I’ve received advance notification of forthcoming books for so long, I hardly glance at them anymore. When I was a librarian in charge of purchasing, Publishers Weekly and Booklist were my bibles; I scoured them cover to cover. As a reviewer with a couple decades’ worth of experience, I cannot be arsed. And since the pandemic started, publishers are sending out fewer books to tempt me back, so there goes that avenue, as well.
Because I’m an insufferable ass, despite my inattention I grumble I cannot keep up with all the new books being published, that, by the end of every year, I’ve heard of so few notable books on the “best of” lists. I could keep claiming books section editors are making up titles to make the rest of us feel stupid, or I could actually get back to consulting my sources.
I could pay attention. Be present and mindful, as the Buddhists say.
All this serves as preamble to sharing a list of a few notable books publishing within the next week. Some made my coveted list for intrinsic literary value, some for their celebration of diversity and written by an author I respect. Others, the mood just struck me. They sounded like something I’d buy.
The majority is non-fiction, and it’s a pretty stellar crop. Follow the links to sign up for a weekly roundup of things bookish from one of my regular sources. If you read any of them, I’d love to hear what you think.
ADMISSIONS: A Memoir of Surviving Boarding School by Kendra James (Memoir)
Early on in Kendra James’ professional life, she began to feel like she was selling a lie. As an admissions officer specializing in diversity recruitment for independent prep schools, she persuaded students and families to embark on the same perilous journey she herself had made — to attend cutthroat and largely white schools similar to The Taft School, where she had been the first African-American legacy student only a few years earlier. Her new job forced her to reflect on her own elite education experience, and to realize how disillusioned she had become with America’s inequitable system.
Grand Central Publishing | 9781538753484
Visit this blog to enter a giveaway for this title.
The New York Times
FREE: A Child and a Country at the End of History by Lea Ypi (Memoir)
For precocious 11-year-old Lea Ypi, Albania’s Soviet-style socialism held the promise of a preordained future. That is, until she found herself clinging to a stone statue of Joseph Stalin, newly beheaded by student protests. When the early ’90s saw Albania and other Balkan countries exuberantly begin a transition to the “free market,” Western ideals of freedom delivered chaos: a dystopia of pyramid schemes, organized crime and sex trafficking. With her elegant, intellectual, French-speaking grandmother; her radical-chic father; and her staunchly anti-socialist, Thatcherite mother to guide her through these disorienting times, Lea had a political education of the most colorful sort — here recounted with outstanding literary talent.
W. W. Norton & Company | 9780393867732
The New York Times
This, about the backlash the author endured, from The Guardian.
LORRAINE HANSBERRY: The Life Behind A Raisin in the Sun by Charles J. Shields (Biography)
Written when she was just 28, Lorraine Hansberry’s landmark A RAISIN IN THE SUN is listed by the National Theatre as one of the hundred most significant works of the 20th century. Hansberry was the first Black woman to have a play performed on Broadway, and the first Black and youngest American playwright to win a New York Critics’ Circle Award. Charles J. Shields’ authoritative biography of one of the 20th century’s most admired playwrights examines the parts of Hansberry’s life that have escaped public knowledge: the influence of her upper-class background, her fight for peace and nuclear disarmament, the reason why she embraced Communism during the Cold War, and her dependence on her white husband — her best friend, critic and promoter.
Henry Holt and Co. | 9781250205537
Kirkus (a venue I personally find borderline offensive, but it has name recognition, doesn’t it)
MANIFESTO: On Never Giving Up by Bernardine Evaristo (Memoir)
Bernardine Evaristo’s nonfiction debut is a vibrant and inspirational account of her life and career as she rebelled against the mainstream and fought over several decades to bring her creative work into the world. With her characteristic humor, Evaristo describes her childhood as one of eight siblings, with a Nigerian father and white Catholic mother, tells the story of how she helped set up Britain’s first Black women’s theatre company, remembers the queer relationships of her 20s, and recounts her determination to write books that were absent in the literary world around her. She provides a hugely powerful perspective to contemporary conversations around race, class, feminism, sexuality and aging.
Grove Press | 9780802158901
The New York Times (apologies if you hit their paywall – I did and it reminded me I need to re-subscribe to digital)
The Guardian, as an alternative
THE BLACK CHURCH: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (History)
For the young Henry Louis Gates, Jr., growing up in a small, residentially segregated West Virginia town, the church was a center of gravity — an intimate place where voices rose up in song and neighbors gathered to celebrate life’s blessings and offer comfort amid its trials and tribulations. In this tender and expansive reckoning with the meaning of the Black Church in America, Gates takes us on a journey spanning more than five centuries, from the intersection of Christianity and the transatlantic slave trade to today’s political landscape. At road’s end, and after Gates’ distinctive meditation on the churches of his childhood, we emerge with a new understanding of the importance of African American religion to the larger national narrative.
