For book club members, frugal shoppers and readers who still prefer the printed page over the e-reader, here are four of the best new paperback editions available this week:
By Phil Klay
Penguin • $16 • ISBN 9780143126829
This riveting story collection by an Iraq War veteran captured the 2014 National Book Award for Fiction.
Breath, Eyes, Memory
By Edwidge Danticat
Soho • $16 • ISBN 9781616955021
The 20th-anniversary edition of Danticat's acclaimed Haitian coming-of-age novel includes an interview with the author and a reading group guide.
By Emma Donoghue
Back Bay • $17 • ISBN 9780316324670
From the author of Room, something entirely different: A rip-roaring Western/mystery featuring a cross-dressing frog catcher and an exotic dancer.
Till now, Judith Flanders has confined herself solely to nonfiction as one of the foremost social historians of the Victorian era and the best-selling author of The Invention of Murder and The Victorian City. With her debut crime novel, Flanders takes on the cutthroat publishing industry and spices it up with a bit of that Victorian-style macabre.
Chosen by librarians for the February 2015 Library Reads list, A Murder of Magpies is a darkly funny romp that takes readers between London and Paris in pursuit of a potentially libelous manuscript.
But how did Flanders make the leap from Victorian crime to contemporary crime fiction? As she reveals in a guest blog post, it's just more fun. (And now we know never to get on Flanders' bad side . . .)
Fiction has some definite advantages over nonfiction. I’ve been writing nonfiction for nearly 20 years now, specializing in Victorian Britain. I truly can’t complain: It’s a great job. As with every job, though, there are some days that are just a slog. At one point I was writing about a fire along the river Thames in 1861, and I wanted to incorporate an eyewitness’ description of seeing the fire from a train. To do that, I needed to say where his train was heading. It took me nearly a week in the library to find that out. Even though it was one of those boring little details that nobody reading my book would care about, still, I had to get it right.
If I had been writing a novel, I grumped to myself, I could have just made it up. And then I bumped into an ex-colleague in the library, someone I’d worked with years before. And I remembered how much I disliked her. (The feeling, I believe, is mutual.) So, to relieve the boredom of researching trains, I began to imagine ways of killing her. From making up train stations, to making up murder methods, I moved on to just making things up.
And before I knew it, I’d started to write a crime novel. Sam Clair is an editor in a publishing house. I worked in publishing for 17 years, and publishing is full of people that belong in a novel. The 20-something editor who thinks he knows everything? Check. The last remaining Goth in Britain, who loves commercial women’s fiction? Double-check. And of course then there’s the general murder and mayhem. After all, there isn’t an author alive who hasn’t wanted to murder her editor, and vice-versa.
With my nonfiction hat on, I wrote a book on 19th-century murder and how real-life crimes were used for entertainment purposes: Where today we have films about the Boston strangler or whatever, they had plays and novels and even puppet shows. What struck me was that real-life murder was, on the whole, not very interesting. Thug A hits Thug B over the head, fighting over a few pounds. Thug B dies. That was the pattern, over and over.
Crime was dull. Crime fiction, however, now that was fabulous. From Dickens to Dracula, authors everywhere found themselves invigorated by these very ordinary, very ugly events. They took the dull stuff—Thug A, a railway station, a fire—and turned it into magic.
Publishing can be dull, too. Like a lot of glamorous jobs, on a day-to-day level it’s often just paperwork: admin and schedules and budgets. But if you make things up, you can liberate the routine, turn it into magic, too.
So I decided that I’d give myself a break from researching train stations, or even Thugs A and B. Instead I would take the ridiculousness that is publishing, and the magic that is making things up, and see what happened.
Thank you so much, Judith! Readers, A Murder of Magpies goes on sale tomorrow!
Judith Flanders author photo by Clive Barda.
Alan Lightman explores his family and past through the lens of cinema in his memoir, Screening Room. Our reviewer writes, "In episodic prose that shimmers with cinematic quality, Lightman recalls a time when aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings, parents and friends gathered in the Memphis moonlight to drink, talk in hushed tones about neighbors, sort out perplexing and slowly evolving attitudes about race and ponder the ragged ways people fall in love and out of it." (Read the review here.)
