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Find more Booklist Editors' Choice
The Adult Books editors have selected the following titles as representative of the year’s outstanding books for public library collections. Our scope has been intentionally broad, and we have attempted to find books that combine literary, intellectual, and aesthetic excellence with popular appeal.
Children of the Stone: The Power of Music in a Hard Land. By Sandy Tolan. Bloomsbury, $28 (9781608198139).
This is an engrossing and powerful story, moving skillfully amid the failure of the never-ending battles and “peace” talks between Israel and Palestine and the determination of one brave young man to change his world through music.
Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs. By Sally Mann. illus. Little, Brown, $32 (9780316247764); e-book, $16.99 (9780316247740).
Mann’s prose is every bit as provocative as her famous photographs, and together word and image create a deeply inquiring, lushly textured, candid, witty, and affecting memoir of family, place, and how memories and stories are preserved.
M Train. By Patti Smith. Knopf, $25 (9781101875100).
Smith shares tales from her profoundly creative life in atmospheric, imaginative, tender, and exquisite essays, paying tribute to those who inspired her, and recounting ardent pilgrimages around the world. (Top of the List Winner—Adult Nonfiction.)
You Come Too: My Journey with Robert Frost. By Lesley Lee Francis. Univ. of Virginia, $34.95 (9780813937458); e-book (9780813937465).
Francis, a granddaughter of Robert Frost, presents an extraordinary insider’s view of a great family in a heady and unusual mix of anecdote, commentary, and poetry.
An Einstein Encyclopedia. By Alice Calaprice and others. Princeton, $39.95 (9780691141749).
In this comprehensive work, three of the foremost scholars on Nobel Prize winner Albert Einstein delve deeply into the life of the renowned yet still enigmatic scientist.
Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal. By Jay Parini. Doubleday, $35 (9780385537568).
This intense and personal biography offers rich detail about Vidal’s life and work. Parini balances the two acute sides of his subject, Vidal the “angel” and Vidal the “monster.”
How the World Moves: The Odyssey of an American Indian Family. By Peter Nabokov. Viking, $32.95 (9780670024889).
Nabokov opens a new window on the American West in this fascinating biography of Edward Proctor Hunt, a Native American born in New Mexico’s Acoma Pueblo in 1861, who, with his adventurous family, lived a many-faceted life, bridging Native and white worlds.
The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World. By Andrea Wulf. Knopf, $30 (9780385350662).
Wulf creates a richly dimensional context for the emergence of Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) as a visionary who made science “accessible and popular” and offered prescient warnings about how precipitous industrialization would lead to disastrous climate change.
Jonas Salk. By Charlotte DeCroes Jacobs. Oxford, $34.95 (9780199334414).
Jacobs presents an engrossing and humane biography of the most famous medical researcher of the twentieth century, inventor of the first successful polio vaccine, Jonas Salk (1914–95), who went on to tackle AIDS.
Listening to Stone: The Art and Life of Isamu Noguchi. By Hayden Herrera. Farrar, $35 (9780374281168).
Herrera sensitively portrays Isamu Noguchi as an artist of “unstoppable creative energy” whose mixed heritage caused him endless anguish, including time in a WWII Japanese American internment camp, reinvigorating appreciation for Noguchi’s dramatic life and evocative art.
Martin Ramirez: Framing His Life and Art. By Victor M. Espinosa. Univ. of Texas, $40 (9781477307755); e-book (9781477307922).
Espinosa liberates the remarkably gifted Martín Ramírez (1895–1963) from the reductive labels of “psychotic” and “outsider” artist in this rigorous, humanizing, and affecting biography, while raising disquieting questions about immigration, race, mental illness, and creativity.
Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ’n’ Roll. By Peter Guralnick. Little, Brown, $32 (9780316042741).
As Guralnick so commandingly chronicles, Sam Phillips “discovered” Elvis, recorded blues artists B. B. King and Howlin’ Wolf, and launched the careers of Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis, driven by his belief that music transcends racial divides.
