After a health scare, Alex Sheshunoff decided that it was time for a radical change. So he left his old life behind and set out in search of true paradise, a search he recounts in A Beginner’s Guide to Paradise. Our reviewer writes, "A Beginner’s Guide to Paradise is extraordinarily entertaining, one part guidebook to two parts love story. This heartfelt account reveals what can happen when you leave everything behind—and find more than you ever hoped for." (Read the review.)
We asked Sheshunoff to tell us about three books he's enjoyed reading lately.
Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradel
I loved this book. Funny and spare and character driven, this lovely debut novel made me appreciate everything from the culture of food (of the Midwest, even) to the unreliable assessments we make of those closest to us (our parents, even). Most of all, though, I was struck by Stradel’s writing. His similes—or is it metaphors?—stayed with me long after I’d finished the book. Among my favorites: “Cousin Randy was an untouchable demigod—an angel’s wing broken from an ancient statue, sent here to help her hover above all things insipid and heartbreaking.” Most aren’t nearly as heavy. For example: “He […] went on dates about as often as a vegetarian restaurant opened near an interstate highway.”
I haven’t seen the movie, but I do find myself often rereading this hilarious book about hiking the Appalachian Trail. Bryson was a British copy editor for years before writing his first book, and it shows in his control of the language. For example, describing a bunk bed in a hostel along the trail, he looks up and writes, “If the mattress stains were anything to go by, a previous user had not so much suffered from incontinence as rejoiced in it.” Funny stuff. At least to me.
Ants by E.O. Wilson and Bert Holldobler
My 8-year-old and I are slowly making our way through this seven-pound, 732-page book about, well, ants. It’s been really fun for him (and me) to go beyond volcanoes and dinosaurs and see just how deep and rich science can be. Who knew, for example, that monogamous ants have 75 percent female offspring whereas polygamous ants have almost 75 percent male offspring? I didn’t. Oh sure, you’re probably thinking, A 500 page book about ants, that’d be reasonable, but do you really need those extra 232 pages? The short answer? Yes! Otherwise, you’d miss the 63-page bibliography. And that colonies of Eciton burchelli, an army ant found on an island in Panama, migrate between bushes by constructing thick chains of ants—formed by the interlocking of mandibles—that subsequent ants use for transportation. OK, Ants could probably still honor its incredible subject with a few fewer pages, but not many!
Meera Sodha shares her family's most treasured staple recipes in her charming new cookbook, Made in India. Here, she lets you in on the secrets of her mother's comforting Chicken Curry.
MUM’S CHICKEN CURRY
I left Lincolnshire at the age of 18 to go to university in London. Secretly homesick, I would stop in Indian-owned newsstands on the way back from class, lingering over the magazines and quietly listening to the owners speaking in Gujarati, just for comfort.
When it came to food, I was at the mercy of the dorm chef, a Jamaican with an adventurous streak who would create delights such as corn and strawberry salad, indiscriminately seasoning everything with pepper. With every bite, I’d be thinking about home and my ultimate comfort food, my mum’s chicken curry.
Put the ghee and oil into a wide-bottomed, lidded frying pan on a medium heat and, when it’s hot, add the cumin seeds and cinnamon sticks. Let them infuse in the oil for a minute, and then add the onions. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown.
Meanwhile, put the ginger, garlic and green chilis into a mortar and pestle with a pinch of salt and bash to a coarse paste.
Add the paste to the pan and cook gently for 2 minutes, then pour in the strained tomatoes and stir. Cook the strained tomatoes for a few minutes until the mixture resembles a thick paste, then add the tomato paste, ground cumin, turmeric and 1/2 teaspoon of salt (or to taste).
Whisk the yogurt and add it slowly to the curry. Cook it through until it starts to bubble, then add the chicken. Pop the lid on the pan and continue to cook on a gentle heat for around 30 minutes. Add the ground almonds and the garam masala and cook for another 5 minutes.
Serve with a tower of chapatis, hot fluffy naan, or rice, and offer yogurt at the table.
Reprinted from Made in India. Copyright © 2015 by Meera Sodha. Published by Flatiron, an imprint of Macmillan. Read our review of this book.
It's awards season, and the full longlist for the National Book Awards has been announced. The shortlist will be announced Oct 14, and the winners will be announced Nov 18. Winners will
be crowned with gold and honey receive $10,000 and a bronze sculpture. Here's the whole shebang!
