The National Book Critics Circle has chosen the finalists for their annual awards, which will be announced on March 12 in New York City (if you're local, you can watch for yourself—the ceremony is open to the public). Check out the fiction and nonfiction finalists below, and visit their site for the full list.
Paula Hawkins has something to smile about. Her novel, The Girl on the Train, will top this week's New York Times bestseller list. That's quite a feat for any author, let alone an unknown: This is the first time that a debut novel* has made the #1 spot in its first week on sale since Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian was published in 2005. According to the publishers, Riverhead, more than 300,000 copies are in print, and the book is being sold at unconventional retail outlets, including Urban Outfitters.
We weren't surprised to hear that the unexpected twists and turns of The Girl on the Train got readers buzzing—they definitely had our editors intrigued. In her BookPage interview, Hawkins talked about the difficulty of surprising readers with twists that still manage to function as an "ah-ha" moment.
“It’s all about feeding tiny pieces of information, but hopefully keeping them slightly ambivalent. You have to have different people see different things in different ways, and hold back particular pieces of information,” she explains.
Hawkins is hard at work on another book, although it is quite likely that touring for The Girl on the Train will be keeping her busy for the next several weeks—she'll be appearing at Nashville's own Parnassus Books on February 8.
Have you picked up The Girl on the Train yet?
*Hawkins has published other novels under a pseudonym—we're betting they are on the way to the printers as we speak.
Get excited: 2015 is going to be a terrific year for readers. For those of you who love to count down the days to the release of that book you can't wait to get your hands on, we've compiled a list of 15 books that we think will be among the most beloved—and most talked-about—releases of the year.
It's been way too long since Link released a story collection, but the wait is almost over—Get in Trouble will be published in just a couple of weeks. This collection of stories finds ordinary people getting mixed up with superheroes, fairies and far-future playboys. (Our reviewer compares her writing to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer.") In other words, get ready for deliciously creepy, completely magical fun. read more>>
The Japanese-born and English-bred author of Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day—who never writes the same book twice—returns in March with his first novel in 10 long years. It's a fable-like story set in a vaguely medieval world that is actually the near future—sounds complicated, but we have faith that this much-lauded writer will pull off something magical.
Among current writers of narrative nonfiction, none can top Larson’s skill for weaving parallel story lines into a gripping account of a historical event. The sinking of the luxury liner the Lusitania on May 1, 1915, by a German U-boat seems tailor-made for the Larson treatment, with a cast of characters ranging from Winston Churchill and Woodrow Wilson to the ship’s many notable passengers.
Condé Nast Travel editor and novelist Yanagihara returns with a second novel, following her breakthrough 2013 debut, The People in the Trees. A powerful story of friendship, loyalty and the difficulty of overcoming your past, A Little Life may be the best book you read this year—and it will almost certainly be the most heartbreaking. Fans of Lionel Shriver or Ian McEwan, meet your new favorite writer. read more>>
The Water for Elephants author returns to historical fiction in her fifth novel, which is set in 1942. In the height of World War II, a spoiled Philadelphia socialite sets out with her husband and their best friend to find the Loch Ness Monster. Once there, she discovers some hard truths about life and the people she loves. read more>>
The author of the mega-bestseller Born to Run returns with another fascinating story sure to make runners want to lace up their shoes and hit the road—and sure to give armchair travelers another setting to dream about. This time, McDougall's story begins on the island of Crete, where a daring band of WWII Resistance fighters pulled off the astonishing feat of kidnapping a heavily guarded Nazi general.
Could a book about forgoing marriage possibly deliver the same kind of jolt as Bolick’s 2011 Atlantic cover story on the subject? Why, yes — yes it could. Based on what we’ve seen, her unapologetic (and wonderfully readable) look at living life on her own terms as a single woman will spur a whole new round of debate about the personal and social consequences of plummeting marriage rates.
No one writes about the complicated history of the black experience in America with more clarity and authority than Morrison, and she has the prizes to show for it: She's won a Pulitzer and a National Book Award, not to mention the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Her 11th novel centers on the relationship between a light-skinned black woman and her dark-skinned daughter, whose different skin tones create a divide between them. read more>>
The latest work of popular history from reader favorite and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner McCullough sounds irresistible: Two bicycle mechanics who grew up in a house without plumbing or electricity (but plenty of books) manage to create one of the greatest inventions in human history—the first flying machine. Assisting the brave and ingenious Wright brothers was their sister Katharine, whose contributions have been heretofore mostly overlooked.
