Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, November 8, 2019

Mariner Books: Briefly Perfectly Human: Making an Authentic Life by Getting Real about the End by Alua Arthur

From My Shelf

Comics: Time Traveling with Sequential Art

Pioneering cartoonist Will Eisner once described comics as a "sequential art." Expanding on Eisner's theories in Understanding Comics (Morrow, $24.99), Scott McCloud later defined the term as "juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence." The capacity for comics to control how readers experience time within a narrative is a key feature of the medium. In these recent releases, cartoonists take advantage of this feature to purposely distort how time is perceived.

Reincarnation Stories (Fantagraphics, $29.99) is a joyful, labyrinthine, and profoundly strange journey through the cosmic history of creator Kim Deitch (The Boulevard of Broken Dreams). During a difficult recovery period following an eye surgery, Deitch plays memory games with himself to pass the time. He connects extraordinarily vivid childhood memories to near-hallucinations and past lives. Instead of using standard panels to organize his comics, Deitch uses full-page spreads, sometimes with multiple timelines occurring in one drawing. His recently operated-on eyeball hangs at the top of these frames like the sun, reminding readers of how strange the mechanism of memory truly is.

Kevin Huizenga's The River at Night (Drawn & Quarterly, $34.95) is the latest entry in his Glenn Ganges series. Although the book's subject matter varies, Huizenga threads through each of these stories his interest in how the transcendental enters into domestic life. Ganges follows the serpentine river of his thoughts into bizarre contingencies and strange narrative arcs. His insomnia-induced hallucinations appear in nighttime shades of blue and black across panels that continue after the physical page ends.

Much of Ana Galvañ's Press Enter to Continue (Fantagraphics, $19.99) is spare on words. Dynamic and otherworldly, Galvañ's multiple narratives unspool in neon colors across pages without demarcated panels. The most abstract of these three books, Press Enter confounds the boundaries of both comics and visual art to show a world where technology distorts both time and space.

--Emma Levy, publishing assistant, Shelf Awareness

Sleeping Bear Press: A Kurta to Remember by Gauri Dalvi Pandya, Illustrated by Avani Dwivedi

Book Candy

Map of Literary History

"This wonderful map charts out the wide world of literature," Tor noted.


"America's first banned book really ticked off the Plymouth Puritans," Atlas Obscura noted.


Two beautiful apartments rented by Alexander Pushkin "will only set you back 55 million rubles, or around $858,500," the Moscow Times reported.


Buzzfeed quiz: "How well do you remember the Princess Diaries book series?"


Author Tiffany Francis-Baker picked the "top 10 books about the night" for the Guardian.


Helsinki "has a library to learn about the world, the city, and each other," reported.

The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness

by Susannah Cahalan

Where lies the divide between an illness in the brain and an illness in the mind? Is there a divide? As famed Stanford psychology professor David Rosenhan asked, "If sanity and insanity exist, how shall we know them?"

These questions anchor Susannah Cahalan's The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness, and the stakes involved in answering these questions are high. As Cahalan puts it, the ability to answer has wide-reaching effects: "from how we medicate, treat, insure, and hospitalize, to how we police and whom we choose to imprison."

Cahalan's investment in the topic is personal. She recounted the story of her own experience with mental illness in her 2013 runaway bestseller Brain on Fire, which Netflix adapted into a film the same year. At the age of 24, she found herself hospitalized with a disease whose symptoms aligned alarmingly with schizophrenia.

"Diseases like the one that set my brain 'on fire' in 2009 are called 'the great pretenders,'" she explains, "because they bridge medical worlds: their symptoms mimic the behaviors of psychiatric illnesses, but have known physical causes, autoimmune reactions, infection, or some other detectable interferences in the body." Cahalan has since traveled widely, telling her story to audiences across the world. But even she found herself slipping into a mode of thinking that distinguished the psychiatric from the physical--and she wanted to better understand why. Where Brain on Fire delved into Cahalan's experience of being a patient herself, The Great Pretender probes the systems that shape a patient's experience, exploring historical and contemporary frameworks for understanding them.

