9 New Books We Recommend This Week

You could look at this week’s recommended books list as a sort of lab report, with a hypothesis followed by the evidence that supports it. The hypothesis comes courtesy of Martin Puchner’s rousing book “Culture,” which argues that the debate over cultural appropriation and assimilation overlooks the essentially fluid nature of culture in the first place: Societies are constantly bumping into one another across time and space, he shows, and when they do they steal whatever suits their purposes to help them thrive.

The evidence comes in the books that follow — a multicultural stew that includes a British romance, an Argentine horror novel, a historical tale set in 1940s Trinidad and a discursive book-length essay from Chile. There’s a novel of childhood by the Colombian writer Pilar Quintana, a novel of Chinese immigration by the first-generation author Kathryn Ma, a novel of midlife female friendship by Jojo Moyes and, to round it out, a book about hacker culture that posits we are all hackers at times. Happy reading.

—Gregory Cowles

The Story of Us, From Cave Art to K-Pop
Martin Puchner

In his latest book, Puchner, a Harvard literature professor, delves into the charged debate over cultural appropriation, arguing, through an elegant historical survey, that culture has always evolved by borrowing from the past and from encounters with other people and places.

“Broad in scope. … Puchner is an adept storyteller who uses narrative to show that the common trait among all human cultures is skillful stealing in service of explanation.”

From Ismail Muhammad’s review

Norton | $35

Julia Bennet

In this delicious, angsty historical romance, Fran is divorcing her scoundrel of a husband despite the costs — and then she falls for his best friend. Bennet concocts a classic romance mood, with spectacular sex even when (or because?) the participants are conflicted.

“Certainly it’s one of the most complex and satisfying explorations of the idea that everyone is the hero of their own love story — even the villains.”

From Olivia Waite’s romance column

Self-published | Paperback, $7.99

Mariana Enriquez

This dazzling, epic narrative, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell, is a bewitching brew of mystery and myth, peopled by mediums who can summon “the Darkness” for a secret society of wealthy occultists seeking to preserve consciousness after death.

“Startlingly brilliant. … Reveals the unspeakable. It is an enchanting, shattering, once-in-a-lifetime reading experience.”

From Danielle Trussoni’s review

Hogarth | $28.99

Jojo Moyes

Instead of “Trading Places,” Moyes delivers “trading gym bags” in her latest entertaining romp of a novel. A printing executive at a dead-end job accidentally grabs the belongings of a wealthy, pampered second wife — and, as they say, chaos ensues. Lessons about priorities and love do too.

“This is a novel about women of a certain age who suddenly find themselves invisible — to their spouses, to their colleagues, to the world — and find pleasure in being ‘seen’ by each other. … Moyes has an incredible knack for minor plot twists.”

From Marshall Heyman’s review

Pamela Dorman | $29

How the Powerful Bend Society’s Rules, and How to Bend Them Back
Bruce Schneier

Schneier argues that anybody who manipulates a system for benefit is a hacker, and says social elites are some of the biggest hackers there are. He will make you rethink your assumptions, if he doesn’t induce paranoia.

“What he’s proposing, ultimately, is a kind of gestalt shift, a means of understanding our lives in terms of their systems and weaknesses, with hacks at the center of a ceaseless struggle between the letter and the spirit of the law. It’s an eye-opening way to think.”

From Dan Piepenbring’s review

Norton | $30

Kathryn Ma

A comedic take on the trials of immigration, Ma’s latest novel follows a Chinese man who is woefully unprepared for his move to America, but who powers through thanks to his belief that generosity and connection always exist among his fellow countrymen.

“Immigrant novels are so frequently tales of devastating woe, but Ma’s iteration of the young migrant story is imbued with inherent optimism.”

From Scaachi Koul’s review

Counterpoint | $27

Kevin Jared Hosein

This rich novel takes place on a sugar estate in 1940s Trinidad, where five families squeeze together in a single barracks while the wealthy owner and his wife live in luxury. Their disparate lives become entangled when the owner goes missing.

“The language is as lush, moody and thrilling as the landscape. … Hosein’s electrifying novel is shrouded in drama and mystery.”

From Anderson Tepper’s review

Ecco | $30

Pilar Quintana

In this novel, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman, the 8-year-old narrator lives in an apartment so overgrown with plants she calls it “the jungle.” Her fertile imagination keeps her company after a rift between her parents upends their family life.

“Quintana’s spare, atmospheric novel … explores Claudia’s high anxiety and the terrors of the adult world. And there’s much for her to fear.”

From Anderson Tepper’s review

World Editions | Paperback, $17.99

Constellations of Memory
Nona Fernández

Fernández blends the personal and political in her book-length essay (translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer), exploring her mother’s illness along with the violent story of her country, Chile, while drawing connections between lost memories, black holes and history’s “ghosts.”

“Fernández is one of her generation’s most original and dogged archivists of her country’s painful past. … Chile — and readers everywhere — should be grateful.”

From Anderson Tepper’s review

Graywolf | Paperback, $15

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