Our Guide To Spring Books

Forward Magazine - - Contents - By Talya Zax

It is 2018, and any­thing is pos­si­ble:

Driver­less cars! Nu­clear war! Equal pay be­tween movie stars of op­po­site gen­ders! (Okay, maybe not that.)

The world is un­cer­tain, but books can be re­lied on for plea­sure, es­capism and, worst of all, in­for­ma­tion. Here are some of the best fic­tion and non­fic­tion re­leases we’re ex­pect­ing in up­com­ing months. Is it co­in­ci­den­tal that all the most promis­ing fic­tion ap­pears to be by women? Only one so­lu­tion: Read, and see for your­self.



By Meg Wolitzer

River­head Books, 464 pages, $28

Wolitzer has writ­ten a novel uniquely well-con­ceived for the cur­rent mo­ment: “The Fe­male Per­sua­sion” fol­lows a col­lege fresh­man af­ter she meets a fem­i­nist icon who changes both the way she thinks and the course of her life. As women across the globe re­con­sider the ways in which they’ve been taught to ac­cept per­sonal dam­age as the cost of pro­fes­sional am­bi­tion, Wolitzer’s lat­est work of­fers a rous­ing ex­am­i­na­tion of fe­male agency and am­bi­tion.


By Cur­tis Sit­ten­feld Ran­dom House, 256 pages, $27

The mod­ern lit­er­ary world is of­ten pa­tron­iz­ing to­ward work writ­ten by women for women. (Go ahead, tell me there’s noth­ing marginal­iz­ing about the phrase “women’s lit­er­a­ture.”) Sit­ten­feld, a lit­er­ary writer whose work is geared to­ward fe­male read­ers, is mas­ter­ful at in­ter­ro­gat­ing the sub­tle ways in which pre­con­cep­tions about gen­der plague women in their pro­fes­sional and per­sonal lives. If her stun­ningly good story “The Prairie Wife” — which first ap­peared in The New Yorker and is among the in­clu­sions in “You Think It, I’ll Say It” — is any guide, this col­lec­tion will be chal­leng­ing, en­light­en­ing and, best of all, fun.

THE MARS ROOM by Rachel Kush­ner Scrib­ner, 352 pages, $27

Kush­ner’s pre­vi­ous novel, “The Flamethrow­ers,” was a break­out hit of 2013. Will “The Mars Room,” set in 2003, live up to the hype? With the chal­leng­ing sub­ject of life in­side a women’s prison made more daunt­ing by the loom­ing specter of the sim­i­larly fo­cused Net­flix se­ries “Or­ange Is the New Black,” Kush­ner has set for her­self quite the hur­dle. As an in­ci­sive com­men­ta­tor on the ab­surd con­di­tions of Amer­i­can life, she is likely to clear that hur­dle in style.

BLACK SWANS: STO­RIES by Eve Bab­itz Coun­ter­point, 256 pages, $16.95

Bab­itz reigns supreme among the many writ­ers who have tried to cap­ture Los An­ge­les’s un­flag­gingly strange cul­tural scene, and specif­i­cally the glitz and hypocrisy of Hol­ly­wood. The col­lec­tion “Black Swans,” ini­tially pub­lished in 1993, con­tains some of her most in­ci­sive ob­ser­va­tions about the cap­i­tal of Amer­i­can moviemak­ing. In the post-Har­vey We­in­stein mo­ment, as both Hol­ly­wood and the coun­try at large re-eval­u­ate old, of­ten de­grad­ing ideas about the power dy­nam­ics be­tween men and women, this reis­sue of Bab­itz’s sear­ing sto­ries is well worth a read.

THE LOST FAM­ILY by Jenna Blum Harper, 432 pages, $27.99

Jews tend to be tor­mented by their fam­ily his­to­ries; this is not news to any­one. Lucky for us, that ten­dency makes great fod­der for fic­tion. In Blum’s “The Lost Fam­ily,” a Holo­caust sur­vivor-turnedMan­hat­tan restau­ra­teur finds him­self build­ing a new fam­ily, 20 years af­ter his wife and daugh­ters died in a con­cen­tra­tion camp. The process, pre­dictably, is not pre­cisely prob­lem-free.

MOTH­ER­HOOD by Sheila Heti Henry Holt and Co., 304 pages, $27

It is a near-uni­ver­sal truth that women have pro­foundly con­flicted feel­ings

about moth­er­hood. The pro­tag­o­nist of Heti’s new novel, as she ap­proaches the end of her child­bear­ing years, ques­tions whether or not she wants chil­dren. What will she choose, and, more im­por­tant, how pan­icked will her process make read­ers whose par­ents have — ahem — be­gun to ask lead­ing ques­tions about grand­chil­dren? Take a deep breath, and find out.

BA­SIC BLACK WITH PEARLS by He­len Weinzweig New York Re­view Books Clas­sics, 160 pages, $14

Weinzweig’s sopho­more novel, orig­i­nally re­leased in 1980, tells of a decades-long af­fair be­tween a house­wife and an in­ter­na­tional man of mys­tery. That setup may sound nau­se­at­ingly fa­mil­iar; its re­sult is any­thing but. Now con­sid­ered a fem­i­nist clas­sic, the slim vol­ume re­ceives a timely reis­sue this spring, serv­ing as a re­minder: You may seek lib­er­a­tion across the world, but it is some­times where you least ex­pect it — right around the cor­ner.

