Essays & Memoir
These five collections and confessionals are all bookseller recommended (and PW approved).
Geoffroy Delorme, trans. from the French by Shaun Whiteside (Greystone) $26.95
Recommended by Sylla McClellan, owner, Third Street Books, McMinnville, Ore.
Delorme creates a family of sorts with the wild deer in France’s Forêt de Bord where he decides to live. He makes keen observations of the surrounding wildlife—and himself, as he develops survival skills that are both physical and mental.
“Nature lovers will delight in these candid reflections.” —PW
Isaac Fitzgerald (Bloomsbury) $27
Recommended by Kristen Sandstrom, manager, Apostle Islands Booksellers, Bayfield, Wis.
While this is an emotionally challenging book at times, it’s entirely relatable for many Gen Xers. Fitzgerald’s memoir, about growing up at the end of the 20th century with a complex family in an even more complex society, raises questions of faith and survival through a variety of stories that will make readers cry, but smile (or even laugh a little).
“A marvelous coming-of-age story that’s as wily and raunchy as it is heartfelt.” —PW
Diary of a Misfit
Casey Parks (Knopf) $29
Recommended by Sally McPherson, co-owner, Broadway Books, Portland, Ore.
This is a brilliant work of reporting and memoir, beautifully stitched. From the very first page I was hooked by the author’s exquisite writing and powerful storytelling as she explores her queer identity, her Southern identity, and her family identity, and how all the pieces fit together—or don’t—while she attempts to unravel the mystery of the cross-dressing country singer from her grandmother’s youth.
“Parks’s writing is a marvel to witness.” —PW
Ross Gay (Algonquin) $27
Recommended by Fawzy Taylor, social media and marketing manager, A Room of One’s Own Bookstore, Madison, Wis.
Lyrical, playful, sincere, perennially uplifting, Gay’s pedagogy of joy is a balm. This book is the book you need at the end of the day, at the end of the week, to put some brightness back into your spirit.
“Poet Gay examines in this stunning collection how joy deepens when accompanied by grief, fear, and loss.” —PW
It Came from the Closet
Edited by Joe Vallese (Feminist Press) $25.95
Recommended by Audrey Kohler, senior bookseller, BookWoman, Austin, Tex.
From Child’s Play to Sleepaway Camp, queer people like myself have always found themselves reflected in horror movies: not as the helpless victims or final girls but as the monsters. In a society that often demonizes queerness, what are we to do but relate to the demons? This collection is a humorous, horrifying, gut-punch look at the horror movies we all know and love.
“Queer writers recall the horror films that touched their lives in this stellar anthology.” —PW
Food & Drink
Recipe collections served up with a nourishing side of culinary recollection are sure to satisfy.
Paul Hollywood (Bloomsbury) $40
In this nostalgic paean to his baking career, Great British Baking Show judge Hollywood offers up a delectable jaunt through his favorite classic British and American bakes. While the book is loaded with easy-to-follow recipes for a raft of familiar treats, Hollywood’s “real passion,” bread baking, is where his collection shines. Between the step-by-step photos and no-nonsense advice, fans will eat this up.
Elle Simone Scott (America’s Test Kitchen) $30
Who doesn’t love a charcuterie board, with or sans cured meat? Scott walks readers through the basics of what she calls an “interactive and low-key yet elegant way of presenting food,” and sets out informal rules emphasizing the importance of having a unifying theme and a focal point. Unexpected options—a stellar breakfast taco spread, a martini board, a hearty Oktoberfest platter—shine, and sweets are also given their due in this instant classic.
Cook as You Are
Ruby Tandoh (Knopf) $35
Tandoh organizes more than 100 multi-ethnic recipes under six chapter headings that emphasize inclinations rather than ingredients: home cooks can turn to “Feed Me Now” when they need “dinner, plain and simple.” “Hidden in Plain Sight” dishes make “great use of kitchen staples,” while the “Food for
the Love of It” section offers “recipes to linger over.” Sinae Park’s illustrations
of people cooking and eating together amplify Tandoh’s warm, inclusive tone.
The Herbivorous Butcher
Aubry and Kale Walch (Chronicle) $29.95
The sibling co-owners of the eponymous “mock meat” shop offer an array of creative plant-based alternatives to meat that aren’t commercially processed. Of special note are the beef and chicken broth concentrates that lean on ingredients such as soy sauce, nutritional yeast, and herbs, and a garlicky chili oil that promises to enhance “just about everything it is eaten with.” There’s nothing fake about the flavor or enthusiasm behind this marvelous endeavor.
