11 New Books We Recommend This Week – The New York Times

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Suggested reading from critics and editors at The New York Times.

June is Pride Month, so why not kick off your reading this week with a couple of relevant titles? James Kirchick’s “Secret City” explores the political and historical costs of closeted life in Washington, D.C., while Casey McQuiston’s Y.A. novel “I Kissed Shara Wheeler” tells the story of a queer teenage rebel investigating a popular girl’s disappearance. Also up: The account of a Reconstruction-era lynching in a small New York village, a look at Apple’s fate in the decade since Steve Jobs died, a study of the tense relationship between China and the West, and a frank and moving memoir by the actor Selma Blair. In fiction, we recommend new books by Ali Smith, Maggie Shipstead, Alexander Maksik and Ashleigh Bell Pedersen, along with new translations of a couple of classic novels by the great French writer Colette. Happy reading, everyone.

Gregory Cowles
Senior Editor, Books
@GregoryCowles

A LYNCHING AT PORT JERVIS: Race and Reckoning in the Gilded Age, by Philip Dray. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $29.) On June 2, 1892, a white mob seized a Black man, after hearing rumors that he had sexually assaulted a white woman, and hanged him from the high branch of an old maple tree in Port Jervis, N.Y. The lynching had been witnessed by 2,000 people, yet nobody was held responsible for the murder. Of the 1,134 recorded lynchings of Black people in the United States between 1882 and 1899, it was the only one to take place in New York State. This narrative history guides us through the case and the larger history of anti-lynching activism. “Dray is an excellent and conscientious storyteller,” our critic Jennifer Szalai writes, “taking care to alert us when the historical record is spotty or ambiguous while still offering vivid specifics wherever he can.”

SECRET CITY: The Hidden History of Gay Washington, by James Kirchick. (Holt, $38.) “Even at the height of the Cold War, it was safer to be a Communist than a homosexual,” Kirchick writes in this sprawling and enthralling history. Kirchick reveals copious blood on the hands of the powerful, who for decades regarded alternative desires or any association with them as a “contagious sexual aberrancy,” and cause for immediate banishment from mainstream society. He mourns the “possibilities thwarted” — the number of patriotic civil servants whose careers were cut short or never began. Our critic Alexandra Jacobs writes: “As an epic of a dark age, complex and shaded, ‘Secret City’ is rewarding in the extreme.”

COMPANION PIECE, by Ali Smith. (Pantheon, $28.) In Smith’s latest novel, an artist grappling with her father’s illness and the despair of lockdown receives a call from an acquaintance, who presents her with a strange conundrum plucked from a dream. From there, the book opens into an epoch-spanning story about freedom and restriction, with a 16th-century lock as a unifying motif. This artifact, Mohsin Hamid writes in his review, is “a fine description of this novel, itself a lock, crafted by a smith, that is, by A. Smith, demanding in the engagement it requires, and rewarding of that engagement, as one picks away at the words she has used to build it.”

THE CROCODILE BRIDE, by Ashleigh Bell Pedersen. (Hub City, $26.) In this moody debut novel, following four generations of a family on Louisiana’s Black Bayou, violence begets violence and ill deeds can take decades to clear. But Pedersen tempers the dread with the care and camaraderie some family members provide. “The brackish setting allows for anger, fear, love and despair to all be felt as one,” Fiona Mozley writes in her review. “And the author delicately handles the messy union between human culpability and generational damage.”

CHÉRI and THE END OF CHÉRI, by Colette. Translated by Rachel Careau. (Norton, $26.95.) At the time of her death, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette was one of the most famous writers in the world, and this heartbreaking, astute pair of novels — about the affair between an aging courtesan and a much younger man — are among the best of her vast, impressive canon. Careau’s “meticulous and agile translation,” says our reviewer, Tash Aw, “brings to Anglophone readers some of Colette’s finest writing, rich in the sensuality for which she is widely known — but also in the sharpness of her social observations, so ahead of her time that they come across as radical even by contemporary standards. Above all, Careau captures the technicality of Colette’s prose. She manages shifts in mood and characterization as well as the complexity of Colette’s sentences — sometimes terse, sometimes richly metaphoric — and she does so in a way that feels at once faithful to the author’s era and utterly timeless.”

