5 Hot Books: A N.Y. Times Critic's Guide to Current Music, a Memoir from the Columbine Killer's Mom & More

Five books that people are talking about this week -- or should be:

1. Twenty Ways to Listen in an Age of Musical Plenty by Ben Ratliff (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Downloading, streaming, and the cloud have made music abundant, but with millions of songs so accessible, are there too many choices? In his smart, provocative, and helpful new book, Ratliff (the New York Times jazz and pop music critic) isn’t providing algorithms or formulas for selection. Rather, he is “suggesting a strategy of openness, and a spirit in which to hear things that may have been kept away from you.” 

2. And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East by Richard Engel (Simon and Schuster)

In June 1996, after graduating from Stanford, Engel arrived in Cairo with a pair of suitcases and $2,000 dollars.  He went on to become Chief Foreign Correspondent for NBC News, and to report on the Middle East for two decades of momentous upheaval and transition.  In this first-hand account of turmoil, civil war, and anarchy – with a heavy dose of ISIS and Al-Qaeda – Engel has some gripping stories to tell, including being kidnapped and held for five days in Syria.

3. Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey (Little, Brown and Company)

A gorgeously written, truly fun literary mystery involving a prominent Brazilian novelist (and online poker player) who disappears, and her American translator, who leaves her boring boyfriend behind in Pittsburgh to take up the search in steamy modern Brazil.  Novey, a translator and poet, has written a literary detective story with madcap humor and keen insights into the craziness of family dynamics.

4. A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold with an Introduction by Andrew Solomon (Crown)

It’s been more than fifteen years since Dylan Klebold went on a suicidal rampage with his friend Eric Harris that killed 13 and wounded dozens of others at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. In this moving memoir, Klebold’s mother expresses overwhelming guilt for how she failed her son, and for the destruction he caused.  Her unflinching and introspective interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC’s "20/20" was an accurate curtain-raiser for this book, reflecting the author’s ambition to understand the deranged minds of these two boys and her still-ongoing efforts to come to terms with the tragedy.

 5. Alive, Alive Oh!: And Other Things That Matter by Diana Athill (W.W. Norton & Company)

In her four decades as an editor, Athill had a prominent place in the London literary world, working with great writers like V.S. Naipaul, Jean Rhys, and Mordecai Richler. In her old age, she has found well-deserved acclaim for her own memoirs – Stet, about her years in publishing, and Somewhere Towards the End, which won a National Book Critics Circle prize.  Now living in a home for the elderly in London, she has written a worthy successor, which shows an independent woman vitally connected to the world, which is all the richer for her presence.