5 HOT BOOKS: A Joyful Memoir of Books, a Man With a Wife in a Psych Ward, and More

Here are five books people are talking about this week – or should be:

1. My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul (Henry Holt)

“If you’re going to be a bookish child, you had damn well better be good at it,” Paul writes her charming new book, My Life With Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues.  Paul, editor of The New York Times Book Review, kept track of every book she read since the summer of 1988, her junior year in high school, in BOB (“Book of Books”), her humble, factory-made, plain-gray bound journal with unlined white paper. BOB is her private place and is, as Paul writes, “impersonal and yet deeply personal.”  My Life With Bob reflects the wide span of human emotion, from the childhood setback of placement in the second-highest second grade reading group (she was soon moved up to a higher group), to her first literary crush on Spalding Gray, and reading his Swimming to Cambodia, and finding herself alone, with no money, in Vietnam.  This beguiling book moves thematically, not chronologically, and while some may value it as a source of excellent reading lists, ultimately it is a paean to living a life engaged by books.

2. My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward by Mark Lukach (HarperWave)

For regular readers of the “Modern Love” column in The New York Times, the outline of this story seems familiar. Georgetown University, romance, marriage and adult life in San Francisco, until the wife spins into a psychotic episode, and lands in the emergency room and a psych ward. Then two more breakdowns. In this deeply moving new memoir, Lukach goes well beyond his much-read and much-discussed “Modern Love” column and chronicles his and his wife’s marriage and decision to have a child, and in a profoundly moving way, meditates on the resilience necessary to survive. He resists making himself the hero of his own story, and does not shy away from the painful, ugly parts – including his wife’s suicidal depression and her irrationality. But he also conveys her tenacity, and how their marriage evolved to accommodate cycles of breakdown and recovery, mixed with stretches of joy and happiness.

3. The Leavers by Lisa Ko (Algonquin Press)

Ko’s debut novel won the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, selected by Barbara Kingsolver. Her new novel – which is engaging and highly topical – takes place in the United States and China. It focuses on an undocumented Chinese woman working in a New York nail salon who vanishes, leaving her American-born son to be adopted by a well-meaning academic couple. Ko deftly segues between the intertwined stories of the separated mother and son and conveys both the struggles of those caught in the net of immigration authorities and the pain of dislocation.

4. Crime Song by David Swinson (Mullholland Books/Little Brown)

In this smart and sharp new book, the second of a trilogy, Swinson’s antihero Frank Marr, a retired D.C.-narcotics-cop-turned-private-investigator, has not kicked his drug habit, and is back on the street. Swinson, a retired detective himself, knows his way around mean streets, and in Crime Song he gets at the parasitic relationship between police officers and criminals, particularly those in the drug trade. In Marr, Swinson has created a character with a conscience in a war with himself over his need for drugs.  Through all the plot twists of this well-designed mystery, what comes through most are Swinson’s characters – particularly Marr, who attracts affection and respect, even when he is at his worst.

5. A Stitch of Time: The Year a Brain Injury Changed My Language and Life by Lauren Marks (Simon & Schuster)

When Lauren Marks was 27 years old, she suffered a brain aneurysm. She had been singing in a karaoke bar in Edinburgh, but doesn’t remember singing and doesn’t remember falling. In that single second, she suffered a hemorrhagic stroke, a flood in the brain, and she was left with aphasia, in which the world of words seems odd and strange. Poems, songs, stories songs, memories – all gone, and and she was left with a critically compromised ability to read, write, and speak. Marks started keeping a journal to rebuild her language skills, which became a record of her recovery and the backbone of her arresting new memoir. She explains how her “linguistic template” vanished and how she fought back, ultimately rebuilding her relationships and her life.