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The New York Times recommend these 8 books this week


If prison holds a dark mirror to society — reflecting our fissures and anxieties and our blinkered faith in institutional bureaucracy — then prison literature offers one way to restore a human element to the system. This week we recommend two books set in prisons: Rachel Kushner’s novel “The Mars Room,” about a single mother and former stripper serving time in California, and “Wrestling With the Devil,” a memoir by the Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o about the year he was jailed as a politically subversive artist. You’ll also find books on motherhood, embattled Iraqi women and the legacy of freethinking female writers, along with a magical story collection, a look at the new space race and, for people who haven’t been paying attention, a memoir by James Comey about his time in government.

Gregory Cowles
Senior Editor, Books

THE MARS ROOM, by Rachel Kushner. (Scribner, $27.) Rachel Kushner’s follow-up to “The Flamethrowers” is about a woman named Romy. The novel shifts from a strip club in San Francisco, where Romy works, to a women’s prison, where she is sent after killing a stalker. “Kushner’s portrait of life inside the women’s prison is grainy and persuasive,” our critic Dwight Garner writes. “Like Denis Johnson in ‘Jesus’ Son,’ a book this novel references, she is on the lookout for bent moments of comic grace.”

MOTHERS: An Essay on Love and Cruelty, by Jacqueline Rose. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.) Many recent books have combined to offer dispatches from almost every corner of motherhood. Jacqueline Rose’s latest is “a sort of Rosetta Stone for the moment that examines the particular mix of fascination and dread that mothers engender,” our critic Parul Sehgal writes. Rose’s contribution is “a useful synthesis of and loving engagement with many of the writers who have shaped our thinking on motherhood.”

A HIGHER LOYALTY: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, by James Comey. (Flatiron, $29.99.) In this memoir, the former F.B.I. director calls the Trump presidency a “forest fire” that is seriously harming the country.”The central themes that Comey returns to throughout this impassioned book,” Michiko Kakutani writes in her review, “are the toxic consequences of lying; and the corrosive effects of choosing loyalty to an individual over truth and the rule of law.”

THE SPACE BARONS: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos, by Christian Davenport. (PublicAffairs, $28.) The new space race involves a number of competitive and highly ambitious entrepreneurs who want to make their mark by taking us into orbit. Davenport explores this new frontier, in an in-depth account that Walter Isaacson calls “an exciting narrative filled with colorful reporting and sharp insights. The book sparkles because of Davenport’s access to the main players and his talent for crisp storytelling.”

SHARP: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion, by Michelle Dean. (Grove, $26.) Dean, a journalist and critic, considers 10 influential women writers, including Mary McCarthy, Hannah Arendt, Nora Ephron and Pauline Kael, teasing out their affinities: a taste for battle and intellectual honesty. As her preface notes, she gathered these women together “under the sign of a compliment that every one of them received in their lives: They were called sharp.” It is, of course, a compliment with an edge. Call a man “sharp” and he’s stylish, incisive, smart. Apply it to a woman, Dean writes, and there’s a “sense of terror underlying it. Sharpness, after all, cuts.”

AWAYLAND, by Ramona Ausubel. (Riverhead, $26.) A melting mother, a Cyclops with a dating profile and other fanciful characters inhabit Ausubel’s latest collection of stories, many of which revolve around family life. “These are not normal families, not happy or sad families, but families so cracked and mythologically weird that they are more like interesting old ruins,” Rebecca Lee writes in her review. “In Ausubel’s stories, family life is depicted as treacherous and life-giving, and growing up in one is like passing through beautiful, dangerous woods.”

WRESTLING WITH THE DEVIL: A Prison Memoir, by Ngugi wa Thiong’o. (The New Press, $25.99.) Ngugi spent nearly a year in prison in 1978 for writing a play in his native language that threatened the Kenyan government. This is the story of how he maintained his creative energies even while suffering the indignities of his detention. In his review, Ariel Dorfman calls it “a welcome addition to the vast literature produced by jailed writers across the centuries,” and adds that “Ngugi is affording us a glimpse into how a prisoner of conscience, by stubbornly reiterating his convictions, keeps faith with the ideals that those in power want him to betray.”

THE BEEKEEPER: Rescuing the Stolen Women of Iraq, by Dunya Mikhail. (New Directions, paper, $16.95.) In 2014, ISIS abducted thousands of ethnic Yazidi women and children in Iraq. Mikhail, a poet and journalist, profiles the beekeeper who helped rescue some, delivering a searing portrait of courage. “Through interviews with those who managed to escape, Mikhail has created a searing portrait of courage, humanity and savagery, told in a mosaic of voices,” Deborah Campbell writes in her review. “There are many such heroes in these varied accounts, not least the women themselves, and details so astounding that it was wise of the author to include photographs bearing witness to their truth.”

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