Who We Be: A Cultural History Of Race In Post-Civil Rights America by Jeff Chang. (Picador) A series of legal victories during the civil rights era paved the way for desegregation, but Chang argues here that “the most profound changes have been cultural.” His book is a critical assessment of how art and culture have changed how American society understands race and difference in the latter half of the 20th century through the present day.

Frog by Mo Yan. Translated by Howard Goldblatt. (Penguin) In rural China, a respected midwife who was humiliated during the Cultural Revolution chooses to demonstrate her political loyalty by ruthlessly carrying out the government’s draconian one-child policy. The author, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2012, depicts the horrors and brutality of the Chinese Communist Party and its devotees in this novel.

Girl In A Band by Kim Gordon. (Dey Street/William Morrow) In spare, clear-eyed prose, the bassist and frontwoman of Sonic Youth reflects on her childhood, early years in New York and the group’s three-decade history, which ended as her longtime marriage to Thurston Moore (a fellow band member) dissolved. “Marriage is a long conversation,” she notes, “and maybe so is a rock band’s life.”

Where All Light Tends To Go by David Joy. (Putnam) Jacob is the teenage son of a meth kingpin in rural North Carolina (and the conflicted protagonist of this novel) and has worked for his father in a number of unsavory capacities: money launderer, product mover, body disposer. But a long-nurtured love for the town’s smartest and most ambitious girl puts his desire to leave at odds with his fate.

Heirs To Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys Into The Disappearing Religions Of The Middle East by Gerard Russell. (Basic Books) Russell chronicles the Middle East’s long history of religious tolerance, focusing on some of the area’s most elusive faiths. Although threatened by violent terrorist groups, minority religions have often coexisted peacefully in the region. His book is a “voice and memorial” for the histories and adherents of minority faiths, including Druze, Yazidis and Copts.

Odysseus Abroad by Amit Chaudhuri. (Vintage International) In 1980s London, a Bengali university student with poetic aspirations explores his adopted city with his bachelor uncle, who has dwelled there for decades. This slim novel unfolds in a single day but is “a time capsule” of a “still scruffy London,” Michael Gorra said in The Times.

When Books Went To War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War Ii by Molly Guptill Manning. (Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) As part of an effort to boost military personnel morale during the war, more than 120 million lightweight paperback editions of classic and new titles were sent to troops fighting overseas. Manning’s uplifting history tells the story of these books, which were prized by soldiers as reminders of home.

New York Times