New & Noteworthy, From Philosophy to New York Architecture

A HISTORY OF NEW YORK IN 27 BUILDINGS: The 400-Year Untold Story of an American Metropolis, by Sam Roberts. (Bloomsbury, $28.) Roberts, a Times reporter and former urban affairs correspondent, traces the city’s history through iconic buildings: City Hall, Grand Central and more.

THIS IS PLEASURE: A Story, by Mary Gaitskill. (Pantheon, $18.) “Do I respect women?” asks the protagonist of this novella about a book editor brought low in the #MeToo era. “I can say this: I respect my wife. And I did not betray her.” Readers may be less sure, but Gaitskill is admirably nuanced about sex and power.

IN DEFENSE OF ELITISM: Why I’m Better Than You and You’re Better Than Someone Who Didn’t Buy This Book, by Joel Stein. (Grand Central, $28.) Stein brings his usual ironic sass to this attack on Trump-style populism, but his underlying project is sincere, and fueled by a desire to understand the roots of today’s cultural divide.

THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY, by A. C. Grayling. (Penguin Press, $35.) The founder and master of the New College of the Humanities in London, Grayling offers a witty, learned, authoritative survey of philosophical thought in both the Western and Eastern traditions.

BEZOAR: And Other Unsettling Stories, by Guadalupe Nettel. Translated by Suzanne Jill Levine. (Seven Stories, paper, $15.95.) Odd and arresting short stories, translated from Spanish, about obsessive characters.

I can be a late literary adapter, and only recently started reading Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, years after seemingly everyone else. Right now, I’m in the middle of the second book, THE STORY OF A NEW NAME, and am utterly caught up by the furious narrative energy and the constantly shifting currents of power and desire between the narrator, Elena, and her brilliant, unpredictable, sometimes vicious best friend, Lila, whose actions seem to keep undermining Elena’s command of the story, even though she’s the one telling it. In the part I just finished, they are on summer vacation on the island of Ischia, where Lila, recently married (too young), embarks on an adulterous affair. She has also just learned to swim, and every time she paddles far out to the horizon, leaving Elena straining to see her, it heightens my own anxiety about the dangerous game she’s playing — and my pleasure in knowing there are two and a half more books, and a thousand more pages, of this story left to drown in.

— Jennifer Schuessler, culture reporter

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