As someone who loves both curmudgeons and cats, I was delighted to see that grammar grump Lynne Truss (Eats, Shoots & Leaves) had gone feline with her first novel, Cat Out of Hell. Already on sale in Britain, it will be published in the U.S. in March, by Melville House. (Listed in the catalog selling points: "Cat on the cover!" This is certainly a draw for me.)
However. Truss' opinion of our feline friends is characteristically skeptical. She launches her horror spoof with the premise that cats have the potential for evil. In fact, some cats are so human-phobic that they don't trust cats who get along with humans . . . and are intent on destroying them. Can one widowed academic foil this plot? And what did his wife have to do with the mystery?
It seems that the summer 2015 season is off to a good start: We've just heard that Sara Gruen, who made her name with Water for Elephants, will release a new book on June 2—and it's a return to historical fiction.
Though few plot details are available, At the Water's Edge is set in 1942 and follows three Americans who travel to Scotland on a quest to find the Loch Ness monster. Sounds like quite the adventure! Will you read it?
Today the final National Book Award category longlist was announced. For the authors involved, that means it's time for nervous hand-wringing to commence. For readers, well, it's time to dig into those lists and start reading, dissecting the judges' motives and/or rooting for your favorite . . . which is exactly what we're doing at BookPage! Read on for the behind-the-scenes action.
I’m pulling for young, experimental poet Maureen N. McLane—third er, collection’s the charm, right? The New York University English professor blends lush natural imagery with pointed, contemporary syntax in This Blue. At once playful and profoundly sobering, these poems examine mankind’s history and our tendency to exploit and abuse the beauty of our earth. Now is the perfect time to dive in if you missed this fantastic collection during National Poetry Month.
—Hilli Levin, Editorial Assistant
Looking at the NBA’s nonfiction longlist reminds me of the old “Sesame Street” song: One of these things is not like the others. Roz Chast’s hilarious and moving graphic memoir, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, stands out from a crowd of traditional narrative history and biography. Could Chast emerge as the winner? It seems highly unlikely, but I’m thrilled to see her deeply personal look at the perils of aging among this year’s contenders.
—Lynn Green, Editor
One farm. One family. One hundred years. Jane Smiley is taking on a seriously ambitious literary project with her Last Hundred Years trilogy, so it doesn’t surprise me a bit that the first novel, Some Luck, grabbed a spot on the NBA longlist this year. This installment takes us through the life of the Langdons from 1920 to 1953, and if the next two books are anywhere near as marvelously executed, then don’t be surprised if the critical praise and award nominations continue to flow her way.
—Hilli Levin, Editorial Assistant
It might feel shocking to see John Darnielle, a man most famous for being the lead singer of The Mountain Goats, on the NBA longlist for his first novel, Wolf in White Van. But when you consider the fact that his lyrics might as well be poetry or short stories, it's really not that surprising. Blame it on my love of the underdog, but I'm hoping for a win for this musician-turned-novelist.
I'm also rooting for Molly Antopol and her quietly beautiful collection of short stories, The UnAmericans, because, well, wow. She's under 35 and this is her debut work of fiction. I'm under 35 and I just googled "how to handwash stuff" so I find this immensely impressive.
—Lily McLemore, Assistant Editor
As the fiction editor at BookPage, I'm starting to have a visceral reaction to the descriptor "post-apocalyptic fiction." But Canadian author Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven brings a breath of fresh air to the genre with her fourth novel, a beautiful and deeply felt story that uses its dystopian setting to explore our very human need for shared culture, art and stories. Here's hoping this original and insightful work moves on to the shortlist.
—Trisha Ping, Managing Editor
It’s no surprise to see Jacqueline Woodson’s memoir-in-verse, Brown Girl Dreaming, on this list, and you’ll likely see it on several more award lists before the end of the year. Her accessible and poignant story shares what it was like to grow up in the 1960s and ’70s in a country “caught / between Black and White” and how writing helped her find her voice.
Also, is there any living writer who better captures the hilarity, messiness (sexual, social and emotional) and adventure of being a teenage boy than Andrew Smith? Not likely. Although I thought Grasshopper Jungle was the better of his two books that came out this year, 100 Sideways Miles is another winner—and it’s about time Smith was publicly and widely recognized for his talent.
—Cat Acree, Associate Editor
How many writers manage to publish a novel and an essay collection over the course of one summer? Roxane Gay's debut, An Untamed State, was published in May, but before she became a novelist she was known for her penetrating essays and cultural criticism. Bad Feminist contains both of these, alongside deeply personal writing—including a depiction of her assault at the age of 12—and more lighthearted pieces about Scrabble tournaments and reality TV.
The collection takes its title from the final two essays, which explore how prescriptive the definition of "feminist" can sometimes be, and how Gay at times feels she comes up short.