We asked Lightman to tell us about three books he's been reading lately, and he graciously agreed to share.
Reading only Michael Ondaatje’s big novels, one would be scarcely aware of his delightful sense of humor and wit, demonstrated in his memoir Running in the Family. This short book, poetic as all of Ondaatje’s writing, begins with his return to his native island of Sri Lanka (Ceylon) in the late 1970s. There, through conversations with aging relatives, he imaginatively recreates his childhood, his Dutch-Ceylonese family history and the painful marriage of his parents—all set against the drug-like heat of the luxurious countryside. The throbbing heart of the book is Ondaatje’s strained relationship with his father, Mervyn, whose drunken antics hide a deeply troubled man who ultimately abandoned his family. With understated subtlety, in these pages Ondaatje aches to find peace with the father he never really knew.
The elderly British writer William H. Hudson was laid up for six weeks in a London hospital at the beginning of World War I when, to his astonishment, he suddenly remembered in photographic detail his entire childhood growing up on the pampas of Argentina in the mid-19th century. The resulting memoir is an extraordinary portrait of that place and time, including luxuriant descriptions of the local flora and fauna and the daily existence of an English family living far from civilization. With no schools being nearby, the children were instructed by a wandering schoolmaster, a fat little man with a crooked nose who owned nothing but his horse. The tutor, Mr. Trigg, spent a year or two at a time with English and Scottish settlers, mostly sheep farmers, and hated teaching as much as children in the wild hated being taught.
In 1815, a Connecticut sea captain named James Riley was shipwrecked off the Western coast of Africa. He and his crew were captured by wandering Arabs and turned into slaves, forced to care for the camels, sleep on the rock hard desert floor and live on practically nothing except camel’s milk as the caravan made a nine-month trek across the burning Sahara. Half starved to death, with their skin nearly burned off their bodies by the ferocious sun, forced to drink their own and camels’ urine to stay alive, Riley and his crew faced a fate of either death or being sold to other caravans. Abraham Lincoln said that Sufferings in Africa, along with the Bible and Pilgrim’s Progress, were the three books that most shaped his thinking.
Thank you, Alan! Readers, do you see any intriguing suggestions?
In need of a hearty, healthy meal you can whip up in just a few minutes after work? Molly Gilbert has you covered with this recipe for 'Quick Chicken & Baby Broccoli with Spicy Peanut Sauce' from her new cookbook, Sheet Pan Suppers.
Quick Chicken & Baby Broccoli with Spicy Peanut Sauce
Peanut sauce is like the chocolate sauce of dinnertime. I’m pretty sure I’d eat my shoe if it were covered in enough of it. This satay-inspired dish pairs my beloved peanut sauce with thinly sliced chicken and baby broccoli charred under the broiler. The whole dish cooks in only about 10 minutes but results in juicy chicken, tender broccolini and thick, bubbly sauce. It’s addicting. Keep it away from your shoes.
I’ve seen packaged thin-cut chicken breasts or cutlets at some grocery stores, but you can easily make your own by slicing a regular chicken breast in half horizontally to create two thin-cut pieces.
1. Preheat the oven to broil, with a rack 4 inches from the heat. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil or mist it with cooking spray.
2. Whisk together the brown sugar, peanut butter, sesame oil, soy sauce, sriracha, vinegar, water and lime juice in a medium-size bowl until smooth. Set aside ¼ cup of the peanut sauce for serving.
3. Rub the broccolini and chicken with the remaining peanut sauce to thickly coat, and arrange them in a tight single layer on the prepared pan. Broil, keeping a close eye on the pan to prevent burning, and flipping the chicken halfway through, until the chicken is just cooked through, the broccolini is well charred and the sauce is bubbly and deeply browned, 10 to 12 minutes.
4. Serve the chicken and broccolini hot from the oven with the reserved dipping sauce alongside.
Excerpted from Sheet Pan Suppers by Molly Gilbert. Copyright © 2014 by Molly Gilbert. Excerpted with permission by Workman Publishing. Read our review of this book.