A Cure for Suicide by Jesse Ball
Refund: Stories by Karen E. Bender
Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg
The Turner House by Angela Flournoy
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
Fortune Smiles: Stories by Adam Johnson
Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson
Honeydew by Edith Pearlman
Mislaid by Nell Zink
Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Mourning Lincoln by Martha Hodes
Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs by Sally Mann
The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery
Paradise of the Pacific: Approaching Hawai’i by Susanna Moore
Love and Other Ways of Dying by Michael Paterniti
If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran by Carla Power
Ordinary Light: A Memoir by Tracy K. Smith
Travels in Vermeer: A Memoir by Michael White
Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay
Scattered at Sea by Amy Gerstler
A Stranger's Mirror by Marilyn Hacker
How to Be Drawn by Terrance Hayes
The Beauty by Jane Hirshfield
Voyage of the Sable Venus by Robin Coste Lewis
Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón
Elegy for a Broken Machine by Patrick Phillips
Heaven by Rowan Ricardo Phillips
Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts by Lawrence Raab
YOUNG PEOPLE'S LITERATURE
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson
The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson
This Side of Wild: Mutts, Mares, and Laughing Dinosaurs by Gary Paulsen
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon
Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
See anyone you hope brings home the prize?
Donald Harstad worked for 26 years as deputy sheriff and chief investigator for the police department of Clayton County, Iowa. Harstad transforms those experiences into thrilling mysteries with his popular Carl Houseman series. The sixth in the series, November Rain, finds Houseman far from his usual heartland setting, as he travels to the UK to consult on a kidnapping case—and to protect his own daughter.
In a guest post, Harstad shares a bit of the real-life inspiration behind November Rain.
I’ve written six novels about a fictional deputy sheriff named Carl Houseman, set in a fictional county in northeast Iowa. Since I was a deputy sheriff for 23 years—in a not-so-fictional county in northeast Iowa—much of the research for my novels involves nothing more complex than sitting at the Sheriff’s Department and talking about the good old days with some of the officers and dispatchers I used to work with.
I certainly never thought I would write a book until I actually wrote my first. One day, as I was working on that book, Eleven Days, I spread some evidence photos out to bring back the ambience of a killing, and it suddenly came to me. Looking at the forlorn little farm house where the body was discovered, I began remembering the enormously long hours, all of them at night, when I was the only officer working in a county of 760 square miles, 1,300 miles of roads, over 2,000 farms and 19 little towns.
Scenarios. That was the key. We were required to patrol and respond to calls. Simple enough, except one did not want to be in Postville when a call came in of a serious crime in North Buena Vista: The distance between them via the best route was more than 60 miles, and a half hour response time was out of the question. Because of such circumstances, I would drive around doing my patrol thing and continuously imagine scenarios and plan response routes and times to other areas in the county, the proximity of ambulance, fire and other police services, and under what circumstances I’d request another officer be called out to assist. The night shift hated to call somebody out on their night off, and then discover it hadn’t been necessary. Shots fired? Who called this one in? Him? He’s always doing something like that, don’t really need another officer. Yet.
On the other hand, shots fired, one man down, another being threatened with a gun, concerned farm wife is watching events unfold through her kitchen window—that one actually happened about 1 A.M., and when I arrived, there was one dead man on the ground, another potential victim had fled into a tall corn field, and the suspect had headed for the barn. I’d called for an ambulance, and two other officers as I responded to the scene.
The first officer arrived 19 minutes after I called. The ambulance came in at 23, and the second officer at 34 minutes after. They hurried. Distance is a real killer, so to speak. I secured the woman witness in my car. The only other car on the place was parked very near the corpse, and she said that was the car that both the suspect and the dead man had come in. So I lit up the barn with my spotlights, and I sat on the hood of my patrol car with my AR-15 until the next cop arrived. It was a long 19 minutes. (We did go in and get him, and the man hiding in the corn emerged just as we were handcuffing the suspect.)
That’s where Eleven Days, my first novel, had originated. Although the plot was much different, the spooky feeling stayed the same, and the old scenarios bore fruit as plots and situations. In my subsequent books, although I used fictitious characters and locations, recalling and re-imagining real-life scenarios always came in very handy. We did have a gaming boat in our county, so when I wrote The Big Thaw, I drew heavily on scenarios regarding possible armed robberies on a river boat casino.
For my latest, November Rain (Crooked Lane Books), I send Carl to London for an assist in a homicide investigation. The whole London scenario is based on one of my trips there, when I discovered that then-President George W. Bush was also in London. Coincidental though it was, the disruption of the London Police Force caused by his visit, and some of the events occurring in London at the time, allowed me to justify Carl going to London in the first place.
