A little bit of everything for late-summer paperback reading: novels, short stories, book-length journalism and two splendid biographies.
“Arthur Ashe: A Life” by Raymond Arsenault (Simon & Schuster, $20). Arsenault, the historian author of “Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice,” examines the too-brief life of tennis great Ashe, a champion player who also embraced social activism. “Arsenault moves seamlessly between sports and social history, marking time with tennis competitions and civil-rights milestones,” wrote Seattle Times reviewer David Takami. “The juxtaposition of the genteel game of tennis played on country-club grass and the turmoil of sit-ins, marches and the brute violence of current events is striking if, at times, surreal.”
“He” by John Connolly (Quercus, $16.99). If you liked the movie “Stan & Ollie,” this melancholy book might be just the thing: a deeply researched historical novel about the life and work of Stan Laurel, of the duo Laurel & Hardy. “Connolly’s staccato prose leans on short sentences and chapters … that at their best evoke the style of Samuel Beckett, an admirer of Laurel and Hardy,” wrote a New York Times reviewer. “The novel nicely brings Laurel down to earth, zeroing in on mundane concerns like salary, petty professional jealousies and challenges of the end of the silent era that you may not have considered, like the fact that film crews were suddenly told to be quiet on set. How were comics now supposed to know what was funny?”
“How Are You Going to Save Yourself” by JM Holmes (Little, Brown, $15.99). Holmes, an Iowa Writers Workshop graduate and Pushcart Prize winner, made a splash with his first book, which “asks questions about race and sex, about families and about what happens to us when communications break down,” wrote a reviewer for NPR, calling it “ a shockingly powerful debut collection from a writer whose talent seems almost limitless … It’s hard to overstate what an incredible writer Holmes is. He has a real gift for phrasing — one character is described as ‘a world-class instigator, could turn peanut butter against jelly.’”
“Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America” by Beth Macy (Little, Brown, $17.99). “A Roanoke-based reporter, Macy had a front-row seat for the pain pill epidemic’s march through rural and small-town western Virginia, moving south to north on a path roughly parallel to U.S. Highway 81,” wrote a Washington Post reviewer of Macy’s bestselling work of investigative journalism. “This exhaustively reported book includes many heartbreaking examples of young lives lost to drugs, sometimes so suddenly that parents had been unaware of the problem, sometimes after repeated efforts to help a child get clean in rehabilitation facilities or treatment programs. Although Macy’s stories are set in Virginia, they could happen anywhere in the United States.”
“The Lost Vintage” by Ann Mah (HarperCollins, $16.99). Should you be in need of a sun-drenched novel in these waning days of August, consider this one from Mah, a food and travel writer (“Mastering the Art of French Eating”). It sounds like a movie already: A wine expert travels to her family’s ancestral estate in Burgundy to study up for her Master of Wine exam, but instead finds there a lost diary and a long-held secret. Last summer, The Hollywood Reporter called the hardcover edition “this season’s essential female-centered adventure.”
“Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life” by Laura Thompson (Pegasus Books, $19.95). I devoured this thick biography on a plane ride last fall; Thompson, author of “The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters,” knows her territory well and brings delicious suspense to Christie’s life story, particularly her curious disappearance for 11 days in 1926, at the height of her fame. When finished, all I wanted to do was read some Agatha Christie novels — the ultimate compliment to a biographer.