It looks like July 2015 will be a big month in the publishing world! First, Harper Lee announced that her second novel, Go Set a Watchman, will be out in July, and Random House Children’s Books just revealed that they will publish a newly discovered book from Ted Geisel, aka beloved children's author Dr. Seuss, on July 28.
The book, What Pet Should I Get?, follows the siblings from One Fish Two Fish Red Fish as they try to decide (as the title suggests) what pet they should get. The completed manuscript and illustrations for the book were discovered in fall 2013 by Geisel’s widow, Audrey Geisel, and his secretary and friend, Claudia Prescott.
Audrey Geisel states, "While undeniably special, it is not surprising to me that we found this because Ted always worked on multiple projects and started new things all the time—he was constantly writing and drawing and coming up with ideas for new stories.”
Cathy Goldsmith, Vice President and associate publisher at Random House Books for Young Readers, worked with Geisel before his death in 1991 and says, “We believe that he wrote and illustrated What Pet Should I Get? somewhere between 1958 and 1962—as the brother and sister in the book are the same as those in his bestselling Beginner Book One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish which was published in 1960.” Read more about the book and its discovery here.
Following the opening weekend of Fifty Shades of Grey, we're busy thinking about which book to film adaptations we're most excited to see next! Here's a list of the biggest books coming to screens this Spring.
Next up in theaters is a hilarious and all-too-honest adaptation of YA hit The Duff by Kody Keplinger. Coming to screens on February 20, the cast includes Parenthood star Mae Whitman as Bianca Piper, the awkward "designated ugly fat friend" who is often overshadowed by her traditionally beautiful, skinny best friends . . . until she meets Wesley Rush at a party.
Headed to the screen on March 13 is the adaptation of Nathaniel Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea. Directed by Ron Howard and sporting an all-star cast that inlcudes Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy and Ben Wishaw, this terrifying and true account of the sinking of a New England whaling ship in 1820 is sure to be one of the year's biggest films. The attacker, an enraged sperm whale, and the aftermath later served as inspiration for Herman Melville's classic novel, Moby Dick.
The sequel to Veronica Roth's best-selling YA novel Divergent is coming to theaters March 20. Starring Shailene Woodley—whom you may recognize from other hit film adaptations such as The Decendents and The Fault in Our Stars—as Tris Prior, Insurgent is sure to deliver plenty of heart-stopping sci-fi action as her life in a dystopian Chicago is further shaken by an escalating war between her society's factions.
Fans have been waiting a while for Ron Rash's historical Appalachian epic Serena to make its screen debut, but the film finally has a solid release date of March 27. Starring the highly-lauded acting pair of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence as George and Serena Pemberton, this film is sure to deliver smoldering romance and a shocking quest for revenge.
What could be better suited for a big-screen treatment than an edge-of-your-seat murder mystery set in Stalin's Russia? Tom Rob Smith's Child 44 hits theaters April 17, with Tom Hardy at the helm as civil servant Leo Demidov who is doggedly investigating a serial killer. The problem is, how is Leo supposed to get to the bottom of an investigation of a crime Stalin refuses to admit even exists in his perfect society?
When was the last time you heard of a more perfect casting than Carrie Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene, the brilliant and independent heroine of Thomas Hardy's classic romance, Far From the Madding Crowd? The lush and beautifully directed film will be in theaters May 1. Prepare to have your box of tissues at the ready!
What do you think, readers? Which adaptations are you most excited to see in theaters?
It's one of my favorite—and most fascinating—times of year: The days and weeks following the American Library Association's announcement of the winners of the Youth Media Awards, including the Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, Newbery and Printz awards, are filled with as much joy as debate. We all have our favorite children's and YA books of the year (you can view the BookPage Best Children's and YA Books of 2014 here). Sometimes your favorites don't get the recognition you hoped for, and sometimes they do. And sometimes it seems like the award committee likes to test our understanding of the awards just because they can.
But putting all that aside, we love catching up with the winners of these awards, so we spoke with Caldecott winner Dan Santat, Newbery winner Kwame Alexander and Printz winner Jandy Nelson about what it's like to be recognized as the best in children's and young adult literature.
