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Books You'll Devour In Your Downtime

Whether you're sitting on a beach or just killing a bit of time on Saturday morning, pick up one of these best new reads for summer 2015.

  • A God in Ruins By Kate Atkinson
    Kate Atkinson's <em><a href="http://www.oprah.com/book/Life-After-Life_1?editors_pick_id=43404" target="_blank">Life After Li
    Kate Atkinson's Life After Life gave us the many paths of Ursula Todd, a British woman who dies and is reborn again and again, each time learning to better navigate the 20th century. Now, in A God in Ruins, a companion piece rather than a sequel, Atkinson gives us a single life for Ursula's younger brother Teddy, the family favorite, who becomes a Royal Air Force pilot and eventually a grandfather. Readers of the first book, familiar with Ursula's numerous incarnations, will understand that this is not Teddy's only, or even official, life -- knowledge that makes its details no less urgent or real. The novel also offers something rare: a narrative that exists not just alongside but within its predecessor. Though there is but one timeline, it's fluid. We move among past, present, and future -- often in the same paragraph -- and among characters, from Teddy to his unpleasant daughter to his misunderstood grandson. Atkinson maneuvers time and perspective as deftly as Teddy pilots his Halifax bomber -- but the story never becomes confusing or loses Atkinson's ease and wit. Where Life After Life focused on both the buildup to World War II and Blitz-era London, A God in Ruins dwells more on the war itself and its far-reaching consequences. Anyone can research military history; it's Atkinson's psychological details that let her stand with such great war writers as Kurt Vonnegut, Tim O'Brien, and Pat Barker. While she doesn't shy away from combat scenes, her true subject isn't war so much as its repercussions -- not the splash of the rock but the ripples in the pond. I worried that this book would spoil its precursor for me, funneling infinite possibility into one vessel. It avoids that fate beautifully, especially in the last pages, when Atkinson gives the kaleidoscope a final twist and invites us to question anew the space between reality and possibility, and the ways a life might fork. Read Life After Life first, as this story is full of winking references to that one. Unless, of course, you can make like Ursula Todd and live two parallel lives; in that case, read one book in each. -- Rebecca Makkai
  • Whatever...Love Is Love By Maria Bello
    Actress Maria Bello's gutsy memoir/manifesto advocates dispensing with the labels we use to describe our work, our mental hea
    Actress Maria Bello's gutsy memoir/manifesto advocates dispensing with the labels we use to describe our work, our mental health, our sexuality. Whatever...Love Is Love is both the title of her book and what her 12-year-old son, Jackson, said when Bello revealed she was in a romantic relationship with a woman; now those words are a mantra. The volume is rich with candid, provocative ruminations like this one reflecting on her bipolar diagnosis: "So am I damaged? Of course, I'm human. Who isn't damaged in some way? But I'm not damaged because of my bipolar disease. Now that I am being treated, I can view it more as a gift. The wiring of my brain allows me to feel deeply. I believe it helps me be less judgmental and more empathetic to others.... And besides, it is a gift I share with my father, and millions of others all over the world." -- Leigh Haber
  • On the Move By Oliver Sacks
    In February, best-selling writer and physician <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/19/opinion/oliver-sacks-on-learning-he
    In February, best-selling writer and physician Oliver Sacks announced he'd been diagnosed with metastatic cancer and had only months to live. In his latest work, he looks back on his extraordinary life. Sacks comes from a family of doctors but always had an artist's temperament. When his surgeon mother learned he was gay, she exclaimed, "I wish you had never been born." Sacks has forever carried the sting of that moment; it prompted a "need to have different selves for day and night," a "doubleness" that may explain the unique blend of scientific precision and openhearted observation that characterizes so much of his work, including his modern classic of neuroscience, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. It was at Oxford that he came to realize he wanted to write "essays presenting individuals with unusual weaknesses or strengths," though before pursuing that goal, he made one last attempt to gain a foothold in the world of medical research. It ended so disastrously, his bosses told him, "Sacks, you are a menace in the lab. Why don't you go and see patients -- you'll do less harm," which is perhaps the nudge he needed to focus on writing. -- Terre Roche
  • Hold Still By Sally Mann
    Sally Mann, whose best-known images are of her naked children, of black models posing as slaves, and of eerie, Spanish moss–d
    Sally Mann, whose best-known images are of her naked children, of black models posing as slaves, and of eerie, Spanish moss–draped Southern vistas, has written an exquisite memoir, Hold Still, in which she ruthlessly examines her own life and creative process: At what point, she wonders, should she stop taking pictures of her terminally ill father? In retrospect, should she have considered whether those photos of her children put them in harm's way? How can her subjects be "so willing: is it fearlessness or naïveté?" Though Hold Still uses photos here and there to illustrate a memory or a technique, it is foremost a literary achievement, showing Mann to be as ingenious with words as she is with a camera. -- Leigh Haber
  • Motorcycles I've Loved By Lily Brooks-Dalton
    Brooks-Dalton's rip-roaring memoir traces her journey from a difficult breakup to her rebound affair with a series of motorcy
    Brooks-Dalton's rip-roaring memoir traces her journey from a difficult breakup to her rebound affair with a series of motorcycles. -- Sarah Meyer
  • Church of Marvels By Leslie Parry
    A sideshow performer, a pair of asylum escapees and an orphaned boxer converge in Parry's intricately braided novel of secret
    A sideshow performer, a pair of asylum escapees and an orphaned boxer converge in Parry's intricately braided novel of secrets and hidden identities. -- Sarah Meyer
  • Between You & Me By Mary Norris
    Norris, a veteran of <em>The New Yorker</em>'s fabled copy department, delivers a sharply sparkling grammar guide brimming wi
    Norris, a veteran of The New Yorker's fabled copy department, delivers a sharply sparkling grammar guide brimming with instructive and comedic anecdotes. -- Sarah Meyer

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