The long-awaited, much-discussed sequel that might have been a prequel—and that makes tolerably good company for its classic predecessor.
It’s not To Kill a Mockingbird, and it too often reads like a first draft, but Lee’s story nonetheless has weight and gravity. Scout—that is, Miss Jean Louise Finch—has been living in New York for years. As the story opens, she’s on the way back to Maycomb, Alabama, wearing “gray slacks, a black sleeveless blouse, white socks, and loafers,” an outfit calculated to offend her prim and proper aunt. The time is pre-Kennedy; in an early sighting, Atticus Finch, square-jawed crusader for justice, is glaring at a book about Alger Hiss. But is Atticus really on the side of justice? As Scout wanders from porch to porch and parlor to parlor on both the black and white sides of the tracks, she hears stories that complicate her—and our—understanding of her father. To modern eyes, Atticus harbors racist sentiments: “Jean Louise,” he says in one exchange, “Have you ever considered that you can’t have a set of backward people living among people advanced in one kind of civilization and have a social Arcadia?” Though Scout is shocked by Atticus’ pronouncements that African-Americans are not yet prepared to enjoy full civil rights, her father is far less a Strom Thurmond–school segregationist than an old-school conservative of evolving views, “a healthy old man with a constitutional mistrust of paternalism and government in large doses,” as her uncle puts it. Perhaps the real revelation is that Scout is sometimes unpleasant and often unpleasantly confrontational, as a young person among oldsters can be. Lee, who is plainly on the side of equality, writes of class, religion, and race, but most affectingly of the clash of generations and traditions, with an Atticus tolerant and approving of Scout’s reformist ways: “I certainly hoped a daughter of mine’d hold her ground for what she thinks is right—stand up to me first of all.”
It’s not To Kill a Mockingbird, yes, but it’s very much worth reading.
Accidental deaths in war and at home engender terrible lies and guilt in this highly original, engrossing literary thriller.
Michael, a writer, and TV journalist Caroline are in their 30s when they meet, marry, and move to Wales in a love story that is a marvel of freshness and compression—and a delayed subplot in this skillful novel. Welshman Sheers (Resistance, 2008, etc.), also a poet and playwright, actually begins with the recently widowed Michael slowly moving through the next-door home of his new friends in London, where he has moved after his wife is accidentally killed in a Pakistan drone attack. Her death, however, is not “the event that changed all of their lives,” an event that is heralded on the first page but then withheld for almost half the book as Michael’s search for a borrowed screwdriver becomes an eerily suspenseful exploration of the house. It is constantly interrupted by sections of flashback and ends with another terrible accident. Tension surges again in police and amateur detective work, or in the psychological agony of living with a terrible truth. With smooth shifts of time and place, the author navigates love and friendship, more than one life lost, more than one knot of lies, more than one family shattered. Parallels abound; almost every character seems to have some kind of double in worlds as disparate as Wall Street, war, and publishing. Some key behavior seems questionable, and Michael’s glacially slow search next door risks becoming tedious.
But these are small faults in the face of such a large talent as Sheers, a resourceful writer with a sharp eye for both the big picture and the lovely detail, such as “tiny women lost in monstrous SUVs, their painted nails clutching the steering wheels like the feet of caged birds.”
In June 2000, diagnosed with an extremely rare appendix cancer, Lea’s husband chose to undergo an experimental surgery to excise cancerous growths filling his abdomen, followed by several days of hot chemotherapy. Post-surgery complications resulted in his suffering an “anoxic insult,” loss of oxygen to the brain. After the siege to his body, he emerged weak, disoriented, and unable to remember anything. In her candid, unsentimental debut memoir, Lea tells the story of two survivors—her husband, Richard, and herself—as they have confronted changes in their identity, relationship, and family as a result of his trauma. She interweaves a chronicle of Richard’s medical challenges with her account of a 23-year marriage that was often infused with anger: Richard’s erupted in violent attacks on their young son, Lea’s in rebellion against responsibilities as a wife and mother. Yearning to be wild, she turned to drink, often blacking out, sometimes for minutes; “other times, most of a night would go by and I wouldn’t know what had happened.” She was an alcoholic for years before she finally went to Alcoholics Anonymous; by the time of Richard’s operation, the marriage had improved. As Richard’s caregiver, though, anger surfaced again: she admits that she does not like “leaving the role of his lover to take on what feels like becoming his nurse, teacher, and mother.” But she is “determined to become the fiercest, most virtuous caregiver anyone has ever seen.” Their daughter accused Lea of controlling Richard’s story by publishing her version, and sometimes her assertions are troubling: Lea writes, for example, that “Richard isn’t experiencing grief for a lost self” because he is “helpless to find that former being.” But readers will get little sense of what Richard truly feels, and grief seems a distinct possibility.