Cahalan starts with a whirlwind history of mental healthcare in the United States, highlighting moments of innovation and infamy and sketching its most controversial patrons and purveyors. She traces Nellie Bly's famed 1887 exposé on the women's asylum on Blackwell's Island; the impacts of activist Dorothea Dix in the mid-1800s; and the tragedy of Rosemary Kennedy and others whose families' approach to "treatment" ranged from ethically ambiguous to outright horrific. A sampling: Charles Dickens, trying to commit his wife, Catherine, so that he could have an affair with another woman; Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton--of "It was a dark and stormy night" fame--similarly trying to have his inconvenient wife committed; 20% of the mentally ill in Switzerland kept restrained in their homes; a man chained by his neck to a wall in a London hospital for 14 years, unable to move more than a foot.

What makes many of the stories so shocking is the uncertainty in whether those committed to asylums in any way "belong" there. In the midst of her research, Cahalan learns of a study from the 1970s that gets at the very same issues: Dr. David Rosenhan's landmark 1973 report "On Being Sane in Insane Places." It was a study that had an explosive impact on the field of psychiatry. Rosenhan's starting point, in his own words, was the question "How many people, one wonders, are sane but not recognized as such in our psychiatric institutions?" As Nellie Bly had done almost a century before, Rosenhan decided the best way to investigate would be to get himself admitted to a mental hospital as a patient--and then to behave as he normally would. Would anyone notice?

To bolster his study, Rosenhan recruited others as well. In all, eight "pseudopatients" spent time in asylums across the United States, documenting their experiences with exhaustive notes. To get themselves admitted, all claimed to be hearing voices that repeated the words, "thud," "empty" and "hollow." All were committed. All were diagnosed. All were medicated. All, of course, weren't actually sick.

In the era of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Rosenhan's experiment flew in the face of the cult of psychiatry. The renowned journal Science published the article. The enormity of its impact is hard to overstate. People reconsidered how they viewed psychiatry. Psychiatrists reconsidered how they saw themselves. The study led to a complete overhaul (one of several) of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). More than four decades later, Rosenhan's experiment is still widely taught in introductory psychology courses.

Rosenhan died in 2012. To learn more about him, Cahalan visits his longtime Stanford colleague and friend, Lee Ross. Rosenhan had entrusted many of his files to Ross, who shares them (with the notable exception of one file Ross deemed "personal") with Cahalan. She pores through Rosenhan's notes. And then she gets a bit concerned. As Cahalan pieces together the story of what may really have happened in the study--or, perhaps more accurately, what may not have really happened--inconsistencies arise. Then inaccuracies. Then outright lies.

What results is a fascinating, nuanced and engrossing journey to better understand the study that led so many in a field to question whether it really understood itself. Cahalan researched The Great Pretender over the course of five years, but the pages practically turn themselves. It's absorbing, sometimes sobering, sometimes seriously funny. Cahalan's narration makes the reading great fun, with an urgency occasionally akin to a thriller.

At its core, The Great Pretender is a multifaceted portrait of a study that, no matter its complications, fundamentally shook the foundations of psychiatry. Cahalan invites us to reconsider how many fallacies about the mind and brain we may all still simply be taking for granted. She raises more questions than answers, but along the way Cahalan helps us learn how to ask better questions about what madness is, how we should name it and how we might better care for those it afflicts. --Katie Weed

Grand Central Publishing, $28, hardcover, 400p., 9781538715284

Susannah Cahalan: Misunderstanding Mental Health

photo: Shannon Taggart

Journalist Susannah Cahalan (Brain on Fire) returns with The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness (Grand Central Publishing), further unpacking how we (mis)understand mental health and why it matters. Cahalan is an award-winning journalist and author who lives in Brooklyn with her family.

As you yourself ask: Where is the divide between brain illness and mental illness, and why do we even try to differentiate between them at all?

