Our favorite books coming out this week include new titles from Theresa Runstedtler, Jenny Odell, and Mariana Mazzucato and Rosie Collington.

Black Ball: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Spencer Haywood, and the Generation That Saved the Soul of the NBA

Theresa Runstedtler. Bold Type, $29 (368p) ISBN 978-1-64503-695-1
In this illuminating study, African American history professor Runstedtler (Jack Johnson, Rebel Sojourner: Boxing in the Shadow of the Global Color Line) analyzes 1970s professional basketball through the lens of race. In 1980, an L.A. Times article reported that there was an epidemic of cocaine use among NBA players, 75% of whom were Black. That exposé, Runstedtler notes, fed into a narrative that the league’s decline was due to the rise of Black athletes. The truth, Runstedtler argues, is that Black players “ultimately transformed basketball in this neglected yet crucial period.” Among the pivotal figures who ushered in change were Cornelius “Connie” Hawkins and Spencer Haywood, who both argued that the league was blocking their right to make a living and won antitrust lawsuits against the NBA. As well, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar “embodied the complexity of African American politics in the post-civil rights era” and toured Africa, changed his birth name to a Muslim name, and spoke out against sports media’s derogatory depiction of Black players. Runstedtler’s superior storytelling, buoyed by expert research, casts a new light on the league’s complex history. This savvy reappraisal of the NBA’s tumultuous evolution soars. Agent: Deirdre Mullane, Mullane Literary. (Mar.)

Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond the Clock

Jenny Odell. Random House, $28.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-593-24270-4
Odell follows up How to Do Nothing with an electric call to reject the quantitative view of time in favor of a more expansive, less linear understanding that fosters interpersonal connection and social and ecological justice. Arguing that “an overemphasis on fungible time upholds an impoverished view of what time and labor are,” Odell finds the historical origins of this perspective in the Protestant work ethic and scientific time management principles promoted at the turn of the 20th century, which have evolved into technologies intended to speed up and surveil workers. She criticizes market-based and individualist solutions to the shared problem of limited time, arguing that collective, policy-based approaches are needed to target structural injustices that fuel burnout and disempowerment. Instead of “hoarding” time, Odell advises, one should “garden” it by creating relationships of mutual aid and understanding and fostering meaningful connections and experiences. Heady sections on “recover[ing] the contingencies of the past and the present” are interleaved with lyrical observations about natural and man-made environments in San Francisco’s Bay Area. Throughout, Odell encourages readers to resist “declinism,” which forecloses action by taking a terrible future for granted, and fully inhabit the present as the moment between past and future where change can happen. This is a moving and provocative game changer. Agent: Caroline Eisenmann, Frances Goldin Literary. (Mar.)

The Big Con: How the Consulting Industry Weakens Our Business, Infantilizes Our Governments, and Warps Our Economies

Mariana Mazzucato and Rosie Collington. Penguin Press, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-49267-3
Multinational consultancies, including McKinsey & Co., Boston Consulting Group, and PwC, have co-opted government operations to suit their own business models, according to this immersive and exhaustive study by economists Mazzucato (Mission Economy) and Collington. Noting that the neoliberal “Third Way” embraced by leaders including Bill Clinton and Tony Blair held that governments should “steer more, row less,” Mazzucato and Collington show how public services came to be outsourced to private firms. Consultants and contractors won governments’ confidence by placing experienced public sector veterans in management roles and recruiting eager Ivy League grads to do the legwork. Dazzling PowerPoint presentations and quasi-academic in-house studies enhanced consulting firms’ credibility, despite such failures as the disastrous launch of the Affordable Care Act’s enrollment website, HealthCare.gov. Even more disturbing are studies suggesting that consultancies are actively working against the public interest by simultaneously serving fossil fuel companies while advising governments and corporations on their climate change policies. Among other direct and persuasive solutions, the authors suggest the enhancement of conflict of interest disclosure requirements and empowering public sector organizations “to take risks.” Doggedly researched and elegantly written, this is a fascinating entry point into a critical yet underreported issue. (Mar.)

In Memoriam

Alice Winn. Knopf, $29 (400p) ISBN 978-0-593-53456-4
Winn’s superb debut chronicles a romance between two English boarding school classmates during WWI. Sidney “Elly” Ellwood is in love with Henry Gaunt, but fears his desires are unrequited; the other feels the same, but neither know it. After Henry enlists in the Army, Elly signs up, but their reunion in Flanders is muted and Henry hardly speaks to Elly. Eventually they have a sexual encounter, but Elly wonders what it means for Henry, and whether it’s more than a “convenient addition to their friendship.” Meanwhile, both men grapple with the realities of war, which Winn vividly renders with descriptions of the wounded (blood clings to a soldier’s hair and eyelashes before “dribbling down his chin”) and the “constant indignities [that] clotted the mind,” such as food covered in flies. After one of the lovers goes off to battle and doesn’t return, the other is left to assume the worst. Amid the chaos, Winn stages excellent action scenes: a tense scouting mission, as well as a tunnel-digging episode involving an escape from a German POW camp. The hunger the men feel, as well as their shell shock, is palpable, but it is the men’s love for each other that resonates. This is a remarkable achievement. Agent: Anna Stein, Curtis Brown. (Mar.)

