By Moira Macdonald
Here are 10 newly released nonfiction paperbacks — all recommended, all capable of immersing a reader into a world that you couldn’t make up.
Substitute: Going to School With a Thousand Kids by Nicholson Baker. Novelist Baker (Vox, The Mezzanine) spent three months as a substitute teacher in a rural Maine school district; this book was written to provide, Baker writes in his introduction, “a lived-through sense of how busy and complicated and weird and long every school day is.” Seattle Times reviewer Michael Upchurch found the book “laced with exhilaration.”
Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey by Elena Ferrante. Frantumaglia is a Neapolitan word meaning a jumble of fragments — and this collection, by the writer of the beloved Neapolitan Quartet series, is appropriately a mixture of letters, essays and interviews. Though the author, who writes under a pseudonym, sheds little light on her own life story, a New York Times reviewer noted that the book “offers something else: a chance to consider her strange, spectral presence in the world of letters.”
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande. Gawande is a surgeon, a Harvard professor and a staff writer for The New Yorker, and if you’re a regular reader of that publication, you’re well acquainted with his thoughtful writing about modern medicine. This book, in which he examines aging and death, spent a year on The New York Times best-seller list, and was named a top book of the year by numerous publications.
Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud by Elizabeth Greenwood. Anyone out there who always wanted to fake their own death? I’ll let the first six words of Adam Woog’s Seattle Times review speak for themselves: “Good title, brilliant topic, absorbing book.”
Play All: A Bingewatcher’s Notebook by Clive James. James, an Australian-born critic/essayist/broadcaster/poet, is now in his late 70s and in poor health — and so, with time on his hands, decided to indulge in some binge-watching of the likes of The Wire, The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad and others. The result is what The Guardian’s review called a “joyfully intelligent appraisal” that’s often very funny.
The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life by John le Carre. The great spy novelist, now in his 80s, looks back on his eventful life in this memoir, described by Seattle Times reviewer Adam Woog as “a glittering treasure-chest of great stories — some sobering, some funny, but always incisive, witty and spellbinding.”
They Can’t Kill Us All: The Story of the Struggle for Black Lives by Wesley Lowery (Little, Brown, $16.99). Lowery, a reporter for The Washington Post, explores racial violence in America in his first book, a New York Times best-seller. “Lowery zigzags from Ferguson, to Cleveland, to Charleston and New York City,” wrote a Los Angeles Times reviewer, “in an effort to create a backdrop that captures the riots, the grief, the tear gas and the emotional upheaval in places around the country that became markers of modern-day lynchings in near lockstep.”
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen. The Boss tells the story of his 40-year recording career in this memoir. Seattle Times reviewer Charles R. Cross wrote that some of the book’s paragraphs, about difficult times in Springsteen’s life, “are so meticulously crafted they could have come from a Richard Ford novel. This is the greatest triumph of Born to Run — that Springsteen captures in autobiography the same lyricism he does with songwriting.”
The Wicked Boy: An Infamous Murder in Victorian London by Kate Summerscale. Winner of the 2017 Edgar Award in the Fact Crime category, Summerscale’s book is her latest true-Victorian-crime investigation (her previous books include The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher). “Enjoyable as an atmospheric tale of crime and punishment from a distant era written in lucid, limber prose,” wrote a New York Times reviewer, The Wicked Boy also implicitly raises questions that remain with us today.”
Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy by Heather Ann Thompson. Thompson, a professor at the University of Michigan, won the Pulitzer Prize for history earlier this year for this book, “a masterly account,” wrote The New York Times, “of the Attica prison uprising, its aftermath and the decades-long legal battles for justice and accountability.” — The Seattle Times/TNS
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