5 HOT BOOKS: A Study of "White Trash," a Novel About a Dying Dog, and More

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

1. White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg (Viking)

From the first European colonists to modern-day reality television, White Trash takes a long look at the experiences of poor whites in the United States.  Isenberg, a Louisiana State University history professor and author of Fallen Founder, a biography of Aaron Burr, has a keen eye for economic class and social hierarchy, which proves invaluable for her latest subject.  This is an intelligent and ambitious effort to understand a group beset for centuries by economic deprivation and powerlessness.

2. My Father & Atticus Finch: A Lawyer’s Fight for Justice in 1930s Alabama by Joseph Madison Beck (Norton)

After an African-American man was accused of raping a white woman in 1938 Alabama, a judge called on young lawyer Foster Beck to mount his defense. Even after the examining physician testified that there was no evidence of the crime, the all-white jury voted to convict. Beck, an Atlanta lawyer who teaches at Emory Law School, tells the story of the dramatic case and explores how his father’s heroic lawyering may have influenced To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee, who was 12 years old when it went to trial.

3. Look at You Now: My Journey from Shame to Strength by Liz Pryor (Random House)

It wasn’t so long ago that girls who got “in trouble” outside of marriage were sent away.  Just four decades ago, when she was a pregnant high school senior in an affluent suburban Chicago school, Pryor was dispatched to a home for unwed mothers in remote Indiana. She returned in time to march in her high school graduation procession, and she kept it a secret – even from her siblings. In this memoir Pryor, author of What Did I Do Wrong?: When Women Don't Tell Each Other the Friendship Is Over, focuses on her six months in the locked facility and explains how the experience, and the friendships she formed, changed and strengthened her.

4. Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley (Simon & Schuster)

This enchanting novel opens with Ted’s introduction of Lily, his 12-year-old (84 in dog years) dachshund, and the octopus on top of her head. Ted describes how the creature clings tightly over Lily’s eye, with two arms hanging down her face like chin straps. The octopus is a vicious killer (the words “brain tumor” remain unsaid) but Ted’s narration infuses joy into this story, even as it heads to heartbreak. Lily is Ted’s best friend, and through the stories of their everyday life — her little red ball, their conversations about cute guys, her seizures, his lousy therapist, and his relationships with friends, boyfriends and family — Rowley creates a beguiling, winsome book about a friendship for the ages.

5. The Bones of Grace by Tahmimi Anam (Harper)

From the talented author of The Good Muslim and A Golden Age, this new novel centers on a woman in conflict over her identity.  Anam, one of Granta’s Best British Novelists, explores cross-cultural conflict through the saga of Zubaida, her Bangladeshi-born, American-educated paleontologist protagonist.  Zubaida must sort out her conflicting feelings about the two very different countries that have a claim on her — and two very different conceptions of marriage.