Kate Atkinson's stellar Life After Life was one of the best books of 2013. So the news that the Scottish author is returning with a companion story is most welcome. She's exploring the life of Teddy, Ursula's flyboy younger brother—both his adventures in the RAF and the life he returns to after those wartime experiences, which contains even greater challenges. read more>>
Accomplished storyteller Kent Haruf died last December, but readers can look forward to one more trip to Holt, Colorado, this summer. Haruf continues to chronicle the lives of extraordinary, ordinary people in his new work, which finds a widow and widower forging an unlikely friendship. read more>>
The author of Summer Sisters and YA classics like Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret will release a new novel for adults in June. It's based on the true story of three unexplained airplane crashes that took place in her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey, in the early 1950s. It's a storyline that reads as all too timely after the Malaysian Air disaster last spring. read more>>
Paula McLain's second novel, The Paris Wife, chronicled the life of Hemingway's first wife, Hadley Richardson—and was one of the standouts amid the wave of stories about the wives of famous men that followed on the heels of Nancy Horan's 2007 bestseller, Loving Frank. McLain returns this year with the story of a woman who had no trouble standing on her own two feet: 1920s aviator Beryl Markham. read more>>
The author who inspires more schauedenfreud than perhaps any other returns in September with a family drama that spans decades and continents as it follows Purity Tyler's quest to find her father. read more>>
Judging from the response to her Ted talks on creativity, there’s a huge audience awaiting Gilbert’s in-depth look at how inspiration and imagination can combine to unleash the “strange jewels” within us all. The author of Eat, Pray, Love will offer advice on how we can conquer our fears and lead a creative life—whether we’re authors, artists or accountants. read more>>
Nashvillians got a literary treat on Saturday night, thanks to local nonprofit and writer's collective The Porch. In their first annual fundraiser, founders Susannah Felts and Katie McDougall put together an "only in Nashville" lineup of musicians and storytellers for a very memorable evening.
The headliners of "A Tale of Two Tims" were Tim O'Brien and Tim O'Brien—one a National Book Award-winning author of books like The Things They Carried and Tomcat in Love; the other, a Grammy-winning Americana and bluegrass performer. Despite occasionally receiving each other's mail, the two had never met until this weekend.
In an introduction that laid out the mission for The Porch, Felts (left) said that they wanted the city to be known as much for its writing as it is for its culinary, culture and music scenes. McDougall (right) went on to honor storytelling as a very human need, something as natural as breathing. "And like breathing, it's easy to take for granted," she said.
It certainly felt that storytelling was as natural as breathing for the artists featured in A Tale of Two Tims. First up was Korby Lenker, who charmed the crowd with the song "Book Nerd" (which is apparently a favorite with the staff of Parnassus Books, for obvious reasons!).
Lenker's second song, "My Little Life," was performed with flair on a ukulele.
Next up was spoken-word artist Minton Sparks (pictured with guitarist John Jackson). Watching someone tell you a story might sound like a dull, Victorian sort of entertainment, but Sparks makes her tales of country life and the strange characters in her own family tree completely mesmerizing, incorporating music, expressive body language and onomatopoeia into her electric performances. In between stories, she treated the audience to some off-the-cuff anecdotes from her early (and quickly abandoned) career as a songwriter, saying "some of my material's not what radio is looking for, to be honest."
Next, musician Tim O'Brien took the stage to perform a couple of songs, including one inspired by the work of Annie Proulx, "Brother Wind."
Then it was on to Tim O'Brien, author, who broke the ice with a magic show complete with lovely assistant, disappearing cards and a dancing table.
Then, it was the long awaited moment when the two Tims (hereafter referred to as Author Tim and Musician Tim) came together. "He's gonna do magic and I'm gonna sing," joked Author Tim...but actually, the two participated in a Q&A session moderated by Andrew Maraniss (whose first book, Strong Inside, just made the NYT Sports bestseller list).
Maraniss' first question for Author Tim was, "Why magic?" To which Author Tim responded, "I asked myself that 10 minutes ago! I almost had a heart attack." He went on to discuss the way that stories "are also an illusion," saying that both stories and magic "require a suspension of disbelief."
Musician Tim agreed that musical performances also require sleight of hand and illusion, saying that most performers he knew were pretty different from their onstage selves.
Most moving moment: Author Tim illustrated the way that readers contribute to a work by bringing their own experience to it by recalling a memory of his platoon singing "Hey Jude." "I remember 100 soldiers going across a rice paddy in Vietnam near dusk, almost twilight. One guy—this makes me wanna cry—one guy started singing that song, and then another guy. And then as we crossed that paddy it was like a boys choir. And we were boys. Nineteen, 20, 21 years old. Don't carry the world upon your shoulders." (Listen to this clip.)
Funniest anecdote: Musician Tim once cashed an unclaimed check from Playboy that was most likely meant for Author Tim. "I owe you $500," he joked.
On the process: Author Tim admitted that "I'm an underwear guy. I rarely get dressed."
Simile alert: Musician Tim imagined that writing a novel is "like writing 100 albums."
