Spring Preview: Top Ten Books

Reading for My Life: Writings, 1958-2008 by John Leonard (March 15, Viking Adult)  John Leonard was the critic’s critic, and

HHhH by Laurent Binet.

Reading for My Life: Writings, 1958-2008 by John Leonard (March 15, Viking Adult) 

John Leonard was the critic’s critic, and anyone who has ever penned a book review has in some way, whether conscious or unconscious, felt his influence. This book collects Mr. Leonard’s prolific career. In his 40 years as a critic, he contributed to most major media outlets, from The Nation to the New York Review of Books and the New York Times Book Review, where he served as executive editor from 1971 to 1975.

Reticence by Jean-Philippe Toussaint (April 10, Dalkey Archive)

This Belgian detective novel combines the noir grit of Raymond Chandler with the hedonism of Hunter S. Thompson. The feckless protagonist is vacationing in the Mediterranean when he begins to believe that he’s being kept under surveillance by a writer named Biaggi. He goes back and forth between wanting to solve this mystery, and simply enjoying his vacation.

Farther Away: Essays by Jonathan Franzen (April 24, Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

In his second collection of essays, a follow up to How to be Alone, the author of The Corrections and Freedom tackles subjects ranging from China’s economic development to the suicide of his friend, contemporary and competitor, David Foster Wallace. The essay on Wallace, a frustrated meditation, appeared in The New Yorker last year and mined a number of Franzen tropes: bird watching, crankiness, insecurity, regret, middle class narcissism and did we mentioned crankiness?

HHhH by Laurent Binet (April 24, Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

A novel about trying to write a novel about the assassination Reinhard Heydrich, “the butcher of Prague.” First published in France, Mr. Binet’s first novel is wondrously self-assured and poignant, despite the gravity of its subject. Heydrich has one of the most gruesome deaths in all of history (which is kind of fitting; we guess this is one of those ‘spoiler alerts’ everyone hates so much): After a sub-machine gun and a bomb failed to kill him immediately, he died of infection from his wounds days later after his doctor refused to give him antibiotics; he would have likely recovered had he been given them.

The Hunger Angel by Herta Müller (April 24, Metropolitan Books)

Nobel Prize winner Herta Müller returns with the disturbing story of a 17-year-old prisoner at a Soviet labor camp, exploring the physical and mental absurdities therein, and the humanity that continues to shine through. The “hunger angel” of the title is mostly literal: above everything, the novel is about starvation and the frightening algorithm that guides the labor camp: one shovel load of coal equals one gram of bread.

Home by Toni Morrison (May 8, Knopf)

In her new novel, Toni Morrison follows the travels of the impossibly-named Frank Money, a black soldier wounded in the Korean War. He escapes the confinement of a veteran’s hospital to travel through the American south, on his way home to his ailing sister. What he finds outside the hospital’s walls is a country as full of blistering, illogical hate as the worst battleground. Morrison’s prose here is spare, distilled to nothing but a fast-paced progression, a kind of replication of Frank’s frantic journey and a rare departure from her more opaque earlier work.

Antigonick by Anne Carson (May 10, New Directions)

A new translation of Antigone with text printed from Anne Carson’s own handwriting, Antigonick also includes drawings by Bianca Stone. The poet’s latest work is as sculptural as it is lyrical, an object that replicates the intimacy of Ms. Carson’s fresh take on the classic tragedy. Her poetry is among the most lyrical and tragic being composed today, but her true strength is in translation; she manages to make even the work of Sophocles come across as unexpected and, above all else, leaves her own indelible mark on a familiar piece of writing.

The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey (May 15, Knopf )

After the death of her lover, with whom she carried on a secret affair for 13 years, museum conservator Catherine Gehrig’s boss (the only person who knew of the relationship) gives her an assignment to bring back to life a 19th century automaton. Naturally with Peter Carey, the contemporary and the antiquated intertwine. The follow0up to his Parrot and Olivier in America, the new novel is as imaginative as anything Mr. Carey has written, but with deeper traces of sadness.

Not Working by DW Gibson (May 17, OR Books)

For what reads as a kind of oral history of the recession and housing crisis, DW Gibson traveled the country talking to people who are out of work—from college graduates looking for a first job, to executives with decades-long careers. The book is a catalogue of these responses. The point that comes across is that the most democratic thing in America today is a shared suffering (note the title’s pun). The book gives a name and a face to what is often tossed around as a mere statistic.

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (May 22, Henry Holt and Co.)

In her Wolf Hall trilogy, Hilary Mantel offers a dramatic re-telling of Tudor history. The first, eponymous book was one of the more tasteful entries in the historical fiction category. That book followed Henry VIII as he hoped to annul his marriage and marry Anne Boleyn. In this new book, the sequel, Henry is having a bit of a change of heart: his marriage to Boleyn has lost its allure. We all know how this ends, but Ms. Mantel has a way with making history feel new again.


Spring Preview: Top Ten Books