Books

11 New Books We Recommend This Week

Joan Didion is 86. Frederick Seidel is almost 85. Sometimes you just have to pause in awe of the great ones — and what better time for these two than right now, when both have new collections casting an eye back on their long careers? Didion’s latest essay collection, “Let Me Tell You What I Mean,” gathers 12 pieces spanning more than three decades, from 1968 to 2000. “Frederick Seidel Selected Poems” ranges over five decades in nearly 300 pages. They pair neatly, both writers fluent in a reserved, almost haughty tone as chilly as a good martini, diluted with self-knowing irony. Read one of those this week. Read both.

Or maybe you’d rather read a younger writer — Walter Mosley, say, who’s a mere 69. His latest Easy Rawlins mystery is the 15th in that series, and our new crime columnist likes it a lot. She likes Belinda Bauer’s “Exit,” too, so add that to your pile. And why not add the fiction anthology “Kink” to the list while you’re at it? Other good choices, depending on your mood and interests: a riff on the “Pinocchio” story as narrated by Geppetto, a biography of the writer Sybille Bedford, a novel about the effects of the Holocaust on four generations of one family. The Pulitzer-winning environmental journalist Elizabeth Kolbert is back with “Under a White Sky,” a look at efforts to mitigate the crises facing our planet. Finally, two reporters investigate complicated stories from Asia: Amelia Pang’s “Made in China” looks at the issue of forced labor in that country and its effect on global commerce, while Sonia Faleiro’s “The Good Girls” traces the tragic mystery surrounding the deaths of two teenagers found hanging in an Indian mango orchard.

Gregory Cowles
Senior Editor, Books
Twitter: @GregoryCowles

FREDERICK SEIDEL SELECTED POEMS, by Frederick Seidel. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $30.) Seidel, who turns 85 this week, grew up wealthy in St. Louis, and the nouns that populate his poems include old prep schools, Hermès briefcases, Savile Row tailors, grand hotels, elite restaurants. But he’s a complicated critic of status-seeking, and grief filters through his work. “Seidel is among the rare poets who’ve become noticeably better — nervier, more tricksy and electric — as they’ve slid into old age,” our critic Dwight Garner writes. “He’s the Dark Prince of American poetry, a writer of glittering malice, one who cuts against the grain of almost every variety of community feeling. He’s not a poet for everyone, but no poet worth anything is.”

THE GOOD GIRLS: An Ordinary Killing, by Sonia Faleiro. (Grove, $26.) In their village in India, 16-year-old Padma and 14-year-old Lalli were inseparable cousins who were spoken of as one person: Have you seen Padma Lalli? The girls went missing one night in 2014, and their bodies were discovered the next morning in an orchard, hanging from the same mango tree. The girls’ parents refused to let the bodies come down, calling for authorities all the way up to the prime minister to witness the bodies, to solve the crime. Faleiro’s account of the tragedy and the search for answers is “transfixing,” with “the pacing and mood of a whodunit, but no clear reveal,” our critic Parul Sehgal writes. “In brisk chapters, we glide swiftly, smoothly, only to realize that we’re not approaching a clearing but being led into a darker, more tangled story.”

UNDER A WHITE SKY: The Nature of the Future, by Elizabeth Kolbert. (Crown, $28.) Kolbert, a writer for The New Yorker, won the Pulitzer Prize for “The Sixth Extinction.” In her new book, she meets people who are trying to reverse the course of man-made environmental disaster, whether that might involve electrifying a river, shooting diamond dust into the stratosphere or genetically modifying a species to extinction. The biggest and most urgent of the impending cataclysms involves climate change. Kolbert’s “narrative voice is steady and restrained,” allowing unadorned truths to stand out, our critic Jennifer Szalai says. “She says that the ‘strongest argument’ in favor of some of the most fantastical sounding measures tends to be a sober realism: ‘What’s the alternative?’”

BLOOD GROVE, by Walter Mosley. (Mulholland, $27.) In the 15th outing for his iconic private detective, Easy Rawlins, Mosley once again chronicles a part of America rendered invisible — and overpowered — by whiteness. The book is set in 1969, with Rawlins on the verge of 50, still struggling with professional and romantic and familial conflicts in a Los Angeles about to be beset by the berserk. “There will be regrets, and deaths, and special appearances from other recurring Mosley protagonists,” Sarah Weinman writes in her crime column, “as Easy continues his journey through the country as it was, and is, rather than the stuff of myths and dreams.”

