Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sourcebooks Landmark: Long After We Are Gone by Terah Shelton Harris

From My Shelf

Jacqueline Kennedy in Her Own Sharp Words

In this age of hyperbole, it's refreshing to come across a new book truly that is historic--even if it's also rather catty.

In early 1964, only months after the assassination of her husband, Jacqueline Kennedy sat down seven times with historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., as part of an oral history project on the Kennedy presidency. Their conversations, which lasted a total of six and a half hours, focused on the legacy of John F. Kennedy but also touched on her role as First Lady; the relationships between President Kennedy and his brothers; and her views on the major political figures she met. She also talked about her husband's personal opinions about figures in history, political adversaries, his reading habits and more. The interviews were recorded and then sealed at the Kennedy Library, unheard and unread by more than a handful of people. Until now.

Today Hyperion is publishing Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy, a rich multimedia title that includes 100 photographs, eight CDs of the interviews, a transcription of the interviews, an introduction and annotations by historian Michael Beschloss and a foreword by Caroline Kennedy. Excerpts quoted in yesterday's New York Times portray a First Lady who was engaged on many levels, protective of her husband and his legacy, old-fashioned about marriage and brutal in her comments on most people.

This new title fills a striking gap in the Kennedy record: the key person missing in all the millions of words written and spoken about the presidency of John F. Kennedy has always been his intensely private wife, known by the public mainly from paparazzi photographs, for her personal story, for her sense of style and, in the book world, for her work for two decades as an editor at Viking and Doubleday. "This is the first time we hear her talk in her own words about that time," said Gretchen Young, editor of the book. "It's extraordinary to hear her finally."

Caroline Kennedy is campaigning energetically for the book and will appear on a variety of shows, including tonight a special edition of ABC's Prime Time with Diane Sawyer. You'll hear a lot about this book this week and the next few months. You'll also hear an American treasure, warts and all. Happy reading--and listening! --John Mutter

The Writer's Life

Book Brahmin: Jane Lynch

Television and film actress Jane Lynch (who plays Sue Sylvester on Glee) grew up on the South Side of Chicago and currently lives in Los Angeles. She married Dr. Lara Embry in 2010, and was lucky enough to get two daughters in the deal. Happy Accidents (reviewed below), her memoir, has just been published by Voice (September 13, 2011). Watch Jane's hilarious book trailer here.

On your nightstand now:

The Wisdom of Menopause by Dr. Christiane Northrup. I usually read it in the middle of the night while hot-flashing.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye by Kenneth P. O'Donnell. I was Kennedy-obsessed as a kid.

Your top five authors:

David McCullough, John Irving, David Sedaris, Nora Ephron, Dr. Christiane Northrup. After I read historical biographies, I like to laugh.

Book you've faked reading:

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. I was about 23, and I would "read" my dog-eared Penguin copy while on the subway trying to look educated.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav. I bought multiple copies to give away to friends. I inscribed them with "this will change your life." 

Book you've bought for the cover:

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I read it and loved it in the early '80s and re-read it recently and thought it was rather silly.

Book that changed your life:

Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav.

Favorite line from a book:

"An authentically empowered person is one who is so strong, so empowered, that the idea of using force against another is not a part of his or her consciousness." --Seat of the Soul.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.

Great Reads

Further Reading: Driving Home

Novelist and journalist Jonathan Raban is an Englishman in New York--and Hawaii, the Midwest and Seattle (his actual home). In Driving Home: An American Journey (Pantheon), Raban's latest work, readers learn a lot more about what things a longtime expatriate notices that natives sometimes miss, and about why Raban has chosen to call this nation his own. He looks at natural disasters, at visual artists, at family vacations and so much more in a book that combines essays with diary entries, and careful thought with on-the-spot observations.

Some of the best travelogues are written about a culture by someone who is either a partial or a complete outsider. In honor of Raban's new release, a brief selection of "outsider art" in travel writing.


Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island is one man's attempt to understand Great Britain after two decades of expatriate life there, and just months before returning permanently to the U.S. Longtime Bryson fans will expect the grumpy humor and whimsical reportage here, but anyone new to this wonderful writer who doesn't find herself charmed should report to the principal's office immediately.


