Diane Setterfield's debut, The Thirteenth Tale, was a smashing success with both critics and readers when it was published in 2006. It may have been seven long years since then, but it looks like her follow-up, Bellman & Black, was well worth the wait. Our reviewer describes the book as, "a slow-burning, creepily realistic tale, woven together with practical but often magically transformative prose," and concludes with: "Quite simply, Setterfield has done it again." (Read the full review here.)
We were curious about the books Setterfield has been reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share:
By Andrew Miller
My love of France and my fascination with graveyards are what drew me to this book—and the fact that my sister, whose opinion I value above all others, was raving about it. It turned out to be my read of the year. The material is dark, the characters vividly alive and the history as fresh and present as my own life. But what really enamored me was the prose: so delicious I wanted to lick the pages.
By Mark Cocker
This book was meant to be research for me, but it quickly turned into one of those reads you remember for decades. Mark Cocker writes like a poet, and we're used to novels that sound poetic, but this is not a novel. When nonfiction is crafted as beautifully as this, it reaches a whole new level. Rooks and crows reveal their magic and their mystery, and Cocker knows how to share his fascination in a way that transforms our sense of our own humanity.
GIVING UP THE GHOST
By Hilary Mantel
Everyone is reading Hilary Mantel's Cromwell series, and so they should: it's magnificent. But don't let that prevent you from looking elsewhere in her work. There is no one like Mantel for understanding the many ways in which human beings can be haunted, and her memoir is packed with ghostly moments, where the border between what is and what is not becomes transparent thanks to the precision and thoughtfulness of her prose. It is genius, and she makes it look like simplicity itself.
Raise your hand if you occasionally find yourself more enthralled by the lives—in particular, the love lives—of writers than by their actual works. (A couple of authors who come to mind are Lord Byron and Anaïs Nin.) If your hand is aloft, as mine is, then you'll surely be as thrilled as I am about the just-published Writers Between the Covers by Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon.
The subtitle pretty much says it all: The Scandalous Romantic Lives of Legendary Literary Casanovas, Coquettes, and Cads—and yes, Byron and Nin are among them, along with the likes of Flaubert (Casanova), de Beauvoir (coquette), Mailer (cad) and many others. It's a fun and delectably juicy read.
Below, Schmidt and Rendon share what first inspired them to take a peek under the covers, dishing up six titillating tidbits they discovered along the way.
Classic writers had more than just their ink-stained manuscripts to keep them company. As sex symbols, soul mates and the celebrities of their day, they were enmeshed in love triangles, whirlwind romances, dysfunctional marriages, clandestine courtships and more.
We first became intrigued by the subject of writers’ deliciously complicated romantic lives while researching our previous book, Novel Destinations, which features literary landmarks. Visiting the homes and haunts where famed writers lived, loved and found inspiration, we repeatedly found ourselves sidetracked by the “love” aspect.
Where was the hidden door Victor Hugo used as an escape route for his mistress? Was it true Charles Dickens had a thing for his sister-in-law? Who was Edith Wharton’s secret trans-Atlantic lover? How closely did F. Scott Fitzgerald’s plot lines resemble his stormy, fast-living life with Zelda?
Looking for answers to tantalizing questions like these led to Writers Between the Covers. What we discovered is that when it comes to literary love lives, what happened off the page was often a lot spicier than what was written on it:
• Edie Parker’s wedding gift to Jack Kerouac was bail money. The pair swapped vows while he was under arrest and handcuffed to a detective, who treated the newlyweds to a steak dinner before returning the groom to the slammer until his release could be arranged. Not surprisingly, Kerouac and Parker’s marriage didn’t last long.
• Agatha Christie was the lead character in her own whodunit. The crime novelist made international headlines when she disappeared for 11 days after her husband admitted to an affair. Her cheating spouse was pilloried by the press and suspected of doing away with her, but she eventually resurfaced—after sparking the largest manhunt for a missing person ever in England.
