By Casey Cep
Any student of American literature is familiar with Harper Lee’s masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird, as well as her reclusiveness and lack of output following its publication. In her debut book, Cep digs into that mystery, uncovering a series of Alabama murders that inspired Lee to begin a new project. Though ultimately abandoned, The Reverend was Lee’s attempt at true crime; she sought to see “whether she could write the kind of old-fashioned, straitlaced journalism she admired,” without the exaggerations of her friend Truman Capote. Furious Hours is a highly pleasing mixture of literary history and true crime drama.
Becoming Dr. Seuss
By Brian Jay Jones
Jones, who has written biographies of Jim Henson and George Lucas, now turns to one of the bestselling authors of all time, Theodore Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss. In a bright, anecdotal style that suits his subject, Jones follows the iconic children’s book author from cradle to grave, illuminating his influences, motivations, and dedication to the admirable goal of encouraging children to read. Jones is particularly strong in his portrayal of the collaborative relationship among Geisel, his wife, and his publisher. This page-turning biography will appeal to the millions of Seuss fans out there, as well as anyone intrigued by how literature is created.
By Robert Macfarlane
In his latest masterpiece, Macfarlane, the author of The Old Ways and Landmarks, goes below ground, shining prismatic light into caves, burial chambers, and other underground areas that simultaneously captivate our imaginations and stoke some of our deepest fears. Nimbly moving across the globe — England, Paris, Italy, Slovenia, Norway, Finland, Greenland — Macfarlane delivers exemplary insight into our relationship with the natural world, showing how “darkness might be a medium of vision, and that descent may be a movement towards revelation rather than deprivation.” For any fan of erudite, soulful, lyrical nature writing, Underland is a must-read — one of the finest books of 2019.
Crisis in the Red Zone
By Richard Preston
Twenty-five years after the publication of The Hot Zone, his mega-popular account of the origins of the Ebola virus, New Yorker contributor Preston returns with this pulse-accelerating account of the 2013-2014 Ebola crisis in West Africa, which killed more than 11,000 people. The author consistently delivers top-notch edge-of-your-seat narration, and he provides countless dynamic portraits of patients, doctors, nurses, and others navigating the chaos. Preston also explains the genetics behind Ebola and how it manifests and spreads, but the heart of this exhilarating — and sometimes horrifying — medical thriller is the people, and the author masterfully brings us their riveting stories.
Save Me the Plums
By Ruth Reichl
For a city of its size, Charleston is arguably the most attractive foodie destination in the country, and Ruth Reichl is one of America’s most acclaimed food writers and editors. In her latest memoir, she recounts her life in the newspaper and magazine business, from the Los Angeles Times to the New York Times to Gourmet, where she served as editor in chief for 10 years before it shuttered in 2009. While there’s plenty of sumptuous food writing, what stands out is Reichl’s deft accounts of navigating the high-gloss world of an elite magazine, as well as the process behind publishing such landmark articles as David Foster Wallace’s “Consider the Lobster.”
The Light Years
By Chris Rush
In one of the most entertaining memoirs of the year, artist Rush plunges readers deep into his tumultuous, highly eventful life story, which has included countless LSD trips, which he describes in appropriately luminous prose; boarding school, where he was the most sought-after drug dealer on campus; a stint living with his sister on a drug-storage compound in rural Arizona; and weeks living in a series of caves in the desert. Through it all, he continued to produce art, and his story is remarkable not only for its content but also for the captivating, psychedelic way in which he relates it.