NYT Sunday Book Review

 

 

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ALIF THE UNSEEN. By G. Willow Wilson. (Grove, $25.) A young hacker on the run in the Mideast is the protagonist of this imaginative first novel.

ALMOST NEVER. By Daniel Sada. Translated by Katherine Silver. (Graywolf, paper, $16.) In this glorious satire of machismo, a Mexican agronomist simultaneously pursues a prostitute and an upright woman.

AN AMERICAN SPY. By Olen Steinhauer. (Minotaur, $25.99.) In a novel vividly evoking the multilayered world of espionage, Steinhauer’s hero fights back when his C.I.A. unit is nearly destroyed.

ARCADIA. By Lauren Groff. (Voice/Hyperion, $25.99.) Groff’s lush and visual second novel begins at a rural commune, and links that utopian past to a dystopian, post-global-warming future.

AT LAST. By Edward St. Aubyn. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25.) The final and most meditative of St. Aubyn’s brilliant Patrick Melrose novels is full of precise observations and glistening turns of phrase.

BEAUTIFUL RUINS
. By Jess Walter. (Harper/HarperCollins, $25.99.) Walter’s witty sixth novel, set largely in Hollywood, reveals an American landscape of vice, addiction, loss and disappointed hopes.

BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK. By Ben Fountain. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $25.99.) The survivors of a fierce firefight in Iraq are whisked stateside for a brief victory tour in this satirical novel.

BLASPHEMY. By Sherman Alexie. (Grove, $27.) The best stories in Alexie’s collection of new and selected works are moving and funny, bringing together the embittered critic and the yearning dreamer.

THE BOOK OF MISCHIEF: New and Selected Stories. By Steve Stern. (Graywolf, $26.) Jewish immigrant lives observed with effusive nostalgia.

BRING UP THE BODIES. By Hilary Mantel. (Macrae/Holt, $28.) Mantel’s sequel to “Wolf Hall” traces the fall of Anne Boleyn, and makes the familiar story fascinating and suspenseful again.

BUILDING STORIES. By Chris Ware. (Pantheon, $50.) A big, sturdy box containing hard-bound volumes, pamphlets and a tabloid houses Ware’s demanding, melancholy and magnificent graphic novel about the inhabitants of a Chicago building.

BY BLOOD. By Ellen Ullman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.) This smart, slippery novel is a narrative striptease, as a professor listens in on the sessions between the therapist next door and her patients.

CANADA. By Richard Ford. (Ecco/Har­perCollins, $27.99.) A boy whose parents rob a bank in Montana in 1960 takes refuge across the border in this mesmerizing novel, driven by fully realized characters and an accomplished prose style.

CARRY THE ONE. By Carol Anshaw. (Simon & Schuster, $25.) Anshaw pays close attention to the lives of a group of friends bound together by a fatal accident in this wry, humane novel, her fourth.

CITY OF BOHANE
. By Kevin Barry. (Graywolf, $25.) Somewhere in Ireland in 2053, people are haunted by a “lost time,” when something calamitous happened, and hope to reclaim the past. Barry’s extraordinary, exuberant first novel is full of inventive language.

COLLECTED POEMS. By Jack Gilbert. (Knopf, $35.) In orderly free verse constructions, Gilbert deals plainly with grief, love, marriage, betrayal and lust.

DEAR LIFE: Stories. By Alice Munro. (Knopf, $26.95.) This volume offers further proof of Munro’s mastery, and shows her striking out in the direction of a new, late style that sums up her whole career.

THE DEVIL IN SILVER. By Victor LaValle. (Spiegel & Grau, $27.) LaValle’s culturally observant third novel is set in a shabby urban mental hospital.

ENCHANTMENTS. By Kathryn Harrison. (Random House, $27.) Harrison’s splendid and surprising novel of late imperial Russia centers on Rasputin’s daughter Masha and the hemophiliac ­czarevitch Alyosha.

FLIGHT BEHAVIOR. By Barbara Kingsolver. (Harper/HarperCollins, $28.99.) An Appalachian woman becomes involved in an effort to save monarch butterflies in this brave and majestic novel.

