So Much for That by Lionel Shriver
Harper, March 2010
Shep could feel it, that for Zach suddenly the whole happy-family playacting was too much. The boy didn't know that until a week ago his father was about to abscond to the east coast of Africa, and he didn't know that his mother had just been diagnosed with a rare and deadly cancer, much less did he know that as far as his mother was concered the disease was his father's fault. But these highly incidental unsaids emitted the equivalent of the high-frequency sound waves that convenience stores now broadcast outside their shops to keep loitering gangs from the door. What dulled adult ears could no longer detect was unbearable to adolescents, and the same might be said of emotional fraud. Zach popped his pizza pocket early from the taoster and took his half-frozen dinner in a paper towel upstairs without even bothering with "See ya."
Roast chicken, boiled potatoes and steamed green beans. Glynis commended his preparation, but only picked. "I feel fat," she admitted.
"You're underweight. It's only fluid. You have to stop thinking like that."
"Suddenly I'm supposed to become a different person?"
"You can be the same person who eats more."
"Your chicken," she said, "is probably not what I feel so little appetite for." This was surely true. Given the purpose of food, an appetite at meals implied an appetite for the future.
Safe From the Neighbors by Steve Yarbrough
January 2010, Knopf
Steve Yarbrough’s fifth novel is one of the finest examples of lovely language in fiction I’ve read all year. The vehicle for Yarbrough’s words is the story of Luke May, a local history teacher in Loring, Mississippi, in the Delta. When a new teacher comes to Luke’s school, he is pushed to investigate a Civil Rights-era tragedy. This consuming quest—part murder mystery, part personal reckoning—will lead Luke to make a drastic and painful choice.
She’s not there. I hang around near the door until two minutes before eight, nodding at the students as they file past, a couple of them giving me funny looks, wondering what I’m doing here. When I finally give up and head for my own room, at the far end of the west wing, I see her: like me, she’s been standing outside the door, this small, trim woman in the same white slacks and purple blouse she wore the first day of school. She looks anxious, her hands working nervously as they hang by her sides. She has no intention of leaving. The bell rings, but she doesn’t move.
She watches while I walk toward her. When I’m four or five feet away, she says, “Yes?”
I don’t know how I know this, but I do: yes with a question mark after it doesn’t mean yes and it doesn’t mean no. It’s not a statement, but neither is it a question. What it is is an opening, a space you can either fill in or choose not to.
What are you reading today?
Blackout by Connie Willis
February 2010, Spectra
Eileen, Polly and Mike are historians at Oxford in 2060, where a time-travel machine can send researchers into the past to study history as it happens. Eileen is observing the children evacuated to the British countryside during World War II, while Mike is studying the heroes of Dunkirk and Polly is sent to London during the Blitz. But back in 2060, the future of time travel grows increasingly uncertain, and the scheduled "drops" more erratic. What will happen to Eileen, Polly and Mike if they can't get home again?
Four months, Eileen thought, separating them. I only have to put up with them for four more months. "No one's going to invade," she said firmly, "tonight or any other night."
"'Ow do you know?" Alf demanded.
"You can't know something what ain't 'appened yet," Binnie said.
"Why ain't 'e going to?" Alf persisted.
Because the British Army will get away from him at Dunkirk, Eileen thought, and he'll lose the Battle of Britain and begin bombing London to bring the British to their knees. But it won't work. They'll stand up to him. It'll be their finest hour. And it will lose him the war.
"Because I have faith in the future," she said, and, getting a firmer grip on Alf and Binnie, set off with them into the darkness.
What are you reading today?
True Confections by Katharine Weber
January 2010, Crown Publishing Group
In the form of an affidavit, narrator Alice Tatnall Ziplinsky (formerly known as “Arson Girl”) chronicles the history – the good, the ugly and the absurd – of her family-by-marriage’s candy company.
“Candy makes people happy,” Sam used to say as a way of summing up and moving the conversation past a challenging moment, “and I make candy. So my business is to make people happy. Who could ask for anything better?”
Zip’s Candies might make people happy, but it doesn’t make the Ziplinskys happy. I take peculiar solace in finding myself part of a great American tradition of troubled candy families. At an awards dinner during a candy and snack show in Atlanta last year, an inebriated vendor told me fascinating details of two Mars family divorces, which make my situation seem like a piece of cake. And let us reflect for a moment on Hart Crane’s suicidal leap into the sea from a ship sailing between Havana and Florida at age thirty-three, in 1932. His father, Clarence, had invented Life Savers candy twenty years before, inspired by the recent innovation of round flotation lifesaving rings on ships.
Related in BookPage: Katharine Weber writes a behind-the-book essay about Triangle, her fourth novel.
What are you reading today?
Devil's Dream by Madison Smartt Bell
November 2009, Pantheon
Bell's novel about the Civil War experiences of General Nathan Bedford Forrest brings one of history's most gifted—and controversial—wartime leaders to life. Look for a Q&A with Madison Smartt Bell on BookPage.com later this month.
At dusk they gathered around a campfire Ginral Jerry had built in the lee of a snowbank, which did something, though not exactly enough, to cut the bitter rising wind. Forrest sat on a tripod camp stool, his long arms wrapped around his knees, reflected firelight flickering from the deep hollow of his eyes. Though he was in his shirtsleeves he didn't seem to feel the cold. Is he even human? Henri thought.
In this new weekly series, we’ll excerpt a memorable passage from a book we’re currently reading.
The Privileges by Jonathan Dee
January 2010 from Random House
She looked at him as if he were a little mad, but then she caught something exciting in his eyes and threw up her hands and said, “Why not?” That was it: everything was open to them. What was life’s object if not that?
Julia Steele, BookPage Associate Publisher
Just listened to Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende. It's a great story set during the gold rush years and takes the reader from Chile to China to the new world full of 'easy gold.' The audio is read by Blair Brown, and she does a wonderful job—I will read or listen to more books by this author. Next I'll be starting on People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks for my book club—I think it will make for great discussion.
The Guinea Pig Diaries by A.J. Jacobs is on my bedside table —I read a chapter every once in a while when I need a laugh. Jacobs is a journalist who has made his living turning his life into an experiment. In this book he outsources his life to India, poses as a beautiful woman on match.com, tries being “radically honest” at all times, and poses nude—among other things. It’s the perfect book to read in a chunk at a time.