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The Weekly Read: What’s New in Books

An MLK bio dives deep, two best-selling novels get the 2023 Pulitzer Prize, and a British author tackles the history of humanity

spinner image Three book covers, King by Jonathan Eig, The Lie Maker by Linwood Barclay, and Yellowface by R. F. Kuang
Farrar, Straus and Giroux / William Morrow (2) / Getty

Picks of the week

  • In King: A Life by Jonathan Eig (May 16), the author of 2017’s Ali: A Life, about Muhammad Ali, dives into Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s family history, childhood, accomplishments, private life and more — hoping to create “a more intimate kind of biography,” the author has said. Of course, King’s life has been plumbed by countless historians, but this take may rise above many others. Dwight Garner offers a glowing review in The New York Times, calling it “supple, penetrating, heartstring-pulling and compulsively readable.”
  • Thriller lovers will be snapping up blockbuster author Linwood Barclay’s The Lie Maker (May 16), a stand-alone story about a struggling writer hired to provide fictional backstories for people in the federal government’s Witness Security Program. While doing so he decides to look for his father, who was taken into witness protection long ago, his whereabouts unknown.
  • And there’s lots of buzz over Yellowface by R.F. Kuang (May 16), a piercingly satiric tale about a young, ambitious writer, June Hayward, so desperate for attention she steals a manuscript written by her Hong Kong–born former Yale classmate Athena Liu — a far more successful literary darling — when Liu dies. June submits it as her own, using the ethnically ambiguous pseudonym Juniper Song. Hayward, our narrator, finds success, but is haunted by her actions.

From microhistories to the ultimate macrohistory — set to music!

spinner image The World by Simeon Sebag Montefiori
Knopf / Marcus Leoni

A few months ago, I wrote about the appeal of microhistories — books that focus on seemingly tiny topics as a way to view larger issues, such as Mark Kurlansky’s 1998 bestseller Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World and this year’s Egg: A Dozen Ovatures by Lizzie Stark.

But what about the authors who try to take on, essentially, everything? Such is the case with the British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of 2016’s The Romanovs, in his impressive, if daunting, new 1,344-page book, The World: A Family History of Humanity (May 16). He starts with a set of five footprints found in England and thought to have been made by a family 950,000 to 850,000 years ago — “the oldest family footprints ever found,” he writes — and goes on to use the stories of families through time to tell the history of humanity, through the current tumultuous age.

And this is fun: Montefiore offers a Spotify playlist for his book, a “Soundtrack to the World,” on It includes his 422 picks for the greatest songs about history. Among them: “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones, which he declares “the greatest history song of all time,” with “its lyrics narrated by the devil perpetrating the great crimes of the 20th century.” Others in this cool mix range from classics like “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” by The Band and “Strange Fruit" by Nina Simone to the less-expected “Baraye” by Iranian Shervin Hajipour and Ava Max’s 2020 hit “Kings & Queens,” which the historian calls “a rallying cry for modern feminism.”

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Two novelists win a Pulitzer

spinner image Left author Hernan Diaz and his book Trust, right author Barbara Kingsolver and her book Demon Copperhead
Riverhead Books / Pascal Perich / Harper / Evan Kafka

The 2023 Pulitzer Prize for fiction has been awarded to two thick best-selling 2022 novels: Trust by Hernan Diaz and Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver.

Great picks. But it’s the first time since the award’s 1948 beginning that two novels have received a Pulitzer in one year. So why two, I asked Diaz’s understandably ecstatic publicist at Riverhead Books, Bianca Flores. She responded by email: “no idk! We were all just as surprised!!!” (I reached out to the Pulitzer organization but haven’t received a response.)

The award committee describes Trust as “riveting” and “a complex examination of love and power in a country where capitalism is king.” HBO is adapting it for a limited series starring Kate Winslet.

“I had to leave the restaurant when I heard, and I started weeping on the curb,” Diaz (whose first novel, In the Distance, was a Pulitzer finalist as well five years ago) told The Washington Post. “It was very embarrassing. Three very kind ladies came and said, ‘Honey, are you okay?’ And I did tell them what happened, and we were all hugging. It was very sweet.”

Demon Copperhead, meanwhile, is an absorbing story inspired by Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield and centered on a young man growing up in poverty in Appalachia who faces trials galore.

His Name Is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice by Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa, won the Pulitzer for general nonfiction.

Andrew McCarthy — who’s not a brat! — on ‘Walking With Sam’

spinner image left book cover walking with sam by andrew mccarthy right author andrew mccarthy
Grand Central Publishing / Jesse Dittmar

Remember the Brat Pack, those hot young actors of 1980s coming-of-age films like Pretty in Pink and St. Elmo’s Fire? Turns out they are no longer bratty (if they ever even were) — or at least Andrew McCarthy isn’t. Now 60, he was friendly and thoughtful when I talked with him recently about his new book Walking With Sam: A Father, a Son and Five Hundred Miles Across Spain (May 9). It’s his story about an epic five-week bonding adventure he shared with his 19-year-old son, Sam, walking the famous Spanish pilgrimage route, the Camino de Santiago.

