Erin McCahan's second novel for teen readers, Love and Other Foreign Words, would've been an easy favorite for my 12-year-old self. It stars an over-analytical, brilliant 17-year-old named Josie who can't keep her hilarious and too-astute commentary (and enormous vocabulary) to herself—and thank goodness she can't. The precocious teen approaches the world around her as an outsider, observing and translating the communication styles of others. The pattern and familiarty of language—from math to the "language of beautiful girls"—make sense to her, unlike the language of romantic love, an area where Josie's brillance offers no insight. So when her older sister Kate plans to marry the insufferable Geoff, Josie is determined to break them up.
Naturally, this doesn't go as planned, and Josie ends up learning a bit more about love than she expected. Read on for an excerpt, when she first starts considering the possibility of falling in love and makes a list of her potential guy's necessary critera:
"Okay. He has to be older than I am. And taller. Preferably handsome but not so gorgeous that he knows it. And smart in a way that makes me just want to sit and listen to him talk."
"About what?" she asks.
"Just—everything interesting. We have to be able to have marathon conversations. But we also need to be comfortable being quiet together." He will appreciate the value of self-possessed silence and practice it judiciously, I want to add, but don't.
"He should play some instrument too," I say. "Preferable guitar or piano, but I wouldn't mind a woodwind. Bagpipes would be my first choice, but percussion is out of the questions."
"Bag—? Josie," Sophie says.
"Well, he has to be able to do things I can't do that don't drive me crazy so that I stay interested."
"Like walking a straight line without falling over?" Stu asks.
"Yeah. Like that," I agree, pointing at Stu and shaming a smile.
"Stop listening to us," Sophie orders him. "Just go back to driving."
"You realize I haven't stopped driving," he says.
"Be quiet," she says. To me, she asks, "What else?"
There's more. There's lots more.
He will never ask me to eat gray, slimy, gelatinous food nor will he tousle my hair. Not that he could tousle it since I wear it daily in a neat and tidy ponytail, but there are times—showering, blow-drying—when my hair is, in fact, tousle-able. I'd prefer it if he just never touches my head or touches it only with my permission, which I will grant on special occasions such as Arbor Day, poor, neglected holiday that it is, but never on my birthday.
What are you reading this week?
Though William Shakespeare's exact date of birth went unrecorded, it's typically observed on April 23, the day he died on 52 years later—a neat piece of symmetry for such a literary life.
In the years since, the scant biographical facts available about the poet have combined with his singular status to ignite countless imaginations. This spring brings three additions to the lengthy list of Shakespearean tomes.
How did the son of a glovemaker rise to the heights of literary fame? This question has engendered many hypothetical answers over the years—including the well-known assertion that Shakespeare did not, in fact, write the plays he is credited with. Historical novelist Jude Morgan comes up with his own Bardic backstory in The Secret Life of William Shakespeare (St. Martin's), which opens in 1582, shortly before Shakespeare meets his wife-to-be Ann Hathaway. Morgan's Shakespeare adores his father and has a close relationship with his sister, Joan. He also feels a genuine passion for Ann, one that competes with his calling as a poet.
In Dark Aemilia (Picador), we move from investigating the source of Shakespeare's genius to unveiling the inspiration for the "Dark Lady" of his sonnets, the mistress whose "hair is nothing like the sun." Author Sally O'Reilly posits that the woman in question is a real-life contemporary, Aemilia Lanier—the fourth woman to ever publish a book of poetry in English. Lanier's biography is as sketchy as Shakespeare's own, leaving O'Reilly plenty of room to weave in a tumultuous romance with fellow poet Will while he's out and about on the London theater scene.
Finally, for those who don't take their Shakespeare too seriously, there's William Shakespeare's The Jedi Doth Return, the final Star Wars/Shakespeare mashup from Ian Doescher. The first, Verily, a New Hope, was a surprise hit back in 2013, and fans can't seem to get enough of the Star Wars story told in iambic pentameter.
If none of these suits your fancy, hold on until 2016, when Hogarth books will launch the "Hogarth Shakespeare Collection," a series that allows modern-day authors to turn several of Shakespeare's most popular plays into novels.
Those who prefer a "just the facts, ma'am," approach might try Germaine Greer's 2008 biography of Ann Hathaway or Stephen Greenblatt's National Book Award Finalist Shakespeare biography, Will in the World.
What's your favorite Shakespeare-inspired work? Or do you believe the play's the thing?
If it were possible to wear out an internet browser, I would probably be guilty of doing such a thing in my ongoing and never-ending quest to learn about the origins of certain words and phrases.
