Welcome to PW's 2016 Best Books. Our cover author this year is Colson Whitehead, whose stunning novel, The Underground Railroad, depicts one of America’s darkest moments in a new light. In our top 10, you’ll find Nobel winner Svetlana Alexievich’s Secondhand Time, Garth Greenwell’s brilliant and intense debut novel, What Belongs to You, and Matthew Desmond’s Evicted, a gripping study of the impact of eviction on poverty-stricken families. Beyond our top 10, there are 100 exceptional adult titles across all categories from poetry to comics, and 50 extraordinary children’s titles. Read on for the best of 2016.
Annie Proulx (Scribner)
Spanning 300 years and including a cast of dozens, Proulx's monumental achievement traces the descendants of two 17th-century woodsmen and their divergent paths. One family drifts and battles the erosion of Mi'kmaq culture, while the other develops a timber empire. Despite the scope and length, the story never slips from Proulx's grasp, resulting in an exhilarating, immersive reading experience.
What Belongs to You
Garth Greenwell (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
With nearly unbearable intensity, Greenwell relates the story of an American teacher in Sofia, Bulgaria, and a young male prostitute named Mitko. Their relationship starts as purely sexual, but as it becomes increasingly complicated, Greenwell proves himself a master of driving to the heart of obsession, fear, and love.
Hate Spin: The Manufacture of Religious Offense and Its Threat to Democracy
Cherian George (MIT)
George urges readers who are considering contentious discussions of religious freedom to pause and examine who deploys the rhetoric of religion under attack and why, persuasively arguing that there is a distinction between actual hate speech and a manufactured form of indignation that he calls "hate spin."
Love, Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life
Henri J.M. Nouwen, edited by Gabrielle Earnshaw (Convergent)
This invaluable collection of more than 200 letters by the late Nouwen provides insight into his personal struggles, insecurities, and faith, and offers to a wide audience the heartfelt guidance Nouwen shared so generously with individuals.
Public Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity
Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz (Brazos)
Volf and McAnnally-Linz have assembled a helpful, concisely written guide to help Christians through this election season. Working on the premise that Christian faith must naturally spill over into public discussion, they offer insight into making informed decisions about candidates and political issues.
Joyce Sidman, illus. by Beth Krommes (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
With spare language and dazzling scratchboard artwork, Sidman and Krommes conjure the world-transforming magic of a blizzard. As night falls, a girl makes an almost incantatory wish for a snowstorm that might just keep her pilot mother home for a little longer.
The Bossier Baby
Marla Frazee (Beach Lane)
Frazee builds on the success of The Boss Baby in this glass-ceiling-shattering sequel, which sees a newborn CEO displacing the demanding young exec who starred in the previous book. Has a corporate takeover ever been this much fun?
Du Iz Tak
Carson Ellis (Candlewick)
Writing in a delightfully evocative invented language that begs for readers to make their own stabs at translation, Ellis allows readers to bear witness to the miniature adventures of a group of insects as a plant grows, a fort takes shape, a grasshopper wields a violin, and the seasons pass.
Ideas Are All Around
Philip C. Stead (Roaring Brook/Porter)
Stead makes readers his companions on a ramble through his neighborhood, and his offhand reflections and happenstance encounters ("We talk about typewriters and the birdcalls we know. We talk about long lines of people waiting for something to eat") gradually reveal the way that observations and experience coalesce into art.
Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph
Roxane Orgill, illus. by Francis Vallejo (Candlewick)
In 21 poems and a series of dynamic portraits, Orgill and Vallejo transport readers to Harlem 1958, when more than 50 jazz musicians—including Count Basie, Thelonius Monk, Mary Lou Williams, and many others—gathered for a one-of-a-kind photograph that serves as testament to their enduring talent and influence.
Francesca Sanna (Flying Eye)
This harrowing and strikingly illustrated tale follows a family's difficult journey out of a land plagued by violence in search of a safe, secure home. While Sanna's allegorical story isn't tied to any one place or incident, in light of ongoing refugee crises and immigration debates, it's both haunting and deeply relevant.
Leave Me Alone
Vera Brosgol (Roaring Brook)
Giddily incorporating a whiff of science fiction into a story with the feel and structure of a classic folktale, Brosgol lets readers accompany an exasperated old woman as she seeks some peace and quiet to do her knitting. And if she needs to go through a wormhole to get it, so be it.
Sarah Schulman (Feminist)
In Schulman's rich evocation of 1950s Greenwich Village, Earl, a gay, black aspiring actor, and Bette, a straight, white secretary at an ad agency, have been best friends for years, creating a relationship out of shared loneliness. But the unexpected arrival of Bette's vivacious young cousin Hortense changes everything. A satisfying revenge tale, and a memorable portrait of a friendship.
Randy Cecil (Candlewick)
Cecil stretches the boundaries of the picture book in this four-act tale of friendship, in which the lives of a stray dog, a girl, and her father, a talented juggler with stage fright, intersect in surprising ways, all captured in small black-and-white vignettes.
One Minute Till Bedtime: 60-Second Poems to Send You Off to Sleep
Kenn Nesbitt, illus. by Christoph Niemann (Little, Brown)
Nesbitt collects dozens of succinct, original poems from Nikki Grimes, Jack Prelutsky, Judith Viorst, and many other writers, whose works are all designed to be read in less than a minute, and are illustrated with the understated style and humor that readers have come to expect from Niemann.
A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of ‘The Snowy Day'
Andrea Davis Pinkney, illus. by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson (Viking)
Pinkney, Fancher, and Johnson pay poetic tribute to Ezra Jack Keats's beloved 1962 picture book, The Snowy Day, highlighting not just Keats's life and the making of the book, but the prejudices Keats faced as a Jew and the "all white" landscape into which The Snowy Day was originally published.
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat
Javaka Steptoe (Little, Brown)
Painting on found pieces of wood gathered across New York City, Steptoe offers a visually dynamic and inspiring biography of Jean-Michel Basquiat, mapping the swift rise of an artist whose life was cut short, but whose influence lingers.
School's First Day of School
Adam Rex, illus. by Christian Robinson (Roaring Brook/Porter)
In Rex and Christian's pitch-perfect inversion of those all-too-Robinson's first-day jitters, a school building struggles to acclimate to the bustle of a new school year. It's bad enough that the hordes of kids that descend are far from tidy, but the building learns that—gasp—some kids "don't like school."
