In The Road to Little Dribbling, as in all of Bill Bryson’s travel books, you can be assured of two constants: first, that your guide is a sensualist who immerses himself (and thus, the reader) in all the sights, sounds, smells and tastes he encounters on his wanderings; and second, that along the way he will spot surprises, incongruities and contradictions that he obligingly transmutes into laughter.
Once in a while, a reader needs to dive into a book that makes her feel just a bit unclean. The book doesn’t have to be trashy—and Chris Bohjalian’s latest, The Guest Room, is much too well-written and psychologically astute to be close to trashy—but the author must have no compunction about dropping the reader into the muck and leaving her there. This Bohjalian certainly does, with glee.
Roger Angell, now 94, has had an extraordinary life. A longtime fiction editor of The New Yorker and one of the best-ever writers on baseball, he is the only writer elected to both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Baseball Hall of Fame. His wonderful new collection, This Old Man: All in Pieces, is, he says, a grab bag, a portrait of his brain at this point in his life. The title piece, a moving and personal account of aging, received the 2014 prize for best essay from the American Society of Magazine Editors.
As you’d imagine from the title, bats are a key element in Zachary Thomas Dodson’s intricately constructed and elaborately illustrated debut. But the book’s real spirit animal is the ouroboros: a snake eating its own tail. Built as a novel within a novel, with supporting material in the form of letters and journal pages and drawings (all reproduced here as if photocopied from an archive), Bats of the Republic follows a pair of adventurous young men, several generations apart, on similar missions.
The creepy motel is a staple of the horror genre—think the Overlook or the Bates. In her chilling seventh novel, The Night Sister, Jennifer McMahon has created a worthy addition to that roster: the Tower Motel.
What motivated Adolf Tolkachev to begin spying for the CIA? Was it for money? Did he require an ego boost? Was it based on his hatred of the Soviet system? It likely was a combination of all three. But what mattered most to the CIA was that Tolkachev was delivering a treasure trove of Soviet military secrets during a critical period of the Cold War. Tolkachev’s daring exploits are described in riveting detail in David E. Hoffman’s The Billion Dollar Spy.
Ronald Reagan is trending. Everyone from Ted Cruz to Barack Obama sings his praises. Why is Reagan so popular? Was it his movie-star looks? His cowboy swagger? His “America first” doctrine? H.W. Brands covers it all in his thorough biography, Reagan.
Years ago, as a small-town newspaper editor, I spent a night riding along with an officer on patrol. The shift began with a potential car dealership break-in and ended with an encounter with a drunk stumbling along the side of a lonely road. That night―as memorable as it was―pales in comparison to the drama that Steve Osborne shares with readers in The Job: True Tales from the Life of a New York City Cop.
The Folded Clock, as crafted by novelist Heidi Julavits, is intricate and delicately worked. Time doesn’t flow linearly in this memoir as we might expect. What at first glance appears to be the diary of a writer in her 40s living an enviable life—an apartment in Manhattan, a house in Maine, sabbaticals in Europe—turns into a structure more complex, like an origami crane. Meditations on marriage and friendship appear and reappear. Diary entries might skip six months, or jump back a year. Julavits arranges the raw material of her diary in such a way as to provoke insight across the units of time that we normally experience: the day, the week and the month.
The first thing that is immediately apparent about Hanya Yanagihara’s second novel, A Little Life, is that it has been incorrectly named: There is nothing little about this novel—not the lives depicted within it or the size of its author’s ambitions and talents. And not the page count, either. It is a hulking doorstop of a book, perfect for the reader who likes to burrow into a book for weeks at a time.