Valentine’s Day is in the rearview, but St. Patrick’s Day is on its way, so it’s only fitting that a memoir by one of Hollywood’s great Irishmen leads off this month’s book recommendations. Mitch Kaplan, founder of Books & Books, also suggests a powerful anthology of African-American history, a novel about the fractures of contemporary immigration, and a beachy page turner from a longtime Florida thriller writer.
When Gabriel Byrne played a Jesuit priest in the disposable 1999 horror film “Stigmata,” the role must have felt a bit nostalgic, even bittersweet. As the actor’s memoir Walking With Ghosts reveals, his childhood dream was to enter the priesthood. The film and theatre worlds are glad the seminary expelled him after four years, because he’s created countless iconic characters for screens and stages, often playing people who, like priests, you’d feel comfortable confiding in. Already earning comparisons to indelible Irish memoirs like Angela’s Ashes, Walking With Ghosts follows Byrne from his working-class upbringing outside Dublin through various odd jobs and his life-changing discovery of cinema, battles with addiction and more.
As ambitious as it is voluminous, this collection of work by 90 contemporary writers explores no less than 400 years of Black history in America—and last week, it debuted at No. 2 on the New York Times Nonfiction best-seller list straight out of the gate. A motley mix of “historical essays, short stories, personal vignettes and fiery polemics,” Four Hundreds Souls opens a year prior to the Mayflower’s arrival, when the first slave shop dropped a couple of dozen Africans onto the shores of Virginia, and continues to present-day afflictions and triumphs, in narratives that span from unspeakable cruelty to transcendence.
Patricia Engel, who teaches Creative Writing at the University of Miami, may be familiar to Boca Ratonians with deep memory banks: She spoke at one of the very first Festival of the Arts Bocas, and her literary star has only continued its ascent. Infinite Country, named a Most Anticipated Book of 2021 by more than 15 outlets from Esquire to Ms. to BuzzFeed, Infinite Country vibrates with the fissures of a divided America and a divided family. At its center is Talia, an American-born teenager of Colombian parentage, who is held in a correctional facility outside Bogota after committing a compulsive act of violence. With her father having been deported back to Colombia, and her mother and sisters living in the U.S., Talia’s future rests in a limbo familiar to millions of immigrants, in a narrative that feels both specific and universal.
Like “Dexter,” another Florida-set franchise about a serial murderer who only slays victims more depraved than he is, Tim Dorsey’s Serge A. Storms is a psychopath with taste—a likeable dispenser of vigilante justice in a state rife with extrajudicial needs. Tropic of Stupid is the 24th entry in Dorsey’s durable Serge Storms series, continuing the character’s tradition of being the quintessential Florida Man tracking other Florida Men. This time around, Storms takes a deep dive into Florida’s state park system while attempting to chart his own ancestry. It’s a lineage that involves, perhaps not too surprisingly, a legendary serial killer still at large. Mayhem certainly ensues, in a story the Associated Press likened to “The Three Stooges meets Ted Bundy.”