Books & Books’ website.


Camino Winds, by John Grisham

Presently in the second position on the New York Times’ fiction best-seller list, Camino Winds finds the titan of the legal thriller in a more playful mood, spinning an Agatha Christie-style whodunit out of an all-too-familiar premise: a hurricane batters an island off the coast of Florida, leaving a popular writer of thrillers dead in its wake. But as the owner of a local bookshop soon discovers, the storm wasn’t the case of this particular fatality; in a self-referential twist, the clues to solving the murder may just lie in the writer’s latest manuscript.


Aftermath, by Julia Alvarez

This latest adult novel from the author of In the Time of the Butterflies is about an immigrant female writer, by an immigrant female writer, and it’s peppered with lines from both of their favorite literary works. But Afterlife is no mere naval-gazing meta-exercise: Its story, about a character whose husband dies the day of her retirement and who must deal with a missing sister and an undocumented teenager in its aftermath, also confronts our tribalist zeitgeist, expertly weaving together the personal and the political.


The Lincoln Conspiracy, by Brad Meltzer

Meltzer, South Florida’s chief spelunker of lost history and fact-based conspiracies, focuses his latest research on a pro-Southern secret society that attempted to assassinate president-elect Abraham Lincoln—the so-called Baltimore plot—in 1861, four years before John Wilkes Booth entered Ford’s Theater. Meltzer co-wrote the book with Josh Mensch, and their prose crackles with novelistic detail and thriller tropes.


The Plague, by Albert Camus

Camus’ existential masterpiece of 1947 is not a beach read so much as a bleak read, but its prescience to our present reality has boosted its sales in recent months. Inspired by a cholera epidemic in a French Algerian city in 1899, Camus set his story of a ruthless and indiscriminate pathogen in what was then present day, charting a terrain of panic and quarantine that hits all too close to home. Given the scourge of fascism then dividing the globe, the subtext of Camus’ darkly absurdist work was a resistance to the pandemic of Nazism. Either way you read it, it’s a sobering, page-turning classic.