Sinatra: The Chairman. By James Kaplan. Doubleday, $35 (9780385535397).
This second installment of Kaplan’s definitive biography delivers a remarkably insightful history of popular music and celebrity culture in twentieth-century America—as viewed through the lens of an iconic singer whose tempestuous personal life helped build his legend but often detracted from his artistic genius.
Young Elizabeth: The Making of the Queen. By Kate Williams. Pegasus, $28.95 (9781605988917).
The years before Princess Elizabeth’s actual accession as Queen Elizabeth II are the focus of this briskly written, admirably probing, and sympathetically voiced exploration of the elements that went into the formation of the woman who became a very successful monarch.
Geography & Travel
Boundless: Tracing Land and Dream in a New Northwest Passage. By Kathleen Winter. Counterpoint, $27 (9781619025677).
As Winter perceptively recounts her journey through the Northwest Passage, which is opening up due to climate change, she ruminates on Arctic life and how its clashes with modern civilization will grow ever more consequential.
Health & Medicine
Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor’s Reflections on Race and Medicine. By Damon Tweedy. Picador, $26 (9781250044631); e-book (9781250044648).
African American psychiatrist Tweedy incisively illuminates the intersection of race and medicine in a compelling blend of statistics, personal anecdotes, and patient histories.
Concussion. By Jeanne Marie Laskas. Random, $16 (9780812987577).
In this gripping account, now a Hollywood movie starring Will Smith, Laskas explains why repeated blows to the head can leave football players with life- and personality-changing brain damage via the dramatic story of Dr. Bennett Omalu’s dogged pursuit of this inconvenient truth.
Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery. By Henry Marsh. St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne, $25.99 (9781250065810); e-book, $12.99 (9781466872806).
English neurosurgeon Marsh looks back on his three-decade career with bracing candor, dramatically and informatively detailing brain surgery’s high risks and difficult emotional terrain.
The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power. By Steve Fraser. Little, Brown, $28 (9780316185431).
This is a sharp-edged, completely fascinating look at American history and the contemporary politics of the haves and have-nots.
Avenue of Spies: A True Story of Terror, Espionage, and One American Family’s Heroic Resistance in Nazi-Occupied Paris. By Alex Kershaw. Crown, $28 (9780804140034).
In this intense, moving account that also serves to vividly describe the life of ordinary Parisians under the occupation, Kershaw tells the story of Dr. Sumner Jackson and his wife, Toquette, unlikely heroes of the French Resistance during the Nazi occupation.
The Witches: Salem, 1692. By Stacy Schiff. Little, Brown, $32 (9780316200608).
Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Schiff chronicles the events that led to the mass execution of 14 women, 5 men, and 2 dogs for witchcraft in 1692, painting a vivid portrait of a homogeneous, close-knit network of communities rapidly devolving into irrational paranoia.
The Wright Brothers. By David McCullough. Simon & Schuster, $30 (9781476728742).
McCullough’s knowledge of and personal enthusiasm for the accomplishments of Wilbur and Orville Wright—whose first powered, controlled flight in December 1903 introduced a new era in travel and transportation—shines clear here, as he ably projects the personalities of the Wrights in the face of both failures and successes.
The Beauty. By Jane Hirshfield. Knopf, $26 (9780385351072).
Hirshfield is archly witty in her beautifully agile and sage eighth collection, offering an imaginative look at our relationship with our bodies and the many wonders of our everyday lives.
Bluestone: New and Selected Poems. By James Lasdun. Farrar, $26 (9780374220556).
Lasdun is a poet of great technical excellence, who writes compellingly about marriage, parenthood, fandom, man and dog, and person and place with reflection and rumination, venturing, too, into memoir and stories.
It Seems like a Mighty Long Time. By Angela Jackson. TriQuarterly, $18.95 (9780810130517); e-book (9780810168176).
