Spring, at last! We Washingtonians have endured quite a bit of “weather,” as they call it, this winter. As you clean out your gardens, why not clean out your bookshelves and make a little space for a few of these newly released titles? This month’s crop includes fiction from a true master (Ward Just), as well as from an author so new he still uses a skateboard (Maxwell Neely-Cohen); in nonfiction, we’ve got a masterful intellectual examination of compassion (The Empathy Exams) and a masterful practical memoir of compassion (Run, Don’t Walk). If I could just box up and send avid readers all ten of these books, I would.
Books are listed in approximate order of on-sale date. I started this series last month here on Washingtonian.com, and I will keep it up as long as my editor allows it--but want to reiterate that I’m happy to entertain suggestions. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
American Romantic by Ward Just
What happens to a man’s soul after he spends his life in service to his country? Just’s protagonist Harry is a world- and war-weary State Department veteran whose choices and orders along the way affect him, as well as his great loves, and how they negotiate the future.
Be Safe I Love You by Cara Hoffman
Hoffman dazzled me (and many others) with her 2011 So Much Pretty, a dark, disturbing examination of small-town violence against women. Her new novel focuses on the difficult homecoming of a female Army sergeant, and it’s damned fine work. Highly recommend.
The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson
You might not think a comic romp involving blood diamonds, Scandinavian gangsters, and an unlikely heroine might teach you something about the evils of fundamentalism in all its forms--but Jonas Jonasson has pulled this off in one of the year’s best surprises.
Echo of the Boom by Maxwell Neely-Cohen
“Born after the fall of the wall but before the fall of the towers,” Neely-Cohen’s teenaged protagonists inhabit a Washington, DC that is stretched to its limits right before “the end” (although no one knows exactly what that is). A brave, funny, articulate new voice.
Casebook by Mona Simpson
I’ll admit that I love most of Simpson’s work, so I was expecting to love her new novel--but I wasn’t expecting the tart Mile Adler-Hart, whose intelligence reports from his Santa Monica adolescence are a testimony to parents and children in every part of the country.
The Empathy Exams: Essays by Lesley Jamison
You’ll be hearing a lot about this collection of essays (full page in New York Times Book Review, that kind of hearing), but if you’re just hearing about it here first, just go and buy or reserve a copy. Jamison illuminates her subject but her writing alone is worth the trip.
Living with a Wild God by Barbara Ehrenreich
Who except Ehrenreich (Nickel and Dimed) could dig a bit of early experience from a diary, hone and polish it for meaning to her own life, and then extend that meaning for contemplation by others? Even if you don’t agree with her conclusions, you’ll learn from them.
Falling Through Clouds: A Story of Survival, Love, and Liability by Damian Fowler
After Toby Pearson’s wife was killed in an airplane accident that his two young daughters survived, he took on the aviation-law establishment--and actually changed things. For anyone who enjoys a David-versus-Goliath story, and who among us does not?
If you’re looking for a weepy inspirational book, run, don’t walk in the opposite direction--Levine isn’t here to jerk tears. Instead, she’s written a mordantly funny account of how soldiers and their rehab teams really make it through amputation, PTSD, and more. And it’s . . . an inspiration.
“Roger Roffman first discovered marijuana while serving as a US Army officer in Vietnam. From these seemingly innocuous beginnings, Roffman has been fascinated by marijuana, as a researcher, scholar, therapist, activist, and user.” What’s not to love?