Maureen Corrigan

A few days ago, one of my students asked me what I was reading, so I told her about Jean Hanff Korelitz's new novel, called The Devil and Webster. My student's eyes got wider as I finished lightly summarizing the plot, and she said, with some concern about Korelitz: "I hope she's ready for all the angry tweets and emails."

Yeah, I think she probably is.

You might say that Heretics, a sprawling novel by celebrated Cuban writer Leonardo Padura, has been in the works since the early 1990s. It was back then that Padura began writing a series of books featuring an ex-police detective in Havana named Mario Conde. Funny and philosophical, Conde, like the sharpest of detectives, devotes more time to investigating the mysteries of his own society than he does to investigating crime.

Worlds collide in Waking Lions, a new novel by Israeli writer Ayelet Gundar-Goshen. Like Tom Wolfe, who used the device of a hit-and-run accident in The Bonfire of the Vanities as a means to violently "introduce" New Yorkers of different races and classes to each other, Gundar-Goshen also begins her story with a car ride gone haywire.

It's been almost 20 years since Barbara Ehrenreich published Fear of Falling, her brilliant book on the anxious "inner life" of the American middle class. The book's title, "fear of falling," has become a catchphrase to refer to the cosmic jitters that afflict anyone whose lifestyle and sense of identity can be wiped out by the loss of a job or a plunge in the stock market.

Willie Lincoln was only 11 when he died in February 1862 of typhoid fever. The Lincolns' third son was said to be their favorite, and after Willie was interred in a borrowed mausoleum in Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown, his father, Abraham Lincoln, returned to that cemetery several times. Newspapers reported that the president visited the crypt to open his son's coffin and hold his body.

Utopian communities don't fare much better in fiction than they do in real life. As the plot usually unfolds, a brave new world loses its luster fast when the failings of its founder are exposed, or when the community itself begins to morph into a cult.

Ayelet Waldman is a real handful; as people would have said once upon a time in my old New York neighborhood, "she's got a mouth on her."

She's one nasty woman, that Betty Fussell. Now 89, Fussell came of age in the heyday of bright and breezy Bettys — Betty Grable, Betty Hutton, Betty Crocker — but she clearly gravitated toward the one dangerous dame of the bunch, Bette Davis.

An essayist and author of some 20 books on food and travel, as well as the acclaimed memoir, My Kitchen Wars, about her marriage to and divorce from the late cultural historian Paul Fussell, Betty Fussell doesn't mince words.

I hesitate to say it, but the one word that characterizes my best books of 2016 list is "serious." These books aren't grim and they're certainly not dull, but collectively they're serious about tackling big, sometimes difficult subjects — and they're also distinguished by seriously good writing. Here are 10 that you shouldn't miss.

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

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