The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay is not only a classic of travel writing, but also a monument to intrepid females everywhere (the intro to the latest edition is written by Jan Morris). Yes, it's a novel, but because it is so largely autobiographical, we're including it here. If you don't already know the book's famous opening line, we won't spoil it for you--but know that "Aunt Dot" is likely based on the real-life Dorothy L. Sayers.


V.S. Naipaul is no fan of intrepid females, at least of the writing kind, given his 2011 cranky remarks. However, Sir Vidia has written many important works, and his 1982 Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey pointed early on to a growing search for "purity" in the youthful Muslim populations of Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia. Naipaul follows one young adult in each country, and like a true novelist, allows these characters to ultimately shape the story? Is it entirely representative? Perhaps not. Is it relevant and compelling? Absolutely. --Bethanne Patrick


World Book Night Longlist

The top 100 titles nominated for next year's World Book Night in the U.K. include some perennial American book club and one city, one read favorites--and may indicate some of the titles that will be celebrated next April 23 when World Book Night is introduced to the U.S. 

The World Book Night Top 100 is led by Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, followed by Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Marcus Zusak's The Book Thief, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife.

During the past two months, more than 6,000 people submitted their 10 favorite reads. The collated results will affect the choices of the editorial selection committee, chaired by novelist Tracy Chevalier. A final list of 25 titles for World Book Night 2012 will be announced October 12 at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Movies: Le Carré on New Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

For devoted fans of the 1979 BBC adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy who are deeply concerned about the new film version that will be released later this fall--starring Gary Oldman as George Smiley--author John le Carré has some advice: relax.

"I approached the prospect of a feature film of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy with the same misgivings that would have afflicted anyone else who had loved the television series of 32 years ago," le Carré told the Telegraph. "George Smiley was Alec Guinness, Alec was George, period. How could another actor equal let alone surpass him? My anxieties were misplaced. And if people write to me and say, 'How could you let this happen to poor old Alec Guinness?' I shall reply that, if 'poor Alec' had witnessed Oldman's performance, he would have been the first to give it a standing ovation."

Le Carré added that Oldman "pays full honor to the genius of Guinness.... He evokes the same solitude, inwardness, pain and intelligence that his predecessor brought to the part--even the same elegance. But Oldman's Smiley, from the moment he appears, is a man waiting patiently to explode. If I were to meet the Smiley of Alec Guinness on a dark night, my instinct would be to go to his protection. If I met Oldman's, I think I just might make a run for it."

For his part, Oldman "was very flattered to be asked to play George. Britain has a long espionage tradition, and I'd say we've spied quite well. But we have also held a rather romantic view of it, and le Carré showed the reality. I hope this movie will encourage people to discover his books."

BBC News Magazine had a different question, asking "how firmly is John le Carré's novel rooted in reality?" The answer, as might be expected, is complex: "Trying to establish the precise relationship between John le Carré's fictional depiction of British intelligence in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and its real life counterpart is a task that requires the investigative skills of George Smiley. And even le Carré's fictional spymaster might be left wondering if he had unpeeled all the layers of mystery to get to the real truth."

"He has traded in this ambiguity through his career and made a virtue of it," said Adam Sisman, who is "currently engaged in the challenging task of trying to establish the truth for the authorized biography of le Carré," the BBC wrote.

Dictionaries of the Web; Top New York Novels; Top City Novels

The Web is a lexicographer's dreamworld, as Flavorwire showed by featuring "10 online alterna-dictionaries for tour defining pleasure," including the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, the Hipster's Dictionary and the Dictionary of the Absurd.


Jay McInerney recommended his "essential New York novels" for the Browser, where he noted that it "wasn't until the early 20th century that we began to develop a distinct New York literary tradition. A lot of American fiction is concerned with the hinterlands. Henry James did some writing about New York--Washington Square, of course--but he famously rejected the United States as being too uncivilized for literary fiction. It was only through his friend Edith Wharton that New York began to find a voice for itself."


Have you done your shopping for Hobbit Day, September 22? The Doubleday Dashboard featured "11 literary holidays that every book lover should know," which was compiled by


Flavorwire recommended some "essential reading from the world's top literary cities."

