"The first and last thing I do every day is see what strangers are saying about me." So begins Nikesh Shukla's Meatspace (The Friday Project, £12.99). If you plan to switch off your computer and enjoy the sunshine, this is the novel for you. It will make you consider the way we live today, in the physical world ("meatspace") and online. Buzzing with streetwise smarts and satirical barbs, it's a thoughtful, often hilarious, meditation on a young writer's loneliness in the digital age.
Alice Greenway's characters need no encouragement to embrace the outdoors in The Bird Skinner (Atlantic, £14.99). Jim, a gnarly old ornithologist, leads a solitary life on the New England coast until a young woman named "Cadillac" arrives from the Solomon Islands. Greenway avoids the clichés of an unlikely friendship by writing with sensitivity about loss, nature and war, as Jim confronts his past. It's impossible not to share his assessment of a red-throated dove: "So beautiful you almost regret shooting it."
In Bulletproof Vest: The Ballad of an Outlaw and his Daughter (Granta, £15.99), Maria Venegas' father, Jose, leaves his immigrant family in Chicago and returns to Mexico after shooting a man who tried to stab him. Fourteen years pass before Maria sees Jose again, in which time she grows up, grieves for her murdered brother and starts writing. When she eventually visits her father, his life remains hard and violent but not without beauty. In this brave, imaginative memoir, Venegas contemplates borders between life and death, America and Mexico, fact and fiction, while shedding her own bulletproof vest – the defensiveness that made her "guarded against love".
"She understood that there were few better subjects than being young and uncertain," writes Anne Fadiman in her introduction to Marina Keegan's The Opposite of Loneliness (Simon and Schuster, £12.99). We'll never know what else the talented author of these wise, funny essays and stories would have gone on to write about because, in 2012, aged 22, Keegan was killed in a car crash, days after graduating from Yale. She's excellent company, generous, open and self-aware when articulating her hopes and fears. "There's a really good chance I'll never do anything," she writes. This book shows that, about that much, she was wrong.
Susan Sontag was only 13 when she wrote in her diary: "No daydreaming." Johanne, the self-lacerating narrator of Hanne Ørstavik's The Blue Room (trans. Deborah Dawkin, Pereine, £12), would approve of Sontag's rule but, fortunately for readers of this Norwegian novel, her mind races between philosophical questions, religious visions and disturbing fantasies. Locked in a room, she considers her relationships with God, her mother and her boyfriend, as Ørstavik treats the everyday and existential with intensity: "I look down at my watch. At the second hand moving round and round. That, I think, is my life disappearing."
The rural West Virginian milieu of Breece D'J Pancake's Trilobites & Other Stories (Vintage Classics, £7.99) may or may not exist today but their combination of regional specificity and universal resonance makes these depictions of poverty, farming and yearning essential. In his foreword, James Alan McPherson describes "an environment crafted by nature for the dreamer and the resigned".
Pancake, who shot himself in 1979 aged 26, is compared to Hemingway. But words such as "glommy", "loneroo" and "jake-legger", combined with an unsparing vision of humanity, create the spine-tingling sense that you're reading an original.Reuse content