1. Becoming by Michelle Obama (Crown)
Her rally cry “When they go low, we go high” has become commonplace, but there is nothing ordinary about Obama’s memoir. With new reports of a global first printing of 3 million copies in 31 languages, Belonging is poised to be a megahit that denounces President Donald Trump for his misogyny and “birther” conspiracy theory, reveals fertility challenges, and discloses that the Obamas sought counseling during some marital rough spots. A big concert promoter is producing the carefully choreographed 10-city book tour, with ticket prices in the stratosphere. It would be much cheaper to buy the book.
2. The Man in the Glass House: Philip Johnson, Architect of the Modern Century by Mark Lamster (Little, Brown)
In this smart, engaging biography, Lamster depicts contradictory, influential “starchitect” Johnson and his times in their full complexity. Populist and elitist, gossip and intellectual, opportunist and utopian, Johnson was a gay man with a fascist history who built the “Glass House,” and was instrumental in shaping the aesthetic of modernism. “Philip Johnson began his career proselytizing the public in the name of modern design,” observes Lamster. “He finished it building for Donald Trump.”
3. Why Religion? A Personal Story by Elaine Pagels (Ecco)
“Why is religion still around in the twenty-first century?” asks Pagels, a distinguished scholar of Christianity, MacArthur “genius” grant winner, and author of classics such as the National Book Award-winning The Gnostic Gospels. As a teenager, Pagels embraced Billy Graham’s promise that she could be “born again,” which opened vast spaces of her imagination to the living dream of salvation. Life interceded, however, and her 6-year-old son died of a rare lung disease and a year later, her husband perished while mountain climbing. In her lucid, inspiring personal testimony, Pagels continues to work through her grief, read ancient gospels and refine her own ideas about religion. She comes to regard suffering as an essential part of human existence, and writes that “sometimes hearts do heal, through what I can only call grace.”
4. City of a Million Dreams: A History of New Orleans at Year 300 by Jason Berry (The University of North Carolina Press)
Over three centuries, New Orleans has experienced such dramatic identity shifts that, as Berry writes, the port town born into a hostile world is “like a great diva changing costumes in a succession of operatic roles.” Through fires, slave revolts, corruption, music, epidemics, epic flood, and battles over Confederate monuments, Berry captures the dynamism and vitality of this great, and unique, American city. Berry, a prominent New Orleans journalist and an expert on jazz funerals, who recently wrote a book with former Mayor Mitch Landrieu, has now written the definitive story of one of America’s most vibrant cities on the eve of its tricentennial.
5. Night of Miracles by Elizabeth Berg (Random House)
Berg returns to Mason, Missouri, the beguiling little town that was the setting for her delightful novel The Story of Arthur Truluv, and with her distinctive wit and charm magically renders small-town America tenderly, yet without a bit of treacly sentimentality. Lucille, Arthur’s elderly and rather prickly neighbor, is at the center now, and she has parlayed her renowned baking skills into a class she teaches in her kitchen, which becomes a hub for matchmaking, community news – “gossip” would be unkind – and anecdotes of ordinary life. Berg has introduced some new characters, such as a couple from Chicago eager to escape urban hassles, and she has a gift for depicting unlikely friendships, particularly between the young and old. While life in Mason is not always easy, Berg creates real people who forge deep bonds, caring for one another and somehow inspiring readers to do the same.