5 HOT BOOKS: How War Permeates American Life, a Major Magazine Editor's Memoir, and More

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

1. How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything by Rosa Brooks (Simon and Schuster)

Brooks, Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation, columnist for Foreign Policy, and law professor at Georgetown University has fused her own considerable experience with history and policy to explain how the military — in a way that has largely gone unrecognized — has incrementally extended its influence into American life. Brooks has worked at the Pentagon as Counselor to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and she brings this experience to bear as she explains how war expands, even in a time that is supposedly peaceful. Brooks shows how military presence shapes everyday life, and how it has infiltrated consciousness in this post-9/11 world.

2. The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race edited by Jesmyn Ward (Scribner)

In 1963, James Baldwin’s eloquent and fierce The Fire Next Time electrified America and galvanized the civil rights movement. The title of Baldwin’s book is derived from a slave song conveying resistance and hope, and carrying on his legacy, Ward has assembled a powerful collection of poems and essays by contemporary writers to engage with the questions Baldwin raised and update them for the challenges of being black today. In this chorus of writers, famous names (Edwidge Danticat, Claudia Rankine, Natasha Tretheway, Kevin Young) mix with others who deserve more recognition (Garnette Cadogan, Emily Raboteau). This impressive group responds to the racial conflict and violence erupting today across America with a cumulative force that is as urgent now as it was more than 50 years ago.

3. Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (Amistad)

In Woodson’s first novel for adults in two decades, a quartet of Brooklyn girls move into adolescence and come together in what she describes as “jazz improv – half notes tentatively moving toward one another until the ensemble found its footing.”  Telling her story in flashbacks. Woodson captures the friendships of these girls as their childhoods are disappearing — and a moment in Bushwick in the 1970s when violence prevailed on the street and political militancy was on the rise.  Winner of the National Book Award for her young adult novel Brown Girl Dreaming, and more recently named the Poetry Foundation’s Young People’s Poet Laureate, Woodson writes gorgeous prose in the form of stanzas that reflect her poetic sensibility.

4. The Hero’s Body: A Memoir by William Giraldi (Liveright)

Manville, New Jersey is the apt setting for this deeply fascinating memoir that explores how men measure themselves in a world that emphasizes intense masculinity. With no mother, and a father who died young in a motorcycle crash, Giraldi explores how his own bodybuilding was “both impossible and inevitable,” and how his obsession enabled him to construct his own identity in a macho town, and a macho family, during the Reagan-Bush era.  A gifted novelist, Giraldi dwells in the world of the dark and complex, and he brings that perspective to this memoir, which exposes not only the destructive parts of competitive bodybuilding – steroid use and crazy diets – but the complicated bond between men in a working-class town that put a high value on physical prowess.

5. The Accidental Life: An Editor’s Notes on Writing and Writers by Terry McDonell (Knopf)

As a magazine editor with Outside, and continuing on through Rolling Stone, Newsweek and Esquire to Sports Illustrated (and now LitHub), McDonell has considerable wisdom to share about editing — and great stories about characters like George Plimpton and Hunter S. Thompson. While McDonell insists that this is a good time to be an editor, this memoir really makes the old days look like a blast — editors chartered planes, freelancers went first-class, and lavish food and drink were enjoyed by all.  McDonell writes that he probably should have tracked down all of the writers with whom he worked and thanked them directly “for their fineness of mind and spirit.” And, he adds, “for everything else, too.”  And now he has.