When you think of warm and fuzzy holiday cheer, Jeanette Winterson is not the first author that comes to mind. But it turns out that the experimental British novelist, known for her explosive, fractured language (in such novels as Sexing the Cherry and The Passion) and her searing family memoir Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal? has a doozy of a secret: she is a full-on Christmas devotee, bursting with affection for our idiosyncratic traditions and personalized rituals around the holidays. Christmas Days (Grove, $24) is a compilation of the holiday stories Winterson has been writing annually for the past twelve years and it delights in shattering expectations. It is positively cozy. Filled with recipes (Kathy Acker’s custard recipe!) and stories, it’s the Christmas book every person who eschews Hallmark has been waiting for. It glows with full-bodied, non-ironic joy.
Over the past year, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical, Hamilton, has won a bevy of awards, sold out shows across the country, and dominated pop-culture like no other show in recent memory—or maybe ever. In Hamilton: The Revolution (Grand Central, $45), Miranda and theater critic Jeremy McCarter provide a detailed look into the show’s gestation from a single rap about the founding fathers to a full blown Broadway phenomena. The book includes detailed liner notes, deleted songs, photographs, interviews (including several with President Obama), and a guide to the show’s many hip hop references. The juicy behind the scenes details and anecdotes are sure to be catnip for theater nerds. But the insight into the multi-talented Miranda’s creative process is a fascinating read for both fans and newcomers alike.
Kill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul (Spiegel & Grau, $28; paper, $17) intertwines two of author James McBride’s greatest passions and talents – writing and music – in this biography of legendary soul singer James Brown. To those of us who grew up listening to his music in the 1960s, James Brown was the Godfather of Soul and the musical father of Black Pride. He did his own version of the moonwalk in high-heeled boots! He did the splits in a suit! He had faux fainting spells! And his cape! Brown had, the author contends, as profound an influence on American social history as Harriet Tubman or Frederick Douglass. But much of his reputation and legacy became tangled up in unflattering impressions and tragic incidents from his life, too often leaving him marked and misinterpreted as more of a simple caricature than the complicated cultural icon and enormously talented artist he truly was. McBride, the 2013 National Book Award winner for fiction (The Good Lord Bird) tells Brown’s story, in one reviewer’s words, as “a furious ode.”