No foolin', there are a bevy of great books being released this month. Our favorites--available starting today--include a fascinating memoir by Ruth Reichl about her tenure at Gourmet magazine; a cold case reopened (and closed) by Black Hawk Down author Mark Bowden; celebrated psychotherapist, Lori Gottlieb, gives us a peek from both sides of the couch; a story for fans wondering what to read after Tara Westover's Educated, and more.
Learn more about these and all of our picks for the Best Books of the Month.
When Gourmet magazine closed its doors, no one was more surprised than its editor-in-chief, Ruth Reichl. Reichl’s previous release, My Kitchen Year, is a cookbook of the recipes that saw her through this sudden and heartbreaking change. Save Me the Plums is a memoir of how Reichl came to be at the magazine she’d pored over as a child, how she transformed it from a stuffy relic of the old guard into a publication that embraced a new culinary era, and how Gourmet magazine met its end. Reichl is a marvelous writer, and in Save Me the Plums readers experience her exhilarating journey from New York Times restaurant critic, to the farm-to-table movement of Los Angeles, and finally to the job she never expected to get: editor-in-chief of Gourmet. Reichl’s passion for the role food plays in our lives is evident on every page, including a smattering of recipes that complement the narrative. Save Me the Plums is a book not only about a changing food culture, but also about a woman taking on new challenges, pushing boundaries, and hanging onto the sense of wonder that started her on this road to begin with. A memoir to savor. --Seira Wilson
Set in a depressed suburb of Brisbane, Boy Swallows Universe is the unforgettable story of 12-year-old Eli (and his wise, mute older brother, August) gleaning what it means to be a good man from the parental figures in his life: septuagenarian Slim Halliday, Australia's most infamous prison escapee and the boys' babysitter; his drug-dealer-with-a-heart-of-gold stepdad, Lyle; his actual father, an anxiety-ridden alcoholic; and the mother he reveres. It's also the story of a young boy opposing a genuinely terrifying foe: local businessman Tytus Boz is rumored to reuse the body parts of murdered enemies in his artificial limb company, and he’s a heroin kingpin. Life as usual for Eli is a funny, heartbreaking mix of the mundane and the profane, rendered riveting by Eli’s pragmatism and lack of cynicism. He corresponds with inmates, dreams of a career as a crime journalist, and falls in love. When circumstances force August and Eli to move in with their father, Eli must summon all he’s learned to try to save his mother from crippling depression and, later, himself. Throughout it all, the two brothers slowly piece together a dreamlike childhood trauma. Poignant, hilarious, and endlessly imaginative, this is a love letter to clear-eyed male tenderness set against a series of bloody amputations and bricks of Golden Triangle smack. Recommended for anyone who can appreciate laughing and crying at the same time. --Katy Ball
In 1975, Bowden (Black Hawk Down, Hue 1968, among other critically acclaimed titles) was a young Baltimore reporter covering the disappearance of two sisters, 11 and 13, from a shopping mall in suburban Washington D.C. Though the police had suspects, the investigation dead-ended until 2013, when a cold case detective chanced upon a curious statement given by a man named Lloyd Welch, who was serving time for a series of unrelated but similar crimes. It became quickly apparent that Welch is also a compulsive liar, but not a smart or skilled one—his statements to the police were riddled with inconsistencies and abrupt about-faces, even if he often seemed self-satisfied with his transparently false evasions. The five detectives working the mystery untangled his ever-changing stories through polygraph tests, bargaining, and conversations with Welch's sprawling Appalachian family. But most critically, a series of extensive interviews, each successively tweaked and refined to shrink Welch's circle of deceptions, leads them closer to solving an unspeakable crime. "A Masterpiece of Criminal Interrogation" is an apt subtitle. The outcome won't (or shouldn’t) be a total surprise; the end-game feels inevitable, and readers will be compelled to conduct their own internet-based research as they go. But in the same way that The Jinx and The Staircase were compulsively watchable despite what you might have known about the outcomes, the detectives' shrewd diligence and the mechanics of their investigation make the ride-along well worth the time. --Jon Foro
In a decrepit mining town in northern Russia, Iyla discovers his gift for language while watching Die Hard with his charming, indolent older brother, Vladmir. As they get older, Vladmir’s gusto for the seedier things in life (prostitutes, partying) grows dangerous when a powerful new, opiate-like drug called krokodil comes to town. Just before 15-year-old Ilya leaves for an exchange program in America, Vladmir is accused of murder. The reader is then thrown into a raucous, Christian family in Louisiana where the oldest daughter has a secret with an unexpected connection to Ilya’s personal mission to exonerate his brother. Watching each relationship in the book unfold – parent/child, student/teacher, siblings, lovers – was like being held in a strange, thrilling embrace by a boa constrictor. From the ice-locked kommunalkas to the hot showers and cold Pepsi of suburban America, the author charts the ferocity and carelessness of family loyalty, and the terrible resilience of love. A brutal, beautifully told story of teenagers and adults doing the best they can, and that often not being enough. This book will look you in the eyes as it languorously bootheels your heart, all the more painful for the author having only written this one book so far. --Katy Ball
I didn’t quite know how to take it when a publishing friend excitedly thrust a copy of celebrated psychotherapist, Lori Gottlieb’s, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone into my hands and exclaimed: “Erin, this is a book for you!” (did I mention a couple colleagues were present and did not receive the same recommendation? The same colleagues who were just then nodding?). But I’m so glad he did. Giving the reader a behind-the-scenes peek from both sides of the couch, it’s a witty, relatable, moving homage to therapy—and just being human. While therapists are required to see a counselor themselves as part of their training, Gottlieb enlists an experienced ear when an unexpected breakup lays her flat. Working through her issues with the enigmatic “Wendell” helps Gottlieb process her pain, but it also hones her professional skills; after all, a good therapist possesses the ability to empathize with their patients (four of whom she chronicles in funny, frustrating, heartbreaking and profoundly inspiring detail). Like Gottlieb, you will see yourselves in them--in all their self-sabotaging, misunderstood, unlucky, and evolutionary glory. So, for those of you thinking: self-help books are just not my jam…They aren’t mine either (trust, my woo-woo detector is very sensitive). But Maybe You Should Talk to Someone is so much more expansive than that. Everybody, this is a book for you. --Erin Kodicek
When Paul Simon sang that “every generation throws a hero up the pop charts,” he could just as easily have been talking about memoirs. From The Liar’s Club to Angela’s Ashes to The Glass Castle, and from there to 2018’s Educated, every generation has been rocked by the recollections of those who were dealt a rotten hand in the parental poker game. And readers don’t even need to be in that club to appreciate the genre: the grateful relief of thinking “there but for the grace of God go I” is as visceral as thinking “me too.” For too many of these memoirists, salvation lay on the far shore of adulthood. What sets The Honey Bus apart from the rest of the genre then, is that it is simultaneously a story of survival and salvation. Meredith May’s father abandoned her, her little brother, and their mother fairly early on, and her mother retreated into a fug of mental illness, rage, and despair. Taken into the care of her maternal grandparents Meredith forged an unbreakable bond with her grandfather, who taught her about community, loyalty, and survival by way of his favorite pastime, making honey in a rusty old military bus parked in the yard of their Big Sur home. This touching memoir celebrates family, the lessons we can learn from nature, a marvelous little insect, and those heroic grandparents who, even when things fall apart, ensure the center can hold. --Vannessa Cronin
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