My First Popsicle
Edited by Zosia Mamet (Penguin Books) $26
In this nourishing collection, Girls star Mamet gathers food stories from an A-list cast of actors, comedians, musicians, and other celebrities. Each is accompanied by a recipe, such as for Rosie Perez’s tia’s pollo guisado (Perez defends store-bought Sazón seasoning) or the “Poor Man’s Cake” that Patti Smith’s mother made when the family ran out of eggs. There’s a cozy vibe, like a church supper cookbook (with famous congregants).
Raising the Bar
Brett Adams and Jacob Grier (Chronicle) $24.95
Lemons, limes, and simple syrup are in; esoteric fruits and obscure bitters are out, in this snappy guide to stocking up on essential liquors and liqueurs for
do-it-yourself bars. Grier and Adams keep the spirit selection and recipes uncomplicated and attainable, kicking things off with a bottle of bourbon, an old-fashioned, and building from there. There’s plenty here for experienced drink makers, too, including many
recipes showing off obscure historical roots and intriguing flavor profiles.
Turkey and the Wolf
Mason Hereford, with JJ Goode (Ten Speed) $30
Southern food gets a kick in the pants in this exuberant collection of high/low recipes. Sandwiches are the stars of the show (with plenty of butter and Duke’s mayo), and Hereford maintains a no-BS approach throughout, with advice to buy hash-brown patties from a fast-food joint for his McCaviar bites (topped with anchovy crème fraîche and fish roe) and to load up on store-bought ingredients. This is perfect for anyone ready to check their pretensions and get a little messy.
J. Kenji López-Alt (Norton) $50
The author of The Food Lab brilliantly explores the intricacies of wok culture in this definitive offering. While the more than 200 recipes are nothing to scoff at—and step-by-step photos make easy work of more complicated tasks, such as making ultrathin Mandarin pancakes two at a time—what makes this a stunner is the extensive coverage of cooking techniques and culinary history. Bonus: López-Alt’s conversational prose never fails to entertain.
Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (30th anniversary ed.)
Marcella Hazan (Knopf) $40
When this volume, which unites two earlier Hazan titles, first pubbed in 1992, PW’s starred review called it “the perfect gift for a new homemaker, a seasoned chef and all lovers of good food.” Three decades later, quaint review language aside, we couldn’t agree more. The anniversary edition features a new, unjacketed cover, a refreshed interior, and new forewords by Lidia Bastianich and Victor Hazan, the late Marcella’s husband of nearly 60 years.
Studies of presidents, trailblazers, and one very important body part act as windows into the past.
Kevin Hazzard (Hachette) $30
A journalist and former paramedic paints a riveting portrait of Freedom House EMS, a pioneering group of Black paramedics in 1970s Pittsburgh, contextualizing the group’s achievements within the contentious racial climate and archaic medical practices of the era. It’s a new entry in the burgeoning subgenre of forgotten-hero stories as well as a timely appreciation of essential workers.
And There Was Light
Jon Meacham (Random House) $40
Biographies of Abraham Lincoln abound, but this nuanced and captivating look at the 16th U.S. president by Pulitzer winner and frequent bestseller Meacham more than justifies another, ably drawing parallels between the challenges Lincoln faced in governing a divided country and the current political moment.
Jonathan Darman (Random House) $32
In this insightful portrait, journalist Darman demonstrates how Franklin Roosevelt’s agonizing bout with polio transformed him from a charming, callow, selfish politician into the man many remember him as today—a leader with patience, discipline, thoughtfulness, strategic vision, and a genuine empathy for the disadvantaged.
Heather Radke (Avid Reader) $28.99
Don’t let the cheeky cover fool you: this whip-smart history charts the changing symbolism and meanings associated with the female bottom in “mainstream, hegemonic, Western culture” over the past two centuries. Marked by Radiolab reporter Radke’s vivacious writing, candid self-reflections, and sophisticated cultural analyses, this essential study tracks the waxing and waning of the female posterior.
