In Carrie Brown's novel The Stargazer's Sister, Caroline, the brilliant sister of 19th-century astronomer William Herschel, struggles to find her place in the world. Our reviewer writes, "Brown brings the true story of the Herschel siblings to life in exquisite detail and deftly explores what it meant for Caroline to be an intelligent woman far ahead of her time. " (Read the review.)
We asked Brown to tell us about three books she's been reading lately.
Snow Hunters by Paul Yoon
I read Paul Yoon’s exquisite short novel, Snow Hunters, over the course of a few days— mostly between the dark hours of 2 and 4 a.m.—during a week when I was sleeping poorly. One is rarely happy to be awake at that hour, but after that first night, when the story’s magic worked so thoroughly on me—making those loathsome hours disappear—I turned to it with gratitude and relief on every subsequent night until I finished it. My experience of the novel surely was colored by the silent, stop-all-the-clocks quality of the hours in which I read it, when the novel’s beauty seemed to shine forth from the page, bright in the circle of light from my bedside lamp, but I believe it would be equally magical at any hour. Snow Hunters tells the story of a young Korean War POW refugee, Yohan, who defects from his country at the war’s end and washes up in a small port-town in Brazil. Here he begins to reconstruct a life for himself as an apprentice to the local tailor and to reckon with the trauma of his past, the immediacy of his present and the possibility of his future. The novel is visual to a painterly degree; events move carefully and slowly and simply, the sentences precise and deft as brushstrokes: “The beam of the lighthouse swept across the harbor. In the sea were stars, millions of them, reflected in the water. The rain had stopped.” Like many performances delivered quietly, the inverse scale of its effect is enormous—think: snow falling. The novel’s beauty, as redemptive as it is tragic, is of the marvelous sort: timeless and unforgettable, as if it had always existed.
The Theater of War by Brian Doerries
It’s difficult to imagine an enterprise more humane, more generous than the one behind this book. For the past decade, Brian Doerries, a classical scholar, translator, writer and director, has been bringing performances of the ancient Greek tragedies to communities devastated by loss and grief, and with them a surprising and cathartic healing. It turns out that the ancient Greeks have plenty to say to audiences of today. “The tragic poets,” as Doerries writes, are the “de facto healers of the polis.” Driven by his love for the ancient texts and by his own need to find healing following the cruel and protracted deaths of his girlfriend and his father, Doerries began reaching out through his theater company to people whose lives had been devastated by forces beyond their control—members of the military and their families, health professionals, guards and prisoners inside the giant American incarceration system, individuals and towns and cities reeling in the wake of natural disaster. His account of the palliative—sometimes transformative—effect of the performances on these people is deeply moving. Doerries knows suffering is lonely business. To find one’s own suffering mirrored in the experience of others, especially those who lived 2,500 years ago, is to allow sufferers to share their stories, and by sharing them they discover that they are not, in fact, alone. Doerries chooses particular plays to speak to particular audiences, and the performances are followed by opportunities for audience members to talk—to testify—about their own lives. Doerries has given people in their darkest days a way to be heard and seen, to know and be known. Tragedy has a dark face, and we are inclined, perhaps, to turn away from it; with Theater of War, Doerries has given us a way to encounter tragedy so that it might heal, and a story of moral and spiritual redemption: his own, and ours along with him.
The Door by Magda Szabó
In her introduction to the Hungarian writer Magda Szabó’s The Door, first translated into English in 2005, 30 years after its original publication, Ali Smith describes the novel as “full-blooded and stately,” the events and characters achieving “mythological status.” Szabó, who died in 2007, was one of Hungary’s greatest writers; her lifetime coincided with decades of Soviet occupation of Hungary, the brutal eclipse of the revolutionary government in 1956 and the dark years of Stalinist rule that ensued, when the suppression of the revolution threatened to silence writers and their work entirely. The Door, set in modern postwar Hungary, is the story of the relationship between a writer, Magda, and the woman, Emerence, whom she hires as her servant to cook and clean and care for her and her husband. Though the balance of power in the relationship would seem to belong to Magda, whose writing at last begins to achieve significant public notice and acclaim, it is the extraordinary Emerence and her apparently inscrutable code of moral conduct—she is independent, secretive, primitive, ruthless and gentle at once, tempestuous at one moment and stiffly formal at another, recklessly demanding, contemptuous of religion and yet steely in her own notion of what constitutes true charity—who towers above the relationship with her employer. Emerence takes care of everyone in the neighborhood, sees through every deception and cruelty and weakness. She appears clad either in enormous snow boots and wielding a birch broom with which to sweep snow or filth from doorsteps and pavements, or meticulously dressed in polished shoes and with an ironed and scented handkerchief at the ready. She seems invulnerable, working with the strength and endurance of a Valkyrie. Yet the revelation of her private, heroic suffering throws Magda into a powerful reexamination of herself and the world around her. The Door is a novel of great dramatic tension, a formidable and deeply involving work of art, and brilliant evidence that the world’s greatest moral and psychological crucibles are enacted as often on the domestic stage as on the battlefields of war.
