02.26.11

This Week's Hot Reads

This week: Acclaimed writers wrestle with death, an adventure novel inspired by Poe, the culinary roots of a fashion journalist, harrowing tale of growing up bipolar, and a delicious office romp.

The Inevitable: Contemporary Writers Confront Death
Edited by David Shields and Bradford Morrow

Twenty acclaimed modern authors offer their thoughts on coming to terms with mortality.

What is death? How do we face it? How does it affect life? Those are the questions put before 20 contemporary writers, who each struggle to provide their own answers. Jonathan Safran Foer, Joyce Carol Oates, Annie Dillard, Terry Castle, Diane Ackerman, Geoff Dyer, and Kyoki Mori are some of the writers included in this smorgasbord meditation on the final event. Oates divides her life into the “before” and “after” periods punctuated by her husband’s death; Mori holds her mother's suicide as the reason she wants to welcome the consequences of her decisions. These writers see death as a biological reality that does not necessarily lead to a joyous rest or a fiery judgment, and Shields and Morrow's have collected what Kirkus Reviews calls “a wonderfully speculative patchwork quilt on the meaning of life and death.”

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Pym: A Novel. By Mat Johnson. 336 Pages. Spiegel & Grau. $24. ()

Pym: A Novel
by Mat Johnson

A riveting adventure novel that is also a cutting meditation on race, literature, and obsession.

Chris Jaynes is an American literature professor who, after losing his job, spirals into an obsession with Edgar Allan Poe's bizarre novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Mat Johnson’s latest novel gets just as strange when Jaynes decides to make a voyage to Antarctica, where Poe's story is set, in hopes of discovering the mythic land of pure and utter blackness that Poe describes with horror. Jaynes and his all-black crew find themselves cut off from contact with the outside world, and eventually imprisoned by Poe's frightening ice creatures. Library Journal praises Pym's “hilarious asides and footnotes” that make the novel a “genre-jumping work,” while author Colson Whitehead describes it as a “send-up of this world and the next.”

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A Tiger In The Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family. By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan. 304 pages. Voice/Hyperion. $14.99. ()

A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family
by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

A Chinese-Singaporean expat leaves behind fashion journalism in New York to revisit her culinary roots overseas.

Born in the Year of the Tiger, rebellious Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan left her home in Singapore to pursue journalism in America when she was just 18—but some 15 years later, she found herself yearning for her native country’s culinary traditions and the ambrosial meals that shaped her early life. Chronicling her quest for self-discovery through food, Tan’s A Tiger in the Kitchen is reminiscent of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, yet the author’s determination to master her grandmothers’ and aunts’ recipes also echoes the triumphs and struggles in Julie Powell’s Julie & Julia (Tan also maintains a blog, www.atigerinthekitchen.com.) Above all, A Tiger in the Kitchen is a tale of reconnecting with family and tradition—with the fried rice and flaky pineapple tarts that define Singaporean culture—and of food’s sensorial power to connect us to our pasts. 

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The Dark Side of Innocence: Growing Up Bipolar. By Terri Cheney. 270 pages. Atria. $25. ()

The Dark Side of Innocence: Growing Up Bipolar
by Terri Cheney

Following her bestselling memoir Manic about living with bipolar disorder in adulthood, Cheney gives us a poignant, enlightening view of her struggles with the disease as a child.

Terri Cheney was a bright, outgoing little girl with a loving family and a peaceful life in suburban Los Angeles, until she made her first suicide attempt at the age of seven. Thus begins The Dark Side of Innocence, Cheney’s painful recounting of a childhood and adolescence fraught with drastic emotional highs and lows. Pretty, intelligent, and popular among her peers, Terri struggled to maintain her daily life while repressing an inescapable inner pain. Desperate attempts to keep her turmoil a secret would backfire in frightening episodes of self-destruction, while neither she nor her parents truly understood the nature of her behavioral issues. Terri narrates her lifelong journey from the depths of despair to hope and treatment, providing an eye-opening account of a child’s attempt to cope with mental illness and the intervention she needed to survive. 

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In Office Hours. By Lucy Kellaway. 336 pages. Grand Central Publishing. $24.99. ()

In Office Hours
by Lucy Kellaway

A heated romp into the lives of two women who surrender to the temptations of illicit office affairs amid the pandemonium of financial crisis.

With biting wit and humor, Lucy Kellaway tells the story of a married female executive and a young associate and single mother who embark on steamy relationships with their coworkers at a global oil company. Stella Bradberry falls for her strapping young assistant, putting her marriage and job at risk as she gives in to sexting and elating quickies around the office and on business trips. Meanwhile, Bella is fooling around with her married boss in company conference rooms, and is forced to be the fourth wheel to his wife and another mistress. A satirical columnist for The Financial Times, Kellaway’s mastery of corporate language and sharp understanding of messy business environments makes In Office Hours not only a delicious pleasure but also an insightful depiction of the thrills and dangers of intimacy in the corporate world.

Plus: Check out Book Beast, for more news on hot titles and authors and excerpts from the latest books.