by Pete Dexter
National Book Award-winning author Pete Dexter tells the story of a wild boy who grows up to be a wild man — like the author himself. Both Dexter and his novel's eponymous character spent part of their childhood in rural Georgia; both grew up to become newspaper columnists; both almost got themselves killed in a barroom brawl; and both were nurtured and protected by an endlessly patient stepfather. In the novel, Spooner takes care of his stepdad as he grows older, but in real life, Dexter wasn't able to provide for his own stepfather. "The day he died, he came in from teaching school, and he was gonna go to a job at a warehouse, and he lay down to take a nap, and he died," Dexter says in an interview with NPR. "If I'd only had a chance to take care of him."
496 pages, $14.99, Grand Central
by Tracy Chevalier
Novelist Tracy Chevalier has made a career of bringing history to life, with books set in medieval France, 18th century London and 17th century Holland. At the center of her newest novel is a pioneering 19th century fossil hunter named Mary Anning, who was completely self-taught, never had any formal education and was very poor. Chevalier first encountered her while visiting a small museum about dinosaurs. "I learned from the display that she was a working-class girl who had lived in Lyme Regis, which is on the south coast of England, and had been fossil hunting with her father," Chevalier tells NPR's Mary Louise Kelly. "And one day she and her brother discovered a huge specimen of what turned out to be an icthyosaur, an ancient marine reptile about 200 million years old."
320 pages, $15, Plume Books
Changing My Mind
by Zadie Smith
A flexible mind is an open mind. Novelist Zadie Smith puts hers — and ours — through calisthenics in this brainy collection of essays about some of her influences and passions, which include Vladimir Nabokov, George Eliot, Katharine Hepburn, David Foster Wallace and British comedy. No worries here about Emerson's "foolish consistency." Smith writes that "ideological inconsistency is, for me, practically an article of faith." While her somewhat meandering tribute to Wallace (first published in The New Yorker) and her season of movie reviews (first published in The Sunday Telegraph) are filled with sharp insights, the book's real payoff comes in three essays about her "gentle, sentimental" father, Harvey Smith, a salesman who died at 81 in 2006.
320 pages, $16, Penguin
The End Of The World As We Know It
by Ken Auletta
New Yorker tech reporter Ken Auletta uses the story of Google's efforts to branch out beyond its core search engine business to explore the future of media. One of the intriguing things about Google, he tells NPR's Mary Louise Kelly, is that they are long-term players — exploring wind energy, robotic cars and Android phones — and refuse to be judged by short-term Wall Street considerations. But Auletta sees some potential problems for Google: "Their engineers tend to be very good at things they can measure. They're not very good at things they can't measure ... [like] why people would fear them, or why what they view as efficient may to someone else be an arrogant exercise of power."
432 pages, $16, Penguin
Obama And The Clintons, McCain And Palin, And The Race Of A Lifetime
by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin
For an account of the 2008 presidential campaigns to register now, it has to dish. And that's just what Game Change does. (The Economist has described it as "high-quality political porn.") Its real selling point is the juicy stuff, like how Harry Reid talked about Obama's lack of "Negro dialect," how McCain's aides thought Palin unfit to be vice president and how Elizabeth Edwards behaved hideously to her husband's campaign staff. Such TMZ-ish revelations have won the book lots of headlines while also raising questions about the authors' reliance on so-called "deep-background" interviews with anonymous sources. But the biggest downside to these anecdotes — which tend to make Obama look good and make the losers look petty and sleazy — is that they feed the cynical belief that those running for office are all creeps and phonies.