Spring Arts Preview: Top 10 Books

  • All Our Names

    by Dinaw Mengestu

    (Knopf, March 4)

    Set in the 1970s, All Our Names tells the story of two African men growing up in a time of revolution. One stays in Africa and becomes more politically and ideologically entrenched, the other leaves for America where he falls in love and finds relative peace in domestic life, though he remains troubled by his past. This is something of a theme for Mr. Mengestu, whose last novel, How to Read the Air, was about Ethiopian immigrants attempting to carve out a normal American life in the Midwest. Mr. Mengestu is the best writer of the African diaspora we have, and this book expands upon and updates his craft.

    Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery and a masquerade

    by Walter Kirn

    (Liveright, March 10)

    Walter Kirn tells the story of traveling from Montana to New York to deliver his hunting dog to Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, who uses an assumed identity, Clark Rockefeller, and claims to be a member of one of the most powerful American empires. The two develop a relationship, and “Rockefeller” turns out to be a psychopath, “a real-life Mr. Ripley,” who is eventually put on trial for murder. The author of Thumbsucker and Up in the Air returns with a book that is equal parts mystery, thriller and memoir about one of the stranger friendships in recent memory.

    Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt

    by Michael Lewis

    (W. W. Norton & Co., March 31)

    At this publication’s press time very little information had been released about Michael Lewis’ new book other than the fact that it is about the financial world and that, according to publicity materials, it “gives readers a ringside seat as the biggest story in years prepares to hit Wall Street.” But that’s enough for us to be excited. Michael Lewis, author of Liar’s Poker and The Big Short, is the George Eliot of financial reporting, leaving no stone unturned, mapping out corruption and hedonism in meticulous detail.

    Frog Music

    by Emma Donoghue

    (Little, Brown, April 1)

    Emma Donoghue’s 2010 novel, Room, a horrifying parable of child abuse that is also a coming of age tale, was a surprise best seller. Frog Music is another unexpected book and very different from its predecessor. A historical narrative set in San Francisco in 1876, this novel has at its center a heat wave, a smallpox outbreak and a murder. It provides further proof that Ms. Donoghue is an unusually versatile writer.

    Can’t and Won’t

    by Lydia Davis

    (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, April 8)

    Lydia Davis is the dean of the very short story. (For example, “Losing Memory,” in its entirety: “You ask me about Edith Wharton. Well, the name is very familiar.”) Her latest collection, Can’t and Won’t, is her first story collection since the monumental Collected Stories from 2009, and her first release since winning a very well-deserved Man Booker International Prize for her 25-year career to date. You can get a taste for the style of Can’t and Won’t from the story reproduced on its cover: “…because, they said, I was lazy. What they meant by lazy was that I used too many contractions: for instance, I would not write out in full the words cannot and will not, but instead contracted them to can’t and won’t.”

    Updike

    by Adam Begley

    (Harper, April 8)

    Adam Begley, the former books editor for this newspaper, has written the first serious intellectual biography of author John Updike. The book follows Updike through his isolated youth in Plowville, Pennsylvania, his education at Harvard, and his almost instantaneous literary fame, at age 27, with the publication of his second novel, Rabbit, Run. Mr. Begley seamlessly weaves biography and critical analysis throughout his book, much as Updike himself blurred autobiography and fiction. Updike is a monumental treatment of a towering American writer.

    Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris, 1932

    by Francine Prose

    (Harper, April 22)

    Francine Prose has worked in a wide range of genres—from a satire set on a college campus to a book-length literary critique of Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. Her new novel is a love story that opens in Paris in the 1920s and spans many years, fading from the Fitzgeraldian good times to its protagonist becoming a Nazi collaborator. The novel also takes experimental tangents in the form of a pseudomemoir by Peggy Guggenheim and an imagined novel by Henry Miller.

    An Untamed State

    by Roxane Gay

    (Grove Press, May 6)

    Roxane Gay, one of the more astute critics we have right now (her essays will be published in August under the title Bad Feminist), will release her first novel this spring. Set in Port-au-Prince, An Untamed State follows the daughter of one of Haiti’s wealthiest men as she is kidnapped—in broad daylight—by a gang of men that demand a ransom, which her father refuses to pay. Ms. Gay is as adept at writing on the subject of selfies as she is on America’s rape culture, so her tale of third-world intrigue is a welcome addition to a diverse body of work.

    Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the USS George H.W. Bush

    by Geoff Dyer

    (Pantheon, May 20)

    It’s Geoff Dyer. Talking about his experiences aboard the USS George H.W. Bush. He’s the tallest and oldest person on the ship. If that isn’t enough to make you want to read it, you’re reading the wrong paper.

    My Struggle Book Three

    by Karl ove Knausgaard

    (Archipelago Books, May 27)

    Another year, another addition to Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard’s six-volume autobiographical novel, My Struggle. Book Two showed Mr. Knausgaard’s protagonist—named Karl Ove Knausgaard—starting a family with his second wife. In Book Three, he goes back to the early 1970s, to his own childhood. Book Three is billed by its publisher as “the most Proustian in the series.” No matter how you feel about Proust, the truth is that with each subsequent book of his that is translated into English, Mr. Knausgaard continues to solidify his reputation as one of the most vital writers working today.

