These are five books people are talking about this week -- or should be:
1. Swing Time Zadie Smith (Penguin Press)
In Swing Time, Smith’s rich and dynamic new novel, two little “brown” girls from public housing become best friends in a dance class. The more talented one grows up to be a performer. The other one, the unnamed narrator, becomes a personal assistant to a fabulously successful pop star and eventually lands in a tabloid mess. This is a big social novel about class, race, gender, and popular culture. Smith adroitly guides the action over a quarter of a century and across continents, and along the way provides a steady flow of psychologically shrewd insights into evolving human relationships and power dynamics.
2. The Spy by Paul Coehlo (Alfred A. Knopf)
Coelho, author of The Alchemist, whose books have sold more than 200 million copies worldwide, has taken the Mata Hari story and fashioned it into a short dynamo of a novel. He starts with the outlines of Mata Hari's life – Dutch exotic dancer, charmer of powerful men, accused spy for Germany in World War I – and mixes in some of her own self-deceptions to create a letter she might have written before facing the French firing squad that ultimately killed her. Coelho’s Mata Hari explains that she was simply a “woman born at the wrong time” and pleads that if the future remembered her, “may it never see me as a victim, but as someone who moved forward with courage, fearlessly paying the price she had to pay.”
3. They Can't Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America's Racial Justice Movement by Wesley Lowery (Little Brown)
Social media vaulted Washington Post reporter Lowery to fame after he was arrested in Ferguson, Mo. while covering the police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager. Lowery and his Post staff team won the Pulitzer Prize for their series, and in this powerful new book he expands on that work. Lowery also covered other shootings around the nation, and in They Can’t Kill Us All he recounts how he reported those stories, working in multiple mediums – including Twitter and video — that considerably amplified his reach. The effect of this important book is to make the reader feel that he or she is embedded with Lowery, witnessing the Black Lives Matter movement up close.
4. Twenty-Six Seconds: A Personal History of the Zapruder Film by Alexandra Zapruder (Twelve)
With his 8 mm Bell & Howell zoom lens, Abraham Zapruder, a Russian-born clothing manufacturer and devoted home-movie hobbyist, captured iconic footage of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The film had a profound impact on the nation, helping to shape the public’s understanding of one of the most traumatic episodes in American history. In this riveting book, Zapruder’s granddaughter explains that the episode was traumatic for Zapruder and his family as well. She offers up a complex and highly entertaining story of an assassination, a reel of film, and a Texas-based clan, which also draws in Dan Rather, Life magazine, Geraldo Rivera, the Warren Commission, a pile of money, and a whole lot more.
5. The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads
by Tim Wu (Alfred A. Knopf)
In this compelling new book, Columbia Law School professor Wu, who coined the phrase “net neutrality,” surveys the battle for human attention from the early days of print to the current world of digital media. Wu traces this war for eyeballs from the penny press era, to the reign of advertising’s Mad Men, up through today, when Facebook and Google are reigning supreme. Deeply knowledgeable about the digital landscape, and possessed of considerable insight and wit, Wu recognizes the importance and power of digital media, but he shines an important light on the loss of privacy, commodification of human attention spans, and other dangers inherent in the new order.