If we all read the same things, how dull would that be? I've been focusing on fiction during these strange days — but for those who thrive on nonfiction, here are six acclaimed new paperbacks just for you.
"Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee" by Casey Cep (Knopf). I devoured this book last year, as will all fans of true crime, Lee's work and/or well-written narrative nonfiction. Cep examines Lee's attempts, in the later years of her career, to report on and write a book about a notorious Alabama serial killer in 1970s Alabama. "Furious Hours," taking us into atmospheric courtrooms in the Deep South, reads like a novel, and you leave it thinking that the story of the accused killer, the Reverend Willie Maxwell, would make a hell of a movie.
"Sontag: Her Life and Work" by Benjamin Moser (HarperCollins). Winner of this year's Pulitzer Prize for biography, this hefty book (800-plus pages) examines the life of one of America's best-known public intellectuals, Susan Sontag. "An authoritatively constructed work told with pathos and grace," wrote the Pulitzer committee, "that captures the writer's genius and humanity alongside her addictions, sexual ambiguities and volatile enthusiasms."
"Elements of Fiction" by Walter Mosley (Grove/Atlantic). I suspect a lot of us out there might have dusted off a half-written novel during these stay-at-home months; just in time, here's Mosley (author of the excellent Easy Rawlins mystery series) with a follow-up to his 2007 writer's guide "This Year You Write Your Novel." The new book, wrote Kirkus Reviews, "provides guidance and tough-minded encouragement to writers at any stage of development ... As with other manuals, this one doesn't shirk from emphasizing the difficulty of writing, but Mosley's spirited generosity helps make it less daunting."
"Year of the Monkey" by Patti Smith (Knopf). Musician/author/poet Smith's third volume of her memoirs — the first, "Just Kids," won the National Book Award in 2010 — takes us through her life in her 70th year, in "a hybrid narrative that's part travel journal, part reflexive essay on our times, and part meditation on existence at the edge of a new decade of life," wrote an NPR reviewer, describing the book as "a beautifully realized and unique memoir that chronicles a transformative year in the life of one of our most multi-talented creative voices."
"The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke" by Jeffrey C. Stewart (Oxford University Press, available Oct. 1). Another Pulitzer Prize-winning biography (as well as a National Book Award winner), Stewart's book examines the life of Locke, the philosopher, writer and trailblazer of the Harlem Renaissance, whose protegees included Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and Jacob Lawrence. A New York Times critic called the book — the title of which comes from a seminal 1925 essay by Locke — a "majestic biography" that "gives Locke the attention his life deserves."
"One Day: The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary 24 Hours in America" by Gene Weingarten (Penguin). Weingarten, a longtime Washington Post journalist and two-time Pulitzer winner, picked a date at random (Dec. 28, 1986) and found a multitude of real-life stories, from all over the country. A Post reviewer wrote that the author "indulges his uncommon storytelling gifts on behalf of the (mostly) common man and woman. Weingarten takes immense pleasure in sifting through facts for meaning, then selecting the right language to draw readers close."
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