• Nosy tourists rented telescopes to spy on some infamous poets. They trained their instruments on a villa overlooking Lake Geneva, where Percy and Mary Shelley sought refuge after fleeing England in the wake of a scandal. Popular poet Percy had dumped his pregnant wife to run off with 16-year-old Mary, whom he later married. Adding fuel to the gossipers’ fire, the couple was joined at the villa by Lord Byron, a bard with a notorious reputation of his own.
• Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe should have heeded their critics. “Egghead Weds Hourglass” screamed one newspaper headline when the opposites-attract pair wed in 1956, while negative predictions and snap judgments were doled out by pundits like Truman Capote, who quipped the marriage could be called “Death of a Playwright.” Marilyn’s camp also discouraged the nuptials, concerned that her all-American image would be tarnished by the playwright’s “unpatriotic” leftist politics. The naysayers were right: less than five years later, wedded bliss came to a bitter end in a Mexican divorce court.
• W.B. Yeats’ wife used the occult to spice up their sex life. On their honeymoon, Georgie Yeats was devastated to learn that her spouse was still in love with someone else, but she salvaged the marriage by pretending to fall into a trance. As though guided by a spirit, she sent her husband reassuring messages that he had done the right thing in marrying her. The technique worked so well that Georgie used it to her advantage for years, even sending Yeats messages from the spirit world on how to satisfy her in bed.
• Trailblazing feminist Simone de Beauvoir once thought about becoming a nun. The French philosopher and novelist reconsidered after a crisis of faith, instead scandalizing society in the 1930s by vowing to live her life with the same freedoms as a man. Her controversial actions included an open relationship with fellow academic Jean-Paul Sartre and penning the groundbreaking work The Second Sex.
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
Touchstone • $17.99 • ISBN 9781451666175
Published October 29, 2013
If you're familiar with Allie Brosh's wildly popular blog, Hyperbole and a Half, then you're no doubt jumping for joy that she's just published a book based on it. If all of this is new to you, trust me—by the third page in, you will be simply in love with the odd little being depicted on the book's cover. Trust me. That odd—crudely drawn yet o-so-expressive—little being represents Brosh in this amusing (often laugh-out-loud), honest and touching collection of illustrated essays about her life, from her childhood antics to living with dogs to her struggle with chronic depression as an adult—and lots of moments in between.
Already a New York Times bestseller, Hyperbole and a Half brims with warmth and sincerity, even—perhaps most—when Brosh is at her most self-deprecating. Crack it open, and you will crack a smile; you most definitely will laugh; and you'll no doubt look forward to more adventures with that odd little being.
What do you think, readers? Will you be reading this book? What are you reading this week?
Since his death in 2005, Richard Pryor has been named as the No. 1 comedian of all time by Comedy Central and continues to influence the American comedy scene to this day. In Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him, authors David and Joe Henry draw from a wide range of sources and personal experiences, including conversations with Pryor himself, in their exploration of the man behind the comedy legend.
While the Henry brothers' admiration for Pryor certainly shines through, Furious Cool does not shy away from the darker details of Pryor's rise to fame—his turbulent upbringing, emotional conflicts and drug abuse are all essential details in this story, making this a very honest and engrossing read.
Watch the great documentary-style trailer from Algonquin below:
Are you interested in reading Furious Cool? Any other biographies on your list?
Patchett's latest book, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, is a collection of essays that spans her 20-year career and covers a wide range of topics, including her attempt to get into the L.A. Police Academy and her love of opera. According to our reviewer, each chapter is "told in simple, appealing prose that feels like a phone conversation with a good friend." (Read the full review.)
