This article first appeared in The National Book Review:
Five books people are talking about this week -- or should be:
1. Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer (Doubleday)
Dark Money originated as an article about the Koch family in the New Yorker, where Mayer is a staff writer. Now, in this deeply reported -- and deeply troubling -- book, she focuses on a whole network of extremely wealthy far-right donors, and adds more detail on the Koch brothers, including on their father's ties to Nazi Germany. Freed by the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United, these mega-donors are directing vast sums of money to candidates who support their pro-free-market, climate-change-denying agenda.
2. The Night of the Fiestas: Stories by Kirstin Valdez Quade (W.W. Norton)
Quade, one of the nation's most promising young fiction writers, infuses her hard-hitting stories of Mexican-American communities in New Mexico with a strong undercurrent of Southwestern folklore. This beautifully written book recently received an impressive accolade: the National Book Critics Circle's third annual John Leonard Prize, which was established to recognize exceptional debut books in any genre.
3. Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature edited by Meredith Maran (Plume)
Some of the best memoir writers share hard-earned advice and take on the most persistent questions raised by the genre: How reliable is memory, and what is truth anyway? Are there responsibilities to others? And, finally, why should readers care? Maran mixes up a crew of acclaimed and popular memoirists - Ishmael Beah, Darin Strauss, Cheryl Strayed, to name a few - and she isn't afraid to let them disagree about what works on the page.
4. The Family Tree: A Lynching in Georgia, a Legacy of Secrets, and My Search for the Truth by Karen Branan (Atria)
In 1912, in Harris County, Georgia, after a white man, a nephew of the county sheriff was killed, the sheriff stood by as a lynch mob killed four black people. It took journalist Branan - the great-granddaughter of the sheriff -- two decades to reconstruct the tangled web of the tragedy, and in this fascinating book she explores plantation politics, the Jim Crow South, and the KKK -- and the fact that, as it turns out, she was related not only to the white sheriff, but to one of the black victims.
5. The Yid by Paul Goldberg (Picador)
Goldberg, a reporter and writer who immigrated from the USSR in 1973, has written an absurd novel about an unlikely trio trying to assassinate Stalin. Goldberg gives this engaging story, his fiction debut, a Ragtime feel by introducing real historical figures like Paul Robeson and Marc Chagall and philosophical and literary arguments about Shakespeare, Pushkin, anti-Semitism, and racism -- all set against the backdrop of a brutal era.