These paperback roundups have a tendency to be fiction-focused — in my own reading, I’m always drawn toward novels — but in honor of the new season, let’s mix things up a bit. Here are six nonfiction books, freshly out in paperback, all of which look like they’d be splendid to spend a little time with.
“The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers” by Maxwell King (Abrams, $18). Should you be wanting to brush up on everyone’s favorite childhood TV icon (and who wouldn’t) before “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” a feature film coming this fall starring Tom Hanks, this bestselling biography might make for soothing reading. “King is a skilled storyteller who captures the essence of not only Rogers the person but also the very particular American scene that produced him,” wrote a reviewer in The Washington Post, noting, “In today’s ugly climate, full of bitterness and rage on all sides, Rogers’s example feels more necessary than ever.”
“The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created” by Jane Leavy (HarperCollins, $18.99). Leavy, a former sportswriter and the author of bestselling books about Mickey Mantle and Sandy Koufax (as well as a comic novel about baseball, “Squeeze Play,” that I will have to check out), takes an unusual approach to this biography, centering it on a three-week barnstorming tour by Ruth and Lou Gehrig in the 1927 postseason. “The book captures Ruth’s outsize influence on American sport and culture,” wrote a New York Times reviewer, “and for that alone it will make a welcome companion during the long, baseball-less months to come.”
“These Truths: A History of the United States” by Jill Lepore (W.W. Norton, $19.95, Oct. 1). “Has America lived up to the ideas of the founders of this country, many of whom failed to heed their own words in the first place? That’s the question that forms the basis of Lepore’s magnificent book,” wrote an NPR reviewer about this thick tome, a one-volume history of America that was a New York Times and Washington Post Notable Book of the Year. “Jill Lepore is an extraordinarily gifted writer,” the review continued, “and ‘These Truths’ is nothing short of a masterpiece of American history.”
“So You Want To Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo (Basic Books, $16.99). Seattle writer Oluo’s book, a New York Times bestseller and recent nominee for a Washington State Book Award, is a primer on how to discuss race — for all of us. “Drawing from the realities of her own life and her deep knowledge about a subject that can be as confusing as it can be frustrating, she offers a set of sensible explanations, tips and warnings for those who want to discuss race with people who aren’t like them, without resorting to shouting or coming to blows,” wrote Seattle Times reviewer Tyrone Beason, calling the book “an invitation for everyone to join the conversation — and turn words into action.”
“Daemon Voices: On Stories and Storytelling” by Philip Pullman (Vintage, $18.95). The Carnegie Medal-winning author of the “His Dark Materials” trilogy (“The Golden Compass,” “The Subtle Knife,” “The Amber Spyglass”) here presents a rich collection of essays on writing — his own, and other authors’. A starred Kirkus Review described it as “infused with abundant wisdom, provocative notions, and illuminating insights,” and noted that “This is all saved from earnest or recondite lit-crit not only by the author’s evident intelligence and respect for his readers, but also a gift for dandy one-liners.” (Sample: “No man is a hero to his novelist.”)
“Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen” by Jose Antonio Vargas (Dey Street Books, $15.99). Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, created a stir in 2011 when he came out as an undocumented immigrant, brought here at the age of 12 from the rural Philippines; this book, a bestseller, expands on the story he first told in The New York Times Magazine. “ ‘Dear America’ is a potent rejoinder to those who tell Vargas he’s supposed to ‘get in line’ for citizenship,” wrote a New York Times reviewer, “as if there were a line instead of a confounding jumble of vague statutes and executive orders — not to mention the life-upending prospect of getting deported to a country he barely remembers.”