Welcome to the 2015 Politics and Prose Holiday Newsletter. As we have in past years, we’ve tried to select the best—and most beautiful—recent books, fiction and nonfiction, to help you with gift-giving. It’s also traditional to emphasize how difficult making these choices has been—it’s not just a matter of so many books, but of so many truly wonderful books. This year there’s been an especially impressive outpouring of short fiction and memoirs, but you’ll find bookseller favorites on all subjects here. Enjoy!
Hanya Yanagihara, who made a wildly creative debut with The People in the Trees, beautifully navigates several perspectives in A Little Life (Doubleday, $30), narrating the lives of four men in New York City. A tight-knit crew in college, Malcolm, JB, Jude, and Willem stick together after graduation, and the story chronicles their lives, complete with the pivotal moments and festering secrets, both shared and hidden, over decades of friendship. Yanagihara supplies little in the way of concrete physical descriptions and straightforward timelines, instead devoting many pages to expertly paced exposition that delivers powerful emotional punches. Most of these focus on Jude, who is the novel’s fulcrum; the other characters are defined by their relationship with this extraordinarily complicated figure. Yet the group itself has a complex dynamic, and the story traces stubbornness, rivalry, anxiety, and outright fear. Jude, however, has an especially traumatic story, and his emotional and physical scars affect the entire group. Even as the men grow into middle age, their relationships continue to evolve, expanding, shrinking—even spiraling out of control.
Anthony Marra announced his presence a couple of years ago with his prize-winning debut novel set in war-ravaged Chechnya, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. His new book, The Tsar of Love and Techno (Hogarth, $25), returns readers to the former-Soviet region and the lives of people young and old whose experiences are marked by war, crime, and the devastating effects of a totalitarian regime. In Marra’s stories we meet an accomplished ballerina and her granddaughter, an artist who’s tasked with erasing disgraced people from official photographs, petty criminals, and myriad mothers, fathers, sons and daughters all trying to survive, first in the USSR, then in a Russia of chaos and nouveau riche. While each story is full and complete on its own, the links between them resonate in ingenious and surprising ways to create a tremendously satisfying whole.
Observing that we seldom read about a successful marriage in serious literature, Lauren Groff set about changing that. Though she’s confessed she’s no expert on marriage, despite being married herself, she’s birthed a brilliant monster of a novel with Fates and Furies (Riverhead, $27.95). At once a richly layered and inventive portrayal of a relationship, in all its passions and secrets, and a deep well of a tale about loyalty and love, Groff’s third novel lets us deep inside the psyches of Lotto and Mathilde. A story told in two halves, it gives the husband’s and wife’s perspectives separately. We watch as the characters develop, following them from their childhoods to their meeting, witnessing how they stay together and how they form their own identities both within and outside their marriage. With Groff’s trademark breathtaking backdrops— this time the plot unfolds in France, Florida, and New York City—and a colorful (sometimes even grotesque) supporting cast, this amazing novelist gives us her most important work yet. It’s been shortlisted for the National Book Award for a reason—and everybody should drop what they’re doing and read it.
The narrator in Viet Thanh Nguyen’s stunning debut novel, The Sympathizer (Grove, $26) is a double agent, working both sides in the closing days of the Vietnam War. A South Vietnamese Army officer educated in the West, he’s fluent in American English and culture and serves as the perfect guide for this story, noticing the hypocrisy and absurdity of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia. Later, called upon to be the technical advisor on a film reminiscent of Apocalypse Now, he vainly and hilariously tries to indicate the cultural stereotypes and the dehumanizing racism to the auteur director. When a friend back in Vietnam is threatened, he returns to his country and is forced to tell his long and complicated story—to his own great peril but the delight of readers of the novel.
Thirteen new stories and the contents of three previous books, The Visiting Privilege (Knopf, $30) is a stunning retrospective that shows Joy Williams as a fierce, uncompromising writer and an astute observer from the very first story, where a dying woman’s husband notes that the medication was dispensed “not for his wife but for her blood.” Deftly capturing the intimate impersonality of health care, Williams is equally unforgiving of America in general, where “having a gun was like having a pet or a child,” and where the wild west has become “many thousands of acres of grazing land with not a single creature grazing.” Then there’s Williams’s way with children. One boy envisions god as a magician who hypnotizes people like sheep so they’ll go calmly about their self-destruction. A little girl shows an aptitude for a career as a mortician. Many of these kids have lost a parent, some have stood by and watched—or even caused—deaths. They are wise—or at least startling—beyond their years. Meanwhile, the adults can’t seem to grow up. They have trouble making decisions. Their dogs meet bad ends after suffering canine versions of their owners’ neuroses. Even the “clouds aren’t as pretty as they use to be,” but people go on, looking for consolation, and settling for distraction with road trips, gin, and stories of “spectacular wrecks” they don’t realize they are part of.
Documenting life in crisp, haunting fractions of a second—the longest she can get it to
Hold Still (Little, Brown, $32), Sally Mann has photographed everything from birth—a camera attended her second daughter’s delivery—to death, with her unflinching series of decomposing human remains at the University of Tennessee’s “body farm.” In between Mann has been busy with love and family, parenthood’s joys and fears, matters of race, art, horses, and dogs. Her memoir is a rich collage of her own and her family’s photos, news clippings, report cards, suicide and other notes, artifacts that do more than merely illustrate her powerful narratives. Mann is a riveting storyteller with a novelist’s sense of pacing, and the fine artist’s deft handling of image and tone. She has a special affinity for place, especially Southern places, from which she coaxes the rare “moments of visual revelation.” No slouch as a portraitist, Mann lets a terrific empathy shine through both her words and her pictures; driven to find out what makes people who they are, she also reveals herself, and while you’ll find her a restless, inquiring, uncompromising woman, she claims only to be “a regular person doggedly making ordinary art.”
Since the publication last summer of his new book, Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau, $24), Ta-Nehisi Coates has been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship and the 2015 National Book Award for nonfiction. Toni Morrison has called him “the next James Baldwin.” And, to be sure, few writers have so quickly pricked the conscience of a nation, and done so with such fierce urgency. Written as a letter to his teenage son, the book is part memoir, part polemic, and mostly Coates’s deeply personal attempt to explain the racial divide in America in the context of history, politics, and his own experiences growing up in an African-American family in Baltimore, attending Howard University, and becoming a writer and journalist. Fear as a root of black anger is a major theme of the book, and Coates’s language is both poetic and painful. His anguish over the death of a college friend killed by police after being misidentified as a crime suspect is more than a cautionary tale. And in the end, whether you agree with Coates or not, the book and its message will stay with you long after you’ve turned the final page.
Veteran journalist Dale Russakoff is an exceptional reporter and writer, and both skills are on full display in her excellent book, The
Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools? (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27). First excerpted in The New Yorker, the book is a masterful exposition of how politics, money, and egos—along with entrenched interests and lofty intentions—collided in a highly-publicized attempt to fix the deteriorating public school system in Newark, New Jersey. Over four years of reporting, Russakoff was granted extraordinary access to the lead characters in the story: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie; then Newark Mayor (and now U.S. Senator) Cory Booker; and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who pledged $100 million to improve Newark’s schools. But the author also immersed herself in the schools, visiting classrooms, getting to know teachers, and following students, most of them low-income, as the unlikely trio of Christie, Booker, and Zuckerberg’s launched what became a hugely misguided effort to rescue public education in America by making Newark a national model of reform
In this graphic history of weather, Thunder
& Lightning (Random House, $35) are only the beginning. Weather can raise the dead, as floods following Hurricane Irene did in Vermont. Extreme cold accomplishes the same thing on the Svalbard Archipelago, gradually unearthing caskets. Lauren Redniss gives such phenomena the full attention and respect they deserve, conveying in words and hand-colored copperplate and photopolymer-process prints conditions ranging from chaos to rain to heat. As she did in her unforgettable treatment of Marie Curie, Radioactive, Redniss has carefully considered each detail of her book; she designed a new font, named after the Inuktitut for “falling snow.” She fills every page to the edges with colors and shapes, disregarding perspective as early naturalists did, intent on recording details for the sake of science. Often taking a counter-intuitive approach to her subject, Redniss discusses wind by entering the breathless crush of Mecca and by shadowing Diana Nyad across a turbulent Atlantic. She listens to Eucalyptus trees explode in the intense Australian wildfires and joins black kites diving into the crests of flames for insects. She also looks at what we’ve done with weather, from the cloud-seeding that made rain a weapon of mass destruction in the Vietnam War to the climate changes that are destabilizing permafrost. “For millennia people have found meaning and divinity in weather,”Redniss reminds us, and notes that before Gutenberg printed a bible, he produced an almanac, that “calendar of the heavens” that guides us through the Earthly storms.
To go beyond the call of duty—that depends on how you define “duty.” Consider this thought experiment: you see people drowning and can save either a relative or two strangers. What do you do? For most, the first impulse is to save the relative, but the utilitarian view would dictate helping the strangers; why save only one person when you can do twice as much good by saving two? Most of the issues of Strangers Drowning (Penguin Press, $27.95) spiral out from this scenario. Is altruism a matter of emotion or of logic? Is rescue the same as saving? Are humanitarian NGOs just colonialism in another guise? And when have you done enough, if suffering continues? In detailed and compelling narratives that make the moral questions immediate, Larissa MacFarquhar profiles people variously called saints, heroes, or obsessive-compulsives. A couple feels their calling is to save unwanted children—and end up with a family of twenty-two. Driven to eliminate as much sheer suffering as possible, a man advocates on behalf of the millions of agri-business chickens. Another couple, realizing that a few dollars buys a mosquito net, gradually donates every expendable dime to charities, equating buying a soda for themselves to committing a murder. The size of donations, of course, depends on the donor’s income—a woman deliberates whether it’s moral to stay in a low-paying position she loves, if a more lucrative career allows her to give away more money. And if these “do-gooders” never really change the world, does that negate the improvements they make, or render “selfish” the satisfaction—even the exhilaration—they feel in trying? Contributors to this section include Laurie Greer, Mark LaFramboise Lissa Muscatine, Angela Maria Spring, and Justin Stephani
Around the World in Five Fictions The Scapegoat (Melville House, $24.95), by Sophia Nikolaidou, is a gem of a novel by one of Greece’s finest contemporary writers. It begins with events surrounding the murder in 1948 of American journalist George Polk in Greece and the false conviction of a local journalist who confesses to the crime only after being tortured by Greek authorities. Told through the eyes of several generations of Greeks who are connected directly or tangentially to the murder, Nikolaidou’s narrative explores the often murky relationship between individuals and the state and draws uncanny parallels between postwar Greece and Greece today. The author’s story-telling is probing, sophisticated, at times humorous, and deeply humane. And the translation from Greek to English by Karen Emmerich is superb. Lissa Muscatine
With a journalist’s respect for facts and a novelist’s imagination, Geraldine Brooks has proven herself a master of historical fiction. She won the Pulitzer for March, her character study of the father in Alcott’s Little Women, and has vividly evoked the early United States in Caleb’s Crossing and told the story of the Sarajevo Haggadah in People of the Book. In her fifth novel, The Secret Chord (Viking, $27.95), Brooks takes the charismatic David of legend and gives us the flawed, contradictory man: this is David as viewed by the central figures in his life, including his wives, children, generals, and his greatest rival and friend, Jonathan. But the pivotal voice here is that of Nathan, who may in fact have chronicled the actual David. Though any Book of Nathan has long been lost, Brooks masterfully recreates what it might have told us. In the process she complicates received images of her subject, juxtaposing his violent acts with his capacity for benevolence, his artistic temperament with his ruthlessness. She also expands on the roles women played in his life, and delves into his emotional response to Jonathan’s death. Finally, Brooks underscores the significance of these ancient figures by following her compelling narrative with a personal note about what prompted her to write this novel in the first place. David Cohen
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Call me David. Well, no, don’t. That would out me as a literary thief, like Oliver Otway Orme, the protagonist of John Banville’s new novel, The Blue Guitar (Knopf, $25.95). A renowned purloiner of literature himself—Banville steals his title from Wallace Stevens’s poem “The Man with the Blue Guitar,” and the opening line, “Call me Autolycus,” at once borrows from Moby-Dick and Greek mythology—the Man-Bookerwinning novelist crafts a Joycean story about typical characters doing ordinary things—things like stealing. But when Orme takes works of art, he does it not for resale value but simply to see his act get noticed. He also steals his best friend’s wife, much as if she, too, were a museum piece. Along with Banville, Orme also enjoys the art of alliteration: “The objects, the artefacts, that I purloin—there is a nice word, prim and pursed,” or pounding the drumbeat of repetition: “The past, the past. It was the past that brought me back here, for here…here it is forever the past.” Banville’s Orme is much like Autolycus, whose knack for stealing was put to the test when he made off with the helmet Odysseus uses to make himself invisible. And, like the blue guitarist, Orme tries desperately to change things as they are. Alas, he can’t. Orme remains invisible, a thief unrevealed. For Banville, all this is an opportunity to do what he does best—indulge his love of language, and show off his unparalleled skill as not just a wordsmith, but a word wizard. David B. Johnson
Best of Britain When a writer takes on the challenge of creating a work in the image of the Bard himself, she faces some mighty high hurdles. But the wonderfully talented Jeanette Winterson, OBE, who won the Whitbread Award for her first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, more than rises to the occasion with this engrossing retelling of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. With The Gap of Time (Hogarth, $25), Winterson lets Shakespeare’s characters loose in the modern world and spins them into a tumble of events that leads to the sundering of a deep friendship and marriage, and splinters the lives of three families. But the tale also includes a lost-and-found child who is destined to reunite them all. Winterson’s novel inaugurates Hogarth Press’s new series of contemporary retellings of Shakespeare’s works, and if this volume is an indication of what’s to come, the project will be a great success. Winterson layers her story in tight, controlled prose and we follow each character with an unflagging urgency right to the end—when the various plotlines come together with a satisfying crash. The Gap of Time is simply a delight. Angela Maria Spring
Wind/Pinball (Knopf, $25.95) pairs the first two novels Haruki Murakami wrote; Hear the Wind Sing dates from 1979, Pinball, 1973 from 1980. Early works as they are, these novellas show many of the hallmarks readers have come to associate with this beguiling Japanese writer: the arctic beauty of loneliness, the camaraderie of outcasts, sex and loss, and Murakami’s signature evocation of listlessness and pointed longing, all of which testify to the singular intensity of this artist’s literary imagination. Yet these are unmistakably first novels. Hear the Wind Sing is a cryptic work, but one enhanced by what it reflects of its writer’s unique metaphorical mind in the raw. Pinball, 1973 features a typical Murakami narrator—a character obsessed with an unspecific but sharp yearning—perhaps a yearning to have something to yearn for. In most Murakami novels, such a figure would undertake a spiritual journey to some sort of resolution, but this piece is more nihilistic. Seasoned fans will be fascinated to see Murakami the writer slowly emerge from Murakami the dreamer, right before their eyes. For those who have been reluctant to approach Murakami’s surreal magical realism, this neat little volume is the perfect entrance to an incomparable world. Jason Y. Lee
