Last week we offered you 12 new books to read — ambitious, I know, even for people who love books the way we do. So consider this the hangover edition, or the self-care edition, or what have you: four titles on an array of subjects, from historical fiction out of Italy (“The Novel of Ferrara”) to essays about Asian-American identity and other topics (“The Souls of Yellow Folk”) to the fraught evolution of particularly American catchphrases (“Behold, America”) to the book you were probably going to buy anyway, if only to keep up with your neighbors (Michelle Obama’s memoir, “Becoming”). If you have time left over, you can turn back to last week’s recommendations for a little hair of the dog.
Senior Editor, Books
BECOMING, by Michelle Obama. (Crown, $32.50.) Michelle Obama emerges in this memoir as a first lady who steadfastly believed in her husband’s abilities but had no illusions that the sludge of partisanship and racism would melt away under the sunny slogans of hope and change. “The book is divided into three sections — ‘Becoming Me,’ ‘Becoming Us’ and ‘Becoming More’ — that sound like the bland stuff of inspirational self-help,” our critic Jennifer Szalai writes. “Which isn’t to discount how useful empowerment can be; Obama emphasizes how important role models are, especially for young women of color in a culture that isn’t changing fast enough. But this book isn’t all unicorns and rainbows. By the end of it, she ultimately champions endurance and incremental change; she will probably be lauded and lambasted accordingly.”
BEHOLD, AMERICA: The Entangled History of ‘America First’ and ‘The American Dream,’ by Sarah Churchwell. (Basic, $32.) In her new book, Sarah Churchwell explores how two phrases wended their way through American politics in the first half of the 20th century, journeying from hazy sentiments to loaded clichés. “This is a timely book. It’s also a provocative one,” our critic Jennifer Szalai writes. Churchwell is “an elegant writer, and when ‘America first’ and ‘the American dream’ come head-to-head in her book during the run-up to World War II, the unexpected (and alarming) historical coincidences begin to resonate like demented wind chimes.”
THE SOULS OF YELLOW FOLK: Essays, by Wesley Yang. (Norton, $24.95.) Three essays in this collection mine the question of Asian-American identity. Yang emphasizes the invisibility he often feels, and tries to enter the minds of people like Seung-Hui Cho, who killed more than 30 people at Virginia Tech in 2007. At those moments especially, “Yang exhibits his talents as an essayist willing to risk confrontation, with his own preconceptions and with the orthodoxies of the liberal-to-left political spectrum,” Viet Thanh Nguyen writes in his review. “Here he comes face to face with himself most vividly.”