Book Candy: Literary Pets; Vintage Dust Jackets; Smell of Books

"Literary pets" were featured by 50 Watts in an essay that observed "the personal pet has played a triple role in the service of literature: that of comfort, companion and, along with its undomesticated counterpart, that of inexhaustible source of inspiration—an inspiration which surely will endure until the most delinquent pigeon roosts and even the tardiest cow comes home."


Flavorwire discovered a selection of "beautiful vintage dust jackets from classic novels" at Facsimile Dust Jackets, "a veritable treasure trove of beautiful, fully unfurled (flaps and all!) vintage jackets from almost 8,000 books."


Eric Hellman explored the concept of people who claim to love the smell of books, noting that it seems odd "until you think about the time-travel aspects of smell.... I've been talking to a lot of people about the books that they love. 'Love' in this context is not the 'love' people might use casually to describe their relationship with a product for sale. Instead, people seem to relate to books the way they relate to people. There's the love for a teacher who makes a difference in your life. Love for a friend you helps you feel joy. The thrill of discovering a soul mate. And among authors, there's the blind love for a child that goes beyond all rationality.

"The intensity of these emotions must get bound up with smells in the hippocampus to create a lasting impression on book lovers. When we smell a book all of these feelings resonate across time and they comfort us. Even in the future when all our reading is done on e-book readers or other screens, we'll keep real books around us like the clothing of a spouse or a parent lost to a tragedy, left in the bed to warm and comfort. And then we'll find strength to move on, but the spirit of the book will remain.

Book Review


The Night Circus

by Erin Morgenstern

Suspend your disbelief and enter Le Cirque des Reves. We believed in witches and wands; now we can believe in a magical circus that arrives without warning and opens only at nightfall. Believe, as well, in its amazing inhabitants: magicians who really do magic, a contortionist who collapses her body into a small glass box, a fortune teller who really tells fortunes. Here clothes change colors depending on mood, a face can change to hide its true self, a person can read the past that covers your clothes, a man has no shadow, and each tent--who knows how many--like Calvino's "invisible cities" contains a fantastical world unto itself.

This turn-of-the-century fable by first-time author Morgenstern is told in short episodes. At its heart is the story of a mysterious, years old, arranged contest--to the death, they later find out--between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who had no say in their parents' decision. Also at stake is their love for each other, which has grown deep over the years, and nothing less than the very existence of the circus itself. It's also the story of Bailey, a young boy who loves this circus more than anything else. The book drags some in the middle, but it's quickly overcome, and the flashbacks seem unnecessary. Still, this is a stellar work destined to pick up prizes. The publisher is behind this one in a big way and, yes, film rights have been sold. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: A stellar debut work about a fantastical world of paradoxes, where "you feel the warmth of breath on your neck, but when you turn there is no one there."

Doubleday, $26.95, hardcover, 9780385534635

The Winters in Bloom

by Lisa Tucker

Lisa Tucker's (The Song Reader) latest novel focuses on "helicopter parents" (they hover) Kyra and David Winter, whose seven-year-old son is kidnapped. A note left behind claims that Michael's abductor loves him and won't harm him. While this is cold comfort, Tucker tempers the family's devastation with descriptions of the Winters' smothering control over their son. Michael is home schooled just in case he might encounter a bully; he's not permitted playmates because they could carry germs; and Legos are forbidden as a potential choke hazard. While it's clear that the Winters adore their son, they are so neurotically overprotective that you can't help but feel a twinge of satisfaction when his mysterious kidnapper takes the sheltered kid whale watching and lets him eat a candy bar.

Kyra and David carry traumatic baggage of their own. This isn't David's first marriage or child, and Kyra is weighed down with guilt about her once-beloved sister. Is David's crazy ex-wife the culprit or has the sister that Kyra betrayed finally come to seek her revenge?

Tucker is a master chef of character development and living with heartbreak. This work examines the fallible side of human nature, creating characters so achingly real that at times you forget you're reading a work of fiction. As the book reaches its suspenseful climax, Tucker's message resonates: ultimately all human error can be conquered by forgiveness. --Natalie Papailiou, blogger at MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: A simply addictive novel about forgiveness, making amends and second chances.

Atria, $24, hardcover, 9781416575405

Those Across the River

by Christopher Buehlman

Christopher Buehlman's masterful debut novel opens with an unsettling preface: "He came out to see me in the cage because I belonged to him."

