Maureen Corrigan

This past summer, I made time to catch up on a book I'd missed when it was published two years ago. Ever since, I've been telling friends, students and random strangers on a train that they must read Daniel Mendelsohn's memoir called An Odyssey. In it, he recalls teaching a seminar on Homer's Odyssey that his then 81-year-old father sat in on as an auditor.

Editor's note: This book review cites a passage containing a homophobic slur.

One could say that Saeed Jones' new memoir, How We Fight for Our Lives, is a classic coming-of-age story. A boy grows up in Texas; he's black, gay and isolated; he's raised by a single mom; he struggles with identity, goes off to college and, eventually, achieves a wobbly sense of self-affirmation.

It's one of those poems people reach for in times when it feels like the sky is falling. It's also generally regarded as one of the great poems of the 20th century.

"September 1, 1939," as its title signals, was written by W.H. Auden in the days immediately following Germany's invasion of Poland, which marked the start of World War II. Auden had left his native England and moved to New York City some nine months earlier, and the famous opening lines of the poem are rooted in the dingy geography of his new home:

Now that it feels like we're living in a society that I find myself thinking of as "Gilead lite," how could The Testaments, Margaret Atwood's highly anticipated sequel to The Handmaid's Tale, possibly convey the same degree of shock as its predecessor? The answer is, it can't.

When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005, writer Sarah M. Broom was living in New York City, far away from her hometown and her family. In her extraordinary debut, a memoir called The Yellow House, Broom quotes from interviews with her mother and some of her 11 siblings to piece together the story of what happened when "the Water" roared into their neighborhood of New Orleans East and rose, up, up, up until it edged the tops of the houses.

Essayist Margaret Renkl writes about what she calls "backyard nature," which, to those of us who live in crowded cities, might call to mind creatures to trap or squash, like rats, squirrels, mice and water bugs. Renkl, however, grew up in Alabama and now lives in Tennessee, so her catalog of all creatures great and small is, at once, more expansive and accepting, and includes chickadees, red-tailed hawks, rat snakes, rattle snakes and crawdads.

Talk about chutzpah. Two female mystery writers have just helped themselves to the titles of two novels written by canonical male authors, without even a please or a thank you.

It's pretty rare for a writer to produce a novel that wins the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award and, then, a scant three years later, bring out another novel that's even more extraordinary. But, that's what Colson Whitehead has done in following up his 2016 novel, The Underground Railroad, with The Nickel Boys.

Jessup Collins wants out. The main character of Alexi Zentner's tough new novel, Copperhead, Jessup is a 17-year-old high school football star with a decent shot at getting a college scholarship. That scholarship is essential because Jessup, his mom and his kid sister live paycheck-to-paycheck in a trailer on the outskirts of an upstate New York town that sounds a lot like Ithaca.

Mary Beth Keane's new novel is called Ask Again, Yes.

What's it called again?

That's what everyone I've raved to about this book has said to me a couple of minutes after I've told them the title. It's one of those delicate titles that instantly goes poof! into the air; but that's the only strike there is against Keane's novel which is, otherwise, one of the most unpretentiously profound books I've read in a long time.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Two new novels of crime and suspense have our book critic Maureen Corrigan traveling to some dark places in her imagination this summer. Here's her review of James Ellroy's "This Storm" and Denise Mina's "Conviction."

Jill Ciment is one of those just-under-the-radar writers. Probably her biggest moment of popular recognition came a few years ago, when her novel, Heroic Measures, was made into a film called 5 Flights Up; it starred Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman as a married couple living in New York City who struggle to get their elderly dog to the vet in the midst of a terror alert. They wind up carrying the dog on a cutting board through the panicked city.

Here's an SAT word for you: "aptronym." An aptronym is a proper name that's especially "apt" for describing the person who bears it. Take Usain Bolt, the bolt-of-lighting Jamaican sprinter, or the poet William Wordsworth. Now, add to the list Ocean Vuong.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and bestselling author Tony Horwitz died Monday unexpectedly at the age of 60. He was in the middle of a book tour promoting his new book, "Spying On The South." He's survived by his wife, the journalist Geraldine Brooks, and their two sons. Before becoming a full-time author, Tony Horwitz covered wars and conflicts in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Iraq for The Wall Street Journal. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for his stories about working conditions in low-wage America.

Editor's note: This review includes racial epithets that appear in the book.

In her foreword to America Is in the Heart — Carlos Bulosan's classic 1946 novel about Filipinx and Mexican migrant workers on the West Coast — the Filipina American novelist Elaine Castillo asks readers, "Do you remember how old you were when you first read a book that had a character who looked and lived like you in it?"

I've been waiting for Tony Horwitz to write another big on-the-road book that crisscrosses the American cultural divide ever since his bestseller, Confederates in the Attic, came out in 1998.

Many years ago, I worked as an academic day laborer on Philadelphia's Main Line. For those unfamiliar with it, the Main Line — developed in the late 19th century along a railroad route west of the city — was, for decades, a quietly grand stretch of lavish estates, private schools, and cricket and golf clubs catering to Philadelphia's old money. The classic 1940 romantic comedy, The Philadelphia Story, starring Katharine Hepburn as a snooty socialite, was set on the Main Line.

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. The heroine of Nell Freudenberger's new novel "Lost And Wanted" is a physicist who finds her rational understanding of the universe challenged by the death of a friend. Here's our book critic Maureen Corrigan's review.

Normal People, Sally Rooney's second novel, opens in 2011 in a small town in the west of Ireland, where two teenagers, improbably, hook up.

Marianne is a social pariah: She's really smart, lightly contemptuous and weird — a judgment bestowed on her by the cultural gatekeepers at her high school because "she wears ugly thick-soled flat shoes and doesn't put make-up on her face."

Laila Lalami's new novel is called The Other Americans and it's likely to jump start some timely book group discussions about the American experiment; specifically, about how different types of people feel less visible in this country because of their ethnicity, class, race or citizenship status.

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