11 New Books We Recommend This Week – The New York Times
Suggested reading from critics and editors at The New York Times.
Our recommended books this week probe the extremes of human behavior and accomplishment, from Jim Thorpe’s athletic prowess to Pablo Picasso’s artistic genius to the tawdry but entertaining criminal activities of the consumer electronics merchant Crazy Eddie. The French writer Barbara Molinard plumbs mental illness in a posthumous story collection, newly translated, and the animal behaviorist Justin Gregg explores the dizzying complexity of human cognition to ask what good it does anyway. The jury, for Gregg, is still out.
Political conflict and current events also rear their heads, in novels about the Cultural Revolution, the pandemic lockdown, the street demonstrations that shook up Hong Kong in 2019, and again in Jamie Susskind’s analysis of social media’s promise and peril. Finally, the TV writer Laura Chinn looks back at her awkward adolescent years plus Bolu Babalola offers a sly take on romance conventions within her debut novel. Happy reading.
IF NIETZSCHE WERE A NARWHAL:
What Animal Intelligence Reveals About Human Stupidity
This clever and provocative book, full of irreverent notions and funny anecdotes, is fixated on the way that humans insist they are improving things when they are ultimately mucking them up, and how complex thought often turns out to be a long-term liability.
“Human existence isn’t inherently great or evil; despite Gregg’s comic distortions — which are undeniably entertaining — the more subtle suggestion that courses through his book is that, compared with nonhuman animals, our existence is more extreme. ”
From Jennifer Szalai’s review
Little, Brown | $29
The Insane, Real-Life Story of Crazy Eddie
This compact and appealing account tells the story of the electronics store Crazy Eddie, best known for its zany commercials, in which an actor rattled off a sales pitch ending with the vibrating, bug-eyed assurance: “His prices are INSANE! ” Weiss recounts the company’s artificially inflated rise, its shady business practices and its slow-mo collapse.
“‘Retail Gangster’ is a tender requiem for a time, pre-streaming, when people tended to be tuned into the same things…. Also for a grittier, perhaps more colorful Nyc. ”
From Alexandra Jacobs’s review
Hachette | $29
PATH LIT BY LIGHTNING:
The Life of Jim Thorpe
In this exhaustively researched biography of possibly the greatest athlete of all time, the author calmly lets witnesses express the eternal astonishment about how well his subject did seemingly everything, and how beautifully he did it. (Everyone from Dwight Eisenhower to Marianne Moore was in awe associated with him. ) Maraniss’s most important contribution to the factual record of a transcendent figure is his account of the excruciating years that followed Thorpe’s glory.
“Maraniss continually yet gently returns to an affirmation…. Whatever life took through him, Thorpe persisted plus trained and worked and learned and succeeded. ”
From Keith Olbermann’s review
Simon & Schuster | $32. 50
The 14 malevolent plus disorienting tales in this 1969 collection — translated into English for the first time, by Emma Ramadan, and available Sept. 13 — represent the particular prolific author’s only surviving work, saved from destruction by her friend Marguerite Duras. Molinard’s characters are haunted, confused, wandering as if in a fog, forgetting who they are and where they are meant to be.
“Through Ramadan’s spare and exacting translation, Molinard presents a terrifying portrait of violence and mental illness. The reader will be immersed entirely in the minds of her characters. ”
From Charlie Lee’s review
Feminist Press | Paper, $15. 95
This taut, delightful debut novel builds to a climactic bike trip a father takes with his foster sons. The book contains multitudes, including travel escapism, family drama and social commentary on pandemic isolation; what at first seems like the character-driven portrait of a marriage takes a hairpin turn halfway through.
“We’ve all been there by now, haven’t we — experienced isolation severe enough to make us detach from others and even ourselves?… What a wonder of storytelling. I will be thinking of these boys for a long time to come. ”
From Weike Wang’s review
Spiegel & Grau | $27
ON JAVA ROAD
Osborne’s latest novel is set in Hong Kong, where political tensions have boiled over into demonstrations and a young protester has gone missing. A resident English journalist investigates, but the more he digs, the more he suspects foul play from one of his oldest friends.
“Osborne skillfully — and with exquisite prose — probes the nexus of community and character, and how where we are shapes who we are. ”
From Chris Bohjalian’s review
Hogarth | $27
Wang’s novel, set during the Cultural Revolution and translated from the Chinese by Yan, follows a young man who is forced to write erotic confessions after rural Chinese officials catch him with a lover. Mixing absurdist satire and incisive commentary, Wang provides a powerful dissident view of state control.
“The narrator recalls that his generation was raised to do something heroic with their lives. When they were young, that meant imitating Mao and being zealous Communists, but their idealism only ended up bringing violence and suffering…. He must report what he has seen — not just the big issues but also the small, telling details that might let the past speak to the present. ”
From Ian Johnson’s review
Astra House | $26
How Modern Art Came to America
It took decades before the masters of modern painting were widely celebrated in the United States. In this fascinating, immensely readable narrative, Eakin documents how the “fanatical determination” of a small group of people helped Picasso, Matisse, et al. conquer America. He manages to braid aesthetics with history with personal details about the leading individuals’ love lives, adulteries and divorces.
“Once Eakin has introduced all the key figures and set them in motion, the book soars. His achievement is keeping the complex plotline moving, while offering sharp insights and astute judgments. ”
From Phillip Lopate’s review
Crown | $32. 99
HONEY AND SPICE
Babalola’s debut romance novel (following the story collection “Love in Color”) features Kiki plus Malakai, two college students who are initially rivals until they are forced into a fake dating situation. As in Jane Austen’s novels, the narrative centers on the war between individual attraction and social constraints in a complex, contentiously hierarchical society.
“The true stars of ‘Honey and Spice’ are characterization, banter and sharp interpersonal observation, all of which Babalola renders spectacularly. ”
From Carole V. Bell’s review
Morrow | $27. 99
THE DIGITAL REPUBLIC:
On Freedom and Democracy in the 21st Century
Everyone talks about the dangers of the internet, but Susskind, a British lawyer, not only diagnoses how social media threaten democracy but also offers solutions on what to do about the problem.
“Many of his proposals could do a lot of good…. As we take on the task of pushing back against the internet’s baleful influences — which we must — Susskind’s intelligent book can serve as a valuable guide. ”
Through Adam Cohen’s review
“In figuring it out as she goes, the only thing she seems to know for sure is that she will try and fail over and over, but that the trying is the point. ”
From Ashley C. Ford’s review
Hachette | $29
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