“I’m of two minds,” we say. Or, “I changed my mind.” These phrases roll casually off the tongue, but we don’t mean them literally. Maybe we should, according to two new books that explore the fascinating history and tantalizing future of neuroscience.
Gayle Forman, whose previous books include If I Stay and Just One Day, specializes not only in three-word titles but also in novels that combine emotional intensity with moral complexity. I Was Here opens with a gut-wrenching wallop as Cody relates the suicide email she received from her best friend, Meg.
“When you stopped trying to be one perfect person, you could be many.” A small-town Tennessee girl flourishes into a classic, yet never cliché, femme fatale in Rebecca Scherm’s provocative coming-of-age debut, Unbecoming.
It’s easy to forget that by the time he was 41, F. Scott Fitzgerald was washed up. His books were out of print, magazines weren’t interested in his stories and his monthly royalties were down to pocket change. In 1937, he went to Hollywood, where he struggled to make a living writing screenplays, barely staying one step ahead of his creditors. It is these lean years that Stewart O’Nan examines in his brilliant biographical novel West of Sunset.
Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran, with its intriguing and evocative title, was an international bestseller that fed Western readers’ appetite for learning about life under a fundamentalist regime. Her new book, The Republic of Imagination, bears some of the hallmarks of that success—literary criticism blended with personal history—but it flips the equation, offering an assessment of Nafisi’s adopted country (she became an American citizen in 2008) through the lens of her passion for literature.
Rebecca Makkai’s second novel, The Hundred-Year House, is an appealing mix of archival mystery, ghost story and historical novel. Told in reverse chronology, it unfolds as a kind of bookish scavenger hunt set in a former artist’s colony, uncovering clues and putting pieces of the fictional puzzle in place. I was able to catch up with Rebecca at Nashville’s Southern Festival of Books.
If the mark of a great author is not merely how much she incites the imaginations of readers but the extent to which she inspires fellow writers, then there can be no doubt that Jane Austen is the greatest author of them all. Just when you think the market for Austen spinoffs has reached capacity, a new book comes onto the scene that turns the genre on its head. Such is the case with First Impressions, Charlie Lovett’s delightful new novel.
North Carolina author Charlie Lovett has always had a passion for books and writers—his father was an English professor, and Lovett is an expert on the Victorian writer Lewis Carroll and a former antiquarian bookseller. His 2013 novel The Bookman’s Tale combined these interests to create a compelling story about a bookseller who uncovers a mystery in a used bookstore. In his latest novel, First Impressions, Lovett again combines antiquarian intrigue and a literary mystery—and this time, Jane Austen herself is at the center. We asked Lovett a few questions about books, collecting and, of course, Jane.
Fans of Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad novels have undoubtedly been eager to discover the protagonist of her fifth book, The Secret Place. The wait is over, and this time Detective Stephen Moran takes the spotlight in this clever, fast-paced mystery set at an all-girls Irish boarding school.
September is a big month for mysteries this year, both in terms of excellence and page count (close to 2,000 pages in the four books here—truly a reviewer’s marathon!). If ever there were a month deserving of four Top Picks, this is it.