McCarthy — who does a mix of acting, writing and directing these days — candidly describes his insecurities and various tensions with Sam during the often grueling, life-changing trip, which we discussed along with what he’s reading (lots of nonfiction about spies, for one) and a documentary he’s filming about the Brat Pack. You can read more from the interview on Members Only Access.

Picks of the week (May 9 edition)

spinner image from left to right book covers the making of another major motion picture masterpiece by tom hanks then who cares by emily kenway then the collected regrets of clover by mikki brammer
Knopf / Seal Press / St. Martin's Press / Getty
  • The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece by Tom Hanks (May 9). Turns out  Hanks isn’t just a stellar actor. He’s also a darn-good writer. His first novel is a wonderful, often humorous story that jumps from 1947 to 1970 and on to the present-day creation of a splashy superhero movie based on an old comic book. Film lovers will eat it up. (Read my review here.)
  • Who Cares: The Hidden Crisis of Caregiving, and How We Solve It by Emily Kenway (May 9). Beginning with a wrenching description of Kenway’s exhausting (emotionally and physically) experience caring for her mother as she’s dying of cancer, the author argues that we are on the brink of a caregiving crisis, with people living longer, and urgently need to address it. Her words will ring true for family caregivers — which so many of us are, have been, or will be.
  • The Collected Regrets of Clover by Mikki Brammer (May 9). This is a warm-hearted novel that’s also (sort of) about caregiving. Its focus is on Clover Brooks, an antisocial death doula who — since her beloved grandfather’s death — has been devoted to making sure that others’ dying journey is peaceful, yet does nothing to focus on her own happiness. Then she meets Claudia, an older woman who, in a roundabout way, inspires her to open her heart and embrace life. Kirkus calls it “a beautiful tale” that “walks the edge of sentimentality with poignant success.”

Elin Hilderbrand’s (almost) last Nantucket novel

spinner image left author elin hilderbrand right the book cover for the five star weekend by elin hilderbrand
Nina Subin / Little, Brown and Company

Summer’s coming, which means it’s time to start thinking about beach reads, people! And few authors are more beachy than the beloved Elin Hilderbrand, 53, who’s been writing her Nantucket-set novels for more than 20 years. Her next one, The Five-Star Weekend, comes out on June 13, and her fans will want to savor it because there will only be one more to come. As she told me in a recent interview (check it out on next month), her last summery Nantucket island tale will be published in 2024.

Why stop now? “I am just flat out running out of ideas,” Hilderbrand said. “I’m at the top of my game right now, and I don’t want the quality of the books to fail — so I’m doing everybody a favor.”

She added that she’s not retiring from writing altogether, but is eager to focus more on her true love: reading other authors’ novels. A few of her recent favorites: I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai, Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld and Pineapple Street by Jenny Jackson.

Picks of the week (May 2 edition)

spinner image From left to right book covers the Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese, Late Bloomers by Deepa Varadarajan, Camera Girl by Carl Sferrazza Anthony
Grove Press / Random House / Gallery Books / Getty
  • If you’ve got ample reading time, you won’t regret diving into the weighty The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese (May 2), known for his 2009 bestseller Cutting for Stone. It’s 715 pages long but absolutely absorbing and a likely award contender this year. Verghese weaves multiple storylines throughout — including that of a family in Kerala, on south India’s Malabar Coast, with what appears to be a kind of curse: Someone from every generation dies by drowning. The audiobook version is narrated by the author.  
  • For lighter reading, check out Late Bloomers by Deepa Varadarajan (May 2), a charming debut about an Indian American family shaken up when the parents divorce 36 years into their arranged marriage and enter the wild world of dating — surprising their two adult children, who have their own share of problems in the love department.
  • Also of note is Camera Girl: The Coming of Age of Jackie Bouvier Kennedy by Carl Sferrazza Anthony (May 2), who describes the icon’s life in Paris and other adventures — such as covering Queen Elizabeth’s coronation as a writer for the Washington Times-Herald — from her formative years (1949-1953), through her marriage to John F. Kennedy at age 24.


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Bridgerton’s Queen Charlotte, before she became the talk of the town

spinner image Left Queen Charlotte an upcoming Bridgerton Story by Netflix, right actress Golda Rosheuvel
Netflix / Photo by Steven Simione/FilmMagic

Guilty pleasure alert: Netflix’s Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story premiered on May 4. It’s a spin-off/prequel to the streaming service’s often-steamy Regency-era romance series from Shonda Rhimes, based on the novels by Julia Quinn (fun reads, as I discovered during a romance novel binge a few pandemic summers ago).

An accompanying book cowritten by Quinn and Rhimes is also out now. As fans know from the previous Bridgerton novels and/or the two seasons of the show that have aired, Queen Charlotte — played by Golda Rosheuvel, 53, on TV — is an imperious power broker responsible for choosing one lucky young lady as the most desirable, the “diamond,” among the ton (fashionable society) every season.

