5 HOT BOOKS: A Terrorism Widower Speaks, Baby Boomer Music, and More

These are five books people are talking about this week — or should be:

1. You Will Not Have My Hate by Antoine Leiris (Penguin Press)

Last fall, when terrorists with suicide vests opened fire and took hostages at a Paris rock concert, Hélène Muyal-Leiris was among the dead. Her husband took to Facebook and wrote: “On Friday night, you stole the life of an exceptional being, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hate. I don’t know who you are and I don’t want to know. You are dead souls.”  The post went viral, and Leiris has expanded his thoughts into this astonishingly powerful little prose poem of a book, which can be read in an hour but would take a lifetime to forget. Writing on behalf of his 17-month-old son, Leiris vows to “defy the terrorists by being happy and free.”

2. Eleanor Roosevelt: The War Years and After: 1939-1962 by Blanche Wiesen Cook (Viking)

First Ladies are having a moment. In her third volume of Eleanor Roosevelt’s life, Cook focuses on the final years of World War II, chronicling how the Roosevelts’ marriage grew frosty and how the widowed Roosevelt crusaded for world peace. In this final installment of her expansive and definitive biography, Cook presents a complex version of her subject. She captures Roosevelt’s occasional rigidity, but also portrays her real devotion to racial equality and genuine interest in breaking down color lines in both her friendships and in powerful institutions.

3. Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien (W. W. Norton)

Long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, Do Not Say We Have Nothing is an engrossing novel that segues back and forth through more than seven generations of cultural and family history. It begins in Vancouver, as a young woman learns of her family’s history from Mao’s Cultural Revolution through Tiananmen Square. Music is a connective thread through this exquisitely structured novel, with teenage sisters working as itinerant teahouse singers in the 1940s, and descendants becoming a composer and a violinist. Thien brilliantly – with both heart and a sly wit -- has the young woman reconstruct this history, and come to see how it has been manipulated, distorted and adapted over time.

4. Anatomy of a Song: The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits That Changed Rock, R&B and Pop by Marc Myers (Grove Atlantic) 

“My Girl,” The Temptations, “Please Mr. Postman,” The Marvelettes, “Respect Yourself,” and the Staple Singers.  These are among the exuberant songs and glorious artists that are the subject of Myer’s engrossing book, which features mini-chapters on each hit single, along with brief oral histories, chronologically arranged. These essays and interviews first appeared in the Wall Street Journal, and gathered together here they add up not only to a first-rate playlist, but a rich history of both the music industry and the baby boom era.

5. Am I Alone Here? Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live by Peter Orner (Catapult)

“Fiction isn’t machinery, it’s alchemy,” writes Orner, a gifted fiction writer (Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge). “Anybody who claims to shed complete light on the mechanisms by which fiction operates is peddling snake oil.” Much the same can be said of those trying to explain the magical mix in this collection of Orner’s essays, in which he mediates on his life reading. With his own wildly original imagination and compass, Orner travels to unusual places and reflects on famous writers – like John Cheever in Albania, or J. D. Salinger in Haiti.  He also writes about some of his favorite writers who he thinks should be more famous, like Breece D’J Pancake and Bohumil Hrabal.  A hungry but generous and discerning reader, Orner acknowledges that three-quarters of the books in his garage office will be unread when he dies. He has asked his family to “bury me with a decent library.”