Paperback Picks

Friends, it’s been a long winter. Treat yourself to a new paperback, ideally from a local bookstore (they’ve had a rough season too), and greet the spring. Here are six that should hold your attention, even if the sun peeks out.

Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret in French Cooking” by Bill Buford (Knopf, $17, available March 30). As we all dream of traveling again, this might be a good read: The author of “Heat” writes of his adventures working in restaurant kitchens in Lyon. “So much cooking and eating gets done that Buford’s next book, after ‘Heat’ and ‘Dirt,’ in order to preserve the ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ cadence, should probably be titled ‘Gout,’” wrote New York Times reviewer Dwight Garner. “I admire this book enormously; it’s a profound and intuitive work of immersive journalism.”

“Swing Kings: The Inside Story of Baseball’s Home Run Revolution” by Jared Diamond (HarperCollins, $17.99). Every spring paperback roundup should include a baseball book, and this one, by the excellently named Wall Street Journal baseball writer, sounds like a good one: Publishers Weekly called it “a rollicking account of the recent shift in that most joyous and elemental moment in sports: the home run,” and concluded, “This breezy and engaging history will be a hit with baseball aficionados and casual fans alike.”

The Night Watchman” by Louise Erdrich (HarperCollins, $15.99). Winner of numerous 2020 literary honors, this novel is inspired by the author’s grandfather, a night watchman who fought hard to help save his Chippewa tribe from termination by the federal government. “High drama, low comedy, ghost stories, mystical visions, family and tribal lore — wed to a surprising outbreak of enthusiasm for boxing matches — mix with political fervor and a terrifying undercurrent of predation and violence against women,” wrote New York Times reviewer Luis Alberto Urrea. “For 450 pages, we are grateful to be allowed into this world.”

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family” by Robert Kolker (Knopf, $14.99). Kolker, a journalist and author of the excellent true-crime account “Lost Girls,” here examines a midcentury American family whose story offers a history of the science of schizophrenia (six of the Galvin family’s 10 sons were diagnosed with it). The book made multiple lists of the “10 ten best of -2020.” “Kolker’s telling of the Galvin trials is at once deeply compassionate and chilling,” wrote Washington Post reviewer Karen Iris Tucker, noting that it ends “as a story of hope.”

Three Brothers: Memories of My Family” by Yan Lianke, translated by Carlos Rojas (Grove Atlantic, $16). The author of “The Day the Sun Died” and winner of the Franz Kafka Prize writes about the experiences of members of his family as they struggled with poverty during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. “Throughout the book, Yan depicts his provincial relatives with enormous heart and respect, acknowledging their sacrifices in a dark yet poignant meditation on grief and death,” wrote a Kirkus reviewer, calling the book “a memoir steeped in metaphor and ultimately tremendously moving.”

Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens (Penguin, $14.99, available March 30). Owens’ 2018 tale of a mysterious murder and a young woman who lives in a North Carolina marsh became a publishing sensation, selling more than 7 million copies worldwide. It’s now finally out in paperback. “Surprise bestsellers are often works that chime with the times,” wrote Mark Lawson in The Guardian, noting that the book, though set in the past, “is, in its treatment of racial and social division and the fragile complexities of nature, obviously relevant to contemporary politics and ecology. But these themes will reach a huge audience though the writer’s old-fashioned talents for compelling character, plotting and landscape description.”