On the Shelf
10 November books for your reading list
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Critic Bethanne Patrick recommends 10 promising titles, fiction and nonfiction, to consider for your November reading list.
There’s a much-anticipated book out this month, but Michelle Obama’s “The Light We Carry” doesn’t require more hype. There are other books worthy of your attention, including stellar reads from a couple of acclaimed authors and an unusual novel set in Kuala Lumpur, not to mention idiosyncratic volumes in which Bob Dylan, Quentin Tarantino and Jerry Saltz opine on their respective fields of music, movies and visual arts.
By Katherine Dunn
MCD: 352 pages, $28
The posthumously published novel from the author of cult favorite “Geek Love” is about a group of friends at a small liberal arts school on the West Coast (Dunn went to Reed College). Middle-aged protagonist Sally Gunnar, whose eremitic life is brightened by a goldfish and a toad, never attended that institution, but she once hung out with a group of hipster undergraduates whose acts of oblivious privilege resulted in her withdrawal from the world.
By Kate Manning
Scribner: 464 pages, $28
Looking for a big historical novel to read by the fire? Manning’s second novel will scratch your itch. But bear in mind that the author, whose debut, “My Notorious Life,” was an unstintingly authentic portrait of a real-life abortion provider, does not traffic in comfort food: Her story of a woman struggling to forge a livelihood in 19th-century Colorado serves as further evidence of the effect labor struggles, enslavement, misogyny and greed have had throughout our history.
The Magic Kingdom
By Russell Banks
Knopf: 352 pages, $30
Harley Mann grew up in a Florida community of Shakers. Dictating his life story into a reel-to-reel tape recorder, the now-aged Mann details life with Elder John, his romance with a consumptive patient and a decision he will make that irreversibly alters the local landscape. Banks, as always, has an expert hand on the wheel, navigating readers between intricate plots and cultural touchstones.
The Age of Goodbyes
By Li Zi Shu (trans. by YZ Chin)
Feminist Press: 360 pages, $18
Forget arguing over the Great American Novel and consider whether “The Age of Goodbyes” is the Great Malaysian Novel; Li Zi Shu opens her debut on page 513, which refers to May 13, 1969, when post-election riots led the Southeast Asian country toward majority rule. Shu’s intricate construction follows a character who is actually a protagonist in a novel read by a teenager. It’s a high-wire act of metafiction, and it works.
Now Is Not the Time to Panic
By Kevin Wilson
Ecco: 256 pages, $28
Wilson, author of “The Family Fang” and “Nothing to See Here,” among other books, keeps getting better and keeps changing things up, this time crafting a coming-of-age story set in 1990s Tennessee. Frankie and Zeke want to be artists; the problem is that their method incites madness in their sheltered town. Years later, a journalist’s investigation into the aftermath threatens to upend Frankie’s own relationship to art.
The Philosophy of Modern Song
By Bob Dylan
Simon & Schuster: 352 pages, $45
Sixty-six essays, all on other people’s songs: If the Nobel laureate and rock icon has done noting else, Robert Zimmerman will have honored his forebears, saluted his contemporaries and acknowledged the future (albeit in his inimitable, fever-dreamish way). “Take Me From This Garden of Evil” by Jimmy Wages, “My Generation” by the Who, “War” by Marvin Gaye and Linda Ronstadt’s “Blue Bayou” are just a few he’s chosen to examine and celebrate.
Art Is Life: Icons and Iconoclasts, Visionaries and Vigilantes, and Flashes of Hope in the Night
By Jerry Saltz
Riverhead: 368 pages, $30
Everyone on Twitter wants to engage with Saltz, perhaps our most famous living art critic (RIP, Peter Schjeldahl), a man whose assessment of his own past as a “failed artist” gives him the great humor that infuses his takes. Whether considering a poorly understood painter from history or assessing the new and controversial, Saltz manages to impart his belief that art involves story, and storymaking is the stuff of life. His philosophy, like the man himself, is ageless.
By Quentin Tarantino
Harper: 400 pages, $35
Tarantino’s first nonfiction work takes a deep dive into the movies that influenced him. Unsurprisingly, given his age and highly allusive style, those are movies from the 1970s, including “The Getaway” (Steve McQueen and Sam Peckinpah are on the cover) and many other classics. The acclaimed director finally follows through on his threat to turn film critic, combining personal passion with expertise from the point of view of an auteur’s auteur.
Fatty Fatty Boom Boom: A Memoir of Food, Fat, and Family
By Rabia Chaudry
Algonquin: 352 pages, $29
Chaudry, host of the “Undisclosed” podcast and the attorney credited with freeing “Serial” subject Adnan Syed, turns her gimlet eye on her lifelong struggle with weight. It began when her family moved from Pakistan to the United States when Chaudry was just an infant; her mother filled her bottles with half-and-half and allowed her to teethe on sticks of butter. Yet it didn’t end when she rediscovered more healthful foods. Funny, smart and moving, this is a book for anyone with body issues.
The Forever Witness: How DNA and Genealogy Solved a Cold Case Double Murder
By Ed Humes
Dutton: 384 pages, $28
Pulitzer Prize-winner Humes (“Burned,” “Mean Justice”) examines how genealogy, combined with DNA analysis, solved the 1980s murder of a young couple, Tanya Van Cuylenborg and Jay Cook, in Washington state. But in detailing the steps that led to a conviction, he also asks questions about privacy: To whom does genetic material belong, and when should it be admitted as evidence, if at all?