Were it not for that tip-off, one would think that Buehlman had written "just" a fine novel about a couple from Chicago moving to a small Georgia town in the mid-1930s. Buehlman's prose is moody and lush--sun gleaming through the pines, honey-thick air, the whirr of locusts, sweat- and sex-damp sheets, a milky moon. He can jolt with a few finely honed lines about the war: the Huns "ready to send a rosary of lead that could make whole companies kneel." And he can be witty: when Frank asks the storekeeper for wine, he's told there's no wine in Morgan County--"All we drink is the blood of the Redeemer."

Story, sense of place, drama, sensuality, smoldering prose, characters in both senses of the word, pitch-perfect dialogue--these elements alone would be enough to recommend Those Across the River to readers. But as the preface infers, Buehlman has a few chilling curves to throw into a seemingly straightforward tale. Why did his aunt insist he sell the house? Why are the woods considered "deep and mean?" What is the monthly Chase of Pigs? And why was a boy killed under the next full moon?

In this spellbinding tale of terror, Christopher Buehlman traces with impeccable pacing the arc from the happiness of a new beginning for Frank and Dora, through hints of lurking strangeness in their new town, to full-blown horror as evil is unleashed. Buehlman has written one of the best books of the year, filled with sorrow, beauty and terror. --Marilyn Dahl, book review editor, Shelf Awareness

Learn more about Those Across the River in our Maximum Shelf.

Discover: A hypnotic tale of love and terror, a debut from a writer with the confidence and chops of a seasoned pro.

Ace, $24.95, hardcover, 9780441020676

As If a Bird Flew by Me

by Sara Greenslit

This slim novel from Sara Greenslit (The Blue of Her Body) reads like a beautiful, haunting dream, and its sparkling mesh of lyricism and imagery netted Greenslit the Ronald Sukenick/American Book Review Innovative Fiction Prize, ensuring the work's availability to captivate lovers of fine wordcraft.

Light on word count but heavy with impact, Greenslit's narrative follows brief thoughts and moments in the lives of a lapsed cellist attempting to master her instrument anew; her neighbor Celia; and Celia's ancestor Ann Pudeator, executed during the Salem witch trials and now alive only in Celia's amateur genealogy attempts. Though these three women ostensibly make up the focus of the novel, in reality a myriad of human and animal stories link and interlink in a succession of interludes and fragments that is part fiction, part field guide, part poetry. Greenslit possesses a rare gift for capturing the lovely and eerie connections between past, present and future, between strangers who never meet, and between humanity and the natural world we barely notice. She offers us the secrets of birds, the alchemy of music and the mystery of migration.

Fans of free verse and prose poetry will savor As If a Bird Flew by Me as though walking through a gem-studded cavern, each sliver of language a shining stone. One caveat: not reading Greenslit's most striking passages aloud will feel akin to thumbing through sheet music without ever sounding a note, so savor in solitude or among other lovers of unique, expressive writing. --Jaclyn Fulwood, graduate assistant, University of Oklahoma Libraries

Discover: A dreamlike labyrinth of natural imagery and poetic fragments woven with the lives of two contemporary Midwestern women and an accused witch in colonial Salem.

F2c/University of Alabama Press, $14.50, trade paper, 9781573661645

An Accident in August

by Laurence Cosse, trans. by Alison Anderson

On August 31, 1997, in the Pont de l'Alma tunnel in Paris, a speeding Mercedes crashed into a pillar, killing two of the four passengers instantly and seriously injuring the other two, one of whom died four hours later; the last spent time in a coma. These are the facts of the night that Princess Diana and her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, died.

In Laurence Cossé's (The Corner of the Veil) fictional version of the story, there is also a small Fiat Uno traveling into the tunnel at 30 miles per hour. The Mercedes driver, trying to avoid the paparazzi, scrapes the side of the Fiat and loses control of his car in the process. The Fiat driver, 25-year-old waitress Louise Origan, keeps going. Was she responsible for the accident? She has her car repaired by an Indian mechanic who seems wholly indifferent to the transaction, which calms her a little.

For days immediately following the accident, Louise is terrified of discovery, not sure if she caused the accident, but certain that she could easily be made a scapegoat for the tragedy. Pieces of her car's broken taillight are identified, and news sources share that the police will seek out every Fiat in the country.

