The People in the Trees was one of the most celebrated and imaginative debuts of 2013. Now author (and former editor) Hanya Yanagihara has put her creative talents to work in a twist on the small-town friends trying to make it in NYC story: A Little Life, which will be published by Knopf on March 10. The publisher says, "Yanagihara has fashioned a tragic and transcendent hymn to brotherly love, a masterful depiction of heartbreak, and a dark examination of the tyranny of memory and the limits of human endurance."
Were you a People in the Trees fan? Will you read this one?
Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison (Beloved, Home, A Mercy) will publish her 11th novel, God Help the Child, in late April 2015 with Knopf. The novel focuses on the painful relationship between Sweetness and her daughter, Bride. Sweetness, a light-skinned black woman, pushes her daughter away because of her deep black skin. Yet, despite Sweetness' refusal to accept her, the resilient, confident Bride thrives.
No doubt, Morrison will stay true to the themes of femininity and race that she has so beautifully and masterfully handled in past novels. Are you looking forward to the latest from this literary giant?
Taisy Cleary and her twin brother, Marcus, haven't seen much of their father since he left the family when they were toddlers. Now, Wilson Cleary wants Taisy back in his life: He's writing a memoir, and needs her help. Taisy's reluctant visit also means meeting her teenaged half-sister for the first time.
That's the setup for Marisa de los Santos' new novel, The Precious One, coming from Morrow on March 24. De los Santos is an insightful writer when it comes to releationships, and the estranged father/stepsister one should provide plenty of drama. Willl you look for it in March?
"The question that will burn in a reader’s mind when she finishes Some Luck, Jane Smiley’s marvelous new novel, is: How long do I have to wait to read the second volume in The Last Hundred Years trilogy?" So began our October interview with Smiley. Well, now we have the answer: Knopf plans to publish Early Warning on May 5, 2015.
No details about the book have been released, but it seems a safe assumption that it will cover the next 33 years of the lives of the Langdon family, bringing them from 1953 up through 1986.
Definitely looking forward to this one—how about you?
Well, 2015 just became a much bigger year for fiction: Jonathan Franzen will be publishing a new novel, Purity, in September.
Like The Corrections, Purity is a multigenerational family story. Unlike The Corrections, it has a "kind of fabulist quality," according to FSG president and publisher Jonathan Galassi. Main character Purity Tyler—also known as Pip—is on a quest to find her father that takes her from the contemporary US to South America to East Germany.
Critics were occasionally harsh when it came to Franzen's portrayal of Patty, the female lead in Freedom, so it will be interesting to see what he does with a novel with a single female main character (although it appears Pip's relationship with a "hacker and whistleblower" also plays a major role in the story).
It's the rare writer who can consistently release quality work over a 50-year span—but with the February 2015 publication of A Spool of Thread, Anne Tyler joins those ranks. The 73-year-old Baltimore author's first novel, If Morning Ever Comes, appeared in 1964.
A Spool of Blue Thread focuses on the Whitshank family, led by Abby and Red, a long-married couple whose story of the day they fell in love has become legendary. But now their four children are wondering whether—and how—Abby and Red can continue to live alone in the home that Red's father built as they enter their 80s.
Tyler hasn't lost her knowing eye—she explores the inner workings of this family with sensitivity and wit, providing a tender portrayal of what it means to age and the dynamics among children and the distinct relationships they each have with their parents.
Any Anne Tyler fans out there looking forward to this one?
In her 35th novel, best-selling science fiction and fantasy author Tepper brings back two of her favorite characters for another adventure. Abasio the Dyer (first seen in A Plague of Angels) and his wife, Xulai, are on a trip with a mission: to warn the residents of Tingawa of a literal sea change heading their way. The waters are rising, and people must adapt to a sea-dwelling lifestyle. Not exactly the most welcome of messages, as they discover . . .
Though they had been on this journey for almost a year now, their reception from place to place had been so varied that they had been unable to settle on a routine. Words and phrases that were acceptable in one village turned out to be fighting words in the next place, even though they tried to avoid any fighting at all. If hostility seemed imminent, they had the means to leave, and they did leave: horses, wagon, and all. Essentially they had three duties: first to explain that the world was being drowned; second to let people know about the sea-children. Third: to survive!
What are you reading this week?