Thank you, Carrie!
(Author photo by Aaron Mahler)
Home-cooked meals shouldn't be a hassle according to Alana Chernila (The Homemade Pantry), and she's happy to share more of her everyday kitchen tips in her newest cookbook, The Homemade Kitchen. In just a few minutes with a little multi-tasking, you can whip up this enticing Asparagus Carbonara.
Making carbonara is a little bit like conducting an orchestra. One pot cooks, another fries the bacon, veggies here, herbs there, egg poached—then BAM! Dinner is ready.
1. Set a large pot of salted water over high heat. Simultaneously heat your largest skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the bacon to the skillet and fry, stirring often, until it’s crispy, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and use a slotted spoon to transfer the bacon to a small bowl. Leave the bacon fat in the pan and set aside.
2. When the water boils, add the pasta and cook until tender, 7 to 10 minutes for dried or 2 minutes for fresh. If using dried pasta, add the asparagus when the pasta is about halfway done. If using fresh pasta, you can start the pasta and asparagus together. Pour a few cups of the pasta water into a smaller pot set over medium-low heat (you’ll use this to poach the eggs), then drain the pasta and asparagus in a colander and rinse in cold water.
3. Return the reserved skillet to medium-high heat. Whisk the butter into the bacon fat, then whisk in about ½ cup of the reserved pasta cooking water.
4. Add the pasta, asparagus, Parmesan and reserved bacon to the skillet, gently tossing until the pasta and asparagus are fully coated in the sauce. Divide the pasta evenly among four plates.
5. Crack an egg into a ramekin or teacup. Pour off the most watery part of the white, and give the small pot a little swirl to get the water moving. Gently slide the egg into the water and cook until the white is firm, for 2½ minutes. Use a slotted spoon to lay the egg over one of the bowls of pasta, then repeat with the other 3 eggs. Top with the herbs, lots of pepper and a bit of extra Parmesan.
Recipes reprinted from The Homemade Kitchen. Copyright © 2015 by Alana Chernila. Photographs by Jennifer May. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Read our review of this book.
Most men in 1920s Alabama would be delighted to receive land as an inheritance, but for Roscoe T. Martin, taking over his father-in-law's farm was nothing but a burden—mostly because it meant leaving his burgeoning career at Alabama Power. Electricity has fascinated Roscoe since he first saw the lamplit streets of Birmingham as a child, and he has a talent for understanding it. The failing farm holds little interest for Roscoe, and his disappointment has turned him angry and bitter, damaging his relationships with his wife and young son. Then one day Roscoe sees an opportunity: He'll siphon off the grid and electrify the farm, allowing him to harvest more efficiently and save the farm. But this decision has deadly consequences, sparking a chain of events that will affect the family for decades to come.
Reeves conjures 1920s Alabama with an astounding level of detail, managing to convey the spirit of the time and place in a way that feels effortless. The sense of newness and excitement surrounding electricity, as well as Roscoe's passion for it, also come through loud and clear.
Back on their land, they tethered the horses to the fence and positioned the ladder against the pole that belonged to Alabama Power. Roscoe grabbed a wooden stick and climbed to line height. "If we failed, there will be sparks," he shouted to Wilson. "Best stand clear." A binder was on the line, coupling wires together. He needed to make the lines touch—different currents on different wires. If they touched quietly, the lines were cold. If not, Roscoe could be thrown from the ladder by the shock. He hesitated, knowing the power he might touch.
"Ross," Wilson called from below. "This is what you do."
Roscoe nodded. Camaraderie, companionship, a joint destination. This was what he did. These were his elements, his knowledge, his home.
