9 New Books We Recommend This Week

There are woods near my house where I sometimes head when I’m craving green shadows and stillness, a reminder that time and nature have very little to do with the human scale of things. Very little — but not nothing: As Scott Weidensaul points out in his new book about migratory birds, “A World on the Wing,” humans are deeply implicated in the recent decimation of aviation species. If you love the woods as I do, this book will make you more alert to the chirrups and whistles and flashes of movement in the canopy above you and give you new respect for birds’ incredible abilities. It’s one of our recommended titles this week.

We also have a good stack of fiction in store for you, from Haruki Murakami’s latest story collection to Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s satire of Hollywood and marriage to debut novels from JoAnne Tompkins, Sanjena Sathian and Thomas Grattan. In nonfiction, the historian Annette Gordon-Reed takes a turn toward the personal with her book about Texas, “On Juneteenth,” while Simon Heffer revisits the British Empire before World War I and Linda Colley examines the role that constitutions have played in shaping modern governance.

Gregory Cowles
Senior Editor, Books
Twitter: @GregoryCowles

ON JUNETEENTH, by Annette Gordon-Reed. (Liveright, $15.95.) This series of short, moving essays by the noted historian explores “the long road” to June 19, 1865, when the end of legalized slavery was announced in Texas, the state where Gordon-Reed was born and raised. If the book is a more personally revealing departure for Gordon-Reed, it’s still guided by the humane skepticism that has animated her previous work. “One of the things that makes this slender book stand out is Gordon-Reed’s ability to combine clarity with subtlety,” our critic Jennifer Szalai writes. “She leads by example, revisiting her own experiences, questioning her own assumptions — and showing that historical understanding is a process, not an end point.”

GOOD COMPANY, by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. (Ecco, $27.99.) Beginning with the discovery of a long-lost wedding ring, Sweeney’s warm, witty novel plumbs the depths of two marriages. Secrets and resentments abound, but loyalty and abiding affection carry this bicoastal tale of actors finding their way in real life. “Sweeney is uncommonly skilled at gently lampooning Hollywood,” Meghan Daum writes in her review. “The constant internal struggle between what the heart wants versus what it should be grateful it already has serves as the primary emotional engine of ‘Good Company.’”

A WORLD ON THE WING: The Global Odyssey of Migratory Birds, by Scott Weidensaul. (Norton, $32.) Weidensaul takes readers on a gripping journey alongside the world’s feathered wanderers and the people who study them. He’s also on something of a crusade, drawing attention to the large number of birds that have been disappearing from the skies. “Weidensaul tasks himself with communicating to both the knowing birder and the layman the epic scale of what’s happening in our skies every year, the whys and hows, while offering rays of hope through the gloomy storm clouds,” Christian Cooper writes in his review. “The success of ‘A World on the Wing’ in navigating that challenge rivals the astonishing feats of the birds he chronicles.”

WHAT COMES AFTER, by JoAnne Tompkins. (Riverhead, $28.) In this debut novel, a pregnant teenager appears in a small town that is reeling in the wake of tragedy. How the residents open their doors to a stranger, and how two neighbors find their way forward after the deaths of their sons, is the backbone of this difficult but elegant story. “It’s a cautionary tale, one that prompted me to ask a series of probing, unwelcome questions at the dinner table,” Elisabeth Egan writes in her latest Group Text column. “But it’s also a powerful and inspiring reminder of how a close-knit community will rally around people in trouble, no matter their age.”

GOLD DIGGERS, by Sanjena Sathian. (Penguin Press, $27.) The teenagers at the center of Sathian’s debut novel drink literal gold in a desperate attempt to fit in as children of immigrants. The book is filled with achingly real reminders of what it was like to be an adolescent in post-9/11 America, feeling the weight of your parents’ dreams on your shoulders, but mostly just wanting to drink and make out. “The tension Sathian builds is one of teenage insecurity swelling into adulthood,” Lauren Christensen writes in her review. “This intimate glimpse of millennials who are second-generation Americans … shows how history repeats. It is a story of immigrants reaping their futures from property they have found, which is not theirs — or is it?”

FIRST PERSON SINGULAR: Stories, by Haruki Murakami. Translated by Philip Gabriel. (Knopf, $28.) Murakami’s new stories expound on memory’s power to shape us, incorporating confessional musings and touches of his signature supernaturalism: Charlie Parker speaks to us in a dream, a monkey with a strange compulsion comes clean. Our reviewer, David Means, admires the collection: “Whatever you want to call Murakami’s work — magic realism, supernatural realism — he writes like a mystery tramp, exposing his global readership to the essential and cosmic (yes, cosmic!) questions that only art can provoke.”

THE RECENT EAST, by Thomas Grattan. (MCD/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.) The rare novel to make a good life interesting, “The Recent East” follows three generations of one family, each uprooted and relocated across the world at a pivotal moment while growing up. “Most extraordinarily, Grattan gives us not only life, but a good life, the rarity of which in fiction (and increasingly, reality) is a shame,” our reviewer, Patrick Nathan, writes. “Is happiness really so uninteresting? Is contentment? Both seem to have developed that reputation, but in Grattan’s hands, life’s joys are magnetic.”

THE AGE OF DECADENCE: A History of Britain, 1880 to 1914, by Simon Heffer. (Pegasus, $39.95.) This sweeping history of Britain before World War I combines seriousness with a welcome waspishness, and may remind Americans of their country’s own present condition. “There are many pleasures to be had in this fine book, not the least of which is the vivacity of Heffer’s prose,” Richard Aldous writes in his review. “Heffer has little interest in debates among historians on the period, but unlike many general surveys of this kind, he does not rely just on secondary literature and makes excellent use of wide-ranging archival research. That approach gives the book a fresh perspective.”

THE GUN, THE SHIP, AND THE PEN: Warfare, Constitutions, and the Making of the Modern World, by Linda Colley. (Liveright, $35.) Colley’s examination of constitutions in the modern world reveals surprising origins for the unprecedented restrictions that were placed on governmental power beginning in the 18th century. “Colley also reminds us of how revolutionary and inspirational constitutions were — and still are,” Sheri Berman writes in her review. “At a time when many are questioning the future of democracy, it is worth remembering how important and precious these things are.”

Source: Read Full Article