  • (Knopf, March 4) Set in the 1970s, All Our Names tells the story of two African men growing up in a time of revolution. One stays in Africa and becomes more politically and ideologically entrenched, the other leaves for America where he falls in love and finds relative peace in domestic life, though he remains troubled by his past. This is something of a theme for Mr. Mengestu, whose last novel, How to Read the Air, was about Ethiopian immigrants attempting to carve out a normal American life in the Midwest. Mr. Mengestu is the best writer of the African diaspora we have, and this book expands upon and updates his craft.

  • (Liveright, March 10) Walter Kirn tells the story of traveling from Montana to New York to deliver his hunting dog to Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, who uses an assumed identity, Clark Rockefeller, and claims to be a member of one of the most powerful American empires. The two develop a relationship, and “Rockefeller” turns out to be a psychopath, “a real-life Mr. Ripley,” who is eventually put on trial for murder. The author of Thumbsucker and Up in the Air returns with a book that is equal parts mystery, thriller and memoir about one of the stranger friendships in recent memory.

  • (W. W. Norton & Co., March 31) At this publication’s press time very little information had been released about Michael Lewis’ new book other than the fact that it is about the financial world and that, according to publicity materials, it “gives readers a ringside seat as the biggest story in years prepares to hit Wall Street.” But that’s enough for us to be excited. Michael Lewis, author of Liar’s Poker and The Big Short, is the George Eliot of financial reporting, leaving no stone unturned, mapping out corruption and hedonism in meticulous detail.

  • (Little, Brown, April 1) Emma Donoghue’s 2010 novel, Room, a horrifying parable of child abuse that is also a coming of age tale, was a surprise best seller. Frog Music is another unexpected book and very different from its predecessor. A historical narrative set in San Francisco in 1876, this novel has at its center a heat wave, a smallpox outbreak and a murder. It provides further proof that Ms. Donoghue is an unusually versatile writer.

  • (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, April 8) Lydia Davis is the dean of the very short story. (For example, “Losing Memory,” in its entirety: “You ask me about Edith Wharton. Well, the name is very familiar.”) Her latest collection, Can’t and Won’t, is her first story collection since the monumental Collected Stories from 2009, and her first release since winning a very well-deserved Man Booker International Prize for her 25-year career to date. You can get a taste for the style of Can’t and Won’t from the story reproduced on its cover: “…because, they said, I was lazy. What they meant by lazy was that I used too many contractions: for instance, I would not write out in full the words cannot and will not, but instead contracted them to can’t and won’t.”

  • (Harper, April 8) Adam Begley, the former books editor for this newspaper, has written the first serious intellectual biography of author John Updike. The book follows Updike through his isolated youth in Plowville, Pennsylvania, his education at Harvard, and his almost instantaneous literary fame, at age 27, with the publication of his second novel, Rabbit, Run. Mr. Begley seamlessly weaves biography and critical analysis throughout his book, much as Updike himself blurred autobiography and fiction. Updike is a monumental treatment of a towering American writer.

  • (Harper, April 22) Francine Prose has worked in a wide range of genres—from a satire set on a college campus to a book-length literary critique of Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. Her new novel is a love story that opens in Paris in the 1920s and spans many years, fading from the Fitzgeraldian good times to its protagonist becoming a Nazi collaborator. The novel also takes experimental tangents in the form of a pseudomemoir by Peggy Guggenheim and an imagined novel by Henry Miller.

  • (Grove Press, May 6) Roxane Gay, one of the more astute critics we have right now (her essays will be published in August under the title Bad Feminist), will release her first novel this spring. Set in Port-au-Prince, An Untamed State follows the daughter of one of Haiti’s wealthiest men as she is kidnapped—in broad daylight—by a gang of men that demand a ransom, which her father refuses to pay. Ms. Gay is as adept at writing on the subject of selfies as she is on America’s rape culture, so her tale of third-world intrigue is a welcome addition to a diverse body of work.

  • (Pantheon, May 20) It’s Geoff Dyer. Talking about his experiences aboard the USS George H.W. Bush. He’s the tallest and oldest person on the ship. If that isn’t enough to make you want to read it, you’re reading the wrong paper.

  • (Archipelago Books, May 27) Another year, another addition to Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard’s six-volume autobiographical novel, My Struggle. Book Two showed Mr. Knausgaard’s protagonist—named Karl Ove Knausgaard—starting a family with his second wife. In Book Three, he goes back to the early 1970s, to his own childhood. Book Three is billed by its publisher as “the most Proustian in the series.” No matter how you feel about Proust, the truth is that with each subsequent book of his that is translated into English, Mr. Knausgaard continues to solidify his reputation as one of the most vital writers working today.

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