EXIT, by Belinda Bauer. (Atlantic Monthly Press, $26.) In this thriller, suffused with intelligence and wit, a 75-year-old “Exiteer” named Felix sits with critically ill patients as they die — until something goes horribly wrong on one assignment, forcing Felix to question his moral compass and the motives of everyone around him. “Bauer tucks these expansive questions into the folds of the plot, which grows sufficiently breakneck,” Sarah Weinman writes in her crime column. “What lingers most, though, is Felix’s capacity for empathy, no matter the personal cost.”

SEND FOR ME, by Lauren Fox. (Knopf, $26.95.) Inspired by a trove of letters written by her great-grandmother in 1930s Germany and incorporated into the text, Fox’s latest novel spans four generations and two continents, offering a nuanced exploration of the burden of inherited trauma on a single family riven by the Holocaust. Claire Lombardo, reviewing it, says the book is frequently akin to “an anthropological excavation; its preoccupations are many and sometimes diffuse but it is haunted throughout by the endlessly fascinating question of inheritance. How much of our stories — and which parts — truly belong to us?”

MADE IN CHINA: A Prisoner, an SOS Letter, and the Hidden Cost of America’s Cheap Goods, by Amelia Pang. (Algonquin, $27.95.) Pang talked to activists and laborers, combed social media and followed trucks from prisons to factories for this powerful exposé of Chinese forced labor, in which inmates must produce goods under inhumane conditions. “Pang is a dogged investigator,” Lauren Hilgers writes in her review, and her book “leaves us with a question that she herself has trouble answering. How do you square China’s economic might with its human rights record?”

SYBILLE BEDFORD: A Life, by Selina Hastings. (Knopf, $32.50.) Hastings, the author of several previous literary biographies, elegantly relates the eventful life of a first-rate 20th-century writer who wished she had produced more books “and spent less time being in love.” Bedford’s works of fiction and nonfiction are dense, exotic and rich even as they draw primarily on her own life. “But what a life it was!” Brooke Allen writes in her review. “Hastings calls her existence a ‘sexual carousel’ and has clearly had quite a job keeping track of the constantly shifting partnerships. … It is to be hoped that ‘Sybille Bedford,’ a largely sympathetic and very readable biography, will bring new readers to Bedford’s oeuvre.”

THE SWALLOWED MAN, by Edward Carey. (Riverhead, $26.) Amid a glut of “Pinocchio” spinoffs, the novelist and playwright Carey has had the inspired idea to focus on Geppetto, the lonely old woodcutter who carves a boy from an enchanted block of pine, giving him form and life — about as close as men get to immaculate conception, even in fantasy. Bruce Handy, reviewing it, calls the book “a riff on the entwined themes of fatherhood and creative spark,” and says its author is “a master of the dusty yet droll tone” who pulls off the stunt of setting a whole novel inside the belly of a big fish: “What keeps this book afloat, as it were, is the voice Carey gives to Geppetto.”

LET ME TELL YOU WHAT I MEAN, by Joan Didion. (Knopf, $23.) The 12 previously published essays collected here (mostly) for the first time were written between the late 1960s and the year 2000. Revisiting Didion’s work now provides a familiar joy, as well as a reminder of her prescience. “In five decades’ worth of essays, reportage and criticism, Didion has documented the charade implicit in how things are, in a first-person, observational style that is not sacrosanct but common-sensical,” Durga Chew-Bose writes in her review. “You could never mistake it for anything other than Didion.”

KINK: Stories, edited by R. O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell. (Simon & Schuster, paper, $17.) Not quite erotica, this fiction anthology is more about the transformative nature of kink as a practice. Featuring works from a diverse selection of writers, the collection explores issues of power, agency and identity. “At times reading ‘Kink’ felt like having a mirror turned on me,” Jazmine Hughes writes in her review. “Ultimately, this seems to be the collection’s point: to prompt a revisitation of the transgressive, a consideration, or insertion, of the self.”

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