The Old King in his Exile
By Arno Geiger, translated by Stefan Tobler. (And Other Stories, $16.95.)
Austrian writer Arno Geiger writes with keen observation, empathy and an eye for the absurd about the dementia descending on his aging father. As time goes on, Geiger learns to meet his father where he is. The result is this rich, rewarding and beautiful memoir of a man who forgets most things but not where he came from or that he is deeply loved. Studded with snippets of dialogue between father and son that are both funny and oddly wise.
Crying in H Mart
By Michelle Zauner. (Alfred A. Knopf, $26.95.) cq
Michelle Zauner grew up outside of Eugene, Ore., the only child of an American father and a Korean mother. Obstinate, tough, a stupendous cook and a deeply unsympathetic nurse, her mother runs the house until Zauner rebels, and leaves. When her mother is diagnosed with cancer, Zauner returns to tempt her with the amazing foods she had grown up on. All the food in the world can't stop the inevitable, but Zauner knows that its creation and proffering is an act of — and an acknowledgment of — love.
By Billie Jean King, with Johnette Howard and Maryanne Vollers. (Alfred A. Knopf, $30.)
In this terrific memoir, Billie Jean King focuses on the 1960s and '70s when she was coming of age as the greatest tennis player in the world and, at the same time, fighting for equity for women athletes. She writes honestly about being outed by a former lover and about her eating disorder. This book is engaging, funny, spirited and fierce, with tidbits about everyone from Margaret Court (who she respected but did not like) to Elton John (who she adores).
Facing the Mountain
By Daniel James Brown. (Viking, $30.)
Sad but fascinating, this narrative history follows four young Japanese-American men who signed up to serve their country during World War II even as their families were being hauled off to concentration camps in the American West. It opens with a stunning depiction of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and plunges into the anti-Asian sentiment that quickly subsumed the country. But it is Daniel James Brown's recounting of the dignity and courage of the four Nisei (second-generation Japanese) that is most moving. A worthy companion to his blockbuster "The Boys in the Boat."
The Genius Under the Table
By Eugene Yelchin. (Candlewick Press, $16.99.)
Eugene Yelchin's memoir of growing up in the Soviet Union is steeped in wry observations and black humor. Because of their religion, his Jewish parents — a frustrated dancer and poet — were not allowed to pursue their passions. His brother sees ice skating as his ticket out. And Eugene? At night he draws pictures on the underside of the table he sleeps beneath and dreams of becoming an artist. A beautiful, layered memoir about how people thrive when their country is doing its best to stifle their dreams.
Oscar Wilde: A Life
By Matthew Sturgis. (Alfred A. Knopf, $40.)
This utterly engrossing biography of the flamboyant and fascinating Irish writer clocks in at nearly 800 pages that simply fly by. Here is Wilde, on his endless American lecture tour, dressed in velvet and knee britches, charming thousands with his wit; here he is partying with any number of handsome young men; and here he is in prison, close to death, deprived of food, books and companionship — the very things he lives for. Matthew Sturgis captures him brilliantly in this well-documented and well-written biography.
Renegades: Born in the USA
By Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen. (Crown, $50.)
The companion book to the podcast of former president Barack Obama and rocker Bruce Springsteen is loaded with ephemera — photos, hand-scrawled song lyrics, annotated speeches. But it's the words, the transcripts of their discussions — which touch on fame, wealth, love, ambition, masculinity and a whole host of other topics — that are the most fascinating. When Springsteen writes about ransacking his car in a toll lane to find just one more penny, and when Obama writes about deeply missing his father, you can almost hear them speak.
Empire of Pain
By Patrick Radden Keefe. (Doubleday, $32.50.)
Patrick Radden Keefe, author of "Say Nothing," the brilliant nonfiction narrative about the Irish Troubles, gives us three generations in the deeply secretive Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, which created OxyContin, the drug that launched hundreds of thousands of deadly addictions. Both biography and history, Keefe brings the family to life — their brilliance, their steely ambition, their incredible, unwavering greed. This is a sweeping, damning account (the footnotes alone stretch to 50 pages), a true saga that reads like a novel.
All That She Carried
By Tiya Miles. (Random House, $28.)
The book centers on a lowly sack, an artifact a Black family kept for generations. It was given by Rose, an enslaved woman, to her daughter Ashley, who was being sold at auction in 1852. Information on Rose and Ashley is scant, but Tiya Miles is a diligent scholar and she digs deep to fill in the gaps with eye-opening context. Her measured tone and her steady, repetitive drumbeat of prices paid for people are a devastating combination.
By James Rebanks. (Custom House, $28.99.)
In his second memoir, James Rebanks, Twitter's favorite English shepherd, tells about his journey from young farm boy to experienced farmer, and how along the way he embraced modern methods only to learn that he was killing the bugs, the soil, the birds and the future. A wholesale return to the old ways is not practical, but Rebanks makes a strong argument for a sensible mix between the old and the new — what he calls "a beautiful compromise." A lovely and enlightening book.
By Annabel Abbs. (Tin House, $26.95.)
Annabel Abbs follows literally in the footsteps of eight hillwalkers — all women, primarily from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Part memoir, part biography, the book explores what compelled them to walk, what obstacles they faced, what wisdom they gleaned. The women were nothing short of remarkable, covering as much as 30 miles a day in long skirts and, in one case, espadrilles. "They walked for emotional restitution," she writes. "They walked to understand the capabilities of their own bodies. They walked to assert their independence."
Graceland, at Last
By Margaret Renkl. (Milkweed Editions, $26.)
Margaret Renkl's powerful and lovely essays are laced with observations of the natural world and undergirded with fierce opinions on family, the environment, religion, social justice and politics. They often start with the personal and move swiftly into the universal. Set primarily in the South, her essays are set in the out of doors, hospital corridors, Waffle Houses, on dog walks and in parks, and cover topics as diverse as mosquito spraying, OxyContin addiction, the monarch population and the late singer John Prine.
Laurie Hertzel is the senior editor for books at the Star Tribune.