Readers met the Langdon family in Some Luck, the first novel in Jane Smiley’s trilogy about an American family and an Iowa farm. A straightforward, almost old-fashioned novel, it opened in 1920 and covered the following 33 years—one year per chapter—in the lives of Walter and Rosanna Langdon and their six children with tenderness and surprisingly subtle humor. Now, in the more ominously titled Early Warning, Smiley casts an even wider net, as the Langdon children, now grown to adulthood and with children of their own, navigate the immense social changes of the 1960s and ’70s.
The frequent surprises in Oliver Sacks’ guardedly self-revelatory autobiography begin with the book’s cover photo. There we see a buff, leather-jacketed Sacks astride his new BMW motorcycle in Greenwich Village in 1961. Who knew that the genial, gray-bearded, best-selling writer-neurologist once portrayed by Robin Williams in the movie Awakenings (1990) was such a hunk in his late 20s? Or a state-champion lifter on Southern California’s Muscle Beach? Or a physician addicted for a while to amphetamines? Or a closeted gay man who had sex during the week of his 40th birthday and then not again until he fell in love at 75?
The latest work from Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison is puzzling until you realize that it’s actually a fairy tale. How else to describe a story about a woman who is so bereft without the man in her life that the lack of him causes her to regress back to childhood—literally. Bride, the book’s beautiful, very young cosmetics tycoon, slowly loses all the physical signifiers of womanhood. Even the holes in her pierced ears close up.
In her charming and flavorful memoir, My Organic Life: How a Pioneering Chef Helped Shape the Way We Eat Today, Nora Pouillon recounts the ingredients of a life spent shaping our attitudes toward the food we cook, how we prepare it and the way we eat.
There’s No Such Thing as Little takes readers on a fun journey using objects, animals, plants, artwork and even nature to illustrate how little things have the power to have a big impact.
Steven Millhauser is our patron saint of elsewhere. He is the bard of an Arcadia we long for (but also dread), a sorcerer who can materialize phantoms in our backyards, where they’ve been standing all along, just there, behind the bushes.
It’s reassuring to discover that heroes, both ancient and modern, are not somehow supernaturally endowed after all. Indeed, they may come by their skills quite naturally. In the thoroughly absorbing Natural Born Heroes, which tracks heroism from the times of Zeus and Odysseus to the World War II bravery of a motley crew of fighters, Christopher McDougall makes it clear that incredible acts of strength and endurance are doable. His extensive knowledge of fitness training, nutrition and physiology winds artfully around a tale of superhuman resistance during the Nazi occupation of the Greek island of Crete, Hitler’s designated launching pad for the invasion of Russia.
It’s rare that a memoir is so emotionally engaging that a reader may wish to reach back through time and envelop the author in a warm parental hug. But that’s the impulse poet Tracy K. Smith engenders in this account of growing up as a dutiful daughter in a small town in northern California during the 1970s and ’80s. “My mother was proud of my decorum,” Smith recalls. “She liked having a little girl who instinctively wanted to obey.” Smith was much more than a compliant child, though. She was also preternaturally attuned to everything happening around her and determined to find a place for it in her rich imagination.
Ten years ago, Jeanne Birdsall introduced readers to the funny, smart, sweet-but-never-saccharine Penderwick sisters, whose initial summer adventures were followed by two additional books. This fourth installment opens five years after The Penderwicks at Point Mouette. With Rosalind away at college and Skye and Jane busy with teenage pursuits, the focus is on 10-year-old Batty, along with her stepbrother Ben and the newest Penderwick sibling, 2-year-old Lydia.
When Bear visits a duck family one spring, they have so much fun together he decides to stay. But the ducks’ home is too small for Bear, and his ideal space is far too gloomy (and roomy) for the ducks. Can a compromise be struck? The smart money’s on finding Room for Bear.