The year isn't over yet, but in early July Amazon posted their "top 10 books of the year . . . so far" in several categories. This got me wondering: what are my top 10 books of the year so far? In no particular order, some favorite new books from the year. Links will take you to the BookPage review.
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The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Not exactly an original choice, but there's a reason for the good word-of-mouth on this novel. Tremendously moving and unexpected.
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. Like Henry James in Turn of the Screw, Waters leaves the "poltergeist or disturbed protagonist" decision up to the reader, but draws a compelling portrait of Britain's changing class system after World War II.
The Believers by Zoe Heller. Though this one wasn't as much of a page-turner as Notes on a Scandal, I appreciate a writer who's not afraid to make her characters less than likeable. Plus, I envy her Bahamas/NYC lifestyle!
Shelf Discovery by Lizzie Skurnick. Perusing this collection of essays dedicated to the teen reads of my childhood was a fun trip down memory lane. It will be especially enjoyed by anyone in the 25-35 age range.
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. I know this isn't on sale yet. Does it make you feel better to know that I'm still in a state of anticipation -- this time for book #3? Sequels are often disappointing, but this one lives up to the standard set by The Hunger Games. (Watch for our interview with Collins in the September issue.)
A Day and a Night and a Day by Glen Duncan. I'd never heard of this British writer before galleys of Day crossed my desk, but I'm now on the lookout for his earlier works.
A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert. The lives of four generations of women are captured in just 300-0dd pages that have the heft of a much bigger book. It reminded me in some ways of The Stone Diaries, which I just read (and loved).
Little Bee by Chris Cleave. A talked-up novel that deserved the buzz it got, Cleave's portrait of a Nigerian refugee with a startling connection to a well-to-do British woman and her husband is a moving, honest story of immigrant life and the ties that bind us all.
A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg. I've long read and loved Wizenberg's blog, Orangette. Her memoir is written in the same friendly voice, but goes deeper into the stories behind the recipes. It is heartfelt, but not sentimental, and told with honesty -- so I'll be completely honest here and admit to staying up too late to read the whole book in one gulp and actually wiping tears more than once.
My Abandonment by Peter Rock. This novel about father-daughter survivalists who live off the grid was inspired by a true story and takes an unexpected turn.
What's your top 10?
One of the best things about working at a book review is being one of the first to know when a favorite author has a new book on the horizon. Today brought that pleasure for me—Lionel Shriver has a March 2 release scheduled with Harper.
Info on So Much for That is scarce (they don't even have a cover design available yet), but the catalog describes it as "a searing, deeply humane new novel about the tragic costs of the American healthcare system."
Before you think, ugh, a novel about issues, consider that Shriver has previously taken on such controversial topics as violence in schools, maternal ambivalence and infidelity in her novels, and still managed to make them completely absorbing. Plus, her current status as an expat (she is an American who lives in England) gives her a different perspective on the health care controversy. It also doesn't hurt that she's a sharply intelligent writer who won't pull punches. I have high hopes that this novel will be another winner.
Read our interview with Shriver for The Post-Birthday World.
I'm not normally a fan of book trailers—most of them are either cheesy or amount to little more than a dramatic reading of the back cover copy, which doesn't thrill me. However, this book trailer from Libba Bray promoting her latest book for teens, Going Bovine, is a hilarious exception to the norm (embed code not available, so you'll have to visit EW.com to watch).
The 3-minute video is incredibly wacky. Any author who describes a book as "having all the hallmarks of being weird that people have come to know and tolerate in my writing" while wearing a cow suit gets my vote. We're talking to Bray about Going Bovine in an interview that will only appear on our website, and now I can't wait to hear what else she has to say about the book.
If you check it out, come back and let me know what you think. Are there any other book trailers I shouldn't miss?
The box office success of Julie & Julia has spurred sales of Julia Child’s opus, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Amazon sold out of copies on Aug. 10 and has yet to restock, though there are copies available from private sellers; The Associated Press reports that Knopf has rushed 75,000 copies into print.
The book of the same name by blogger Julie Powell that inspired the movie has seen sales volume pick up as well. ABC News reported that it sold 42,000 copies the week of the movie’s debut. Here’s our take on Julie & Julia. If you’re waiting for a review on all 750+ pages of Mastering, you’ll have to give us a minute on that one! Or just check out our interview with Child's grand-nephew, Alex Prud'homme, who collaborated with her on a memoir about her life with her beloved Paul and her years in France.
Don't miss the contest going on at BookPage.com this month. To win up to 10 free copies of Impossible by Nancy Werlin for you and your book club, all you have to do is create a profile for your club on our site and post a review of a book you've read by September 1. Then email or comment on this post to tell me you've done it.
If you haven't heard of Impossible, check out the story behind the book as told by Nancy Werlin herself on our site.
Saturday, August 29 marks the four-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and the footage and stories from the storm have not gotten any less poignant and painful to watch, read and hear.
Particularly worth checking out is cartoonist Josh Neufeld’s nonfiction graphic work, A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, which is released today. Neufeld tracks the lives of seven New Orleans residents affected by the storm: a woman who faces the filth and chaos at the Convention Center after the levees break; a young couple who flee to Houston, but lose meaningful possessions in their home; two friends who attempt to rough out the hurricane in a family-owned convenience store, only to be forced to the roof and nearly eaten alive by mosquitoes (and toxic flood water); a teenager who gets out of New Orleans in time but must move from city to city after the storm and during college; a doctor who refuses to evacuate his historic French Quarter house.
