These are five books people are talking about this week -- or should be:
1. Little Nothing by Marisa Silver (Blue Rider Press)
Read Little Nothing at your own risk. The scope of its imagination will make many of the works of fiction vying with it for attention seem derivative and pale by comparison. At the heart of Silver’s novel is Pavla, a dwarf-girl born in a nameless state (which feels like somewhere in the Balkans) at a time of unspecified turmoil, when superstition seems on the cusp of cruel rationality. As Pavla transforms herself to survive, powerful, traumatic forces threaten to extinguish her. In Silver’s shimmering prose and beguiling voice, this brilliant novel ultimately speaks to the irrepressible possibilities of imagination.
2. Indelible Ink: The Trials of John Peter Zenger and the Birth of America’s Free Press by Richard Kluger (W. W. Norton)
Kluger won the Pulitzer Prize for his masterful Ashes to Ashes: America's Hundred-Year Cigarette War, The Public Health, and the Unabashed Triumph of Philip Morris, which took aim at the cigarette business. His book about newspapers, The Paper: The Life and Death of the New York Herald Tribune, was a fierce and heartfelt chronicle of the "newspaperman's newspaper.” Kluger returns with another rich work of social history, this one focusing on the 1735 Zenger case. John Peter Zenger, the printer of the New-York Weekly Journal, was charged with criminal libel in 1735, and acquitted in a dramatic trial that marked the starting point for press freedom in America — and resonates strongly with free speech debates still raging today.
3. Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly (William Morrow)
Shetterly has served history well by telling the story of a group of black female mathematicians at NASA whose work helped to send America’s astronauts into outer space. World War II’s labor shortage brought these mathematicians out of the high schools and into Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory to work on the space program – although, in Jim Crow Virginia, they were forced to work separately from their white colleagues. This engrossing and inspiring account has hit the bestseller lists, and will surely win an even wider audience later this year with the release of the film adaptation starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kirsten Dunst, and Kevin Costner.
4. The Fortress by Danielle Trussoni (Dey Street)
Trussoni’s acclaimed Falling Through the Earth, focused on understanding her father’s experience as a tunnel rat in the Vietnam War, and she went on to write best-selling supernatural literary novels. She is back to her roots as a memoirist in The Fortress, recounting how she and her Bulgarian husband moved their family to a 13th-century fortress, which ultimately exposed the dark, ugly side of their marriage. While her husband descended into a controlling madman, Trussoni came to terms with her own idealization of him, and as she escaped his grasp, she also came to realize her own power to make a life for herself and her children.
5. Blood and the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America by Patrick Phillips (W. W. Norton)
Poet Phillips takes a hard look at his home county, Forsyth County, Georgia, and explores how it became – and remained – a white preserve for generations, one that blacks entered only at considerable peril. Phillips describes a fateful night in 1912 after a young white woman was discovered beaten and raped and black men were charged with the crime. Within weeks, all of the county’s African-Americans (who numbered more than 1,000) were driven out by night riders and lynch mobs. This book, an eloquent effort to document what happened that night, also spans back to the Cherokee removals that preceded it and the century of silence and “communal act of erasure” that followed — creating a rich portrait of a troubled and troubling patch of America.