12 New Books We Recommend This Week
Now that Election Day is behind us — like an exorcism, maybe: “Get behind us, midterms!” — the natural question is what it all will mean. Books can help with that. (Books can help with everything.) Our recommended titles this week offer context for some of the country’s most pressing political issues across a range of perspectives and genres. In “Melting Pot or Civil War?,” Reihan Salam tries to find middle ground on immigration. In “She Wants It,” the TV writer Jill Soloway provides a personal take on the politics of gender and transgender identity. In “American Dialogue,” the historian Joseph Ellis asks what the founders would make of our current divisions. Jane Sharon De Hart’s “Ruth Bader Ginsburg” traces the Supreme Court justice’s route to becoming a feminist icon. Kiese Laymon’s excellent memoir, “Heavy,” and Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s excellent story collection, “Friday Black,” both unfold against a backdrop of national dysfunction and racist violence. And Max Boot explains why he has turned away from his longtime home in the Republican Party.
Or maybe you prefer to forget about politics for a while. Books can help with that too: We bring you Lee Child’s latest thriller, Kathryn Harrison’s latest memoir, a biography of Nietzsche and two books (a memoir and a story collection) from the unjustly neglected 20th-century writer Lucia Berlin, who is finally and happily starting to get her due.
Senior Editor, Books
EVENING IN PARADISE: More Stories, by Lucia Berlin. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.) WELCOME HOME: A Memoir With Selected Photographs and Letters, by Lucia Berlin. Edited and with a foreword by Jeff Berlin. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25.) The revival of the work of Lucia Berlin (1936-2004), which began in earnest with “A Manual for Cleaning Women,” an important selection of her stories that appeared in 2015, continues with another collection of stories along with and uncompleted memoir and some personal correspondence. “One thing that makes Berlin so valuable is her gift for evoking the sweetness and earnestness of young women who fall in love,” our critic Dwight Garner writes, “and then catching them at that moment when things begin to turn, when the trees of their being are forced to grow bark.”
I AM DYNAMITE! A Life of Nietzsche, by Sue Prideaux. (Tim Duggan Books, $30.) In this biography, Nietzsche steps out of the mists of obfuscation and rumor. Prideaux draws her subject into focus by examining the events in his life, his personal writing and his published work. “To see Nietzsche, it seems helpful to have binocular vision that can accommodate the sublime and the ridiculous. His was a life of prodigious work and self-sacrifice but also profound blundering,” our critic Parul Sehgal writes. “Freud said that of all men only Nietzsche truly knew himself, and his letters can be wildly funny and full of comic set pieces. Prideaux relishes this side of him.”
HEAVY: An American Memoir, by Kiese Laymon. (Scribner, $26.) In a memoir addressed to his mother, Laymon writes about growing up in Mississippi, and reckons with racism and childhood abuse, as well as his struggles with addiction — to gambling and to food. “Heavy” is a “gorgeous, gutting book that’s fueled by candor yet freighted with ambivalence. It’s full of devotion and betrayal, euphoria and anguish, tender embraces and rough abuse,” our critic Jennifer Szalai writes.
FRIDAY BLACK, by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. (Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, paper, $14.99.) “Friday Black” announces a new and necessary voice. Adjei-Brenyah has written a powerful and important and strange and beautiful collection of stories meant to be read right now; this is a dystopian book as full of violence as it is of heart. “Throughout ‘Friday Black’ we are aware that the violence is crucially related to both what is happening in America now, and what happened in its bloody and brutal history,” Tommy Orange writes in his review. Adjei-Brenyah’s “many truths, insights and beautifully crafted sentences just sing on the page.”
PAST TENSE, by Lee Child. (Delacorte, $28.99.) The latest Jack Reacher thriller takes this wandering hero to the New Hampshire town where his father was born, and where something suspicious is going on at the local motel. “Child’s writing seems unusually expressive in this novel, possibly because of its intimate subject matter,” according to our crime columnist, Marilyn Stasio. Its imagery is often “startlingly sweet-tempered,” she adds, “and a reminder that Child is one writer who should never be taken for granted.”
ON SUNSET: A Memoir, by Kathryn Harrison. (Doubleday, $27.) Harrison’s previous memoirs delved into her parents’ traumatic influence. Now she introduces the beloved Old World grandparents who raised her. Penelope Green’s review calls the book “Harrison’s gentlest inquiry into the particular foreign country that is her past,” and concludes that the author’s worldly, eccentric, iconoclastic forebears provided “the glittering riches of Harrison’s childhood, her most precious inheritance.”
AMERICAN DIALOGUE: The Founders and Us, by Joseph J. Ellis. (Knopf, $27.95.) Ellis’s subject is not only the founding era but our own, and the “ongoing conversation between past and present.” The author of many books on the early United States, Ellis draws connections with an authority few others can muster. “Here, the dispassionate historian calmly takes the gloves off,” Jeff Shesol writes, reviewing the book. “Ellis, clearly, has reached the limit of his tolerance for the mythical, indeed farcical, notion that the anti-Federalists won the argument in the late 18th century, or that the founders, to a man, stood for small and weak government, unrestrained market capitalism, unfettered gun ownership and the unlimited infusion of money into the political sphere.”
RUTH BADER GINSBURG: A Life, by Jane Sherron De Hart. (Knopf, $35.) This hefty biography of the Supreme Court justice by De Hart, a scholar of women’s history, aims to explain Ginsburg’s transformation from brilliant law student and expert on civil procedure to leading advocate for women’s rights. “The young women who hang on her every dissenting opinion and who tattoo her image, complete with lace jabot, onto their arms may be tempted to reduce her life’s trajectory to a tale of ‘don’t get mad, get even,’” our reviewer, Linda Greenhouse, writes, “but as this book amply demonstrates, it’s a good deal more elusive than that.”
THE CORROSION OF CONSERVATISM: Why I Left the Right, by Max Boot. (Liveright, $24.95.) In a lively memoir and acidic anti-Trump polemic, a longtime Republican and adviser to several of the party’s leaders explains why he has become an independent. The heroes of his narrative are those like him who have rejected Donald Trump in the name of genuine conservative ideals. “Like many of the best memoirs of ideas, Boot’s story is one of conversion and de-conversion — of faith gained and then lost,” Damon Linker writes in his review.
SHE WANTS IT: Desire, Power, and Toppling the Patriarchy, by Jill Soloway. (Crown Archetype, $27.) This funny and wise memoir from the creator of the TV show “Transparent” traces the show’s ties to real life: Soloway’s father came out as transgender, and Soloway too began to question gender and identity. “While the ‘this is how I made it’ story line is fascinating and fun,” Alysia Abbott writes, reviewing the book, “it’s Soloway’s deeply considered and honestly depicted quest for an authentic self that gives this memoir its depth.”
MELTING POT OR CIVIL WAR? A Son of Immigrants Makes the Case Against Open Borders, by Reihan Salam. (Sentinel, $27.) Seeking rationality in the immigration debate, this book advocates a merit-based system like Canada’s. “Salam brushes past the familiar hashtag denunciations into less well trod territory to ponder the forgotten question that underlies this standoff: What immigration policies would best inch us toward the elusive goal of a fair and just society?” our reviewer, Kay Hymowitz, writes. The book “is also an implicit reprimand, suggesting that when it comes to debating immigration, we’ve been doing it very, very wrong.”
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