As part of our Best Books of 2012 coverage, our editors weigh in on some of their personal favorites from the list.
Junot Díaz’s second collection of short stories is like a downed power line, sparking and twisting as good love goes bad again and again. At the heart of the collection is Yunior, a reckless cheater and idealist searching for love whose inability to change is born from the skewed relationship dynamics of his family and his Dominican culture. With its irresistible mix of sardonic, slangy—and frequently profane—language and painful bursts of vibrant imagery, This Is How You Lose Her is a triumph.
View our complete Best Books of 2012 list.
It's been a long wait for fans of The Passage, but The Twelve is finally here. And for you Cronin fans, we have not just a review for you (don't worry, there are zero spoilers), but also a handwritten "Meet the Author" Q&A from Cronin himself.
The personable author (I had the pleasure of interviewing him in 2010) did a series of videos for Waterstones about The Twelve—here's his introduction of the book.
Are you excited about The Twelve?
Today is your first chance to pick up A.M. Homes' new novel, May We Be Forgiven. And that's something you want to do! In a fall filled with fiction heavyweights (including the new J.K. Rowling, which also goes on sale today), Forgiven holds its own, keeping the reader glued to the pages as the darkly humorous and oddly hopeful tale of Harold Silver unfolds.
Homes is brilliant at depicting the absurdity of modern life—and then turning it up 10 notches, without losing the emotional resonance that a good novel needs. We asked her about the significance of forgiveness and what she means by the title in an email Q&A:
Redemption is a concept that appears very early in the novel, but doesn’t become realized until the very end. From whom do you think Harry—or for that matter anybody—is seeking forgiveness? How do we know when we have, in fact, been forgiven?
That’s a very good question, and I’ll answer it by saying that in the Jewish religion every year at Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement—we fast and ask for forgiveness. We begin by saying, “ For the sin we committed before you”—by being ignorant—or for the sin of envy or speaking poorly about others. We literally beat our breast and go over a litany of possible sins and whether or not we have committed them and we ask to be forgiven.
I find it deeply satisfying to confess, even for things I have not done—to repent for ideas, to repent for transgressions of the mind—to raise the bar for the coming year and hope to do better.
Importantly it is also at this time that we forgive others—as much as we ask for forgiveness for ourselves.
OK, so I’m getting a bit lofty here, but the idea is that we should accept responsibility for our transgressions and importantly go beyond that and make an effort to do better in the future.
Eight Girls Taking Pictures by Whitney Otto
Scribner • $25 • ISBN 9781451682694
On sale November 6, 2012
It has been 10 years since Whitney Otto published her last book, A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity. Her perceptive and compelling new novel, Eight Girls Taking Pictures, is one of my favorite fall releases so far. It tells the stories of eight female photographers, all inspired by real-life women, who face the challenges of balancing their passion for their art with their roles as mothers, wives and lovers. Though these vignettes range throughout the first two-thirds of the 20th century, the tension between career and family is, unfortunately, timeless—as is Cymbeline's 1910 insight into her future as a photographer after a conversation with her professor and lover, excerpted here.
[W]hen Julius Weiss made his remark about her work as a hobby, it wasn't anything she hadn't heard before. What was new was hearing it from him.
Julius sighed. "You should understand that I'm not asking you to find the thing in a subject that engages you—rather I am suggesting you see that subject in a whole new way—as a photographer, see it so that everything will interest you." He said, "You can do this, Cymbeline."
Here was the strange thing: She understood absolutely that he believed in her ability, yet his belief had the effect of suddenly making her doubt herself. And something else, too: she had a moment of hard clarity that her life, her woman's life, would be full of choices—ordinary ones a man might not even see as choices but as "life"—that would constantly be canceling each other out.
What are you reading this week?
We're just a month out from the publication of J.K. Rowling's first novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy, on September 27. Little, Brown has been keeping details about the novel, other than the official description, top secret—sources say that only a select few have had time with the embargoed manuscript, and all cell phones and recording devices must be left outside the door.
That's not unusual for a big title (although it's less common for fiction), but the lack of pre-pub hype from the publisher is. As USA Today reports, there's been little to no push on this one—no promo materials, no midnight release parties—and stores are having a hard time figuring out how to get the word out, or what to tell their customers when asked about the book. The head buyer at R.J. Julia Booksellers is quoted as saying, "We had no posters … It hasn't been easy. People are curious, but they don't know what to expect."
The article goes on to say that the lack of a dramatic publicity onslaught is likely due to Rowling's own wishes, since rumor has it the world's best-selling author would prefer that her first adult novel stand on its own merit and not on her reputation. But a successful transition to adult fiction after becoming known as a YA author is a tricky one. Other YA authors who've made the jump in the last few years include Sara Shepard (Pretty Little Liars series), who released her first adult novel last year to little fanfare, and Ann Brashares, whose 2010 adult time-travel romance was the first in what looks like a stillborn series.
But perhaps the best comparison for a writer like Rowling is Stephenie Meyer, who moved to adult fiction after publishing the Twilight series. Her sci-fi novel The Host wasn't a big jump from the teen fantasy she is known for, yet it still sold just 2 million copies in hardcover (yes, an impressive figure, but the fourth Twilight novel, by comparison, sold 1.3 million copies on its first day of sale!). She has yet to publish the promised sequel, although perhaps that will be announced when the film version of The Host is released in March 2013.
The Casual Vacancy couldn't sound more different from the Harry Potter series, and although some people are sure to buy based on the Rowling name, its level of success will depend on the word-of-mouth response from readers. Stay tuned for our review on September 28!
