Endpapers: A Family Story of Books, War, Escape, and Home by Alexander Wolff

For sophisticated readers of European literature after World War II, there were no more reliable guides than Kurt and Helen Wolff, the publishing team that fled Nazi Germany and founded Pantheon Books in New York. What flowed from Pantheon, and then later from their own imprint at Harcourt, was the translated work of authors who shaped America’s understanding of the world outside its borders, from Boris Pasternak to Günter Grass, from Umberto Eco to Amos Oz.

Alexander Wolff, a longtime writer at Sports Illustrated and a grandson of Kurt and Helen’s, does brilliant justice not only to their story but to the tale of his own father, who had stayed behind in Germany and served in its army. Beautifully written and empathetic to its core, Endpapers deserves the highest compliment possible: it might as well have been published under the imprint of a Kurt and Helen Wolff book.

The Big Hurt by Erika Schickel

How many times can a reader urge the narrator of a memoir not to do what she is about to do, and then cheer her on as she manages to survive that mistake only to live on to make another, often not of her doing? In The Big Hurt, Erika Schickel, the daughter of Julia Whedon and longtime film critic Richard Schickel, describes an upbringing both privileged and hellish, which surely helped lead her into a long affair with big-shot L.A. crime novelist James Ellroy, thinly disguised here as big-shot L.A. crime novelist Sam Spade (seriously). Schickel has a terrific eye for detail, an acute ear for dialogue, and a capacity not to forgive and forget but to remember, understand, and move on.

The Arbornaut: A Life Discovering the Eighth Continent in the Trees Above Us by Meg Lowman

To call The Arbornaut a nature book is like calling H Is for Hawk a book about a bird: the description does not begin to capture the complexity and wonderment and introspection that both books so beautifully present. Meg Lowman is one of the first not to study trees for their trunks as much as for their canopies, where, she says, about half of all land-dwelling creatures live. What she tells us about what she calls the “eighth continent” above our heads, and her own life as a single mother and a woman in a field long dominated by men, is both inspirational and fascinating.