Here are just a few of the thought-provoking titles helping to mark the slow annual transition from fireside reading to waterside reading.
Living With a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth About Everything (By Barbara Ehrenreich. Twelve)
With 2001’s Nickel and Dimed, the author cemented her reputation as one of the sharpest North American social critics by slipping out of her own middle-class life and into the punishing lot of the working poor. Now, in this ruthlessly honest new memoir, Ehrenreich struggles with an earlier and far more complicated lapse from her normal existence. As a brainy teenager and the “good daughter of atheists” growing up in Lowell, Massachusetts, during the 1950s, she began experiencing uncanny moments in which her sense of reality suddenly shifted and everything “seemed to slip like water off a sheet of glass”—moments that in earlier times would have been called “mystical” but are now more likely (and more casually) to be classified in psychiatric terms. What is a lifelong rationalist, trained as a cell biologist, to do with these piercing, seemingly transcendent instants? Due out April 8.
Rebel Music: Race, Empire, and the New Muslim Youth Culture (By Hisham D. Aidi. Pantheon)
A basic web search turns up miles of writing about how disaffected young Muslims are sometimes attracted to radically conservative strains of their religion, which seem to offer a form of resistance to western imperial forces headquartered in Washington, D.C. But Columbia University lecturer Hisham D. Aidi wants to point out another, much overlooked shift that has led a generation of marginalized Muslim youth in the opposite direction, toward the heart of American culture, in their search to confront the powers that be. Rebel Music describes an “American dream” in Muslim ghettos overseas that is inspired by “the Islam of Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, an Islam that played a critical role in the civil rights movement and in making America more at ease with diversity than Europe”. Pilgrimage routes now lead not only to the Middle East, but also to Harlem and the Bronx.
A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip: A Memoir of Seventh Grade (By Kevin Brockmeier. Pantheon)
It’s natural that the 41-year-old native of Little Rock, Arkansas, uses the third person for this reflection on his long-gone childhood. As the writer of such works of fiction as The Brief History of the Dead, Brockmeier may well be more comfortable treating himself as a character named Kevin. Moreover, this distancing effect carries the alternating current of familiar-strange that we all feel when faced with images of our much younger selves. Radiant Filmstrip is out to stir up the old sensations of a year in the waiting room to adulthood, in this case as a boy of 12 who “is always amazed by the difference between how he feels and how he appears”. Due out April 8.
Kinder Than Solitude (By Yiyun Li. Random House)
The Oakland, California–based author of The Vagrants (shortlisted for the 2011 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award) returns with a novel that uses the story-fuel of unsolved murder to power a dark, spare character study. Boyang lives in Beijing; Moran and Ruyu are immigrants in the United States. But 20 years ago, the three were together in China when a friend of theirs, a young Tiananmen Square protester, was fatally poisoned. In the aftermath, each has retreated into an shell, but all are still dogged not only by the crime but by the disillusion of that violent passage in Chinese history.
The Confabulist (By Steven Galloway. Knopf Canada)
Six years after his acclaimed novel The Cellist of Sarajevo, the native Vancouverite serves up storytelling that emulates the sliding panels and sleight of hand used by its famous subject, the great illusionist Harry Houdini. Narrated by a fictionalized version of the McGill University student who, according to history, delivered the punch that accidentally killed Houdini in 1926, the novel promises to mix fact and imaginative flight (including the idea that Houdini worked as an agent of American and British intelligence) in ways that throw light on the magically deceptive nature of narrative itself. Due out April 29.
Circus (By Claire Battershill. McClelland & Stewart)
The form of this debut collection was perhaps inevitable. The Dawson Creek–born Battershill made her name as a short-story writer all the way back in 2009, when she won the CBC Literary Award for “Circus”, the tale of contortionists and bear-suited wrestlers that supplies the book’s title. Moreover, the volume’s design, replete with penny-farthing-era engravings, pays tribute to the author’s time as an apprentice in a vintage printing-press shop in Toronto. But the bright spirit of Battershill’s vision can be seen most easily in her cast of characters, which range from an English bureaucrat searching for love on the web to an introspective Olympic athlete (in the expertly titled “Two-Man Luge: A Love Story”). Due out April 8.