Luminous Airplanes by Paul La Farge. (Picador) After the dot-com crash, the unnamed narrator of La Farge’s touching novel – a computer programmer unmoored by the crash and by the death of his grandfather – returns to the upstate New York town where he spent childhood summers with his grandparents. Ostensibly, he’s there to sort out family possessions (among them a treasured 1894 book, “Progress in Flying Machines”); in reality, he’s sorting out his own past.
America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation by David Goldfield. (Bloomsbury Press) Where other scholars have seen the Civil War as a triumph of freedom, Goldfield paints it as America’s greatest failure: a breakdown of the political system. The question implicit in this riveting history is whether the country might somehow have spared itself all the carnage.
The Outlaw Album: Stories by Daniel Woodrell. (Back Bay/Little, Brown) Woodrell’s first collection expands upon the bleak portrait of Ozark life drawn in his novels, including the much lauded “Winter’s Bone.” In one story, a Vietnam vet kills an intruder in his home, only to discover the man is another veteran from a more recent war suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Puppy Diaries: Raising a Dog Named Scout by Jill Abramson. (St. Martin’s Griffin) In this memoir of her dog’s first year, Abramson, The New York Times’ executive editor, shows how life with a boisterous puppy – every chair-chewing, face-licking, field-romping day – enriches middle age.
Nanjing Requiem by Ha Jin. (Vintage International) Ha Jin brings a spare documentary approach to this fictional account of the 1937 Japanese occupation of Nanjing, then the capital of China’s nationalist government. At the novel’s center is a real-life character: Minnie Vautrin, an American missionary and dean of a women’s college that became a refugee camp for thousands of women and children.
The Ecstasy Of Influence: Nonfictions, Etc. by Jonathan Lethem. (Vintage) Lethem’s extra-literary enthusiasms are all over this remarkable miscellany, which includes essays on film, comics, music, Brooklyn and, of course, fiction. In the now famous title essay, a “collage text” that appeared in Harper’s Magazine, Lethem argues for the eager plundering of earlier art to make new art.
Bleed For Me by Michael Robotham. (Mulholland/Little, Brown) Joe O’Loughlin, the Bath University psychologist and criminal profiler in Robotham’s thriller, attracts unsettling cases. This one involves 14-year-old Sienna Hegarty, a troubled friend of his daughter’s who turns up incoherent and covered in the blood of her slain father, a retired cop.
The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism by Deborah Baker. (Graywolf) Baker, whose previous subjects have included the poet Laura Riding (“In Extremis”) and the Beats (“A Blue Hand”), explores how Margaret Marcus, a Jewish girl from Westchester County, N.Y., became Maryam Jameelah, a polemicist for radical Islam in Pakistan.
New York Times