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Frontlist Book | 9 New Books We Recommend This Week

Frontlist Book | 9 New Books We Recommend This Week
on Aug 07, 2020
Frontlist Book | 9 New Books We Recommend This Week

Have you heard of the Sealey Challenge? Started in 2017 by the poet Nicole Sealey, the exercise invites people to read more poetry by setting a specific goal: 31 books in 31 days throughout the month of August. If that sounds appealing, and you don’t mind starting a few days late, you might jump in with “Concordance,” the latest collection by the estimable Susan Howe, which is one of nine new books we recommend this week.

Also on the list: the memoir “Memorial Drive,” by the former poet laureate Natasha Trethewey, and (leaving the realm of poetry altogether) new novels from Roddy Doyle and the screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, along with a story collection centered on a Massachusetts fraternity. In nonfiction we recommend James Hamblin’s fascinating survey of the latest dermatologic science, Anne Applebaum’s study of the people who enable authoritarian regimes, and two books about books: Wendy Lesser’s “Scandinavian Noir: In Pursuit of a Mystery” and Rachel Cohen’s “Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels.”

Gregory Cowles Senior Editor, Books Twitter: @GregoryCowles

MEMORIAL DRIVE: A Daughter’s Memoir, by Natasha Trethewey. (Ecco, $27.99.) This memoir by Trethewey, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, is about the murder of her mother, Gwendolyn, who was 40, by Gwendolyn’s second husband, a troubled Vietnam veteran. Trethewey has used autobiographical details in her poetry before, but, our critic Dwight Garner writes, “Nothing she has written drills down into her past, and her family’s, as powerfully as ‘Memorial Drive.’ It is a controlled burn of chaos and intellection; it is a memoir that will really lay you out.”

LOVE, by Roddy Doyle. (Viking, $27.) In Doyle’s new novel, about two 50-ish men talking well-oiled talk in a pub (you’ll say you’ve heard that one before; you haven’t), hilarity and seriousness work back to back to illuminate the secret, sacred world of male friendship that lies behind all the awkwardness and evasiveness. “Maybe a theme hiding in this novel is that men are not as awful at communicating as we, and women, say we are,” Roger Rosenblatt writes in his review. “The message in the bottle may be that all the slurred words and mottled meanings have a definite if desperate outcry in them.”

TWILIGHT OF DEMOCRACY: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism, by Anne Applebaum. (Doubleday, $25.) Applebaum examines the question of why so many writers and intellectuals in different countries have become supporters of right-wing nationalist movements and regimes. Are these enablers true believers or just cynical opportunists? “Applebaum believes the usual explanations for how authoritarians come to power — economic distress, fear of terrorism, the pressures of immigration — while important, do not fully explain” the role of the hangers-on, Bill Keller writes in his review. “She identifies layers of disenchantment: nostalgia for the moral purpose of the Cold War, disappointment with meritocracy, the appeal of conspiracy theories” and “the ‘cantankerous nature of modern discourse itself.’”

SCANDINAVIAN NOIR: In Pursuit of a Mystery, by Wendy Lesser. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.) Through this deep dive into the world of crime fiction from Sweden, Norway and Denmark, Lesser argues that the chief moral imperative of our time is the need “to draw a distinction between things that are made up and things that are true.” Our reviewer, Kate Tuttle, calls it a “charming and illuminating” book: “Her engagement with the source material, hundreds of titles’ worth, is rigorous yet playful,” Tuttle writes. “Perhaps when it comes to fiction and reality, what we need most are critics like Lesser, who can dissect the former with the tools of the latter.”

AUSTEN YEARS: A Memoir in Five Novels, by Rachel Cohen. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28.) Cohen read Jane Austen’s work exclusively for seven years — through the death of her father and two pregnancies; her winsome, nuanced account of the experience makes clear the British novelist’s abundant consolations. Sophie Gee, reviewing it, calls it “a thoroughly authentic, smart and consoling account of one writer’s commitment to another, in which Cohen … entrusts her own thoughts and feelings to a great writer’s craft.”

ANTKIND, by Charlie Kaufman. (Random House, $30.) This hallucinogenic debut novel by the noted director and screenwriter features the madcap effort to reconstruct a masterpiece of outsider cinema. Anyone who’s ever seen a Kaufman film will recognize the territory: a loose representation of “reality” that ripples with psychedelic oddities. “‘Antkind’ is an exceptionally strange book. It is also an exceptionally good one,” Matthew Specktor writes in his review. “Even at its most hallucinogenic, ‘Antkind’ remains appealingly earthy.”

CONCORDANCE, by Susan Howe. (New Directions, paper, $16.95.) Howe, a Bollingen Prize-winning poet whose career spans 45 years, has an abiding fascination with histories, archives and ghosts. Her new book pastes together collages of word and thought from old letters, manuscripts and (yes) concordances. The book “requires readers to channel their inner bookworm or hungry archivist, the tender scholar for whom typefaces, fonts, ink stains and marginalia create an ardent flutter,” Tess Taylor writes in her review. “Howe wants us first to be the kinds of readers who swoon as much for the yellowing paper and the dated stamps as for the content of the letter itself.”

FRATERNITY: Stories, by Benjamin Nugent. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25.) In this disarmingly lovely debut collection, Nugent plunges us into the alternately repellent and lonely ecosystem of the Delta Zeta Chi fraternity at a Massachusetts university. Our reviewer, Bobby Finger, admires how the book’s portrayal of the college experience “consists of four years of fumbling awakenings, both intellectual and sexual, in an environment where everyone struggles with the plague of masculinity, even the men.”

CLEAN: The New Science of Skin, by James Hamblin. (Riverhead, $28.) Sure that our obsession with cleanliness is bad for his skin, Hamblin takes the extreme measure of quitting showers to let his biome bloom. This self-experiment is at the center of his book about the ways the cosmetics industry might be making us rashy and sick. “The writing is fun, interesting and credible, that of a science journalist trying to make sense of the biology of bodies and how they work in daily life,” Rob Dunn writes, reviewing “Clean” alongside two other books about pathogens. Hamblin, Dunn adds, has written: “an ode to the invisible world laid out between his toes and in his armpits.”


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