It’s easy to fall into the habit of seeing the Book Review and The Times’s daily book critics as a monolithic bloc of infallible and irreproachable literary opinions — heck, with lists like this one, we sometimes even encourage it. In truth, though, we’re more like the affectionate cranks who make up your local reading group: We’re passionate and knowledgeable, and we disagree all the time. Editors disagree with other editors, our reviewers love books that we hated or hate books that we loved, and subscribers don’t hesitate to let us know when we’ve done an injustice to their favorites. It’s raucous and healthy and wonderful, and ideally it will expand your horizons or at least get you thinking about the contours of your reading life. That’s what we’re here for.
I bring it up now because, for the second time in recent weeks, we’re recommending a novel that received a negative review in our pages — in this case, Pedro Mairal’s “The Woman From Uruguay,” which our assigning editor enjoyed more than the reviewer did. Maybe you will too. Or not! If the description doesn’t appeal, we’ve got lots else that might: Eyal Press’s “Dirty Work,” say, about the morally compromised jobs that we ask others to do, or Adam Harris’s “The State Must Provide,” about the past and present hurdles facing historically Black colleges and universities. Andrew Sullivan has an essay collection covering three decades of his iconoclastic punditry, and David A. Price has a history of the World War II code-breakers of Bletchley Park that points out they were also pioneers in the development of computing. And in fiction, besides Mairal we also recommend a new novel by Atticus Lish and short story collections by Yoon Choi and Hilma Wolitzer.
Me, I’m reading a novel from one of our previous lists, Katie Kitamura’s “Intimacies.” When I bought it this morning at my local indie, where they know me well, the bookseller (her name, appropriately, is Page) enthused about it for a few moments, along with Kitamura’s earlier novel “A Separation,” then said, half-apologetically, “That’s my amateur opinion anyway.” I laughed, and told her the same thing I’m telling you: We’re all amateurs here.
Senior Editor, Books
THE WAR FOR GLORIA, by Atticus Lish. (Knopf, $28.) Lish’s second novel, following “Preparation for the Next Life,” which won the 2015 PEN/Faulkner award, is heartbreaking in its portrait of a mother and son facing her mortal illness. The book’s protagonist, Corey, grows up all but fatherless in and around Boston and seeks ways to prove himself. Gloria, his mother, has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and Corey tends to her. The details are intimate and harrowing and, to some degree, drive the core of the narrative. Lish writes equally well about fighting, construction, boat work, sexual longing, illness. The book is “in easy contact with dark areas of the psyche,” our critic Dwight Garner writes. It is “powerful, intelligent, brooding and most of all convincing; it earns its emotions.”