The program ended with a reading from The Things They Carried by Author Tim, while Musician Tim played "Time to Learn" to a spellbound crowd—who responded with a standing ovation.
We can't wait to see what else The Porch has in store for us in 2015! For more on the two Tims, check out the interview they did with Parnassus Books.
Paula McLain's The Paris Wife was one of the standouts among the crop of books starring the wives of famous men, a trend that launched with Nancy Horan's 2007 bestseller Loving Frank. On July 7, McLain's third novel will be published by Ballantine—but this time, she's taking on the life of a woman who can stand on her own: aviator Beryl Markham.
Markham was the first woman to complete a solo flight across the Atlantic, a feat she chronicled in her 1942 memoir West with the Night. According to early reports, McLain will also delve into Markham's rivalry with Out of Africa author Karen Blixen.
Any Paris Wife fans looking forward to this one?
Photo by Stephen Cutri.
Lisa Genova's remarkable 2009 debut, Still Alice, stands out for its sensitive portrayal of an intelligent woman faced with a diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's. In fact, the book was one of those rare self-published success stories—it was picked up by Gallery Books, who will also publish Inside the O'Briens, her fourth novel, in April.
This week, the film version of Still Alice will hit cinemas. Starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin and Kristen Stewart, the film is already generating some awards buzz. (An actress playing a character with an illness is second only to an actress playing "ugly" when it comes to Oscar bait.) I dare you to not tear up at some point during the trailer below.
Will you see it?
Scottish author Irvine Welsh turns his off-kilter worldview to his new home country: the United States. Luckily for fans of the Trainspotting author, there's plenty of weird and crazy antics on the streets of Miami Beach, where personal trainer Lucy discovers that the two men she rescued from a crazed attacker are actually pedophiles (oops). That's only the first of many wild twists taken in this story, whose narrator is something like Jillian Michaels, times 10—in other words, not very generous to her clients.
They want to believe that it's all easy from here on in. That it can literally be done in their sleep. Because heaven forbid that they interrupt sitting in front of the TV, rising only to refrigerator-raid and pack shit into their sneaky, blubbery mouths. They don't wanna get up before ten, eleven. Perish the thought that any diet and exercise regime should impinge on those basic American freedoms.
What are you reading this week?
Merry Christmas! Thought today might be a good time to let Stephen King's millions of readers (a group I've been a member of since my tweens) know that the unstoppable, prolific author (seriously, has anyone considered putting King and Joyce Carol Oates in a write-off?) has a new book, Finders Keepers, coming in June 2015. And it stars the same "winning trio" of detectives he introduced in his June 2014 release, Mr. Mercedes.
Another return to theme for King: The novel's antagonist is a "vengeful reader" who is upset that his favorite author, the Salinger-like John Rothstein, is no longer writing books. Shades of Misery, anyone?
Author photo by Sean Leonard.
Every author has a story that they've been wanting—and waiting—to tell, holding on until the time is right. Like Stephen King's sequel to The Shining, or Jonathan Safran Foer's novel based on a real-life trauma (we're still waiting on that one!).
For celebrated author Judy Blume (Summer Sisters; Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret), the story lingering in the back of her mind was about three airline crashes in her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey, in the early 1950s. In the Unlikely Event is the result, and it will be published by Knopf on June 2.
Blume started researching the incidents in 2009, but she has firsthand memories from the time (she's 76, not that you can tell from her author photo!). In the Knopf press release, she explained why the crashes make such perfect fodder for fiction. “It was a crazy time. We were witnessing things that were incomprehensible to us as teenagers. Was it sabotage? An alien invasion? No one knew, and people were understandably terrified.” (You guessed it: They didn't have black boxes as we know them back then.)
In the wake of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines 370, debating the origins of a devastating flight accident feels all too timely. We can't wait to see what Judy Blume does with this book—how about you?
The world lost a talented storyteller when 71-year-old novelist Kent Haruf died earlier this month, after a battle with cancer.
Longtime interviewer Alden Mudge has talked to a lot of authors in his time, but he was especially impressed by the kindness of Haruf when he spoke to the author in 2004.
"Readers make a critical mistake when they assume that the virtues—or vices—of a novel's characters are the same as those of its creator. But on this particular morning, it is more than tempting to find in Haruf's direct, thoughtful and self-effacing conversation everything that is most uplifting in the characters who populate his fictional town of Holt, Colorado."
Haruf's many fans can be consoled by the fact that there'll be one last trip to Holt, Colorado: Our Souls at Night will be published by Knopf in June. It's another simple story of everyday people leading lives that are only remarkable in that they are actually being remarked upon. This time, the story centers on a widow and widower who forge an unlikely friendship with benefits that aren't exactly approved of by their small-town neighbors—and which becomes more complicated with the arrival of a five-year-old grandson.
Will you read it?
RELATED CONTENT: More on Kent Haruf.