Alas, poor feminism. So much responsibility keeps getting piled on the shoulders of a movement whose primary purpose is to achieve equality, in all realms, between men and women. I keep reading these articles and getting angry and tired because they suggest there's no way for women to ever get it right. These articles make it seem like, as Butler suggests, there is in fact, a right way to be a woman and a wrong way to be a woman. The standard for the right way to be a woman and/or a feminist appears to be ever changing and unachievable.
Gay's insightful exploration of this topic makes readers worry less about their occasional shortcomings and more comfortable with being human.
What are you reading this week?
So, you did it. You made it through all 700+ pages of Donna Tartt's epic, Pulitzer-winning third novel, hauling it on the plane, balancing its considerable weight on your knees at the beach, or trading sympathetic looks with those who were also struggling to turn the pages while clinging to a pole on the subway.
Now you're hungry for a book that's just like it. Let's go with the bad news first: There is no book that's exactly like The Goldfinch. But the good news is there are plenty of books that should resonate with Goldfinch readers in various ways. Read on for our list.
If Tartt's wrenching portrait of a young boy coping with the loss of a parent was your favorite thing about The Goldfinch, pick up Foer's emotional second novel. This story of a vulnerable young boy, Oskar, who is mourning the death of his father in the 9/11 attacks, is heartfelt and poignant.
James Wood's takedown of The Goldfinch in The New Yorker accused the novel of hewing too close to the tropes of children's literature, with the quaint basement shop in the West Village and the Hagrid-like figure of Hobie being the worst offenders. These elements just added to the novel's charm for me, and recalled childhood favorites like Nesbit's Five Children and It—highly recommended for readers of any age who don't mind a little magic in their literature.
Was the art underworld drama what kept the pages turning? If so, don't miss Theft: A Love Story, the 2006 tale of a formerly famous artist who gets caught up in a scheme to produce fake expressionist paintings. As you'd expect from a two-time Booker winner, Carey is a top-notch writer, and his first-hand experience with the New York art scene provides a satire as authentic as a reader could hope for.
Readers who thrilled to the backstory of Fabritius and Amsterdam's Golden Age should pick up The Miniaturist, Burton's meticulously detailed first novel set in 1689 Amsterdam, where a newlywed country girl must negotiate the secrets of her new family—and of the city's high society. Though the mystery element is a bit flawed, Burton's writing chops—especially when it comes to her depiction of Amsterdam itself—are strongly evident.
The permanence of art vs. the impermanence of human life is one of the strongest themes in Tartt's book—and it's also the focus of the fourth novel from Canadian writer Mandel, Station Eleven. Years after a devastating flu decimates the population, a young woman is on the deserted roads with a traveling theatre troupe, performing Shakespeare plays and playing music. Her talisman is a one-of-a-kind graphic novel that she guards carefully.
If the "bromance" between Theo and his Eastern European best friend, Boris, was what got you hooked on The Goldfinch, we recommend the work of Andrew Smith, especially Grasshopper Jungle. Smith can hold his own with Tartt when it comes to teenaged-boy speak, and the BFFs in this book, Austin and Robby, are almost as debauched as Theo and Boris—and Austin is even Polish.
What do you think, readers? What would you suggest reading after The Goldfinch?
RELATED CONTENT: Read our previous "Read it Next" posts.
Peter Carey, one of the few authors to win the Booker Prize twice, returns next year with a new novel. Amnesia (Knopf) will be published on January 13.
The story follows an Australian journalist who is investigating a link between the U.S. and Australian prison systems that was revealed when a computer virus allowed the release of not only several thousand Australian asylum-seekers, but also opened the doors of some five thousand U.S. prisons. Did the attacker do it for the lulz, or is this a case of hacktivism?
Carey's British editor calls the book "a thrilling and witty journey to the place where the cyber underworld of radicals and hackers collides with international power politics" that "could not be more timely."
Will you read it?
Anita Diamant is known for her thought-provoking novels about women's lives, from Biblical times (as in her 1997 bestseller The Red Tent) to the present day (2005's The Last Days of Dogtown). She's returning this December with her first novel in five years, The Boston Girl (Scribner).
The novel tells the story of Addie Baum, born in 1900 to Jewish parents who have recently arrived in Boston. Though the Baums came to America to get a better life for their three daughters, the precocious Addie's world is almost unrecognizable to them. Told in the voice of the 85-year-old Addie, who is looking back on her life, The Boston Girl becomes the story of the 20th century and the ever-changing roles of women within it.
Will you read it?
RELATED CONTENT: Don't miss our previous coverage of Anita Diamant.
First Fiction Month may be winding down, but not to worry—there are plenty of new voices to look forward to this fall. Here's a sneak peek at some of our most anticipated debuts for next season.
We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas (S&S). Thomas sold his debut for a startling $1 million—not a bad payday for an English teacher. It's the story of an Irish-American family chasing the American dream across three generations that's already being compared to The Corrections. Worthy? We'll find out.
A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride (Coffee House Press). Published in the Commonwealth last year, this first novel is a challenging stream-of-consciouness narrative, told from the perspective of a young girl, that proved a tough sell: McBride spent most of a decade shopping it around before finding a home with a small press. But its vital, visceral voice—one UK reviewer called the book "an instant classic"—earned it the Bailey's Prize for Women's Fiction for 2014. Will it be equally lauded by American critics?