Songwriter and singer Barbara Lewis’ haunting 1963 hit, “Hello Stranger,” inspired the title of Jackson’s reflective and involving collection of poems flowing from the mighty river of African American history and culture.
Encyclopedia of Christian Education. Ed. by George Thomas Kurian and Mark A. Lamport. Rowman & Littlefield, $340 (9780810884922).
This unique encyclopedia effectively covers all types of Christian education by casting a wide net, both globally and thematically.
Uncovered: How I Left Hasidic Life and Finally Came Home. By Leah Lax. She Writes, $16.95 (9781631529955).
In this insightful, honest memoir, Lax details how she became a Hasidic Jew in large part to escape her dysfunctional family; then, after years in a marriage and seven children, she realizes she is gay, forcing her to make some heartbreaking decisions.
Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel. By Carl Safina. Holt, $32 (9780805098884).
Safina vividly illuminates the complex inner lives of highly intelligent, socially advanced animals by portraying individual elephants, wolves, and whales in mesmerizing and moving tales from the wild and the realm of cutting-edge science.
Evolution: The Whole Story. Ed. by Steve Parker. Firefly, $39.95 (9781770854819).
This accessible volume takes a pictorial look at all aspects of evolution. The coverage here is exhaustive, but the writing is easy to follow, and the short-entry format makes for a very readable book.
H Is for Hawk. By Helen Macdonald. Grove, $26 (9780802123411).
In this profoundly inquiring, wholly enrapturing memoir, historian and falconer Macdonald exquisitely and unforgettably entwines the loss of her father, the exhilaration of training a goshawk named Mabel, and the poignant story of writer and fellow raptor fanatic T. H. White.
How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics. By Eugenia Cheng. Basic, $27.99 (9780465051717).
Chang converts the making of lasagna, pudding, cookies, and other comestibles into analogies that help explicate various mathematical concepts. A singular humanization of the mathematical world.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. By Yuval Noah Harari. Harper, $29.95 (9780062316097).
In this sweeping look at the history of humans, Harari offers readers the chance to reconsider, well, everything, from a look at why Homo sapiens endured to a compelling discussion of how society organizes itself through fictions,
Between the World and Me. By Ta-Nehisi Coates. Spiegel & Grau, $24 (9780812993547).
In this brief book, which takes the form of a letter from the author to his teenage son, Coates comes to grips with what it means to be black in America today. There is awesome beauty in the power of his prose and vital truth on every page.
Escape Points. By Michele Weldon. Chicago Review, $26.95 (9781613733523).
Journalist and single mother Weldon is the Everyperson voice of going-it-alone parents as she forthrightly and humorously describes her struggles to care for three sons devoted to wrestling while sustaining her career and battling cancer.
The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle. By Lillian Faderman. Simon & Schuster, $35 (9781451694116).
Faderman has crafted an epic yet remarkably intimate work that belongs among the most definitive civil rights titles, LGBTQ-specific or otherwise. Based on more than 150 interviews and the author’s research, this work begins in the 1950s and spans the next six and a half decades of the ongoing struggle for legal and societal equality.
Putnam tackles the enormously important issue of income inequality across the U.S. and how it directly impacts children’s lives in this powerful blend of social and economic research and the vivid telling of the personal stories of several families.
The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools? By Dale Russakoff. Houghton, $27 (9780547840055).
Russakoff takes a detailed look at the major players in the dramatic fight to reform Newark’s schools, funded by a $100 million donation from Mark Zuckerberg, and the hard lessons learned.
Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. By Sherry Turkle. Penguin, $27.95 (9781594205552).
Turkle offers a wealth of revealing insights in this far-reaching analysis of what she perceives as a worrisome paradox: digital media enable us to easily share information but dissuade us from genuinely communicating and developing deeper understandings.
The SAGE Encyclopedia of Intercultural Competence. Ed. by Janet M. Bennett. SAGE, $375 (9781452244280).