The year is 1926, and the students at St. Stephen’s Academy, a boys’ boarding school in the north of England, are subject to the many cruelties of the English Public School system of the time: caning, the “fag” system, whereby younger boys serve older ones and suffer their abuse, and rugby. But before you think victimization à la David Copperfield, meet seventeenyear-old Morgan Wilberforce, the protagonist of H.S. Cross’s excellent debut novel, Wilberforce (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27). Though he mourns the recent death of his mother, suffers abuse from his “fagmaster,” has unrequited yearnings for a boy a year ahead of him, and earns the dislike and suspicion of the headmaster and many of his teachers, Morgan gives as good as he gets. When we meet him, he has injured his shoulder by hurling himself at Spaulding, the object of his affections, during a rugby match, and the drama builds from there. The school is in turmoil following a rebellion of the younger boys, and even the Masters struggle to keep their own emotions at bay while trying to maintain control of the school. In Wilberforce, H.S. Cross has created a world in which the raw pain and pleasure of adolescence combine to heightened, highly charged, and sometimes hilarious effect. Anne Tilghman
Great Stories Adam Johnson follows-up his Pulitzerwinning second novel, The Orphan Master’s Son, with this collection of rich, expansive stories. Winning this year’s National Book Award for fiction, Fortune Smiles (Random House, $27) showcases Johnson’s craft and emotional reach. “Nirvana” portrays a programmer whose wife is suffering from a severe auto-immune disease. The woman finds solace in the unlikely pairing of a digital simulacrum of the President of the United States and a soundtrack of Nirvana music. This sounds like a writing prompt: who can turn these plot elements into a compelling statement about adulthood, suffering, pop culture, and technology? Well, the answer is right here. In “George Orwell Was a Friend of Mine,” a former sswarden of a Stasi prison denies many details about his past, even as irrefutable evidence surfaces; the warden’s ostensibly innocent revisionism makes him the most fascinating character here. And in the title story, Johnson returns to Korea, scene of Orphan Master’s Son, chronicling the efforts of two North Korean defectors to adjust to their new lives in Seoul. From the range of his subjects to the depth of his treatment of complex themes, Johnson’s mastery makes each story distinct and unforgettable. Justin Stephani
Any short-story aficionado would be instantly drawn to a collection featuring writers of the caliber of Lorrie Moore and Heidi Pitlor as editors, and 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30), a hefty centennial celebration of the longtime Best American Short Stories series, presents an unparalleled cross-section of work written over the past century and gathered from throughout the country—and there’s a gorgeous cover, to boot. You’ll get a kick out of Moore’s characteristic wry humor and acerbic wisdom in her introduction. And for those of you who loved The Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike, fear not: Moore and Pitlor have not repeated earlier selections. These stories are arranged chronologically, and every decade comes with a brief introduction that reacquaints readers with the stories’ wider socio-cultural significance and grounds them firmly in their historical moment. The commentary draws our attention, too, to the rise and fall of the literary journals that fostered many of the writers represented here and provided first homes for the works we reprint, reread, and revere today. This collection is a must-have for short story lovers and aspiring writers. Here, you’ll find the masters. Ah-reum Han
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Almost fifty years after publishing the landmark collection In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, William H. Gass returns to short fiction with Eyes (Knopf, $26), his follow-up to Middle C, recent recipient of the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ William Dean Howells Medal for most distinguished American novel of the past five years. In Eyes Gass returns to storytelling with his old word-drunk power, and the collection features not only some of his most beautiful work, but a cautious optimism that has often been in short supply for this writer. As delightfully fanciful as the four concluding short stories are—in which Gass gives voice to a piano, a chair, and a boy’s box of toys—the collection earns its place on your crowded shelf with its two opening novellas alone. “In Camera” relates the life and death of a photographic print shop, seen from the off-kilter perspective of its proprietor’s Igor-like assistant. “Charity” refracts its title through its protagonist’s short lifetime of experiences, seeing charity as much in a lover’s embrace as in a canned food drive. Few writers can match Gass for richness of prose, and here we have some of his most poignant material—stories that see language and art as eyes that create the physical world around us. Jonathan Woollen
A woman visits a zoo and feels “caged by the shut cages.” A girl considers her “daydreaming sharp as a crime.” And as a matriarch turns eighty-nine, her son cuts the cake “as though the first shovelful of dirt had been dug.” Welcome to the startling, kaleidoscopic, and thoroughly mesmerizing world of Clarice Lispector, where more than a “superficial attention” can break something. The Complete Stories (New Directions, $28.95) offers eighty-five unique “state[s] of feeling” as Lispector views life from deep within the passions of women, men, girls, boys, and even a chicken. There’s no such thing as a truly objective, omniscient narrator here; even in the stories related in the third person, the perspective is firmly grounded in one psyche—the nearest we come to an outside view is seeing how social rules and conventions exert pressure on individual subjectivities. Often uncertain how they should behave, what they should want, what they dare express, these characters parse their every emotion and physical sensation. From the Proustian anatomy of waking in the early “The Triumph,” through the diligent wives who, “having no other resources…[are] reduced to profundity,” to the woman out to ruin the reputation of God, Lispector’s charged prose delivers frissons of the surreal while never losing track of the real, conveying, often with a startling humor, the full “danger of living.” Laurie Greer
Nobel Laureates The world of Patrick Modiano is one of loss and displacement. So
You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24) explores these themes in a slim 155 pages—taking us into the jogged memory of Daragane, a loner and lifelong resident of Paris. The novel begins with a telephone call. Gilles Ottolini has recovered Daragane’s misplaced address book, in which he notices a name that also appears in Daragane’s first novel. But Daragane cannot remember the name, or his first novel. When he reads a densely-written dossier compiled by Ottolini, however, he discovers the murder of a distant acquaintance, and becomes immersed in long forgotten memories. As Daragane reads, he finds himself skipping sentences, enacting the selective and seemingly random way memory works. While this masterful novel has the lightness of a dream, it is deeply affecting, as vivid dreams often are. Focusing on abandonment— abandonment by one’s memory and the abandonment of loved ones—the book leads to a stunning and painful climax that calls into question the nature of identity itself. Amanda Holmes Duffy
With The Museum of Lost Innocence,
Orhan Pamuk took fiction one step further than usual by building an actual structure—open to the public—to house real objects his invented characters might have used. His eighth novel gains a similar richness by putting its fictional elements into the documentary trappings of timelines, family trees, and an index, as well as letting the characters interrupt the narrator to add and revise details, as in an oral history. The multi-layered A Strangeness in My Mind (Knopf, $28.95) starts as a fairytale love story that soon fractures and takes decades to resolve. The book is also an intimate love letter to Istanbul, charting events from the 1950s to the present. While Istanbul may be the main character, the focus is Mavlut Karsas, one of the many poor villagers who come to the big city to seek their fortune. If that means financial security, Mavlut never quite attains it, and after twenty years he feels “still a stranger” in Istanbul. But he works hard, loves his family, and likes to watch people and try to guess their stories. His own includes many set pieces of Turkish cultural history, including topics like matchmaking, headscarves, the role of street vendors in urban life, and the long saga of boza, an ancient drink Mavlut sells every winter, topping it with chickpeas and cinnamon, and holding the perennial debate over the extent of its alcohol content; such things stabilize both the characters and their city as they go through times of often turbulent change. Laurie Greer
No stranger to the future, Margaret Atwood has outlined different possibilities, from The Handmaid’s Tale to her recent Maddaddam trilogy. There’s hope for the world she envisions in The Heart Goes Last (Nan A. Talese, $26.95), which addresses its rampant unemployment and homelessness, if not the abusive surveillance, by inviting people to move to Consilience, a high-security gated community where residents, for promising never to leave, are guaranteed a home and a job for life. Two jobs, in fact: one in town and one in the Positron Project, aka prison, where they spend every other month. This allows two families to share each living space, gets work done that benefits the group, and weeds out undesirables. The Procedure (and a brisk trade in body parts) also takes care of the latter, a group defined solely by the CEO of this for-profit social experiment. As dystopian shadows creep across the relentlessly sunny community, one couple in particular is caught in more than they bargained for. Their marriage is first tested by old fashioned seduction, then by a Brain Intervention that wipes out one love object and imprints another, and finally by the wife’s willingness to perform The Procedure on her husband. Atwood’s novel is an unsettling yet often funny satire, mixed with a bawdy romp and traces of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Laurie Greer
There is another world separated from ours by a veil called Peristan or Fairyland, inhabited by nonhuman beings made of fireless smoke and smokeless fire known as jinn, who, from time to time, cross over to our world. At least, that’s what
Written with a ferocious energy that’s equal
Salman Rushdie tells us in his new novel Two Years Eight Months and TwentyEight Nights (Random House, $28). In the year
have evacuated—or should have. Nature is a
1195 Dunia the jinnia from Fairyland met Ibn Rushd, the philosopher in exile, fell in love, and had myriad half- human, half- jinn children. Some eight hundred years later, a great storm descends on our world and, as the slits between the worlds crack open, a strangeness begins—in the collision of the two worlds, a battle between light and dark starts. Dunia returns, enlisting her descendants to fight the dark jinn. With curses that date back centuries, dead philosophers who talk beyond the grave, a man who walks on air, a baby that identifies corruption with her mere presence, and that everlasting fight between good and evil, Rushdie masterfully combines magic realism, fantasy, science fiction, and mythology—all the while tackling immediate questions of faith and reason, philosophy and religion, love and humanity. Marija Dimitrijevski
Gold Fame Citrus (Riverhead, $27.95) that
to details both gritty (a lot of sand) and tender (love enduring no matter what), Claire
Vaye Watkins’s first novel starts as history hits
bottom. California is out of water. Its residents hollow shell of itself and even the dogs are “straw colored.” The shimmering promise of lured so many to the West has turned out to be a mirage. Late to join the exodus, Luz and Ray, a former child model and an army deserter, are surviving on “ration cola” and anything else they can find, while passing their days playing dress-up in a movie star’s abandoned mansion. Then they find a child, and as “be careful” enters their vocabulary, they head out to greener Seattle. But the challenges are immense, ranging from no gas for the car to deadly heat to government detention camps, conspiracy theorists, and sudden burial by the walking dune of “the desert sea.” To chart this odyssey, Watkins revises both the classic road trip as well as the usual immigrant story—Luz and Ray are American citizens but can’t cross state lines without papers, which Ray’s past makes impossible to get. As the novel follows this lost-and-found family into the desert, Watkins unleashes a virtuoso sequence of linear narratives, official documents, a cult leader’s bestiary, a Greek chorus of voices, and some of the most
stunning sentences in any genre. Laurie Greer
Welcome to Night Vale (Harper Perennial, $19.99)—the book! The many fans of the podcast will eagerly greet this literary incarnation, which is filled with familiar characters, places, references to the show— and even answers to some lingering questions about setting and backstory. Moreover, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor take care to orient newcomers and occasional Night Vale visitors. The story centers on two women: Jackie Fierro, nineteen-year-old pawn shop owner, and Diane Crayton, mother and PTA treasurer. Jackie’s predictable and routine life is thrown into confusion when a strange man in a tan jacket visits her shop. Meanwhile, Diane is tasked with caring for her shape-shifting son, but gets distracted when his estranged father starts showing up everywhere she goes, looking exactly as he did when he left years earlier. Each of these women has a separate story, but their lives are inextricably connected by two words: “King City.” Together, Fink and Cranor have an imagination like no other, and you’ll find it hard to put this eerie, dark, strange, and entertaining mystery. Rose Kiyler
It feels too limiting to call Three Moments
Did you know that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote parodies of his own famous detective? That authors like Neil Gaiman, Laurie R. King, P.G. Wodehouse, and Stephen King have spent much of their time devoted to the greatest detective of them all? For The Big Book of Sherlock
Holmes (Vintage, $25), Otto Penzler, proprietor of The Mysterious Book Shop in New York City, has tracked down eighty-three stories featuring Holmes, written by some of the world’s greatest mystery authors, including Doyle himself. Penzler, who has edited The Best American Mystery Stories series since 1997, has assembled fifteen Edgar Award winners, five Grand Masters of the Mystery Writers of America, and myriad card-carrying members of the Baker Street Irregulars; these are crack mystery writers, and a sterling set of Sherlockians. Hannah Oliver Depp
of an Explosion (Del Rey Books, $27), China Miéville’s collection of short stories, strange, weird, or genre-bending. This volume is strange indeed, but strangeness often lies where a reader least expects it. Some of Miéville’s worlds are quite the same as ours, and yet there is touch of eeriness, a sense of things being askew…At times, one is reminded that Miéville is also a horror writer, as some of the stories are unsettling and outright chilling. Miéville is an incredibly versatile stylist as well, and he employs different formats and lengths for his narratives, demonstrating that there are many ways to write, and therefore enjoy, a short story. His imagination is endless and vivid, and his ability to navigate and bend different genres is impressive. In a year already full of amazing anthologies and collections, Three Moments of an Explosion still stands out as one of the most ingenious and mind-bending offerings. Anton Bogomazov
Martin Walker presents yet another cunning mystery with the eighth book in his Bruno, Chief of Police series. The Patriarch (Knopf, $24.95) takes readers on a sensorial journey around France while also presenting an engaging police drama true to the Walker canon. In this installment, Bruno fulfills his boyhood dream when he attends a house party and meets World War II flying ace Marco “The Patriarch” Desaix. However, by the end of the celebration, Gilbert, Marco’s longtime friend, is killed in an accident. But Bruno is immediately suspicious, and launches an investigation, starting with the Desaix family, a confounding bunch, with whom Bruno develops the complicated relationships that drive the plot. Readers will be on the edge of their seats until the very end. Those familiar with Walker’s work can rest assured that the author again combines his expertise about post-World War II European politics with his understanding of current French issues to thoroughly engage readers in the mystery at hand. Rose Kiyler
With Avenue of Mysteries (Simon & Schuster, $28) John Irving introduces brother and sister Diego and Lupe, denizens of the massive garbage dump in Oaxaca, Mexico. Each sibling is remarkable—Lupe can intuit people’s thoughts and Diego, though uneducated, reads everything he can lay his hands on. Their childhood is recalled by the adult Diego as he travels in the Philippines, trying to fulfill a dying wish from an acquaintance of his youth. Avenue of Mysteries contains all the things we love about Irving’s writing: masterful storytelling, unforgettable characters, and a renewed sense of magic in everyday events. Mark LaFramboise
LET’S TALK BOOKS!