Civil Rights Queen
Tomiko Brown-Nagin (Pantheon) $30
Brown-Nagin’s riveting account shines a well-deserved—and long overdue—spotlight on a remarkable trailblazer: Constance Baker Motley (1921–2005), who, among numerous other firsts, was the first Black woman appointed to the federal judiciary. The author balances the details of Motley’s professional and personal life with lucid legal analysis, including her integral role in arguing Brown v. Board of Education and other landmark civil rights cases before the Supreme Court.
Jeremiah Moss (Norton) $27.95
Moss reflects on how life in New York City changed when the “New People” (“young and funded... as bland as skim milk and unsalted Saltines”) fled during the Covid-19 pandemic. Even as he reckoned with fear and isolation, “the weird magic of pandemic time” allowed Moss to rediscover the “subterranean feeling” he used to experience in New York and to meet the “radicals, skateboarders, artists, and eccentrics” who stayed behind.
Index, A History of the
Dennis Duncan (Norton) $30
Mixing humor and scholarship to brilliant effect (“the book index: killing off experimental curiosity since the seventeenth century”), Duncan makes a persuasive argument that it’s natural for reading methods and text technology to evolve so that information is easier to find. Think of an index, he suggests in this enlightening and entertaining survey, as a precursor to the Google search.
Last Call at the Hotel Imperial
Deborah Cohen (Random House) $30
Cohen depicts the tight-knit coterie of American journalists who reported from the world’s hot spots from the 1920s through the 1940s. She follows H.R. Knickerbocker, Vincent “Jimmy” Sheean, Dorothy Thompson, John Gunther, and his wife, Frances, as they covered the fall of empires, the spread of communism, and the rise of fascism, striking a masterful balance between the personal and the political.
The Mosquito Bowl
Buzz Bissinger (Harper) $32.50
The Pulitzer-winning journalist and author of Friday Night Lights effortlessly combines sports and military history in this gritty account of a football game played by U.S. Marines on Guadalcanal in December 1944. The book excels in its sweeping yet fine-grained portraits of how these Marines got to the Solomon Islands and in the harrowing descriptions of Pacific Theater combat, including the bloody fight for Sugar Loaf Hill on Okinawa.
The Revolutionary Samuel Adams
Stacy Schiff (Little Brown) $35
Beer drinkers know founding father Sam Adams as a brewer and a patriot; Pulitzer winner Schiff emphasizes a man of action who “muscled words into deeds” in the cause of American independence. Retracing Adams’s early years in Boston and his political awakening, Schiff vividly recounts major events in the lead-up to the Revolutionary War, making for a fast-paced and enlightening account.
River of the Gods
Candice Millard (Doubleday) $32.50
In 1854, the Royal Geographical Society tapped Richard Francis Burton to lead an expedition to locate the source of the White Nile. Millard keeps a steady eye on the racial power dynamics involved in this imperialist endeavor and illuminates key figures—Burton; Lt. John Hanning Speke, a British aristocrat; and Sidi Mubarak Bombay, a formerly enslaved East African—while delivering a lushly detailed adventure story.
Two Wheels Good
Jody Rosen (Crown) $28.99
Through witty prose and vivid anecdotes, such as how the design of the bicycle led the Wright brothers to invent the airplane, Rosen makes clear how impactful the bike has been for humankind. He brings a contagious enthusiasm to her subject, showing why “in a world of bum deals, a bicycle offers an excellent return on investment.”
Readers & Writers
Books for book nerds: these biographies, memoirs, essays, and critiques examine the writing and reading life.
The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym
Paula Byrne (William Collins) $34.99
Byrne weaves together the correspondence, diaries, and notebooks of British author Barbara Pym for this insightful biography, recounting Pym’s transformative years at Oxford’s St. Hilda’s College in the 1930s, her “flirtations with Nazism” during WWII, and her struggle to maintain literary relevancy after being dropped by her publisher. Byrne’s attentive, lively biography puts a well-deserved spotlight on a brilliant but underrated writer.
The Great Tales Never End
Edited by Richard Ovenden and Catherine McIlwaine (Bodleian Library) $65
This meticulous anthology delves into the work of J.R.R. Tolkien’s son Christopher, who played a major part in his father’s literary legacy. Essays explore how, for example, Christopher wrote original passages to give context to incomprehensible narratives, and offer juicy nuggets for any Tolkien fan, such as a script for a now-lost radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings that J.R.R. was consulted on (and disliked).