We were curious about the books Patchett has been reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share:
My husband is a doctor, and so a lot of his friends are doctors. They work together in a hospital; they have their own lunchroom. When they get stuck trying to figure out what's wrong with a patient, they call each other to talk through the possibilities and get advice. It's not so different for writers. While we don't all work in the same place (unless we live in Brooklyn), we bounce ideas off one another. We seek solace and advice through letters, emails, phone calls and through reading one another's books. Three of my best friends have novels out now, and they've all been to my bookstore, Parnassus Books in Nashville, while on tour. It's no surprise my favorite books of late were written by my favorite people (listed in order of pub dates).
This is the sequel to the very successful The Apothecary. Maile wrote two novels and two collections of short stories for adults (all fantastic) before turning her considerable talents to middle school children. I have almost no ability to read fiction for young people, a shortcoming, I know, but I found these books riveting. Maile brings the full force of her extraordinary intelligence and imagination to bear on magical, scientific and geo-political themes. Plus the boy gets the girl.
People have a tendency to believe that the first book of yours they read was also the first book you wrote, so many readers who were introduced to Liz through Eat, Pray, Love (there were more than 8 million of them) neglected to notice that she had already written three other books before that, two of them fiction. So while it may come as a surprise to some that her new book is a complicated and brilliant novel about a 19th-century botanist who is devoted to moss, those of us who have read all her books always knew she had it in her. (Read our interview with Gilbert about The Signature of All Things.)
by Donna Tartt
Donna once told me the reason her books take so long to write (her last one, The Little Friend, was published 12 years ago) is that they are about as long as three regular novels. They are certainly three times as complex as a regular novel, and about 10 times as ambitious (and maybe 20 times as beautiful). David Copperfield as nothing on her hero, Theo, who is spun out into the world by a terrorist attack with nothing but one perfect painting to hold himself together. It's a classic.
What do you think, readers? Will you be checking out This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage or any of Patchett’s recommended books?
It's that time of year again. In addition to looking forward, as we always do, to the books releasing in the coming months, we're also taking time to reflect upon all of the amazing books that have come out this year. Soon we'll be sharing our 50 Best Books of 2013, but to tide you over until then, here are our 13 favorite cookbooks of the year, as selected by our esteemed cooking columnist, Sybil Pratt. Warning: Some serious stomach rumbling may occur as you proceed down the list!
EVERY GRAIN OF RICE
By Fuchsia Dunlop
Everything you’ll need—a primer on basic ingredients, including Dunlop’s richly flavored, not-hard-to-find “magic” seasonings, essential tools, prep methods, cooking techniques, menu ideas and an extensive, illustrated glossary.
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A collection of 100 eminently doable recipes, inspired by local fishermen and farmers, by famed Charleston institutions past and present (check out the Cheese Spread from the hallowed Henry’s) and by dishes discovered in old cookbooks and memoirs.
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From Danny Meyer, CEO of the Union Square Hospitality Group, which includes many of New York City’s most admired restaurants, Michael Romano, his partner and culinary director of the group, and food writer Karen Stabiner comes more than 150 easy, affordable recipes, peppered with behind-the-scenes stories.
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An inspiring, heartfelt celebration of Italian tradition and Viviani's rags-to-riches (or scraps-to-scrumptious) life, from poor Florentine kid who started cooking with his great-grandmother at the age of 5 to celebrity chef and owner of three successful restaurants in the U.S.—with more than 150 recipes.
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Shows you how to cook like a Mexican mama, offering not the cheese-drenched, gluey stuff we norteamericanos so often mistake for Mexican, but the simple, healthy, comforting, sensational food that’s served in homes. ¡Buen provecho!
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With 200 recipes, this new paean to vegetables is big, beautiful and so bountiful that it’s not going to encourage moderation. Just looking at the luscious full-color photos is enough to make a committed carnivore morph into an advocate of the mostly veggie approach to everyday eating.
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A complete companion to mastering the art of putting up and putting by—making sweet preserves with fruit and savory preserves with vegetables, and using simple techniques for drying, freezing and storing seasonal produce. More than 220 recipes are organized by season and accompanied by stories (preserver extraordinaire West is also a gifted Southern storyteller) and essays.