He felt everything pause—the breeze, the birds, the trains on their tracks and the fish in their ponds. Even the great turbines at Lock 12 stopped spinning, the water holding back its movement, the powerhouse winding down. The lines had gone cold.
"Clear?" Wilson said.
Now, Roscoe would work.
What are you reading this week?
We're still reveling in the best teen books of 2015, both award winners and our personal favorites, but 2016 YA lit is looking promising. It's almost impossible to cover them all, so first, a list of series continuations we're excited about (so far!):
Now that that's out of the way, read on for the most-anticipated 2016 YA books:
Passenger by Alexandra Bracken (Disney-Hyperion, 1/5)
The Darkest Minds author kicks off a new time-traveling series this month, starring a violin prodigy who suddenly finds herself on a wooden ship in the 1700s. She's carrying on the time-traveling legacy of her mother, Rose, who's on the run from a power-hungry, wealthy old man named Cyrus Ironwood who wants her to return something he believes she’s stolen. Read our interview with Bracken about Passenger.
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (Philomel, 2/2)
A new book from Sepetys is exciting for readers of all ages, not just teens. (Check out the February 2016 LibraryReads list!) Her new World War II drama spotlights the greatest maritime disaster in history—not the Titanic—the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German military ship evacuating civilians and wounded soldiers at the tail end of the war. View all our reviews of Sepetys' previous books.
Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina (Candlewick, 3/8)
Medina, author of the Pura Belpré Author Award winner Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, takes readers to New York City in the hot summer of 1977, full of blackouts and arson, when a serial killer named Son of Sam has been shooting young women on the streets. Medina grew up in Queens during this dangerous era, so we're excited for her to fill our minds with hazy days, disco and electrified feminism.
The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle (Simon & Schuster, 3/29)
Better Nate Than Never author Federle makes his YA debut with another story about a youngster who dreams of having his name in lights. Sixteen-year-old Quinn Roberts had plans for Hollywood before his sister, Annabeth, was killed in an accident. As sad as this sounds, we know Federle will take it in a direction that will have us laughing and dreaming those starry-eyed dreams.
This Is the Story of You by Beth Kephart (Chronicle, 4/12)
We fall in love with Kephart more and more every year, with novels like Going Over and Small Damages tapping into the joy and pain of the complex teenage experience. We're looking forward to her poetic writing and thoughtful plotting in this story of life after a superstorm destroys one girl's island home. View all our reviews of Kephart's previous books.
Saving Montgomery Sole by Mariko Tamaki (Roaring Brook, 4/19)
Tamaki is part of the team that brought us the Caldecott Honor and Printz Honor-winning This One Summer, which was one of our favorite YA books of 2014 and one of our all-time favorite YA graphic novels. In this new novel, 16-year-old outcast Montgomery, along with her two BFFs, creates the Mystery Club for investigating paranormal activity. View all our reviews of Tamaki's previous books.
The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight (Harper, 5/3)
McCreight (Reconstructing Amelia) was apparently inspired to write her YA debut as a warning to her daughters. This first book in a new series is about a troubled teenage girl trying to overcome her fears and find her missing best friend via some cryptic clues. View all our reviews of McCreight's previous books.
Whisper to Me by Nick Lake (Bloomsbury, 5/3)
The latest novel from Printz Award winner Lake is one girl's letter to the boy whose heart she broke, examining the summer when everything went wrong. Love is such a mess. Sing us the blues, Lake. View all our reviews of Lake's previous books.
Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley (Dial, 5/10)
It's like a recent offshoot of YA "sick lit": friendships and romances that feature one character who will not, or cannot, leave their house. They're agoraphobic, allergic to the sunlight, suffer from immune deficiencies, etc. Printz Award winner Whaley's new book features an agoraphobic 16-year-old who becomes the pet project of ambitious, wannabe psychologist Lisa. View all our reviews of Whaley's previous books.
Summer Days and Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories, edited by Stephanie Perkins (St. Martins Griffin, 5/19)
Perkins (Isla and the Happily Ever After) brings together summery love stories from 12 bestselling YA authors, including Leigh Bardugo, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare and more. Summer reading has never sounded so fun.
You Know Me Well by David Levithan and Nina LaCour (St. Martin's Griffin, June 7)
Levithan seems to always be whipping up something great with other authors (John Green, Rachel Cohn), and we're ridiculously excited to see that he's collaborating with LaCour. Told in alternating points of view, You Know Me Well is the tale of an unlikely friendship between two high-schoolers who have sat next to each other all year but never spoken, until one fateful night.