FOBBIT. By David Abrams. (Black Cat/Grove/Atlantic, paper, $15.) Clerks, cooks and lawyers at a forward operating base in Iraq populate this first novel.

THE FORGETTING TREE. By Tatjana Soli. (St. Martin’s, $25.99.) In Soli’s haunting second novel, a mysterious Caribbean woman cares for a cancer patient on an isolated California ranch.

GATHERING OF WATERS. By Bernice L. McFadden. (Akashic, $24.95.) Three generations of black women confront floods and murder in Mississippi.

GODS WITHOUT MEN. By Hari Kunzru. (Knopf, $26.95.) Related stories, spanning centuries and continents, and all tethered to a desert rock formation, emphasize interconnectivity across time and space in Kunzru’s relentlessly modern fourth novel.

HHhH. By Laurent Binet. Translated by Sam Taylor. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.) This gripping novel examines both the killing of an SS general in Prague in 1942 and Binet’s experience in writing about it.

A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING. By Dave Eggers. (McSweeney’s, $25.) Eg­gers’s novel is a haunting and supremely readable parable of America in the global economy, a nostalgic lament for a time when life had stakes and people worked with their hands.

HOME. By Toni Morrison. (Knopf, $24.) A black Korean War veteran, discharged from an integrated Army into a segregated homeland, makes a reluctant journey back to Georgia in a novel engaged with themes that have long haunted Morrison.

HOPE: A TRAGEDY. By Shalom Auslander. (Riverhead, $26.95.) Hilarity alternates with pain in this novel about a Jewish man seeking peace in upstate New York who discovers Anne Frank in his ­attic.

HOW SHOULD A PERSON BE? By Sheila Heti. (Holt, $25.) The narrator (also named Sheila) and her friends try to answer the question in this novel’s title.

IN ONE PERSON. By John Irving. (Simon & Schuster, $28.) Irving’s funny, risky new novel about an aspiring writer struggling with his sexuality examines what happens when we face our desires honestly.

A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME. By Wiley Cash. (Morrow/HarperCollins, $24.99.) An evil pastor dominates Cash’s mesmerizing first novel.

MARRIED LOVE: And Other Stories. By Tessa Hadley. (Harper Perennial, paper, $14.99.) Hadley’s understatedly beautiful collection is filled with exquisitely calibrated gradations and expressions of class.

NW. By Zadie Smith. (Penguin Press, $26.95.) The lives of two friends who grew up in a northwest London housing project diverge, illuminating questions of race, class, sexual identity and personal choice, in Smith’s energetic modernist novel.
Previous Years' Lists

ON THE SPECTRUM OF POSSIBLE DEATHS. By Lucia Perillo. (Copper Canyon, $22.) Taut, lucid poems filled with complex emotional reflection.

PURE. By Julianna Baggott. (Grand Central, $25.99.) Children battle for the planet’s redemption in this precisely written postapocalyptic adventure story.

THE RIGHT-HAND SHORE. By Christopher Tilghman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.) A dark, magisterial novel set on a Chesapeake Bay estate.

THE ROUND HOUSE. By Louise Erdrich. (Harper/HarperCollins, $27.99.) In this novel, an American Indian family faces the ramifications of a vicious crime.

SALVAGE THE BONES. By Jesmyn Ward. (Bloomsbury, $24.) A pregnant 15-year-old and her family await Hurricane Katrina in this lushly written novel.

SAN MIGUEL. By T. Coraghessan Boyle. (Viking, $27.95.) Two utopians from different eras establish private idylls on California’s desolate Channel Islands; this novel preserves their tantalizing dreams.

SHINE SHINE SHINE. By Lydia Netzer. (St. Martin’s, $24.99.) This thought-provoking debut novel presents a geeky astronaut and his pregnant wife.

SHOUT HER LOVELY NAME. By Natalie Serber. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24.) The stories in Serber’s first collection are smart and nuanced.

SILENT HOUSE. By Orhan Pamuk. Translated by Robert Finn. (Knopf, $26.95.) A family is a microcosm of a country on the verge of a coup in this intense, foreboding novel, first published in Turkey in 1983.

