On the shelf
Ten books from March for your reading list
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Critic Bethanne Patrick recommends 10 promising titles, fiction and non-fiction, to consider for your March reading list.
This month brings all kinds of wild stories – tales of foraging and magic, cults and crackups, and deep-seated social ills. Three of our March recommendations take place in national parks, two in hospitals that are no match for our flawed healthcare system. Strong voices and convictions carry the day, while real and imagined characters fight for their environment, their families, their dignity or their survival. These common threads bring together mysteries, sagas, memoirs and histories. Whichever path you take, you’re in for a ride.
By Eleanor Catton
FSG: 432 pages, $28
Shakespeare references, New Zealand’s mountain wilderness, a guerrilla gardening collective, an American billionaire building the ultimate doomsday bunker (or so he says). If that doesn’t intrigue you, there’s the fact that Catton has followed up a Booker Prize-winning novel, “The Luminaries,” with an eco-thriller of grand psychological and social ambitions.
By Nguyen Phan Que Mai
Algonquin Books: 352 pages, $28
Mai’s American debut (after countless books set in her native Vietnam) was “The Mountains Sing,” a devastatingly poetic account of how political strife tore a family apart for generations. “Dust Child” now tackles the difficult subject of the Amerasians left behind when the US military fled its own setbacks in Southeast Asia. Look for a reception similar to Min Jin Lee’s bestseller “Pachinko.”
By Mona Simpson
Knopf: 416 pages, $30
Single mother Diane Aziz manages to get her son Walter settled at UC Berkeley before falling into a depression that will land her in a California state hospital. Walter and his younger siblings, Lina and Donny, must determine not only how to take care of themselves (spoiler: with mixed results), but also how to be a family without a parent. Simpson fills her seventh novel with wisdom, strength and humanity.
By Victor LaValle
One World: 304 pages, $27
(28th of March)
If you haven’t read a LaValle novel, prepare to stock up. You’ll want more once you’ve sauntered through this propulsive brew of genre tropes – from western themes to gothic twists. Adelaide has gone West to escape a mysterious crime, striking herself as a single black woman in white Montana – and keeping custody of a large briefcase that she insists on keeping locked at all times. LaValle combines chills with deep insights into the divisions of our country.
White cat, black dog: stories
By Kelly Link
Random House: 272 pages, $27
(28th of March)
Link is a genius, and not just according to the MacArthur Foundation. A small publisher, owner of a bookstore and producer of a zine, consistently publishes stories that raise expectations. In her new collection, the author reinvents and reclaims fairy tales, and the results are pure modern folklore – eccentric, sleek and tapped into the collective subconscious. Dive in to meet Hansel and Gretel on a planet of vampires, as well as a cat who runs a weed dispensary.
Forager: Field Notes for Surviving a Family Cult
By Michelle Dowd
Algonquin: 288 pages, $28
The Field was an extremely religious sect based in the Angeles National Forest founded in the 1930s by Michelle Dowd’s grandfather in the belief that “comfort and care” were sins, among many others, and that the proper state of life – at least until the impending apocalypse — was a daily struggle for survival. In chapters on the edible plants she had to forage to avoid starvation, Dowd (now an academic and journalist) charts her path to freedom with remarkable clarity.
The People’s Hospital: Hope and Danger in American Medicine
By Ricardo Nuilla
Scribner: 384 pages, $28
Nuila practices internal medicine at Ben Taub Hospital in Houston, but the doctor’s new book could be set in any major city where the uninsured — like the patients he chronicles here — face astronomical costs, a maze of endless paperwork and poor or inadequate diagnoses by exhausted medical professionals. Nuila’s storytelling talents place him alongside peers like Atul Gawande.
Benjamin Banneker and us: eleven generations of an American family
By Rachel Jamison Webster
Henry Holt: 368 pages, $29
Webster, a professor of creative writing at Northwestern, discovered that famed black mathematician and astronomer Benjamin Banneker was a distant relative. This was a surprise for many reasons – not the least of which is that Webster is white. The conversations she had and the things she learned shed light not only on a neglected piece of personal and national history, but also on the hypocrisy inherent in so many discussions of race.
The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War
By Jeff Sharlet
WW Norton: 352 pages, $29
Sharlet, author of “The Family,” takes on politics and religion once again, those strange bedfellows the constitution tried to keep apart, only to have their convergence shred our social fabric. Wherever Sharlet travels, far-right politicians at every level are inciting crowds to paranoia and violence with ideas rooted in Christian nationalism. But another vision is available, the author points out, one that leaves fear behind and embraces community.
Guardians of the Valley: John Muir and the Friendship That Saved Yosemite
By Dean King
Scribner: 480 pages, $30
King (“Skeletons on the Zahara”) follows two men’s journey to the Yosemite Valley – a journey that would convince them both to turn it into a national park. Environmentalist John Muir, who famously believed nature was cleaner than humanity, his much urbane editor at the Century Magazine put it, Robert Underwood Johnson, to see his beloved wilderness. Their complementary efforts – Muir the charismatic writer-lecturer, Johnson the politically connected pragmatist – have changed (or rather saved) the American landscape.