Jonathan Franzen’s Purity (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28) introduces Purity Tyler, known to all as Pip, an under-employed young woman with a staggering student-loan burden living with roommates in a house in Oakland. When she meets a group of German peace activists, her world is touched by the mysterious Andreas Wolf and his “Sunlight Project,” which promises to expose national and corporate treachery by releasing leaked data. Pip, who grew up as the child of a single mother, sees in Wolf not just a glamorous opportunity to make a difference in the world but also a way to identify her unknown father. Franzen’s story is filled with twists and turns and unforgettable characters; as always the author of The Corrections and Freedom takes on big subjects—such as privacy and identity—in smart and entertaining ways. Mark LaFramboise
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Endearingly hilarious and devastatingly human, Rick Moody’s new novel, Hotels of North America (Little, Brown, $25), will touch your heart as often as it will make you laugh. Reginald Edward Morse is a motivational speaker whose life is coming unglued when he takes on the pittance-paying role of online hotel reviewer. The novel is a compilation of those reviews, which not only take the reader from Iowa to Italy, but slowly reveal the man behind the incisive observations. Morse reflects on themes of love and loneliness—both in his own and in the lives of people he encounters on his prosaic journeys. He laments not only vermin-infested hotel rooms with inadequate ventilation; he ponders the plight of truck-stop prostitutes, night watchmen, and various surly managers. He also recalls the many accommodations where momentous occasions in his own life have occurred—the gothic campground where he stays with his first girlfriend; the opulent Vermont hotel where he meets a mistress; the flop house where he goes simply because it’s the cheapest, most convenient place near his estranged daughter; the Italian villa where he realizes that his marriage is collapsing, and the irritatingly quaint bed-andbreakfast where he first spends the night with the mysterious woman who becomes the love of his life. Heather Wood
It’s always exciting to be introduced to a novel by a debut author that leaves us breathless when we’re done reading it. Such was the case with Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire (Knopf, $30), a 900-page epic set in New York City in the mid1970s. The story centers on an unlikely cast of characters who at first seem only tangentially connected. But as the story unfolds, their lives become curiously entangled thanks to an unsolved shooting in Central Park. Hallberg, who once taught at the Beauvoir School in the District, is too young to have first-hand experience of the era about which he writes, but he has an innate, and uncanny, ability to convey the cultural nuances of the time. His characters include teenage punk rockers, the bored heirs to a family fortune, an aspiring young writer, and a detective and journalist trying to solve the murder. Throw in the blackout in New York City in the summer of 1977 and you end up with a story that is at once edgy, entertaining, and hugely humane. Lissa Muscatine
Mary Gaitskill’s sixth work of fiction is the coming-of-age story of Velvet, an eleven-year-old Dominican girl growing up too fast in New York City, where she battles her fearful, resentful mother for control. Then Velvet is accepted into the Fresh Air Fund program upstate. Her host, Ginger, is a woman with a broken past and a desperate desire to be a mother. As Velvet experiences a new world of race and class, she tries to reconcile her past with her present, feeling as if she has two lives, separated by mere miles. Velvet also tries to understand and train a difficult, neglected horse as she comes to understand herself. The Mare (Pantheon, $26.95) examines how early relationships form the way people love themselves and others, and how, for some, love is confused and shifting—at times warm and welcoming, at times hard and hurtful. As Velvet matures, she becomes what all young adults become: flawed, conflicted, hopeful, and searching for a place to call home. William Leggett
Politics & Poetry The 2015 National Book Award winner for poetry, Robin Coste Lewis’s stunning debut collection uses conventional forms, ingenious experimental structures (including a reinvention of English in the brilliant “Dog Talk”), history, and passion to explore the fraught image of the black woman in Western culture. Hold on tight for the Voyage of the Sable Venus (Knopf, $26). The vertiginous, capacious, and uncompromising title poem is a catalog of the descriptive names of artifacts representing black women. Starting at the dawn of time, the seventy-page sequence is as shape-shifting as the myriad pictures, textiles, tools, dolls, and musical instruments it presents. Variously distorting, romanticizing, and celebrating black women, these representations run from the simple “anonymous relic” to the startling “statuette of a woman reduced / to the shape of a Flat Paddle.” The work’s chronological progress tells an overlooked world history while the seemingly straightforward itemization belies Lewis’s artful selection and arrangement, even as the repetitions of our lady or female figure or girl build rhythms with the incantatory power of a chant. They haunt. And almost overwhelm the powerful personal poems that follow, and which remind us that family history can be the hardest kind of all.
In her tenth collection of poems, Joy Harjo, the indefatigable activist, musician, playwright, and first Native American to win the Academy of American Poets Wallace Stevens Award for “outstanding mastery in the art of poetry,” tells stories, chants legends, calls history to account, and guides the spirit back to its origins. Most of all, she sings. Harjo’s way, truth, and light, song animates and heals the world; “If you sing it will give your spirit lift to fly,” she reminds us. Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings (W.W. Norton, $26.95) is addressed to everyone. A book of profound spirituality that honors life in every form, it reminds us that “a spark of kindness made a light. / The light made an opening in the darkness,” and that we all partake of both. Grounded primarily in her ancestral Mvskoke heritage, Harjo also draws strength and inspiration from the iconic American musical traditions, jazz and the blues; between tales of trickster gods, Harjo checks in with “the lone horn player blowing ballads at the corners of our lives.” An accomplished saxophonist herself (with five albums of original music) Harjo joins him, and her “breath attempted to make the horn into a living being.” Ultimately, the lessons of Conflict Resolution are simple: love and respect the world. Understand that you have “helpers in seen and unseen realms./ Give them something to do.” Section by Laurie Greer
Books with Pictures
Do you know a history buff with a sense of humor? That person should already have a copy of Kate Beaton’s first book, Hark! A Vagrant! Now Beaton brings us Step Aside, Pops (Drawn and Quarterly, $19.95) with all new strips featuring The Black Prince, Ida B. Wells, Emperor Maximilian, racist suffragettes, and a highly disgruntled Wonder Woman. Beaton is a master of three-panel cartoons: her drawing is loose and expressive, and her humor as silly, surreal, and angry as ever. Anyone who can read Step Aside, Pops without laughing out loud at least eight times is more to be pitied than censured. Plus, most of her characters have crazy eyes—who doesn’t like crazy eyes? If you want to sit on the sofa and chortle until it’s time to catch the plane back home—you see the holidays rollin’ up, you Step Aside, Pops. (Spoiler alert: Pops doesn’t step aside; he gets run over by an insolent velocipedestrienne.) Leah Kenyon
Curator Julia Hacking—former head of the photography department at Sotheby’s, and now program director at the Sotheby’s Institute—has sifted primary and secondary sources to write the thirty-eight short, opinionated profiles in Lives of the Great Photographers (Thames & Hudson, $50). Each begins with a portrait (or self-portrait), and includes one or two representative images as well, beautifully printed on glossy paper. Familiar names are here—Arbus, Atget, Brassaï, Capa, Kertész, and Cameron—but so are names that are less well-known, and whose stories are no less intriguing: Madame Yevonde, Sh mei T matsu, Claude Cahun, Clementina Maude (Lady Hawarden), Gustave Le Gray, and Albert Renger-Patzsch. The biographies have a cumulative power: they are arranged alphabetically, and by leapfrogging decades, formal approaches, historical movements, and changing critical opinion, you can make your own connections between eras, yet also see the hard work of each individual finding his or her own style. To quote Roy DeCarava, from Hacking’s profile: “documentary photographer…people photographer, street photographer, jazz photographer, black photographer… there’s nothing wrong with any of those definitions. The only trouble is that I need all of them to define myself.” András Goldinger
World-renowned artist Andy Goldsworthy, OBE, has been creating sculptures from natural materials in natural conditions for more than three decades. Using only what he finds in nature—his “collaborator”—he sculpts artworks from earth, stones, leaves, flowers, icicles, pinecones, snow, twigs, or thorns, meticulously and intricately arranged, delicately placed and balanced, often incorporating the evanescent qualities of sunlight and shadow, and, intrinsically, the elemental forces that will effect their decay and disarrangement—wind, sun, ocean or river or rain, and, most of all, time. We perceive a deeper spirituality in these works, beyond their beauty and craft and labor. We are lucky that Goldsworthy documents these artworks in his photographs, works of art in themselves. The beautiful new showcase, Andy Goldsworthy: Ephemeral Works: 2004—2014 (Abrams, $85), features more than two hundred full-color plates of works from the recent decade. Arranged in chronological sequence, the exhibit yields a sense of time unfolding and receding as one turns the pages. This is a worthy addition to any Goldsworthy collection, or to any art book collection, indeed. Rhonda Shary
Zachery Thomas Dodson’s first novel is a bibliophile’s dream: gilded pages, cut edges, thick paper, hand-drawn maps, natural history illustrations, and beguiling other-worldly diagrams introduce a narrative equally rich and ingenious. Bats of the Republic: An Illuminated Novel (Doubleday, $27.95), starts in 1843 with Zadock Thomas leaving Chicago on a mission to deliver a letter to a general in Texas. But he is sidetracked—literally—by a sudden flock of bats. Then it’s three hundred years later. Paranoia rules the Earth and another Thomas, Zeke, has inherited a letter and many mysteries…By turns adventure, science fiction, and epic—or maybe all at once—this novel is riveting to read, gorgeous to hold. Hannah Oliver Depp
The Scent of a Dream: Travels in the World of Coffee (Abrams, $75) is every coffee-table’s dream book. The gorgeous chrome-hued cover signals Sebastião Salgado’s rich black-and-white photography within, and through the course of three-hundred pages and two-hundred-plus images, Salgado sings a visual love song to coffee plantations from Brazil to India to Tanzania to China, to name a few of these lush landscapes, and to the workers who harvest the fruit. The Scent of a Dream is brilliantly curated, edited, and designed by Salgado’s wife, Lélia Wanick Salgado. The collection testifies that this photographer’s heart and lens are steeped in their subject. Born in Brazil, Salgado grew up watching his father transport coffee to neighboring coastal ports, and eventually joined him in the family business. Later, Salgado worked as an economist for the International Coffee Organization, then let his passion for photography find its muse among the plantation fields of his youth. Salgado began crafting this book in 2002, and with it he hopes to teach café aficionados that coffee beans begin cultivation in vibrant lands and cultured hands, far from the grind of baristas and espresso machines. Marc Powers
Al Hirschfeld’s pen lines—swooping, curling, and twisting—could distill a famous face to its calligraphic essence and make gestures dance on the page. His career began with Goldwyn Studios movie posters in the 1920s, and he was still doing his iconic theater drawings for The New York Times (where he worked for over seventy years) into the new millennium. As for chronicling American entertainment—whether theater, movies, or television, in newspapers, on magazine covers or record jackets—it was The Hirschfeld Century (Knopf, $40). The book is organized by decades, with text by Hirschfeld Foundation archivist David Leopold—who curated the accompanying New York Historical Society exhibit this year. You see the breadth of Hirschfeld’s early work, and watch his characteristic line emerge around 1930 (among his influences: Japanese woodcuts, Vanity Fair caricaturist Miguel Covarrubias, and a trip to Bali). As you leaf through the pages, you are also a witness to American theater history, since Hirschfeld drew every out-of-town preview in time for a Broadway opening. This beautifully produced book is the most complete and insightful work on Hirschfeld yet. András Goldinger
Lives in Art Like the legendary Silk Road, The White Road (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27) is a route of wonders. Edmund de Waal’s fifth book is about the “white gold” that is porcelain, and porcelain is about geology and alchemy, shards and ewers, Jesuits, emperors, and Swedenborg’s angels—it’s a rich, multi-faceted story that de Waal, a world-renowned ceramicist who “write[s] books, too,” follows from China to Versailles to Meissen to Plymouth. Along the way he charts where it darkens with exploitation, war, and the Nazis’ brand of figurines, but more often reports the efforts of craftsmen and apothecaries to perfect the balance of porcelain’s kaolin and other (often secret) ingredients, and to discover the best temperatures for firing the clay to its wondrous luminescence. This quest leads de Waal, like so many others, to develop a life-long case of porzellankranheir, “porcelain sickness”—a condition reminiscent of tulip-mania. As he did in his unforgettable The Hare with Amber Eyes, de Waal makes history personal; he is passionate about porcelain, and his exquisitely textured language brings you into the hearts, minds, and hands of some of the world’s most virtuosic—and colorful—artisans of the white clay.