THE STARBOARD SEA. By Amber Dermont. (St. Martin’s, $24.99.) Dermont’s captivating debut novel, whose narrator is a boarding school student and a sailor, takes pleasure in the sea and in the exhilarating freedom of being young.

SWEET TOOTH. By Ian McEwan. (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $26.95.) The true subject of this smart and tricky novel, set inside a cold war espionage operation, is the border between make-believe and reality.

SWIMMING HOME. By Deborah Levy. (Bloomsbury, paper, $14.) In this spare, disturbing and frequently funny novel, a troubled young woman tests the marriages of two couples.

TELEGRAPH AVENUE. By Michael Chabon. (Harper/HarperCollins, $27.99.) Chabon’s rich comic novel about fathers and sons in Berkeley and Oakland, Calif., juggles multiple plots and mounds of pop culture references in astonishing prose.

THE TESTAMENT OF MARY. By Colm Toibin. (Scribner, $19.99.) This beautiful work takes power from the surprises of its language and its almost shocking characterization of Mary, mother of Jesus.

THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER. By Junot Díaz. (Riverhead, $26.95.) The stories in this collection are about love, but they’re also about the undertow of family history and cultural mores, presented in Díaz’s exciting, irresistible and entertaining prose.

THREE STRONG WOMEN. By Marie NDiaye. Translated by John Fletcher. (Knopf, $25.95.) In loosely linked narratives, three women from Senegal struggle with fathers and husbands in France. This subtle, hypnotic novel won the Prix Goncourt in 2009.

TOBY’S ROOM. By Pat Barker. (Doubleday, $25.95.) This novel, a sequel to “Life Class,” delves further into the lives of an English family torn apart by World War I.

WATERGATE. By Thomas Mallon. (Pantheon, $26.95.) This novelistic re­imagining of the “third-rate burglary” proposes surprising motives for the break-in and the 18-minute gap, and has a sympathetic Nixon.

WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT ANNE FRANK: Stories. By Nathan Englander. (Knopf, $24.95.) Englander tackles large questions of morality and history in a masterly collection that manages to be both insightful and ­uproarious.

THE YELLOW BIRDS. By Kevin Powers. (Little, Brown, $24.99.) A young private and his platoon struggle through the war in Iraq but find no peace at home in this powerful and moving first novel about the frailty of man and the brutality of war.

NONFICTION

ALL WE KNOW: Three Lives. By Lisa Cohen. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30.) The vanished world of midcentury upper-class lesbians is portrayed as beguiling, its inhabitants members of a stylish club.

AMERICAN TAPESTRY: The Story of the Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama. By Rachel L. Swarns. (Amistad/HarperCollins, $27.99.) A Times reporter’s deeply researched chronicle of several generations of Mrs. Obama’s family.

AMERICAN TRIUMVIRATE: Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, and the Modern Age of Golf. By James Dodson. (Knopf, $28.95.) The author evokes an era when the game was more vivid and less corporate than it seems now.

ARE YOU MY MOTHER? A Comic Drama. By Alison Bechdel. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $22.) Bechdel’s engaging, original graphic memoir explores her troubled relationship with her distant mother.

BARACK OBAMA: The Story. By David Maraniss. (Simon & Schuster, $32.50.) This huge and absorbing new biography, full of previously unexplored detail, shows that Obama’s saga is more surprising and gripping than the version we’re familiar with.

BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. By Katherine Boo. (Random House, $27.) This extraordinary moral inquiry into life in an Indian slum shows the human costs exacted by a brutal social Darwinism.

BELZONI: The Giant Archaeologists Love to Hate. By Ivor Noël Hume. (University of Virginia, $34.95.) The fascinating tale of the 19th-century Italian monk, a “notorious tomb robber,” who gathered archaeological treasures in Egypt while crunching bones underfoot.

THE BLACK COUNT: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo. By Tom Reiss. (Crown, $27.) The first Alexandre Dumas, a mixed-race general of the French Revolution, is the subject of this imaginative biography.