This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab (Greenwillow, 7/5)
Schwab kicks off a new series with this high fantasy, set in the city of Verity, which has been overrun with monsters, born from the worst of human evil. Schwab has said it's the "strangest book [she's] ever written." Sign us up. View all our reviews of Schwab's previous books.
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor (Little, Brown, 9/27)
Originally announced on Taylor's website as a standalone titled The Muse of Nightmares, this new book will be the first in a duology about a war between gods and men, mythic heroes and epic librarians, alchemy and monsters and magic. View all our reviews of Taylor's previous books.
Heartless by Marissa Meyer (Feiwel & Friends, 11/8)
Meyer wrapped up her Lunar Chronicles with Winter last November, though she's releasing a selection of Lunar Chronicles stories in February, titled Stars Above. Coming next fall, Meyer's first standalone YA novel is being called a prequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, with a young Queen of Hearts who just wants to fall in love.
Tales of the Peculiar by Ransom Riggs (Dutton)
Ahead of Tim Burton's film adaptation of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, Riggs will publish a new illustrated collection of fairy tales set within the world of the bestselling Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series.
What YA books are you most looking forward to this year? Share in the comments below.
There's something about January that invites reflection. So this month, I decided to reflect on how three high-intensity, highly trendy topics are treated in YA lit. Here’s a look at the past, present and future of each of these topics.
Todd Strasser published Give a Boy a Gun in 2000, just after the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. What stands out about Strasser’s novel—other than now-quaint references to video rental stores and minutes-based cell phone plans—is its multivocality. In the sometimes-conflicting voices of students, parents, teachers, administrators and the shooters themselves, we hear how bullying drove two desperate students to a school dance where ultimately their lives—but no one else’s—ended. No single voice is “better” or more accurate than another . . . except maybe the voice of the author himself, adding real-world quotes and statistics as footnotes.
Violent Ends, published in 2015, takes the multivocality idea to another level: Seventeen YA authors, including one team, each pen a chapter. The shooting itself (in which five students and a teacher are killed) is never actually described. Instead, we hear from students who were in the bathroom or under the bleachers, or for one reason or another weren’t in school that day. We learn a lot of backstory that might (or might not) explain the shooter’s motivation. We also never hear the shooter’s own voice—although we do, hauntingly, hear the voice of the gun that he uses.
Maybe there’s something, well, fractured about school shootings that makes multiple points of view almost a requirement. This year’s much-anticipated This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijcamp uses this technique, too, although it limits its narrators to four teens. Most of the story takes place during the shooting itself. There’s a significant body count, a diverse cast of characters . . . and the author’s voice has entirely disappeared. We’re left on our own to ponder unanswerable questions. This intensity, authenticity and diversity build on the past while blazing new ground in treatments of this difficult topic.
Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly (2010) is one of my favorite YA books of all time. As teen musician Andi grapples with her brother’s recent death, she discovers the diary of Alexandrine, a teen swept up in the drama of the French Revolution. Maybe Andi travels back in time; maybe she’s just overwhelmed by too much stimulation one night. Either way, what Andi discovers in the streets of Revolutionary Paris turns out to be exactly what she needs to resolve problems in the present day. Another treatment of time travel, 2011’s Ruby Red and its sequels by Kerstin Gier, doesn’t view time travel as a way to solve present-day problems. Instead, it’s a family affair that teenage Gwen is drawn into whether she wants to be or not.
The Yearbook by Carol Masciola (2015) expands on the idea of time travel as a balm for present-day problems. Orphaned Lola, who lives in a group home and has little to look forward to other than her fast-food job, discovers a portal that connects to her high school as it was in 1923. In the ’20s, Lola makes friends, finds a loving family and even acquires a beau. What will she do, though, when she’s dragged back into her own unhappy time?
Like Andi in Revolution, Etta in Alexandra Bracken’s newly released Passenger is also a musician. And like Revolution, Passenger is really two stories in one. But this time, the two protagonists actually meet . . . and more. Like in Ruby Red, time travel complicates Etta's contemporary life instead of simplifying it, and she and her new companion Nicholas aren’t limited to just one time or place.