The prequel, billed by publisher Avon Books as “the diamond of this season’s publishing offerings,” focuses on the arranged marriage and subsequent romance between the young German Princess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and King George III. The novel begins, amusingly, with the princess at age 17, uncomfortably squeezed into a corset on her way to meet her betrothed — and royally displeased by the prospect.

Beyond books: More reasons to love libraries

spinner image A paperback book full of wildflowers
Getty Images

How awesome are libraries? Books galore, available to all, for free. And many libraries offer a range of other freebies, as explained in this story. They include not only workshops, internet access and conference room space, but unexpected perks such as passes to state parks: Nevada State Parks recently launched the Library Park Pass, which you can check out at any branch to get a day pass allowing free entry to its 27 parks; Connecticut has a similar deal called the No Child Left Inside day pass (for all ages).

You can also get — who knew? — free plant seeds. A growing number of libraries, from Delavan, Wisconsin, to Boulder, Colorado, allow people to “check out” seeds to grow flowers, vegetables and more. Programs vary, but some libraries suggest that seed takers later return seeds from their sprouted plants, to replenish the library’s stock.

Picks of the week (April 25 edition)

spinner image from left to right book covers saturday night at the lakeside supper club by j ryan stradal then small mercies by dennis lahane then simply lies by david baldacci
Pamela Dorman Books / Harper / Grand Central Publishing / Getty
  • I loved Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club, by J. Ryan Stradal (April 18), who again offers a warmhearted, multigenerational story, as he did in his previous novels Kitchens of the Great Midwest and The Lager Queen of Minnesota. The focus here is on a young couple from two Minnesota restaurant families — one of them longtime owners of an old-school supper club — who feel the weight of their legacies, but then a tragic accident leads them in new directions.
  • In Small Mercies by Dennis Lehane (April 25) — author of, among other hits, Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone — a teenage girl goes missing and a young Black man is killed by a subway train on one hot night during the summer of 1974, when Bostonians are already steamed up over plans to desegregate the schools. (See our interview with Lehane on AARP’s Members Only Access.)
  • Psychological thriller fans are already snapping up David Baldacci’s action-packed Simply Lies (April 18), featuring two female characters, a detective — single mother Mickey Gibson — and a con artist, facing off. Among other trials, Gibson is framed for murder and finds herself in a race against time to prove her innocence

Books From Lucinda Williams, Chita Rivera and Mother-Daughter duo Laura Dern and Diane Ladd

spinner image from left to right book covers dont tell anybody the secrets i told you by lucinda williams then chita by chita rivera then honey baby mine by laura dern and diane ladd

Three big celebrity memoirs arrived on April 25:  

  • Don’t Tell Anybody the Secrets I Told You, by Lucinda Williams: The three-time Grammy-winning singer, songwriter and musician, 70, opens up about her unstable upbringing in the Deep South (she lived in 12 towns by the time she turned 18) and the stories that inspired her wonderfully evocative songs. She told me about the book, her difficult, ongoing recovery from a stroke, and more in a recent interview.
  • Chita, by Chita Rivera (with Patrick Pacheco): The Broadway legend, 90, recalls her famous role as Anita in the first production of West Side Story — where she met and married a fellow dancer (a Jet!), Tony Mordente — and more from her remarkable career. (You can read AARP’s discussion with Rivera here.)
  • Honey, Baby, Mine: A Mother and Daughter Talk Life, Death, Love (and Banana Pudding), by Diane Ladd and Laura Dern: The two actresses, ages 87 and 56, offer up a series of conversations about big topics, plus anecdotes from their lives, family photos and recipes. Check out some highlights

Gretchen Rubin wants you to stop and smell the flowers

spinner image left book cover life in five senses by gretchen rubin right gretchen rubin portrait
Crown / Austin Walsh

In Life in Five Senses: How Exploring the Senses Got Me Out of My Head and Into the World, by Gretchen Rubin (April 18), the author of the mega-bestselling The Happiness Project (2020) explores touching, tasting and other sensory pleasures as a way to engage with the world and live more fully — a topic that began to interest her when she had eye problems and considered what life would be like without vision.

Rubin’s website includes a related quiz to help you determine your most neglected sense (“the sense that you least often turn to for pleasure or comfort”). She tells AARP that hers is taste. Mine is smell, according to the quiz, which offered suggestions for awakening my olfactory sense, including, “Find some scratch-n-sniff stickers or a scratch-n-sniff book” and “Visit a fragrance counter and sample five scents.” A bit silly, but loads of evidence show that cultivating mindfulness — however you choose to do so — can boost mood and lower anxiety. So maybe I'll start sniffing around a bit.     

Editor's note: This article was originally published on June 21, 2022. It has been updated to reflect new information. 

Please share your own favorite new (or old) books, upcoming releases you’re excited about, or anything book related in the comments section.

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