A roundup of popular authors’ newest books, out in time for leisure reading, as well as suggestions from their backlists — usually available in easy-to-carry paperbacks — to help you get caught up.
When it comes to backyard or beach reading, you can take one of two roads. You can go for a favorite author’s latest, usually in hardcover. Or you can revisit what publishing calls the author’s “backlist,” either reading earlier works or rereading ones you truly loved.
Which to do? Why not both? The hardcovers are more current, but the paperbacks are cheaper.
Here are some authors I would love to visit and revisit this summer, either through their most recent book or their splendid backlist. Most of the backlisted books are available in paperback, and if you’re using the library, may be easier to find than the latest “hot” titles.
Here’s my wish list. What’s on yours? Send me your suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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British novelist Atkinson is one of five authors whose books I will take with me if I ever journey to that proverbial desert island. Her new novel, “A God in Ruins” (Little, Brown, $28), is the story of Teddy, a British war veteran making his way through the hard patches of the 20th century. But to fully understand Teddy’s story, go back to Atkinson’s masterly “Life After Life”(Little, Brown, $18). It’s the story of Ursula (Teddy’s sister), a young British girl who is fated to live her life over and over and over again until she gets it right.
Then, for a heady diversion into the detective genre, proceed to Atkinson’s splendid series featuring private detective Jackson Brodie, starting with the first, 2004’s “Case Histories” (several available editions). Stephen King, who knows a thing or two about suspense, called this book “the best mystery of the decade.”
I knew this writer when he was a redheaded, freckle-faced undergraduate at the University of Missouri. Even then, his talent was blindingly obvious. He’s gone on to become one of America’s finest nonfiction authors.
His just-published “Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence” (Penguin Press, $29.95) unpacks the era of the 1960s, when the best and brightest of America’s upper and middle class robbed banks, blew things up and sometimes committed murder in the name of a better world.
For the paperback version of Burrough, try “Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-1934” (Penguin, $18). Burrough’s fascination with the likes of Clyde Barrow, Bonny Parker and John Dillinger (his grandfather manned an Arkansas roadblock thrown up to stop Bonnie and Clyde) enlivened this definitive account of one of America’s great eras of crime.
If you have been enthralled by the current BBC America series “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell,” run out and snag the book of the same name, just published in a paperback TV-tie-in edition (Bloomsbury, $18). This saga of two 19th-century Yorkshire magicians who thoroughly detest one another, but who unite to save England from the French, mixes Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle, with a dark streak of Neil Gaiman in the mix. (Parenthetically, the footnotes in “Jonathan Strange” are worth a separate read — they construct an entire alternate history of the English age of magic, which should have happened, even if it didn’t.)
Meanwhile, if you’ve read “Jonathan Strange” and are waiting for the next Clarke book, try her collection of short fiction, “The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories” (Bloomsbury, $16).
Cleeves, who wrote the books the British TV detective show “Vera” is based on, has another crime series in progress, set in Scotland’s Shetland Islands and featuring Jimmy Perez, the descendant of a Spanish Armada sailor who washed up on the Shetland shore.
The sixth book in the Shetlands series, “Thin Air” (St. Martin’s Press, $25), has just been published. To get Perez’s backstory, read “Raven Black” (Minotaur, $18), first in the series. It introduces Perez as he investigates the death of two girls, separated by years. Perez finds eerie similarities in the murders as the tension mounts throughout the remote, windswept islands.
Fans of Ivan Doig mourning his passing (the Seattle author died in April), will have to wait until August for his last novel, “Last Bus to Wisdom.” In the meantime, revisit one of his previous novels. My favorite might be the autobiographical “The Whistling Season”(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $14.99), which draws heavily from Doig’s childhood in its portrait of a schoolteacher on Montana’s high plains, who shapes the life of a young boy for the better. Doig’s novel “Prairie Nocturne” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $19.99) is an imaginative leap — it’s about an African-American chauffeur to a wealthy Montana rancher who becomes an opera star.
Speaking of Neil Gaiman (he’s friends with Susanna Clarke), I can’t think of better summer-read material than a book by this spooky, imaginative and astute author.
Gaiman has a new book out, “Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances” (Morrow, $26.99). But if you want a lengthier appointment with Gaiman, try “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” (Morrow, $14.99), an adult fairy tale about a British man who returns to his childhood home in Suffolk to revisit one very odd event.
For a deep dive into fantasy go for Gaiman’s “American Gods,” the story of a scarecrow band of ancient deities (Scandinavian, Egyptian, you name it), banished to America, who are trying to save mankind from the forces of soulless modernity. The 2011 10th anniversary edition, with the “author’s preferred text” and including an additional 12,000 words, is available from Morrow ($17.99).
The world awaits the publication of Harper Lee’s sequel to “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Go Set a Watchman” (Harper, $27.99), available at booksellers Tuesday, July 14. Of course, you need to revisit your dog-eared copy of the original book (many editions available).
Lee, a master biographer, did herself proud last year with her biography of the late-blooming British writer Penelope Fitzgerald — “Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life” (Knopf, $35). From her backlist, check out her biography of another fabulous writer who surmounted a troubled personal life — “Edith Wharton”(Vintage, $24).
The imagination of British novelist David Mitchell seems to range further afield with every new book. Mitchell has a new novel, “Slade House,” out this fall. But his phantasmagoric novel “The Bone Clocks” has just been released in paperback (Random House, $18). It’s about a young English girl who gets caught in a titanic battle between two groups of metaphysically inclined superhumans.
Irish novelist Tóíbín’s novels always leave me feeling privileged to see the world through the eyes of this sophisticated, compassionate man. His eighth novel, “Nora Webster” (Simon and Schuster, $16), just out in paperback, is about an Irish widow trying to recover from her husband’s untimely death. It’s full of wit, empathy and the author’s uncanny feel for family dynamics.
My favorite Tóibín work is “The Master”(Scribner, $16), his novel based on the life of writer Henry James, a brilliant loner whose hyperawareness of human nature could not crack the shell of his emotional isolation.