'Tea Biscuit Fiction,' Behind The NBA, The Conservation Revolution, And MoreAn amateur orchestra helps an English village transcend WWII in Alexander McCall Smith's latest novel, while in nonfiction, a popular ESPN columnist takes on the NBA, an English military historian revisits the Civil War, and a journalist confronts species loss around the world.
If there's a genre called tea biscuit fiction -- serving up the easily digestible comfort food of literature -- Alexander McCall Smith could fill its decorative tins almost singlehandedly with his many series: the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series, the Isabel Dalhousie Series, the Portuguese Irregular Verbs Series, and the 44 Scotland Street Series. La's Orchestra Saves the World is his first stand-alone historical novel, featuring an intelligent, independent Englishwoman who, like so many of his characters and McCall Smith himself, believes fervently in "the power of music." In this reassuring tale of the evil of war and the solace of music, about mistrust and kindness and finding love in unlikely places, La retreats from her failed marriage and World War II London to a Sussex cottage where she starts an amateur orchestra of locals and troops stationed nearby.
To American historians, the Civil War is a national epic, but to Englishman and accomplished military historian John Keegan, it's an unusual engagement with some fascinating tactical challenges. For the North, subduing an outsize Confederacy ringed by daunting natural obstacles and without significant military targets resulted in the importance of generalship and the unusual frequency of bloody yet indecisive battles, he argues. Keegan's reframes the war's most significant battles as Wilsons Creek and Perryville, not Vicksburg and Gettysburg. His look at the home front, black soldiers, and the war's human cost add further dimension.
432 pages, $16.95, Vintage
The Book Of Basketball
The NBA According to The Sports Guy
by Bill Simmons
By turns irreverent and starry-eyed, sardonic and self-deprecating, ESPN columnist Bill Simmons is one of a kind. The NBA brings out his best work, perhaps because of its unique mix of personalities and cultures and the nuances of its team dynamics. After more than 700 pages of Simmons' history and analysis, NBA fans will emerge unshaven, smelling of beer and pizza, with new insight, plenty of anecdotes and statistics, and new examples for Simmons' Unintentional Comedy Scale.
752 pages, $18, ESPN
Rewilding The World
Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution
by Caroline Fraser
Even more daunting than the effects of pollution and climate change is the accelerating loss of animals and plants that could lead to the loss of half of all non-human life by the end of this century, argues journalist Caroline Fraser. In her cogent look at worldwide efforts to slow this massive extinction, she writes that "rewilding" doesn't try to re-create wilderness, but relies on large protected "cores," including national parks, "corridors" that connect refuges and enable wildlife to disperse and multiply (barriers and fences are disastrous), and the preservation of carnivores and the natural predation that leads to species diversity. Though the results of these efforts have been mixed, Fraser delivers an inspiring narrative of grass-roots activism and scientific commitment.
416 pages, $18, Picador
Charlotte Abbott edits "New in Paperback." A contributing editor for Publishers Weekly, she also writes the Follow the Readerblog about digital publishing issues.