Our daughter’s impressions, and some wistful speculation on her part about how she’d like to stay there for a few months, provided more inspiration—not so coincidentally, Carl also has a daughter. That, combined with the fact that you just cannot look anywhere in the greater London area and not find a perfect location for a fine homicide or really cool crime, gave me all I needed to start writing. Mixing that beginning with my personal experiences in law enforcement and several discussions with members of the Metropolitan Police Force became the foundation for fictional officers and conversations. Then, again by coincidence, returning to Elkader, Iowa, and bumping into a person who had personal experience with the U.K.’s MI5 and MI6 intelligence services just put the icing on the cake.
Even today, as I write, it’s memories of the multitude of unique circumstances that I draw upon for many fictional incidents, and the real world responses that would have been generated. Characters’ reactions to events are also authentic, based on people I know and the responses I saw in hugely stressful situations. And, to be fair, actual responses I observed over coffee and donuts.
When I do public appearances I always try to include stories about what really happened, to impart a little additional flavor to whichever novel we’re discussing. Then, sometimes, as I drive back home at night, I find myself running scenarios all over again . . .
Since his retirement, Donald has written six best-selling, critically acclaimed novels featuring Carl Houseman. For more, visit: http://donaldharstadauthor.com
It's a brutally beautiful Man Booker shortlist for 2015! The shortlist—composed of novels deemed by a panel of judges to be among the best written in English this year—is filled with novels that touch on some pretty grim topics. Michael Wood, Chair of judges for the prestigious prize, admits that there is a “tremendous amount of violence in them. What’s quite interesting is trying to work out how one can have such pleasure in books with such terrible stuff.” Indeed.
Man Booker 2015 shortlist:
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy (UK)
The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma (Nigeria)
The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota (UK)
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (US)
Are you rooting for any of these authors to win the £50,000 prize?
After Go Set a Watchman, perhaps the most hyped book of 2015 was the new Lisbeth Salander novel, The Girl in the Spider's Web. Swedish journalist and author David Lagercrantz continues the late Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy with this authorized sequel, and according to the publisher, 100,000 copies sold on day one, and it has already gone back for a second and third printing. As with Go Set a Watchman, Spider's Web comes with a bit of controversy, as many readers insist Larsson's trilogy shouldn't be continued in his absence. Lagercrantz has compared his depiction of Salander to Christopher Nolan's Batman, and thus readers should consider Lagercrantz's Salander a reimagining of Larsson's character. Her motivations should remain true to the original, but the vision belongs to someone new.
Having accepted this, I still found that Lagercrantz's Salander paled in comparison to the original. Perhaps she's too iconic. That being said, the novel itself is thrilling, textured and brilliantly constructed. It's tight and smart as it explores questions of artificial intelligence, with the slow build to Salander and Blomkvist's reunion easily one of the book's greatest highlights.
From the prologue, set one year before the novel's events:
This story begins with a dream, and not a particularly spectacular one at that. Just a hand beating rhythmically and relentlessly on a mattress in a room on Lundagatan.
Yet it still gets Lisbeth Salander out of her bed in the early light of dawn. Then she sits at her computer and starts the hunt.
Readers, what do you think? Will you read Lagercrantz's continuation of the Millennium series?
These four notable books published in hardcover in 2014 are available today in new paperback editions:
On Immunity: An Inoculation
By Eula Biss
Graywolf • $16 • ISBN 9781555977207
In a slender, beautifully written volume that was named one of the best books of 2014 by publications ranging from the New York Times to Entertainment Weekly, Bliss explores our long-standing fear of vaccines and our cultural myths about the nature of immunity.
Treat Us Like Dogs and We Will Become Wolves
By Carolyn Chute
Grove • $17 • ISBN 9780802124180
The second book in Chute's series about a Maine off-the-grid community and its charismatic leader won the PEN New England Award in Fiction. With an 11-page character list and icons scattered throughout the text to help readers keep track of who's who, Chute's novel offers a bold and inventive look at a sect marginalized by the mainstream.
The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us
By Diane Ackerman
Norton • $15.95 • ISBN 9780393351644
The naturalist and best-selling author (The Zookeeper's Wife) offers an illuminating exploration of the ways in which human beings have changed our planet—for better, and for worse.
