A range of nonfiction dominates this week’s recommendations — plus one terrific novel.
“Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger” by Soraya Chemaly (Atria Books, $17). Chemaly’s timely book offers “a relentless catalog of the sources of female anger and the efforts to repress it,” wrote Washington Post reviewer Carlos Lozada. Like Rebecca Traister’s “Good and Mad” (out in paperback in September), it ultimately praises female anger as an emotion and a tool. “Anger is a catalytic force for activism and organizing, [the authors] argue,” wrote Lozada, “a demand for accountability, a statement of rights and assertion of worth.”
“Paul Simon: The Life” by Robert Hilburn (Simon & Schuster, $18, publication date May 28). Longtime Los Angeles Times music writer Hilburn spent more than 100 hours talking to the singer/songwriter for this authorized biography, and “he often strikes gold,” wrote David Yaffe in Slate. Though a must-read for all Simon fans (the quotations “never disappoint and often dazzle”), the parts of the books that aren’t Simon’s words are less incandescent; “this is a prosaic account of success and failure and celebrity and money and accolades and breaking up with Art Garfunkel and having a midlife comeback while dodging charges of colonialism and, you know, being short and wishing he had more hair.”
“Robin” by Dave Itzkoff (Picador, $18). The beloved comedian and actor Robin Williams died by suicide in 2014; this thoughtful, well-researched biography poignantly reminds us why he was so special. Reviewing it last year, I was particularly struck by Itzkoff’s clear-eyed fondness for his subject, and was moved by an epilogue in which the author discussed his personal encounters with him. The book ultimately demonstrates that Williams was at heart a paradox, a man “both wildly outgoing and painfully introverted, at home in a crowd of strangers and desperately alone with the people he knew best.”
“Heavy: An American Memoir” by Kiese Laymon (Scribner, $16). Laymon’s memoir, about growing up black in Jackson, Mississippi, is “a gorgeous, gutting book that’s fueled by candor yet freighted with ambivalence,” wrote New York Times reviewer Jennifer Szalai. “It’s full of devotion and betrayal, euphoria and anguish, tender embraces and rough abuse.” Written in address to his complex mother, a professor who gave her son daily writing assignments but beat him for not being perfect, this “generous, searching book,” wrote Szalai, “explores all the forces that can stop even the most buoyant hopes from ever leaving the ground.”
“Figures in a Landscape: People and Places, Essays: 2001-2006” by Paul Theroux (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $15.99). The longtime (and famously cranky) travel writer presents a collection of recent essays and magazine stories, which “goes a long way toward dispelling the image of Theroux as a long-suffering misanthrope setting out on the rails and the roads yet again,” wrote New York Times reviewer Tom Zoellner. “What emerges instead is a portrait of an optimist with curiosity and affection for humanity in all its forms, as well as a ravenous appetite for the literary efforts of others.”
“The Female Persuasion” by Meg Wolitzer (Penguin, $17). I read and loved this novel last spring; it’s a long, delicious tale of two women: the very young Greer, just getting started on what she hopes will be a career of “essays and articles and eventually maybe books with strongly feminist themes, though probably that was the kind of work she would do late at night at first”; and the sleek, older Gloria Steinemlike figure Faith, by whom the younger woman is immediately dazzled. The book winds through their years as their lives touch each other, with Greer gradually coming into focus as Faith softly fades into the background. A wise, lovely book, that just might leave its reader with some much needed hope.