This Is Not a Book
Jean Jullien (Phaidon)
When is a board book not a board book? When it's a laptop computer, tent, or butterfly with flapping wings. And thanks to Jullien's bold cartooning and clever rethinking of how the facing pages of each spread interact, this delightfully designed book transforms into those objects and many more.
This Is Not a Picture Book!
Sergio Ruzzier (Chronicle)
In a wonderful visual metaphor for the experience of learning to read, Ruzzier shows a duckling and bug sidekick crossing into a strange landscape filled with odd machines and even odder creatures—a landscape that gradually becomes familiar as the duckling embraces the challenge and adventure of reading.
Thunder Boy Jr.
Sherman Alexie, illus. by Yuyi Morales (Little, Brown)
The desire to claim an identity of one's own is at the heart of Alexie's playful yet serious-minded first picture book, illustrated with vigor and humor by Morales, in which a Native American child unhappy with his given name of Thunder Boy tries on some other ones for size.
We Found a Hat
Jon Klassen (Candlewick)
Klassen fans can complete their trio of headwear-themed contemplations of morality with this story of two turtles who come upon a single hat in the desert. Those familiar with I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat may fear the worst, but Klassen once again demonstrates his ability to surprise.
A Well-Mannered Young Wolf
Jean Leroy, illus. by Matthieu Maudet (Eerdmans)
In this sharp-toothed comedy first published in France, a dapper wolf sets out to hunt his prey the polite way. Just when it seems like the wolf's manners might leave him without a meal, some wicked turnabout rewards the polite and the truthful, and punishes those who don't keep their word.
Peter Ho Davies (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
The lives of four people—an orphan, a Hollywood actress, an auto company draftsman, and a writer—combine for a brilliant, absorbing portrayal of the Chinese-American experience and its difficulties through the decades. Though Davies’s century-long scope is impressive, more staggering is the depth and detail of his characters.
When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons
Julie Fogliano, illus. by Julie Morstad (Roaring Brook/Porter)
Pensive poetry and equally delicate illustrations celebrate the quiet moments that make each season memorable, from the busy newness of early May, when "everything is chirping/ and now there is purple," to the last days of autumn, when "there is nothing left to bloom/ or sprout/ or bud/ or grow."
M.G. Leonard (Chicken House)
A boy named Darkus attempts to find his missing father—with help from his friends, as well as a remarkably intelligent rhinoceros beetle—in this rip-roaring first book in a trilogy, a promising debut for British writer Leonard.
The Best Man
Richard Peck (Dial)
Archer Magill gains a broader view of what contemporary masculinity can look like in this warm and witty novel from Newbery Medalist Peck, which nimbly incorporates bullying, gay marriage, media circuses, and other of-the-moment topics.
Jason Reynolds (Atheneum/Dlouhy)
Reynolds hits the ground running in this series opener, and so does his protagonist, seventh-grader Castle Crenshaw, who finds refuge from past family trauma in a local track team. Future books, which will focus on Castle's teammates, can't arrive fast enough.
Raina Telgemeier (Graphix)
Telgemeier again delves deeply into the relationship between siblings. In this supernaturally inflected graphic novel, sisters Cat and Maya move to a coastal California town because of Maya's cystic fibrosis, spurring new understandings of mortality and human connection.
The Girl Who Drank the Moon
Kelly Barnhill (Algonquin Young Readers)
Truth and sacrifice are elegantly woven throughout Barnhill's rich and multilayered fantasy, in which a girl named Luna, "enmagicked" as a baby, unlocks her community's secrets with help from a dragon, swamp creature, and other memorable characters.
The Inquisitor's Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog
Adam Gidwitz, illus. by Hatem Aly (Dutton)
Told through multiple voices à la The Canterbury Tales and featuring illuminated margins throughout, Gidwitz's expansive tale recounts the perilous adventures of three possibly-miracle-working children (and a death-defying dog) in medieval France. As a story that takes on themes of prejudice, xenophobia, and censorship, it couldn't be more relevant.
Ms. Bixby's Last Day
John David Anderson (Walden Pond)
In a very funny yet deeply moving story, Anderson demonstrates just how far three sixth-graders will go to do something kind for a teacher who has meant the world to them, and who won't be able to complete the school year due to a cancer diagnosis.
Sara Pennypacker, illus. by Jon Klassen (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)
A 12-year-old boy attempts to reunite with the fox kit he adopted and was forced to abandon in this haunting and heart-wrenching story from the author of Clementine, set against the backdrop of war in what looks quite a bit like a near-future America.
The Plot to Kill Hitler: Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Spy, Unlikely Hero
Patricia McCormick (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)
McCormick delivers a gripping biography of German theologian-turned-spy Bonhoeffer, including his involvement in a conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler. It's a stirring exploration of the pacifist pastor's moral struggles, grounded in the context of the rise of Nazi Germany.
The Gardens of Consolation
Parisa Reza, trans. from the French by Adriana Hunter (Europa)
Iranian author Reza's beautifully written debut novel tells of a young illiterate couple who move from the countryside to Tehran in the 1920s. They raise a son who becomes educated and subsequently involved in the political and social turmoil of the Shah's rise to power. Reza deftly weaves together vivid characters and Iran's shifting fortunes.
The Poet's Dog
Patricia MacLachlan (HarperCollins/Tegen)
Newbery Medalist MacLachlan writes persuasively from the perspective of a dog named Teddy, who comes to the aid of two children lost in a snowstorm. Children and poets can understand dogs in MacLachlan's story, and readers are among the lucky ones who get to hear what Teddy has to say.
Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick)
Two-time Newbery Medal recipient DiCamillo draws from her own Florida childhood as her eponymous heroine embarks on an unlikely scheme to bring back the father who ran out on her family. This is a deep, tender story about finding strength in friendship, especially when adults fall short.
Snow White: A Graphic Novel
Matt Phelan (Candlewick)
A thrilling reimagining of Snow White, Phelan's moody graphic novel transplants the action to America during the Roaring '20s and Great Depression, the noir-inflected setting amplifying the tale's underlying themes of beauty, ambition, and reciprocated kindness.
Some Kind of Happiness
Claire Legrand (Simon & Schuster)
Childhood anxiety and (especially) depression aren't topics often explored in middle-grade fiction; Legrand handles them with sensitivity and grace in the story of 11-year-old Finley, whose family troubles and own persistent sadness come to the fore as she spends the summer with relatives she scarcely knows.
Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White
Melissa Sweet (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Sweet pays gorgeous tribute to the creator of Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, and other classic works of children's literature in a richly illustrated biography that engagingly discusses White's development as a writer and lasting influence.
Vietnam: A History of the War
Russell Freedman (Holiday House)
Freedman serves as a steady and shrewd guide to the Vietnam War, thoroughly examining the complexities of the conflict, what led to it, and its legacies. It's an accessible and important study of a war with no shortage of lessons that remain pertinent today.
The Wild Robot
Peter Brown (Little, Brown)
The question of what it means to be a parent and a member of a community gets surprising and thought-provoking treatment in picture book creator Brown's first novel, in which a robot named Roz finds herself in the position of protecting a group of animals on a remote island.
Anna and the Swallow Man
Gavriel Savit (Knopf)
Set during WWII, Savit's debut novel leaves an indelible mark. In it, he follows a girl named Anna and an enigmatic stranger she calls the Swallow Man across the European countryside as they attempt to stay safe in a deeply threatening environment.
Brie Spangler (Knopf)
Writing with humor and empathy, Spangler traces the twisty contemporary romance between two teens who feel betrayed by their bodies: Dylan, whose size and hairiness overshadow his smarts, and Jamie, a talented transgender photographer he meets in group therapy.
Exit, Pursued by a Bear
E.K. Johnston (Dutton)
In an unflinchingly candid look at sexual assault and its aftermath, Johnston uses the scaffolding of Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale for the story of a 17-year-old cheerleader, Hermione, who is raped at cheer camp, can't remember the attack, and faces difficult decisions as she moves forward from the trauma.
Emma Cline (Random House)
Fourteen years old in the summer of 1969, Evie Boyd meets 19-year-old Suzanne Parker, who introduces her to the chaotic existence on the California ranch of the charismatic, dangerous Russell Hadrick (think Charles Manson). As the mood on the ranch darkens, Cline expertly depicts the harm we can do, to ourselves and others, in our hunger for belonging and acceptance.
If I Was Your Girl
Meredith Russo (Flatiron)
Russo's debut novel sensitively follows a transgender teenager, Amanda, as she attempts to stay under the radar while finishing high school. It's a story that speaks movingly both to universal sensations of feeling like an outsider and to the specific struggles and triumphs of Amanda's journey.
Kids of Appetite
David Arnold (Viking)
In a thoughtful and multilayered story of found family, Arnold introduces a motley band of outcasts (the eponymous Kids of Appetite) who embark on a quest to disperse the ashes of the father of one member while they are also being questioned in a murder.
The Lie Tree
Frances Hardinge (Amulet)
Set in 19th-century Britain, Hardinge's eerie and elegantly written tale accompanies intelligent but stifled Faith Sunderly and her family to their new home on a remote island, where murder, scientific disgrace, the restrictions levied on women, and a mysterious tree combine with thrilling results.
My Lady Jane
Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows (HarperTeen)
In a hilarious, gonzo reinvention of the story of Edward VI and Lady Jane Grey, a trio of YA authors transports readers to a version of 16th-century England populated by shape-shifting humans called E∂ians. It's historical fantasy at its most audacious as Hand, Ashton, and Meadows swap real-life tragedies for happily-ever-afters.
My Sister Rosa
Justine Larbalestier (Soho Teen)
Almost unremittingly tense, Larbalestier's chilling study of morality, psychopathy, and the nature of evil is narrated by Australian teenager Che Taylor, whose move to New York City with his family only heightens his fears about what his 10-year-old sister, Rosa—who seems entirely devoid of empathy—is capable of.
The Passion of Dolssa
Julie Berry (Viking)
Berry takes readers to 13th-century France in a lushly written story of heresy, friendship, and intrigue as she weaves together the stories of two strong-willed but threatened young women: Botille, a matchmaker, and Dolssa, a mystic who is being hunted by inquisitors.
Salt to the Sea
Ruta Sepetys (Philomel)
Sepetys again demonstrates her skill at illuminating underrepresented chapters in human history, rotating among several compelling voices as she turns her attention to the WWII sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, which killed more than 9,000 people, mostly refugees.
Neal Shusterman (Simon & Schuster)
In the technologically advanced future of Shusterman's provocative novel, people are all but immortal, though citizens known as Scythes keep population growth in check. As Shusterman follows two young Scythes-in-training, he saturates their story with heady questions about what it means to exist in a world where there's essentially nothing left to learn or achieve.
The Serpent King
Jeff Zentner (Crown)
Outsiders in their small Tennessee town, three high school seniors rely on each other in Zentner's heartrending and gorgeously written debut novel, a story that sees moments of grace and hope transcend stifling family histories, stymied dreams, and tragedy.
Still Life with Tornado
A.S. King (Dutton)
An artistically talented 16-year-old—stuck in neutral and ready to drop out of life—starts running into past and future versions of herself in this story of a teenager's search for meaning. It's just the latest in a string of philosophical, challenging, and rewarding-on-multiple-levels novels from King.
The Golden Age
Joan London (Europa)
Hungarian WWII refugees adjust to life in Australia in London's luminous novel of survival, love, hope, and sex. Frank Gold, poet and teenage polio victim, falls in love with fellow patient Elsa at the Golden Age Children's Polio Convalescent Home. London sees past exteriors to her characters' complex and desirous interiors, and she generously offers those characters to us in all their fullness.
The Sun Is Also a Star
Nicola Yoon (Delacorte)
Yoon's sophomore novel lasers in on the intense romance between teenagers Natasha and Daniel during a single day in New York City. But the story takes an addictively expansive approach to questions of fate, chance, and destiny as Yoon simultaneously delves into the intersecting lives of people in the teens' midst.
Jenny Downham (Scholastic/Fickling)
Downham skillfully interweaves the conflicts of three generations of women in a story set in motion when Katie’s grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s, moves into Katie and her mother’s apartment. Sexuality, social pressures, and memory are just some of the themes that emerge as Downham delves into the women’s lives.
Uprooted: The Japanese American Experience During World War II
Albert Marrin (Knopf)
As the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor arrives, Marrin looks closely at the harsh treatment of Japanese-American citizens during WWII, including the forced removal of those living on the West Coast into "relocation" centers. It's a thorough, clear-eyed account of an ugly period in American history.
