Should you be in need of fresh spring reading, look no further: five lovely novels, and one very thick (but worth the weight!) biography, all newly published in paperback.
“Tom Stoppard: A Life”
by Hermione Lee (Vintage, $20).
If you’re a fan of British writer Lee’s particular brand of dense, richly analytical biography (I devoured, more than once, her biographies of Virginia Woolf and Edith Wharton, and her more recent biography of Penelope Fitzgerald was widely acclaimed), here’s her latest: a portrait of the Czech-born British playwright who knew, seemingly, everything and everybody. New York Times critic Dwight Garner called it an “astute and authoritative” biography, in which Lee surveys Stoppard’s “enormous life” and “wrestles it all onto the page. At times you sense she is chasing a fox through a forest.”
“The Committed: A Novel”
by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Paperback, $18)
The sequel to Nguyen’s 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Sympathizer” follows its unnamed Vietnamese spy-turned-agent to 1980s Paris. “Just as ‘The Sympathizer’ transformed the hulk of an old spy novel, ‘The Committed’ does the same with a tale of noir crime,” wrote Ron Charles in The Washington Post. Calling the sequel “even brainier,” he warns, “If you haven’t read ‘The Sympathizer,’ you’ll be hopelessly lost, so don’t even think of jumping in here. The setting and action of this second book are different, but ‘The Committed’ is so dependent on earlier relationships and plot details that these two novels are more like volumes of the same continuing story.”
“Great Circle: A Novel”
by Maggie Shipstead (Vintage, $18).
Shipstead’s novel, a Booker Prize finalist, weaves a dual story around a fictional aviator named Marian Graves, whose plane disappears in the 1950s during an attempt to fly around the world solo, and a contemporary Hollywood ingénue trying to make a story of Marian’s life. “The plot of ‘Great Circle’ is intricate and rich, humming like the Merlin engine of the Spitfire Marian will eventually fly,” wrote Erica Wagner in The Guardian. “It is rare to read a novel that is as beautifully built as it is elegantly written.”
“Good Company: A Novel”
by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney (Ecco, $16.99)
Sweeney, author of the 2016 bestseller “The Nest,” returns with a novel about a longtime marriage that’s rocked when the wife discovers in a drawer the wedding ring that her husband claimed he lost in a lake long ago. It is, wrote Ron Charles in The Washington Post, “a story about the profound joy (and heartache) of family and friends. It’s an affecting reminder that no matter how comfortable and settled things feel, life is always about change — changing places, changing careers and even changing loyalties.”
“The Chosen and the Beautiful”
by Nghi Vo (Tordotcom, $17.99)
This was one of those books I discovered by accident at the library one day last fall and ended up toppling into headfirst. This re-imagining of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” (a novel practically engraved on my heart) told from the point of view of minor character Jordan Baker with elements of magic realism, is beautifully written — an elegant mirror to Fitzgerald’s work, catching its light from another angle. I loved Vo’s portrait of Daisy Buchanan, an ethereal woman whose hands “flutter like trapped songbirds.”
“The Final Revival of Opal and Nev”
by Dawnie Walton (37 Ink, $17.99).
Structured as an oral history stretching over five decades, Walton’s acclaimed debut describes the rise, stardom, breakup and reunion of an iconic interracial rock duo. It’s “like a rockumentary in written form,” wrote Alexandra Jacobs in The New York Times. “Writing about music is tremendously hard. Writing about fictional music is surely even harder — but with artful juxtaposition and Zelig-like placement of made-up characters with real ones (Dick Cavett!), the author has conjured an entire oeuvre of lyrics, licks and liner notes that is backdrop for some of the most pressing political issues of our era, or any era … Like the best fiction, it feels truer and more mesmerizing than some true stories.”