The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait, by Blake Bailey. (Norton) Bailey, the biographer of Richard Yates, John Cheever and Charles Jackson, takes up his own family’s turbulent history in this achingly honest memoir. He tells of his failings and his parents’ – his father was a prosperous Oklahoma lawyer, his mother a German immigrant with a bohemian streak – but the dark heart of the story is Bailey’s older brother, Scott, and his alcohol- and drug-fueled fall from grace.
Ruby, by Cynthia Bond. (Hogarth) A story of race, exploitation and redemption, Bond’s stunning debut novel introduces Ruby Bell, a black woman who flees the small East Texas town of Liberty for the bright lights of 1950s New York. But pulled back home years later, she’s confronted with the seething hatred of a community desperate to destroy her.
Gandhi Before India, by Ramachandra Guha. (Vintage) Judiciously stripping away the myths surrounding Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948), Guha uncovers the story of how he came of age abroad: from his years as a student in London to his two decades as a lawyer and community organizer in South Africa, where he forged the philosophy and strategies later put to such effect in India.
The Kept, by James Scott. (Harper Perennial) Scott’s first novel tracks two lost souls across the New York hinterland of the late 19th century: Elspeth Howell, a midwife haunted by the “multitude of her sins” who has returned to her farmstead after months away to find her husband and four of their children shot dead; and her 12-year-old son, Caleb, the massacre’s only survivor, who joins Elspeth in mourning the tragedy and plotting its reprisal.
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Now I Know Who My Comrades Are: Voices From the Internet Underground, by Emily Parker. (Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus & Giroux) Parker, a journalist and former State Department policy adviser, delves into the fringes of Internet activism – the realm of dissident bloggers and netizen “foot soldiers” – to measure its impact on democratic opposition to authoritarian governments in China, Cuba and Russia.
One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, by B.J. Novak. (Vintage Contemporaries) Beneath the hilarious, high-concept set pieces and satires of this debut collection beats a surprisingly tender heart. In “Julie and the Warlord,” an African strongman on a blind date natters away about “flourless chocolate cake.” And in “Sophia,” a robot capable of love falls for a man who might not be ready for it himself.
Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion, by Robert Gordon. (Bloomsbury) In 1950s Memphis, a white banker named Jim Stewart and his sister Estelle Axton opened a record store and recording studio that became a monument to racial integration and a startling success (it was home to Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and the Staple Singers, among others). Gordon’s marvelous book situates Stax within the wider cultural history of Memphis, ’60s and ’70s soul music and the civil rights movement.
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