White Girls by Hilton Als. (McSweeney’s) Als, a staff writer for The New Yorker, weaves together analyses of literature, art, film and music with insights on the cultural and racial implications of white womanhood. (In these deeply personal essays, “white girls” is an expansive category, encompassing Louise Brooks and Truman Capote, Flannery O’Connor and Richard Pryor.)
Enon by Paul Harding. (Random House) Set in the New England town of Enon, Harding’s devastating second novel follows a year in the life of Charlie Crosby – grandson of George Crosby, the protagonist of Harding’s Pulitzer-winning debut, “Tinkers” – as he comes to terms with the death of his 13-year-old daughter and the subsequent dissolution of his marriage.
Wilson by A. Scott Berg. (Berkley) This vividly narrated biography of the 28th president focuses less on the politics than on the man: the Princeton University president who, as commander in chief, put his progressive theories to the test in Washington and ushered the country through World War I.
Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips. (Scribner) Based on an actual case from the 1930s, this novel about a West Virginia serial killer who preys on lonely women recreates the morbid carnival scene surrounding the investigation. Phillips’s richly imagined heroine, Emily Thornhill, is a Chicago reporter determined to avenge four of the killer’s victims: a desperate widow and her three children.
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Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya von Bremzen. (Broadway) Born in Russia near the end of the Khrushchev era, von Bremzen arrived with her mother in Philadelphia in 1974, “stateless refugees with no winter coats.” In this ambitious food memoir, which is also a meticulously researched history of post-revolutionary Russia, the two women use their kitchen as “a time machine and an incubator of memories,” cooking their way through every decade of the Soviet experience.
Orfeo by Richard Powers. (Norton) Powers’s spellbinding novel puts us into the mind of Peter Els, an aging avant-garde composer who, having taken up garage genomics, attempts to splice musical patterns into living cells. When Peter’s work arouses the suspicions of Homeland Security, he becomes an unlikely cross-country fugitive.
Collision Low Crossers: Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Footbal, by Nicholas Dawidoff. (Back Bay/Little, Brown, $18.) This absorbing case study traces the 2011-12 season of the New York Jets and their “big, warm-blooded, exuberant” head coach, Rex Ryan. Given vast access to the team, Dawidoff shows the professional, physical and human toll of a single football season.
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