Author Sarah Kennedy set her thrilling new series during one of the most intriguing eras of British history—the Tudor era. It stars an "everywoman," Catherine, a former nun who has lost her vocation due to Henry's shift from Catholicsm to Anglicism. More than 400 years after this dynasty died out, why do they continue to fascinate? In a guest blog post, Kennedy—who holds a PhD in Renaissance poetry—explores this idea.
Guest post by Sarah Kennedy
Henry VIII. Anne Boleyn. “Bloody Mary” Tudor. Queen Elizabeth I. Shakespeare. Who doesn’t love the Tudors? Or love to hate the Tudors? Lust, power, betrayal, the church, the state—they embody it all. The Tudor era still looms large in our imaginations, from The Other Boleyn Girl and Wolf Hall to Shakespeare in Love and Anonymous. We love to follow the intrigues, romances and betrayals of these glamorous historical figures. But why?
Henry VIII’s six wives have always intrigued us, partly because there were so many of them and partly because each woman was different and had her own impact on the politics and religion of the time. How many times have we watched Anne Boleyn win the king then lose her head? We know what has to happen, but those of us who admire her pluck and daring are usually hoping, somewhere deep inside, that she’ll make it this time, that she’ll have that son or that she’ll somehow escape to the countryside with her daughter. Those who favor Katherine of Aragon see her as the tragic heroine who led her people into battle and tried valiantly to be a successful queen over a foreign country—and with a husband who grew to despise her. Jane Seymour, of course, died providing the desired heir, who didn’t live to be an adult, and she was followed by poor Anne of Cleves, destined to be known as the “mare of Flanders” because the king found her unattractive. Catherine Howard, the girl-queen who clearly didn’t know what she was getting herself into, was summarily executed for misbehavior that the court seemed to wink at, and Catherine Parr, that strong-minded widow, managed to survive by playing to the aging king’s ego.
It’s the very stuff of drama—human personalities clashing and contending while the country reels from one religion to another. The royal characters of the Tudor era are both larger than life and real. They fight and they kill and they lie . . . and they love and dedicate themselves fiercely to their beliefs and their families.
And then there is the second generation: Edward the son, who suddenly falls ill in his teens and tries to “give” the crown to the tragic Jane Grey. The outcast older daughter, Mary Tudor, or “Bloody Mary,” was the first real queen regnant in England, and her half-sister Elizabeth ruled over the island’s “golden age”—but refused ever to marry.
The Tudor era was a time of massive change in Europe, but the family didn’t last long, which is another reason we go back to them. The 16th century in England is dominated by Tudors, but after Elizabeth’s death in 1603, they’re gone. In a hundred years, everything has changed, and the Tudors almost immediately become the family of legend. Henry’s break from Rome caused an upheaval in his country that rocked the very foundations of everyday life: the Church. Like us, people in Tudor England struggled with fundamental questions of belief and authority. What is the right relationship between religion and politics? What moral authority does the king have? What moral responsibility do people have to follow a leader they see as ungodly?
My first novel, The Altarpiece, tried to provide some possible answers, and the Cross and the Crown series follows a young woman who tries to make sense of her world and her God as she navigates the tricky waters of the Tudor court. Catherine Havens is a kind of everywoman. Like us, she wants to follow her conscience . . . and she wants to live a “good” life. And like us, she is trying to figure out what that life might . . . or must . . . or can be. Will her own intelligence be her guide? Or will she follow the dictates of her king?
It’s a question we all still ask ourselves, and the Tudor era continues to offer a dramatic stage on which writers, filmmakers, and playwrights can play out these human spectacles. I also wanted to consider the particular problems for women, who were seen as inferior to men—but who governed and taught and led both king and country. My Catherine is strong-willed and educated: a true Renaissance woman. But she is still a woman, who must take care not to seem smarter than the men close to the king—or than the king himself.
Why the Tudors? They are close enough to us to show us versions of ourselves, but also far enough away in time that the picture comes more sharply into focus. We know what they should do, but we also know what they will do, and our pleasure come both from hoping that things will go better this time around and watching the tragedies and triumphs play out as we know they must. And when we close the book or turn off the film, we’ve learned more about our past—and more about ourselves here in the present day.
Thanks, Sarah! The second book in the Cross and the Crown series, City of Ladies, goes on sale today (BAM | B & N | Indiebound | Amazon) and the third book will be published in 2015. Find out more on her website.
