1. The Reckoning by John Grisham (Doubleday)
Grisham has occasionally returned to Clanton, Mississippi, the town he invented 30 years ago for A Time to Kill, and does so again in his new novel, grounding it in the town’s racial dynamics. The Reckoning centers on a cotton farmer and patriarch, a survivor of the Bataan death march, who returns to his hometown after World War II. Shortly thereafter, with his wife in a mental institution, in a mental institution, and he goes into the Methodist church and murders the pastor, sparing the African-American cleaning man, and, unwilling to defend himself, declares, “I have nothing to say.” Grisham, though, has much to say, and as this novel segues from the Philippines to the Magnolia State, he delivers a compulsively readable thriller, attentive to the racial, social, and legal dynamics of the Jim Crow South.
2. Fryderyk Chopin: A Life and Times by Alan Walker (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
“Whatever the time zone, the sun never sets on Chopin’s music,” Walker writes in his fascinating, authoritative biography of the 19th-century Polish-born pianist and composer whose waltzes, etudes, preludes, and sonatas seem to be ubiquitous today. Walker, author of a multivolume biography of Franz Liszt, illuminates how Chopin, a fussy, genius child prodigy, created his music against the backdrop of Polish uprisings and French revolutions as well as his own illnesses. Most vividly, Walker evokes the composer’s long, tormented relationship with cross-dressing, flamboyant George Sand, who ultimately cared for the sickly Chopin in the years before his death.
3. How the Internet Happened: From Netscape to the iPhone by Brian McCullough (Liveright)
Founder or co-founder of companies such as WhereAreTheJobs.com and ResumeWriters.com and host of “Internet History Podcast,” McCullough has drawn from that audio series for this lively, engaging chronicle of the internet era. He argues that from 1993 through 2008, the internet, especially the World Wide Web, brought computers mainstream and made them vital and indispensable to average citizens. In a book filled with colorful characters from Jeff Bezos to Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin, McCullough begins with University of Illinois students who launched the first browser, and zigs and zags through the iPhone and App Store software triumphs to the “fulfillment of the intimate association of man and machine.”
4. Golden Handcuffs: The Secret History of Trump’s Women by Nina Burleigh (Gallery Books)
In an interesting perspective revealed in the title of her new book, Newsweek reporter Burleigh looks how Trump women, particularly his wives, are enslaved by his money. Burleigh digs deeply into Donald Trump’s past and depicts his influential grandmother from Germany, a widow with small children who essentially made the Trump Organization, and his mother from Scotland who worked as a domestic for wealthy families and provided her son with an insatiable desire for money, but also led him to feel an outsider. Burleigh focuses most acutely on Trump’s Pygmalion-esque relationships with his wives, which extended to his greatest creation, daughter Ivanka.
5. Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (Mariner)
This debut collection by Adjei-Brenyah, one of this year’s National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” Honorees, features surreal stories and dystopian satire with a gut punch. Adjei-Brenyah gets at the tangled knot of race and consumerism in stories that are absurd and haunting, beginning with “Finkelstein 5,” which features a white man claiming self-defense after slaughtering five black children with a chainsaw. These searing, provocative short works of fiction, some of which are set in shopping malls, feel sharp and real and, as the book's title indicates, a brilliant inversion of that post-Thanksgiving capitalist orchestrated chaos known as “Black Friday.”