Louise is already spiraling downward when she learns this news; indifferent to her boyfriend, missing work, not sleeping, reading and watching everything pertaining to the accident. Then the man who repaired the Fiat shows up , and what has been a tense recital of a woman suffering inner torment becomes a study in psychology and survival. Cossé maintains perfect control of her terrifying story, through to the ambiguous ending. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: A woman driving into the tunnel just ahead of the speeding Mercedes that crashed and killed Princess Di keeps going, forever altering her life.

Europa Editions, $15, trade paper, 9781609450496

Mystery & Thriller

Children of Paranoia

by Trevor Shane

Imagine a world almost exactly like the one we live in, except that some of us are participants in a shadow "War" against an unknown enemy. Joe, the narrator of Trevor Shane's debut, Children of Paranoia, is one of the War's frontline soldiers. When he was 16, he was told the real reason why members of his family were constantly dying in "accidents" or attacks, and soon after that he signed up to start killing people on the other side. He's been at it for years; he goes where his superiors send him, kills whoever he's instructed to kill. Lately, though, he's starting to have second thoughts....

Children of Paranoia is structured as a journal in which Joe explains his past to Maria, a college student he meets in Montreal, where he's been sent on a mission. Joe lays his story out in painstaking detail, and the pervasiveness with which the War encompasses every aspect of his life helps keep readers' disbelief suspended.

The first half of the novel lays the fatalism on especially thick, though things pick up when he decides to run off with Maria. Shane intensifies the suspense here as Maria is shown incontrovertible evidence that Joe isn't just deluded, and making her susceptible to the same all-encompassing paranoia that drives him.

There are times when the full-on dedication characters show toward the War becomes a bit hard to swallow. But Shane pushes past those rough spots by maintaining a tight focus on Joe and his devotion to Maria. By sticking to that emotional core, Children of Paranoia functions neatly as a surreal variant on the noir thriller where evil lurks in every shadow and happiness either remains tantalizingly just out of reach or could be snatched away in an instant. --Ron Hogan, founder of

Discover: Trevor Shane's unusual premise is a perfect garden in which the classic noir elements of death and desperation can bloom.

Dutton, $25.95, hardcover, 9780525952374

Jane and the Canterbury Tale: Being a Jane Austen Mystery

by Stephanie Barron

Stephanie Barron (Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron) sends her literary heroine to Kent on an extended visit to her brother, Edward, in her 11th delightful installment of the Jane Austen Mysteries. While attending a reception following the wedding of the widow Adelaide Fiske to Captain Andrew MacAllister, Jane observes the delivery of a pouch of tamarind seeds and the subsequent distress the curious package causes the bride. The next day, a stranger is found dead on the famous Pilgrim's Way of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. When the stranger is discovered to be none other than Adelaide's first husband, the presumably long-dead Curzon Fiske, Adelaide's family and closest friends, and eventually Adelaide herself, fall under the cloud of suspicion. As the local magistrate, Edward must see to the legal proceedings, and he relies heavily on Jane's keen observations and quick mind to uncover the truth.

Jane Austen's famous wit comes through so artfully in Barron's reverent, warm rendering of the author that the reader is likely to mistake it for a lost journal. Barron is as masterful in styling her prose in the mode of Austen's own voice as she is in building a mystery. Barron's own background as an intelligence analyst for the CIA undoubtedly serves her well as every chapter she writes presents a new level of discovery, creating a knot the reader will not easily untangle. All these elements combine to make Jane Austen's latest adventure thoroughly entertaining and impossible to put down. --Sarah Borders, librarian, Houston Public Library

Discover: A cozy mystery told with such accurate period detail that it is sure to appeal to diehard Austenites and British history buffs alike.

Bantam, $15, trade paper, 9780553386714


by Simon Toyne

Dan Brown didn't invent the thriller that promises to blow your mind by explaining that everything you knew about religious history was a lie, but The Da Vinci Code has become the benchmark for the genre. In some respects, debut novelist Simon Toyne strives to surpass Brown: while The Da Vinci Code was content to throw the origins of Christianity into doubt, Sanctus posits a brutal conspiracy that stretches back to the dawn of civilization and continues to hide its mysterious "Sacrament" deep inside the Citadel, a monastery carved into a mountain in Turkey.

