9 New Books We Recommend This Week

I just spent two weeks on the shore, dodging jellyfish and reading for pleasure — fiction, mostly, but also Holly Haworth’s lovely tribute to crickets in The Times Magazine. Between that and the jellies, I’ve got wildlife on the mind. If you do, too, might I direct your attention to a couple of nature books we recommend this week? First up is Tucker Malarkey’s book “Stronghold,” which profiles a fly fisherman and his attempts to save the world’s salmon habitats. Then Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson’s “Buzz, Sting, Bite: Why We Need Insects,” which offers an entomologist’s charming and enthusiastic defense of creatures more often maligned as pests. In fiction, there’s Olga Tokarczuk’s novel “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead,” in which animals may be responsible for a killing spree against humans. I think I spotted a jellyfish reading that one.

Other books we like this week include a reminiscence of the neurologist Oliver Sacks, a memoir of life in the closet, a history of the English publishers Faber & Faber and the latest novel by Cathleen Schine. It’s about grammar! Among other things. Finally, there’s a neat overlap: an essay collection by the eminent literary critic and editor Mary-Kay Wilmers, “Human Relations and Other Difficulties,” and a new novel by her former nanny, Nina Stibbe, who told us in a recent By the Book interview that Wilmers once gave her the fortitude to continue writing.

Gregory Cowles
Senior Editor, Books
Twitter: @GregoryCowles

HUMAN RELATIONS AND OTHER DIFFICULTIES: Essays, by Mary-Kay Wilmers. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.) These essays and book reviews by Mary-Kay Wilmers, the co-founder and editor of The London Review of Books, range from considerations of writers such as Jean Rhys, Alice James and Sybille Bedford to essays about obituaries, child rearing and the nature of seduction. “Wilmers is a summa cum laude graduate of the Joan Didion-Elizabeth Hardwick-Janet Malcolm school of dispassionate restraint and psychological acuity,” our critic Dwight Garner writes. “She can do more damage with a raised eyebrow than most critics can do with a mace. Her wit steals in like a cat through an unlatched window.”

FABER & FABER: The Untold Story, by Toby Faber. (Faber & Faber, $28.) The venerable English publishing house Faber & Faber — the longtime home of writers including T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, William Golding, Samuel Beckett, Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes — is celebrating its 90th anniversary. In this new book, Toby Faber, the grandson of the publisher’s founder, relates the company’s story, compiling it from original documents: letters, memos, catalog copy, diary entries. The details in the book “consistently shine,” our critic Dwight Garner writes.

THE GRAMMARIANS, by Cathleen Schine. (Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.) A wise and witty novel that follows the diverging lives and linguistic obsessions of identical twin sisters who struggle to figure out who they are on their own and in relationship to each other. “Schine takes her readers on deep philosophical dives but resurfaces with craft and humor,” Susan Dominus writes in her review; “her tone is amused and amusing.”

DRIVE YOUR PLOW OVER THE BONES OF THE DEAD, by Olga Tokarczuk. Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. (Riverhead, $27.) The author’s jones for gruesome corporeal ruminations, given 400 pages to soar in her Man Booker International Prize-winning “Flights,” has been grounded to great effect in this odd tale of a woman who suspects wild animals have been killing off her neighbors. Sloane Crosley, reviewing it, calls the book a “marvelously weird and fablelike mystery”: “As this thriller quickens, larger theoretical questions about the perception of sanity, the point of suffering and the clarity of anger … blanket the plot.”

REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL, by Nina Stibbe. (Little, Brown, $26.) In this romp of a novel, an eager young woman fakes her way into a job at a very eccentric dental practice. Our reviewer, Susan Coll, writes that it is “so dense with amusing detail that I thought about holding the book upside down to see if any extra funny bits might spill from the creases between the page.”

THE LIE: A Memoir of Two Marriages, Catfishing & Coming Out, by William Dameron. (Little A, $24.95.) This memoir surveys an underexamined aspect of queer experience: that of the closeted partner and parent. Dameron carried the burden of his deception for more than two decades and, in a resonant coincidence, later discovered that his image was being used in a global catfishing operation. “‘The Lie’ may well anticipate a rich vein of queer memoir, that of the gay family man whose secret truth risks toppling the domestic edifice,” Dustin Illingworth writes in his review. “It tamps down the tall grass of untold experience … and makes visible a rough but traversable path.”

AND HOW ARE YOU, DR. SACKS? A Biographical Memoir of Oliver Sacks, by Lawrence Weschler. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28.) Weschler was friends with the famed neurologist for over 30 years, a friendship he recounts in this hybrid of biography and memoir. “Compellingly, Weschler intertwines Sacks’s searching empathy with his sheer strangeness,” our reviewer, Daniel Bergner, writes. “And, always interlaced, there is Sacks’s own irresistible voice, a concoction of humor and half-concealed torment.”

STRONGHOLD: One Man’s Quest to Save the World’s Wild Salmon, by Tucker Malarkey. (Spiegel & Grau, $28.) Malarkey tells the story of Guido Rahr (her cousin), a great fly fisherman who is intent on saving pristine salmon rivers in the Russian Far East. Reviewing the book, Nate Blakeslee calls it a “finely observed profile” of an “extraordinary man”: “Rahr’s passion for salmon is contagious, and Malarkey channels it well in informative chapters about the intimate connection between salmon and the rivers they inhabit.”

BUZZ, STING, BITE: Why We Need Insects, by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson. Translated by Lucy Moffatt. (Simon & Schuster, $26.) A charming meditation on a question the author — an entomologist — gets asked all the time: What good are bugs anyway? “For one thing, the delightful weirdness of insects opens our eyes to new possibilities in nature,” Sam Kean writes in his review. “The sheer scale and variety of insects are impossible for most of us to contemplate, but Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson provides at least a glimpse of their wonder.”

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