But the time-travel read that I’m most looking forward to in 2016 is Janet B. Taylor’s Into the Dim. It combines features from these other titles but reworks them in new ways: Narrator Hope has present-day issues to resolve, the past offers an intriguing love interest and time-hopping is a family legacy. Time-traveling readers, set your dials to March 2016 for this one.
When Julie Anne Peters published Luna in 2004, told from the point of view of the younger sister of a transgender teen, it was a groundbreaking work. But it wasn’t until 2007’s Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger that YA literature got its first story narrated by a trans teen himself. Parrotfish also normalized trans teens by focusing on other aspects of Grady’s life—including his family’s annual Christmas play and his interest in becoming a filmmaker—not just on his gender.
I.W. Gregorio’s None of the Above, about an intersex teen, builds on the ground established by Luna and Parrotfish. Like Parrotfish, we hear Kristin’s story from her own point of view. The past two years have also brought two middle grade novels, Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky and George by Alex Gino, told from the perspective of elementary and middle-school girls born into boys’ bodies. All of these books are realistic fiction, but 2015’s Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz features a non-gender-binary main character in a semi-futuristic dystopian setting. And taking the normalizing idea from Parrotfish even further, protagonist Kivali’s gender identity isn’t the main issue of Schmatz’s book. Instead, it’s just one aspect of a story that includes mystery, romance, spirituality and teens’ struggles against a conformist culture.
Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin is high on my to-read list for 2016. It features a genderfluid teen, Riley, whose anonymous blog provides a safe space for identity and community . . . until it’s discovered by someone who threatens to reveal Riley’s secrets. Twelve years after Luna, the time seems right to expand how gender identity can be explored in YA lit. I’m looking forward to seeing many more examples of this in the coming year and beyond. (Look for a review of Garvin's book in the February 2016 issue of BookPage.)
What trends are you noticing in YA literature? Are any YA books about these—or other—high-intensity topics on your 2016 to-read list? Share in the comments below!
Locker Combinations is a Book Case feature by BookPage contributor and young adult (YA) literature expert Jill Ratzan. Using a variety of literary, cultural and educational perspectives, Jill guest blogs about the latest in YA lit and the general direction, trends and changes of the field. When she's not reading, Jill matches readers with books in a small library in southeastern Pennsylvania. Read more BookPage reviews, interviews and posts by Jill here.
The Porch, founded in 2015 by Katie McDougall and BookPage's new Lifestyles columnist Susannah Felts (look for her first column in the upcoming February issue!), is a Nashville-based nonprofit focused on providing writers with classes and resources in order to help them connect and better their work, both artistically and professionally.
The Porch is holding its second annual fundraising event on February 6. Last year's event, featuring the two Tim O'Briens, was a night to remember and we suspect this year's will be, too. If you're interested in seeing acclaimed writer Mary Karr perform some of her original songs—yes, she's a songwriter, too!—with Rodney Crowell and supporting a literary organization, to boot, then this is an event for you.
Click here for more information and to purchase tickets.
And if you're curious about Karr and Crowell's 2012 album, KIN, take a listen here.
With so many fascinating books scheduled for publication this year, it wasn't easy to pare our list of highly anticipated titles down to 15. Here are the books that our editors—and readers everywhere—will be most eager to get their hands on.
The mother of Columbine shooter Dylan Klebold tells her family’s story in full for the first time. Drawing on her own journals and her son's writings and videos, Klebold reconstructs the events leading up to the horrific 1999 school shooting and its aftermath. Profits from the book will be donated to mental health research and charitable foundations.
The author of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand makes a much anticipated return and branches out into historical fiction, with stellar results. It's the summer of 1914, the last peaceful summer that Europe would see for many years, but the tiny village of Rye is more shaken up by the arrival of its first female Latin teacher. Simonson's comedy of manners charms with its lovable and very human characters, as well as its wry wit and wisdom. (read more)
A jazz musician as well as a memoirist (The Color of Water) and National Book Award-winning novelist (The Good Lord Bird), McBride idolized Brown in his youth and was puzzled to see the multi-million-selling soul singer fade into musical history soon after his death in 2006. This biography/cultural journey seeks to right that wrong and place Brown's life and music in the broader context of the South's racial struggles.
Saying that a DeLillo novel is his "wisest, richest, funniest and most moving" in years is a strong claim, but the early buzz for this new book, the author's 17th, backs up his publisher's assertion. Though a somewhat typically surreal work that contains DeLillo's signature ruminations on humanity and its foibles, the book is also a thoughtful exploration of the relationship between a father and a son—and of our responsibilty to future generations. It's sure to be one of the most talked-about releases of the year.
