10 New Books We Recommend This Week – The New York Times

Posted: May 16, 2020 at 1:41 pm

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I participated this week in a virtual Battle of the Books, hosted by my local bookstore and moderated by James Mustich, the author of 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die. The premise: Persuade the audience to vote for a book that Jim should have included on his list but didnt. The format: Five contestants get four minutes each to make the case for a book of their choosing, from how-to (a cookbook, a feng shui decorating book) to fiction (Jos Saramagos Blindness, Anton Myrers Once an Eagle) to my pick The Journals of John Cheever, which I consider his crowning achievement.

Long story short, I didnt win. The audience, unimpeachably, went for Blindness instead. But I had a great time, and the event made me realize anew how much the pleasure of reading is enhanced by this part the social part, the part after the reading, where we talk about what we love and why, and why you should love it too. Forget 1,000 books. Here are 10 you could read right now, from Lydia Millets slyly apocalyptic new novel to Lauren Sandlers immersive profile of a homeless mother to Judith Warners fraught but entertaining study of the hazards of middle school. Read them all; just make sure you save some time for Saramago, and Cheever, before you die.

Gregory Cowles Senior Editor, Books Twitter: @GregoryCowles

FIGURE IT OUT: Essays, by Wayne Koestenbaum. (Soft Skull, $16.95.) In his latest collection, the polymathic poet and essayist Wayne Koestenbaum documents flirtations with beautiful strangers, the purchase of a new pair of glasses and swimming alongside Nicole Kidman at a local pool. He also writes smitten elegies to his influences, including Adrienne Rich, Susan Sontag and Montaigne. The chief charges against Koestenbaum are frivolity, prurience and self-indulgence, our critic Parul Sehgal writes. To which hed respond, Id hazard, with a cheery: Guilty! His great and singular appeal is this fealty to his own desire and imagination. If his excesses irk, it might be useful to wonder where and how you acquired your limits in the first place figure it out, as the title enjoins.

REDHEAD BY THE SIDE OF THE ROAD, by Anne Tyler. (Knopf, $26.95.) Micah Mortimer is a classic Tyler protagonist: He lives in Baltimore, he knows how to cook a few things, hes set in his ways until his girlfriend faces eviction and a stranger claims to be his son. What happens next is also classic Tyler, visceral and moving. Tyler has every gift a great novelist needs: intent observation, empathy and language both direct and surprising, Amy Bloom writes in her review. She has unembarrassed goodness as well. In this time of snark, preening, sub-tweeting and the showy torment of characters, we could use more Tyler.

A CHILDRENS BIBLE, by Lydia Millet. (Norton, $25.95.) This superb novel begins as a generational comedy a pack of kids and their middle-aged parents coexist in a summer share and turns steadily darker, as climate collapse and societal breakdown encroach. But Millets light touch never falters; in this time of great upheaval, she implies, our foundational myths take on new meaning and hope. Its not a history, not a tract or a jeremiad; the truth it bears is not going to overwrite the future, Jonathan Dee writes in his review. Its a tale in which whoever or whatever comes after us might recognize, however imperfectly, a certain continuity: an exotic but still decodable shred of evidence from the lost world that is the world we are living in right now.

AND THEIR CHILDREN AFTER THEM, by Nicolas Mathieu. Translated by William Rodarmor. (Other Press, paper, $17.99.) Mathieus coming-of-age novel won Frances top literary prize, the Goncourt, in 2018, just as the Yellow Vest protests took hold. Its depictions of a community crushed by deindustrialization help explain populist rage against economic elites. As suffused with local color as this book is, parallels with left-behind swaths of America (and England, and many other places, too) stand out on every page, Thomas Chatterton Williams writes in his review. But there is also that other, mysterious appeal in which a story resonates in ways that even the most devastating sociology and journalism cannot. And that is what will keep me thinking of these unremarkable characters in this made-up town for a very long time.

HOW MUCH OF THESE HILLS IS GOLD, by C Pam Zhang. (Riverhead, $26.) Zhangs mesmerizing tale of two Chinese-American siblings crossing the West during the gold rush, with their fathers corpse in tow, unfolds in a landscape of desolation and struggle that recalls Steinbeck and Faulkner, and in a voice that is all her own. Our reviewer, Martha Southgate, calls it an aching book, full of myths of Zhangs making (including tigers that roam the Western hills) as well as joys, as well as sorrows. Its violent and surprising and musical. Like Lucy and Sam, the novel wanders down byways and takes detours and chances. By journeys end, youre enriched and enlightened by the lives you have witnessed.

THIS IS ALL I GOT: A New Mothers Search for Home, by Lauren Sandler. (Random House, $27.) In 2015, Sandler was volunteering at a homeless shelter when she met Camila, a pregnant resident who was determined to find a permanent, safe place to raise her child. This book charts her path through red tape, educational challenges, family crises and moments of joy amid unimaginable struggle. Our reviewer, Alex Kotlowitz, calls it a riveting book and a remarkable feat of reporting. It is, he adds, a testament to the bigness of the small story, to the power of intimate narratives to speak to something much larger. Sandler wisely lets Camilas story stand on its own without lecturing us. Not to sound clichd, but we walk in Camilas shoes. We come to understand what Sandler recognized early on: If Camila cant navigate the dearth of housing, how can others?

AND THEN THEY STOPPED TALKING TO ME: Making Sense of Middle School, by Judith Warner. (Crown, $27.) Part sociology, part memoir, part self-help, this entertaining guide to the education systems most notorious institution aims to explain why trauma and humiliation figure so prominently in our associations with junior high. Warner knows of what she speaks, Shannon Hale writes in her review. Not only is the book well researched, but she also gets personal with her tales of middle school woe both as a former student and as a parent. It is the caregivers of current middle schoolers who might gain the most solace and insight from this book, those who find that shepherding children through what was once called junior high brings back their own trauma in unexpectedly painful ways.

KIM JIYOUNG, BORN 1982, by Cho Nam-Joo. Translated by Jamie Chang. (Liveright, $20.) A sensation when it appeared in South Korea in 2016, this novel recounts, in the dispassionate language of a case history, the descent into madness of a young wife and mother a Korean Everywoman whose plight illuminates the effects of a sexist society. This novel is about the banality of the evil that is systemic misogyny, Euny Hong writes in her review. Perhaps the novels international exposure will force South Korea to have another reckoning with what it plans to do about its biggest elephant in the room.

ST. IVO, by Joanna Hershon. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.95.) After years of estrangement, two once-close couples reconnect during a weekend in an upstate farmhouse. Secrets simmer and the absence of a beloved daughter introduces an element of mystery to this taut, thoughtful novel. Though it moves at a harrowing pace, this is not a traditional thriller, Danya Kukafka writes in her review. The friction resides, innovatively, in the agony of interpersonal misunderstandings, the awkwardness of old friends now strangers trapped together for a period of days.

WHAT WE CARRY, by Maya Shanbhag Lang. (Dial, $27.) Langs memoir of her relationship with her mother explores female identity, generational disconnect and the power of story. What happens when a mother refuses to help a daughter? Lang asks hard questions and presents moving answers. The shined-up, mythical stories our mothers tell us about their own beginnings are meant to bolster us, perhaps; but here, in exquisitely precise prose, Lang makes an argument that honesty is whats truly empowering, Mary Beth Keane writes, reviewing the book alongside two other mother-daughter narratives. In the closing chapters, we see a relationship between mother and daughter that feels new and tentative because life changes so much every few years, bringing out unseen sides to each of them.

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10 New Books We Recommend This Week - The New York Times

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