MEAN BABY:A Memoir of Growing Up, by Selma Blair. (Knopf, $30.) In her powerful, moving memoir, the veteran actor opens up about growing up in a quirky family, surviving sexual abuse at the same private school that encouraged her artistic pursuits, making a name for herself in Hollywood, stepping out of the boxes other people put her in and, especially, living publicly with the challenges of multiple sclerosis. “‘Mean Baby’ is not an illness memoir,” Susan Burton writes in her review. “It is a traditional autobiography, in that it covers the whole of Blair’s life so far. But M.S. haunts the book — it’s what we know is in those cards. Blair’s disease offers her a new way to see her past, and she uses it to divine her own history.”

I KISSED SHARA WHEELER, by Casey McQuiston. (Wednesday Books, $19.99.) McQuiston, well known as a romance novelist, enters the Y.A. realm with this story of a queer teenage rebel, Chloe, investigating the disappearance of her high school’s golden girl, Shara, and the secrets behind her carefully maintained image of perfection. “‘I Kissed Shara Wheeler’ is an unfettered joy to read,” our reviewer, Olivia Waite, writes. “It’s a love story starring two brilliant, ruthless queer girls who fight for what they want, and woe to any unjust authorities that stand in their way.”

THE AVOIDABLE WAR:The Dangers of a Catastrophic Conflict Between the US and Xi Jinping’s China, by Kevin Rudd. (PublicAffairs, $32.) In this penetrating analysis, Rudd, a China expert and former prime minister of Australia, argues that the best way to avoid war in Asia is for the United States and China to find a way for the two powers to “competitively coexist.” Reviewing it, Kevin Peraino says that Rudd has “a rare feel for China’s cultural flash points” and “understands better than most that there will be no wishing away of Xi Jinping and his transformative worldview, at least in the short term. The headache is chronic; Americans will need to use all their ingenuity if they hope to manage the pain.”

AFTER STEVE:How Apple Became a Trillion-Dollar Company and Lost Its Soul, by Tripp Mickle. (Morrow, $29.99.) Mickle, a New York Times business reporter, pulls back the curtain on the last decade at Apple, after the death of Steve Jobs left the ideologically divergent Tim Cook and Jony Ive in charge. “Mickle builds a dense, granular mosaic of the firm’s trials and triumphs, showing us how Apple, built on Ive’s successes in the 2000s, became Cook’s company in the 2010s,” Clay Shirky writes in his review. “The book is an amazingly detailed portrait of the permanent tension between strategy and luck: Companies make their own history, but they do not make it as they please.”

THE LONG CORNER, by Alexander Maksik. (Europa, $27.) A writer who has traded his literary aspirations for the flat language of commerce narrates Maksik’s fourth novel, set in a New York reeling from the 2016 election. The writer escapes to an enigmatic artists’ colony, where his questions about imagination, sincerity and discipline only intensify. “The story it tells orbits around questions of creativity, grief and the Trump era’s demolition of platitudes and ever-escalating implausibility and absurdism,” Will Stephenson writes in his review. “It is finally an argument for the necessity of irony, risk and integrity in the production of art as in life.”

YOU HAVE A FRIEND IN 10A:Stories, by Maggie Shipstead. (Knopf, $27.) Written over 10 years, the stories in this book run the gamut between parodic faux-autofiction and historical fiction narrated by a bevy of marooned, increasingly dissolute Frenchwomen. Our reviewer, Lizzy Harding, notes the stories’ meticulous grounding in reality, anchored by research, along with occasional imaginative leaps: “There is a generous spirit beneath Shipstead’s controlled, sometimes finicky style,” Harding writes. “Her most immersive stories are the ones that seem to escape her. They take perverse turns to arrive at open endings.”

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