Let’s start at the end this week. The end of youth, in Curtis Sittenfeld’s midlife-themed story collection “You Think It, I’ll Say It.” The end of an era (the era of sea battles), in Jan Morris’s contemplative history “Battleship Yamato.” The end of democracies, in Timothy Snyder’s sobering new analysis, “The Road to Unfreedom.” And lest you turn for comfort to spring — that traditional metaphor for rebirth and renewal — I have bleak news for you: Karl Ove Knausgaard’s “Spring,” the latest entry in his seasonal cycle, is haunted by the implied end of a marriage. The consolation, though, is that all of these books are excellent, as bracing and astringent as a slap. In writing as in menu planning, sometimes the ending is the most delicious part.
Senior Editor, Books
SPRING, by Karl Ove Knausgaard. Translated from the Norwegian by Ingvild Burkey. (Penguin Press, $27.) The third book in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s series of books inspired by the seasons follows the author over the course of one day, caring for his children while his wife is mysteriously absent. Our critic Parul Sehgal calls it “a return to form, and a return to ruthlessness.” The book “features Knausgaard unbound, writing for the first time without a gimmick or the crutch of extravagant experimentation, the endurance test of ‘My Struggle’ or the staccato essays of his previous books on the seasons. ‘Spring’ refuses contrivance; it refuses to parry.”
YOU THINK IT, I’LL SAY IT, by Curtis Sittenfeld. (Random House, $27.) In the lives of Sittenfeld’s characters, the lusts and disappointments of youth loom large well into middle age. But their trials, in the scheme of things, are manageable enough to allow for comedy, which Sittenfeld is a pro at delivering in the details. Susan Dominus writes in her review, “Some of the stories grant the possibility that the characters have grown in the intervening years, and grown softer, more generous; others suggest, more spikily, that there is no hope of leaving behind what was painful, or of recovering what was good.”
THE ROAD TO UNFREEDOM: Russia, Europe, America, by Timothy Snyder. (Tim Duggan Books, $27.) In his latest book, Snyder considers how democracies fall apart, placing the blame for political instability in Western countries from France to the United States on domestic cultural forces but also, in particular, on Russia and the policies of its leader, Vladimir Putin. Our reviewer, Margaret MacMillan, says Snyder “argues forcefully and eloquently” that we are living in dangerous times, and calls his book a “good wake-up call” about the importance of Enlightenment reasoning. “So many of us no longer care, as we should, about understanding ourselves and our pasts as complex and ambiguous,” she writes. “Rather we look for comforting stories that claim to explain where we came from and where we are going. Such stories relieve us of the need to think and serve to create powerful identities. They also serve the authoritarian leader who rides them to power.”