A novelist with a satirical bent, as well as the author of Lives of the Muses and a biography of Caravaggio, Francine Prose is a natural to write the life of the flamboyant heiress and art collector, Peggy Guggenheim (Yale, $25). Unconventional in her personal life and iconoclastic in her work, Guggenheim (1898 – 1979) was born with “the urge to unnerve,” whether it was by promoting surrealism or by conducting affairs with as many men as possible, including Samuel Beckett. But Beckett, like many of the painters Guggenheim championed, was relatively unknown when she took up with him, and her support of figures now considered art-world superstars—notably Jackson Pollock—testifies to Guggenheim’s sharp eye and prescience. Yet with her often bizarre outfits, public scenes, uncanny knack for getting involved in abusive relationships, and sudden shifts from generosity to stinginess, Guggenheim was sometimes hard to take seriously. Prose, however, looks carefully at her subject’s self-described “inferiority complex,” and notes that Guggenheim was often exploited for her money while being treated dismissively by the male art world—even as her galleries in London, New York, and Venice were instrumental not just in challenging but in changing perceptions—richly fulfilling the modernist mission.
Art Commentary Starting with a story and ending with a memoir, Keeping an Eye Open (Knopf, $30) is a personal, personable, and eloquent look at art by the Man Booker Prize-winning Julian Barnes. While his point of departure may be that “a great painting compels the spectator into verbal response,” Barnes worries about the ethics of turning one art into another, even as his quotes from Flaubert and artists’ own letters and journals suggest that visual and literary arts are just different paths to the same gleaming City of Art, where real life is heightened and intensified. Readers of Barnes’s many essays and novels know him for a confirmed Francophile, and the bulk of his commentary here focuses on French painters, from Géricault and Delacroix to Manet, Bonnard, and Vuillard. Barnes is also, in the old debate between line and color, a devoted colorist; “let the colors tell the story,” he says, and revels in taking the temperature of paintings through their “cool and playful…blue-gray and gray-brown,” their “hotter… scarlet and orange and yellow” compositions. A true art aficionado, Barnes reports in an account of visiting the Phillips Collection that his “top ten… [paintings] runs to over a hundred by now.”
Gathering 74 essays on as many artists—presented chronologically from Aurignacian Man, circa 30,000 BC, to Randa Mdah, born in 1983—and written over some fifty years, Portraits (Verso, $44.95) is a dazzling retrospective of John Berger’s criticism—garnished with samples of his poetry, fiction, correspondence, and other writings. For Berger, writing about art is the same thing as telling a story, and the story he tells so vibrantly is about artists’ abiding faith “that the visible contained hidden secrets”; indeed, the word “mystery” comes up repeatedly. Berger himself has an especially keen eye, able to discern that Cézanne’s black is like Rembrandt’s, but more “tangible,” and that in Francis Bacon’s work, unlike Goya’s, “there are no witnesses and there is no grief. Nobody painted by“ Bacon notices the pain of others “painted by him.” In virtually every piece, Berger distills reams of history, biography, and theory into succinct and memorable readings. He observes that Rembrandt’s great theme was isolation and the embrace his “iconic act,” a combination that made him the first modern painter, and that “Frida Kahlo lay cheek to cheek with everything she depicted.” When he cites Caravaggio as the painter he feels closest to, it’s because he admires the artist’s heresy in turning “religious themes into popular tragedies.” Agree or disagree, joining Berger as he assesses these oeuvres is an exhilarating experience. Section by Laurie Greer
Plotted: A Literary Atlas (Pulp, $24.99) is two gifts in one: Andrew DeGraff’s colorful, elegant, and often ingenious illustrations—a visual and literary treat in themselves—and Daniel Harmon’s lively and informative essays, which spark the memory or the imagination—or both, depending on your reading history. The nineteen maps included here chart the timeless adventures recounted in Homer’s Odyssey, delineate the routes to love and/ or social standing in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and retrace Frederick Douglass’s escape from slavery into his prominent role in shaping the national dialogue on race. Each of the volume’s nineteen chapters engages—or re-engages—readers with a canonical text—Hamlet, Moby-Dick, stories by O’Connor, L’Engle, and Le Guin—works that richly deserve and reward reading, whether for the first or the fifth time. Like the featured texts themselves, this unique Atlas will inspire different experiences in different readers, and it is a great gift for anyone who likes to get lost in printed pages. William Leggett
Reading the Atlas
of Cursed Places
(Black Dog & Leventhal, $24.99), by inveterate sailor, cartographer, and journalist Olivier Le Carrer, makes you feel like you’ve stumbled on a secret, ancient tome that chronicles the world’s haunted regions. Readers might expect entries based on places’ connections to supernatural phenomena or some enduring dark myth. But Le Carrer has a broader view of “cursed places” and presents those whose habitability is threatened by both natural events and human activities. Thanks to this expansiveness, Le Carrer takes readers to places both predicable and surprising; each entry serves as a window to a region whose difficulties are at once astonishing, riveting, and intriguing. Another great joy of this atlas is its sheer beauty as an object; the insightful profiles are complemented by intricate illustrations, including detailed reproductions of old maps. Get ready for your next misadventure! Michael Triebwasser
When maps aren’t simply telling you how to get from here to there, they make political statements, lay out the terrain of history, show you the landscape of the imagination, play games—and always look beautiful. The Curious Map Book (Chicago, $45) is a showcase of such “cartographic curiosities.” Assembled by Ashley Baynton-Williams, a British antiquarian map dealer, the survey starts with a 1493 world map that’s also a chart of Western humanism, depicting the Earth divided in four parts, one for each of Noah’s sons, with side trips into medieval legend and classical myth. A 1518 rendering of Utopia depicts the island with a death’s head: map as memento mori. In human shape, maps were allegories and caricatures; as animals, they united disparate regions into the body of a fierce lion or warned of grasping imperial ambitions, showing Russia in 1877 as an octopus. Other maps chart the course of love, and many play games. The first board games, circa 1588, were maps, with players throwing dice and racing each other around a hemisphere. Some required gambling, others doubled as Trivial Pursuit, requiring players to recite facts about the regions they landed on. Maps became jigsaw puzzles in the 18th century, and one impressive picture here shows a stunning 1866 globe jigsaw. A tribute to human wit and ingenuity, these selections have an illuminating and unobtrusive guide in Baynton-Williams, whose succinct commentary profiles the mapmakers and explains their methods and materials. Laurie Greer
Picture Books ri te s, pi ck up a co py Fo r m or e of ou r fa vo
Big Bear Little Chair (Chronicle, $16.99) is not an ordinary book of comparisons. This delightful new offering from Lizi Boyd allows young readers to compare different sizes of animals and objects in various settings. From the “big lion” riding his “little wagon” to the “big penguin” atop a “little iceberg” who is wearing a “tiny hat,” the objects grow smaller and smaller as the book progresses. Illustrations that pop off the page will thoroughly entertain children as they learn important size concepts. Ages 3 – 5. Kasie Griffitts
SIGNED FIRST EDITIONS CLUB Enroll a lucky person—or indulge yourself! Receive a newly published title every month—first edition, first printing and signed by the writer or illustrator— all curated by P&P.
While their human is on vacation, Lumphy the buffalo, Plastic the ball, and StingRay the stingray witness their first snowfall. Ever-inquisitive Lumphy can’t contain his curiosity about this mysterious phenomenon; StingRay, who is “more poetic than factual,” and practical Plastic provide different sorts of answers to his questions. Clothed in a glove for a hat (Lumphy), a plastic bag (StingRay), and the emperor’s birthday suit (Plastic), the Toys Meet Snow (Schwartz & Wade, $17.99) and experience a perfect winter day. Author Emily Jenkins and illustrator Paul O. Zelinsky have taken the beloved protagonists of their early chapter-book series and created a gentle tale well suited for their current fans as well as a younger audience. Ages 4 – 8. Janet Minichiello
Cuando Abuela viene a vivir en los Estados Unidos con Mia y sus padres, es difícil comunicarse: su abuela no habla inglés muy bien y Mia tampoco sabe mucho español. Al principio pasan casi todo el tiempo en silencio, pero después Mia y su madre compran un loro llamado Mango. Él, Abuela, y Mia aprenden nuevas palabras juntos y aprenden a quererse también. En Mango, Abuela y yo (Candlewick, $15.99 HB/$7.99 PB), autora Meg Medina y ilustradora Angela Dominguez representan con encanto los problemas y, lo más importante, las alegrías de crear una nueva relación que trasciende el lenguaje. Edades 4 – 8. Janet Minichiello When Abuela (“grandmother”) comes to live in the United States with Mia and her parents, it’s difficult to communicate: Abuela doesn’t speak English very well and Mia doesn’t know much Spanish either. In the beginning, the two spend almost all the time in silence, but then Mia and her mother buy a parrot named Mango. He, Abuela, and Mia learn new words together and learn to love each other, too. In Mango, Abuela, and Me (Candlewick, $15.99), author Meg Medina and illustrator Angela
Dominguez engagingly depict the problems and, more importantly, the joys of creating a new relationship that transcends language. Ages 4 – 8. Janet Minichiello
w sl et te r! en s De pa rt m en t ne Te d an n re ild Ch of th e 20 15
“There were five of them. And they were waiting…” Each of the toys sitting on a windowsill waits for something: the moon, the wind, rain, snow—or, in the rabbit’s case, nothing in particular. One day, the group gets a surprise when a cat joins them—but what is she Waiting (Greenwillow, $17.99) for? The diminutive creatures quietly observe and thrill in clouds, butterflies, changing seasons, and much more from their limited though intriguing vantage point, showing readers the quiet joys of patience. Kevin Henkes’s gentle illustrations and calm but spare text prove once again his mastery of the picture-book format. Ages 3 – 6. Maria Salvadore
The Queen is on her way to visit someone very special when the wind goes swish and blows her hat right off of her head. Follow the Queen, her dog, and the Royal Guard as they chase
The Queen’s Hat (Scholastic, $16.99) on a whirlwind tour of London’s iconic landmarks. Set off from Buckingham Palace, rub noses with the animals in London Zoo, and take a spin on the London Eye. Not to worry: the Queen, her hat, and her entire entourage touch down safely at Kensington Palace just in time for her visit. Steve Antony’s clear and appealing story and art will delight long-time Anglophiles and newcomers to London alike. Ages 4 – 8. Heidi Powell
Forgo the electronic devices and secure one of the most irresistible puzzle books of the season. Hiro Kamigaki and
IC4DESIGN’s intricate, spellbinding labyrinths are investigated by Pierre the Maze Detective (Laurence King, $19.95). Helpful instructions, an inviting cast of characters, and an intriguing narrative written by Chihiro Maruyama and translated by Emma Sakamiya complement the fifteen detailed, full-page spreads. At the conclusion of this challenging book, an epilogue and an answer key provide additional satisfaction to young detectives and their adult sidekicks. Ages 8 – 11. Mary Alice Garber
Early Chapter Books Winner of the 2010 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, Kitty Crowther addresses the perennial issue of fear of the dark in a sensitive and playful early reader. When the sun sets over the pond beside the frogs’ house, Jeremy’s nightly worries begin. Scritch Scratch Scraww Plop! (Enchanted Lion, $16.95): are these just the sounds of the night that keep little Jeremy from falling asleep? Expressive line drawings capture every emotion and anxious moment of Jeremy’s and his parents’ pursuit of worry-free sleep. Emerging readers and their younger siblings will delight in a surprise turn of events and happy resolution. Ages 4 – 8. Mary Alice Garber
Come and hang out with the Bradford Street Buddies for a Backyard CampOut (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $3.99) and a Block Party Surprise (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $3.99)! Author Jerdine Nolen and illustrator Michelle Henninger have teamed up to give readers a glimpse into the lives of four neighborhood friends, twins Jada and Jamal and their friends Carlita and Josh. Both books are full of excitement and fun, featuring appealing stories and lively and colorful illustrations. Whether it’s anticipating the upcoming block party or finding and setting up an old tent, new readers will enjoy sharing these pals’ adventures. Ages 5 – 8. Kerri Poore
Rory Rooney’s favorite book is Don’t Be Scared, Be Prepared, and he has trained himself to be ready for any emergency. He even knows what to do when Tommy-Lee Kominsky, aka Grim Kominsky, throws him out of the back of the school bus, which is a daily occurrence. When Rory and Tommy end up turning green and are stuck in an experimental hospital ward, however, true heroism is needed. The Astounding Broccoli Boy (Walden Pond, $16.99) tells what happens when Rory starts living the life for which he has prepared. From Frank Cottrell Boyce, the award-winning author of Millions and Cosmic, comes this charming and hilarious tale. It might not be easy being green, but Rory embodies the edict from the first chapter’s title: “A superhero can be locked up, but his spirit can never be imprisoned!” Ages 8 – 12. Heather Wilson Calpurnia, or Callie Vee, does not have an easy time of it at home in Fentress, Texas. It’s 1900, but the new century has not changed her parents’ traditional concept of a girl’s proper place in society. Thank goodness Granddaddy admires her intelligence and treats her as a favorite, teaching her all about the natural world. When she isn’t exploring