A forthright memoir that narrates an engrossing journey of self-discovery and fierce devotion.
A beloved author returns with a novel built around a series of real-life plane crashes in her youth.
Within 58 days in the winter of 1951-'52, three aircraft heading into or outbound from Newark Airport crashed in the neighboring town of Elizabeth, New Jersey, taking 116 lives. Blume (Summer Sisters, 1998, etc.), who was a teenager there at the time, has woven a story that mingles facts about the incidents and the victims—among them, Robert Patterson, secretary of war under Truman—with the imagined lives of several families of fictional characters. Though it's not always clear where truth ends and imagination begins, the 15-year-old protagonist, Miri Ammerman, is a classic Blume invention. Miri lives with her single mother, Rusty, her grandmother Irene, and her uncle Henry, a young journalist who makes his reputation reporting on the tragedies for the Elizabeth Daily Post. In addition to the crashes, one of which she witnesses firsthand, Miri faces drama with her mom, her best friend, the adviser of her school newspaper, and her first real boyfriend, an Irish kid who lives in an orphanage. Nostalgic details of life in the early '50s abound: from 17-inch Zeniths ("the biggest television Miri had ever seen") to movie-star haircuts ("She looked older, but nothing like Elizabeth Taylor") to popular literature—"Steve was reading that new book The Catcher in the Rye. Christina had no idea what the title meant. Some of the girls went on dates to Staten Island, where you could be legally served at 18....The Catcher in the Rye and Ginger Ale." The book begins and ends with a commemorative gathering in 1987, giving us a peek at the characters' lives 35 year later, complete with shoulder pads and The Prince of Tides.
Though it doesn't feel much like an adult novel, this book will be welcomed by any Blume fan who can handle three real tragedies and a few four-letter words.
The ever hip and funny comedian and Parks and Recreation star embarks on a surprisingly insightful exploration of the complex realities of dating today.
Long before Ansari was born to his Tamil parents, people got together and married the least offensive prospect in the neighborhood. Sometimes, they looked no further than their own apartment building. Over time, and if they were lucky, they managed to form an enduring bond that grew into something a lot like love. It was crazy by today’s contemporary Western standards, but Ansari’s incredulousness with this anachronistic state of affairs is tempered with such a high level of earnest intelligence and compassion that he immediately establishes himself as a serious investigator. The author has plenty of jokes, for sure, but he also did his homework, teaming up with noted sociologists—including co-author Klinenberg (Sociology/New York Univ.; Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, 2012, etc.)—assembling focus groups, and even comprehensively exploring the idiosyncratic dating cultures of Tokyo, Paris, and Buenos Aires. Ansari also examines real-time text exchanges between singles in the United States. Is there anything more anxiety-inducing than waiting for a potential partner to return a text? Has texting become the last refuge for weak-kneed dopes too afraid to dial a woman directly? Increasingly sophisticated smartphones and dating apps provide today’s singles with options their 20th-century counterparts could never have imagined. However, as Ansari cleverly demonstrates, those marvelous advances create their own unique headaches, as unlimited choices can leave the lovelorn paralyzed. Ansari’s eminently readable book is successful, in part, because it not only lays out the history, evolution, and pitfalls of dating, it also offers sound advice on how to actually win today's constantly shifting game of love.
Often hilarious, consistently informative, and unusually helpful.
A crazy whim of a trip on a covered wagon turns into an inspired exploration of American identity.
Journalist Buck (Shane Comes Home, 2005, etc.) chronicles his summerlong journey across the “Great American Desert” in a covered wagon, an arduous, astonishing journey that traced the same exodus of more than 400,000 pioneers across the Oregon Trail in the 15 years before the Civil War. The author and his brother had the knowledge and wherewithal to make such an ambitious journey largely because of their upbringing in rural New Jersey, where their father, a Look magazine editor and former pilot, kept horses and wagons and took the family of 11 children on a similar, though shorter, journey into Pennsylvania in the summer of 1958. Once Buck realized he could not manage three mules and a wagon all by himself, he enlisted his big, enormously capable brother, and the two procured the authentic 19th-century Peter Schuttler wagon and three specially bred American mules (each with its own wonderfully eccentric personality) and all the necessary equipment for breakdowns and repairs. The preparations were daunting, and Buck fascinatingly walks readers through all of them, all with an eye to how the early settlers made the actual journey, from St. Joseph, Missouri, to the Willamette Valley, Oregon: 2,000-plus miles of carefully plotted trail, encompassing high desert and mountains, rivers and shaky bridges, thunderstorms, scant water, and patches of no road. Throughout, the travelers were, by necessity, required to frequently jettison supplies. “See America Slowly” was the theme of the men’s boyhood trip, a theme resurrected sweetly for this one. The journey encouraged delighted observers to shelter and feed the men and mules, often in the towns’ communal rodeo grounds, and allowed the brothers to reconnect over childhood memories and with the American land they cherished.
