Paperback Picks

As the holiday shopping rush begins … maybe buy yourself a paperback? Here are six new ones that caught my eye.

The Paragon Hotel” by Lyndsay Faye (Putnam, $17). I meant to read this historical thriller, set in 1921 Portland, back when it came out at the beginning of the year; it just sounded like great fun. A New York Times reviewer agreed, describing it as a book with a “joyful, righteous, fearless flavor … Faye writes a good puzzle, and more important, she has the dash of a real writer — which is not to say simply a published writer, but a person meant to write, who thinks and jokes and understands by writing.”

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography” by Eric Idle (Crown, $17). “If ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ is as much a cultural touchstone to you as it is to me, [this] book will be indispensable,” wrote Seattle Times reviewer Michael Upchurch about Idle’s quirky memoir, which tells the story — “in a somewhat rushed, one-thing-after-another fashion” — of a life in comedy. Examining the rabid devotion inspired by the comedy troupe Monty Python, of which Idle was a founding member, the author wrote that it came down to something quite simple: “We didn’t know what we were doing, and insisted on doing it.”

Upstream: Selected Essays” by Mary Oliver (Penguin, $17). The beloved, bestselling poet, winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, died early this year; this is her final collection, originally published in 2016 and consisting of essays (many previously published) on topics ranging from nature to literature. A New York Times reviewer called it a “gem of a collection … [offering] a compelling synthesis of the poet’s thoughts on the natural, spiritual and artistic worlds.”

Old in Art School” by Nell Irvin Painter (Counterpoint, $17.95). The aptly named Painter, after retiring from a distinguished academic career at Princeton University, did something unexpected at the age of 64: She went to art school. When I read the book last year, I was struck by the joyousness in its pages; this is an unexpected love story, written with a creative, passionate irreverence — like a painting rendered in words. “Old in Art School” is a vivid lesson in learning not to see ourselves through other’s eyes, and in following dreams.

The Court Dancer” by Kyung-Sook Shin (Pegasus, $15.95). Shin, whose works include “Please Look After Mom,” a New York Times bestseller and the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize winner, here is inspired by the true story of a 19th-century Korean dancer and a French diplomat. The novel “explores themes of exoticism, assimilation and identity” wrote a Washington Post reviewer. “By placing Korean history beside a Western narrative, Shin highlights the disparity between Europe and the more isolated Asian nation. At its core, ‘The Court Dancer’ examines what countries lose in identity in exchange for technological advancement.”

Last Stories” by William Trevor (Penguin, $17). The great Irish writer died in 2016 at the age of 88; this posthumously published collection gathers 10 of his short works. “In this small, final, seemingly quiet but ultimately volcanic book of stories, Trevor denies and defies — maybe spites — the promise of decline,” wrote a reviewer in The New York Times, noting the ageless quality of the author’s work. “[It] is as if he will never run out of plots; plots are everywhere, in the shops, in the streets, in the cafes, at the teller’s counter in the bank, in the city, on the farm; in every human breast.” (For those curious about his longer works, I loved his jewel-like 2009 novel, “Love in Summer.”)