Yaa Gyasi (Knopf)
Gyasi's debut novel traces a single bloodline across seven generations beginning with two Ghanaian half-sisters, one married to a British colonizer in the 1760s, the other caught in the slave trade. The histories of America and Ghana are blended with the fate of the separate families. Through the eyes of slaves, wanderers, union leaders, teachers, and addicts, Gyasi writes each narrative with remarkable freshness and subtlety.
Deborah Levy (Bloomsbury)
Sofia, 25, accompanies her sick and complaining mother, Rose, to arid Almería on Spain's southern coast for unorthodox treatment of Rose's baffling ailment. Once there, Sofia, a frantic, vulnerable, and surprising voice, meets the alluring Ingrid, gets stung by jellyfish, and has an awakening.
Louise Erdrich (Harper)
Erdrich spins a powerful, resonant story set on a North Dakota Ojibwe reservation and in a town nearby. A family gives up their five-year-old son, LaRose, to their neighbors after LaRose's father accidentally kills the neighbors' own five-year-old child. In this complex, moving novel, LaRose, in the years that follow, becomes a bridge between the two families.
The Mirror Thief
Martin Seay (Melville House)
Seay's time-bending debut combines a modern-day Las Vegas manhunt, a mysterious book floating around the beat poetry scene of 1958 Venice Beach, Calif., and shadowy mirror-makers of 16th-century Venice. This big cabinet of wonders is by turns ominous modern thriller, supernatural mystery, and enchanting historical adventure story.
Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy
Heather Ann Thompson (Pantheon)
A 45th anniversary may be an odd milestone to mark, but prison reform can't wait. Thompson's encyclopedic account of Attica and its aftermath is the first of its kind, primarily because New York State authorities tried to suppress the truth from the moment the prisoners began agitating for their rights.
Affinity Konar (LB/Boudreaux)
Stasha and Pearl, 12-year-old Jewish twins from Poland, rather than being sent to Auschwitz's gas chamber in 1944, are placed in Nazi doctor Josef Mengele's "zoo" in this gripping and haunting novel. In the months following liberation, Pearl disappears and Stasha heads west through a chaotic postwar landscape, holding out hope that Pearl is still alive.
Jane Alison (Catapult)
In late middle age, J spends most of her days at the pool of her Miami Beach, Fla., high-rise, translating (or "transmuting") Ovid's stories. As she sits on her balcony watching her neighbors in a building across the way, she recalls her past lovers and considers retiring from love for good. A beautiful novel that reminds us that solitude does not equal loneliness.
One Hundred Twenty-One Days
Michèle Audin, trans. from the French by Christiana Hills (Deep Vellum)
Pieced together from journal entries, letters, newspaper clippings, notes, and interview transcripts, this Oulipian novel reveals the lives of two French mathematicians wounded in WWI who fall in love with the same young nurse. Audin's remarkable, deeply empathetic text is enriched by recurrences, coincidences, and invocations of European poetry, including Dante's Inferno and Faust, in a story that attempts to make sense of the war's aftermath.
Claire-Louise Bennett (Riverhead)
This delightfully strange book, difficult to describe and impossible to resist, features a nameless woman who lives a largely solitary and ordinary life in a cottage in rural Ireland, obsessing over everything from her romantic life to the neighborhood dog relieving itself on her property. Bennett's off-kilter narrator and her surprising, twisty observations result in something undeniably unique and wonderful.
Jade Sharma (Emily Books)
Maya is a young woman living in New York; she has an afterthought of a job at a bookstore, is cheating on her husband with a former professor, and regularly does heroin. Sharma's debut is an uncompromising and unforgettable depiction of the corrosive loop of addiction, and with Maya, she has crafted a momentous and painfully honest voice.
Delia Ephron (Blue Rider)
A vacation in Sicily with two families includes ex-lovers, a precocious teenager with an obsessive mother, a cheating husband whose paramour appears unexpectedly, and an oppressive ancient town. Ephron's novel of two imploding marriages makes for a riveting, psychologically complex story.
Álvaro Enrigue, trans. from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer (Riverhead)
Enrigue ingeniously uses a 16th-century game of tennis between two hungover players (Spanish poet Quevedo and the notorious painter Caravaggio), played with a ball made of Anne Boleyn's hair, to explore the beauties and atrocities of Renaissance Europe. This is an unpredictable, nonpareil novel that, as with the macabre tennis ball at its center, "bounce[s] like a thing possessed."
The Unseen World
Liz Moore (Norton)
Leaping from the 1980s to the early 2000s, this is the story of young Ada Sibelius and her brilliant computer scientist father, David, who develops an artificial intelligence program called ELIXIR. When David begins to show signs of Alzheimer's and questions about his identity arise, Ada tries to unravel her father's cryptic past in Moore's smart, emotionally powerful literary page-turner.
Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?
Kathleen Collins (Ecco)
Race, gender, love, and sexuality are portrayed beautifully in this previously unpublished collection of stories from the groundbreaking African-American civil rights activist, who died in 1988. Drawing on Collins's career as a filmmaker and playwright, the stories incorporate stage directions, dramatic monologues, and camera-eye perspectives that frame the racial tension of the 1960s. Collins's collection, so long undiscovered, is filled with candor, humor, and tenderness.
Antonio Di Benedetto, trans. from the Spanish by Esther Allen (New York Review Books)
A riveting portrait of a deteriorating mind as the 18th century draws to a close. Zama is a provincial magistrate of the Spanish crown whose service goes unrewarded, leading him to spiral downward. Zama's transmutation from listless philanderer to subject of existential horror is chilling; Di Benedetto's extraordinary novel, whose English translation has been so long in coming, is a once and future classic.
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
Matthew Desmond (Crown)
Gripping storytelling and scrupulous research undergird this outstanding ethnographic study in which Desmond, a professor of sociology at Harvard, explores the impact of eviction on poor families in Milwaukee, Wis. Focusing on eight families in varying circumstances, Desmond adds depth and immediacy to the role of housing in the creation of poverty in America.
Don DeLillo (Scribner)
Jeffrey Lockhart travels to a remote compound to join his billionaire father, Ross, and to say good-bye to Ross's second wife, Artis, who is to be preserved indefinitely awaiting a cure for her ailing health. DeLillo's 17th novel bears the author's trademark obsessive, preoccupied asides (sallies into death, information, and, among other things, mannequins), but it also features a heartbreaking story of a son attempting to reconnect with his father.