The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate (Henry Holt, $16.99), Callie is trying to prevent her younger brother Travis from attempting to domesticate a series of animals that simply won’t be tamed. Then a devastating hurricane in Galveston precipitates the arrival of cousin Aggie and veterinarian Dr. Pritzker in Fentress, and Callie faces a host of new challenges and opportunities. Fans of Jacqueline Kelly’s Newbery Honor-winning The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate will rejoice at the return of this sassy, smart heroine in a sequel that can stand alone in terms of plot and merits. Ages 9 – 12. Janet Minichiello
Teen Reads The worlds and destinies of two boys—Yoshi, a lowly servant to a samurai, and Jack, a cabin boy on one of Commodore Matthew Perry’s warships— become intertwined when Perry’s fleet arrives in Japan in 1853 to request that the isolationist country open its ports. A companion to her 2011 Newbery Honor winner Heart of a Samurai, Margi
Preus’s The Bamboo Sword (Harry Abrams, $16.95) is an engaging historical novel of action and intrigue, replete with samurai, spies, and assassins. Preus vividly describes the drama and tension of the period and successfully balances elements of politics and diplomacy with the stories of Yoshi and Jack as they work together to survive a period of unprecedented change and upheaval. Ages 11 – 14. Marc Villa
When Archer B. Helmsley’s grandparents disappear on an iceberg, his overprotective mother, fearing Archer has the Helmsley tendency to explore, confines him to the house where his only companions are the stuffed creatures displayed on all four floors. Wouldn’t you be in The Doldrums (Greenwillow, $17.99) too? Temporary relief arrives in the form of his grandparents’ scarlet trunks, which mysteriously appear on his doorstep and contain binoculars, a bundle of old journals, and a tape recording. But things really start looking up when Archer makes friends with Oliver Glub, the unadventurous boy next door, and Adelaide Belmont, the new girl from Paris with a wooden leg. Nicholas Gannon’s original story with fullcolor illustrations has the look and feel of a classic children’s book. Ages 9 – 12. Heidi Powell Caldecott winner Brian Selznick’s latest innovative, illustrated novel is a tribute to the power and wonder of story. The first of two distinct narratives is told entirely through pictures, drawn with Selznick’s trademark pencil crosshatching, and begins in the 18th century. The
Marvels (Scholastic, $32.99) are a generation of actors who command a presence on the London stage. In the second story, told in prose and set in 1990, a teenager runs away from his boarding school to his uncle’s home in Spitalfields, London. While the two stories are largely separate, connections abound with themes of loss, family, creativity, and hope. This is storytelling and book-making at its finest. Ages 11 – 14. Mary Alice Garber Time and again, Margarita Engle has captivated readers with her hauntingly beautiful novels in verse, and her newest, Enchanted Air (Atheneum, $17.99), might be her best yet. Certainly her most personal work, it is the memoir of Engle's young life. Growing up, Margarita feels split between the two worlds of Cuba and Los Angeles in the hostile political environment leading up to the Bay of Pigs invasion. As she attempts to reconcile the differences between her homes and find a place for herself between these two worlds, readers are swept up in her experience of the time, at once uniquely personal and yet ultimately relatable. Ages 11 – 14. Courtney Burtraw
Sierra Santiago has no way of anticipating what is to come for her or for her changing Brooklyn community. Something is happening to the Shadowshapers, but Sierra is only now learning about these mystical individuals and their critical role in the balance of life, as well as the fact that they exist within her own family. In Shadowshaper (Arthur A. Levine, $17.99), Daniel José Older has created a spiritual world full of supernatural elements, raw artistic talent, and tales with ancestral roots. He deftly includes commentary on many of contemporary society’s ills while entrancing readers with ethereal battles between good and evil; old and new; and age and youth. Ages 13 and up. Kerri Poore
Poetry, Music, & Visual Art Goodnight Songs: A Celebration of The Seasons (Sterling, $17.95) is a collection of twelve newly unearthed songs and poems written by legendary children’s author Margaret Wise Brown, whose distinctive combination of language, lyricism, and cadence infuses each piece. Renowned artists including Peter Brown, Floyd Cooper, Molly Idle, and Bob Staake provide breathtaking illustrations for these beautiful verses. An accompanying CD includes songs composed and performed by Tom Proutt and Emily Gary. This lovingly crafted combination of art, verse, and music is a delightful treat for children and adults all year round. Ages 3 – 6. Marc Villa
Poetry is meant to be heard; this is especially true of the writings of African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, born in Dayton, Ohio in 1872. In Jump Back,
Paul: The Life and Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar (Candlewick, $16.99), a “grandmotherly” narrative voice weaves with Dunbar’s poems to present a compelling portrait of the man and the times in which he lived. Illustrations by Sean Qualls provide a visual interpretation of the emotion suggested in Sally Derby’s text and Dunbar’s poetry. This slim volume is the perfect introduction to Dunbar’s life and work for young poets. Ages 9 – 12. Maria Salvadore
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Graphic Novels Cuando recibe una nueva caja de lápices de color (“lo más cerca que llegas a tener un pedazo de arco iris,” según ella), una joven empieza a crear un cuento Escrito y dibujado por Enriqueta (Toon, $12.95). Obsérvela con asombro mientras Enriqueta baja en picada hacia el papel, haciendo una fábula tan absorbente que ella misma comienza a creerla. Mientras trabaja, da a su gato Fellini—y al lector también—consejos para crear un cuento increíble. Gracias a la genialidad narrativa del historietista argentino Liniers, el cuento dentro de un cuento de Enriqueta, lleno de monstrous y con una protagonista valiente, cautivará sus jóvenes lectores tanto como Enriqueta misma. Edades 5 – 8. Janet Minichiello Upon receiving a brand-new pack of colored pencils (which, she notes, is “as close as you can get to owning a piece of the rainbow”), a young girl begins to make a story Written and Drawn by Henrietta (Toon, $12.95). Watch with wonder as Henrietta swoops onto the paper, creating a tale so engrossing she even begins to believe it herself. As she works, she gives her cat, Fellini—and the reader—tips on how to make an amazing story. Thanks to Argentine cartoonist Liniers’s own storytelling genius, Henrietta’s tale-within-a-tale, replete with monsters and a strangely familiar young girl filled to the brim with bravery, will enchant young audiences as much as Henrietta herself does. Ages 5 – 8. Janet Minichiello
Get with the Groove and it will take you on
Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound (Roaring Brook, $22.99). Start in 1920s – 30s Detroit, known as “The Motor City” and a boomtown for African Americans, where you’ll meet Berry Gordy. The next-to-youngest of eight children, he was known as a troublemaker, but he was also ambitious and entrepreneurial. In addition to writing hit songs himself, Berry had a keen sense of others’ talent and was beginning to recognize R&B’s potential to reach audiences of all colors. With an $800 loan from his family, Berry bought a two-story bungalow in the heart of Detroit’s black community; converted it into offices, his living space, and a studio; and launched his own record company. He called it Motown. The rest is history, which Andrea Davis Pinkney explores in this fascinating look at the influence of young black performers from urban Detroit on the American psyche. Ages 10 – 14. Heidi Powell
When Nimona (Harper Teen, $17.99 HB/$12.99 PB) offers to be a sidekick for the villain Ballister Blackheart, he’s less than enthused—but that’s before she reveals that she’s a gifted shapeshifter. Nimona also has some creative ideas for how to increase the scope of Blackheart’s evil doings (two words: more fires), and in turn Blackheart proves to be a valuable mentor. Noelle Stevenson’s quirky graphics add humor to a story that’s full of heart. While some of her tropes will be familiar to fantasy fans, Stevenson ultimately creates a complex tale in which the lines between good and evil aren’t as clear-cut as they first appear. Ages 13 – 17. Meghan Drummond
History & Biography
In Drawing from Memory, legendary children’s book author/illustrator Allen Say’s first graphic novel memoir, he described his apprenticeship to the great Japanese cartoonist Noro Shinpei. In this companion volume, Say remembers his first years living in the United States: attending a military school from which he was later expelled, living in a cheap motel after being abandoned by his father, and attending a public high school while earning scholarships for advanced art classes. Throughout the book, Say is accompanied by Kyusuke, Shinpei’s famous cartoon character whom Say inspired. Kyusuke acts as The Inker’s Shadow (Scholastic, $19.99), a mischievous alter ego and constant voice in Say’s ear. This gorgeous volume evokes nostalgia without a hint of sentimentality, establishing itself as a worthy addition to Say’s other classic works. Ages 10 and up. Janet Minichiello
Was he a hero or a traitor? Daniel Ellsberg is one of history’s prime examples of how a whistleblower can be seen as both the best and worst of people. Working at the Pentagon, Ellsberg was involved in the American government’s attempt to justify its involvement in the Vietnam War; seven years later, he leaked documents that did the exact opposite and led him to be declared the Most Dangerous (Roaring Brook, $19.99) man in America. Steve Sheinkin examines what changed Ellsberg from an instrument of the government into a crusader for the antiwar movement in this scintillating chronicle of one man’s journey to making history. Ages 11 – 14. Janet Minichiello
J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Arthur A. Levine, $39.99) has always been magical. Now, with the help of Jim Kay’s superb illustrations, Hogwarts has never felt quite so real. In this magnificent edition, each page offers a magical surprise. There are illustrated guides to dragons and trolls and rich double-page spreads of scenes that have captured children’s imaginations from the inception of this series, like Harry’s discovery of the unicorn in the Forbidden Forest. This edition offers something new to readers, artists, and the one or two people on the planet who have not yet read this most beloved of tales. Ages 11 and up. Meghan Drummond
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The world is populated with all kinds of bizarre and unusual creatures, some better known than others. In Creaturepedia (Wide Eyed, $22.99), Adrienne Barman compiles more than 600 of the most fascinating of these diverse beings. Grouped together by appearance, color, and type, from the long-tongued to the emerald greens, the unusual organization makes browsing these pages a constant surprise. This celebration of some of the unique denizens of this planet is also a reminder of the importance of protecting the environment that allows them to thrive. An extensive index makes it possible to browse more specifically, and colorful illustrations invite the reader to spend endless time with these multitalented creatures. Ages 7 – 10. Courtney Burtraw
Home t-shirt (Home State Apparel, $24) On a Metro escalator, do you stand on the right, pass on the left? Yes? Good. There is a 30% chance of snow, but no more than 1-2 inches. Do you stay home? Dear Dan,
Of course! As you should.
My Solmates have a thing for feet. Not just my feet—they’ll wrap themselves around anyone’s hairy toes! How can I keep their warmth and affection all to myself?
Before reading this, were you aware that in DC, east/west streets are lettered, north/south streets are numbered, and diagonal streets are named after states?
Seriously Objectified Xanthippe
Duh! Have you seen a motorcade in the last week?
Solmate socks belong to anyone willing to shell out $20 for a pair. The sooner you accept that, the happier you’ll be. C’mon, SOX—Solmates are knit in Vermont using recycled cotton—isn’t that virtuous enough? Buy yours at Politics & Prose. Dan
Did you know that DMV stands for something other than the department of motor vehicles? Yes!: The District, Maryland, and Virginia. Do you get called for jury duty as often as legally possible? Ugh, grand jury next week.
Tool Pen (Monteverde,$30) The pen is mightier than the sword, forsooth? My blade has always stood me in good stead, for while my enemies do fumble vainly for their quills, I draw Poet-Biter, the scribbler's bane, from its sheath and dispatch them—so! Yet there is one whom I fear: ‘tis the mighty Tool Pen—with screwdrivers concealed in its maw, a ruler emblazoned upon its surface, a touch-screen stylus at its tip, and aye, a level in its very stomach. For faster than I can destroy, the Tool Pen builds anew—and holds me captive with one smooth stroke of its ballpoint nib.
Great! Here is a t-shirt that makes it perfectly clear you are not a tourist.
Tote Bags (Out of Print, $20) A caterpillar wormed his hungry way Through Eric Carle’s story to our hearts, And Alice, dreaming on a summer’s day, Upset a knavish trial for stealing tarts. A rabbit bade “goodnight” to room and moon, While Max sailed off to seek the Wild Things, But childhood sailed away as well, too soon— And only butterflies are given wings. Yet these book bags remind us of those times— As sweet and colorful as nursery rhymes.
Sure, you could get the Headspace app and find inner peace for $12.95 a month. Or you could buy a coloring book. With a coloring book, you get inner peace plus finished works of art, starting at as little as $7.95. And please don’t worry about permanently regressing to childhood. That happened when you started playing Candy Crush. From The Amazing Alphabet Coloring Book to The Zendoodle Coloring Book, and everything in between (Birds, Edward Gorey, Inuit Art, Hokusai, The London Zoo…), Politics and Prose has what you need to survive the holidays on just one Xanax a day.
