Too Much Happiness
by Alice Munro
Is there anyone writing short fiction today in English who has more authority than Alice Munro? As safely settled inside the gates of literature as she may be, she advances her art in this current collection with a cast of husbands and widows; scientists; female geniuses who solve difficult math problems and also write novels; and people who labor with their hands. In "Wood," we learn about the bite of a life working with bark: "Ironwood, that heavy and reliable firewood," Munro writes, "has a shaggy brown bark ... Ash is a soldierly tree with a corduroy-ribbed trunk," and the descriptions go on. If this is what she does with the trees in the stories that make up Too Much Happiness, you can just imagine what she does with the people.
320 pages, $15, Vintage
The Swan Thieves
by Elizabeth Kostova
Elizabeth Kostova's second novel after the blockbuster success of The Historian tells the story of a disturbed artist named Robert Oliver through the eyes of his psychiatrist, also a painter. "Robert Oliver is a landscape and portrait painter who is really reaching the peak of a great career," Kostova tells NPR's Mary Louise Kelly. "When he is brought into [psychiatrist] Marlow's care, he refuses to tell his own story." Marlow's efforts to uncover Oliver's motivations lead him to talk with the many women in the artist's life, and to investigate the 19th century themes that Oliver obsessively paints. "It's a story of people who I think really would not be drawn together except through the power of art," Kostova says.
592 pages, $15.99, Back Bay Books
by George Carlin
During his 50-year career, irreverent comedian George Carlin stood in front of his audiences questioning, condemning and cutting through what he called "middle-class crap." Carlin's performances were often rants against authority and censorship; his "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" routine became a classic. Carlin also didn't like the word "autobiography," but before his death in June 2008, he spent more than 10 years working on this memoir, Last Words, with comedian, writer and longtime friend Tony Hendra.
320 pages, $15, Free Press
Stones into Schools
Promoting Peace Through Education In Afghanistan And Pakistan
by Greg Mortenson
Greg Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute, his nongovernmental organization, have been building schools in the most remote corners of Pakistan and Afghanistan for the past 16 years. In Stones into Schools, he continues where his runaway best-seller, Three Cups of Tea, left off. The tale of his extraordinary efforts to keep his 1999 promise to help the villagers of Afghanistan's isolated Wakhan Corridor build a school threads between members of the town and former mujahedeen commanders, ex-Taliban and village elders, and the American soldiers stationed among them. It's an effective testament to what Mortenson describes as the "cascade of positive changes triggered by teaching a single girl how to read and write."
448 pages, $16, Penguin
by Patti Smith
It was in 1967, on her first day in New York, that 20-year-old aspiring poet Patti Smith met fellow artist Robert Mapplethorpe. Their friendship, romance and creative collaboration began on that day and lasted until Mapplethorpe's death in 1989. Both children of religious upbringings and influenced by ideas of outsider culture, the pair would stay up painting and listening to records in their Brooklyn apartment before Mapplethorpe eventually moved to San Francisco. In the course of their friendship, Smith would become a punk icon and Mapplethorpe a famed photographer. Smith's memoir, Just Kids, tells the story of their 22-year friendship.
320 pages, $16, Ecco Books
Charlotte Abbott edits "New in Paperback." A contributing editor for Publishers Weekly, she also writes the Follow the Reader blog about digital publishing issues.