Monitor reviewers were captivated this month by a raft of offerings, from memoirs and meditations to books about historic events and social issues. The April releases proved to be a boon for book lovers of all tastes.
1 The Department of Sensitive Crimes, by Alexander McCall Smith
Detective Varg investigates crimes too odd or baffling for the police department in Malmö, Sweden. An imaginary boyfriend is reported missing. A man is stabbed – in the back of his knee. Varg is a quiet crusader for justice who doesn’t miss a detail. Chicanery is exposed; mercy is exacted. It’s hard to imagine a less dark Scandinavian police novel, or one that is more winning.
2 Lost and Wanted, by Nell Freudenberger
Physicist and mother Helen Clapp is a highly accomplished author and professor. When her best friend Charlotte (“Charlie”) dies, her world changes as she engages with Charlie’s family and friends. Timely and delightfully observant of relationships, this novel is deeply heartfelt, amazingly intellectual, and beautifully thought provoking.
3 Charged, by Emily Bazelon
Journalist and lawyer Emily Bazelon shines light on the under-examined role of prosecutors in America’s crisis-level incarceration rates. This rigorous, compassionate, and vital book argues that district attorneys who focus more on mercy and less on simply locking people up have a pivotal role to play in fixing the criminal justice system.
4 The League of Wives, by Heath Hardage Lee
When their husbands were taken captive in Vietnam, military wives were told to keep quiet until the U.S. government could bring them home. In this new lens on the Vietnam War, Heath Hardage Lee shows how the “reluctant sorority” of POW and MIA wives evolved slowly, and sometimes painfully, into warriors in their own right, confronting senators, ambassadors, and even the president in the effort to save their loved ones.
5 American Moonshot, by Douglas Brinkley
The 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969 has provoked a stream of books, and one of the best to appear in the early part of the year was written by popular historian Douglas Brinkley. His book makes the space program even more dramatic by matching it with the life story of President John F. Kennedy.
6 Falter, by Bill McKibben
Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, the first organization to combat climate change, is done playing Mr. Nice Guy and has ramped up his efforts to save us from ourselves. “Falter” lays out in blunt terms how and why the human game went wrong, who and what was responsible, and how we, if we are determined enough, can fix it. There is no time to lose. “Falter” is a rallying cry for the environmental movement.
7 Possessed by Memory, by Harold Bloom
Harold Bloom, America’s preeminent literary critic, is lying awake at night reciting lines from poems. It’s not a way to count sheep; rather, he’s gleaning from the verses the “inward light” that will comfort him as he enters the “elegy season.” This audacious personal odyssey offers readers a cosmos of possibilities when contemplating what happens once we “shuffle off this mortal coil.”
8 Solid Seasons, by Jeffrey S. Cramer
As in all long friendships, Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson had their periods of revelations and frustrations. Jeffrey S. Cramer explores their relationship through their own words, demonstrating that Thoreau could not fully appreciate Emerson, and he lacked Emerson’s ability to love another person, warts and all.
9 Save Me the Plums, by Ruth Reichl
How we’ve missed sitting down to a virtual meal with Ruth Reichl. The latest memoir from the food writer covers her decade as the final editor of Gourmet magazine, bringing us into an elite world that mixes “Top Chef” with “The Devil Wears Prada.” Reichl is reflective, dishy, deeply personal – and even willing to share a few recipes.
10 K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches, by Tyler Kepner
Baseball junkies will love this book. Even casual fans will get a kick out of it. The New York Times baseball writer Tyler Kepner examines America’s pastime through the squinty eyes of a pitcher. The author captures the glory and quirkiness of the sport he clearly loves, from the spitball to the “scroogie.”