Penguin Books | 9781984880352
Streaming on PBS
The Washington Post
THE DOCTORS BLACKWELL: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine by Janice P. Nimura (Biography)
Elizabeth Blackwell believed from an early age that she was destined for a mission beyond the scope of “ordinary” womanhood. Though the world at first recoiled at the notion of a woman studying medicine, her intelligence and intensity ultimately won her the acceptance of the male medical establishment. In 1849, she became the first woman in America to receive an M.D. She was soon joined in her iconic achievement by her younger sister, Emily, who was actually the more brilliant physician. Exploring the sisters’ allies, enemies and enduring partnership, Janice P. Nimura presents a story of trial and triumph.
W. W. Norton & Company | 9781324020202
The New York Times
LAND: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World by Simon Winchester (History/Economics)
Land — whether meadow or mountainside, desert or peat bog, parkland or pasture, suburb or city — is central to our existence. It quite literally underlies and underpins everything. In LAND, Simon Winchester examines what we human beings are doing — and have done — with the billions of acres that together make up the solid surface of our planet. The book examines in depth how we acquire land, how we steward it, how and why we fight over it, and finally, how we can, and on occasion do, come to share it. Ultimately, Winchester confronts the essential question: Who actually owns the world’s land — and why does it matter?
Harper Perennial | 9780062938343
The Washington Post
A PREVIOUS LIFE by Edmund White (Fiction/Humor)
Sicilian aristocrat and musician Ruggero and his younger American wife, Constance, agree to break their marital silence and write their Confessions. Until now they had a ban on speaking about the past, since transparency had wrecked their previous marriages. As the two alternate reading the memoirs they’ve written about their lives, Constance reveals her multiple marriages to older men, and Ruggero details the affairs he’s had with men and women across his lifetime — most importantly his passionate affair with the author Edmund White.
Bloomsbury Publishing | 9781635577273
The New York Times
VIOLETA by Isabel Allende (Historical Fiction)
Violeta comes into the world on a stormy day in 1920. From the start, her life is marked by extraordinary events, for the ripples of the Great War are still being felt, even as the Spanish flu arrives on the shores of her South American homeland almost at the moment of her birth. Through her father’s prescience, the family will come through that crisis unscathed, only to face a new one as the Great Depression transforms the genteel city life she has known. Her family loses everything and is forced to retreat to a wild and beautiful but remote part of the country. There, she will come of age, and her first suitor will come calling. She tells her story in the form of a letter to someone she loves above all others, recounting times of devastating heartbreak and passionate affairs, poverty and wealth, terrible loss and immense joy.
Ballantine Books | 9780593496206
LET ME TELL YOU WHAT I MEAN by Joan Didion (Essays)
These 12 pieces from 1968 to 2000, never before gathered together, offer an illuminating glimpse into the mind and process of a legendary figure. Here, Joan Didion touches on topics ranging from newspapers (“the problem is not so much whether one trusts the news as to whether one finds it”), to the fantasy of San Simeon, to not getting into Stanford. In “Why I Write,” Didion ponders the act of writing: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.” From her admiration for Hemingway’s sentences to her acknowledgment that Martha Stewart’s story is one “that has historically encouraged women in this country, even as it has threatened men,” these essays are acutely and brilliantly observed.
Vintage | 9780593312193
A SAINT FROM TEXAS by Edmund White (Fiction)
Yvette and Yvonne Crawford are twin sisters, born on a humble patch of East Texas prairie but bound for far more dramatic and tragic fates. Just as an untold fortune of oil lies beneath their daddy’s land, both girls harbor their own secrets and dreams — ones that will carry them far from Texas and from each other. As the decades unfold, Yvonne will ascend the highest ranks of Parisian society as Yvette gives herself to a lifetime of worship and service in the streets of Jericó, Colombia. And yet, even as they remake themselves in their radically different lives, the twins find that the bonds of family and the past are unbreakable.
Bloomsbury Publishing | 9781635577051
The New York Times
Washington Independent Review of Books
THE SWALLOWED MAN by Edward Carey (Historical Fantasy)
A lonely woodcarver longs for the companionship of a son. One day, Giuseppe — better known as Geppetto — carves for himself a pinewood boy, a marionette he hopes to take on tour worldwide. But when his handsome new creation comes magically to life, Geppetto screams…and the boy, Pinocchio, escapes into the night. Though he returns the next day, the wily boy torments his father, challenging his authority and making up stories — whereupon his nose, the very nose his father carved, grows before his eyes. When the boy disappears after one last fight, the father follows a rumor to the coast and out into the sea, where he is swallowed by a great fish. He hunkers in the creature’s belly awaiting the day when he will reconcile with the son he drove away.
Riverhead Books | 9780593188880
The Washington Post
The Chicago Review of Books