From the strange history of the science of genetics to a novel that explores the artistry of Asian Americans to the fractures of Pakistan.
The Violinist’s Thumb By Sam KeanThis history of the discovery of our genetic code is above all a story in humility—Mendel found that nothing was simple in life, and appearances are always deceptive.The pioneers of genetics rarely need to trumpet the power of their science. The rest of us mortals look to our DNA for answers—sometimes easy answers. Why am I not a better basketball player than Michael Jordan? Because I wasn’t born tall enough.
From 'Parsifal,' a reimagining of the Arthurian legend of the quest for the Holy Grail to the true story of how one of Wall Street’s biggest con men was himself conned out of $100 million.
Parsifal: A NovelBy Jim KrusoeA repairman goes in search of the drinking cup he used when he was a child, as everything from turkey fryers to washer-dryers is falling from the sky.The sky isn’t falling in Parsifal, Jim Krusoe’s latest novel—but everything else is. Paper clips, cutting boards, and a Chevy Impala are just a few of the items that rain down from above in this dystopian novel. Why? Simply put, there is “a war between the earth and sky.
A white writer realizes he has no close black friends and tries to find out why; a darkly humorous novel about modern life; and a new costume-drama-ready biography of Thomas Becket. By Nicholas Mancusi.
Some of My Best Friends Are BlackBy Tanner ColbyA white writer tries to figure out how he could have gone without forming any substantive relationships with black friends.Colby, emerging from the “comedians who died young” pigeonhole that he had made for himself after penning biographies of both Chris Farley and John Belushi, finds a new way into a national discussion, which is so cluttered at this point that it can be difficult to find the floor.
A detective novel starring a dying Pablo Neruda, a survey of the influences on Darwin, and a brutally honest memoir of a bumbling, insecure Asian-American. By Jimmy So and Luke Kerr-Dineen.
The Neruda Case by Roberto AmpueroA real sense of fun permeates this mashup of a detective novel of international intrigue with the figure of the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.In a time when zombies and sea monsters have visited upon Jane Austen and Abraham Lincoln has been tasked with hunting vampires, one wonders if there is any icon that the publishing world would not summon for a resurrection. A memoir by shape-shifting alien Aristotle? A muscular T.
From ‘Jarhead’ author Anthony Swofford, a memoir of the worst trauma of all—literary fame—to a novel about taking a trip with 15-year-old Louise Brooks to a terrible, horrible tale of evil crimes in the underbelly of Tokyo.
Hotels, Hospitals, and Jails: A Memoir by Anthony SwoffordThe celebrated author of Jarhead details the experience of coming home from a war, living in the shadow of a Vietnam-vet father, and dealing with the worst thing of all: literary fame.Former Marine Anthony Swofford may not have been very well equipped for the success of his Gulf War recollection Jarhead, what with his addictive personality, overactive libido, and newfound expensive tastes.
From a biography of Churchill told through his main profession—writing—to a collection of colorful vignettes by a Jamaican-American poet, Jimmy So picks the notable books of the week.
Mr. Churchill’s ProfessionBy Peter Clarke Churchill never made any money except with his pen, and his 34-volume output was extraordinary even for a full-time writer. Except he was the world’s leading statesman, too. Who was Winston Churchill? A man of politics, sure, a leader to help England “keep buggering on” in the darkest hour. The historian Peter Clarke never makes the case that Churchill was first a writer—no, his calling was politics, for that was what all Churchills did.
From ‘HHhH,’ a Holocaust novel about the impossibility of writing a Holocaust novel, to a memoir without a trace of self-aggrandizement by priest and politician Bob Massie.
HHhH By Laurent BinetA brilliantly profound debut about the assassination of the architect of the Holocaust, a subject of such enormity that it utterly resists fictionalizing. But Binet is not making things up.Reinhard Heydrich, the Butcher of Prague, the principal architect of Hitler’s “Final Solution”—is there a more evil villain in any story anywhere? Certainly Hollywood couldn’t resist. No sooner than he was assassinated on the streets of Prague by a pair of Czech and Slovak freedom fighters that Hollywood leaped to put the story on screen, not once but several times, although never very successfully.
This week: the Oscar-winning director of ‘Inside Job’ indicts the fat cats, Jay McInerney’s sober writings about wine, and Paul Theroux goes down the river.
Predator Nation By Charles FergusonThe director of Inside Job indicts America’s elites who oversaw the catastrophic financial bubble, punished no one for its crimes, and now stands by while inequality and corruption grows.Charles Ferguson’s Academy Award-winning Inside Job was “an amazingly lucid account of the way greed, ineptness, and irresponsibility have brought much of the world to its knees,” the film critic David Thomson raved. The documentary was so well reported and organized, its gilded subjects so thoroughly and embarrassingly interviewed, that you can see it itching to spring free of its medium.
