1. Chasing Hillary: Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns, and One Intact Glass Ceiling by Amy Chozick (Harper/HarperCollins Publishers)
Timothy Crouse’s The Boys on the Bus exposed reporters’ pack mentality and frat boy misbehavior in the 1972 presidential campaign, and Chozick, drawing on her coverage of Hillary Clinton, updates that classic election narrative with new insight and flair. After Clinton lost the 2016 election, Chozick went back to the hundreds of reporters’ notebooks she had accumulated in a decade of covering Clinton for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times and illuminates the dynamic of feeling sympathetic to the Clintons yet also attacked by them. The author is refreshingly self-critical, reconsidering her stories after the John Podesta emails were leaked, noting the failures of campaign reporting and the vexed relationship between reporters and Clinton’s press operation (“The Guys”) and recognizing that as the media pressed the candidate for “authenticity,” it also amplified her mistakes and deviations from script.
2. Atticus Finch: The Biography by Joseph Crespino (Basic Books)
In this fascinating book, Crespino examines Harper Lee’s creation of Atticus Finch, the fictional hero based on her father, lawyer and newspaper editor A.C. Lee, and carefully traces the arc of his life as it reflected the South wrestling with the civil rights movement. Crespino reconciles Atticus Finch the hero, celebrated as “a timeless expression of universal values of moral courage, tolerance, and understanding” in To Kill a Mockingbird, with the more adult, contradictory figure in Go Set a Watchman, published after Lee’s death. “With the publication of Watchman,” Crespino argues, “we know not only that the Atticus of Mockingbird was always too good to be true, but that Harper Lee knew it as well.”
3. Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America by James Fallows and Deborah Fallows (Pantheon)
From 2013 to 2017, the Fallowses took to the open skies in search of parts of the country that had escaped media glare. Crisscrossing America, the husband-and-wife team flew nearly 100,000 miles in their single-engine plane, with two-week stops in 25 cities and shorter visits to 24 more. Writing in alternate entries, they describe their stays in small cities such as Vermilion, Ohio; Bend, Oregon; and Eastport, Maine – flyover places that, as James Fallows writes, “had faced adversity of some sort, from crop failure to job loss to political crisis, and had looked for ways to respond.” Talking to a wide range of residents, the authors found innovations and collaborations that enlivened civic life and provided a region’s backbone, all of which makes Our Towns an inspiring and energizing reading experience -- and a well-timed one, as America wrestles with questions of identity and contemplates the path forward.
4. The Mercy Seat by Elizabeth H. Winthrop (Grove)
Winthrop’s searing novel of injustice in the Jim Crow South focuses on the impending execution of an 18-year-old black man falsely accused of raping a white woman in New Iberia, Louisiana. Rooting The Mercy Seat in real events from 1947 and 1951, Winthrop creates a kaleidoscopic narrative that captures the wildly different perspectives of characters beyond accuser and accused, such as the young man’s parents and the deeply conflicted prosecuting lawyer. Suspenseful and highly nuanced, Winthrop’s novel raises profound questions about truth and justice, and with great sensitivity traces the town’s tangled web of relationships that underscore how power and influence played out in a Deep South tinderbox.
5. Come West and See by Maxim Loskutoff (W.W. Norton)
From a blazing new and original talent, this debut story collection is set in the interior Northwest, the isolated landscapes of the separatist movements of eastern Oregon through Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Loskutoff, honored with a Nelson Algren prize, imagines a future libertarian region named “Redoubt” and the people drawn there by their own personal needs, setbacks, and heartbreak. Disillusioned, these gun-packing characters – ranging from an unemployed carpenter to a military veteran – grapple with their disappointment in Loskutoff’s interlocking stories, which vividly expose escalating resentments with extraordinary eloquence and compassion.