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In 100 recipes using 10 ingredients or fewer, divided into eight chapters, Iyer presents his unique system for learning to cook Indian food. This is your own master class; each chapter is a course on a course with a specific technique that’s explained (or “unfolded”) in a special foldout with full-color, full-fun, step-by-step photos.
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A glorious selection of sauces and soups with suggestions for the pasta shapes that go best with them, recipes for making pasta from scratch and, most importantly, advice on approaching pasta as Italians approach this most-loved food that is “synonymous with family, hearth and home.”
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Gorgeous, fabulous and filled with recipes that will make even the most jaded cook jump for culinary joy. Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s unique realm of flavor is sunny, colorful, zesty and bold, appreciably Middle Eastern, with Mediterranean and Californian influences and universal appeal. They keep prep unfussy and simple. They want you to have fun with their food and, most of all, they want you to say “wow!”
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Goin, a true omnivore and true believer in seasonal and local cooking, is boldly, brilliantly creative, combining ingredients, layering and reinforcing flavors so that the sum of the dish is greater than its parts (some of the “parts” are divine by themselves). This is serious, challenging cooking, not dumbed-down, not simplified.
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The pièce de résistance of this year’s crop of grand cookbooks, a big, beautiful package, filled with luscious photos. First and foremost come the best recipes from Daniel, Boulud’s famed New York restaurant, with complex preparations inspired by classic French dishes and given a Boulud twist.
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Look for a review of this cookbook—the Top Pick!—in our December issue.
What are your favorite 2013 cookbooks? Have you tried making any of our Recipes of the Week this year?
Let’s get this over with: Scotch is whisky, everything else is whiskey. Our reviewer Eve Zibart, who shared her selection of some of the season's best drinks books in our November issue, would even argue that “Scotch whisky” is redundant. Here's Eve's take on a new offering from Princeton Architectural Press that highlights that perennially popular brown beverage.
Instant Expert: Whiskey, by Master of Malt and whiskey educator John Lamond, is for the habitual, and habituated, sipper. This pocket reference—which can be secured with a handy yellow elastic—emphasizes tasting notes, so its appeal may depend on how you view what used to be considered "winespeak." Flavors and aromas described as greenery, tarry rope, dark chocolate, cocoa, ripe orange, pineapple, pine needles, licorice, vanilla, marzipan, toffee, fennel, musk, cereal (no brand), peat (naturally), seaweed, iodine, melon, violets, cherry, smoky cough syrup (!), “mahogany-flavored chewiness” (who knew?), “homemade black current jam” (one longs to visit his pantry) and so on. This is exacting and pungent, but a few experiments will likely prove Lamond a reliable guide—and a fortifying one. He also lists some classic cocktails and great whiskey bars of the world, though sadly, the U.S. is scantly represented. At least the recipes don’t require a chemist.
Thanks, Eve! Looking for more books on the beverages that help make our holidays happy? Click here.
Award-winning author Lee Smith is back with her 13th novel, Guests on Earth, which follows heroine Evalina Toussaint from her childhood in Depression-era New Orleans to her stay in Highland Hospital in North Carolina (where one fellow patient is Zelda Fitzgerald) following the death of her mother. Our reviewer gives the book high praise, proclaiming that it "delivers on all counts, entrancing readers with a brilliant tapestry that falls inside the confines of historical fiction, yet defies genre with a hypnotic narrative." Read the full review here.
We were curious about the books Smith has been reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites:
A huge cloud of migrating butterflies makes a surprise landing on an Appalachian mountaintop, forever changing many lives. . . . It’s hard to write a strongly thematic novel like this without letting the meaning overtake the characters, yet Barbara Kingsolver succeeds brilliantly, with fully developed characters, wonderful dialogue and close observation of daily life—right down to daytime TV shows and home cooking! The serious ecological implications of this fine novel do not obscure the pleasures of getting to know the main character and her family—and watching her come of age as a woman fulfilling her own possibilities. Flight Behavior is both suspenseful and very moving—a great read.