The opening of the novel is impressively spectacular: one of the monks has discovered the truth about the Sacrament and has been scheduled for execution. Instead, he breaks out of his cell and climbs to the top of the Citadel, where he poses like a crucified figure until news networks broadcast his image all over the world, at which point he hurtles himself to the ground below. But... was he mimicking Jesus on the cross, or was he depicting the Greek letter tau, the origins of which stretch all the way back to the ancient Sumerians?

This is exciting stuff, especially when you throw in an intrepid Turkish police inspector, commando monks sent to recover their apostate brother's corpse, an ancient counter-conspiracy that sees his suicide as the first movement of a long-awaited prophecy, and his sister, a reporter who immediately jumps on a plane to Turkey when she gets the first news of her brother in eight years. Toyne sets all these components in motion and never lets the pace falter, right up to the startling revelation.

But where Brown nurtures the plausibility of his alternative theologies by aligning key narrative details with the world as we know it, Toyne vaults into pure fantasy.

Despite flaws in logic--as well as an ending that isn't really an ending--Sanctus can be awfully fun if you give yourself over to the ride. The non-realistic aspects of the story mean it's not likely to spark the sorts of debate Dan Brown's fiction can, but it reads as though Toyne's real focus may not be on theological revolution so much as sheer entertainment, and on that front his career is off to a rollicking start. --Ron Hogan, founder of

Discover: Subtly feminist critique of patriarchal religion or escapist thriller? You be the judge.

Morrow, $25.99, hardcover, 9780062038302

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Highest Frontier

by Joan Slonczewski

Joan Slonczewski’s (A Door into Ocean) first novel in more than 10 years, The Highest Frontier, shows the author at the top of her game, weaving biological hard science fiction with approachable, lived-in characters and situations within a fully realized near-future world that, like all good SF, grapples with current world social and technological issues and fears.

Jenny Ramos-Kennedy, the current scion of a politically influential family, arrives for her freshman year at Frontera College--in orbit above Earth, built with media and tribal casino money, attracting the best and brightest of the current generation--already struggling, having recently lost her twin brother. Her on-and-off again boyfriend is an Amish work-study student; her best girlfriend is a polymath Parisian hacker; and her roommate compañera is introduced as an omniprosthete--a human brain in an artificial body. The Earth is in ecological collapse, the body politic relies perhaps too heavily on technology and constant polling, and the students at Frontera College must navigate their very public lives along with their personal desires and demons.

This is a character-driven novel of ideas with wonderfully extrapolated technologies in the digital and biological sciences. The ideas are well explained with minimal exposition, making Jenny and her friends and teachers come alive as they explore their new frontier habitat as well as their new status as the last great hope of humanity, hovering far above the planet, polarizing politics and culture as they do so. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A satisfying hard SF novel that explores biology, politics and the college experience through a character-driven plot and carefully crafted near-future world in ecological and political upheaval.

Tor, $26.99, hardcover, 9780765329561


The Other Walk: Essays

by Sven Birkerts

Photographer Walker Evans once offered this prescription for a meaningful life: "Stare. Pry. Listen. Eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long." In this masterly collection of 45 brief personal essays, critic Sven Birkerts's work is a testimonial to one writer's effort to take Evans's injunction to heart.

Birkerts's keen eye and sinuous prose are triggered by the humblest of objects: his daughter's clay sculpture, a red tin cup cherished for 30 years, an inexpensive ring from his family's ancestral home in Latvia, a child's drawing on a fogged bus window. "And somehow," he writes, "who knows why, when I saw that finger it was like someone reached inside and tapped the dial, put me square on my station."

Birkerts's reminiscences focus as intently on personal relationships as they do on objects. In "Chessboard," an intense engagement with the game becomes a metaphor for the evolution and eventual death of a friendship. "The Points of Sail" recounts his son's brush with death when his sailboat capsizes off Cape Cod, allowing Birkerts to meditate in the aftermath of that near tragedy on "how it is between parents and their children... how it snarls up together, all the vigilance and ignorance, luck and readiness, love and fear. We know nothing."