How to Read Now
Elaine Castillo (Viking) $26
Novelist Castillo argues in this brilliant and passionate collection that the publishing industry is designed to suit white readers and that changing the way one reads can change the way one sees the world. In essays brimming with firebrand style and generous humor, she critiques white authors who appropriate narratives of oppression and center white protagonists in settings where they are outsiders. This is a dynamic and necessary look at the state of storytelling.
In the Margins
Elena Ferrante, trans. from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Europa) $21.95
Four essays illuminate the mind of the Neapolitan novels author, recounting how her childhood and adolescence shaped her stories of love, deception, and betrayal. She also discusses the struggles of women writers and acknowledges the act of writing as building on the works of those who came before, counting Emily Dickinson and Gertrude Stein among her influences. Brimming with beautiful prose, this will dazzle Ferrante’s many fans.
Emma Smith (Knopf) $28
Shakespeare scholar Smith writes a witty and provocative history of books as objects, focusing on “the impact of touch, smell, and hearing, on the experience of books.” She uses Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring as a case study into the process by which a book becomes a classic—the paperback, she notes, brought the environmental manifesto to the masses, while the “handsome” hardcover 40th anniversary edition confirmed it as one designed to last.
Azar Nafisi (Dey Street) $26.99
Written as a series of letters to her late father, these stunning reflections find Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, grappling with the power of literature to counter oppression. Drawing on sources including Margaret Atwood, Ray Bradbury, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Zora Neale Hurston, she delves into topics such as the role of common people in bringing about totalitarianism, coping with rage at racial injustice, and the discomfort involved in seeking truth.
Too Much of Life
Clarice Lispector, trans. from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson (New Directions) $29
These crônicas, or short essays and anecdotes, chronicle a decade of the late Brazilian writer’s thoughtful musings. They include casual meditations on the mundane, philosophical insight on identity, death, and spirituality, and thoughts on writing itself as a form of remembrance. The prose shifts smoothly from poetic and serious to comedic and playful, resulting in a collection that will delight Lispector fans.
Translating Myself and Others
Jhumpa Lahiri (Princeton Univ.) $21.95
Pulitzer winner Lahiri explores her relationship with literature and the English and Italian languages in this exhilarating collection. Comparing her desire to learn Italian with breeding a new type of plant through grafting (“A foreigner who arrives from abroad, who learns a new language, who works to contribute to a new society, who integrates herself: this person embodies the word graft”), she delves into the “radical, painful, and miraculous transformation” of translation.
Science & Nature
Popular science books appeal to animal lovers, stargazers, and the environmentally aware.
The Bald Eagle
Jack E. Davis (Liveright) $29.95
Pulitzer winner Davis blends natural, political, and cultural histories in a sweeping profile of America’s unofficial symbolic bird, delving into its near extinction due to hunting and pollution and its eventual conservation. He offers a wealth of surprising information and demolishes popular misconceptions—the turkey was not, in fact, a candidate for the U.S. national bird—while discussing the eagle as a symbol of courage and fidelity. This vivid history absolutely soars.
Lucy Cooke (Basic) $30
Cooke’s zippy survey on females of the animal kingdom and the scientists that study them details how research on female animals was woefully inadequate until the past few decades, when scientists began to challenge the paradigm of female passivity and male agency. She highlights animals who defy stereotypes—female spotted hyenas, who dominate males; the “matriarchal and peaceful” society of the bonobo—striking the right balance between informative and entertaining.
The High Sierra
Kim Stanley Robinson (Little, Brown) $40
Blending memoir, history, and science, Robinson, whose much-lauded science fiction addresses environmental issues and climate change, composes a captivating love letter to the Sierra Mountains. He weaves stories of his decades of treks through the Sierras with meditations on what he terms psychogeology, the impact of geology on the mind, as well as chapters on “Sierra people,” notables from the region. This pulsates with humor, heart, and a deep connection with the natural world.
The Last Days of the Dinosaurs
Riley Black (St. Martin’s) $28.99
Black recreates the day when an asteroid hurtled into Earth and wiped out about 75% of living species, exploring how the creatures living in the Montana and Dakota regions experienced the impact and subsequent days, months, and years. She avoids the
pitfall of over-dramatizing, instead bringing the global disaster to life in elegant prose imagining the actions of a young male Edmontosaurus, an 18-foot-long herbivore, as well as a 25-foot-long armored Ankylosaurus as the world around them changes.