A Sudden Light
By Garth Stein
Simon & Schuster • $15.99 • ISBN 9781439187043
The author of the 2008 mega-hit The Art of Racing in the Rain spins an atmospheric story about a spooky mansion on Puget Sound and the troubled family whose fortune is tied to the property.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Strout returns in January with a new novel, My Name Is Lucy Barton.
Strout explored the complicated relationships of three brothers in her last book, The Burgess Boys, but in her new novel, she once again explores the mother-daughter bond—the relationship that powered her knockout 1999 debut, Amy & Isabelle.
Lucy Barton and her mother are long-estranged, but when Lucy needs help after surgery, her mother comes for a visit. Their reunion brings years of tension and longing to the surface, as Lucy reflects on her difficult childhood and her relationship with her own two daughters.
Will you read it?
Few books can transport you to an entirely different world like a finely-tuned sci-fi or fantasy can. From adventures in distant futures on distant planets to tongue-in-cheek satires and magical fairy tales to all-too-possible dystopian thrillers, we've rounded up some of the best offerings from 2015.
It’s hard to follow a debut novel like Ready Player One: It immediately became an international phenomenon, was published in 40 countries and is in the works to become a movie, but Ernest Cline's winning formula that blends Gen-X nostalgia, pop-culture references and high-stakes adventure is once again executed to a T in his second novel, Armada. High school student Zack Lightman finds himself in the middle of a government conspiracy and on the frontlines of an alien invasion that only the best gamers are unwittingly prepared for. And yes, it's supposed to remind you of Ender's Game and The Last Starfighter.
Dennis Mahoney reimagines the colonial era of the 1700s, when European empires were sending explorers to the New World, in his latest novel. But the familiarity ends there, as the Old World is called Heraldia and the New World is known as Floria. The natural world is home to fantastical wonders and meteorological phenomena, seasons can change in a matter of hours and unpredictable "colorwashes" often transform the landscape. If you're looking to get lost in a magical wilderness, then Bell Weather is the historical fantasy for you.
Grossman's wickedly witty alternative history stars one of our most (in)famous and parodied presidents, Richard Nixon. In Crooked, everything you know about Nixon's politics, the Watergate scandal and the Cold War is wrong. Narrated by Grossman's own version of Nixon, we discover a world in which he wasn't a paranoid and conniving president, but a selfless hero battling a supernatural enemy much scarier than the Soviet Union.
Looking to escape Earth? In the compelling Mother of Eden, author Chris Beckett returns readers to the alien world of his award-winning novel Dark Eden. The characters are familiar, as they are descendants of the first novel's original castaways, yet instead of a struggle for survival, this story deals with humans navigating now thriving communities on the planet Eden. The reader quickly learns that Eden's alien flora and fauna aren't nearly as threatening as other humans on their worst behaviors.
Neal Stephenson, one of the most popular science-fiction writers in America, imagines Earth’s impending doom and its aftermath in his latest gripping novel. After the moon explodes, it becomes apparent that Earth isn’t long for this universe. National divisions dissolve as the human race bands together to give humanity a chance at survival in outer space. And—despite quite a few setbacks—it works! Humanity survives and thrives—for 5,000 years, at that—on another planet. But after five millennia, people become curious about returning to the legendary planet known as Earth. Filled with detail and technical minutiae, this novel is a sci-fi space odyssey with a giant, mesmerizing scope.
Are you ready to dive into a vast world of magic and adventure a lá George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, but a bit hesitant to pick up an 800-page doorstopper with a hefty roster of characters to keep track of? Then Naomi Novik has the perfect entry-level fantasy for you with her spellbinding novel Uprooted. This fairy-tale influenced story follows 17-year-old Agnieszka as she leaves her sleepy, vaguely Eastern European village for an apprenticeship with a gruff master wizard known as the Dragon. A classic and inspiring good-versus-evil story with plenty of magic, monsters and romance, this fantasy is easily one of the year's most accessible.
After a year of ravaging, headline-grabbing drought in California and incredibly deadly wildfires eating up swaths of the American West, The Water Knife is about as timely as a sci-fi novel can be. Bacigalupi envisions an eerie, not-so-distant future where climate change has caused another dust bowl and California, Nevada and Arizona are willing to wage war over water rights. Bacigalupi's dystopian novel is a thriller that will keep you turning the pages, but it doesn't shy away from exploring the politics of greed, bureaucracy and environmental regulation. Similar to Margaret Atwood's stories, The Water Knife is a frightening vision of an all-too-plausible future.