With the demise of Borders, Birkerts's essay "Postcard," describing his years working in the original Ann Arbor store in the early '70s, might serve as an elegy for the bookstore chain. And Birkerts is nothing if not a man of books. "Truth is, I like the feel of a place that is overrun with books," he concedes. His love of literature and writing informs these often intimate pieces without dominating them.

The Other Walk is a book best consumed in slow, contemplative bites, with ample time allowed to reflect on and absorb them. And it's one that should be picked up, reread and savored for its expressive beauty and its gentle reminder that we can find life's fullness amid its most inconsequential moments. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: In 45 diverse and thoughtful personal essays, critic Sven Birkerts offers glimpses into his personal life and encounters with the world around us.

Graywolf, $15, trade paper, 9781555975937

Happy Accidents

by Jane Lynch

Some celebrity memoirists are preeningly coy; others over-divulge. Jane Lynch, the actor who embodies Glee's Sue Sylvester with such pugilistic panache, wisely strides through her first 50 years in Happy Accidents with more zip than wallow. Her candor is unafflicted by over-dramatization, and every chapter or so she lands a deft punch line.

Written chronologically, Happy Accidents covers Lynch's cozy childhood, self-actualization efforts and career strivings before it gets to Glee. Despite a tendency to sum up personal growth in New Age buzzwords, the actual scenes Lynch recreates are specific and sharp. She hears the word "gay" for the first time at the age of 12 and realizes that a) it applies to her, and b) in suburban 1970s Illinois it was "a disease and a curse." Of her remarkably effective stint in Alcoholics Anonymous, she says, "Had I known that in AA one of the things you do is tell your drinking story over and over, I would have made mine much more interesting."

The account of Lynch's ascendance in Happy Accidents is instructive for any aspiring actor. She makes her own luck by earning an MFA in classical theater, auditioning promiscuously, hawking Frosted Flakes on TV, nabbing roles originally written for men and honing the improv skills that drive her smartly unhinged cameos in Best in Show, A Mighty Wind and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. The memoir's happy ending entwines Lynch's showbiz home on Glee with the emotional home she builds after she crosses paths with her future wife, a meet-cute that is documented by one of the many charming photographs reproduced in Happy Accidents. The title fits, but Lynch's talent and charisma deserve equal billing. --Holloway McCandless, blogger at Litagogo: A Guide to Free Literary Podcasts

Discover: Jane Lynch's delightful candor as she recounts her journey from suburban choirgirl to struggling character actor to happily married star of Glee.

Hyperion Voice, $25.99, hardcover, 9781401341763

Raised Right: How I Untangled My Faith from Politics

by Alisa Harris

As a home-schooled, gingham-wearing, picket sign-carrying teenager, Alisa Harris believed that with enough fervent prayer, doctrinal argument and political activism, God's people could save the world. She picketed abortion clinics as a small child, volunteered for Republican campaigns as a teenager and even dressed up as Hillary Clinton to make a point about government corruption at a county fair.

But as Alisa moved outside her family circle, encountering people she truly respected who didn't share her beliefs, she began to wonder if it were possible--or necessary--to argue people into faith. Gradually, she acknowledged the frustrating complexity of living in a world with so many gray areas--and came to rely less on carefully constructed arguments and more on the grace of a God whose benevolence reached far beyond the boundaries of politics.

Harris, now a journalist, writes with a wry self-awareness, poking gentle fun at her own past arrogance, while admitting she hasn't figured out exactly how to live as a person of faith. She deeply respects her parents' beliefs and the principles they taught her, but in the wake of 9/11, various political scandals and several controversial wars, she rejects the idea that Americans--or anyone--should conflate politics and faith.

In our highly polarized political climate, Harris is a refreshing contrast to pundits who insist on the "right" way to vote (and believe). She speaks for a new generation of Christians, who believe faith and politics should interact, but prefer asking questions--and helping others--to forming picket lines. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A thoughtful, witty memoir about growing up ultra-conservative--and gradually embracing a faith with far more questions than answers.