The Black Maria
Aracelis Girmay (BOA)
Girmay traverses the liminal zones between personal history and sociopolitics as she lyrically explores displacement, grief, systemic racism, and more in these gorgeous, heartbreaking, and incisive poems. The book comprises two distinct poem cycles in which the legacies of colonialism are ever-present and language the oceanic medium through which we are simultaneously separated and connected.
Solmaz Sharif (Graywolf)
In her stunningly inventive debut, National Book Award finalist Sharif pulls material from the fringes of American discourse and places it front and center. Culling terms from the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, she mixes lyrical assessments of mass surveillance, war atrocities, American military intervention, and Israeli apartheid with tragic episodes from her Iranian family's history.
Tyehimba Jess (Wave)
Wildly ambitious in its form and approach to historical reckoning, Jess's second collection was a decade in the making. It seems he wasted no second absorbing the lives and artistry of the ragtime era, particularly that of Scott Joplin. Jess's language feels appropriate to periods separated by a century's worth of African-American trauma, achievement, and joy.
C.D. Wright (Copper Canyon)
American poetry unexpectedly lost one of its most empathetic and sharp-eyed practitioners this year. Wright's first posthumous collection further reveals her gift for making legible life's most subtle, overlooked moments, just as it expands the possibilities of documentary poetics. The collection reads and feels differently from section to section; each part works and you never want it to end.
So Much Synth
Brenda Shaughnessy (Copper Canyon)
Shaughnessy gets better with each book, the precision of her composition and willingness to reveal vulnerability working in tandem to debunk the notion that analysis must be emotionless. Suffusing her rich poems with an '80s pop sensibility, Shaughnessy reflects on youth, femininity, and sexual awakening as well as the dangers that lurked for her and which young women still face.
Blood of the Oak
Eliot Pattison (Counterpoint)
In 1765, ruthless killers are targeting messengers working for secret committees, whose leaders include Benjamin Franklin, in different American cities. In this superior fourth mystery featuring Scottish ex-pat Duncan McCallum, Pattison does a brilliant job of showing how political events of the era paved the way for the start of the Revolutionary War.
Don't Turn Out the Lights
Bernard Minier, trans. from the French by Alison Anderson (Minotaur)
French author Minier displays a rare gift for raising goose bumps in his intricate third thriller featuring Toulouse cop Martin Servaz, who is on leave six months after the sadistic killer he was hunting sent him the heart of a woman Martin was involved with. He gets back on the job after a new case leads him to a hotel where an artist committed suicide.
The Father: Made in Sweden, Part 1
Anton Svensson, trans. from the Swedish by Elizabeth Clark Wessel (Quercus)
Svensson, the pseudonym of screenwriter Stefan Thunberg and investigative journalist Anders Roslund, heartbreakingly blurs the line between criminal and victim in this stunning first of a two-novel series based on a sensational real-life string of bank robberies in 1990s Sweden.
Fields Where They Lay
Tim Hallinan (Soho Crime)
Edgar finalist Hallinan deserves to win an Edgar for his ingeniously plotted, often hilarious sixth Junior Bender novel, in which Junior, a professional thief, agrees to go undercover shortly before Christmas at a San Fernando Valley, Calif., shopping mall, where there's been a spike in shoplifting.
Guilty Thing: A Life of Thomas De Quincey
Frances Wilson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
This is a mesmerizing and agile biography of the 19th century English writer, best known for the autobiographical Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. Wilson captures De Quincey's multifaceted personality and career—as obsessive literary stalker, "born journalist," and visionary author, as well as his continuing influence on our own time.
A Great Reckoning
Louise Penny (Minotaur)
The lyrical 12th entry in bestseller Penny's remarkable series finds former Chief Insp. Armand Gamache coming out of retirement to clean up the corrupt Sûreté Academy du Québec. This complex novel deals with universal themes of compassion, weakness in the face of temptation, forgiveness, and the danger of falling into despair and cynicism over apparently insurmountable evils.
The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins
Antonia Hodgson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Hodgson's outstanding second novel set in early 18th-century England charts the twisted path that leads Thomas Hawkins, a gentleman who has spent time in debtors' prison, to the gallows for murder. Will Hawkins get a last-minute pardon?
London Rain: A New Mystery Featuring Josephine Tey
Nicola Upson (Bourbon Street)
The coronation of George VI in 1937 provides the backdrop for Upson's psychologically complex sixth whodunit featuring real-life mystery writer Josephine Tey. Upson adroitly confounds the reader's expectations, and her subtle and emotionally intelligent exploration of Josephine's relationship with the writer's lover, Marta Hallard, adds depth.
John Hart (St. Martin's/Dunne)
In Edgar-winner Hart's stellar crime thriller, North Carolina police detective Elizabeth Black faces the prospect of criminal charges arising from her gunning down two men she caught raping an 18-year-old girl. Though Hart employs plot twists effectively, it's his powerful, wounded but courageous lead whom readers will remember.
Ben H. Winters (Mulholland)
Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man meets Blade Runner in Winters's thriller set in a world where there was no Civil War and slavery still exists in four Southern states. Victor, an African-American bounty hunter, possesses a supreme talent for tracking down runaway slaves, but he begins to have doubts about his job after he penetrates an abolitionist organization in Indianapolis called Underground Airlines.
The Vampire Tree
Paul Halter, trans. from the French by John Pugmire (Locked Room International)
Newlywed Patricia Sheridan, the sympathetic if troubled heroine of this exquisite entry in Halter's long-running Dr. Alan Twist mystery series, has disturbing dreams about a tree in the garden of her husband's ancestral home soon after her arrival there. An ingeniously constructed fair-play puzzle, which will be hard for golden age fans to put down.
Fiona Barton (NAL)
What would you do if your spouse suddenly became the prime suspect in the kidnapping of a two-year-old girl? That's the stomach-churning prospect that confronts London hairdresser Jean Taylor in this exceptional debut from British journalist Barton, who circles her story as if it were a lurking panther, unseen but viscerally sensed.
You Will Know Me
Megan Abbott (Little, Brown)
Thriller Award–winner Abbott takes a piercing look at what one family will sacrifice in the name of making their daughter a champion. For the parents of Devon Knox, nothing is more important than ensuring that the 16-year-old has everything she needs to pursue a possible Olympic berth in gymnastics, but murder upsets their plans.