Do you plan to read The Casual Vacancy?
May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes
Viking • $26.95 • ISBN 9780670025480
on sale October 1, 2012
But unlike DeLillo's work, May We Be Forgiven allows for the possibility of making something real out of the craziness of modern life, even as it acknowledges the difficulty of doing so. In this excerpt, Harry is visiting his brother George, whose life he's virtually taken over after a series of horrific events and acts land George in a mental institution.
"Fuckin' freak show," George says when they're all gone.
"And you're the star," I say.
"How's my dog and kitty?"
"Fine," I say. "It would have been nice to know about the invisible fence, but we figured it out."
"Are you giving Tessie [the dog] the vitamins and the anti-inflammatory?"
"Which ones are hers?"
"In the kitchen cabinet, the big jar."
"I thought they were yours," I say. "I've been taking them daily."
"You're a moron," George declares.
I pull the accordion file out from under my ass. "There are some things I have to ask you. I'll start with the small stuff: How does the outdoor light for the front yard work? Also, I met Hiram P. Moody, he came to the funeral—does he pay all the bills? . . . What's your PIN number? Also, I tried to use the credit card but it was password protected; they asked for your mother's maiden name. I typed in Greenberg, but it didn't work."
"Dandridge," George says.
"Whose name is that?"
"It's Martha Washington's maiden name," he says, like I should know.
"Funny enough, that had never occurred to me; I thought they meant your mother's maiden name, not like the mother of America."
"Sometimes I forget the actual family, but I never forget Martha," George says. "I'm surprised you didn't know, you call yourself a historian."
"Speaking of history, I tried to enter your place of birth as New York, but again I was wrong."
"I use Washington, D.C.," George says. "It's really a question of what I can keep in mind."
Say Nice Things About Detroit by Scott Lasser
Norton • $25.95 • ISBN 9780393082999
On sale July 2, 2012
The title of Scott Lasser's fourth novel got my attention a couple of months back. The book itself had me turning the pages during a delay-filled flight to—where else—Detroit. This is a suspenseful story about homecomings, loss and second chances, as David moves back to Detroit to care for his parents only to discover that his high school girlfriend, Natalie, has been killed in a random shooting with her half brother, Dirk. As the story unfolds, it appears that the shooting may not have been quite as random as it appears, and David could be caught in the crosshairs.
Already optioned for film by Steve Carell, this book will appeal to fans of "The Wire" and The 25th Hour. It's gritty, yes, but not without hope—and humor, as shown in this extract:
"You lack the basic chattel of life—a wife, children, debt. These things give a man purpose."
Maybe, David thought, though he had had all that chattel, and look where it had got him.
His father talked on. "Most men, they get up in the morning, they go off to work, and they know why: They've got a family to feed. It's been that way forever. It drives the world. The animal world, too. You, you get up in the morning and then—why do you go off to work?"
"To make you happy," David said.
"Make me happy?" his father asked.
"Sure, so when someone says to you, 'How's David doing?' you don't have to answer, 'He's home on the couch drinking vodka from the bottle.' "
Today is the on-sale date for one of my favorite books so far this year: Christopher Coake's You Came Back (Grand Central). This wrenching story of grief, love and ghosts captivated our reviewer, who said the book "reads like a suspense novel and will keep you turning pages longer than is good for you. Afterward, it will leave you lying in bed in the dark, contemplating its surfeit of pain and beauty."
What we don't mention in our review is that Coake's story was inspired by personal experience with loss. Not the loss of a child, which is the tragedy that befalls his protagonist, but the loss of a wife to cancer at only 27. In a moving behind-the-book essay, he talks about the parallel lives people are forced to lead after moving on from loss.
I'm happy. Maybe I can say I wrote my novel because I falter whenever I say this sentence. Not because it’s untrue—I am married to a marvelous woman, and I have a job I love in a city and region I love. I do not want for anything. But it is with utmost respect for my wife and for my job and my place that I say this: My happiness is often upsetting to me, because of the way it came to me. Because it’s a product of my first life being destroyed, and giving way to this one. These two lives—both of which, past and present, I’d have died to protect—will always exist in me, side by side.
Hyperion announced today that they'll be publishing The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom on August 28. This is a "magical" new novel about Father Time that casts the fairy-tale figure in a new light: as the person who first attempted to track time. It's the first novel in six years from Albom, who originally struck literary gold in 1997 with Tuesdays with Morrie, a memoir about the death of his friend and mentor, teacher Morrie Schwartz.
"We are excited once again to share a new Mitch Albom book with his beloved fans and readers," said Hyperion President and Publisher Ellen Archer. "Mitch taps into an issue we all struggle with these days—our time and what we make of it. His novel will spark a lot of conversation about how we live our lives now—and what we can't afford to forget."
Albom's modern-day parables have moved millions and The Time Keeper isn't likely to be an exception. Will you look out for it?
Related in BookPage: our past coverage of Mitch Albom's books, including an interview about his last novel, Have a Little Faith.
Best known for his 1983 masterpiece A Winter's Tale, Mark Helprin is returning this October with a novel that's equally epic in its scope and power, In Sunlight and Shadow. It's publisher HMH's lead fiction title for the fall.
Set in 1940s New York City, the novel follows a middle-class paratrooper who falls in love at first sight with a beautiful heiress. Their romance plays out against a backdrop of gangster dives, Broadway lights, luxurious mansions—the entire spectrum of modern-era America.
Will you read it?