The Beauty of Beirut
Musée Henry turns fragments of Lebanon’s history into a poetic mosaic.
Sloane Crosley picks out the best new books to take you from summer to fall.
IF YOU LIVE in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s a cliché to claim fall as your favorite season. As if it’s a dark horse. Perhaps you’re also weirdly good with deadlines and can’t sleep unless it’s cold? Still, the charms of our greatest season cannot be ignored. Ever since the invention of the pencil shaving, the opaque tight, and the cider donut, fall has been America’s spring. Beyond the distinctive sights and smells of August tiptoeing out the door, what really delineates the season is the cornucopia of new and memorable books. So celebrate the end of summer and welcome the fall by treating yourself to a light jacket, an unflavored latte (pumpkins are for picking), and a pile of these enlightening, hilarious, and moving releases. They will help you — oh yes, you guessed it — turn over a new leaf.
“Let’s not anyone here call anyone else absurd.” How, one wonders, could anyone not be hopelessly charmed by Andrew Sean Greer’s character Arthur Less, whose hapless story of professional struggles, awkward travels, and hard-won loves earned his creator a Pulitzer Prize. Now we have the utterly delightful sequel to “Less,” “Less Is Lost” (Little, Brown), this time told from the perspective of Less’ partner (and emergency contact), Freddy Pelu. Their story begins and ends in San Francisco and “in between: a plane, a van, a bus, a train; a donkey, a whale, and a moose.” A road-trip novel with everyone’s favorite “Minor American Novelist” as its guinea pig, “Less Is Lost” tells a very contemporary story of security undone, the death of an old friend and lover, and a financial crisis that has Arthur Less accepting a variety of antic-packed literary invitations across the country. Of course, in the end, wherever you go, there you are. “Less Is Lost” is a novel that dares to ask the question, “How long can a gay man survive in a desert?” It is in the balance between hilarity and heart that this sequel proves itself as delightful as its predecessor.
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The premise of Tokyo-based author Emi Yagi’s “Diary of a Void” (Viking) is so elegant, it’s one of those ideas that feels wonderfully familiar. After our heroine, Ms. Shibata, makes a fresh start at a new company (having escaped the sexual harassment at her former one), she finds herself in a department of entitled men, charged with an array of menial housekeeping-based tasks. One day, almost without thinking, she claims she can’t clear a smelly conference room of coffee cups and cigarette butts. The odor is making her ill because, as she decides, she’s pregnant. As the streamlined chapters of her fake pregnancy unfold, each one representing a week in the Big Lie, the tension grows along with the comedic details. Here she is, after being gifted a “huge supply” of koala-shaped candy: “As a child, I’d gotten such a thrill out of their cute expressions and striking poses, each one unique. Now I was tossing the bite-sized marsupials straight into my mouth. What was I turning into? It was terrifying.” “Diary of a Void” starts as stylish satire about the societal luxuries afforded to pregnant woman, a cri de coeur for those who have yet to make such practical use of their wombs. But it becomes something even more profound. Always expect the unexpected when you’re not expecting.
Felix Salten’s “Bambi” (New York Review Books Classics), yes that Bambi, was released over a century ago in Vienna, a novel meant for adults but which served as inspiration for the Disney film. Damion Searls’ new translation details the minutiae of forest life as well as the constant threat humans pose to it.
Tess Gunty’s startling and vivid debut novel, “The Rabbit Hutch” (Knopf), centers around four teens fresh out of an Indiana foster care system, and one in particular, Blandine, who longs for an elaborate escape from a painful life.
Fans of Stacy Schiff’s “Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov)” and Heather Clark’s “Red Comet” will rejoice in the publication of Mark Braude’s comprehensive page-turner “Kiki Man Ray” (Norton). Better known as Kiki de Montparnasse, here is the woman who launched a thousand violin-themed back tattoos, but who was integral to some of the most famous surrealist art of the twentieth century.
The incomparable A.M. Homes has always been a sharpshooter when it comes to the American family. But she has outdone herself in “The Unfolding” (Viking) by bombing it with contemporary politics and power imbalance: “‘I don’t know—it’s just coming out of me, bubbling up.’ He pauses. ‘Like bile.’”
“Severance” author Ling Ma is back with eight stories of fantastic delusion, wild scenarios, and people grappling with madness from both inside and out in “Bliss Montage” (FSG).
Namwali Serpell’s “The Furrows” (Hogarth) unspools a haunting story of family grief, of a sister who must grow up without the brother she lost in a tragic accident, until one day she takes an unexpected route out of her sorrow. Or tries to.
It’s 1945, the war is over, and a widow finds that “The House in the Orchard” (Tin House) is haunted in mysterious ways by an orphan who lived there in the late nineteenth century. In Elizabeth Brooks’ novel, issues of class, grief, and longing rise up through the floorboards of every page.
Wyatt Harlan’s insider-y “Elbowing The Seducer” (McNally Editions) is a deliciously smart romp about a rivalry between two that ramps up with the unexpected addition of a third.
“The Last White Man” (Riverhead) is two-time Booker-prize finalist Mohsin Hamid’s extremely Kafkaesque tale of race. Beth Macy (“Dopesick”) returns to the harrowing frontier of the American opioid crisis in “Raising Lazarus” (Little, Brown). A travel ban rips a young Syrian couple apart in “No Land to Light On” (Atria), Yara Zgheib’s portrait of modern love and modern exile. Last but not leaf, Annette Dauphin Simon’s “Spine Poems” (Harper Design), a collection of found verse from book spines, makes for a goofy gift with some surprisingly weighty contents.
Sloane Crosley is the author of several essay collections, including “I Was Told There’d Be Cake” and “Look Alive Out There,” and the novel “The Clasp.” Her new novel, “Cult Classic,” is out now.
Lisa Lok is an art director at Departures. A Brooklyn-based creative, she enjoys collaborating with illustrators and photographers from around the world. Her work can be found in the pages of Airbnb Magazine, NYLON, and Asia Society Magazine, among others.
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Author Sloane Crosley’s selection of excellent books for the season and beyond.