THE REASON I JUMP
By Naoki Higashida
This extraordinary little book is the inner voice of a 13-year-old Japanese boy with autism, born in 1992 and still in junior high school when the book was first published. Here he interviews himself, asking simple questions such as “Why do you line up your toys so obsessively?” “Why won’t you make eye contact?”—all the things I have naturally wondered about in dealing with my own beloved autistic granddaughter.
Naoki graduated from high school in 2011 and lives in Japan, where he is an advocate, the author of several books of fiction and nonfiction, and a motivational speaker even though spoken communication is very difficult for him even now, according to his translators KA Yoshida and David Mitchell, parents of an autistic son themselves. David Mitchell is the author of many novels including Cloud Atlas. In his introduction he says, “The three characters used for the word ‘autism’ in Japanese signify ‘self,’ ‘shut,’ and ‘illness.’ My imagination converts these characters into a prisoner locked up and forgotten inside a solitary confinement cell waiting for someone, anyone, waiting to realize he or she is in there. The Reason I Jump knocks out a brick in the wall.” Amen—it certainly does.
Jill McCorkle’s great gift for voice is on display in this lively novel which moves from speaker to speaker in an old folks’ home where romance and laughter abound . . . along with a gathering mystery which makes it a page-turner by the end. By turns hilarious, moving, surprising, and thought-provoking, Life After Life will resonate with every reader as it has with me, I’ll bet—since we are all dealing with just these situations in our own lives, whether it’s taking care of our parents or thinking ahead ourselves. But let me assure you that there is nothing depressing about this wonderful novel. Written in language which mixes poetry with down-home grit, Life After Life sings and soars above its subject with originality and grace.
If, like me, you spent much of your childhood consciously avoiding uttering the phrase "I don't know," or boasting to your friends that you could most definitely climb up an oil-slicked slide in less than five seconds, our next Nostalgia Week book is just for you.
SLIMED! An Oral History of Nickelodeon's Golden Age is the wondrous result of author Mathew Klickstein's hundreds of interviews with the folks—both behind the scenes and on camera—who brought us such beloved TV show gems as "Double Dare," Clarissa Explains It All," "The Ren & Stimpy Show" and, of course, "You Can't Do That on Television."
In this guest post, Klickstein shares what it was like writing the book, as well as some fascinating tidbits he discovered along the way:
When I first signed with a major publisher to write the Nickelodeon oral history, I was uncontrollably besotted by champagne-colored visions of estranged friends and long-lost girls from my past contacting me out of the blue: “Matt! I saw your book in the store!”
It’s only now, after publication and while navigating the circuitous machinery of the publicity foofaraw, that I’ve come to understand who the audience for SLIMED! An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age really is.
It’s not only us. It’s also them—the people this book is about. In truth, I’ve realized only recently that the main reason I wrote a book on this most grand era is this: In revealing to all of us the more than 250 Nick VIPs who contributed to SLIMED!, I’ve also revealed us to them.
The book’s reception has reinforced the fact that, yes, even as (slightly more) sane and (slightly less) loudly sentient adults, we do still care as much as we did back when these people were wildly running around onscreen as our heroes during their formative years. We’re here, we’re not going away and neither will Nick’s Golden Age.
Along the craggy path to figuring all of this out, I picked up four breadcrumbs that definitely surprised me about Nick’s foundational years that may surprise you too:
Green slime was at one point dangerous. Aside from the truly disgusting and likely toxic provenance of green slime that you’ll have to read about in SLIMED! to believe, it’s worth noting that a “sliming” was initially categorized as having the same television “violence rating” as a decapitation, according to a report by media specialist George Gerbner. Additionally, green slime’s “secret ingredients” in the early years included baby shampoo in order to help facilitate the cleaning-from-the-hair process. Even though it was baby shampoo, it could still burn one’s eyes, especially if one were to take his/her sliming incorrectly. And, yes, there was a Right Way and a Wrong Way to be slimed.
