From Banished Poet to Prisoner of Iran: Barbara’s Nonfiction Picks, Jan. 2019 |Prepub Alert

National Book Award winner Ha Jin presents a life of Chinese poet Li Bai, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian recalls his imprisonment in Iran, and Julie Yip-Williams tells the story of her life, from tragedy to triumph and back.

Chabon, Michael. Bookends: Collected Intros and Outros. Harper Perennial. Jan. 2019. 224p. ISBN 978006285129. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062851307. lrg. prnt. LITERATURE

Pulitzer Prize winner Chabon is such a mellifluous writer that I would read a compilation of his grocery lists. Here he collects introductions and afterwords, both classics and ones he has written, that he feels reflect a passion for reading and bring pleasure to the reader. With a 60,000-copy first printing.

Grisel, Judith. Never Enough: The Neuroscience and Experience of Addiction. Doubleday. Jan. 2019. 256p. ISBN 9780385542845. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385542852. Downloadable.

A behavioral neuroscientist and a professor of psychology at Bucknell University, Grisel is also a former addict, which means she can explain not only the brain science behind addiction but the addict’s actual experience. She takes us through how different drugs act on the infinitely adaptable brain and shows how the thrill of the occasional high turns into a ceaseless craving for the next fix: there is never enough. Grisel aims to clarify a more effective and more compassionate response to a crisis in which one in every five people over the age of 14 addicted.

Ha Jin. The Banished Immortal: A Life of Li Bai (Li Po). Pantheon. Jan. 2019. 320p. ISBN 9781524747411. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781524747428. Downloadable. LITERARY BIOGRAPHY

My happy introduction to Li Bai (also called Li Po) was through a collection of Chinese poetry called The Jade Flute I received as a child. So I am really anticipating this biography of the important eighth-century poet, written by National Book Award winner Ha Jin and ranging from the poet’s Daoist beliefs to his early itinerant life to his mystery-shrouded death during a time of rebellion.

Lévy, Bernard-Henri. The Empire and the Five Kings: America’s Abdication and the Fate of the World. Holt. Jan. 2019. 288p. ISBN 9781250203014. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781250203021. PHILOSOPHY

An influential philosopher/activist over the last several decades (remember the impact of Barbarism with a Human Face?), Lévy argues that America has always stood for basic humanist values, in its ideals if not always its actions, to which the world has aspired. Now, he argues, it has has dropped its leadership role and ceded value setting to five unfortunate “kings” (or maybe kingdoms): Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, and the Sunni Arab world.

Newman, Katherine S. Downhill from Here: Retirement Insecurity in the Age of Inequality. Metropolitan: Holt. Jan. 2019. 336p. ISBN 9781250119469. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781250119476. SOCIAL SCIENCE

A prolific author whose No Shame in My Game won Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Book Prize and the Sidney Hillman Foundation Book Award, Newman reflects on the retirement crisis facing us all, from white-collar workers who have lost their home equity to Teamsters with sliced pensions to Generation Xers who believe they will never retire. Meanwhile, the average Social Security check doesn’t begin to cover preretirement wages, and almost half of households with people aged 55 and older have no retirement savings at all. A big, booming wake-up call.

Rezaian, Jason. Prisoner: My 544 Days in an Iranian Prison—Solitary Confinement, a Sham Trial, High-Stakes Diplomacy, and the Extraordinary Efforts It Took To Get Me Out. Anthony Bourdain: Ecco. Jan. 2019. 320p. ISBN 9780062691576. $29.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062691590. lrg. prnt. MEMOIR/POLITICAL SCIENCE

In July 2014, Rezaian was serving as Tehran bureau chief for the Washington Post when he was arrested by Iranian police and accused of spying for America. He ended up in prison for 18 months, used as a bargaining chip in negotiations for the Iran nuclear deal even as his family lobbied for his release and #FreeJason boomed on social media. Here he recalls the experience while also discussing coming of age in California and his bond with his rug-merchant father. With a 100,000-copy first printing.

Yip-Williams, Julie. The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After. Random. Jan. 2019. 304p. ISBN 9780525511359. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780525511366. Downloadable. MEMOIR

Born blind in Vietnam as the war was ending and nearly euthanized by her grandmother, Yip-Williams fled over the water with her family during the tumultuous 1970s, landing in Hong Kong and then America, where surgeons partly restored her sight. Harvard Law School, a big career, and a family followed. Then, at age 37, she was diagnosed with terminal metastatic colon cancer; writing this book gave her purpose and understanding before her death at age 42. It humbles you.

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Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Book Review; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president of the National Book Critics Circle, to which she has just been reelected.

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