At the center of this extraordinary novel by the Israeli writer and activist whom some call "the conscience of his country" stands the unforgettable figure of Ora. She is a woman at once nurturing and exhausting, sensual and deeply moral, boundlessly garrulous and not a little secretive, a life force and a real piece of work. As a loyal daughter of Israel and a devoted mother of two sons — one of whom serves in the Israeli army — she yearns to be free of the moral and physical threats that are the very air she must breathe. But like Grossman, she knows there's no escape from history, let alone what lies beneath it — the terrible fragility of families and nations and life itself.
This awarding-winning debut novel depicts life on the prairie as it's rarely been seen. It's the story of African-American homesteaders Isaac and Rachel DuPree, as they eke out an existence on the windblown badlands of South Dakota in 1917 in the middle of a drought, after many of the good land claims have been taken. As they face the elements and hostile Native Americans with little recourse from distant neighbors, their intense isolation draws out tensions between husband and wife — as he looks at the land as his legacy for his children and she worries about their happiness.
Gail Caldwell, a Texas transplant in Boston, was happy with her life. In her early 40s, Caldwell kept busy by writing book reviews and training a new dog — she wasn't really looking for friendship. Then she met Caroline Knapp, another writer living in Boston, and gradually their lives became thoroughly intertwined. Until the day Caroline died of lung cancer at 42. Caldwell's memoir, Let's Take the Long Way Home, describes the unique, sisterly bond she shared with Knapp. These two women may not have grown up down the street from one another or attended the same schools, but their friendship was just as strong as if they had.
In her memoir, The Memory Palace, Bartok describes how a traumatic brain injury that affected both her long- and short-term memory helped her better understand her mother's mental illness, as well as how reconnecting with her mother after a long estrangement helped Bartok re-create some of her own lost memories. "Imagine this: You have a mother out there. She gave birth to you and she loved you and you loved her and you have no idea where she is and you won't even know when she dies," she told Terry Gross. "It was an amazing gift [for me] to be given this short period of time at the end of her life to be with her and to know where she was and to know that she was well cared for."
Examining the work of Homer, Dante, Descartes and Kant, as well as the novelists Herman Melville and David Foster Wallace, philosopher Hubert Dreyfus and his former student Sean Dorrance Kelly trace the rise of nihilism in Western culture. They connect it to our abandonment of our direct experience of the world, in our quest for its essence through the unifying principle of monotheism. By contrast, they see in the Homeric past a world in which "the highest form of human excellence" is "to recognize, be amazed by, and be grateful for whatever it is that draws you to act your best."
Charlotte Abbott edits "New in Paperback." A contributing editor for Publishers Weekly, she also leads a weekly chat on books and reading in the digital age every Friday from 4-5 p.m. ET on Twitter. Follow her at @charabbott or check out the #followreader hashtag.