The Milky Way
Moiya McTier (Grand Central) $27
Told from the galaxy’s point of view, this splendid book details the Milky Way’s inner workings. Astro-
physicist and folklorist McTier discusses the origins of our universe, how it might end, and pivotal leaders in the history of space science,
all through the delightfully dignified, funny, and often moving voice of the Milky Way, which remains gently scornful of human foible: “Your world is no longer set up to appreciate my splendor.”
The Year of the Puppy
Alexandra Horowitz. Viking, $28
Horowitz, head of Barnard College’s Dog Cognition Lab, charts the first year of a puppy’s life in this charming dog behavior explainer. Beginning with the “splodges of fur” whose hearts thump at 220 beats per minute, she tracks the development of their bodies and personalities week by week. Along the way, she examines how humans and dogs coevolved to meet each others’ needs, and peers into the mind of a dog when it goes outside.
Sympathetic voices and food for thought are less about self-improvement and more about self-knowledge.
Ella Frances Sanders (Penguin Life) $20
Sanders advocates finding the sublime in the ordinary and underscores her insights with her impressionistic illustrations, which include depictions of a family friend’s rabbit, a moldy lemon, and a recycling bin. She decries the commercialization of beauty and entreats readers to find “small pins of light” even in tragedy. Her charmingly stylized artwork prioritizes mood over realism and successfully evokes the wonder in the banal, resulting in a winsome and whimsical reconsideration of the mundane.
Cassie Holmes (Gallery) $28.99
“How can each of us make the absolute most of the time we have?” asks social psychologist Holmes. Adapting her UCLA business school course, Holmes pulls from behavioral economics, marketing, and psychology research to offer wisdom on how to optimize one’s time “to live a better, happier, and more fulfilling life.” The extensive surveys and studies cited lend Holmes’s contentions an intellectual heft, and her presentation remains accessible and remarkably unstuffy throughout.
How to Be Weird
Eric G. Wilson (Penguin Books) $17
In this offbeat guide to embracing eccentricity, Wilson provides 99 activities that aim to foster creativity and wonderment at everyday life, encouraging readers to “spend a day as a termite,” “carve soap,” and “review books that do not exist.” The array of ideas range in level of practicality (making ink requires more ingredients than determining “if you are asleep or awake”), but Wilson doesn’t skimp on the strangeness and delivers a self-help guide defiantly unlike any other.
The Light We Carry
Michelle Obama (Crown) $32.50
Obama’s follow-up to her megaselling memoir, Becoming, dispenses strategies for staying positive despite life’s challenges. She explores a series of questions—How do we build enduring and honest relationships? How can we discover strength and community inside our differences? What tools do we use to address feelings of self-doubt or helplessness? What do we do when it all starts to feel like too much?—mining personal experience for potential answers.
The Things We Love
Aaron Ahuvia (Little, Brown Spark) $29
Drawing on scientific studies and lessons from marketing experts, the author, a marketing professor at the University of Michigan–Dearborn, examines what leads people to “love” objects and hobbies. He suggests that affection for loved ones can rub off on items associated with their memory, and that people “value things a lot more when they have helped design or build them.” Ahuvia’s conversational tone makes the bounty of research findings entertaining and easily digestible.
This Is Not a Book About Benedict Cumberbatch
Tabitha Carvan (Putnam) $17
A surprise midlife obsession with British actor Benedict Cumberbatch provides the occasion for musings on passion, aging, and identity. Carvan details her investigation into her infatuation, including how her ardor revealed to her the toll that midlife had taken on her sense of self. Her self-aware approach wrings the absurdity out of her story to hilarious effect while touching on the realities of motherhood and fandom. This account of self-discovery brims with humor and insight.
Welcome to the Grief Club
Janine Kwoh (Workman) $15.95
The holidays can be tough for those who’ve experienced loss, and this illustrated volume by Kwoh, a designer and letterpress printer whose partner died when they were both in their late 20s, offers understanding, commiseration, and validation that feels simultaneously specific and universal. Ultimately, she writes, “This is a book about how humor and joy inevitably fight their way to the surface in the bleakest of times, and how they help us to survive.”
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Two Wheels Good author Jody Rosen as "she."