January 6, 2010
The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris
This is Ferris’ second novel. I’m hoping it will be as sharp-witted and delightful to read as his first, Then We Came to the End, which I listed as one of the best books of 2007. Publishers Weekly gave The Unnamed a starred pre-pub review.
Just Kids by Patti Smith
Smith tells the story of her romance and life-long friendship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. From the publisher’s website: “Just Kids begins as a love story and ends as an elegy. It serves as a salute to New York City during the late sixties and seventies and to its rich and poor, its hustlers and hellions. A true fable, it is a portrait of two young artists’ ascent, a prelude to fame.”
Valley of Death: The Tragedy at Dien Bien Phu That Led America into the Vietnam War by Ted Morgan
Written by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, this book focuses on the fateful battle that ended French rule in Indochina and set the stage for the U.S. Vietnam war. From the publisher’s website: “A veteran of the French Army, Ted Morgan has made use of exclusive firsthand reports to create the most complete and dramatic telling of the conflict ever written.”
The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them by Elif Batuman
From an author profile in Publishers Weekly: “…a collection of engagingly fresh essays not just about Russian literature but about people who are enamored with it following a deceptively simple premise of traveling to where the authors – Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoyevski [sic] – traveled while they were writing their novels.”
Something Is Out There: Stories by Richard Bausch
Bausch is one of our present-day masters of moving short fiction that’s richly endowed with unforgettable scenes and characters. Library Journal gave it a starred review and writes, “A powerful, disturbing and significant book for fans of heavy-hitting fiction.” The publisher’s website says the book offers “eleven indelible new tales that showcase the electrifying artistry of a master.”
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Skloot is getting a lot of pre-publication kudos for this science book about an African-American mother of five who, being treated for cancer at Johns Hopkins University in 1951, had tissue samples taken from her body without her knowledge. They became HeLa, the first “immortal” cell line and one of the most important tools in medicine. Library Journal writes, “While there are other titles on this controversy, this is the most compelling account for general readers, especially those interested in questions of medical research ethics.”
The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis
I used to know a reader who was so infatuated with the works of this witty, cynical Brit that he traveled to Amis readings and kept a picture of the author and himself on his desk at the office. So, in his honor, I list the new Amis novel in February, where it’s available first in the U.K. (It’s coming to the U.S. in May.) The pre-pub description says the novel is a comedy of manners and a nightmare (quite a combo) about a 20-year-old literature student in Italy during the 1970s.
The Changeling by Kenzaburo Oe, translated from the Japanese by Deborah Boliver Boehm
A new novel by Nobel Laureate Oe about the friendship between a writer and film director and the latter’s suicide. From the publisher’s website: A “…far-ranging search to understand what drove his brother-in-law to suicide. The quest takes [the writer] to Berlin, where he confronts ghosts from both his own past, and that of his lifelong, but departed, friend.” While this is fiction, Oe’s brother-in-law, a famous film director in Japan, jumped to his death in Tokyo in 1997, according to Publishers Weekly.
Rumored Islands by Robert Farnsworth (poetry)
Farnsworth’s new collection is scheduled for “Spring 2010,” according to the publisher’s website, so I’m placing it in the month of the first day of spring. Publisher’s Weekly describes the collection as “poems of wonder and shame, loneliness and ‘the strange, sun-spun fabric of the world.’” The book currently is not listed on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Orders might have to come directly from the Harbor Mountain Press.
Solar by Ian McEwan
McEwan’s website says this is an “engrossing and satirical novel which focuses on climate change.” Library Journal says it’s bound to be controversial because the protagonist, a Nobel prize-winning physicist, “gets slashed by the media after he says that most physicists are men because of differences between male and female brains.” According to The Guardian: “McEwan found himself under a similar kind of fire last summer, besieged by the media after he told an Italian newspaper that he ‘despise[d] Islamism, because it wants to create a society that I detest’.” Looks like he’s working it out in his fiction.
What Becomes: Stories by A. L. Kennedy
A new collection by this Scottish author of rich, absorbing stories. Released in 2009 in the U.K., The Guardian’s review said: “These are wonderfully textured pieces, varying from sentence to sentence, mood to mood, committed to capturing the precariousness and unsteadiness of individual mental landscapes.”
Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott
A novel about a 17-year-old high-performing, conscientious girl tempted by drugs and alcohol. This is Lamott’s third book about her character Rosie who appeared in Rosie and the Crooked Little Heart.