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Asymmetry

Lisa Halliday (Simon & Schuster)

A young book editor named Alice embarks on a relationship with an older, prize-winning novelist in Manhattan; an Iraqi-American economist named Amar is detained at Heathrow on his way to visit family in Iraq. This bold, innovative collision of form, tone, and style ingeniously juxtaposes Alice’s dreamworld alongside Amar’s harsh reality, marking Halliday as a singular talent.

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Educated: A Memoir

Tara Westover (Random House)

In this searing, vividly told memoir, Westover writes of growing up in a survivalist, religious fundamentalist family in the isolated Idaho mountains. Hers is an intense story of how she went from being birthed and schooled at home to earning her PhD from Cambridge University.

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Heavy: An American Memoir

Kiese Laymon (Scribner)

Novelist and English professor Laymon addresses this spellbinding, stylishly written memoir to his mother. Within its pages, he analyzes the experience of being black in America, narrates his lifelong struggles with weight and a gambling addiction, and reflects on his relationships with his mother and grandmother, revealing hard-earned insight.

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How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays

Alexander Chee (Mariner)

This collection could have been titled, simply, How I Became a Writer, but that would have utterly failed to convey Chee’s marvelously oblique style. Over 16 essays, he reflects on varied experiences—working as a Tarot card reader, studying with Annie Dillard, meeting William F. Buckley at a catering job—that together illuminate the development of his craft.

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Insurrecto

Gina Apostol (Soho)

Two women write dueling scripts about the Philippine-American War while on a road trip to the town of Balangiga, the site of a violent conflict between occupying American forces and Filipinos in 1901. Apostol’s novel of staggering imagination deconstructs how humans tell stories and decide which versions of events are remembered, and it fearlessly probes the long shadow of forgotten American imperialism.

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The Largesse of the Sea Maiden

Denis Johnson (Random House)

Johnson’s astonishing stories chronicle the small and ecstatic moments in the life of an ad agent, the letters of an alcoholic to the significant people in his life (including Satan), and a poet who pulls his professor into an Elvis conspiracy. Through his characters’ searches for meaning or their clawing just to hold onto life, Johnson is able to articulate what it means to be alive and to have hope.

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Melmoth

Sarah Perry (Custom House)

In this gothic masterpiece, translator Helen Franklin lives in Prague, attempting to atone for a wrong she committed decades earlier. She discovers a file reporting the appearances throughout history of Melmoth, a specter who denied the sight of the risen Christ and was cursed to wander the Earth, haunting culpable individuals. Soon, Helen finds herself being followed.

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Reagan: An American Journey

Bob Spitz (Penguin Press)

This massive, spectacular biography isn’t just for Republicans or Reagan fans. Its novelistic approach is backed up with deep scholarship and original research, and its prose is by turns colorful and gripping.

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The Shape of the Ruins

Juan Gabriel Vásquez, trans. from the Spanish by Anne McLean (Riverhead)

Vásquez—author, narrator, and protagonist of this ingenious novel—is pulled into a web of potential conspiracy in Colombia by a radio host named Carballo, who claims to have proof of links between the assassinations of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán (1948) and General Rafael Uribe Uribe (1914). Vásquez’s journey through the dark terrain of his country’s past dynamically illustrates how fiction can address truths history omits.

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She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity

Carl Zimmer (Dutton)

In this magisterial history, popular science writer Zimmer covers virtually all aspects of the study of heredity. As he takes on topics that include the discredited science of eugenics and the emerging science of epigenetics, he shows how far humans have come, while also conveying how far there is to go, in understanding our individual and collective lineage.

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