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10 New Books We Recommend This Week – The New York Times

Suggested reading from critics and editors at The New York Times.

“Closeness is impossible between an artist and a critic,” The New Yorker’s great art critic Peter Schjeldahl wrote a few years ago, in an article that acknowledged at least fleetingly that closeness had likewise proved challenging at times between the author — a recovering alcoholic — and his daughter, the writer Ada Calhoun, who was 16 when Schjeldahl got sober. (“Let’s see if I get this straight,” she told him then, in his recollection. “Now you want to be my dad?”)

Now Calhoun has written a memoir, “Also a Poet,” that revisits her relationship with her father through the lens of his interest in the poet Frank O’Hara, with plenty of personal musing along the way about creativity and criticism and fathers and daughters. It affirms Schjeldahl’s impression of Calhoun as “fantastically interesting,” and would be a fitting addition to your reading list this week after Father’s Day.

Also up: the uncollected essays of another great critic, Elizabeth Hardwick, as well as a true-crime investigation of murder and insurance fraud at sea, a biography of George Floyd and a study of the staggering and enduring racial disparities in America’s health care system. In fiction, we like an Irish writer’s story collection and new novels by Sloane Crosley and Ken Kalfus, along with two novels based on real-life figures: Louis Bayard’s “Jackie & Me,” about the Kennedy confidant Lem Billings, and the graphic novel “Flung Out of Space,” by Grace Ellis and Hannah Templer, based on the life of the celebrated midcentury noir novelist Patricia Highsmith. Happy reading.

Gregory Cowles
Senior Editor, Books
Twitter: @GregoryCowles

ALSO A POET: Frank O’Hara, My Father, and Me, by Ada Calhoun (Grove, $27.) In her new memoir, Calhoun resurfaces material that her father, the art critic Peter Schjeldahl, gathered years ago for a possible biography of the poet Frank O’Hara, who died in 1966, at 40. Calhoun discovered dusty cassette tapes with discussions between her father and a who’s who from O’Hara’s circle, including Willem de Kooning and Edward Gorey. “Also a Poet” began as Calhoun’s attempt to finish what her father couldn’t, but it turned into a story about both the impossibility of reconstructing another person’s life and the importance of trying — and an investigation of the strained, complicated relationship between a creative father and daughter. The result, our critic Alexandra Jacobs writes, is “a big valentine to New York City past and present, and a contribution to literary scholarship, molten with soul.”

UNDER THE SKIN:The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation, by Linda Villarosa. (Doubleday, $30.) Through case histories and independent reporting, the author elegantly traces the life-or-death effects of the legacy of slavery on Black health today: reproductive, environmental, mental and more. Villarosa “repositions various narratives about race and medicine — the soaring Black maternal mortality rates; the rise of heart disease and hypertension; the oft-repeated dictum that Black people reject psychological therapy — as evidence not of Black inferiority, but of racism in the health care system,” Kaitlyn Greenidge writes in her review, calling it a “remarkable” book, “singular and expansive.” “Even as Villarosa meticulously outlines the myriad ways Black people have fought for their own health, from social workers to doulas to community organizers, she stays focused on the nature of a structural problem, which cannot be changed through individual choices.”

DEAD IN THE WATER:A True Story of Hijacking, Murder, and a Global Maritime Conspiracy, by Matthew Campbell and Kit Chellel. (Portfolio, $27.) A tanker goes up in flames. The insurance investigator is murdered. Then things get really sinister. The veteran journalists Campbell and Chellel detail a shipping industry that’s grown rich under a system that also protects the unscrupulous. They have written what our reviewer, Mark Bowden, calls “a rich story of fake piracy and a global conspiracy so complex, and involving so much money, that it seems to inhabit a different quantum level, one where ordinary logic and values do not apply.”

CULT CLASSIC,by Sloane Crosley. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.) In her second novel, Crosley lends her trademark wit to the story of a reluctantly engaged woman who is still searching for a particular, elusive kind of love even as a high-concept cult arranges a series of seemingly chance run-ins with her ex-boyfriends. “It’s a book about regret, about hoping you made the right choice, about the noxious power of our memories, but also about one of the worst things a woman can do in a big city: date men,” Scaachi Koul writes in her review. “The novel’s happenings are conceptual, but the feelings it inspires are pretty universal. There’s a thick ooze of malaise throughout, a pleasing sinking feeling of dread and desire and compulsion.”