Hamilton presents the inspiring true story of what happened to Scottish track star Eric Liddell after the events depicted in the Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire (Liddell refused to compete in a Sunday race at the 1924 Olympics, citing his Christian beliefs). Like his parents, Liddell went on to become a missionary in China. During World War II he was captured by the Japanese and held in an internment camp, where his grace and unselfishness became a source of support to his fellow internees. The book is being compared to another moving WWII story, Unbroken.
The Revolutionary War appears to be the hot “new” topic for authors of popular history. Exhibit A: this gripping depiction of the relationship between Washington and Arnold, by the author of Mayflower and In the Heart of the Sea. Contemporary readers will find some familiar elements in this 18th-century story: corrupt politicians and a dysfunctional Congress, both of which played into Arnold's fateful decision to switch sides.
The Twelve—the initial clutch of scientifically created vampires who infected the world in The Passage—have been defeated, but danger still lingers in this 600-page-plus finale to the bestselling Passage series, which promises thrills and chills, plus some resolution to the stories of Amy, Peter, Alicia and Michael. The first two volumes in the trilogy have sold more than 1.2 million copies, and a Ridley Scott-helmed movie version is in production.
What happens to the 1 percent when the U.S. economy takes a serious tumble? Lionel Shriver investigates in her new novel, which follows the youngest generation of an American dynasty after the dollar plunges and pulls their cushy inheritances with it. This won't be the first time that Shriver, a National Book Award finalist, has skewered our society through fiction, and we can't wait to see her let loose on the foibles of the rich and mighty. (read more)
An Atlanta attorney writes about his father’s defense of a black man charged with raping a white woman in Alabama in the 1930s and draws parallels between this true story and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee reportedly acknowledged some similarities between this real case and her fictional one in a letter to the author.
Australian author Moriarty is setting American bestseller lists aflame with her irresistable novels, which combine page-turning plots with pinpoint-accurate observations on the absurdities of modern life. Hollywood stars like Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon count themselves among her fans; filming for an HBO limited series of Moriarty's second U.S. bestseller, Big Little Lies, began this month.The only details available so far about her seventh novel come from Moriarty herself: In an interview she revealed that "it's about the consequences of something that happens at a neighbourhood backyard barbecue."
Woodson, whose books for young readers have sold more than a million copies, folllows up her National Book Award-winning Brown Girl Dreaming with her first novel for adults. Set in 1970s Brooklyn, it's a story about "the promise and peril of growing up" that begins when August finds long-buried childhood and teenage memories emerging after a surprise encounter with a long-lost friend. Friendship and coming-of-age are common themes in Woodson's work; seeing how she reframes them for an adult audience is something to look forward to indeed.
The only debut on our list was acquired by legendary editor (and novelist!) David Ebershoff at the 2014 Frankfurt Book Fair, and buzz has been building ever since. When Jonde, an African immigrant, gets a job driving for Clark Edwards, a Lehman Brothers executive, he believes he's on his way to achieving the American dream. He and his wife become more and more invested in the lives of the Edwards family, even as the economic collapse of 2008 hovers on the horizon. Mbue, a Cameroonian writer living in Brooklyn, is already being compared to novelists like Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie and Jhumpa Lahiri.
Nashville's own Ann Patchett returns this fall with a seventh novel, her first since the 2011 bestseller State of Wonder. The story centers on a two families "broken apart and brought together by marriage and divorce," according to the deal announcement. Patchett has written at least one moving essay about her own marriage; we bet that her fictional take on the topic will be equally perceptive and engaging.
Author image courtesy of Parnassus Books.
Foer's third novel—and his first in 10 years—is sure to be one of the literary events of the season. Though the plot description ("a Jewish family with three sons falls apart after the parents’ marriage falters") and setting (Washington D.C., where Foer himself grew up with two brothers) makes the novel sound autobiographical, Foer has long used the personal as a jumping-off point for stories that end up being completely original (see Everything Is Illuminated). His editor at FSG likens the book to Portnoy's Complaint. All we know for sure is we can't wait to read it.
