9 New Books We Recommend This Week

I used to spend long hours after school at my town’s small public library, losing myself among stacks of books that felt as capacious and as mysteriously assembled as the universe itself. This week’s list of recommended titles offers something of that experience, with a poetry collection nestled up to a history of World War II refugees, a consideration of tomboys next to an account of the science behind gene editing. Where to begin? Probably in the same place I did as a student, with the fiction: Take your pick between Shirley Hazzard’s sparkling short stories or Bryan Washington’s debut novel about the vagaries of families and love. After that, the universe.

Gregory Cowles
Senior Editor, Books
Twitter: @GregoryCowles

COLLECTED STORIES, by Shirley Hazzard. Edited by Brigitta Olubas. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28.) In addition to her acclaimed novels, the Australian-American writer Shirley Hazzard (1931-2016) wrote short stories filled with intelligence and irony, and they are gathered here in a single important and elegant volume. “Hazzard’s stories are shrewd, formal and epigrammatic,” our critic Dwight Garner writes. “One feels smarter and more pulled together after reading them. You drop into one as if you were a wet cell phone and it were a jar of uncooked rice.”

HOW TO MAKE A SLAVE: And Other Essays, by Jerald Walker. (Mad Creek Books, $19.95.) In this collection of searching personal essays, a finalist for a National Book Award, Jerald Walker writes that racism “is part and parcel of our culture, the great American disease with which we are all afflicted,” and that “there will be no cure until we accept this diagnosis.” The essays are “restless, brilliant and short,” our critic Jennifer Szalai writes. “The brevity suits not just Walker’s style but his worldview, too. Keeping things quick gives him the freedom to move; he can alight on a truth without pinning it into place.”

MEMORIAL, by Bryan Washington. (Riverhead, $27.) A sense of estrangement pervades this assured debut novel, which opens as a man flies to Osaka to care for his terminally ill father, leaving his visiting mother and his Black boyfriend to keep each other company. One of the great themes of “Memorial” is the immense power parents wield over their children, even well into adulthood. “In plain, confident prose, Washington deftly records the way the forces of loyalty pull the heartstrings in different directions,” Ryu Spaeth writes in his review. “The tone and dialogue are cool, almost jaded, gesturing obliquely at the emotions roiling beneath the surface.”

THE LAST MILLION: Europe’s Displaced Persons From World War to Cold War, by David Nasaw. (Penguin Press, $35.) Nasaw manages to make vivid sense of a chaotic moment at the end of World War II, when more than a million displaced persons were left with nowhere to go. A historian and biographer, he writes with “an especially supple sense of scale,” Adina Hoffman notes in her review. “Much of what makes the book so absorbing and ultimately wrenching is his capacity to maneuver with skill between the nitty-grittiest of diplomatic (and congressional, military, personal) details and the so-called Big Picture. In cinematic terms, he’s adroit at surveying a vast landscape with a soaring crane shot, then zooming in sharply for a close-up of a single face as it crumples.”

RUNAWAY: New Poems, by Jorie Graham. (Ecco, $26.99.) Graham, 70, has claimed a berth in the American literary establishment for four decades. She still knows how to get your attention. From its opening page until its final lines, Graham’s 15th collection of poetry has the heightened urgency of a young writer’s debut. Reviewing it, Jeff Gordinier writes that “Runaway” extends the “oracular reach” of Graham’s recent work, “in which the signs of impending global doom — climate change, species collapse, acidifying oceans, stupefying information overload, cataclysmic storms and fires — have catalyzed her urge to speak up and chronicle what we have before it is gone.”

GOD-LEVEL KNOWLEDGE DARTS: Life Lessons From the Bronx, by Desus & Mero. (Random House, $26.) Following their success as podcast and late-night TV hosts, the Bronx-bred duo now dispense written advice that falls somewhere between what they wish they’d known and what they definitely think you need to know to avoid being a total “herb.” Their book is raucous but “not all jokes,” Lovia Gyarkye writes in her review. “They tackle the thorniness of toxic masculinity, extol the potential benefits of therapy (if you can afford it) and … balance their signature comedy with the vulnerability and self-reflection that make their jokes so relatable.”

A TRAITOR TO HIS SPECIES: Henry Bergh and the Birth of the Animal Rights Movement, by Ernest Freeberg. (Basic Books, $30.) In the 19th century the idea that animals had rights would have seemed absurd to most people, until Henry Bergh came along. A passionate defender of creatures large and small, he fought with P. T. Barnum and created the A.S.P.C.A.; now Freeberg gives him his due. “‘A Traitor to His Species’ is not a conventional biography, intriguing as its central figure is,” Victoria Johnson writes in her review. “The book is above all a compassionate, highly readable account of the 19th-century plight of animals, especially urban animals — and of those who tried to come to their rescue.”

TOMBOY: The Surprising History and Future of Girls Who Dare to Be Different, by Lisa Selin Davis. (Hachette, $28.) Leveraging a familiar term, and examining girls who reject dolls, dresses and sparkles in favor of athletics, sportswear and dirt, Davis takes a thoughtful, comprehensive look at gender performance. Her book “takes the reader in a fresh direction by illuminating the forces behind the shifting regard in which tomboys have been held,” Lisa Damour writes in her review. “‘Tomboy’ brings us up to the current moment and its starkly polarized takes on gender.”

EDITING HUMANITY: The Crispr Revolution and the New Era of Genome Editing, by Kevin Davies. (Pegasus, $29.95.) Davies offers a history of “one of the most remarkable scientific revolutions” ever — the ability to edit genes, potentially removing diseases from our DNA. He explores the medical and ethical challenges while remaining rapt at the promise and digging into the story “with a journalist’s relish,” in the words of our reviewer, Carl Zimmer. “Davies lays out how Crispr could become an economic giant,” Zimmer writes. “Genetic medicine is only one field where Crispr will likely find applications. It could potentially allow scientists to make far more sophisticated tweaks to the DNA of animals and plants than traditional technologies allow.”

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