This week: an expansive essay collection from an august music critic we ought to treasure, a big novel rediscovered four years after being self-published, and Granta brings us not-so-swinging Britain.
Granta 119: BritainWhile the fiction is, as always, serenely good, it is the nonfiction exploration of a struggling yet dignified culture that is remarkable.The Paul Smith-designed cover recalls a ruined Downton Abbey, a polite culture knocked about. Granta devotes an entire issue to today’s Britain, where austerity and nostalgia reigns, for better or for worse. The fiction is spectacular, with entries from Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa (“The Celt”) and the extraordinary Adam Foulds, whom I’ll read whenever, whatever he writes.
A staggering achievement from pioneering ‘graphic woman’ Alison Bechdel, ex-Marine and former Dartmouth president James Wright’s study of American servicemen, and Christopher Buckley’s political satire on the Chinese.
Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama By Alison Bechdel The lesbian memoirist and pioneering graphic storyteller had to show her honest, plumbing new book to her mother. It’s a staggering achievement.Acclaimed writer/cartoonist Alison Bechdel (author of Fun Home and the long-running comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For) is an artist at the height of her powers and in complete control of her form. The graphic novel itself already represents a tricky blending of media, and the fact that her new book, Are You My Mother, contains elements of both novel and memoir could have muddied things up further.
This week: an evil preacher haunts a novel with biblical qualities, a personal look at the effects of China's Cultural Revolution, and the troubled hunt for 9/11's mastermind. By Jimmy So.
A Land More Kind Than Home By Wiley Cash Structured as a triptych, Cash’s debut about a town gripped by a menacing preacher has the timeless qualities of the Old Testament.Nostalgia gets a bad rap, yet we all look back. Adelaide Lyle, one of three narrators of the novel (the three alternate telling the story through their eyes), sees the western North Carolina town of Marshall “for what it was, not what it was right at that moment in the hot sunlight .
This week: a people's history of liberalism from FDR to Obama, a story about the richest passengers on board the Titanic, and a novel about the ascendance of Seattle. By Jimmy So.
The Cause: The Fight For American Liberalism From Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama by Eric Alterman and Kevin Mattson“Liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition,” the great literary critic Lionel Trilling wrote in 1950. Is that still true?“Liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition,” the great literary critic Lionel Trilling wrote in the preface to 1950’s The Liberal Imagination.
A satire from author Lionel Shriver, the life of the first great American painter, Thomas Hart Benton, and an Amazon tribe challenges Noam Chomsky.
The New RepublicLionel Shriver, the author of the harrowing and patient We Need to Talk About Kevin, delivers something altogether different: a callous and romping political and journalistic satire.I delight in every opportunity to bring up the namesake of my publication. And so when Shriver conjured up a satire featuring a journalist who’s sent to a fictional state that’s in a sort of a civil war, it’s hard not to think: Scoop! In the Evelyn Waugh riot, the bumbling William Boot, foreign correspondent for the Daily Beast, gets an exclusive on a coup in the African state of Ishmaelia, because he’s too lazy to leave town.
A dark and dank novel of murky memories by an American master, a harrowing memoir of the Iraq war, and swing time for Fred and Adele Astaire, 80 years too late.
MudwomanThe title is perfect, not only for Oates’s latest novel—her 38th, in case you’re counting—but as a summary of her American Gothic oeuvre.“Mudgirl” was left to die beside the Black Snake River. She is rescued and adopted, like Moses, and grows up to be “M.R.,” perhaps as masculine as initials come, and becomes a philosopher who’s also the first female president of an Ivy League school. (Oates is herself a professor of humanities at Princeton.
This week: a harrowing elegy to a lost friend, a mathematical genius lives below the author, a freak show centered on a love so singular it could only be crazy, the story of what happens to us after we die, and Jeanette Winterson escapes her childhood through books and lives to write about it.
The Guardians A harrowingly elegiac memoir to a troubled friend who killed herself—and a search for just what they shared.Halfway through Sarah Manguso’s haunting elegy to her friend Harris, who escaped a psychiatric facility and threw himself under a Metro-North train, she writes, “At first I thought a death was a thing in itself, a discrete item in the world, a piece of time and space.” The Guardians is the story of how she came to learn otherwise, to see how a death can reverberate across years and bind itself up in the living.
Every week, we present brief but in-depth reviews of five fiction and non-fiction books.
How did Renaissance masterpieces survive the carnage of World War II? Noah Charney on America’s art historian war heroes.
Writers Bel Kaufman, Michael Chabon, Mary Glickman, and others reflect on their roots. From Open Road Media.