“The Association of Small Bombs,” “Hotels of North America,” “My Name is Lucy Barton” are among books recently released in softcover worth checking out.

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A paperback can make the best possible gift … to ourselves. Here are a dozen good reads, newly out:


Karan Mahajan’sThe Association of Small Bombs” (Penguin, $16), which received numerous honors this year, describes the aftermath of a bombthrowing in India. A reviewer in The New Yorker wrote, “His eagerness to go at the bomb from every angle suggests a voracious approach to fiction-making, a daring imaginative promiscuity that moves beyond the scope of his first, very good novel, “ ‘Family Planning.’ ”

Elizabeth McKenzie’s novel “The Portable Veblen” (Penguin, $16) is just a little love story about a man, a woman and a squirrel. In my Seattle Times review, I described it as “irresistibly comedic,” and noted that the book is “about how very squirrelly family dysfunction can be — and about how, as many of us never get tired of reading, love sometimes can conquer all.”

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Rick Moody’sHotels of North America” (Little, Brown, $15.99), about the travails of a top reviewer on a website called RateYourLodging.com, was described by The New York Times as the author’s “best novel in many years … a little book of irony and wit and heartbreak.”

First published in 1967, Kenzaburo Oe’s “The Silent Cry” (Grove Atlantic, $16) is part of the body of work that won the Japanese writer the 1994 Nobel Prize in literature — and has never been published in paperback before. The Nobel committee wrote that Oe “with poetic force creates an imagined world, where life and myth condense to form a disconcerting picture of the human predicament today.”

Elizabeth Strout, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Olive Kitteridge,” had another best-seller on her hands earlier this year with the mother-daughter novel “My Name Is Lucy Barton” (Random House, $16). In a Seattle Times review, Ellen Emry Heltzel noted that it was a short work, but “a powerful addition to Strout’s body of work.”

Set in Seattle during the 1990 WTO protests, Sunil Yapa’sYour Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist” (Bay Back Books, $15.99), follows a young biracial man through the riots. Misha Berson, in a Seattle Times review, said that Yapa’s “melding of fact and fiction, human frailty and geopolitics, is a genuine tour de force, and an exciting literary debut.”



Carrie Brownstein’s memoir “Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl” (Penguin, $16) traces her upbringing in the Pacific Northwest and her years with the punk band Sleater-Kinney. “It’s impossible not to like Brownstein, at least as she portrays herself here,” wrote Ruth Graham in The Washington Post, describing Brownstein’s voice as “funny, feminist and frank.”

Frederick Forsyth, the master of spy thrillers, published a memoir last year called “The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $18); reading it, a New York Times review says, is delightfully “like finding yourself trapped in a pub with an insistent storyteller.” (One chapter actually begins: “With hindsight, it was probably a mistake to go researching cocaine shipments through Guinea-Bissau, and I certainly never intended to land in the middle of a coup d’état.”)

National Book Award winner James McBride (“The Good Lord Bird”) examines the complex legacy of soul musician James Brown in “Kill ’Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul” (Spiegel & Grau, $17). In a Seattle Times review, Tyrone Beason called the book “a tour de force of cultural reportage.”

Former stand-up comedian Kliph Nesteroff meticulously researched a century of comedy history for “The Comedians” (Grove Press, $18); which follows the art of comedy from vaudeville to the internet, with numerous stops in between. The Washington Post praised Nesteroff’s “encyclopedic knowledge, talent for vivid anecdotes and tireless gusto.”

History buffs will want to check out the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography “Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of New America,” by T.J. Stiles (Vintage Books, $19.95). In a review, The New York Times admired Stiles’ “rare ability to take years of far-ranging research and boil it down until he has a story that is illuminating and, at its best, captivating.”

And Jacqueline Woodson’s National Book Award-winning verse memoir “Brown Girl Dreaming” (Puffin Books, $10.99) is out in paperback with seven new original poems. Veronica Chambers, in The New York Times, predicted it would be, for a generation of girls, “a history lesson, a mash note passed in class, a book to read burrowed underneath the bed covers and a life raft during long car rides when you want to float far from wherever you are, and wherever you’re going, toward the person you feel destined to be.”