5 HOT BOOKS: Don DeLillo's Big New Novel, Pit Bulls, and a Gay Conversion Therapy Memoir

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

1. Zero K Don DeLillo (Scribner)

A new novel by DeLillo, winner of the 2013 Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction, is a literary occasion. Zero K, which builds on his celebrated earlier novels like Libra and Underworld, is another work of imagination that pierces and explodes the American sociopolitical heart. DeLillo offers up an imaginative conception of the future, a fusion of old-fashioned evangelism, Silicon Valley rhetoric, and the promise of an afterlife. Zero K is a masterpiece, one to be read sentence by sentence, and sure to cement DeLillo’s place in the American literary pantheon.

2. Pit Bull: The Battle Over an American Icon by Bronwen Dickey (Knopf)

It once earned medals for bravery in battle, and charmed generations of “Little Rascal” fans, but in recent years the pit bull has become the iconic dangerous dog. Dickey digs deeply into archives to trace the evolution of this perception and to determine how it squares with reality. She explains how several pedigreed breeds and “pit mixes” – any block-headed, smooth-coated canines – are lumped together and regarded as pit bulls. Dickey’s nuanced book draws on science, genetics, and hundreds of interviews to explain how a dog once associated with royalty has become a symbol of the rage-filled underclass.

3. Boy Erased by Garrard Conley (Riverhead)

Being gay in Arkansas is not easy, and after Conley was outed, his parents sent him to a Christian ministry’s “Love in Action” group for conversation therapy. After more than a decade, Conley recounts the experience in this memoir. The power of Conley’s story resides not only in the vividly depicted grotesqueries of the therapy system, but in his lyrical writing about sexuality and family love, and his reflections on the Southern family and culture that shaped him.  

4. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth (Scribner)

Psychology professor and MacArthur Genius award winner Duckworth delivered one of the most popular TED talks of all time. She is recognized for her theory that the combination of perseverance and passion are the key to success. In Grit, Duckworth offers examples from her fieldwork with subjects ranging from cadets at West Point to National Spelling Bee finalists to Wall Street kings. Through it all, she argues that grit is usually unrelated to talent — and often more important.

5. Watchlist: 32 Stories by Persons of Interest edited by Bryan Hurt (Catapult)

How are we affected by constant surveillance?  In this anthology, smart and slightly edgy fiction writers explore what it means to be both the watcher and the watched – and sometimes both simultaneously. At a time when technological advances are putting our privacy ever more in danger, this collection of stories -- from famous writers like Aimee Bender, Cory Doctorow and T. Coraghessan Boyle and emerging ones like Mark Chiusano, Kelly Luce, and Alissa Nutting – explores the deeper meaning of life in the panopticon. As anthology editor Hurt writes, “the real price of surveillance is intimacy.”