Neufeld, who after the hurricane spent three weeks volunteering with the Red Cross in Biloxi, Mississippi, originally told these stories online at SMITH Magazine. They got such a following that Pantheon Books picked up A.D. for a hardcover release.
Although Neufeld employs sparse language in speech bubbles and captions, reading his book is a fully emotional, multi-dimensional experience. The dialogue captures the initial skepticism, then disbelief, then fear and terror of people reacting to the beloved city under water. The illustrations give full life to the characters and to New Orleans, particularly in the two-page spread where mobs—abandoned by rescue teams—are forced to fend for themselves in panic at the Convention Center.
For a preview of Neufeld’s work, browse the A.D. website at SMITH Magazine. You can download images from the novel or watch a video of how it got made.
Out on August 29 comes Ned Sublette’s The Year Before the Flood: A Story of New Orleans. Sublette is a historian and musician who spent the year before Katrina as a Guggenheim fellow at Tulane. His memoir is divided into three parts – reflections on his early life in Natchitoches, Louisiana (pronounced “Nakatish”); his year in New Orleans in 2004-2005; and his return to the city after the storm.
The memoir is interesting for Sublette’s acknowledgment of his privilege in New Orleans as a white man, and his frank descriptions of the heated, complicated, and notorious race relations in the city.
Also noteworthy are the descriptions of musical genres and traditions in New Orleans—not surprising since Sublette was at Tulane to study the musical connections between Louisiana, Cuba and Saint-Domingue (now Haiti).
In The Year Before the Flood, as Sublette begins to “inhabit [his] Louisiana self,” the reader, too, starts to long for Coco Robicheaux, Fats Domino and the sticky-hot streets of New Orleans.
Other notable books include The Southern Cross, Louisiana-native Skip Horack’s short story collection that chronicles the Gulf Coast pre- and post-Katrina (published last week). Also check out Plenty Enough Suck to Go Around, the autobiography of “This American Life” contributor and New Orleanian Cheryl Wagner (published in May).
Can any BookPage readers recommend other books that have captured the post-Katrina Gulf Coast in a particularly sensitive or moving manner? Or have stories about New Orleans you’d like to share?
This weekend I'm off to visit my parents. I've finished the King and will probably pass it along to my mom. Two other books will accompany me:
Margaret Drabble's The Garrick Year. Just days after reading Roger Angell's essay about this 1964 novel in the New Yorker, I found a copy for a $1 at the Salvation Army. Serendipity!
Emily Arsenault's The Broken Teaglass, a debut novel coming out in October that I'm considering reviewing for BookPage.com.
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Will I finish one? both? neither, instead opting for one of the old favorites that still line the shelves of my old bedroom? I'll let you know on Monday.
What books are on your nightstand?
I'm a big fan of Sarah Haskins, a comedian who dares to critique the deluge of media targeted at women in a recurring Current TV segment called "Target: Women." Her riffs on the term "cougar" and yogurt commercials rank among my favorite online videos.
Recently, Haskins took on dating guides (aka books that "offer you a system for understanding and categorizing your failures") with predictably hilarious results. Her impression of Clare Staples, the author of Everything I Need to Know About Men I Learned from My Dog, is a highlight—and you'll never squeeze a tomato at the market in the same way.
p.s. If you're still interested in giving a dating advice book a try, check out my tongue-in-cheek look at a few of them from back in 2007. Can you spot the book Sarah featured in her video?
As a child I stole my mom's Stephen King novels from her bedside table (nothing like the lure of the forbidden!) and continued to read him through my teens. Over the last few years I've been a more sporadic King reader—skipping pretty much everything except Lisey's Story since Bag of Bones—but when I heard Under the Dome was along the lines of one of my favorites, The Stand, I was ready to dive in.
Then I opened our galley and found out it started on . . . page 73. Oops. Gives a whole new meaning to the term in media res, doesn't it?
Apparently we were the only unlucky ones, and Scribner got us a complete copy within a week. I've been working my way through the book ever since and can say that the Stand comparison is not too much of a stretch. After the jump, more on my impressions of the book so far (no real spoilers or plot details beyond those given in the published summary, but if you don't want to know anything about this one before you buy, stop here).
Since Under the Dome takes place in a small town sealed off from the world, it lacks the epic feel of The Stand. However, as in The Stand King uses his characters' predicament to address some major questions about human nature. The Stand asks if humans can avoid repeating their mistakes, and King's answer is ambiguous. In Under the Dome, the emphasis here is on compassion—or, sparing that, pity. What could force us to feel these emotions for the people we hurt, or see being hurt? What makes us stop seeing people as people, and why? The world watches as the situation in Chester's Mill goes downhill fast, and then turns away once the novelty of a town sealed off from the rest of the world fades and other news stories take top billing, recalling tragedies like Hurricane Katrina.
Under the Dome also contains signature King moments—images you'll remember, for better or for worse. And though the cast is huge, the characters manage to stand out as individuals. King fans should definitely mark November 10 on their calendar.
When we blogged about South of Broad, Pat Conroy's new novel, back in April, we were thrilled with the huge reader response we got.
Our readers commented to tell us how much they love Conroy and how excited they are for his new book. (To check out my original blog post, click here).
Today South of Broad goes on sale—and to celebrate, we are offering free copies to two lucky Book Case readers. All you have to do is comment on this posting by Friday, August 14. Tell us what your favorite Conroy novel is, or why you're looking forward to reading South of Broad. We'll select the winners at random. And don't forget to check out our August cover story on Conroy and South of Broad here.
Good luck! And happy reading!