9 New Books We Recommend This Week

There’s a funny moment in Kevin Wilson’s new novel, “Nothing to See Here” — it’s one of two novels we recommend this week — in which a 10-year-old girl tells her new caretaker that she loves reading but had nothing good to choose from at her grandparents’ house, where she and her twin brother had been living. “What did they have?” her caretaker asks, and the girl answers: “Books about World War II. Two different books about Hitler. Wait, four books about Hitler. And other books about Nazis. And books about Stalin. Patton. People like that.”

The joke lands for me partly because it gets at something fundamental about the relationship between our personalities and our obsessions and how they manifest in our reading lives. There’s a reason I always end up browsing the bookshelves the first time I visit somebody’s house, and I bet you do too. This week, Bessie’s grandparents won’t find anything about World War II on our list. But we do recommend a biography of the first African-American fighter pilot, who flew for France in World War I before becoming a nightclub impresario in Paris. There’s also a fascinating, and fascinated, layperson’s guide to the human body, by Bill Bryson, and (sticking with human biology) Kate Pickert’s “Radical,” a history of breast cancer that includes her own battle with the disease. There’s a study of women who have joined ISIS, an expansive collection of essays by the estimable Lydia Davis, a look at President Trump’s immigration policies and, from the Times Op-Ed columnist Gail Collins, a survey of America’s treatment of its older women. In fiction, there’s Mahir Guven’s debut novel, about French-Syrian brothers, and of course Wilson’s novel about those 10-year-old twins. Did I mention that whenever they get aggravated they spontaneously combust? “You know,” the narrator tells them at one point, insisting on bath time, “you caught on fire, so it’s probably good to get a shower.” Any parent might relate.

Gregory Cowles
Senior Editor, Books
Twitter: @GregoryCowles

ESSAYS ONE, by Lydia Davis. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30.) “Essays One” is the first collection of nonfiction by the celebrated fiction writer and translator Lydia Davis, with pieces dating to the 1970s, mainly concerning writing and writers. The book allows us backstage, into the creation and revision of her stories, her notes on her influences: Beckett, Babel, Paley, Kafka. A few pieces offer straightforward writing advice. “She is our Vermeer, patiently observing and chronicling daily life but from angles odd and askew,” our critic Parul Sehgal writes. “These pieces exalt clear language and the complicated work of looking and seeing.”

NOTHING TO SEE HERE, by Kevin Wilson. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $26.99.) The narrator of this rich, spiky, darkly funny novel is recruited by her oldest, richest friend to be a governess for 10-year-old twins with a genetic condition that causes them to burst into flames when they’re anxious or upset. Filled with moments of great beauty, the book also manages a big emotional payoff. Taffy Brodesser-Akner, reviewing it, calls it “an unassuming bombshell of a novel that appears to be about female friendship … but is actually about our responsibilities toward the people we care for and about.”

THE BODY: A Guide for Occupants, by Bill Bryson. (Doubleday, $30.) A veteran travel writer gives a grand tour of the human body, revealing thousands of tasks it accomplishes as you go about your day. From goose bumps to fingerprints to the tiny mites feasting on your eyebrows, the book covers every inch (inside and out) with authority and panache. “Bryson, who gives off a Cronkite-like trustworthy vibe, is good at allaying fears and busting myths,” A. J. Jacobs writes in his review. “The overall result is informative, entertaining and often gross.”

BORDER WARS: Inside Trump’s Assault on Immigration, by Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Michael D. Shear. (Simon & Schuster, $28.) The authors say that the immigration question is the “beating heart” of the Trump administration, and after hundreds of pages detailing the president’s nativist tirades and punitive policies, it is hard to dispute that. Joe Klein’s review calls their book an “exquisitely reported” account that reveals “the mercurial unreliability and instability of the president. Davis and Shear perform this contextual service time and again throughout their book, which is essential reading.”

NO STOPPING US NOW: The Adventures of Older Women in American History, by Gail Collins. (Little, Brown, $30.) Shifting with political and economic circumstances, the treatment of older women in this country has varied more than you might think, argues Collins, an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times, in this spirited chronicle. Lesley Stahl, reviewing it, says that the book displays Collins’s “signature droll sensibility” even as it proves to be “eye-opening, brimming with new information and, as you’d expect from Collins, a lot of fun.”

RADICAL: The Science, Culture, and History of Breast Cancer in America, by Kate Pickert. (Little, Brown, $28.) Pickert, a journalism professor and former health care reporter for Time magazine, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer at 35. “Radical” is a cultural and scientific history of the disease and an unflinching memoir of survival. “Such a whopping undertaking could have easily turned maudlin, strident or just plain eye-glazing,” Pauline Chen writes in her review. “Instead, Pickert has produced an evenhanded, powerful and unflinching page-turner.”

ALL BLOOD RUNS RED: The Legendary Life of Eugene Bullard — Boxer, Pilot, Soldier, Spy, by Phil Keith and Tom Clavin. (Hanover Square, $27.99.) Mostly forgotten today, the Georgia-born Bullard led an extraordinary life as the first African-American fighter pilot, flying for France in World War I, and then as a Paris nightclub owner with patrons including Picasso, Hemingway and the Prince of Wales. “Bullard’s absorbing story … reads like a picaresque novel,” Thomas E. Ricks writes in his latest roundup of military books. “It’s a whale of a tale, told clearly and quickly. I read the entire book in almost one sitting.”

GUEST HOUSE FOR YOUNG WIDOWS: Among the Women of ISIS, by Azadeh Moaveni. (Random House, $28.) This powerful book about the women who joined or supported the Islamic State militant group offers in-depth, three-dimensional portraits of individuals whose actions and motivations seem difficult to understand. Moaveni has written an “indispensable book on a challenging subject,” Anne Barnard writes in her review. “It is a great read, digestible and almost novelistic, but it is much more than that. … The book provides an illuminating, much-needed corrective to stock narratives, not only about the group that deliberately and deftly terrified officials and publics across the world, but also about the larger ‘war on terror.’”

OLDER BROTHER, by Mahir Guven. Translated by Tina Kover. (Europa, paper, $17.) Guven’s superb debut novel traces the fates of brothers born to a French mother, now dead, and a Syrian immigrant taxi driver in Paris. “This may be a story from the city’s outer margins, but it’s one that goes to the heart of questions roiling contemporary France,” our reviewer, Joumana Khatib, writes. “Guven was born in Nantes, the son of refugees, and worked as a journalist. He has a reporter’s knack for balancing a chorus of perspectives about everything from France’s economic tumult to its charged relationship with immigration. His book — which won a top French literary award, the Prix Goncourt for a debut novel — accomplishes what the best kind of reporting can do: wade into questions that resist simple answers, while restoring dignity to its characters.”

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