Non­fic­tion CAN’T HELP MY­SELF: LES­SONS & CON­FES­SIONS FROM A MOD­ERN AD­VICE COLUM­NIST by Mered­ith Gold­stein Grand Cen­tral Pub­lish­ing, 272 pages, $26

Shock­ing as it may seem, ad­vice colum­nists have tricky, painful ques­tions in their own lives. In this mem­oir, Gold­stein, who writes The Bos­ton Globe’s Love Let­ters col­umn, shares the story of her own ex­pe­ri­ence balanc­ing an of­ten­be­fud­dling per­sonal life with the pro­fes­sional need to find com­pelling so­lu­tions to oth­ers’ prob­lems.

LOOK ALIVE OUT THERE: ES­SAYS by Sloane Crosley MCD, 256 pages, $26

Crosley is beloved for her hu­mor­ous es­says, most mem­o­rably col­lected in her 2008 book “I Was Told There’d Be Cake.” In “Look Alive Out There.” Look for dis­course on break­ing eti­quette at shivas, swingers, “Gos­sip Girl” and vol­ca­noes. The med­ley may make you worry that you your­self haven’t been look­ing alive, like, at all; don’t worry, vi­car­i­ous ad­ven­ture counts.

CAKE by Maira Kalman and Bar­bara Scott-Good­man Pen­guin Press, 96 pages, $25

In the Trump era, cake has be­come the sub­ject of both crav­ing and scorn; ref­er­ence Tina Fey’s satiric 2017 sug­ges­tion that we all binge-eat cake rather than en­gage in ac­tivism, which drew heaps of on­line ire. Back­lash be damned: In 2018, this book is one of the few things in the world guar­an­teed not to dis­ap­point you. In­dulge in Scott-Good­man’s recipes for the stal­wart treat be­side Kalman’s whim­si­cal il­lus­trated med­i­ta­tions on its virtues. Bring the vol­ume to your fa­vorite bak­ery, and take a well-earned break.

LEAR: THE GREAT IM­AGE OF AUTHOR­ITY by Harold Bloom Scrib­ner, 176 pages, $23.99

Is there a point to be­com­ing some­one with the power to rec­om­mend books if you can’t put for­ward, say, the odd in-depth anal­y­sis of Shake­speare’s most mis­guided and tor­mented pa­tri­arch? Harold Bloom may be old school, but he’s a king of Shake­speare anal­y­sis, and this long­time Shake­speare nerd is ready for an ear­ful of Lear. Time­li­ness is not nec­es­sar­ily a marker of qual­ity, but it’s also worth not­ing that our cur­rent po­lit­i­cal mo­ment con­tains sev­eral un­friendly echoes of “King Lear.” Read Bloom for lit­er­ary es­capism, and watch your back.

PAUL SI­MON: THE LIFE by Robert Hil­burn Si­mon & Schus­ter, 448 pages, $30

Paul Si­mon is a com­plex char­ac­ter in the an­nals of Amer­i­can mu­sic, well­beloved for his nu­anced, play­ful, deeply felt songs about in­ter­per­sonal con­nec­tion and its ab­sence. Both he and many of those clos­est to him spoke ex­ten­sively to Hil­burn for this bi­og­ra­phy. If you par­tic­u­larly miss Car­rie Fisher, who was mar­ried to Si­mon briefly in the 1980s, her thoughts on her one­time spouse and long­time friend will be an es­pe­cially wel­come treat.

MOTH­ERS: AN ES­SAY ON LOVE AND CRU­ELTY by Jacque­line Rose Far­rar, Straus and Giroux, 256 pages, $26

As pre­vi­ously stated in this ar­ti­cle, moth­er­hood is com­pli­cated! What to do about it? Read more books! In “Moth­ers,” Rose ex­am­ines the per­ilous con­se­quences of the larger-than-life roles that cul­ture as­cribes to moth­ers. Her in­sights about the charged and nu­anced ways in which the idea of moth­er­hood shapes so­ci­ety are worth your time.

FA­MOUS FA­THER GIRL: A MEM­OIR OF GROW­ING UP BERNSTEIN by Jamie Bernstein Harper, 400 pages, $28.99

It wouldn’t be a full spring of fam­ily ques­tion­ing with­out an en­try con­cerned with the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing a daugh­ter or son. In this mem­oir, Bernstein, daugh­ter of an ex­cep­tion­ally fa­mous fa­ther — the one and only Leonard Bernstein — re­flects on her child­hood, her re­la­tion­ship with her par­ents, and the way in which her fa­ther’s legacy con­tin­ues to shape her life. The mem­oir ar­rives dur­ing the late pa­tri­ar­chal Bernstein’s cen­ten­nial year.

Talya Zax is the For­ward’s deputy cul­ture ed­i­tor here. Con­tact her at zax@ for­ward.com

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