Among this week's half-dozen Paperback Picks are works by a pioneering African-American playwright, filmmaker, activist, film editor and educator; a noir thriller set in 1918 New Orleans; and more.
We’re in the peak of winter-weather reading; here are six new-in-paperback options that might inspire some extended armchair hours.
“The Immortalists” by Chloe Benjamin (Penguin, $16). I was thoroughly beguiled by Benjamin’s second novel (her first was “The Anatomy of Dreams”) when I read it last fall. A saga of four siblings pondering their own mortality across decades, it has moments as taut as a thriller, where time disappears as you turn pages; and passages of quiet compassion, as the characters reflect on the bonds of siblinghood, on the idea of home, on how those we have lost can still manage — miraculously and mysteriously — to stay with us, in ways that we can’t always explain.
“Notes from a Black Woman’s Diary: Selected Works of Kathleen Collins,” by Kathleen Collins (Ecco, $17.99). Collins was a pioneering playwright, filmmaker, activist, film editor and educator; her 1982 film “Losing Ground” was among the first features made by an African-American woman. She died young in 1988, at 46, but has recently experienced a revival: Collins’ short-fiction collection “Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?” was published in 2016, including stories that were “so sensitive and sharp and political and sexy I suspect they will be widely anthologized,” wrote a New York Times critic. This collection includes diary entries, screenplays, scripts and fiction; a portrait of an artist lost too soon.
“The Sparsholt Affair” by Alan Hollinghurst (Knopf, $16.95). The latest novel from British author Hollinghurst, a Man Booker Prize winner for “The Line of Beauty,” spans some 70 years, from World War II Oxford to 2012, but centers on a 1966 gay-sex tabloid scandal. “Like most Hollinghurst novels, [it] has a rich symphonic sweep as it makes its points and counterpoints,” wrote Seattle Times reviewer Michael Upchurch, noting that the author’s “mellifluous prose is as fine and subtly shaded as ever, and his full, persuasive immersion of the reader in the book’s far-flung eras is impeccable.”
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“King Zeno” by Nathaniel Rich (Picador, $19). A noir thriller set in 1918 New Orleans, Rich’s novel was inspired by a true series of grisly ax murders, and focuses on a police detective, a jazz musician and a mobster’s widow. “Though not in the same league as E.L. Doctorow’s similarly fictive-historical ‘Ragtime’ — or, for that matter, Michael Ondaatje’s haunting ‘Coming Through Slaughter’ (about fabled trumpeter Buddy Bolden),” wrote Seattle Times reviewer Paul de Barros, “ ’King Zeno’ is a fun read and more ambitious than most genre novels.”
“The Good Pilot Peter Woodhouse: A Novel of Love and War” by Alexander McCall Smith (Anchor Books, $16). The beloved author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series here offers a stand-alone novel, set on an English farm during World War I. The Scotsman described it as “a gentle romp through the world of land girls, wartime romance and an exceptional pet — the amusingly named sheepdog that gives the book its title.”
“Feel Free” by Zadie Smith (Penguin, $18). “There are few better places to go for a stroll than inside Zadie Smith’s mind,” wrote Seattle Times reviewer Michael Upchurch, of the British novelist’s collection of essays, whose topics range from Brexit to Billie Holiday to the film “Get Out.” Some tickets remain for Smith’s appearance at Seattle Arts & Lectures’ Literary Arts Series on Wednesday, Feb. 27, at 7:30 p.m. at Benaroya Hall; see lectures.org for details.