Emma Newman (Roc)
Newman writes with exquisite precision of grief, divided loyalties, and the struggle for self-actualization in this noir-inflected standalone sequel to Planetfall. An investigator who's been abandoned by his spacefaring mother, drawn in by a charismatic cult, hounded by the media, and enslaved by the government is trying desperately to assert his individuality, and is shaken when he's ordered to find out who killed the cult leader and why.
All Good Children
Dayna Ingram (Lethe)
The physically and psychologically monstrous Over have subjugated humans, and they take a significant percentage of human adolescents to feed on. One selected teen girl, her mother, and her handler find ways to fight back. Ingram combines dystopian young adult fiction with a terrifying tale of alien invasion in this powerful story of queer women carving out their identities in a world trying to crush them into nothingness.
A Kingdom of Their Own: The Family Karzai and the Afghan Disaster
Joshua Partlow (Knopf)
Partlow, a veteran foreign correspondent, gives an excellent account of a vastly difficult topic, exploring America's entanglement with Afghanistan, our country's longest war, in terms of U.S. relations with President Hamid Karzai and his family. The book offers an eye-opening new perspective on what went wrong, and on Karzai's much criticized tenure.
The Book of the Unnamed Midwife
Meg Elison (47North)
In Elison's brutal could-happen-tomorrow novel, a nurse makes it her mission to provide birth control and midwifery to the few women left alive after a virus ravages the population. Recognizing that any woman who lacks access to reproductive care is already living in her own dystopia, Elison writes frankly and with surprising optimism about the power of women helping one another through personal and global crises.
A Green and Ancient Light
Frederic S. Durbin (Saga)
In a deliberately blurred time and place, a young boy sent to live with his grandmother while his father is at war finds solace in her splendid garden and the magical woods. Things take a turn for the strange and complicated when they provide help and shelter to an injured enemy soldier. Durbin works true magic with understated, gripping narration and a heartstopping emphasis on love and compassion.
Patricia A. McKillip (Ace)
McKillip mixes myth and magic with everyday mundanity in a wonderfully whimsical and quirky novel in which the son of a sorceress goes in search of his father, a knight; a werewolf's daughter gets a job working with a most peculiar chef; and a young prince learns of his strange heritage. This gorgeously written story turns the standard coming-of-age fantasy quest on its head.
The Obelisk Gate
N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
Jemisin's wrenching second novel of the ironically named Stillness, a far-future version of our world frequently wracked by seismic catastrophe, is a worthy successor to the Hugo Award–winning The Fifth Season. A magic-wielding, earth-shaping orogene is torn between helping her community survive the latest cataclysm and trying to find her daughter—who has her own power and her own ideas of what the world needs.
Between Here and Gone
Barbara Ferrer (Diversion)
Ferrer’s brilliant, vivid, heartbreaking novel follows a young woman’s pursuit of safety and what little joy she can afford after her aristocratic family narrowly escapes Cuba on the eve of Castro’s ascendance. While she’s working menial jobs in Manhattan, a ghostwriting gig connects her with a man who helps her remember what it’s like to feel alive, not just survive. Readers are advised to have a whole box of tissues handy.
Duke of My Heart
Kelly Bowen (Forever)
Bowen's splendidly original Regency romance pairs up two rebels against society's strictures: a woman who's a fixer for the upper classes, charging high prices to make scandals disappear, and a duke who's a ship's captain with a shocking reputation. Bowen's eloquent prose elevates the gritty, steamy story of debauched nobles, blackmail, and the tension between romantic coupling and pursuit of one's individual happiness.
Erin Finnegan (Interlude)
A young gay man in Mexico City is enthralled by a cross-dressing exótico wrestler on the lucha libre circuit and begins to pursue his own wrestling career in this very modern story of love and passionate vocation. Finnegan works in rich threads of Mexican history, queer culture and community, and questions of being out or closeted in a time and place poised on the brink of acceptance.
Joanna Shupe (Zebra)
Shupe puts an urban spin on several favorite romance tropes—the poor but titled woman pursuing the wealthy but commerce-tainted man, an intelligent heroine with professional goals that society forbids, even snowbound lovemaking—in this magnificent romance between a steel magnate and an heiress with a head for figures in Gilded Age New York City.
Nora Roberts (Berkley)
Roberts, at the top of her formidable game, devastates the reader with this contemporary story of a woman who refuses to be defined by her father being a serial rapist and killer, even as journalists, filmmakers, and another killer pursue her. Her insistence on building her own life and learning to believe in love again will have readers on their feet, weeping and cheering.
Jodi Thomas (Harlequin)
In pithy short chapters and language as simple, comfortable, and welcoming as a handmade rocking chair, Thomas draws readers into a small Texas town where people in need find healing, second chances, acceptance, and love. The multiple romantic threads are woven into a cozy blanket of love that will warm any reader's heart.
Ninety-Nine Stories of God
Joy Williams (Tin House)
The title of this slender collection is not a lie: it features 99 very short stories about God. The catch is that the wonderfully twisted Williams is behind the stories, which means the Lord finds himself at a hotdog-eating contest or waiting in line for a shingles vaccination. This transcendent book is 100% Williams: funny, unsettling, and mysterious, to be puzzled over and enjoyed across multiple readings.
The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye
Sonny Liew (Pantheon)
The history of Singapore and the history of comics are blended in this tour de force that follows the career of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, an imaginary Singaporean cartoonist. Liew mimics styles from manga to comics strips, as Chye tries to find his own voice while adapting to the shifting social and political climate.
How to Survive in the North
Luke Healy (Nobrow)
In chapters that alternate between the fictional life of a dysfunctional contemporary academic and life on a ship during a very real, though doomed, 1922 Arctic expedition, Healy creates a moving literary commentary on survival. The emotional and heroic core is Ada Blackjack, the ship's indigenous seamstress; determined to return home, she struggles for two years to survive in a desolate landscape.
March: Book Three
John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell (Top Shelf)
From the heinous 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., to the historic 1965 march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, March: Book Three, the concluding volume of Lewis's graphic memoir, documents the courageous and heroic struggle for racial justice in America. Vividly rendered and retold by Powell, this acclaimed trilogy is a milestone in nonfiction comics storytelling.