BREASTS: A Natural and Unnatural History. By Florence Williams. (Norton, $25.95.) Williams’s environmental call to arms deplores chemicals in breast milk and the vogue for silicone implants.

COMING APART: The State of White America, 1960-2010. By Charles Murray. (Crown Forum, $27.) The author of “The Bell Curve” warns that the white working class has abandoned the “founding virtues.”

DARWIN’S GHOSTS: The Secret History of Evolution. By Rebecca Stott. (Spiegel & Grau, $27.) Stott’s lively, original history of evolutionary ideas flows easily across continents and centuries.

A DISPOSITION TO BE RICH: How a Small-Town Preacher’s Son Ruined an American President, Brought on a Wall Street Crash, and Made Himself the Best-Hated Man in the United States. By Geoffrey C. Ward. (Knopf, $28.95.) The author’s ancestor was the bane of Ulysses S. Grant.

FAR FROM THE TREE: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity. By Andrew Solomon. (Scribner, $37.50.) This passionate and affecting work about what it means to be a parent is based on interviews with families of “exceptional” children.

FLAGRANT CONDUCT. The Story of Lawrence v. Texas: How a Bedroom Arrest Decriminalized Gay Americans. By Dale Carpenter. (Norton, $29.95.) Carpenter stirringly describes the 2003 Supreme Court decision that overturned the Texas sodomy law.

THE FOLLY OF FOOLS: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life. By Robert Trivers. (Basic Books, $28.) An intriguing argument that deceit is a beneficial evolutionary “deep feature” of life.

THE GREY ALBUM: On the Blackness of Blackness. By Kevin Young. (Graywolf, paper, $25.) A poet’s lively account of the central place of the trickster figure in black American culture could have been called “How Blacks Invented America.”

HAITI: The Aftershocks of History. By Laurent Dubois. (Metropolitan/Holt, $32.) Foreign meddling, the lack of a democratic tradition, a humiliating American occupation and cold-war support of a brutal dictator all figure in a scholar’s well-written analysis.

HOW CHILDREN SUCCEED: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. By Paul Tough. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27.) Noncognitive skills like persistence and self-control are more crucial to success than sheer brainpower, Tough maintains.

HOW MUSIC WORKS. By David Byrne. (McSweeney’s, $32.) This guidebook also explores the eccentric rock star’s personal and professional experience.

IRON CURTAIN: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956. By Anne Applebaum. (Doubleday, $35.) An overwhelming and convincing account of the Soviet push to colonize Eastern Europe after World War II.

KAYAK MORNING: Reflections on Love, Grief, and Small Boats. By Roger Rosenblatt. (Ecco/HarperCollins, paper, $13.99.) This thoughtful meditation on the evolution of grief over time asks the big questions.

LINCOLN’S CODE: The Laws of War in American History. By John Fabian Witt. (Free Press, $32.) A tension between humanitarianism and righteousness has shaped America’s rules of warfare.

LITTLE AMERICA: The War Within the War for Afghanistan. By Rajiv Chandrasekaran. (Knopf, $27.95.) A beautifully written and deeply reported account of America’s troubled involvement in ­Afghanistan.

MEMOIR OF A DEBULKED WOMAN: Enduring Ovarian Cancer. By Susan Gubar. (Norton, $24.95.) A feminist scholar recounts her experience and criticizes the medical treatment of a frightening disease in a voice that is straightforward and incredibly brave.

MY POETS. By Maureen N. McLane. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25.) Part memoir and part criticism, this friendly book includes essays on poets canonical and contemporary, as well as lineated poem-games.

THE OBAMAS. By Jodi Kantor. (Little, Brown, $29.99.) Michelle Obama sets the tone and tempo of the current White House, Kantor argues in this admiring account, full of colorful insider anecdotes.

ODDLY NORMAL: One Family’s Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms With His Sexuality. By John Schwartz. (Gotham, $26.) A Times reporter’s deeply affecting account of his son’s coming out also reviews research on the experience of LGBT kids.