I know what you're thinking, but not all words lead back to Shakespeare. Even though the number of words and phrases he coined comes in at around a whopping 1,700, he did not, in fact, invent the English language. Indeed, we have lots of different writers to credit for contributing to it throughout the centuries.
In his addictive new book, Authorisms: Words Wrought by Writers, Paul Dickson offers a delightful A-to-Z exploration of familiar words and phrases that were coined or popularized by a wide range of authors, including these:
• Butterfingers—Charles Dickens in The Pickwick Papers (1836)
• Egghead—Carl Sandburg in a letter (1918)
• Eyesore—William Shakespeare in The Taming of the Shrew (1593)
• Freelance—Sir Walter Scott in Ivanhoe (1820)
• Nerd—Dr. Seuss in If I Ran the Zoo (1950)
• Scaredy-cat—Dorothy Parker in "The Waltz" (1933)
• Shotgun wedding—Sinclair Lewis in Elmer Gantry (1927)
• T-shirt—F. Scott Fitzgerald in This Side of Paradise (1920)
• Yahoo—Jonathan Swift in Gulliver's Travels (1726)
This fun, breezy (though authoritative), enlightening book will also give you the lowdown on and background of such words as pandemonium, chintzy, factoid and so many more. You'll never have to endure another awkward, cocktail-party conversation lull when armed with all of the knowledge packed into this entertaining compendium.
Our teen top pick for April is Printz Award winner John Corey Whaley's refreshingly unique novel, Noggin. When 16-year-old Travis Coates is faced with terminal cancer—acute lymphoblastic leukemia—he decides to donate his head to a cryogenic lab. But instead of "waking up" to a future of flying cars and jet packs, he's reinstated just five short years later with the body of a teen who suffered from brain cancer.
Travis is suddenly thrust back into a world that has moved on without him: his girlfriend and first love is engaged to someone else, his parents grieved, his best friend is navigating college and yet Travis is the same high schooler he was five years ago.
With plenty of wit and head puns, Whaley makes a bizarre concept absolutely lovable and surprisingly moving.
Check out the quirky trailer from Simon & Schuster below:
What do you think, readers? Interested in picking up Whaley's second teen novel?
London writer Eleanor Moran's fourth novel, The Last Time I Saw You (Quercus), is a gripping psychological thriller that investigates the twisted roads a female friendship can travel. Inspired in part by the du Maurier classic, Rebecca, it is the story of two best friends from university, Olivia and Sally, whose relationship was destroyed by a shocking betrayal. When Sally dies in a car crash, Olivia is drawn back into the tangled history of their friendship—and into the arms of Sally's grieving husband.
In a guest blog post, Moran explains the universality of what she calls "Rebecca Syndrome"—the doubts that you can ever measure up to a past love.
I was a geeky, bookish 13-year-old when I first laid hands on a copy of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, the story of a nameless young girl who falls passionately in love with aloof widower Maxim De Winter, only to find that their marriage is haunted by the spectre of his dead wife, Rebecca. Even when I discovered Maxim was a murderer, who’d killed his first wife to protect his beloved Manderley, I still rooted for their relationship. It was partly because I identified with the second Mrs. De Winter’s dogged version of love: I’d grown up with a distant and unknowable father whose approval I fought an endless battle to win. But it was also because, even in my youthful naivety, I recognised the universality of her dilemma. Who amongst us has escaped the painful mental rat run of comparing herself to a partner’s previous love? In my head I call it “Rebecca Syndrome,” and it underpins my new novel, The Last Time I Saw You.
Who amongst us has escaped the painful mental rat run of comparing herself to a partner’s previous love?
In my early 30s, I found myself on the brink of marriage, a gnawing doubt permeating all the happy times. We’d been together three years, we loved each other, and I longed for the conventional setup I’d never had growing up. And yet . . . I knew it was wrong, that ultimately we wouldn’t make each other happy. The separation was messy and painful but ultimately loving. Now it was time to step into the unknown.
Having left single life behind as a twenty-something, I discovered that the thirty-something version was a foreign country that I wished I didn’t have a passport for. My ex sent his back immediately: he re-coupled within a few short weeks and, a few months later, announced he was expecting a child. Even though I’d initiated our split, I was cut to the quick, obsessing about this woman who had stepped so seamlessly into my onetime future. The crate of uncomfortable shoes I’d failed to take with me when I moved out of his apartment, the boxes of old magazines. Did those traces of our old life bother her, or did she simply dismiss them as no more than a practical inconvenience, a trip to the thrift store?