The One Hundred Nights of Hero: A Graphic Novel
Isabel Greenberg (Little, Brown)
Set in the same world as Greenberg's acclaimed debut, An Encyclopedia of Early Earth, this collection of tales has the same powerful, dreamlike intensity. Using a woodcutlike style, the stories reconfigure legends and fables into a new cosmology that's familiar yet fresh, while spotlighting a pantheon of heroic and steadfast women.
Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir
Tom Hart (St. Martin's)
The true story of the death of the author's two-year-old daughter is as heartrending a memoir as ever put to paper, refusing to rely on easy consolation, and ultimately refusing to let go of an irreplaceable life while creating a lasting memorial to her spirit. A book as painful as it is essential.
Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives
Gary Younge (Nation)
Drawing from scholarship and the insights of community organizers on violence, economics, and psychology, Guardian journalist Younge chronicles the shooting deaths of 10 children and teens on a random Saturday in 2013 to illustrate the capriciousness of gun violence in America.
Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?
Frans de Waal (Norton)
The short answer here is "probably not," but de Waal's long answer is much more enlightening and entertaining. We've studied animal intelligence for years without reaching any firm conclusions about the nature of that intelligence. De Waal asks profound questions about our search and whether we've been going about it in the right way, as well as what exactly separates "us" from "them."
Birth of a Dream Weaver: A Memoir of a Writer's Awakening
Ngugi wa Thiong'o (New Press)
A memorable, eloquent, and perceptive memoir from Kenyan novelist Thiong'o in which he focuses on his four pivotal years as an undergraduate at a Ugandan university in the early 1960s, where he wrote articles, composed plays, and discovered his voice as a novelist, against the backdrop of a continent in flux, as onetime colonies became independent nations.
Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America
Patrick Phillips (Norton)
Phillips employs his considerable writing skills to chronicle how whites expelled the African-American population of Forsyth County, Ga., and through systematic terror kept the county whites-only for three-quarters of the 20th century.
Blood, Bone, and Marrow: A Biography of Harry Crews
Ted Geltner (Univ. of Georgia)
This literary biography captures the wild spirit of an unflinching American writer, from his upbringing in impoverished Bacon County, Ga., to his years as a creative writing teacher, and his unlikely attainment of literary stardom. Geltner proves that Crews was not just a great "Southern gothic" writer, but a great American one, too.
Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets
Svetlana Alexievich, trans. from the Russian by Bela Shayevich (Random House)
Alexievich won the 2015 Nobel Prize for Literature "for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time." She demonstrates great skill and care in documenting real human lives as the Soviet Union reached its end and newly independent states struggled into being. Hardship permeates this largely bleak work, but it's a necessary confrontation with brutal realities.
Born to Run
Bruce Springsteen (Simon & Schuster)
In his long-awaited memoir, Springsteen invitingly takes readers on an entertaining, high-octane journey as he moves from the streets of New Jersey to the rest of the world.
Enough Said: What's Gone Wrong with the Language of Politics
Mark Thompson (St. Martin's)
If there's one thing liberals and conservatives can agree on, it's that the quality of American political rhetoric has declined in recent years. Thompson, president and CEO of the New York Times Company, looks at what went wrong. His book is simultaneously a history, an autopsy, a how-to manual, and a cautionary tale, packing a high percentage of insights per page.
The Feud: Vladimir Nabokov, Edmund Wilson, and the End of a Beautiful Friendship
Alex Beam (Pantheon)
By turns melancholy and hilarious, Beam's book traces the waxing and waning of friendship between two literary giants. When they first met, Nabokov was a poor European émigré and Wilson was America's leading literary critic. Later, when the power positions reversed, their friendship disintegrated in a public war of words both brutal and absurd.
The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race
Edited by Jesmyn Ward (Scribner)
This timely collection of essays and poems gathers voices of a new generation to present a kaleidoscopic performance of race in America. The 18 contributions cover topics deep in history as well as in the current culture, adding freshly minted perspectives to the national conversation on race.
Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, the History of an Idea
Mitchell Duneier (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Duneier skillfully traces the origins of the ghetto from its Renaissance beginnings to its modern manifestations, noting the changes in how it was defined, who got to define it, and who benefited from its existence. A product of public policy rather than natural settlement, the ghetto has symbolized communitarian resistance, systemic racism, and political failure. It is also, for many, home.
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race
Margot Lee Shetterly (Morrow)
Shetterly uncovers the little-known story of the black women mathematicians hired to work at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Hampton, Va., doing calculations for white male engineers during WWII in the midst of a cultural "collision between race, gender, science, and war."
I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life
Ed Yong (Ecco)
In this powerful treatise on the benefits of ecological thinking, Yong describes the vast and ancient yet still poorly understood world of microbiota, whose study in isolation has yielded poor results. As researchers have started to examine microscopic communities, they've produced new insights on a range of biological systems and animal behaviors.
John Aubrey, My Own Life
Ruth Scurr (New York Review Books)
Scurr brings John Aubrey, a Renaissance man of 17th-century England, brilliantly to life, using surviving letters and manuscripts to craft the diary Aubrey never wrote. Living in a century of religious and political upheaval, Aubrey sought to preserve the old and discover the new, researching a wide range of subjects including medicine, architecture, and archeology.
The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
Olivia Laing (Picador)
Laing's restless curiosity, intellect, and command of language lead the way in this investigation into the role of loneliness in the lives and work of four artists—Henry Darger, Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, and David Wojnarowicz—and its often-paradoxical contours in her own life as a transplant to New York City.
Love for Sale: Pop Music in America
David Hajdu (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Romance, social bonding, and self-definition are readily available for the price of a Victrola cylinder, record, CD, or iTunes download, posits music critic Hajdu in this illuminating, idiosyncratic history of pop music.
The Underground Railroad
Colson Whitehead (Doubleday)
In Whitehead’s brilliant and visceral reimagining of one of America’s most shameful periods, a young slave named Cora flees from a Georgia plantation toward freedom in the North. Whitehead conceives the Underground Railroad of the antebellum South as a literal subterranean tunnel with tracks, trains, and conductors, ferrying runaways into darkness and, occasionally, into light.
Modified: GMOs and the Threat to Our Food, Our Land, Our Future
Caitlin Shetterly (Putnam)
Though GMOs are touted by agribusiness as the future of global agriculture, even the Union of Concerned Scientists remains skeptical about the industry’s claims. Shetterly adroitly raises a plethora of questions about the purported safety and benefits of genetically modified crops. GMOs may turn out to be fine, but very little independent research has been conducted, and the industry remains hostile to transparency.
