1. Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery by Scott Kelly (Knopf)
Kelly led an aimless youth until college, when he stumbled on Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, about test pilots and Project Mercury, which led him to become a Navy fighter pilot, and eventually to be selected by NASA for a career in space. In this fascinating account, Kelly segues between chapters on his New Jersey childhood with an alcoholic parent and a high-achieving twin brother Mark (married to former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords) and his time in space. Kelly made four spaceflights, but his crowning achievement was 340 consecutive days with the International Space Station. In this memoir, he captures both the grandeur of orbit and daily details like interplanetary bathroom techniques.
2. Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine by Joe Hagan (Knopf)
Founder of Rolling Stone Jann Wenner provided Hagan with access to his associates and archives, but the two men had a falling out before the book’s publication. The book Hagan ended up writing is dishy -- Hagan gets into Wenner’s explosive marriage and his struggle with his sexuality – but never tawdry, and the best parts are ones that focus on the magazine. Hagan, a former Rolling Stone contributing editor, captures the drama of Wenner’s celebrity relationships, including Patty Hearst and Hunter Thompson, but he is also insightful on how Wenner cannily created a popular and culturally influential magazine by mixing rock and roll with high-octane political journalism.
3. In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende (Atria Books)
Born in Peru and raised in Chile, Allende has been winning fans since the 1982 publication of her first novel, The House of the Spirits, and she continues to beguile readers with themes of social justice and love, tied together with a bit of magical realism. In this vivid and fast-paced work of fiction set in New York, two academics – an American-born son of Holocaust survivors and a human rights scholar who has fled Chile after the military coup – find themselves entwined in the life of an undocumented Guatemalan nanny. Allende weaves a suspenseful love story, rendering this central trio with generosity, spirit, and passion.
4. The Comfort Food Diaries: My Quest for the Perfect Dish to Mend a Broken Heart by Emily Nunn (Atria Books)
Nunn’s life went from the best of times (a decade at The New Yorker) to the absolute worst of times (recession-layoff at the Chicago Tribune, brother’s suicide, fiancé break-up and eviction from beautiful apartment, to hospital, Betty Ford Center, and unemployment). Her response to the downward trajectory was to hit the road, accepting invitations from family and friends who nursed her back to her charming, wry self with food and conversation. As she traveled the country in her “journey back from madness,” Nunn collected recipes (which are included in the book), and came to terms with her Southern Gothic past, cooking, and eating. Now, she is an evangelist for comfort foods like her cousin Martha’s “Angel Biscuits,” her Aunt Mariah’s “Lemon Sponge Cups,” and a confection called “Fig Tarte Tatin with Red-Wine Caramel.”
5. The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World by Jeff Goodell (Little Brown)
Category 5 hurricanes Irma, Harvey, and Maria have recently destroyed cities and islands, and in his new book Goodell, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone who has covered climate change for more than a decade, explains why we have more of this destruction in store. He concentrates on the East Coast of the United States (with side trips to Alaska, Venice, and the Marshall Islands) and details how increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in the air will raise sea levels, warm ocean temperatures, and inevitably lead to environmental disaster. Along with the alarmism, Goodell offers some welcome, practical prescriptions, including relocating airports, reconfiguring pumping systems, and designing big public squares that can collect and drain water to avoid flooding.