"It was a dream come true. A dream I never thought I would ever achieve."
"Am I delirious? Dreaming? Did he just really say 'Medal'? And then, like the clouds shifting to reveal the golden sun, my life changed, a new normal ablaze."
"I love being inside the minds/hearts of my teen narrators, love the urgency of the teen experience, that period of time when everything is so new, so dramatic, so emotional, so confusing, so funny, so raw, so honest, so everything."
It's Oscar Season, and if you have Hollywood on the brain, it's the perfect time to dive into Kate Alcott's new novel. In A Touch of Stardust, the author of The Dressmaker turns back the clock to the 1930s and puts readers on the tension-filled set of Gone With the Wind.
We see through the eyes of Julie Crawford, a would-be screenwriter who's still somewhat starstruck by the personalities she encouters during her work at the studio's publicity offices. But when Carole Lombard—who is currently involved with Clark Gable—hires Julie as her PA, the Midwestern girl starts seeing celebrities in a whole new light. But the magic of the movies persists.
Each morning, she pulled herself from bed and joined the cleaning ladies and the plumbers and other sleepy travelers on the 5:00 a.m. bus to get to the studio early. That way, she could step onto the back lot alone and be in the old South and feel the magical world of Gone with the Wind come to life. In front of Tara, the trees that had been fashioned over telephone poles looked real, and if she hadn't known the dogwood blossoms were made of white paper, the illusion would have been complete. It just took believing. She loved watching it grow—over fifty building façades now, and two miles of streets. It didn't matter that she walked in a landscape of glued plasterboard, a place of fake structures held together by little more than Selznick's frenzied dreams. It was vividly real.
What are you reading this week?
In her third memoir, Leaving Before the Rains Come, Alexandra Fuller reflects on her African childhood and the dissolution of her marriage after moving to America. Our reviewer writes, "Fuller’s blend of wry honesty and heartfelt environmental consciousness will resonate with both new readers and longtime admirers of her distinctive style." (Read the review here.)
We asked Fuller to tell us about three books she's been reading lately, and she graciously agreed to share.
I’ve read and re-read this spellbinding memoir of growing up with all the privilege and unconsciousness of a doomed elite in pre-war Liberia. Now, with West Africa and Ebola in the headlines, I found myself drawn back to Cooper’s lyrical, clear-eyed work. Anyone who wants to understand the political dynamics that have led to the current state of paranoia and suspicion in Liberia could do worse than start here. Anyone who loves beautiful, honest writing—or tales about families or coming-of-age stories—will find themselves smitten by Cooper’s descriptions of an exotic other time and the price we have to pay for paying too little attention to those less fortunate than ourselves.
I was completely smitten by this nonfiction novel (read it, you’ll see what I mean). It started life as four lectures delivered in Oxford in 2012 and appears in these pages more or less as given. An absolutely hypnotic, fiercely erudite meditation on art and literature, but also a reimagined love story (what if your lover could come back after her death? What if your connection to her was the ways in which you spoke about art and literature to one another? What if you missed your dead lover back to life?). Artful is not only about what art can do, but also about why we cannot do without it. Smith’s ambition is to break open the musty parchment of the way we typically think about literature and blow the reader’s heart open in the process.
I think Olivia Laing could write about the inside of a brown paper bag for 300 pages, and I would still be enthralled. Her prose is so gorgeous, so evocative, so sumptuous, I had to keep stopping to catch my breath and to ask myself, “How did she just do that?” In this work, Laing follows the drinking lives of six of the most brilliant writers—and tragically heavy drinkers —in modern U.S. history. What the reader learns—or doesn’t—about Hemingway, Fitzgerald et al from these pages is, in my view, completely beside the point. It’s more of an adventure story into the internal lives of familiar writers, their struggles and demons—perhaps somewhat partly familiar to many of us—and Laing’s own attempts to glimpse what early trauma can do, or undo, in a person.
Thank you, Alexandra! See anything you'd like to pick up, readers?
Author photo by Wendell Locke Field