This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, by Ann Patchett. (Harper Perennial) These sparkling personal essays, by the author of “Bel Canto” and “State of Wonder,” cover the quotidian and the profound: from Patchett’s passion for opera and her stabilizing second marriage to her beloved dog and her resolve to open an independent bookstore in Nashville, Tenn.
Brown Dog: Novellas, by Jim Harrison. (Grove) This omnibus edition brings together the six novellas, one of them previously unpublished, featuring Harrison’s anti-hero Brown Dog – the endearing Native American scoundrel from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, whose exploits include hauling a frozen corpse out of Lake Superior and foiling anthropologists’ plans to survey a Chippewa burial site.
To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care, by Cris Beam. (Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) Beam, who spent five years tracking dozens of foster children and their families, captures the intricacies of growing up in the system: the agency bureaucracies, the emotionally charged tug between foster and birth parents, and the terrifying push out of foster care and into adulthood.
Andrew’s Brain, by E.L. Doctorow. (Random House) Constructed as a dialogue between Andrew, a “freakishly depressive cognitive scientist” peeling back the layers of his strange story, and an interlocutor he calls Doc, this slyly suspenseful novel grapples with issues of consciousness and perception. In City Of God (Random House), Doctorow turns a collage of memories, events and visions into a thought-provoking detective story about a cross that vanishes from a rundown church in Lower Manhattan and reappears on the roof of an Upper West Side synagogue.
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The Great Dissent: How Oliver Wendell Holmes Changed His Mind – And Changed the History of Free Speech in America, by Thomas Healy. (Picador) In 1919, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote a dissenting opinion, in Abrams v. United States, that would become the canonical affirmation of free speech in America. Healy adeptly reconstructs Holmes’ journey from free-speech opponent to First Amendment hero, and the behind-the-scenes campaign by a group of progressives to bring him around to their way of thinking.
The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton. (Back Bay/Little, Brown) Winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize, Catton’s second novel is a love story and a mystery, complete with astrological charts. It’s 1866 and a Scotsman named Walter Moody has come to stake his claim in a New Zealand gold-mining town. But in a scruffy hotel he happens upon a motley group of 12 men trying to make sense of a series of unexplained events.
Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain, by John Darwin. (Bloomsbury Press) This sharp, thoughtful study of the British Empire’s why, who and how shows just how diverse, unpredictable and chaotic it really was. Far from being the product of a master plan, Darwin argues, the empire was largely decentralized, shaped by a range of interests often at loggerheads with one another.
New York Times