Sam Lipsyte (Granta, £12.99)

Set against a backdrop of fear of an unknown future, Sam Lipsyte’s satirical comic novel introduces us to Hark Morner, a cultish self-help guru marketing a method of focusing the mind based on the principles of archery. People harbour a fair amount of scepticism about Hark’s true intentions and how seriously he takes his own credo, and those who cluster around him are a pretty hapless bunch, like Kate, recently cleared of manslaughter, and “jaded sentimentalist” Fraz, who inspires equal parts compassion and pity. Plotwise, it doesn’t go anywhere particularly fast, and begins to run out of steam when war breaks out in Europe in the second half, but it’s a fun journey. Laced with ebullient wit, Lipsyte’s prose is barbed and wickedly funny as he probes the desperation of people looking for something to believe in in these bleak times, and who seem to be drawn to Hark precisely because he has nothing of substance to say.


Sarah Churchwell (Bloomsbury, £9.99)

As a term associated with Nazi sympathisers of the 1940s, Donald Trump’s use of the phrase “America first” in his election campaign caused some disquiet. But its origins are older and more complex, as recounted here by Churchwell, a professor of American Literature at the University of London. Citing numerous sources, she examines how the meanings of the phrases “the American dream” and “America first” have shifted over time, reflecting a dialogue the USA has been having with itself for more than a century. Keeping one eye fixed on a strand of authoritarianism and reactionary populism running through American politics, she documents how the original understanding of the American dream, embracing democracy and social justice, has been replaced by the dangling carrot of individual economic advancement. Dealing mainly with the first half of the 20th Century, Behold, America is an engrossing account of the tension at the heart of American culture which puts the divided country we see today in context.


Barbara K. Lipska (Corgi, £9.99)

As a neuroscientist, Barbara Lipska guessed immediately what was happening when she could suddenly no longer see her right hand. A scan confirmed that she had multiple brain tumours – 18, at one point. Aged 63, she was given at most seven months to live. Nearly four years later, she is still here, and has written this book about her experiences over the summer of 2015, when she slipped into “madness”. Ironically, despite her neurological knowledge, Lipska was oblivious to her strange behaviour as the disease had affected the part of the brain she needed to understand her plight, but in addition to suffering problems with her mental processes she had become harsh and hostile to those around her. Only after a combination of drugs shrank the tumours did she realise how her personality had become distorted, and this memoir is both an informed account of her condition and a plea to look beyond the symptoms of mental illness to the person underneath.