ON A FARTHER SHORE: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson. By William Souder. (Crown, $30.) An absorbing biography of the pioneering environmental writer on the 50th anniversary of “Silent Spring.”

ON SAUDI ARABIA: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines — and Future. By Karen Elliott House. (Knopf, $28.95.) A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist unveils this inscrutable country, comparing its calcified regime to the Soviet Union in its final days.

THE ONE: The Life and Music of James Brown. By RJ Smith. (Gotham, $27.50.) Smith argues that Brown was the most significant modern American musician in terms of style, messaging, rhythm and originality.

THE PASSAGE OF POWER: The Years of Lyndon Johnson. By Robert A. Caro. (Knopf, $35.) The fourth volume of Caro’s magisterial work spans the five years that end shortly after Kennedy’s assassination, as Johnson prepares to push for a civil rights act.

THE PATRIARCH: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy. By David Nasaw. (Penguin Press, $40.) This riveting history captures the sweep of Kennedy’s life — as Wall Street speculator, moviemaker, ambassador and dynastic founder.

PEOPLE WHO EAT DARKNESS: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished From the Streets of Tokyo — and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up. By Richard Lloyd Parry. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, paper, $16.) An evenhanded investigation of a murder.

RED BRICK, BLACK MOUNTAIN, WHITE CLAY: Reflections on Art, Family, and Survival. By Christopher Benfey. (Penguin Press, $25.95.) Mixing memoir, family saga, travelogue and cultural ­history.

RULE AND RUIN. The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party: From Eisenhower to the Tea Party. By Geoffrey Kabaservice. (Oxford University, $29.95.) Pragmatic Republicanism was hardier than we remember, Kabaservice argues.

SAUL STEINBERG: A Biography. By Deirdre Bair. (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $40.) A gripping and revelatory biography of the eminent cartoonist.

SHOOTING VICTORIA: Madness, Mayhem, and the Rebirth of the British Monarchy. By Paul Thomas Murphy. (Pegasus, $35.) An uninhibited and learned account of the attempts on the life of Queen Victoria, which only increased her popularity.

SHORT NIGHTS OF THE SHADOW CATCHER: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis. By Timothy Egan. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28.) A deft portrait of the man who made memorable photographs of American ­Indians.

THE SOCIAL CONQUEST OF EARTH. By Edward O. Wilson. (Norton, $27.95.) The evolutionary biologist explores the strange kinship between humans and some insects.

SOMETIMES THERE IS A VOID: Memoirs of an Outsider. By Zakes Mda. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $35.) The South African novelist and playwright absorbingly illuminates his wide, worldly life.

SPILLOVER: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. By David Quammen. (Norton, $28.95.) Quammen’s meaty, sprawling book chronicles his globe-trotting scientific adventures and warns against animal microbes spilling over into people.

THE TASTE OF WAR: World War II and the Battle for Food. By Lizzie Colling­ham. (Penguin Press, $36.) Collingham argues that food needs contributed to the war’s origins, strategy, outcome and aftermath.

THOMAS JEFFERSON: The Art of Power. By Jon Meacham. (Random House, $35.) This readable and well-researched life celebrates Jefferson’s skills as a practical politician, unafraid to wield power even when it conflicted with his small-government views.

VICTORY: The Triumphant Gay Revolution. By Linda Hirshman. (Harper/Har­perCollins, $27.99.) Written with knowing finesse, this expansive history of gay rights from the early 20th century to the present draws on archives and interviews.

WHEN GOD TALKS BACK: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God. By T. M. Luhrmann. (Knopf, $28.95.) Evangelicals believe that God speaks to them personally because they hone the skill of prayer, this insightful study argues.

WHY BE HAPPY WHEN YOU COULD BE NORMAL? By Jeanette Winterson. (Grove, $25.) Winterson’s unconventional and winning memoir wrings humor from adversity as it describes her upbringing by a wildly deranged mother.

WHY DOES THE WORLD EXIST? An Existential Detective Story. By Jim Holt. (Liveright/Norton, $27.95.) An elegant and witty writer converses with philosophers and cosmologists who ponder why there is something rather than nothing.