Intercultural competence focuses on negotiating shared meaning across different cultures, and the entries here are presented well, with sufficient depth and subsections, making this a useful reference for those without a background in the subject matter.
Haygood meticulously details Thurgood Marshall’s remarkable career and the long journey that led to his tumultuous nomination to the Supreme Court, changing the course of American history
Something Must Be Done about Prince Edward County: A Family, a Virginia Town, a Civil Rights Battle. By Kristen Green. Harper, $25.99 (9780062268679).
This deeply moving account of historical injustice is also a personal search for redemption for the author who, married to a mixed-race man and mother of mixed-race daughters, returned to her hometown to uncover the shameful truth about its segregationist history,
Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security. By Sarah Chayes. Norton, $26.95 (9780393239461).
From ancient tales of avaricious rulers to modern headlines of greedy politicians, Chayes offers insightful analysis of how government corruption invites instability and insurgency and why we will never see peace in some of the world’s hot spots until we address that corruption.
Beauty Is a Wound. By Eka Kurniawan. Tr. by Annie Tucker. New Directions, $19.95 (9780811223638).
The story of Dewi Ayu’s vibrant if troubled life after being forced to serve as a Japanese comfort woman, and the lives of her daughters becomes a potent allegory for Indonesia in Kurniawan’s lively, mythical, bawdy, and arresting saga.
Best Boy. By Eli Gottlieb. Norton/Liveright, $24.95 (9781631490477).
In the clear-as-a-tinkling-bell voice of Todd Aaron, Gottlieb reveals how certain experiences cause this fiftysomething man with autism to suddenly go into a post-post-post-adolescent rebellion.
The Book of Aron. By Jim Shepard. Knopf, $23.95 (9781101874318).
In this masterful novel about children, war, and genocide, Shepard brings us into the Warsaw ghetto via enterprising and courageous young Aron, who bands with other imperiled Jewish children to survive, ultimately finding refuge with the real-life WWII hero, Janusz Korczak.
City on Fire. By Garth Risk Hallberg. Knopf, $30 (9780385353779).
Graceful in execution, hugely entertaining, and most concerned with the longing for connection, a theme that reaches full realization during the blackout of 1977 in New York City, this epic tale is both a compelling mystery and a literary tour de force.
Did You Ever Have a Family. By Bill Clegg. Simon & Schuster/Scout, $26 (9781476798172).
Clegg is both delicately lyrical and emotionally direct in this masterful novel, which strives to show how people make bearable what is unbearable.
The Distant Marvels. By Chantel Acevedo. Europa, $16 (9781609452520).
This uniquely powerful and startlingly beautiful novel showcases the enthralling voice of elderly Maria Serena, a former “reader” in a cigar factory, who entertains her fellow refugees waiting out a hurricane with tales of Cuba’s revolutionary past.
Fates and Furies. By Lauren Groff. Riverhead, $27.95 (9781594634475).
This is a complex albeit harrowing look at marriage, not least because of Groff’s dark and dazzling prose, which seduces the reader as much as the golden couple at the center of the compelling story.
The Gold Eaters. By Ronald Wright. Riverhead, $28.95 (9781594634628).
In this multifaceted, richly detailed historical novel about Spanish conquistadors in Peru, Wright tells the story of the fall of Incan civilization through the coming-of-age adventures of an Incan boy called Waman.
Honeydew. By Edith Pearlman. Little, Brown, $25 (9780316297226).
Incidents of lustful surveillance and magical solace occur throughout this covertly cosmic and piquantly exhilarating collection by heralded short story master Pearlman, who writes with bewitching clarity about what makes our lives unexpectedly wondrous.
A Little Life. By Hana Yanagihara. Doubleday, $30 (9780385539258).
Yanagihara follows the lives of four college men from postgraduate days in New York through much of their adult lives and backward to their childhoods. This wrenching yet beautiful novel is about pain and compulsion, sexuality and loss, but, above all, about the rigors of friendship.
Love Love. By Sung J. Woo. Soft Skull, $15.95 (9781593766177).
