The Best Books of March, 2016

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Remember when March meant a whole week off from school, and maybe a trip to the beach? For most of us, those days are gone, but you can still get away from it all with the help of a good book. (It might also help to turn off the TV, with its hourly reminders of the increasingly insane presidential election.) New books this month include a look at America’s psychedelic subculture, an exploration of one of the most famous rivalries in college sports, an Irish novel about an oddball man and his oddball dog, and a hilarious look at the people who love (and loathe) the Queen of Pop. 

Spill Simmer Falter Wither, Sara Baume (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Originally published last year by a small Irish press to massive acclaim, this debut novel by visual artist and writer Baume follows a 57-year-old outcast who takes his rescue dog, One-Eye, on a long road trip around Ireland after the people in their hometown become suspicious of them. The book won last year’s Rooney Prize for Irish Literature.

The Legends Club: Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano, and an Epic College Basketball Rivalry, John Feinstein
Popular sportswriter John Feinstein (A Season on the Brink) goes back to the ‘80s to explore one of college basketball’s most legendary rivalries: the longtime fight between the University of North Carolina (coached by Dean Smith), Duke University (Mike Krzyzewski), and North Carolina State University (the late Jim “Jimmy V” Valvano).

The Ancient Minstrel: Novellas, Jim Harrison (Grove)
Harrison, the prolific poet and novelist (Legends of the Fall) returns with his eighth collection of novellas. The three works in his latest book deal with an elderly Montana author who finds himself in charge of a litter of piglets, a cult with a weird relationship with a group of howler monkeys at a zoo, and a woman reminiscing about her time in England during the Blitz. 

Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America, Jesse Jarnow (Da Capo)
Writer and radio DJ Jesse Jarnow follows up his 2012 book about Yo La Tengo and indie rock with one about America’s psychedelic subculture. The book looks at hallucinogenic drugs, how the hippie culture has adapted to the Internet, and, of course, the Grateful Dead, which have become much more than just a band to those living the psychedelic lifestyle.

The Association of Small Bombs, Karan Mahajan (Viking)
The second novel from Austin-based writer Mahajan (Family Planning) focuses on how terrorism affects everyone involved in it. The book tells the story of three boys in a Delhi marketplace when a bomb goes off — two are killed, and the third must learn to live with his physical and psychological wounds. 

A History of Violence: Living and Dying in Central America, Óscar Martínez, translated by Daniela Maria Ugaz and John Washington (Verso)
Journalist Martínez, author of The Beast, explores the epidemic of violent crime in central America, traveling to El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and southern Mexico. His book deals with human trafficking, drugs, and gang homicides, and makes the case that North Americans should be worried about what’s going on in the countries to the south. 

Madonnaland: And Other Detours into Fame and Fandom, Alina Simone (University of Texas Press)
Musician and writer Simone, author of the hilarious You Must Go and Win and Note to Self, returns with an exploration of the Material Girl and her fans (and detractors). Simone’s book is more than a portrait of Madonna and the people who love her, it’s a reflection on the nature of pop music fandom.