We loved The Love Song of Jonny Valentine, a humorous yet heartfelt story of a teenage heartthrob, so news of Wayne's third novel was extremely welcome. The title refers to David Federman, a high school outcast who hopes that he'll find his tribe at Harvard. Instead, he becomes obsessed with a smart, popular and beautiful female classmate, and his pursuit of her takes over his life and school career. S&S promises that the book "turns the traditional campus novel on its head"—we're intrigued.
In his novel Thomas Murphy, Roger Rosenblatt eloquently explores the life of an aging Irish poet. Our reviewer writes that Thomas Murphy is "a brief but lovely rumination on one man’s irresistible impulse to savor life’s riches, even as losses mount and the ravages of age take their relentless toll." (Read the full review.)
We asked Rosenblatt to tell us about three books he's been reading lately.
These days, I read as much for usefulness as for pleasure, trying to pick up as many valuable literary qualities as I can—shoplifting, while avoiding grand theft. Two older books I've reread recently are Lolita and Seamus Heaney's Opened Ground. A newer book is Carl Phillips' The Art of Daring. Please don't be put off by my larcenous motives in reading these books. Their authors were writing for sane, sensible, decent citizens, not other writers.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Lolita stuns me every time (I've gone to it a lot more than once), principally because Nabokov makes a thoroughly immoral man admirable, to the edge of being likable, by applying controlled intelligence to uncontrollable—not to say illegal—passion. Humbert Humbert is twice a criminal, his lesser crime being murder, yet the way he thinks his way through his story—without explaining or excusing himself—makes his crimes understandable, if not forgivable. Forgivable? Humbert could not care less whether we forgive him, and he lives on too high an intellectual plane to forgive himself. Here is a hero in charge of a wholly unique realm of thought and action. That such a man should be undone by an over-sexed teenager who in the end seeks regular old American normality, not Humbert, makes for a loud, bitter laugh. Also, Nabokov writes like a dream. It's one thing to write without waste, another to make every word something strange and beautiful. No one but Nabokov has ever met anyone like Humbert Humbert. He can tell you his mad story again and again, forever.
Opened Ground by Seamus Heaney
Heaney's Opened Ground represents 30 years of selected poems, all of which one can nearly taste. Sometimes the taste is fresh-mowed grass, sometimes dirt, plowed and unplowed. In my novel, Thomas Murphy, the hero is a poet who says a poem should consist of two parts rock, one part daisy. This is the gift Heaney had—of disclosing the beauty poking its head out of the hardness of things. I did not read Opened Ground from front to back when I first read it, and I do not reread it that way now. Rather, I stroll into the poems, looking here and there, as I imagine Heaney looked around Ireland, letting the power of what I see flow through me, and come and go. Like Heaney, I think with my senses as a writer, though not as well as he. But I do understand how one may leap from the sight of a horse shying in a field to the memory of a gate or of a love, and how all the disparate images live together covertly in one's soul. I keep Heaney close for his soul.
The Art of Daring by Carl Phillips
The Art of Daring by the poet Carl Phillips is new to me, though not Phillips poems, which I’ve long admired. This is not a book of his own poems, but rather a book of poems and writings of others that illustrate the art of choosing to dare in life. Technically, the essays here are on discrete facets of fiction, nonfiction and poetry, every piece containing at least one touch of brilliance. More than that, though, the book is a primer on artistic and spiritual restlessness, the nerve it takes to let the creative mind wander everywhere, especially into the dark. Sometimes Phillips is an advocate of shape and order, sometimes of shapelessness and wonder. Every choice demands its own courage. What comes through most strongly in the book is the poet's own confidence in his lack of confidence, his violating inviolable truth. The glaze on the duck is that he wishes the same daring for the rest of us.
(Author photo by Chip Cooper)
What happens to the 1 percent when the U.S. economy takes a serious tumble? Lionel Shriver investigates in her new novel, coming from Harper on June 21, 2016. The Mandibles: A Family, 2029–2047 follows, well, the Mandibles, an American dynasty (think the Vanderbilts or Hiltons) led by a 97-year-old patriarch. With cushy inheritances ahead, most of the Mandible clan haven't bothered to worry about finding practical or lucrative employment. But when the dollar falls, they have to start making some changes.
This won't be the first time that Shriver, a National Book Award finalist, has skewered our society through fiction. Novels like So Much for That and Big Brother showcase her ability to make discerning and, at times, scathing, observations on human nature. She also has a deep understanding of family dynamics, a strength that should be on full display in a family saga like The Mandibles. Anyone else looking forward to this one?