My Father, the Pornographer: A Memoir
Chris Offutt (Atria)
Novelist and screenwriter Offutt grapples with the lurid, overbearing legacy of his eccentric father in this conflicted and touching memoir.
A Rage for Order: The Middle East in Turmoil, from Tahrir Square to ISIS
Robert F. Worth (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
A longtime foreign correspondent traces the Arab Spring through five countries—Egypt, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Tunisia—from the heady idealism of 2011 to the largely grim aftermath. Worth does so through the stories of individuals rather than groups or sects, skillfully presenting the competing perspectives in play and showing no easy path forward.
Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life
Ruth Franklin (Liveright)
Literary critic Franklin renders a gripping and graceful portrait of the mind, life, and work of the groundbreaking author best known for the chilling novel The Haunting of Hill House and the unforgettable short parable "The Lottery."
Sing for Your Life: A Story of Race, Music, and Family
Daniel Bergner (LB/Boudreaux)
In a moving portrait of a young man who succeeds, aided by encouraging teachers, Bergner chronicles the auditions and vocal contests as well as the struggles opera singer Ryan Speedo Green faced as a black man entering a mostly white musical world.
So Sad Today: Personal Essays
Melissa Broder (Grand Central)
Poet Broder's deeply confessional writing brings disarming humor and self-scrutiny to the 18 essays in this collection based on the popular Twitter account @sosadtoday. The result is a sophisticated inquiry into the roots and expressions of the author's own sadness that is equal parts shocking and hilarious, but above all else relatable.
Their Promised Land: My Grandparents in Love and War
Ian Buruma (Penguin Press)
An intimate portrait of the author's grandparents, who were film director John Schlesinger's (Midnight Cowboy) parents, both British-born offspring of German-Jewish immigrants. Through a close reading of his grandparents' letters to each other during WWI and WWII, Buruma captures a remarkable marriage, as well as a vivid depiction of a particular era and social class.
When Breath Becomes Air
Paul Kalanithi (Random House)
Physician Kalanithi, who died in 2015 at age 37, reveals how much can be achieved through service and gratitude when a life is courageously and resiliently lived, in this deeply moving posthumous memoir.
White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America
Nancy Isenberg (Viking)
Class re-entered mainstream American political discourse over the past year, and Isenberg runs through a litany of largely forgotten historical episodes that reveal how crucial class is to understanding America. In her thorough and engaging book, she concludes that our origin myths obscure class division, and our inability (or unwillingness) to broach the topic undermines wider discussions of race, colonization, exploitation, and public policy.
The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer
Kate Summerscale (Penguin Press)
Summerscale bolsters her reputation as a master of historical true crime with this moving account of Victorian-age murder that is a whydunit more than a whodunit.
Han Kang, trans. from the Korean by Deborah Smith (Hogarth)
Yeong-hye, a woman living in Seoul, undergoes a bizarre, surreal transformation when she wakes up one day after a bloody nightmare and refuses to eat meat. Her family members watch with mounting horror as she begins to eat less and less, and then not at all, and starts taking off her clothes on sunny days. Han's debut is ingenious, upsetting, and unforgettable.
The Aleppo Cookbook: Celebrating the Legendary Cuisine of Syria
Marlene Matar (Interlink)
The rich culinary heritage of Aleppo comes to life in this tribute to the besieged Syrian city at the ancient Mediterranean crossroads.
The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine, and Motherhood
Belle Boggs (Graywolf)
Boggs's essays about "Plan B family making," which chronicle her experiences with her spouse, doctors, and peers while dealing with infertility, address universal themes of hope, loss, and identity. Her contemplative view of waiting—as an active practice—offers comfort to those who cannot get what they need even by the most intense wishing.
The Bold Dry Garden: Lessons from the Ruth Bancroft Garden
Johanna Silver, photos by Marion Brenner (Timber)
Combining biography of the dry-garden pioneer with a landscaper's guide, Silver and photographer Brenner tour the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, Calif., and discuss the life and work of its creator and namesake. Replete with brilliant color photography, this hopeful book will win over anyone who doubts that a desolate landscape can support thriving life.
Domus: A Journey into Italy's Most Creative Interiors
Oberto Gili, with Marella Caracciolo Chia (Rizzoli)
The rooms showcased in this magnificent book on Italian interior design aren't simply a display of exemplary art and furniture collecting (although they are often that), but they exhibit the imaginative working lives of their residents.
Dorie Greenspan (HMH/Martin)
Accomplished bakers will be challenged and inspired by the breadth of recipes and the many suggestions Greenspan offers throughout the book to modify recipes. This is a cookbook to read, bake, and eat your way through.
Land of Fish and Rice: Recipes from the Culinary Heart of China
Fuchsia Dunlop (Norton)
The Jiangnan is an exquisite "crucible of Chinese gastronomy," and Dunlop's scholarly homage to the region will captivate the culinary imagination.
Let Them Eat Dirt: Saving Your Child from an Oversanitized World
B. Brett Finlay and Marie-Claire Arrieta (Algonquin)
In illuminating detail, two microbiologists explain the importance of the gut microbiome and, in particular, how supporting its diversity before birth and in the first months of life can benefit lifelong health. This helpful resource sets itself apart from health books that offer unfounded and even speculative claims by staking a position firmly in the medical mainstream.
Mozza at Home: More Than 150 Crowd-Pleasing Recipes for Relaxed, Family-Style Entertaining
Nancy Silverton, with Carolynn Carreño (Knopf)
When entertaining friends and family at home, buffets are simple yet sophisticated, and Silverton, founder of L.A.'s Mozza restaurants and La Brea Bakery, invites cooks into her home kitchen to discover how to create stress-free, stylish spreads.
Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve
Tom Bissell (Pantheon)
In this quirky and learned Christology, Bissell journeys to the tombs of the 12 apostles with each chapter covering an apostle's life story and legend, comparisons of the apostle's appearances throughout the Gospels, and the places from Italy to India where relics beckon pilgrims.
Grace Without God: The Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Belonging in a Secular Age
Katherine Ozment (Harper Wave)
A wide-ranging book prompted by her young son's spiritual questioning, in which Ozment skillfully weaves together interviews with cutting-edge academic experts, her personal story, helpful statistics, and her experiences attending gatherings across the U.S. where she talked with many Americans trying to build community and a shared meaning outside of traditional religious strictures.