The Foxglove King

Hannah Whitten. Orbit, $29 (480p) ISBN 978-0-316-43499-7
This stunning fantasy from Whitten (For the Wolf) opens 500 years after Godsfall, when death goddess Nyxara died and all other gods followed, leaving Apollius, god of life, as the singular deity worshipped in Auverraine. The city of Dellaire sits atop Nyxara’s corpse, and a force known as Mortem, “the essence of death, the power born of entropy,” seeps from her body into the city. Those who have had near-death experiences can sense and channel this power, leading people to use poison like a drug to get close enough to death that they too can experience Mortem. Dellaire local Lore, 23, can’t quite remember the first 13 years of her life. All she knows is that she has the ability to channel Mortem, a power she puts to use spying for her adoptive poison-runner mothers. When a job goes wrong, Lore is caught and brought before Priest Exalted Anton Arceneaux and the Sainted King August Arceneaux, who give her a choice: die, or spy on the Sun Prince Bastian to find out why entire towns have been dying off. This task puts Lore in the orbit of both Bastian and Presque Mort Gabriel, both of whom feel oddly familiar. Romance is less central to this outing than in Whitten’s previous works, but there are still plenty of swoony moments to please fans. Meanwhile the fascinating magic system and ever-present danger keep the pages flying. Readers won’t want to miss this. Agent: Whitney Ross, Irene Goodman Literary. (Mar.)

The God of Endings

Jacqueline Holland. Flatiron, $29.99 (480p) ISBN 978-1-250-85676-0
Holland debuts with a reflective and poetic take on the nature of immortality. Ana, a young girl in the 1830s, watches her family and the rest of her village succumb to tuberculosis without knowing what’s happening. Before the disease can take her, too, an older gentleman claiming to be her grandfather arrives to whisk her away. At the moment of her death, he decides her life is worth saving and changes her into a vampire like himself. Ana slowly learns to survive in this new form—and watches everyone around her die in the process. A century-and-a-half later, Ana has taken the new name of Collette and travels to her grandfather’s country estate at his request, as he’s in need of a caretaker. She’s happy enough running a preschool for the rich out of the mansion until her hunger grows suddenly insatiable and nightmares from her past reappear. Holland’s refreshing vampires lean philosophical as they struggle with immense grief and loneliness. The intrinsic magic of her worldbuilding, meanwhile, creates a consistent feeling of mystery. The result will especially wow fans of Katherine Arden and Sophie Anderson. Agent: Jennifer Gates, Aevitas. (Mar.)

The Curator

Owen King. Scribner, $28.99 (480p) ISBN 978-1-982196-80-6
King (Double Feature) expands his 2014 short story of the same name with arresting results in this Victorian-esque fantasy that contains moments of both horror and humor. The offbeat tone is evident from the outset, as the novel’s setting, a city nicknamed “the Fairest,” is described as jutting “from the body of the country like a hangnail from a thumb.” The Fairest is in turmoil following a popular revolt, sparked, in part, by the callous shooting of a businessman by a government minister. In the wake of the government’s collapse, Dora, a former servant, seeks to understand the meaning of her beloved brother’s cryptic last words before he’d died of cholera: “Yes. I see you. Your... face.” To that end, she obtains a position in an occult research hub, The Museum of Psykical Research, with the aid of her lover, Robert Barnes, an officer in the rebels’ civil defense force. Her increasingly desperate efforts to ascertain what her brother meant play out against the ongoing upheavals. King’s creative worldbuilding is admirable and he makes even walk-on characters feel fully realized. Fans of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell will be especially enchanted. (Mar.)

Tina, Mafia Soldier

Maria Rosa Cutrufelli, trans. from the Italian by Robin Pickering-Iazzi. Soho Crime, $24.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-64129-424-9
The life of Tina Cannizzaro, the protagonist of this outstanding Italian noir from journalist and cultural critic Cutrufelli, takes a traumatic turn after she witnesses at age eight the assassination of her mafioso father in 1980s Sicily. By the time she’s a teenager, she has acquired the nickname ’a masculidda (or tomboy) and gained notoriety as the leader of a street gang of teenage boys. Secretly, however, Tina harbors the ambition to be more than just a petty gangster and to earn respect as a full member of Cosa Nostra. Such ambitions come at a price, however, and she ends up in deadly conflict with the mafia clans themselves. Much of Tina’s career is related through the lens of a writer trying to locate her for the subject of a book, and it’s the eventual meeting of the two that brings Tina’s story to its powerful climax. The fully developed characters complement the richly portrayed Sicilian setting, and a lengthy translator’s note provides useful background on the novel’s time and place. Readers interested in strong female characters won’t want to miss this tour de force. (Mar.)