Their father’s medical crisis reveals shocking lies and fractures in the lives of siblings Judy Lee, a 38-year-old temp who once dreamed of being an artist, and former tennis pro Kevin in Woo’s sharp, astute, and stunning novel of aging, loss, and disillusion.
Marvel and a Wonder. By Joe Meno. Akashic, $29.95 (9781617753930).
In this high-stakes, mordantly incisive, compassionate drama, Quentin, a mixed-race teen, is spending the summer with Jim, his white grandfather, when a magnificent white racehorse is inexplicably delivered to Jim’s Indiana farm.
Mothers, Tell Your Daughters. By Bonnie Jo Campbell. Norton, $25.95 (9780393248456).
In Campbell’s pitch-perfect collection of hard-hitting tales about the hidden truths of women’s lives, she strides into the swamp of sexual conflicts and trauma and portrays working-class mothers and daughters of emotional complexity and grit. (Top of the List Winner––Adult Fiction.)
My Sunshine Away. By M. O. Walsh. Putnam, $26.95 (9780399169526).
After a girl in a seemingly safe Baton Rouge suburb is raped, the teenage boy next door, who worships her, tries to solve the crime (for which he is a suspect) in Walsh’s suspenseful, sensitive, and absorbing debut
Outline. By Rachel Cusk. Farrar, $26 (9780374228347).
Prudence. By David Treuer. Riverhead, $27.95 (9781594633089).
Set during WWII on a Minnesota resort owned by a Chicago family, Treuer’s trenchant, compassionate, and original novel explores uneasy relationships between whites and Native Americans with fresh historical detail and scrupulous psychological insight.
Purity. By Jonathan Franzen. Farrar, $28 (9780374239213).
Franzen brings together a lonely young woman burdened with massive student debt and an enigmatic mother, and the charismatic East German leader of a WikiLeaks-like group in a far-reaching, darkly comic tale of political and technological tyranny.
The Secret Chord. By Geraldine Brooks. Viking, $27.95 (9780670025770).
In her gorgeous, accessible, and timeless novel of biblical ambition, courage, retribution, and triumph, mega-popular Brooks imagines the life and character of King David in all his complexity as a charismatic musician and fearsome warrior.
A Spool of Blue Thread. By Anne Tyler. Knopf, $25.95 (9781101874271).
In this charming, funny, and gracefully insightful novel, Tyler tells the stories of several generations in Abby and Red Whitshank’s extended family, delving subtly and wisely into thorny questions of self, social status, passion, and home.
The Story of the Lost Child. By Elena Ferrante. Tr. by Ann Goldstein. Europa, $18 (9791609452865).
The fourth and final volume in Ferrante’s Neapolitan series finds Elena back in Naples and living just above her childhood friend, Lila. Lingering questions are finally answered as Ferrante insightfully plumbs the depths of a complex friendship.
The Sympathizer. By Viet Thanh Nguyen. Grove, $26 (9780802123459).
In the course of being tortured by the very revolutionaries he helped make victorious in Saigon, the narrator of this compelling and profoundly unsettling novel relives his turbulent life, exposing in the process the hidden costs in both countries of America’s tragic Asian misadventure.
The Tsar of Love and Techno. By Anthony Marra. Hogarth, $25 (9780770436438).
Marra, in between bursts of acidic humor, summons the terror, polluted landscapes, and diminished hopes of generations of Russians in a tragic and haunting short story collection.
In his deeply researched, fluently inventive final novel, Hijuelos chronicles with psychological depth the friendship between the Welsh-born explorer Henry Morton Stanley and the beloved American raconteur Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain).
The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories. By Joy Williams. Knopf, $30 (9781101874899).
It’s the odd details that get you in Williams’ acerbically dark and tonic short stories of misfits and outlaws, mental breakdowns, alienation, and disasters personal and planetary. Thirteen scorching new stories appear with 33 gems from past collections.
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