1. The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump by Michiko Kakutani (Tim Duggan Books)
Few critics become verbs, but there has long been the dubious honor of being “kakutanized” or eviscerated by a review from the Pulitzer Prize-winning chief book critic of the New York Times. Kakutani’s cultural influence was for decades all but unrivaled, a product not only of her platform but her fierce, associative, electric mind. In this short, eloquent book, she turns her keen critical faculties on current events, exploring “how a disregard for facts, the displacement of reason by emotion, and the corrosion of language” diminishes the value of truth and its implications for America and the world. In nine tightly written chapters, she sees the through lines connecting postmodernism, “the firehose of falsehood,” and a world in which, she writes, “without truth, democracy is hobbled.”
2. Bad Call: A Summer Job on a New York Ambulance by Mike Scardino (Little, Brown)
To pay for college in the late 1960s, Scardino worked as an ambulance attendant at a New York hospital, on the front lines of an urban cascade of blood and gore. This remarkable memoir, a vivid and gruesome record of his experiences, is written in brief chapters focusing on cases that seem to cover the full spectrum of horrors, from burn victims to babies thrown from windows. Scardino’s stories are like a punch in the gut. Even when a patient survives, there is always suffering, which Scardino captures with empathy and outrage.
3. Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir by Jean Guerrero (One World)
“You are the ultimate migrant, Papi,” writes Guerrero, early in her devastatingly beautiful memoir, about her tormented, mysterious father who lived in both the United States and Mexico, crossing the border between madness and sanity. Guerrero, fully using the skills she acquired as an Emmy-winning journalist from San Diego, tracks her father through his lineage of mystics; his shadowy past; and his years of obsession, self-destruction, and even brilliance, and finds herself reflecting his bad behavior. She writes poetically about borders as a metaphor for the boundary of identity between father and daughter and the porous connective tissues that bind them.
4. Homeplace: A Southern Town, a Country Legend, and the Last Days of a Mountaintop Honky-Tonk by John Lingan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
In his beautiful book about Winchester, Va., the tiny Shenandoah town that gave the world Patsy Cline, Lingan focuses on “Joltin’” Jim McCoy, owner of Troubadour Bar & Lounge, as a way to trace this place in its “never-ending American fight between commerce and culture.” Ever since he heard a young Cline singing “San Antonio Rose” and put her on the radio station where he worked as a freelance DJ, McCoy spent his life committed to country music, particularly the mournful honky-tonk genre of loneliness and heartbreak. Cline, whose life was cut short by a plane crash, provided the town with a whiff of fame and gentrification, but many residents like McCoy and his wife, now in their 80s, were left struggling to make ends meet. Lingan provides a vivid, panoramic portrait of a place in a constant motion, not always forward.
5. What We Were Promised by Lucy Tan (Little, Brown)
In her charming debut novel, Tan flips the traditional immigration and assimilation narrative, as the Zhen family returns to Shanghai after two decades in America, when the master of the household takes a high-level corporate marketing job that vaults them all into the highest echelons of post-Mao China. Tan ingeniously unravels this tangled family saga of life in an antiseptic apartment tower, from a daughter returning from U.S. boarding school to the family’s former housekeeper, funnelling her paycheck to relatives in her own poor village. Through a set of fascinating characters, Tan delivers a compelling story that raises questions about assimilation, family dynamics, and the personal reverberations of globalization.