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (Norton). Set in the rigid society of 17th-century Amsterdam, this jewel box of a debut follows a young wife after her marriage to a wealthy merchant. But when her new husband gives her gives her a miniature replica of their home, strange things start happening . . .
Fives and Twenty-Fives by Michael Pitre (Bloomsbury). Though many novels have come from the Iraq War, Pitre's stands out as one of the first to include the Iraqi perspective as well as that of the occupying forces, demonstrating once again that despite appearances, there are no winners when it comes to conflict.
The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith (Harper). Smith's heart-rending debut takes Revolutionary-era North Carolina as its setting, where three generations of women and the men they love contend with a very imperfect world. Smith excels at depicting not only how characters from this time lived, but how they thought, how they view the world through the lens of religion and myth.
How to Build a Girl by Catlin Moran (Harper). Humorist, feminist and pop culture icon Catlin Moran wades into the waters of fiction with her debut, a semi-autobiographical look at a young girl's coming-of-age in the Midlands in the 1980s.
Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville (Riverhead). Fairy tales and psychoanalysis combine in this darkly compelling, magical debut that follows twin storylines: one about a girl in 1899 Vienna who is certain she is a machine, and the other about another child living 40 years later who clings to the stories of the Grimm brothers to shut out the approach of war.
The Ploughmen by Kim Zupan (Holt). A 77-year-old hired gun awaiting trial strikes up an unlikely friendship with a lawman just starting out in Zupan's haunting Western, set in the author's native Montana.
Crooked River by Valerie Geary (Morrow). Fans of writers like Tana French and Laura McHugh will enjoy Geary's atmospheric first novel, set in the Pacific Northwest. Two young girls find a body in the river, and their father is the prime suspect in the murder. Can they prove his innocence?
If I Knew You Were This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go by Judy Chicurel (Amy Einhorn). Composed of linked short stories, this first novel follows a young woman's coming of age in the 1970s and should please fans of Cowboys Are My Weakness or The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing.
What debuts are you looking forward to this year? Tell us in the comments!
Today's guest post comes from writer Shelly King, whose first novel, The Moment of Everything, goes on sale next week. It's set in a used bookstore, where former Silicone Valley employee Maggie has found part-time work after the failure of the tech startup she was working for. When Maggie finds a lovers' conversation written in the margins of a used copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover, she embarks on a quest to discover who they were—and what happened to their romance.
In a guest post, King—who moved to California from the South and once worked for a Silicon Valley startup herself—explains the mystery of found objects and shares some of her favorite found objects in literature.
I was 15 the first time I found a letter in a used book. I was in Montana visiting family and had wandered into a used bookstore. There I found Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters. I hadn’t read Hemingway yet, but I knew he was an important writer and that he’d spent a lot of time in Africa. I opened the front flap and saw it was covered in writing. It was the letter from a father to a young boy.
The details are fuzzy, but I remember the father was traveling in Africa. I thought it was nice that he was sending his son a book about another man who had been to Africa. He missed his son. He signed the letter “Papa.” I fell in love with this letter. But I didn’t buy the book. I didn’t have much money, so I left it behind. But that letter stayed with me. I thought of it for days, wishing that I’d bought that book, not for the letters of Hemingway, but for that letter written in the book. I finally told my mother about it, and she took me back to the bookstore. But the book was gone.
About 15 years after I first found that letter from the father in Africa, I was in Seattle at another used bookstore where I saw a copy of Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters. I smiled thinking of that other copy I found years ago in Montana. I opened up the front flap, and there it was—the handwritten letter from a father traveling in Africa to his son. Only this time I was more familiar with Hemingway, whom I now knew was also known as Papa. And this time, I noticed the letter was dated decades before this book was published. When I looked closer, I realized the letter wasn’t written in the book. It was a reproduction of a Hemingway letter that decorated the inside flap.
Even though the letter was not what I thought it was, I’m grateful for my misunderstanding. It started a lifelong search for treasures of the past in old books. Over the years, I’ve found drawings, letters, postcards, ticket stubs, restaurant receipts, photographs, recipes, and inscriptions. The people who owned these books before left a bit of their lives in them. I love not just the story the author intended but also the story of the book itself.
My favorite novels (and one play!) that have someone discovering something in a book:
Magic and reality combine in award-winning short-story writer Josh Weil's first novel, The Great Glass Sea. Set in an alternate present-day Russia where a city is kept under the titular glass greenhouse in a world of perpetual daylight in order to maximize crop production, it follows twin brothers Yarik and Dima. Once inseparable, the brothers are now on opposite sides of a controversy: Yarik is working to support the government that placed the citizens of Petroplavilsk under the sea, while Dima dreams of a return to their childhood farm and the freedom of a day where the sun rises and sets. When circumstances force the brothers even further apart, they must decide just how much family means.
Click here to read our full review.