I soon got to experience the situation from the other side. I fell for a man who looked perfect on paper, but was consumed by court battles with an ex-wife he’d divorced years previously. He told me all about it on our first date, wanted it all out in the open, but over the coming months, I found myself wondering how thin a line it really was between love and hate. I would ask him what he’d loved about this complicated, mercurial woman, obsessively analysing his opaque replies. Words like “chemistry” could trigger a whole painful fantasy about chandelier-swinging sex. “The highs and lows” that he said characterised the relationship made me feel as exciting as day-old rice pudding. Were my anxieties paranoia, or warning bells? A gay friend, practical and optimistic, told me to pull myself together, pointing out that if you took my logic to extremes, I’d have to start seeking out 35-year-old virgins. I understood his logic, and yet the relationship couldn’t survive the haunting.
Livvy is left wondering if she can ever find happiness in the shadow of the complex and charismatic Sally.
In The Last Time I Saw You, Olivia, my heroine, experiences the most extreme version of Rebecca Syndrome. When she gets the call to tell her that her onetime best friend Sally has been killed in a car wreck, she’s forced to re-examine their turbulent college relationship. Her friendship with Sally was a heady roller-coaster, until Sally betrayed her in the worst possible way. Sally’s widower reaches out to Olivia, desperate to get to the bottom of the mysterious circumstances surrounding the accident. But as feelings gradually develop, Livvy’s left wondering if she can ever find happiness in the shadow of the complex and charismatic Sally.
I believe we have to grieve our “dead”—the relationships we’ve left behind—and then move on to the next with a heart that’s hopefully bruised but not broken. We just have to watch out for the partner who is still in the emergency room, claiming a clean bill of health.
Author photo by Ben Lister.
Maggie Shipstead's second novel, Astonish Me, is our Top Pick in fiction for April. Our reviewer describes it as "a request, a demand, a dare, all wrapped up in two little words, heavy with promise. And like the prima ballerina at the heart of the novel itself, Shipstead delivers a glorious story that does exactly what it says it will." (Read the full review here.)
We were curious about the books Shipstead has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share.
By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This had been on my to-read list forever, and when Adichie won the NBCC Award for fiction, I finally remembered to go out and buy it. What a truly spectacular book. Everything about it is alive and essential and harmonious: the flawless prose, the fully-realized characters, the looping shape of the narrative, the vividly textured settings. Although Adichie's story speaks to big, thorny issues like race and class and immigration (not to mention love), her characters all feel like complete, complex people, not props for an argument, and the novel has a gentle archness and lightness of tone that makes its remarkable depth and insight seem effortless.
I was at a book festival with Arthur Phillips this winter but shamefully hadn't read his books, so I decided to start with his first, Prague, a novel that came out in 2002 and revolves around a group of ex-pats living in Budapest, not Prague, in the early 1990s. (The cheeky fake-out of the title alone is reason enough to love this book.) It's full of wit and casual brilliance and a pleasantly convoluted nostalgia-that-is-also-a-deep-suspicion-of-nostalgia and characters who, like real people, are capable of holding all sorts of endlessly shifting, often contradictory convictions and delusions. On a technical level, the omniscient voice, which I think is incredibly difficult to sustain, is used masterfully and acrobatically throughout to deliver all kinds of structural surprises and to convey a sense of overarching vision.
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.
By Adelle Waldman
Waldman's debut novel is so sharply observed it's a little frightening. I've read it twice, and both times I felt the continuous sense of recognition that the best fiction inspires, where you keep thinking, "Yes, that's exactly how it is!" The consciousness of the protagonist, Nate, is rendered with an intricate completeness that I found immensely satisfying, but I was also fascinated and moved by the novel's many insights about fickleness of desire and its resistance to intellectual governance. There's a formidably critical mind behind this book, but I'd hesitate to call the novel satirical: Waldman forgoes comic exaggeration in favor of precise, measured, unflinching truthfulness tempered by compassion, even tenderness.
What do you think, readers? Will you be adding Astonish Me—or any of Shipstead's recommended books—to your TBR list?
(Author photo by Michelle Legro)
Move over, Maru. Watch out, Grumpy Cat (real name: Tardar Sauce). Refocus on your ennui, Henri. There's another cat taking over the internet: yours! Not yet, but soon, if you follow the advice in the hilarious new guide How to Make Your Cat an Internet Celebrity: A Guide to Financial Freedom (Quirk Books) by Patricia Carlin, with photographs by Dustin Fenstermacher.
It's hard not to notice just how wildly popular cats are on the internet—BuzzFeed even has a whole page devoted to precious and precocious kitties. All it takes is one photo, one brief video to go viral, and then we're talking pillows, t-shirts, these, a book deal and perhaps even—for the top, er, cats—a movie deal. Ca-ching! Of course, all of this exposure also leads to something that can't be bought: the love and adoration of millions of fans around the world.
