Every week in this space, we quote from our reviews of the books we recommend — but we rarely quote from the books themselves, largely because the reviews we link to do such a good job of that on their own, and with context to boot. But what the heck. This week our recommended books include a poetry collection, Robyn Schiff’s “Information Desk,” that offers a reminiscence of her post-college job at the Metropolitan Museum of Art while skipping merrily through sparkling ideas about art and nature and youth and life. Good quotes abound, as in this wry observation on the artistic temperament: “When someone tells me he’s inspired/I usually take/it to mean someone else/does his dishes.”
We also recommend a memoir about food and literature by The Times’s book critic Dwight Garner, whose way with a sentence will be familiar to regular readers of our books coverage. That skill is manifest throughout his memoir as well. Here he is, for instance, on the appeal that the chef Jacques Pépin’s cooking videos exerted during the early days of Covid lockdown: “With people out of work, and others fearful of joining them, and still others shell-shocked and instinctively practicing thrift, Pépin’s recipes spoke to a moment. I found many of his videos to be, on certain insomniac nights, strangely and almost unbearably moving. His age, his battered good looks, his accent, the slight sibilance in his voice, his culinary erudition worn lightly, his finely honed knife skills, and the ’70s-era funk of his wood-paneled kitchen: It was a mesmerizing package. I especially liked to watch him cook eggs.”
There’s more to read this week, of course, including a novel that pays homage to Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House” along with fiction from Teju Cole, Marie NDiaye, Jessica Knoll and others. In nonfiction, we recommend a collection of journalism out of Russia and a history of the vexing, fascinating attempt to study the mysteries of sleep. Happy reading.
Apparitions, black hares and time warps festoon this fitting — and frightening — homage to Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House,” in which Hand mines the source material for structure and storytelling beats rather than relying on superficial similarities.
Mulholland | $27
Knoll’s assured novel begins near the end of the serial killer Ted Bundy’s gruesome spree: at a Florida sorority house where he attacked four sisters in 1978. Knoll pooh-poohs Bundy’s ballyhooed intelligence, celebrating instead the promise and perspicacity of his penultimate victims.
First published in 1972, and newly reissued, this is a bubbly, empathetic and ultimately lovely novel of a belated coming-of-age in 1960s London. The heroine’s haunted relationship with her mother, and the ways that relationship reprises itself in her romantic life, give her story substance.
New Directions | Paperback, $17.95
Cole’s new novel collects the reflections of a Nigerian American professor who uses art to explore traumatic, sometimes violent histories. Paintings, photographs, antiques of dubious provenance: All prompt questions of identity, perspective and power, and invite readers to scrutinize themselves.
NDiaye’s latest psychological thriller, translated by Jordan Stump, follows a lawyer named Maître Susane who is reunited with a man she knew when they were both teenagers. But his presence brings fear rather than comfort: Something happened in his bedroom 30 years ago, and Maître Susane can’t recall what.
Knopf | $28
Ranging from his boyhood in Florida and West Virginia to his adult life as an editor and reviewer, this intimate and joyful memoir by a Times book critic valorizes an unpretentious and hungry way of reading, eating and living with gusto.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux | $27
Originally published in an independent Russian newspaper, and translated here by Bela Shayevich and Ilona Yazhbin Chavasse, this collection of articles by a journalist who has since relocated to the West casts sympathetic light on the struggles of her country’s far-flung citizens.
The field of sleep science has had a turbulent history: often treated with skepticism, frequently underfunded and filled with restless characters. Miller, a journalist, presents his story with brio and a certain wonder.
Hachette | $32.50
Schiff took a routine job in the Metropolitan Museum of Art soon after college; these poems revisit that time in short, staggered lines that are perceptive and often comic.
Penguin Poets | Paperback, $20