Waterbrook, $14.99, trade paper, 9780307729651

Children's & Young Adult

Dead End in Norvelt

by Jack Gantos

Jack Gantos's (Joey Pigza Loses Control) latest winning novel, both humorous and heartwarming, introduces us to Norvelt, Pa., created by the U.S. government as a model community after the closing of its coalmines. The book is set during the summer of 1962, when narrator Jack turns 12 and spends most of his days grounded. Jack's main "get out of jail free card"--and one of the novel's most charming characters--is Miss Volker. The blossoming of their friendship coincides with the blooming of Jack's character.

Miss Volcker, the town historian and medical examiner, suffers from acute arthritis. So she dictates the obituaries to Jack, who types them up, takes them to the newspaper editor and places a pin on the house of the deceased on her map of Norvelt. As the Norvelters start to go (faster than anticipated), no new families move in to take their places. Miss Volker does her part, by selling her sister's home to a "nice young man." Except that he turns out to be a Hell's Angel, is accidentally run down by a cement truck, and his friends return to take their revenge on the town.

Jack often feels caught between a mother who loves Norvelt and all it stands for, and his father, a World War II veteran who sees the dying town as a "dead end." Jack and Miss Volker's relationship gives the boy a fresh perspective. Her love of history is infectious, and her respect for Jack and her belief in him as a hope for the future allows him to believe in himself. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A humorous and heartwarming novel inspired by Jack Gantos's childhood in the utopian town of Norvelt.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $15.99, hardcover, 352p., ages 10-14, 9780374379933


by Brian Selznick

With this brilliantly constructed novel, told alternately in prose and visual sequences, Brian Selznick may have topped even his Caldecott Medal-winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Here he tells the story of 12-year-old Ben Wilson in words and the story of 12-year-old Rose Kincaid in images. When the two stories--which begin 50 years apart--join, their convergence delivers an intense emotional impact.

Although Ben's story unfolds in prose in 1977, it begins in images, with a dream of two wolves chasing him that unfolds as if through film stills. The camera zooms in on the alpha wolf, then its face, and closes in on the reflected light of one wolf's eye. This bright light connects with Ben's love of the stars. Ben's mother told him that "he'd never be lost as long as he could find the North Star." But after her death, he stopped believing it. The first image in Rose's story is the light in the eyes of a glamorous-looking woman dressed in 1927 fashion. The camera lens then widens to reveal she is Lillian Mayhew, one of "Today's Stars," in MovieStar magazine. We soon learn that Mayhew is Rose's mother and that her story unfolds wordlessly because Rose is deaf. A series of events lead both Ben and Rose to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Like an intricate mosaic, Selznick's subtle patterns connect elements of Ben and Rose's lives in a master design. The way Selznick bridges their stories over half a century will leave you wonderstruck. --Jennifer M. Brown, children’s editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Brian Selznick’s latest tour de force, which brilliantly melds a prose story and a wordless tale set 50 years apart.

Scholastic Press, $29.99, hardcover, 640p., ages 9-up, 9780545027892


Author Buzz

Every Time We Say Goodbye

by Natalie Jenner

Dear Reader,

EVERY TIME WE SAY GOODBYE was the hardest book I will ever write, and the most rewarding. I packed everything I could into this book: love and conflict, faith and religion, censorship and resistance, art and moviemaking, fashion and food, cameos by favorite actresses and characters from my earlier books, and above all Rome, my favorite city in the world. I hope that my novel gives you the entertainment and inspiration that nourished me throughout its writing.

Email with the subject line "Every Time Was Say Goodbye Sweeps" for a chance to win one of five copies.

Gratefully yours,
Natalie Jenner

Buy now and support your local indie bookstore>

AuthorBuzz: St. Martin's Press: Every Time We Say Goodbye by Natalie Jenner

St. Martin's Press

Pub Date: 
May 14, 2024


List Price: 
$29.00 Hardcover

Happily Ever Maybe
(A Montgomery Ink Legacy Novella)

by Carrie Ann Ryan

Dear Reader,

What happens in a bodyguard romance when both characters are a bodyguard?

All the heat and action!

I love writing workplace romances because things get tricky. And when a one night stand ends up burning up the pages, things get... explosive.

Gus and Jennifer are fiery, kick-butt characters that made me so happy to write.

I hope you love them!

Carrie Ann Ryan

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: Happily Ever Maybe (A Montgomery Ink Legacy Novella) by Carrie Ann Ryan

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
February 13, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

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