The new year begins as new years always do for readers: with an overwhelming, ungovernable new bounty of books, books in every conceivable category, genre, size, and shape. There will be much-hyped new releases and hidden gems that need discovering. Across that admittedly impossible spectrum and in no particular order, here are five January releases for your consideration:
The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, by Denis Johnson (Random House, 224 pp.) Certainly foremost in the “much-hyped” category for January is this final story collection by much-admired and National Book Award-winning author Denis Johnson, who passed away in May of last year. This new collection underscores how grievous that loss was for literature: It shows us Johnson subtly pushing his craft in new directions, and while the stories themselves read with smooth mastery, that taste of books we'll never see is bittersweet.
Brass, by Xhenet Aliu (Random House, 304 pp.) Moving from the fiction of an established icon to that of a first-timer, we come to this lyrically insightful debut novel by Xhenet Aliu, telling in sharp, pithy parallel narratives the story of a waitress in small-town Connecticut who falls in love with a charismatic Albanian immigrant and the story of her grown daughter, likewise feeling trapped in that same small town and seeking answers about her past. Aliu makes both these stories immediately touching and weaves them together in ways that are surprising without being sappy.
Uneasy Peace: The Great Crime Decline, the Renewal of City Life, and the Next War on Violence, by Patrick Sharkey (W.W. Norton& Co., 272 pp) As 2018 begins, in a trend reported across the country, most American cities are continuing to enjoy historic low levels of violent crime. In this enlightening study, New York University professor Patrick Sharkey delves into the causes for this decline, the forces keeping the figures at such low levels, the social changes unleashed by the fact that for most of their inhabitants, American cities are no longer war zones, and some sobering predictions about the future.
The Times Great Letters: A Century of Notable Correspondence (HarperCollins, 512 pp.) For a hundred years, the Letters page of The Times has been the acknowledged battleground for experts, contrarians, and crackpots, and this generous volume, edited by James Owen, brings together a terrifically entertaining selection of letters from that forum over the decades, touching on a surprisingly wide variety of topics, from the trivial (and occasionally delusional) to the world-shaking. If you've ever been tempted to write a letter to the Times, this book will either cure you or push you over the edge – but you'll have great fun reading it either way. [Editor's note: The original version of this review misidentified The Times.]
The New LiBEARian, by Alison Donald and Alex Willmore (Clarion Books, 32 pp.) One of January's most completely charming children's books is this story of kids assembling at their library for story time and finding a surprise: Instead of their beloved librarian, they find a bear … and the bear seems as confused as they are. And since bears can't really manage story time, there's a good deal of fun chaos until the librarian finally arrives and sorts everything out.