1. The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer (Riverhead)
With the New York Times headline “Why Now May (Finally) Be Meg Wolitzer’s Moment,” and the rave Times review by Lena Dunham (who met Wolitzer through their mutual mentor Nora Ephron), it seems that clear that Wolitzer’s buzzy new novel is tapping into today’s #MeToo gender activism zeitgeist. The good news is that this politically charged novel is stylishly written, a joy to read, and sure to endure as a work of literature and a mirror of our times. At the heart of The Female Persuasion is a young woman with a queer activist best friend and a feminist icon as a mentor, trying to navigate the world’s rocky shoals toward a capacious, generous version of herself as a feminist.
2. Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man's First Journey to the Moon by Robert Kurson (Random House)
Before the Apollo 13 mission Tom Hanks brought vividly to life (“Houston, we have a problem”), there was Apollo 8, a lesser-known mission that was a stunning breakthrough in early American spaceflight. Kurson skillfully chronicles the training and mission of the Apollo 8 astronauts with the keen eye for suspense and adventure that he demonstrated in his earlier books, such as Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II. With the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8 approaching later this year, he relates the story of mankind’s first orbit of the moon in the full context of its tumultuous era.
3. To the Promised Land: Martin Luther King and the Fight for Economic Justice by Michael K. Honey (W.W. Norton)
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is celebrated as the visionary leader for racial equality, but in Honey’s fascinating new book, he emerges as a fierce and overlooked champion of economic justice. Historian Honey traces King’s early affinity with workers, and shows how support of union strikes was central to his vision of equity. Honey argues that King’s interracial Poor People’s Campaign and under-documented anti-poverty work were tightly intertwined with his philosophy and that this economically focused advocacy is an essential part of his legacy.
4. Look Alive Out There by Sloane Crosley (MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Crosley writes about urban life with élan and insight, from a teenage neighbor’s late-night antics, to a grifter holding Crosley’s internet domain name hostage, to the expensive illusion of a life plan – in the form of freezing her eggs. Since her debut essay collection, I Was Told There’d Be Cake, Crosley has been writing about the absurdities of the human condition so consistently that hearing her name prompts a grin from even her surliest readers. This is Crosley’s third collection -- she has also written a winsome novel, The Clasp -- and as she has matured, her wisdom, droll wit, and self-deprecation increasingly place her in the company of Sarah Vowell and David Sedaris.
5. The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison (Little, Brown)
Rising stratospherically above the glut of hackneyed addiction and recovery memoirs, Jamison brilliantly subverts the usual downward spiral tropes, salvation clichés, and 12-step bromides. She delivers a perceptive blend of her own personal story with an insightful exploration of how narratives congeal and get told. Coming at the world of addiction and recovery from a slant, as she did so deftly in The Empathy Exams, Jamison considers brilliant literary alcoholics such as Raymond Carver, Elizabeth Bishop, and John Berryman, and the vexed connection between writing and drinking. In her pluralistic, democratic approach to recovery, she grapples with the messy parts of what sobriety really means.