W's arts and culture director shares her favorite books of the season.
Rarely is a vacation complete without the perfect book, yet as these new releases attest, you needn’t leave home to travel. With Muse (Knopf), Jonathan Galassi, the acclaimed poet, critic, and Farrar, Straus & Giroux publisher, steps out for the first time as a novelist—with a satire of the industry he helped shape. Look for plenty of veiled gossip: At the center of the tale is a publisher and the prodigious poetess he hopes to wrest from a rival upon meeting her at her Venetian palazzo. From the writer Rebecca Makkai comes the inventive Music for Wartime (Viking), her first collection of short stories, many of them inspired by her paternal grandparents’ political involvement in 1930s Hungary. In one, a young boy with a kind of sixth sense has visions of his Romanian father’s hidden past during a music recital at their home. Surreal humor runs through Milan Kundera’s The Festival of Insignificance (Harper), the Czech author’s first novel in 13 years. Best known for 1984’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Kundera ruminates on history, art, and politics through the lives of four male friends in modern-day Paris, where Kundera here has been based for more than 40 years. Meanwhile, Casablanca is both the setting for and a character in Vendela Vida’s compulsively readable thriller The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty (Ecco), about a woman who, having been robbed of her passport and wallet after going abroad, continually tries on new identities. As the novel reminds us, sometimes you have to get lost to find what you’re looking for.