THE UNCOLLECTED ESSAYS OF ELIZABETH HARDWICK.(New York Review Books, paper, $18.95.) This volume of the legendary critic’s previously uncollected works, many more casual and idiosyncratic than her better-known essays, touches on everything from grits soufflé to Kennedy scandals, the end of love and female suicides. “Strange, surprising, slippery and beautiful,” is how reviewer Katie Roiphe describes Elizabeth Hardwick’s prose. Says Roiphe, “the glimpse this collection gives of Hardwick, the woman, is intriguing. We experience her mind in darts and flashes. Browsing these essays is what I imagine it would be like to be standing next to her in the corner of a crowded party, in a cloud of smoke: at times uncomfortable, thrilling, alarming.”

JACKIE & ME, by Louis Bayard. (Algonquin, $27.99.) Bayard’s 10th novel imagines the courtship of Jackie Bouvier and John F. Kennedy through the eyes of a friend, the real-life Lem Billings, who met Kennedy as a teenager and became his longtime fixer and confidant, entertaining Jackie and watching out for her while J.F.K. laid the groundwork to pursue his political ambitions. “On the surface, this is a fun, glittery tale about the Kennedys. But it’s also a prism for examining situational friendship and the loneliness of public life,” Elisabeth Egan writes in her latest Group Text column. “Even if you’re not a Kennedy enthusiast — even if your grandmother didn’t have a framed picture of J.F.K. in her kitchen, as mine did, alongside one of Pope John Paul II — this stylish, sexy, nostalgic story will linger like Jackie’s signature scent of Pall Malls and Chateau Krigler 12. It’s a complicated bouquet of bitter and sweet.”

HIS NAME IS GEORGE FLOYD:One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice, by Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa. (Viking, $30.) This unvarnished and scrupulous account of Floyd’s life, and his death at the hands of a police officer, is a revealing portrait of the structures of poverty and racism that shaped this troubled but good-natured man. The book “does an impressive job of contextualizing Floyd’s struggles with drug addiction, frequent arrests and five-year prison sentence for aggravated robbery in a crime that he insisted he had nothing to do with,” Peniel E. Joseph writes in his review. “Throughout, we get the portrait of a flawed man trying to come to terms with diminished dreams, one whose muscular physical exterior hid a gentle soul who battled pain, anxiety, claustrophobia and depression.”

FLUNG OUT OF SPACE:Inspired by the Indecent Adventures of Patricia Highsmith, by Grace Ellis and Hannah Templer. (Abrams ComicArts, $24.99.) This graphic novel — the funny and sad tale of a great lesbian writer’s struggle to find herself — is deftly told, and the spare illustrations are infused with idiosyncrasy and energy. “Templer’s spare lines” are “ideal for this midcentury story,” Etelka Lehoczky writes, reviewing the book alongside “Time Zone J,” a graphic memoir by the revered 1990s iconoclast Julie Doucet. “She eliminates the grottiness that would have characterized places like Marie’s, the gay bar Highsmith visits; her sterile spaces reflect Highsmith’s alienation and physical deprivation. … When Highsmith encounters the woman who will inspire her touchstone lesbian novel ‘The Price of Salt’ — a goddess in full ’50s feminine drag, radiantly filling up a full page — well. Nobody could have done it better.”

2 A.M. IN LITTLE AMERICA,by Ken Kalfus. (Milkweed, $25.) In Kalfus’s new novel, civil war has turned the people of the United States into the world’s newest cohort of refugees. The protagonist flees to an unnamed country and settles in an enclave of Americans, whose political divisions endure even as they face discrimination from their hosts. “‘2 A.M. in Little America’ is a highly readable, taut novel,” Héctor Tobar writes in his review. “It pulls the reader into its world, and suggests that many interesting human complications await us at the end of the story called the United States of America.”

HOMESICKNESS:Stories, by Colin Barrett. (Grove, $27.) These eight stories, set in Ireland’s County Mayo and beyond, are shot through with dark humor as they tell of lives beset by illness, alienation, substance abuse, suicide and bad luck. “As a writer, Barrett doesn’t legislate from the top down. His unruly characters surge up with their vitality and their mystery intact,” Stuart Dybek writes in his review. “Overall, ‘Homesickness’ is graced with an original, lingering beauty.”

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