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New books from Paul Kalanithi, Han Kang and David Denby

"When Breath Becomes Air" by Paul Kalanithi Photo Credit: Random House

WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR, by Paul Kalanithi. This slender but powerful memoir — written by a dedicated neurosurgeon before he died of lung cancer last year at 37 — is a meditation on life, death, education, literature, marriage and fatherhood. Kalanithi was survived by his wife, Lucy, who provides the epilogue, and a young daughter. Championed by author-bookseller Ann Patchett, the book is already a best-seller. (Random House, $25)

WHAT BELONGS TO YOU, by Garth Greenwell. In this lushly written debut novel, the narrator — a young American teacher in Bulgaria — falls in love with Mitko, a handsome but troubled hustler he meets in a public bathroom at Sofia’s National Palace of Culture. Greenwell evokes the gray Eastern European setting, and Mitko is a singular creation: proud, violent, tender, pitiable and, in the end, unforgettable. (FSG, $23)

THE VEGETARIAN, by Han Kang. First published in South Korea, and appearing here in a translation by Deborah Smith, this unsettling novel follows Yeong-hye, a woman who stops eating meat after a series of horrifying nightmares. As it unfolds in three parts, each narrated by a different character, “The Vegetarian” gets even stranger, as Yeong-hye stops eating altogether and seeks a bizarre metamorphosis. (Hogarth, $21)

LIT UP: One Reporter, Three Schools, and Twenty-Four Books That Can Change Lives, by David Denby. For one academic year, the former New Yorker magazine film critic sat in on a demanding 10th grade English class at a New York City public school, as the students engaged — and sometimes struggled — with their assigned reading, from “The Scarlet Letter” and “Brave New World” to “Siddhartha” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” (Henry Holt, $30)

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