By turns frankly hilarious, historically elucidating, emotionally touching, and deeply informative.
Award-winning ecologist Safina (Nature and Humanity/Stony Brook Univ.; The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World, 2011 etc.) disputes the dogma among scientists that forbids speculations about the “the inner lives of animals.”
As the author notes, “a young scientist is taught that the animal mind—if there is such—is unknowable.” They are taught to always refer to animals as “it” rather than “who.” Attributing emotions to animals is to commit the sin of anthropomorphism. Safina refutes this idea by examining the social behavior of primates, elephants, wolves, whales, and many others. “Not assuming that other animals have thoughts and feelings was a good start for a new science,” he writes. “Insisting that they did not was bad science.” To dissociate man from other animals is to deny the evidence. We recognize when animals are hungry, so why not admit “when animals seem joyous in joyful contexts, joy is the simplest interpretation of the evidence.” The author cites experiments that demonstrate how electrical stimulation of the brains of animals and humans trigger similar emotional responses, and he based his examples on his personal observations of animals in the wild and discussions with experts with firsthand knowledge of them. For example, the matriarch in an elephant or wolf family depends on other adults for support, and they, in turn, depend upon her. Safina illustrates this with poignant descriptions of how the social lives of both adult and young animals are shaped by the interplay of individual adult personalities within the family. The author's chronicles of his observations of wild animals are captivating, but they also serve to make a larger point: why are people unwilling to admit that nonhuman animals also think and feel as we do? Safina suggests that perhaps it is “because acknowledging the mind of another makes it harder to abuse them.”
A profound, scientifically based appeal for recognition of the kinship of all living things.
A young girl navigates a tumultuous childhood to become one of the top chefs in the country in this delicious debut from Stradal.
Eva Thorvald is just a baby when her mother leaves and her father dies. But despite never really knowing her chef father and sommelier mother, Eva finds out that cooking is in her blood. In elementary school, she grows hot peppers in her closet. In high school, she gets an internship at the nicest restaurant in town. Eventually, she grows into one of the most respected, most adventurous chefs in the country, running an ultrahip pop-up supper club with a yearslong waiting list. Although Eva’s tale is interesting enough on its own, the true excitement comes from Stradal’s decision to tell it in interconnected stories from different points of view. The reader sees Eva through the eyes of her father, her boyfriend, a rival, a cousin, and more. Piecing together Eva’s life from these patchwork stories fleshes out her world and makes the ending feel especially rewarding. Delightful details, like a fiercely competitive county-fair bake-off with a category just for bars, inject the book with some Midwestern realness.
Food and family intertwine in this promising debut that features triumph, heartbreak, and even recipes.
A razor-sharp memoir that reveals the woman behind the wine glass.
Addiction’s death grip and the addict’s struggle to escape it is an old story, but in Salon personal essays editor Hepola’s hands, it’s modern, raw, and painfully real—and even hilarious. As much as readers will cry over the author’s boozy misadventures—bruising falls down marble staircases, grim encounters with strangers in hotel rooms, entire evenings’ escapades missing from memory—they will laugh as Hepola laughs at herself, at the wrongheaded logic of the active alcoholic who rationalizes it all as an excuse for one more drink. This is a drinking memoir, yes, and fans of Caroline Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story (1996) will recognize similar themes, but Hepola moves beyond the analysis of her addiction, making this the story of every woman’s fight to be seen for who she really is. Generation X women, in particular, will recognize an adolescence spent puzzling over the rash of parental divorces and counting calories as a way to stay in control of a changing world. Hepola strews pop-culture guideposts throughout, so any woman who remembers both Tiger Beat magazine and the beginning of the war on drugs will find herself right at home. It was an age when girls understood that they weren’t destined to be housewives but were not so clear on the alternatives, and it’s no wonder the pressure led many to seek the distance that drinking promised. Promises, of course, can lead to all sorts of trouble, and Hepola tells the naked truth of just how much trouble she got into and how difficult it was to pull herself out. Her honesty, and her ultimate success, will inspire anyone who knows a change is needed but thinks it may be impossible.
A treasure trove of hard truths mined from a life soaked in booze.