I need you to do this one last job. We have some unfinished business—you got to set things right. What’s that you say? You’ve “put all that behind you”? “Earned a rest”? Interesting point of view. Hey, nice place you got here—new Kitchenaid, new iPad, hardcover books everywhere. Bought all that yourself, huh? Didn’t think so. Santa doesn’t appreciate ingratitude, pal. A word to the wise: buy yourself some Orange Art Correspondence Notes ($18) and get cracking. I want that thank-you letter in hand by January 1st, or you’re going on the naughty list. Section by Leah Kenyon
History 19th-Century Europeans
Timothy Snyder, a Yale University specialist in Eastern Europe and author of the 2010 work Bloodlands, offers an unconventional, provocative explanation of the Holocaust, contending that the root causes and other aspects of the mass slaughter have been misunderstood. In Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning (Tim Duggan, $30), Snyder maintains that too much emphasis has been placed on conventional anti-Semitism as the motivating factor. Hitler’s obsessions, he argues, went further, reducing mankind to a state of nature facing a struggle of the races and an ecological crisis. In Hitler’s view, for the German race to emerge triumphant, the vast arable lands of Eastern Europe needed to be conquered and the Jews, along with others considered racially impure, had to be eliminated. By crushing governments and wiping out ruling groups in the east, Hitler created an anarchic society where the Holocaust became possible. Seen this way, Snyder contends the history of the Holocaust holds such critical warnings for the present day as the importance of championing science over ideology and the need to strengthen state institutions in embattled regions like the Middle East and Ukraine. Bradley Graham
Oxford University Professor and European history scholar Michael Broers offers an engaging portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte in his new Napoleon: Soldier of Destiny (Pegasus, $35). The book is the first of a two-volume study of the French leader, and is solidly grounded in Napoleon’s correspondence and papers (currently being published by the Fondacion Napoleon). This first installment covers Napoleon’s life from his birth in Corsica in 1769 to the autumn of 1805, as he and his Grande Armée prepared to face the allied Habsburgs, Russians, and British in battle. The author revises the stereotype of Napoleon as a megalomaniac psychopath bent on world domination to offer a more nuanced portrait of the man behind the myth, though he may at times swing too far to the positive in his defense of Napoleon›s choices. Nevertheless, both Broers›s profile of his subject and his analysis of European history are peppered with searing witticisms and observations that make for an enjoyable and informative read. Broers reveals Napoleon as a complex man whose so-called «destiny» for greatness was less the result of fate than of hard work and relentless ambition. Alexis Jason-Mathews
You’ve probably heard of Alexander von Humboldt (1769 – 1859), since he has more places named after him than any other person, not to mention the Humboldt Current, Histiotus humboldti, Spheniscus humboldti, and many other plants and animals. What exactly did he do? Plenty—though not as much as he wanted to. Known as a natural scientist—in this case meaning also a geologist, botanist, biologist—Humboldt held a day job as Chamberlain for the Prussian emperor, and was a life-long abolitionist. His friends included Goethe and Bolívar; his multi-volume works presented facts and data in graceful, lyrical prose and were bestsellers throughout Europe. In order to tell his story, Andrea Wulf, as she did in The Brother Gardeners, combines biography, history, economics, and science, but it’s for his work on The Invention of Nature (Knopf, $30) that she most admires him. Humboldt’s insight, Wulf shows, was to see nature not as discrete parts, but as one integrated network. His stunning Naturgemälde, drawing on his five-year exploration of Latin America, not only anticipated ecosystems, evolution, plate tectonics, and climate change, it was revolutionary in its graphic display of information; you can see it reproduced here, along with many of Humboldt’s own drawings. Laurie Greer
Dan Jones marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta (Viking, $27.95) with a narrative as suspenseful and colorful as any of the dynastic feuds recounted in The Plantagenets and The Wars of the Roses. In the third installment of his riveting saga, Jones, who has also produced and hosted the multi-part docudramas Britain’s Bloodiest Dynasty and Secrets of Great British Castles, returns to 1215. While the Magna Carta is held in high esteem today as the model for, among other documents, the American constitution, it was originally a peace treaty between King John and the landed barons fed up with his wars and taxes—and it fell apart within months of its conﬁrmation. To muddy its sterling reputation further, the Carta— an early example of dry, technical legal writing— wasn’t initially one coherent document, but a hodge-podge of charters, “a collection of promises extracted in bad faith from a reluctant king,” Jones notes. Yet somehow those promises were made good, the king was held to his own laws, and Jones once again reminds us why the middle ages are so fascinating. Hannah Oliver Depp
The Year of Lear (Simon & Schuster, $30) was also the year of Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra, tragedies all, and focused on the fate of kings betrayed, betraying, or maddened—fates which necessarily imperiled whole kingdoms. In 1606, the Stuart kingdom was itself an uncertain entity: did James I reign over a united Britain (a word Shakespeare didn’t use until King Lear) or separately over England and Scotland? This was one of the topics in the air both on-stage and off, and James Shapiro enriches his reading of Shakespeare’s late work in the light of historical events. From the new rage for Court Masques to an unusual royal visit, these events included what happened yet was seldom mentioned in dramas of the time—the plague—and what didn’t happen, yet is commemorated still, the infamous Guy Fawkes conspiracy. Discovered before it could wipe out Parliament, the royals, decades’ worth of records, and a hefty chunk of London, the Gunpowder Plot led to widespread arguments over “possession, bewitching, and where evil originates,” and Shapiro traces Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters and other supernatural elements to contemporary tales of exorcism. He also reminds us how shocking King Lear was for its original audience, familiar with an earlier play of the same name—but in which “nobody dies…and all that is lost is restored.” As he did so brilliantly in A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, Shapiro reads history and literature with the sharp and realistic eye of a detective, forthright about how much information is lost but keen to learn what he can from the remaining clues to the Bard’s life and times. Laurie Greer
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U.S. History 20 Makers Century th
Jon Meacham chronicles the career of George H.W. Bush, drawing on official archives and Bush’s personal diaries to follow him from his Connecticut upbringing and service in World War II to his successful Texas oil enterprises, and through his long and diverse public career as a congressman, U.S. ambassador, CIA director, and president. Meacham says he wrote Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush (Random House, $35) after visiting with the former president and finding him a much more complicated and interesting figure than often depicted. The book provides a largely sympathetic portrait, but thanks to Meacham’s skillful questioning, Bush is drawn to offer some uncharacteristically harsh criticism of his son’s administration, including negative critiques of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Bradley Graham
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Having written several nicely done biographies of such historical figures as Dwight Eisenhower, Robert Kennedy, and John Paul Jones, veteran journalist Evan Thomas turns his attention to Richard Nixon. In Being Nixon: A Man Divided (Random House, $35), Thomas provides a well-researched, updated view of our controversial 37th president. Thomas has a knack for balanced reporting and for clearly articulating complex topics. He sets out to try to get past what he calls “the cartoon version of Nixon,” taking pains at times to couple indictments and negative appraisals with offsetting sympathetic views and kinder counterexamples. Without glossing over Nixon’s well-known darker tendencies toward hate, paranoia, and vindictiveness, Thomas also highlights his shyness, sentimentality, and devotion to family. By striving to pack the long story of Nixon’s embattled life into a single book, Thomas produces a useful work that is both comprehensive and authoritative. But the range of Nixon’s experiences and the broad impact of his actions complicate a one-book-fits-all approach, and as a deeply flawed, ever-conflicted character, Nixon proves a difficult challenge for a biographer as even-handed as Thomas. Bradley Graham
Rich in historical context and featuring an extensive cast of players, this important biography, Showdown: Thurgood
Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination That Changed America (Knopf, $32.50), captures in vivid detail the variously dramatic, tense, ugly, and noble behavior surrounding the five days of Marshall’s Senate confirmation hearings in that pivotal summer of 1967—which culminated in the appointment of the first African American Supreme Court Justice. From his beginnings as “a legendary country lawyer” in dangerous rural southern backwaters (“Atticus Finch before there was an Atticus Finch”), Marshall rose to the national stage as a brilliant scholar of constitutional law in Brown v Board of Education and eventually to the Mount Olympus of American jurisprudence. Wil Haygood, who wrote The Washington Post article that become the basis for his book and then for the award-winning film, The Butler: A Witness to History, and is also the biographer of subjects including Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Sammy Davis Jr., and others, has crafted this story with a finely honed sense of the interplay of history and individual lives that serves his illustrious subject well. Rhonda Shary
David Maraniss grew up in Detroit, and in his eighth book the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, biographer, and author of the classic study of America during the Vietnam War years, They Marched into Sunlight, profiles some of the better days this struggling city has seen. Once in a Great City (Simon & Schuster, $32.50) takes us back to 1962. Between that fall and the spring of 1964, Detroit experienced an economic and cultural boom; from Motown’s release of recordings by riveting new performers to Ford’s production of the Mustang, from the local civil rights leaders’ involvement with planning Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington to Walter Reuther’s work on progressive labor movement reform, Detroit was setting the pulse of the nation. Maraniss brings the music and politics to life—and also shows how the shadows of a darker future were already present in the entrenched organized crime, discriminatory housing practices, and racial tensions. Throughout this sweeping American tale, Maraniss’s writing is always breathtaking. David Cohen
It was just over a decade ago that Harvard professor Niall Ferguson was approached by Henry Kissinger about doing an authorized biography. Ferguson declined at first, then changed his mind. He had few illusions about the challenge of writing on such a controversial figure. As he says at the start of Kissinger, 1923 – 1968: The Idealist (Penguin Press, $39.95), no statesman in modern times “has been as revered and then as reviled as Henry Kissinger.” The book—the first of a planned two volumes—covers Kissinger up to the start of the Nixon administration, delving deeply into his intellectual development. Drawing on a huge archive of previously unavailable private papers, Ferguson makes the case that for a full assessment of Kissinger, it’s important to understand the thinker as well as the diplomatic actor. The subtitle, “The Idealist,” signals at the outset that readers should prepare for a different view of Kissinger than the conventional notion of him as the embodiment of Cold War realpolitik. Reviewers have commended the book for its comprehensive scholarship and engrossing narrative. Bradley Graham
U.S. History Makers 19th Century
Capital Dames: The Civil War and the Women of Washington, 1848 – 1868 (HarperCollins, $27.99), by long-time NPR correspondent and news analyst Cokie Roberts, is the newest of her books exploring the influential but often obscured experiences of women during crucial moments in American history. Having written before about the Colonial experience and the American Revolution, Roberts here turns her attention to women of the Civil War era. Relying on letters, journals, and other first-hand accounts by and about women, she unearths previously untold stories about figures from Mary Todd Lincoln to Jefferson Davis’s wife, Varina, to abolitionist Josephine Griffing. There is also a wonderful portrait of Mrs. Lincoln’s seamstress, Elizabeth Keckley. Roberts leaves readers with a much deeper appreciation of how a diverse group of women in Washington operated in a perilous time, at once changing the capital and being changed by the war as well. Lissa Muscatine
Sarah Vowell is like the hilarious, sarcastic, know-it-all in the back of the
high-school history class who can’t help editorializing on the proceedings. For her latest trip through America’s strange history, Vowell follows the footsteps of the Marquis de Lafayette, a man tailor-made for our country’s ideals and landscape and thoroughly alien to his own. Lafayette in the Somewhat United States (Riverhead, $27.95) tells us that the future general was a ridiculously rich country boy who stepped on Marie Antoinette’s feet while dancing, that he insulted a prince, and abandoned his wife and child in order to ship off to America for glory in the cause of Liberty. And that was before he got shot in the leg. Still, Lafayette remained determined to support his father-figure, George Washington, with boundless enthusiasm in spite of the near-constant infighting between the military and congress. Indeed, Lafayette was part of the influx of foreign military and economic assistance that helped the American patriots achieve independence. Today, so many of this country’s towns, streets, and statues are dedicated to Lafayette that, Vowell argues, he remains an enduring example for us in times of crisis. Far and away our favorite Frenchman! Pat Brennan
A Pulitzer Prize-winner for her biography Véra, the story of Nabokov’s wife, Stacy Schiff also wrote a bestselling life of Cleopatra and the Pulitzernominated Saint-Exupéry. Her study of Franklin and the early years of the nation made her a respected American historian, and in her new book she unravels the madness of The Witches: Salem 1692 (Little, Brown, $32). Schiff’s fastidious research into the notorious witch trials animates the motivations and actions of all involved, making what happened seem simultaneously bizarre and believable. Schiff’s description of how a few young women could start a movement that spread throughout the Massachusetts colony and that eventually led to the execution of twenty people is part history lesson, part thriller, and part Kafka. The Witches shows how blind faith, fear, jealousy, power, and repression combined to create a pathological environment in which no one’s life was safe from the subversive power of a fainting girl. William Leggett
The Washington Beat
She began her career in 1954 as a shy Washington Evening Star cub reporter at the Army-McCarthy hearings on Capitol Hill; when she died fifty years later, she was a Washington Post syndicated columnist carried in forty newspapers, winner of the Post’s Eugene Meyer Award, and the first woman to receive a Pulitzer Prize for commentary. In his colorful new biography of Mary McGrory (Viking, $28.95), John Norris, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, recounts this pioneering female journalist’s many professional achievements, as well as her long-lasting personal disappointment over an unrequited love. HalfIrish and half-German, McGrory celebrated St. Patrick’s Day every year by baking Italian lasagna in her Cleveland Park apartment. Although she had a manner that was erudite and polite, at heart she was a hardworking political watchdog who wrote with an unexpected, unmistakable bark. President Johnson tried to seduce her by comparing himself to President Kennedy; President Nixon tried to silence her by adding her name to his most-hated enemies list. Neither president was successful. But her biographer does indeed succeed in rounding out the life of this widely respected journalist, the model for successors like Molly Ivins and Maureen Dowd in the next generation. Barbara Meade
Women's Lives and Works Long-distance swimming has never enjoyed the cultural cachet of the more lucrative or nationalidentity-building sports like soccer and baseball, but through the heroism and tenacity—and deeply attuned teamwork—that defines her sport, the now-legendary world champion athlete
Diana Nyad has found her way, after four decades and countless painful wounds from ocean salt, skin chafing, sunburn, and jellyfish stings (a more consistent threat than shark bites) into the cultural awareness and worldwide admiration that she has so richly earned. Not that fame was ever her motive: far from it. As Nyad states in her new memoir, “The opportunity to inspire is a privilege.” Although Find a Way (Knopf, $26.95) will surely become a classic in sports literature—its stunning full-color plates documenting the stages of her historic 2013 swim from Havana to Key West at age 63 are as affecting as the prose—it is also a moving testament to the finest qualities of the human spirit. Rhonda Shary
