New & Noteworthy

Recent books of interest:

PATERNITY: The Elusive Quest for the Father, by Nara B. Milanich. (Harvard University, $35.) For all its social and legal implications, paternity has never been easy to prove. Milanich explores how advances from blood tests to DNA have changed our concept of fatherhood.

THINGS MY SON NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT THE WORLD, by Fredrik Backman. Translated by Alice Menzies. (Atria, $24.) The best-selling novelist addresses his newborn son in these charming essays. One line captures the book: “Let me just say that this whole parenting thing isn’t actually as damn easy as it looks.”

THE MAN THEY WANTED ME TO BE: Toxic Masculinity and a Crisis of Our Own Making, by Jared Yates Sexton. (Counterpoint, $26.) Sexton draws on his own boyhood in rural Indiana to challenge social perceptions of masculinity, arguing that narrowly defined gender roles hurt men and women alike.

THE WIDOW WASHINGTON: The Life of Mary Washington, by Martha Saxton. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28.) George Washington’s mother, Mary Ball Washington, is often seen as a bumptious obstacle to her son’s success. This biography highlights her overlooked positive influence.

TRAVELERS, by Helon Habila. (Norton, $25.95.) Habila’s fourth novel tracks the lives of Africans in Europe as encountered by his narrator, a privileged Nigerian academic who has more in common with the refugees than he realizes.

What we’re reading:

I am a compulsive reader of literary novels — but this has been a terrible year for fiction that is actually readable, and not experimental. I have been so disappointed when well-known writers came out with books that, to me, were just duds. But there was one book that kept me reading, the sort of novel I can’t put down. I found it in my daily Kindle deals emails and took a chance even though it’s not “literary”: THE PERFECT CHILD, by Lucinda Berry. It speaks to the fear of every parent: What if your child is a psychopath? This novel takes it a step farther. A couple, desperate for a child, have the chance to adopt a beautiful little girl who, they are told, has been abused. They’re told it might take a while for her to learn to behave and trust people. She can be sweet and loving, and in public is adorable. But in private — well, I won’t give away what happens. But, needless to say, it’s chilling.

Gina Kolata, medical reporter

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