5 Hot Books: John Irving's New Novel, and Letters From Actress Mary Louise Parker

The following article first appeared in The National Book Review

1. Dear Mr. You by Mary Louise Parker (Scribner)

Parker is known as the marijuana-dealing widow and mother of two in the Showtime series Weeds, and a tragic young woman in the crowd-pleasing film Fried Green Tomatoes. Now the Tony- Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning actress has written an epistolary memoir in an original and strikingly effective form: letters to real and imaginary men in her life, from former boyfriends to the uncle of the baby she adopted.

2. Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe by Lisa Randall (Ecco)

Author of best-sellers Warped Passages and Knocking on Heaven's Door, Randall, a Harvard professor, is one of the world's leading experts on particle physics and cosmology. In Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs, she takes readers on an illuminating scientific adventure, beginning 66 million years ago, that connects dinosaurs, comets, DNA, and the future of the planet.

3. St. Marks Is Dead: The Many Lives of America's Hippest Street by Ada Calhoun (W. W. Norton)

As New York City streets go, St. Marks is not much - a short stretch of E. 8th St. that cuts a swath through the East Village. As a cultural mecca, however, it is something else: a waystation for W. H. Auden, Keith Haring, the Ramones, the Velvet Underground, Emma Goldman and Leon Trotsky, to name just a few. Calhoun brings these and many more of its denizens back to life as she recounts the literary feuds, anarchist gatherings, art world intrigues and, most recently, hipster stylings that have made St. Marks Place an iconic epitome of cool.

4. Submission by Michel Houellebecq Translated by Lorin Stein (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

This provocative comic novel, first published on the day that the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices were attacked and 12 people died, is set in a France of the not-so-distant future that has embraced Islamic law and elected a Muslim president. It got a boost from Karl Ove Knausgaard's lengthy review in the Sunday New York Times Book Review. (The writer Mark Harris tweeted that he didn't have time to read the review, so he read the book instead.) Michiko Kakutani's review in the daily Times was far more critical.

5. Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving(Simon & Schuster)

Thirty five years ago, The World According to Garp won Irving a National Book Award and legions of admirers. This new novel rewards his fans with a funny, poignant, picaresque, and magic-realism-tinged tale that stretches from Iowa to Mexico to the Phillipines. The sprawling story takes in sex, love, faith (especially of the Catholic variety), discrimination against and gay and transgender people, and much, much more.