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Even the title, Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill (Viking, $30), refuses to bill Clementine Churchill behind her husband. Sonia Purnell’s portrait reintroduces a woman who was honored by three British monarchs and the Soviet Union and whose “extramarital achievements would put present-day government ministers, speechwriters, charity chiefs, ambassadors, activists, spins doctors, MPs and hospital managers to shame.” Backed by extensive research and interviews, Purnell (a journalist who has written for The Economist, The Telegraph, and The Daily Mail) throws a spotlight on the formidable, opinionated, and intelligent Clementine, her private life and public marriage, her relationships, including a crucial connection with the Roosevelts, and her role in many of Winston Churchill’s key decisions, including his actions during the Second World War. Lynne Olson, bestselling author in her own right of Citizens of London, may have put it best: “Sonia Purnell has at long last given Clementine Churchill the biography she deserves…[And] succeeds at an almost impossible task: providing fresh and thought-provoking insights into Winston Churchill in the course of examining his complicated marriage.” Lena K. Little
When Anne-Marie Slaughter published an article in The Atlantic in 2012 titled “Why Women Can’t Have it All”—an unfortunate title not of her choosing—she could not have envisioned the passionate commentary that would follow. The piece generated nearly three million views following its publication. It became—and remains today—the most widely read piece in the 150-year history of The Atlantic. Slaughter spent the last couple of years turning the article into a book,
Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family (Random House, $28), that expands on and refines some of her original ideas. The first woman to serve as Director of Policy Planning at the State Department, a former Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, an expert on foreign policy, and now head of New America, Slaughter has also become a leading voice on the structure and values of the American workplace and its impact on women, men, and families. Drawing on her own experiences meeting the demands of work and family, Slaughter explores the pitfalls for a society that is failing to the realities of the 21st century. She takes issue with Sheryl Sandberg’s reliance on leaning in as a solution for women’s progress in the workplace, calling for more systemic change to ensure that women at all levels—and men—can be better workers and better parents to their children. It is a thoughtful, highly engaging, and important book. Lissa Muscatine
Fast Forward: How Women Can Achieve Power and Purpose (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24) by Melanne Verveer and Kim K. Azzarelli looks at the lives of 70 women around the world who have achieved power in their respective fields while staying true to the purpose of their work. Verveer, the first ever Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues at the State Department— appointed by President Obama—and Azzarelli, a top executive at Avon, together have experience in politics, diplomacy, business, advocacy, and philanthropy and are both celebrated champions of women’s rights. Their book explores how women can leverage their growing economic power not only to succeed in their own fields but also to lead purposeful lives and change the world. Those profiled include famous women like Geena Davis and Diane von Furstenberg, as well as equally compelling if lesser known leaders like Zainab Salbi, founder of Women for Women International, and Dr. Hawa Abdi, who has provided 100,000 people refuge from violence in Somalia. Lissa Muscatine
Reading the fiction of
always gives one the feeling of having a particularly rich and pleasurable daydream, and that’s also true for her new memoir, A House of My Own (Knopf, $28.95). Here Cisneros takes us around the world and back again, from a gorgeous home in Greece where she finished writing The House on Mango Street, to her father’s ancestral homeland, Mexico; in charting these journeys, Cisneros illustrates ideas of home. We get a real treat as this affecting writers delves into the places and people that housed and sustained her as she made her way from being the only mi’ja in Chicago, Illinois, to the renowned author she is today; we see not only where she lived, but the stories and poems she created, the speeches she gave, the doubts she overcame, and, finally, the fulfillment her accomplishments afforded her as a talented and independent Mexican-American woman. This beautiful book also includes photos from Cisneros’s personal collection, and these images make the evocative narrative all the more vivid and immediate. But ultimately A House of My Own served as a way for Cisneros, who has traveled and lived in so many different countries and cities, to define for herself her place in the world, and to compose an intimate portrait of what it means to find home. Simone Hall
Race & America
One of the best books in recent memory to address the politics of race in America is The
Fracture: Barack Obama, the Clintons, and the Racial Divide (Morrow, $27.99) by MSNBC national correspondent Joy-Ann Reid. A smart, rigorous reporter and an eloquent writer, Reid combines keen journalistic insight with excellent historical research in examining how race has influenced American politics. Focusing primarily on the relationship between Barack Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton, Reid exposes the challenges that race poses for the Democratic Party along the historical continuum, and what racial politics might mean in the 2016 election. This much-needed and highly original book leaves the reader with the sad realization that, even after the election of our first black president, America still has a long way to go to repair the political fracture and close the racial divide. Lissa Muscatine
The Presidency in Black and White: My Up-Close View of Three Presidents and Race in America (Rowman and Littlefield, $24.95), by April Ryan, looks at the ways in which race and racial issues play out at the White House, from the Oval Office on down. A veteran White House reporter for American Urban Radio Networks and one of the few African-Americans on the presidential beat, Ryan has spent nearly two decades observing and interviewing presidents and policy-makers whose decisions have enormous impact on her largely urban audience (her reports are broadcast on 300 stations nationwide and reach millions of listeners and readers, many of them African-American). Much of the material in her book comes from her tenure covering Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama and is infused with her own thoughtful impressions of the men who occupy the highest office in the land. Few reporters today have done as much as Ryan to ensure that the interests of urban communities are on the president’s radar and that the voices of African Americans are not lost in the static of Washington’s policy debates. Lissa Muscatine
Negroland (Pantheon, $25) is more of an overlooked boundary line than a place; Margo Jefferson introduces it as “my name for a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty.” It’s where she grew up, as the daughter of the head of pediatrics at Chicago’s Provident Hospital, and its landmarks were lessons and warnings—don’t show off. Don’t act undignified. Don’t be too white—don’t be too black, but “be the kind of Negroes who can achieve more than most white people.” Even as a four-year-old, Jefferson understood that mistakes “could put you, your parents, and your people at risk.” Later, as a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic, Jefferson still walked a fine line: her profession demanded that she uphold high standards, while her race made her vulnerable to judgments as “envious and petty.” Admitting to the despair caused by this constant, self-conscious, balancing act, Jefferson nonetheless banishes grief from her memoir. And in her powerful, passionate narrative, she makes her personal experience part of a larger, ongoing chronicle that starts with the antebellum denizens of—and outcasts from—Negroland, and includes civil rights and several waves of feminism. But more important than this historical sweep, is Jefferson’s account of how she lived it. Here is her meeting with a relative returned from his “ex-Negro” life, and her first befuddlement at racial slippage; her ambivalence about possible models like Dorothy Dandridge, Eartha Kitt, and Lena Horne. Here are the unexpected—and revealing—questions from white classmates in the progressive school she attended. Jefferson’s chronicle is deeply compelling—as well as profound, troubling, and timely. Hannah Oliver Depp
State of the World
As a journalist covering post-9/11 terrorism, Scott Shane, a National Security reporter for The New York Times, wanted a deeper understanding of the disturbing arc of recent history, and one of the questions he set out to answer was how President Obama came to embrace so aggressively the targeted killing of suspected terrorists. The result of his inquiry is Objective Troy (Tim Duggan, $28), a gripping and illuminating book that opens with a tightly paced scene that could be straight from a thriller, describing Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab—aka the “underwear bomber”—and his failed attempt to bring down a Detroit-bound aircraft per the instructions of his mentor, Sheikh Anwar al-Awlaki. What follows is a fascinating portrait of American-born al-Awlaki (for whom the military’s code name was Troy) and his transformation to an Al-Qaeda leader in the Arabian Peninsula. Shane also highlights some of the biographical parallels between Barack Obama and the man who would become a high priority target of his administration: both men were born in the U.S. to secular Muslim fathers and both spent parts of their childhoods overseas. The personal details lend a human touch to this narrative of the controversial extra-judicial killing of a United States citizen. Susan Coll
Washington Post journalist Joby Warrick chronicles how a fanatic movement led by a onetime thug, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has been transformed into the Islamic State, now menacing whole parts of the Middle East. In Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS (Doubleday, $28.95), Warrick provides an extensive biography of Zarqawi, from his early years in Jordan to his leadership of a violent resistance network in Iraq following the U.S. invasion. Since Zarqawi’s death in 2006, his successors have built the Islamic State into an organization that has eclipsed al Qaeda in influence and ambition. Now led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, known as “the invisible sheik,” the Islamic State has seized large swaths of territory in both Syria and Iraq, running oil fields, banks, schools, and a formidable military while spreading terror through gruesome acts. Warrick’s revealing, well-written account is valuable for anyone trying to understand the Islamic State’s origins and aims—and how U.S. missteps along the way contributed to the group’s rise. Bradley Graham
For many who follow national security affairs, one of the most vexing questions about the Obama administration has been how, after entering office promising different approaches to fighting terrorism than the Bush administration pursued, it has ended up in a number of cases actually continuing or expanding the Bush policies. New York Times journalist Charlie Savage examines what happened in Power Wars: Inside Obama’s Post-9/11 Presidency (Little, Brown, $30), providing the most comprehensive and revealing account so far of how current policies on drones, detentions, military tribunals, surveillance, leak investigations, and other national security matters have evolved. Savage portrays the Obama team as one led largely by lawyers who have focused on adding new legal justifications for existing practices rather than eliminating them. The result, Savage says, is that Barack Obama is likely to be seen “as less a transformative post-9/11 president than a transitional one.” Bradley Graham
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Writing the Faith For most readers Marilynne Robinson is the beloved novelist of Housekeeping and the Gilead trilogy; she’s also a formidable essayist, and in her inspiring fifth collection of nonfiction, The Givenness of Things (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26), she identifies herself not as a writer but first and foremost as a Christian and a Calvinist. Spanning subjects from neuroscience to Shakespeare, civil rights to quantum physics, Robinson doesn’t just showcase her wide reading interests, she practices the deep-seated humanism she preaches. While the received impression of Puritanism is one of dour, narrow-minded self-righteousness, Robinson, after extensive study of Calvin’s texts, shows that he was a humanist and that, properly understood, Christianity itself is founded in a humanist reverence for everything available to human experience. Breathing life into topics that often seem unapproachable, Robinson explains the Reformation, for instance, as a popular movement that made classical texts available to general readers in the vernacular. Similarly, she believes that Christianity has a wider mission than “merely personal salvation,” and urges today’s churches to look past the so-called “sins Jesus never mentioned”—abortion, marriage equality, liberalism—and focus on “the great sin’”—social injustice. As she did so movingly in Gilead and Home, Robinson critiques and celebrates American history and culture from a rigorously theistic perspective, marveling at “the most complex” thing in the universe, the human brain, with its limitless imagination.
Introducing this anthology of essays on the Bible, The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik identifies the four main ways of reading The Good Book (Simon & Schuster, $27) as aesthetic, accommodationist, anthropological, and antagonistic. All these commentators follow the first way, though this involves a combination of skepticism, admiration, befuddlement, and consolation. In it for the language, Lydia Davis gives a close reading of the King James Version of Psalm 23, one translator appreciating the decisions of another. Charles McGrath tries to understand his attraction to “the sublime bleakness” of Genesis, and in a wild reading/retelling of the story of Jonah and the whale, Daniel Menaker combines Biblical cadences with postmodern interrogation for a performance worthy of a poetry slam. Most read for the stories, and whether looking for drama, for characters to identify with, or for the sheer intellectual pleasure of texts open to endless interpretations, writers as diverse as Paul Elie, Pico Iyer, Edwidge Danticat, Lois Lowry, and twenty-eight others find it in the Bible, and are moved to tell stories of their own. These range from reverent to funny, from poem to parody, from family memoirs to accounts of social and political activism; all are personal, and, charting the Bible’s impact on their lives, all show how this ancient book is in fact forever new—not “the holy knick-knack” poet Thomas Lynch grew up with, but, as the Reverend Al Sharpton says of the Psalms, something “for real people. Living with real problems.” Section by Laurie Greer
No Place Like It Glossy design magazines generally feature interiors conspicuously lacking in the lived-in look. Where are the personal touches, the pet fur, the clutter? We know people don’t really live such pristine lives—but when we look at the paintings of Dutch Old Masters, we take those immaculate rooms at face value. In reality, as Judith Flanders, author of the revelatory The Victorian City shows, these pictures omitted much of the messy reality of daily life. The Making of Home (Thomas Dunne, $26.99) has been a long process, involving more than idealized visions of the household, and Flanders tracks down what art left out by examining 17th-century inventories of Dutch and British private property, finding the myriad tools, bedding, smoky lighting, lack of ventilation, and sheer crowds that packed tiny living spaces. Widening her discussion to include northern Europe and the United States, Flanders traces changing uses, materials, and cultural meanings of an array of household features including windows, curtains (which both displayed and veiled their owners’ lives), stairs and their relation to the invention of the corridor, cupboards, and how they started as chests, and on to heating, cooking, furniture, floors, and more, all the while bringing this complex domestic infrastructure to rich and vivid life with narratives of the changing notions of family, gender roles, and the very meanings of “public,” ”private,” “work,” and even “dirt.” Laurie Greer
Earth & Sky Lisa Randall, author of Warped Passages, is a Harvard particle physicist, and the first half of
Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs (Ecco, $29.99) unfolds in space. From inner to outer, Big Bang to many light years later, Randall traces the development of ordinary matter—the 15% of the universe we can see—and the probable presence of dark matter (distinct from black holes), which is “oblivious” to light and may interact only with gravity. Though “we don’t know what dark matter is or is made of,” scientists believe it has been essential in forming and stabilizing galaxies. So what does that mean for us, here? The second half of the book loops back to Earth. Randall uses geology, paleobiology, and chemistry to follow a trail of iridium, microscopic diamonds, and shocked quartz from Italy to Montana to Russia, finally locating in the Gulf of Mexico the impact crater marking the moment 66-million years ago when a massive asteroid struck the planet. It’s a riveting investigation. Among the meteorite’s effects was the extinction of the dinosaurs, but what set that object in motion may have been dark matter. Randall theorizes that it caused a perturbation in the distant Oort cloud, sending an object Earthward. While admitting that this is speculative, Randall not only tells “one of the best stories in science,” but gives a spirited demonstration of science in action.