Yes, Christine Taylor (“Melody”) and David Lascher (“Ted”) from "Hey Dude" did date during part of the series’ production. "Hey Dude" director Fred Keller explains in SLIMED! that for two adolescents, Christine and David handled the typical vicissitudes of young love very well. Immediately after that quote in the book, however, Christine avers that it’s actually surprising how poorly they dealt with it. And therein lies the whimsical contradictions of an oral history.
Marc Summers is not a total douchebag. In fact, just the opposite is true. One would assume a wildly famous game show host would be the kind of Bad and the Beautiful jerk-off. But with Marc, that perennial smile is not an act. He really does love what he does, and he really does love his fans. There was not one person I spoke to in this book who didn’t bring up Marc as a friend, a collaborator, a mentor or a partner in crime.
Joey Ramone was almost on an episode of "The Adventures of Pete & Pete." In the episode, Little Pete decides to start up a band of his own after hearing the first and only song he’s ever actually liked. Singer-songwriter Syd Straw (who played numbers-obsessed math teacher Ms. Fingerwood) was actually a staple of the ’80s music/punk/art scene of ’80s New York City. When she was asked by producers to help fill in the band, she immediately called up her good buddy Joey Ramone. Joey had never seen the show before, but Syd made the premise of being on this hip and wacky kids’ show sound so appealing to the punk progenitor, that he nearly agreed . . . until he remembered he was leaving for a full European tour the next day with his “bruddahs.”
What do hippies, surfers, up-and-coming rock bands and cross-country road trippers all have in common? Often, it's their choice of vehicle: a VW Camper Van. In the nearly 70 years since its inception in the 1950s, the reliable and roomy vehicle has become a pop culture icon with a devoted cult following. One of these enthusiasts is Mike Harding, author of The VW Camper Van: A Biography. Part history, part memoir, the book is sure to delight the most diehard of devotees—and fully entertain those who are merely curious.
In this guest blog post, Harding writes about his love affair with Molly—his orange 2001 Type 2 Transporter—their adventures together and some interesting tidbits he learned while writing The VW Camper Van:
Like Toad in The Wind in the Willows, I have always been fascinated by the open road, the road that goes ever on and leads away from the world of work and taxes. And, to me, the VW Camper Van, with it’s blush of hippie-dom, looked like a magical key to that place of adventure and freedom.
But I had a family and lots of commitments and although I did travel the world—from trekking in the high Himalayas to lone Buddhist temples, crossing the Hindu Kush and singing for my supper in the mining camps of the Australian deserts—I never made that final leap and bought myself a Camper.
Until one November day filled with dark, Wuthering Heights weather, when I followed an ad in a VW mag and bought Molly in the back streets of a Northern England industrial town.
Since then Molly and I have traveled Britain, staying in forests and by the seashore and visiting lonely moorland pubs and friendly village folk festivals. With my banjo on the back seat and her little fridge full of food and wine, we trundle along the backroads shouting “Poop poop!” to the world.
Here are some little known facts about the VW Camper Van:
• The early VW vans featured the filler cap for the fuel tank in the lockable engine compartment because of the rampant cases of fuel theft from vehicles in postwar Europe.
• If it weren't for an Englishman from Northern England—Major Ivan Hirst—there would be no VW Beetle or Camper Van. (You'll have to read the book to find out why!)
• President Johnson’s “Chicken Tax,” which effectively stopped the import of VWs into the U.S. in the late '60s, has still not been repealed.
• VW vans have been used for everything from funeral hearses to camping vans, from fire engines to mobile chintzy English tea rooms complete with fragile china cups and fairy cakes.
• Sadly, the production of VW Camper Vans came to an end this year.
[All photos from The VW Camper Van, used with permission.]