Whether you're looking for legions of followers or cold hard cash, How to Make Your Cat an Internet Celebrity is full of practical wisdom, including:
• Identifying your cat's type: sweet baby kitten, lazy bum, total badass, daredevil and a complete moron among the options.
• Formulating a catchy stage name for your soon-so-be-famous feline.
• Picking the right location (bathtub, stairs, chest-of-drawers) and props (ceiling fan, toilet paper roll, string) to feature in your photo or video.
• Driving traffic to your hilarious new masterpiece once it's uploaded.
• And so much more.
It's the perfect tongue-in-cheek gift that'll have your cat-loving friends and family members LOL-ing . . . perhaps even all the way to the bank.
South African novelist Lauren Beukes, author of last year's supernatural thriller The Shining Girls, returns this fall with a new violent mash-up of fantasy and crime fiction. Broken Monsters is set to publish on September 16 by Mulholland Books.
Beukes had us on the edges of our seats with her wildly imaginative, uber-creepy second novel, the international best-selling The Shining Girls. With the help of a portal in a mysterious House, an unfathomably cruel serial killer travels through time to hunt his victims—all women. The only one of his targets to ever escape is Kirby, who decides to track down the villain and put an end to his murderous reign.
Broken Monsters once again finds a capital-B Bad Guy who indulges his sick compulsions, this time in abandoned Detroit warehouses. The publisher gives a preview:
Detective Gabriella Versado has seen a lot of bodies. But this one is unique even by Detroit's standards: half boy, half deer, somehow fused. The cops nickname him "Bambi," but as stranger and more disturbing bodies are discovered, how can the city hold on to a reality that is already tearing at its seams?
If you're Detective Versado's over-achieving teenage daughter, Layla, you commence a dangerous flirtation with a potential predator online. If you are the disgraced journalist Jonno, you do whatever it takes to investigate what may become the most heinous crime story in memory. If you're Thomas Keen—known on the street as TK—you'll do what you can to keep clean, keep your head down, and try to help the broken and possibly visionary artist obsessed wth setting loose The Dream, tearing reality, assembling the city anew.
What do you think, readers? Looking forward to getting creeped out by Beukes' newest horror-filled vision?
• 101 Books debunks 5 literary legends, including the one about Dr. Seuss and Kurt Vonnegut.
• Coming next year from Random House is Garlic in Fiction, a new collection of works by Shirley Jackson, culled from her archives and edited by two of her children. It'll feature stories, drawings, lectures—can't wait!
• Something you don't have to wait for: Zadie Smith's new short story from The Paris Review.
• Short on free time for reading? Flavorwire has put together a list of 50 incredible novels under 200 pages, including Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, and The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka.
• In movie news, last year's National Book Award winner for fiction, The Good Lord Bird by James McBride, is heading to the big screen, with Liev Schreiber and Jaden Smith set to star. Are you looking forward to seeing it?
• Finally, BuzzFeed gets inside the mind of legendary romance cover model, Fabio. Enjoy!
Occasionally, a work of nonfiction comes along that completely changes the way we look at a problem—or brings an issue into focus for the first time. Such was the case with Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss, first published in May 1994 and now available in a revised and updated 20th anniversary edition. Author Hope Edelman was only 29 years old when the book was released, and as she notes in a recent blog post, promotional events like an appearance on the "Today" show left her terrified. Despite the author's inexperience, the book went on to sell more than a half a million copies, prompted considerable thought and discussion, and was translated into 11 languages. Motherless Daughter support groups sprang up to help women deal with the lifelong after effects of growing up without a mother's love and guidance.
Motherless Daughters grew out of Edelman's own experience of losing her mother to breast cancer when she was 17. Using skills she honed at the Medill School of Journalism and the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa, she began to investigate what happens to girls and young women whose mothers die. After reviewing scientific studies and conducting hundreds of interviews with women, Edelman concluded that a mother's death can have lasting repercussions in many areas of a daughter's life, including her sibling relationships, her romantic relationships and her relationships with her own children. "Losing my mother wasn't just a fact about me," she writes in the book's introduction. "It was the core of my identity, my very state of being."
After Motherless Daughters was published, hundreds of women wrote to Edelman with their own stories of grief and healing. Excerpts from these personal accounts were compiled in Letters from Motherless Daughters, a companion volume also available in an updated edition with new letters. In addition, Edelman's book has inspired a new HBO documentary, The (Dead Mothers) Club, which follows three young women dealing with the deaths of their mothers. The film debuts May 12 on HBO and includes interviews with Rosie O'Donnell, Jane Fonda and Molly Shannon, who all lost their mothers early in life.
Edelman's groundbreaking work stands the test of time, offering not only comfort and understanding to mother-loss survivors, but also valuable information for anyone coping with devastating loss and grief.