A couple of nights ago, I got to see the 2016 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature doing his thing onstage — his thing being music, not books, since the laureate in question is Bob Dylan. But as it happens, there is an expansive new Dylan book on the shelves right now, which combs through his vast archives to offer a selection of letters, handwritten lyrics, old photos and other ephemera.
The Nobel committee isn’t alone in thinking that books and music play well together: Our recommended books this week include Mary Gabriel’s biography of Madonna, the eternally relevant pop star, and a memoir by Sly Stone, the luminous but elusive genius of funk and soul.
Also up, we recommend a reissue of seminal science fiction by the feminist writer Joanna Russ along with novels by K-Ming Chang and A.K. Blakemore. In nonfiction, our list includes a consideration of Japan’s war crime trials after World War II, a history of plagues and vaccines, an account of the assassination that shook the Belgian Congo early in its independence and a romp through the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Happy reading.
This detailed biography, by a Pulitzer finalist who has previously written about female painters and other subjects, makes a diligent case for the pop star’s cultural importance, defending her from detractors with a litany of broken records and crossed boundaries.
Little, Brown | $38
Stone, one of pop music’s truest geniuses and greatest mysteries, essentially disappeared four decades ago after recording several albums’ worth of incomparable, visionary songs. This memoir sprints through his experiences while giving a strong sense of his voice and sensibility.
At once rah-rah and dishy, this inside look at the Incredible Hulk of the entertainment industry doubles as a guide to the last decade of Hollywood disruption. From corporate infighting to Chinese censorship, it’s all here.
Liveright | $35
Schama’s timely story of plagues weaves the histories of cholera and smallpox with a biography of the fascinating research scientist Waldemar Mordechai Wolff Haffkine, who deserves recognition as much for his humanity as his medical breakthroughs.
A new collection showcases the essential works of Russ, a pioneer of feminist science fiction whose bold female characters swashbuckled across the multiverse. The book includes her best-known novel, “The Female Man,” which follows four women living in parallel worlds.
Library of America | $37.50
This engrossing look at the life and death of the former Belgian Congo’s prime minister explores the international panic that attended the chaotic early days of the country’s independence, when the army rebelled, the Belgians fought back and various ethnic groups sought sovereignty.
Knopf | $35
Chang’s second novel focuses on two working-class girls in an unnamed city who imagine themselves as stray dogs like the ones around their neighborhood, bound together in a shared “collar” until they grow up — and, necessarily, apart.
One World | Paperback, $18
Blakemore’s novel reimagines the life of a sideshow performer in 18th-century France who had an insatiable appetite and could eat almost anything. Hunger amid gross inequality and poverty serves as a larger theme in the book.
Scribner | $28
Written by a veteran journalist and Princeton professor, this immersive look at the prosecution of Japanese war crimes offers an elegant account of a moment that shaped the politics of the region and of the Cold War to come.