In “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer,” Walt Whitman reported that he “became tired and sick” at all the facts; worried that science would blunt his sense of wonder, he recovered only when he “Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars,” finding them as mesmerizing as ever. They mesmerize still, as Stories in the
Stars (Penguin Press, $30), a beautiful synthesis of science and myth, word and image, shows us. Written by lifelong star-gazer and actor Susanna Hislop, with images by Hannah Waldron, a versatile designer of textiles and works on paper, this is a grand tour of the universe. From the largest constellation, Hydra, to the smallest, the Southern Cross, the authors take us through each of the official eighty-eight constellations (as codified by the lnternational Astronomical Union in 1922). As diverse and surprising as the stars themselves, these entries retell ancient tales, make up new stories, present folklore from cultures around the world, and report what artists from Ovid to Picasso have made of the spectacle. Then there’s the science. Ptolemy, Copernicus, Galileo, La Caille, Hubble—the learn’d astronomers are here, with concise profiles of their lives and the work they did to establish orders of magnitude, measure light years, and determine that the largest single star among those discussed is R136a1, part of the Tarantula Nebula in the constellation Dorado. Whimsical, wise, informative, charming—make what you will of this atlas: it’s all in how you connect the dots. Section by Laurie Greer
What to Wear In an ever-growing sea of fashion and lifestyle bloggers, Garance Doré stands out with her distinctive mix of creativity, wit, and honesty. She has written online for years about everything from the runway shows’ fashion week to encountering the American dysfunction around body image when she moved from Paris to New York. In Love Style Life (Spiegel & Grau, $30) she brings her humility, humor, and wisdom to the printed page in a gorgeous package. The book is part memoir, part advice column, and part back-stage pass to the world of designer fashion—all interspersed with Doré’s signature street-style photography and illustrations. It is a delightful mix of fashion-based whimsy and thoughtful reflection on relationships, career, and the pursuit of a fulfilling life. Emily Riehl-Bedford
Cooking with My Pantry: Homemade Ingredients That Make Simple Meals Your Own (Pam Krauss Books, $24.99), by Alice Waters and Fanny Singer, is the latest lovely cookbook from the renowned founder of Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley, California. It’s one of Waters’s most personal books, in part because her daughter and collaborator, Fanny Singer, an art historian, provided charming illustrations for the cover and inside pages. In My Pantry the reader is given a tour of Waters’s home kitchen, and a glimpse of how and what a celebrated chef cooks for herself in a pinch. Perhaps not surprisingly, the same rules apply at home as in the restaurant: simplicity, ease, fresh ingredients, and healthy staples are musts. Next to Waters’s stove, we learn, is vinegar and a pepper mill, and in the cupboard are homemade preserves, as well as pasta and beans. Her recipes for spice mixtures and condiments, roasted nuts and nut milks, preserves, grains, fruits, and cheese, are interwoven with her own stories of discovery as a chef and advocate for slow, simple, and sustainable food. Lissa Muscatine Many cooks still have treasured recipes from Madhur Jaffrey’s first book, Invitation to Indian Cooking, from 1973, which is in the James Beard Foundation Cookbook Hall of Fame. Or, perhaps, from their battered copies of her square-format, paperback classic, World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking (1981), or any of her two dozen or so other cookbooks. Over the last few years, Ms. Jaffrey has travelled throughout India to uncover recipes for Vegetarian India: A Journey through the Best of Indian Home Cooking (Knopf, $35). She cooked side by side with local cooks at stoves and grills, whether in homes, shops, or roadside stands. She provides chapters on eggs and dairy, grains and pancakes, and of course, dals, chutneys, desserts, and drinks. Kodova Mushroom Curry With Coconut, Okra Fries with Chile, Turmeric, and Chickpea Flour, Stir-Fried Spinach, Andhra Style, and Goan Potatoes are a few of the 200-plus recipes, profusely illustrated with photos. Ms. Jaffrey always makes the recipes approachable—and mouth-watering. András Goldinger
Celebrated food writer, editor, and restaurant critic Ruth Reichl had risen to the pinnacle of her profession as editorin-chief of Gourmet, when, after ten years at the magazine, publisher Condé Nast decided to close it down. Having held several of the top food editing jobs in America, and already a best-selling author, Reichl was 61 years old and unsure of what to do next. So she did what she most liked to do: she retreated to her kitchen and cooked. Over the course of a year, she tried new recipes, engaged other cooks and eaters on Twitter, and eventually realized she had the makings of a new book,
My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life (Random House, $35). Organized around the seasons of the year, the book features Reichl’s unique gift for story-telling and will satisfy the most omnivorous eaters, with recipes that run the gamut from pork roast to purslane tacos to nectarine galette. Lissa Muscatine
Near and Far (Ten Speed Press, $29.99) is the long-awaited second cookbook from the James Beard Award-winning food blogger Heidi Swanson. The book is framed around Swanson’s travels, beginning with a “Near” section of favorite recipes inspired by her home in San Francisco. It then moves on to cuisine drawn from Swanson’s explorations of India, Japan, France, Italy, and Morocco. This “Far” portion of the book is not a standard set of traditional ethnic dishes but rather Swanson’s own style of cooking filtered through the culture and savors she encounters in each place. What results is a collection of unique recipes that vary widely in flavor but share an elegant simplicity and exquisite attention to detail. Whether you are drawn to the clean flavors of a salad of spring carrots and beans or the more surprising nori granola, Swanson will win you over with her thoughtful approach in the kitchen and the evocative photographs of food and place. Emily Riehl-Bedford
Mark Bittman needs no introduction: he is simply one of the greatest food writers of our time, and the more he experiments and explores, the better it is for all of us. Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Matrix (Pam Krauss, $35), based on the last few years of his New York Times Magazine “Eat” column, is, unsurprisingly, another masterpiece. This new work is a textbook on how to improvise in the kitchen; each page focuses on a single ingredient or base recipe, with categories of variations radiating from that center. These matrices serve as flexible guidelines rather than detailed cooking instructions, and they encourage home cooks to customize the given recipe based on what they have on hand and what they are in the mood for. So whether you are starting with chicken breasts or just have a craving for tomato soup, this book will guide you through the process of thinking about what to make—it is culinary creativity made accessible. Emily Riehl-Bedford
My favorite parties always feature small plates. Why go through all of the trouble of planning a fine multi-course, sit-down dinner when most people would rather be visiting and popping small bites? That is why I love Martha Stewart’s
Appetizers: 200 Recipes for Dips, Spreads, Snacks, Small Plates, and Other Delicious Hors d’Oeuvres, Plus 30 Cocktails (Clarkson Potter, $27.50). This cookbook will help you plan a great small-bite party. It really has it all—from classic recipes like bacon wrapped figs to newer staples like spiced roasted chickpeas. And all of this from one of the most trusted names in entertaining! The recipes are simple and fresh. They will inspire you to have all your friends over for a night in. A night filled with snacks. I don’t think there is a better night than a night in that is filled with snacks. Jenny Clines
In the preface to Eating Words (W.W. Norton, $35), Ruth Reichl says, “We are living in the golden age of food writing.” This spruce anthology, edited by Sandra M. Gilbert and Roger J. Porter, will confirm that assertion. It features the most inclusive selection of food writing that I have encountered. Of course (and thank goodness!) authors like Michael Pollan, Julia Child, and M.F.K. Fisher all make appearances here, but there are also selections from writers not typically identified with culinary literature. Wendell Berry talks to us about the pleasures of eating and connecting to the world. Seamus Heaney’s poem “Oysters” will evoke unexpected feelings for an invertebrate—think David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster, which, as it happens, is also featured here. Erica Jong’s thoughts about the introspective onion will move you to tears. Whether you are new to food literature or are a frequent consumer, your hunger for food lit will be satisfied here. Jenny Clines
Digital downloads and passive streaming revert to good old tactile analog lust in Dust
& Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting (Ten Speed, $50), by Elion Paz. This oversize volume’s boxed-set gravitas and dynamic layout immediately engages our senses in ways no e-book can. As Paz unveils a pantheon of record collectors and their treasured troves, the accompanying array of photos and crate-digging glory-stories stir our inner vinyl junkie. Throughout its 436 pages, Dust & Grooves features interviews with usual suspects including Gilles Peterson, Rich Medina, Sheila Burgel, and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson—all of whom have “record rooms,” wherein their collections occupy floor-to-ceiling shelves spanning the entire walls of loft apartments, basements, and/or two-story houses. (What’s a connoisseur to do with 80,000 records?) Along with colorful reproductions of iconic album covers, Paz showcases the unsung genius of the gatefold sleeve, seamlessly connecting three shots of a collector holding each of the foldout panels to form a panoramic image. Added bonuses in this voyage through vinylmania include glimpses of limited-edition blue platters, rare acetates of alternate takes, and a collectible 45 shaped like a buzz saw blade. Dust & Groove’s static celebration elicits the pop-hiss days of vinyl, those favorite sorted-record shops, and the times by the side of a rotating black sun platter within the gaze of its squared sleeve. Marc Powers
Read Along/Sing Along
Elvis Costello’s lyrics are playful, allusive (and sometimes darkly-tinged), and his music witty in referencing everything from honky-tonks and music halls to Motown B-sides and the American Songbook. So it’s no surprise that he’s written a splendid, voluminous memoir, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink (Blue Rider, $30). Foregoing straight chronology, Costello assembles chapters of tell-tale scenes and vivid set pieces about his family (his father was a big-band singer), early sixties England, and his almost forty years in show business. Costello’s lyrics course through the book, commenting on scenes of a life fully immersed in music, from the prolific “angry young man” to the mature professional realizing (dreams-come-true) collaborations with Burt Bacharach, Paul McCartney, George Jones, Allen Toussaint, and Diana Krall (married to Costello since 2003). To get even more inside the story, listen to Costello himself narrating the audio book of
Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink (Blue Rider/Penguin Audio, unabridged, $50). He has also compiled 38 songs for a 2-CD musical companion to the book, Unfaithful Music & Soundtrack Album (Universal Music, 2 CDs, $20.98). The set includes hits, rarities (such as his collaboration with Rosanne Cash and Kris Kristofferson), and favorite album cuts.
In 2010, James Kaplan published Frank: The Voice, ending the book with Sinatra’s 1954 Oscar triumph for From Here to Eternity. Sinatra: The Chairman (Doubleday, $35) completes the two-volume story in epic style, detailing the most productive and artistically triumphant decades, but also the end-of-the-road concerts. Kaplan sifts through a wealth of material, including his original interviews—often telling a story from two perspectives—to narrate the scenes of Sinatra’s many record sessions, movies, club and concert dates, as well as his off-stage adventures and blowups. Yes, the Rat Pack, Ava and Mia, JFK, and Sam Giancana are all here, but Kaplan time and again returns to the recording studio, where Sinatra escaped his insecurities and recorded some of his greatest records. Kaplan’s descriptions of the collaborations with Nelson Riddle, Billy May, Quincy Jones, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Count Basie make you run to hear the music again. 2015 is the Sinatra centennial year (December 12 is his birthday), and among the commemorative releases are:
Sinatra: All or Nothing at All (DVD, HBO/Eagle Vison) – Alex Gibney’s four-hour documentary portrait is framed around the famous 1971 “retirement concert” in Los Angeles (Sinatra would un-retire two years later). Ultimate Sinatra (4 CDs, Capitol Records) – A great introduction which covers his entire career. A Voice on Air 1935 – 1955 (4 CDs, Sony Legacy) – Newly released compilation of radio broadcasts that cover the younger Sinatra. Section by András Goldinger
In her beautiful new memoir, M Train (Knopf, $25), Patti Smith has written an elegiac work much different in tone and style from her bestselling, National Book Award-winning 2010 memoir, Just Kids. M Train follows a deeply personal course, recounting Smith’s many pilgrimages to honor artists and friends important in her life. Combining travel narratives, dreams, memories, and her own photographs, Smith pays tribute to and, most importantly, spends time (as she faces her seventies, time is a central figure in this book) with places and objects beloved by her artistic mentors. Smith is moving and eloquent on Frida Kahlo’s bed, Tolstoy’s bear, Roberto Bolaño’s chair, Virginia Woolf’s walking stick, Paul Bowles’s Tangier—and through these meditative portraits she evokes a near-mystical experience of love, loss, and the mysteries of creativity. Wherever she goes, Smith is fortified by the local café— indulging in her drug of choice—endless cups of coffee. Rhonda Shary
This expanded and updated edition of the 1998 Collected Lyrics marks the 40th anniversary of Smith’s seminal debut album, Horses (which is number forty-four on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 100 Greatest Albums). Smith’s reputation as a poet and artist preceded the iconic music, and all these forms coalesce to produce the definitive, three-hundred-page volume Patti Smith: Collected Lyrics, 1970-2015 (Ecco, $29.99). This book contains all the singer’s lyrics, including those from thirty-five new and recentlyrecorded songs, back to Smith’s very first song, written for Janis Joplin in 1970. Other special features include an introduction by the artist, Smith’s original drawings and photographs, and facsimiles of Smith’s handwritten commentary on some of the more controversial and iconoclastic pieces. This is a perfect companion piece for M Train—and an essential volume in the rock-and-roll canon. Rhonda Shary
Oh, how we have been waiting for this. Taking the title of her honest and often funny memoir from the song on the Sleater-Kinney album, The Woods, Carrie Brownstein signals that the story of her life is the story of her band. Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl (Riverhead, $27.95) starts with Brownstein’s turbulent family life (a closeted gay father, an anorexic mother) and how the Pacific Northwest’s growing independent music scene gave her a focus and an identity. Her intimate account of Sleater-Kinney gives readers an inside look at the group’s formation and struggle to find the perfect drummer, takes us on the road trips, with all their joys and stress, and helps clarify who wrote which songs. Stopping short of her work in Portlandia, Brownstein’s book is the story of a talented and determined female musician, an indomitable riot grrrrl in the male world of punk rock. Hannah Oliver Depp
Stop in at the store and pick up copies of András’s recommendations, Favorite CDs of 2015 and the 2015 Holiday Music Guide.
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Welcome to the 2015 Politics and Prose Holiday Newsletter. As we have in past years, we’ve tried to select the best—and most beautiful—recen...
Published on Nov 20, 2015
Welcome to the 2015 Politics and Prose Holiday Newsletter. As we have in past years, we’ve tried to select the best—and most beautiful—recen...