First, the bad news: Two new books are going to forcefully remind us of the long-term disaster we’re busy ushering in. Tim Flannery’s The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth (Grove/Atlantic) is endorsed with a blurb from Tony Blair; and Elizabeth Kolbert’s sober and scary Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change (Bloomsbury) hails from the pages of The New Yorker. It’s going to be a long, hot spring.
If you have a mind to console yourself with fiction, next week you’ll be able to immerse yourself in The Rules of Perspective (Henry Holt), Adam Thorpe’s thoroughly engrossing novel about a provincial German art museum firebombed in April of 1945, just weeks before the Nazi surrender. (Mr. Thorpe’s first novel, published 14 years ago, was the remarkable Ulverton.) If you’re willing to wait, and don’t mind painfully sharp barbs, the witty, prodigiously observant George Saunders’ new collection of stories, In Persuasion Nation, is due out from Riverhead in mid-April. Also in April comes a new novel, Black Swan Green (Random House) by David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas and Ghostwritten, two of the best novels published in the last decade.
Messrs. Thorpe, Saunders and Mitchell are not yet household names. If you’re more comfortable with the tried and true, how about Gay Talese’s mammoth memoir, A Writer’s Life? Knopf will be publishing it on April 25. And just a week or so later, Harcourt will publish Let Me Finish, an elegant memoir by the venerable New Yorker editor and writer Roger Angell.
Less venerable, but also on the staff of The New Yorker, the habitually provocative Caitlin Flanagan is sure to stir up more controversy in mid-April with To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife (Little, Brown). Also tart, despite the otherwise apt title, is Rich Cohen’s Sweet and Low, the story of the Sweet’N Low company, which Mr. Cohen’s grandfather founded in Brooklyn 50 years ago.
Fifty years ago …. If Good Night, and Good Luck whetted your appetite for tales of the Red Scare, try Shooting Star: The Brief Arc of Joe McCarthy (Harcourt) by former New York Times reporter Tom Wicker. And that should put you in the mood for what may be the most important nonfiction book of the season, James Carroll’s House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power, which Houghton Mifflin will publish in early May. A big book (700 pages), meticulously researched, on a topic Mr. Carroll knows well (his father worked in the Pentagon), it aims at the heart of an institution that is for most of us a frightening mystery.
At the other end of the spectrum, coming in mid-April, is Politics Lost: How American Democracy Was Trivialized by People Who Think You’re Stupid (Doubleday), another facile contribution by the formerly anonymous pundit so many people love to hate, Joe Klein.
To counteract our self-absorption (ever try to count the number of book titles that wave the word “America”?), please make room for two novels in translation: in April, Seeing (Harcourt), by the Nobel Prize winner José Saramago; and in May, The Possibility of an Island, by the incendiary Frenchman Michel Houellebecq (Knopf).
Some writers are always in season. Philip Roth has a short new novel coming out in early May, Everyman (Houghton Mifflin)—same old terrain, same ever-astonishing mastery. Also in early May: Anne Tyler’s Digging to America (Knopf). In early June, John Updike is back with his 22nd novel, Terrorist (Knopf)—yes, it’s topical: The protagonist’s name is Ahmad, he lives in New Jersey, and he has violence on his mind. And last but hardly least, also in June, the wise and wonderful Cynthia Ozick will publish her fifth collection of essays, The Din in the Head (Houghton Mifflin).
—Adam Begley is the books editor of The Observer.