September 28, 2013 

Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen. (Norton) Sixty percent of the infections that plague humankind – influenza, HIV and Lyme disease, to name a few – are “zoonoses,” which jump from wildlife to humans. Quammen’s sprawling scientific adventure tracks these diseases from the jungles of Central Africa to the rooftops of Bangladesh and the caves of southern China, and warns that such crossovers are bound to occur with more frequency, and possibly greater virulence.

Life Among Giants by Bill Roorbach. (Algonquin,) A darkly mysterious ballerina. A dead rock star. Secret passageways, nighttime trysts, embezzling, illicit recordings. True to its title, Roorbach’s Gatsby-like romp is a larger-than-life production: At its center is David Hochmeyer (known as Lizard), a football star turned restaurateur forced to reckon with the murder of his parents decades earlier.

Oddly Normal: One Family’s Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms With His Sexuality by John Schwartz. (Gotham) After coming out to his classmates, 13-year-old Joe, the youngest son of New York Times national correspondent John Schwartz, tried to kill himself. (Joe was derided for much of his childhood because he was different.) “Oddly Normal,” Schwartz’s inspiring account of Joe’s learning to embrace his sexuality, also reviews research on the experience of LGBT teens.

Dare Me by Megan Abbott. (Reagan Arthur/Back Bay/Little, Brown) The raw passions of girlhood are revealed in Abbott’s dark high school thriller. Addy has always been the best friend and trusted lieutenant of Beth, the queen bee of the cheer squad. But their friendship is tested with the arrival of a charismatic and seductive new coach: knocked off her perch, Beth wages a vicious campaign to regain her position as “top girl.”

The Way the World Works: Essays by Nicholson Baker. (Simon & Schuster) Combining high ideas with an insouciance of tone, this charmingly miscellaneous volume considers, among other things, the forgotten heroes of pacifism, airplane wings, telephones, paper mills, John Updike, the OED and the manufacture of the Venetian gondola.

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon. (Harper Perennial) Chabon’s exuberant novel about fathers, sons and a vinyl record shop in the borderlands of Berkeley and Oakland, juggles multiple plots and mounds of pop culture references. It’s 2004, and a planned media megastore brings hope of community revitalization but could also run the record shop, Brokeland, out of business – one of several challenges facing Brokeland’s squabbling partners and their intertwined families.

The Emergency State America’s Pursuit of Absolute Security at All Costs by David C. Unger. (Penguin) Unger, an editorial writer for The Times, deplores what he sees as Washington’s obsession with security and overreliance on military and intelligence capabilities, arguing that they are perversions of the country’s Jeffersonian traditions.

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