So, Gone Girl (or The Goldfinch, or Wild) was a hit with your book club, and you're looking for more books like it. Our Read it Next posts are here to help! Click on the jacket of your latest great read to find suggestions that will make you a star at your next meeting:
In honor of National Reading Group Month, we asked best-selling author Chris Bohjalian to share a story from his many book club visits. What we got was certainly unexpected—and a heartfelt tribute to the indomitable spirit of readers!
By Chris Bohjalian
It was 13 years ago this autumn that I vomited in front of a lovely reading group from Illinois. When I’m with a book club, I hold nothing back.
It was a Friday afternoon and I was on my third plane of the day, this one a Dash 8 turboprop from Denver to Steamboat Springs. The next day I was joining Jacquelyn Mitchard, Andre Dubus III and Sena Jeter Naslund for the Bud Werner Memorial Library’s annual Literary Sojourn, an all-day celebration of what words and reading and books can mean to the soul. It’s a terrific event and lots of book clubs make a pilgrimage there—including, that year, one from Illinois that was on the Dash 8 turboprop with me.
Now, I really don’t mind the Dash 8. But that day I had been traveling since about six in the morning in Vermont, where I live, and there was the usual Rocky Mountain clear air turbulence. I was on my third flight of the day. The book group on the airplane recognized me instantly as one of the authors they were coming to hear, despite the fact that soon after takeoff my skin was airsickness green. And so we chatted and I sipped a Diet Coke and set the air vent above me on “wind tunnel.” Surreptitiously I kept reaching into the seat pocket, trying to find an airsickness bag amidst the magazines and Sky Mall catalogues. Somehow I had two of each, but no airsickness bag.
The group was, like most groups, all women. We talked about books as we flew to Steamboat Springs, and the unforgettable brilliance of the first sentence of Sena’s new book, Ahab’s Wife: “Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last.” We discussed the heart that fills all of Jacquelyn’s work. And we shared the page-turning dread we had all experienced as we read Andre’s House of Sand and Fog.
At some point I reached into the pocket of the seat beside me for an airsickness bag. There wasn’t one there, either.
Looking back, I really thought I was going to make it to Steamboat Springs with my dignity intact. I fly a lot and it’s rare for me to feel like I’m going to lose my lunch. I was sure I could remain in this book group’s eyes an author they found charming and open, the sort who didn’t vomit on Dash 8 turboprops. This is called hubris—and, in hindsight, naïvete.
It was on our initial descent that we hit the bump that finally did me in. Now, I did feel it coming. And so without an airsickness bag handy, I showed an instinctive skill with origami I hadn’t known existed somewhere deep inside me: I ripped a few pages from one of the catalogs in my seat pocket, twirled them into a snow cone, and folded the bottom into a seal. Yup, somewhere around 15,000 feet in the air, I created a snow cone of vomit.
"I was sure I could remain an author they found charming and open, the sort who didn’t vomit on Dash 8 turboprops. This is called hubris—and, in hindsight, naïvete."
Now, here is why I am sharing this story with you. The woman in the book group beside me actually offered to hold my handmade Sky Mall biohazard so I could wipe my mouth and rinse with the last of my Diet Coke. So did the woman behind me. That’s support. That’s kindness. That’s the sort of heroism that is way above any reader’s pay grade.
But people in book groups are like that. I’ve been talking to book groups via speakerphone (and now Skype) since January 1999. I began because one of my events on The Law of Similars book tour was snowed out, and a reading group that was planning to attend contacted me with questions. (A lot of questions, actually.) And so we chatted via speakerphone. These days, I Skype with three to six groups a week. Some weeks I have done as many as 12.
I do it for a lot of reasons. I do it as a way of thanking these readers for their faith in my work. I do it because it helps me understand what makes my novels succeed aesthetically—and, yes, what makes them fail. (Most book group readers share with me exactly what they think of a story.) I do it because it is one small way I can help the novel—a largely solitary pleasure—remain relevant in an increasingly social age.
And, yes, I do it because once upon a time a book club member offered to hold my snow cone of vomit on a Dash 8.
Chris Bohjalian’s most recent novel, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, was published this summer. If you would like him to join your book group via Skype or speakerphone, simply visit his Reading Group Center.
author photo by Aaron Spagnolo