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11 Books to Watch For in May

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Was the Arab Spring a failure? There is a sense that the protests across the Middle East in 2011 failed to bring about any enduring, positive change, except in Tunisia. But Feldman, a Harvard professor, argues that the uprisings marked a significant cultural and political shift empowering people in the region — even if they brought about tragic outcomes in some countries, including the Syrian war and the rise of ISIS.

A villain becomes the hero of this “Hunger Games” prequel, set in Panem 64 years before the events of Collins’s hugely popular trilogy. Coriolanus Snow, whom “Hunger Games” readers met as Panem’s brutal dictator, is a young man eager to carve out his own path to success and power.

Twelve children and their parents are on vacation when a storm of biblical proportions lashes the United States. The adults, already badly behaved before the storm, cope with the apocalyptic circumstances through drugs, drinking and sex. As their reality begins to mirror the stories in a tattered children’s picture bible, the kids run away, searching for peace and stability amid disaster.

Buford, whose best-selling book “Heat” chronicled his quest to become a serious cook, is back in the kitchen. Now, the New Yorker writer recounts the next step in his culinary education: studying at the Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France and the gold standard for chefs around the world. There’s plenty for food lovers here, but the book is also a satisfying and envy-inspiring travelogue.

The parallels between Wright’s novel and our present circumstances are sobering: In “The End of October,” a deadly, highly contagious virus is sweeping the world. Wright, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, drew on copious research to imagine the social, economic and medical fallout from such a pandemic, which makes for utterly frightening reading.

Animal-shaped devices called kentukis have become the new fad. The toy is the conduit for a strange new relationship between its owner and its “dweller,” a user assigned at random to control the device. Dwellers can see their owner’s surroundings and hear them speak, raising uneasy new ideas about surveillance, intimacy and love. Schweblin, an Argentine writer known for short stories and her novel “Fever Dream,” examines these ideas in a series of a fast-paced chapters focusing on kentukis across the world: a dweller who sees snow for the first time, a woman alienated from her artist boyfriend who takes comfort in her toy and more.

In 1924, Congress passed one of the most restrictive immigration laws on record, a measure aimed at making the country white, Protestant and Anglo-Saxon that curtailed southern and Eastern Europeans and banned people from nearly all of Asia. Yang, a deputy national editor for The Times, sketches the four-decade effort to reverse the legislation, which lasted throughout a major world war and the refugee crisis after the Holocaust, to create a new standard for immigration equality — what ultimately became the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act. Along the way, she weaves in her own family’s story, exploring how the idea of America as a land of immigrants wasn’t always a given.

Ball, a political correspondent for Time, traces how the speaker of the House fought sexism, harassment and hypocrisy to become the most powerful woman in American politics. As she writes in the afterword, “If this book has a thesis, it is that you needn’t agree with Nancy Pelosi’s politics to respect her accomplishments and appreciate her historic career.”

Sittenfeld imagines how Hillary Clinton’s life might have turned out if she had declined Bill Clinton’s marriage proposal and gone her own way. Dreaming up alternate histories for real-life figures is familiar territory for Sittenfeld; she gave the same treatment to first lady Laura Bush in “American Wife.” The novel could be fan fiction for anyone who wishes the 2016 election had a different result.

Danler’s autobiographical first novel, “Sweetbitter” — about a young waitress’s coming-of-age in New York City — was a breakout hit, bringing her a level of fame rare for a debut writer. (Our reviewer called the book “the ‘Kitchen Confidential’ of our time.”) In “Stray,” her new memoir, Danler probes her relationships with the figures who shaped her, including an alcoholic mother, an absentee father and a married lover.

A writer for The Atlantic and a longtime conservative, Frum is blunt in his criticism of the president: “Trump’s negligence and fecklessness are inflicting unimagined grief and suffering on the United States.” Frum subjects his previous views to examination to understand why positions he supported led to Trump’s victory. In the second part of the book, he offers sensible proposals for where the country goes from here.


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