What better time than midwinter to treat yourself to a brand-new paperback? Here are 10 good suggestions — engrossing novels, charming memoirs, important Black History Month reads — to brighten your February afternoons.
“Chasing History: A Kid in the Newsroom”
by Carl Bernstein (Holt Paperbacks, $19.99)
Bernstein, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of “All the President’s Men,” here writes about the very beginnings of his career, when he worked as a teenage copy boy and later reporter at Washington, D.C.’s Evening Star. “Admirers of this remarkable journalist will find much to love in this charming account,” wrote Publishers Weekly, in a starred review.
“Left on Tenth: A Second Chance at Life”
by Delia Ephron (Little, Brown, $18.99)
Ephron, author of the novels “Siracusa” and “The Lion Is In” (and co-writer of the movie “You’ve Got Mail” with her sister Nora), had the saddest possible subject matter for her memoir: After losing her husband and her sister to cancer, she faced her own diagnosis of an aggressive leukemia. While never downplaying the seriousness of what she faced, she nonetheless crafted a book full of hope — in which, astonishingly, she falls in love again. I read it with frequent tears, but closed it feeling nothing but joy.
“Manifesto: On Never Giving Up”
by Bernadine Evaristo (Grove Paperback, $18)
The London-born winner of the 2019 Booker Prize (for "Girl, Woman, Other”) shares her life story and encourages those dreaming of the writing life to give it a try. A review in The Guardian noted that “the autobiographical parts of the book serve as vivid lessons about the power of change, growth and self-confidence.”
by Jonathan Evison (Dutton, $18)
The Bainbridge Island-based author of “Lawn Boy” and “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving” here tells a story of a diverse group of strangers on a train headed for a crash. “ ‘Small World’ is ambitious, showing our interconnectedness across time, place and cultures,” wrote a New York Times reviewer, noting that the novel is “easy to love in part because it deals in generosity and hope.”
“You Don’t Know Us Negroes and Other Essays”
by Zora Neale Hurston (Amistad, $19.99)
Edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. (who also wrote the introduction) and Genevieve West, this collection showcases 35 years of essays on a wide variety of topics — some previously published, some making their debut. Though many of us know Hurston primarily for her fiction, most notably “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” “adds immeasurably to our understanding of Hurston, who was a tireless crusader in all her writing, and ahead of her time. Though she was often misunderstood, sometimes maligned and occasionally dismissed, her words make it impossible for readers to consider her anything but one of the intellectual giants of the 20th century.”
by Elinor Lipman (Harper Perennial, $17.99)
I’ve been reading and enjoying Lipman’s delightful novels, essentially contemporary comedies of manners, for many years. Her latest involves a 39-year-old female lawyer on home confinement arrest; the book, wrote a New York Times reviewer, brings Lipman’s trademark charm and clever high jinks “while adding a potent dose of wry social commentary.”
by Julia Otsuka (Anchor, $16)
In Otsuka’s bestselling novel, a group of regulars find comfort in meditative laps at an aquatic center. When the pool is abruptly shut down, the swimmers are deeply affected by the loss — particularly Alice, living with dementia and slipping into memories of a childhood spent in a Japanese American incarceration camp during the war. NPR reviewer Maureen Corrigan called it “a slim brilliant novel about the value and beauty of mundane routines that shape our days and identities.”
by Nita Prose (Ballantine Books, $18)
Prose’s debut mystery features a delightful heroine: Molly, a neurodivergent young woman who works as a maid in a fancy hotel — and isn’t sure what to do when a dead body turns up in a room she’s slated to clean. I fell in love with Molly when I read this a year ago, and am eager for the eventual movie (Florence Pugh is slated to star).
“Lorraine Hansberry: The Life Behind ‘A Raisin in the Sun’”
by Charles J. Shields (Holt Paperbacks, $19.99)
Hansberry, the first Black woman to have a play performed on Broadway, lived a tragically short life (she died of cancer in 1965, aged just 34), but biographer Shields here gives those brief years their due. A starred Kirkus Review described the book as “a revealing and rewarding biography documenting the life, work, and historical relevance of a great American author.”
“How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America”
by Clint Smith (Little, Brown, $18.99)
Winner of the nonfiction award from the National Book Critics Circle, Smith’s book takes his readers on an unflinching tour of our country’s past. The Washington Post called it “an eminently readable, thought-provoking volume, with a clear message to separate nostalgic fantasy and false narratives from history.”