Eye of the Beholder: Johannes Vermeer, Antoni Van Leeuwenhoek, and the Reinvention of Seeing, by Laura J. Snyder. (Norton) As lenses became more refined in the 17th century, a fabric-merchant-turned-naturalist and a painter in Holland used the developments to advance their own pursuits. Van Leeuwenhoek, using the small microscopes that he built, discovered a world of microbes in droplets of water; Vermeer, using a camera obscura, toyed with light and illumination and how people perceive them.
A Cure for Suicide, by Jesse Ball. (Vintage) An unnamed man, who came close to death, is convalescing in a village where a woman, called the “examiner,” teaches him the basics of how to live: what sleep is, how to dress, why people have names. Ball’s fifth novel elegantly examines the process of rebuilding a life from nothing and how pain shapes a person’s identity.
Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget, by Sarah Hepola. (Grand Central) At 7 years of age, Hepola first began sneaking sips of beer and developed a taste for alcohol that stretched into a decadeslong addiction. She acknowledges the inherent paradox of her project – how can she write about the hours that she cannot recall? – but captures the vagaries of alcoholism with honesty and humor.
Golden Age, by Jane Smiley. (Anchor) The final volume of Smiley’s trilogy following the Langdon family opens in 1987 and runs through 2019. The Langdons have dispersed throughout the country and face a host of political, economic and environmental challenges. Although the story’s cast has swelled, Smiley expertly links each person’s story to the past. “You can feel the weight of what came before,” Louisa Thomas wrote in the New York Times.
A Buzz in the Meadow: The Natural History of a French Farm, by Dave Goulson. (Picador) When Goulson, a biologist and conservationist, purchased a run-down farmstead in rural France, he sought to preserve the property’s diverse ecosystem. Here, he tells the story of the creatures that live there – offering insights into such subjects as the “complex politics of life as a paper wasp,” among others. His book functions as a joyful call to arms for conservation efforts.
The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, by Anna North. (Blue Rider) Sophie, the title character of North’s novel, is a filmmaker whose work draws praise for its emotional precision. Her story, told by people who once knew her, “illustrates just how far an artist will go in pursuit of authentic expression,” reviewer Sarah Ferguson wrote.
One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, by Kevin M. Kruse. (Basic Books) Kruse, a Princeton historian, reveals how the four words of the title became enshrined as political gospel in the 1950s. Starting with Dwight D. Eisenhower, religious businessmen and lawmakers worked to integrate religion more closely into government functions.
New York Times