Six new paperbacks to check out this week.
NOTES ON A FOREIGN COUNTRY: An American Abroad in a Post-American World, by Suzy Hansen. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $15.) Over her years living in Istanbul, Hansen, a journalist, became keenly aware of America’s enduring influence in the Middle East — and, as she put it, Americans’ “active denial of their empire even as they laid its foundations.” This pointed memoir reconciles her personal idea of the United States with its political realities.
THE SEVENTH FUNCTION OF LANGUAGE, by Laurent Binet. Translated by Sam Taylor. (Picador, $16.) This high-minded detective novel is a semiotic romp. Binet treats the death of the critic Roland Barthes as a possible murder with political undertones. Heaps of real-life figures crop up along the way, including Julia Kristeva, François Mitterrand and Michel Foucault. The sendups of academia are frequent and gleeful.
THANKS, OBAMA: My Hopey, Changey White House Years, by David Litt. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $16.99.) Litt joined the Obama campaign as a volunteer, eventually rising to become a senior speechwriter for the president. This optimistic account centers on Litt’s coming-of-age at the White House (in a job where “every audience is the entire United States”), and assesses the president’s legacy along with the political processes that shaped it.
BLUEBIRD, BLUEBIRD, by Attica Locke. (Mulholland/Little, Brown, $15.99.) In East Texas a ranger goes searching for the killer of a black man and white woman, whose bodies were fished out of a bayou. As he rushes to solve the crime, secrets, betrayals and racial tensions across generations threaten to erupt. Our columnist Marilyn Stasio listed the book as one of the best crime novels of 2017, and wrote, “Locke writes in a blues-infused idiom that lends a strain of melancholy and a sense of loss to her lyrical style.”
BUNK: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News, by Kevin Young. (Graywolf, $18.) This timely history delves into America’s enduring fascination with the apocryphal, touching on everything from P.T. Barnum to fabricated memoirs. Our reviewer, Jonathan Lethem, called the book “a panorama, a rumination and a polemic at once,” which “delivers riches in return.”
THE UNDERGROUND RIVER, by Martha Conway. (Touchstone, $16.) In the 1800s, a young seamstress is abandoned and taken in by a traveling theater company based on a flatboat. Soon, she becomes involved in the dangerous work of ferrying children born into slavery across the Ohio River. This novel follows along as she evades slave catchers and other perils, and offers a host of quirky characters.