I think we try to differentiate out of fear. There's fear of the mentally ill "other"; there's fear that we ourselves may not be as "sane" as we believe; there's fear of the unknown, or what causes mental illness. I think it comes down to this fact: none of us are immune.

Naming is so important. As diagnostic terminology grows, you write, psychiatrists can "provide a name for their patients' suffering, something I personally would argue is one of the most important things a doctor can do, even if a cure isn't in sight." What is so powerful, or empowering, about a name?

I experienced this with my diagnosis of autoimmune encephalitis. When my family got a name for my suffering--even when it was unclear if I would recover--they immediately felt a sense of relief. Names give us clarity and focus. Without them, we feel lost. Unnamed illnesses remind us how little we know, and that's the most frightening concept of all.

On the flip side, you also acknowledge the danger of labels.

It's so hard. We need the labels because they not only provide comfort, but help decide what if any treatment is necessary, prognosis, etc. Still, psychiatric labels, I found, are less objective than we like to believe and sometimes this leads us down paths that may not be right for us. I think clinicians can combat this by being open and honest about the limitations of these labels--that one person with one label might not have the same experience, outcome, etc. as another person with the same label.

Your note is so honest about preparing to speak to a crowd of psychiatrists: "When I had packed for the trip I made sure to bring my most adult, sophisticated, not crazy ensemble." Do you still find yourself dressing or comporting yourself in certain ways to project to others that you're "not crazy"?

Of course! I wrote a memoir about having experienced hallucinations and paranoid delusions and having exhibited violent, aggressive behavior, so I am eternally aware of how I come off to a crowd of strangers. This was especially true when Brain on Fire was first published. I felt I had to prove myself constantly and was certain that people were looking at me and asking themselves, "Is she really recovered?" This likely came out of insecurity, but it was my reality for a while. I believe this impulse is starting to self-correct, hopefully.

You deem Robert Spitzer's critique of Rosenhan's work "delicious in its biting bitchiness... the drollest piece of academic literature I've ever read." What kinds of humor have you encountered in the realm of mental health?

I'm so glad you picked up on the humor! I just love that paper (written by Rosenhan's rival and DSM-godfather Robert Spitzer). There is so much levity and wit in Rosenhan's writing, and he loved to engage with people with similar sensibilities. I laughed a lot while researching this book, considering how dark some of the subject matter was.

Your writing is consistently accessible and entertaining. A favorite line: "The impossibility of distinguishing sanity from insanity ha(s) received the most mainstream of honors--its own reality show." Speaking of reality shows and entertainment, how do you feel about current representations of mental illness in popular culture? What was the experience like of having your own story adapted into a film by Netflix?

First off, thank you so much for your comment about my writing. It was important to me to make it as enjoyable and exciting as possible, while also diving into difficult topics.

In terms of my views on the current representations of mental illness in popular culture, I'll just say it straight: most of it is total rubbish. People still don't really understand what schizophrenia is or the range of behaviors and symptoms associated with it. They think of people in horror movies with butcher knives stalking people. That's not serious mental illness, and it's infuriating to see it portrayed that way. I wrote a piece about my experience watching my own story be adapted, but I think it can be summed up in one word: surreal.

The argument that the Stanford psychologist whose work grounds this book is perhaps a "great pretender" himself is fascinating. Is a movie on him next?

I would love to see David Rosenhan on screen as the Great Pretender! There's nothing in the works just yet, but I think he is such a compelling unreliable narrator and you really could have some fun with him.

What do you hope people will do after reading your book? How do you hope they might think differently about mental health and its treatment?

There are so many specific things I hope this book will do--better understanding of the limitations of medicine, the role of context in diagnosis, the (often unfair) distinctions between "mental" and "physical" illnesses--but in general I hope it sparks a conversation that people might not have been inclined to take on before reading the book. There's a lot to debate in it, and I'm sure many people will not agree with this or that, but that's the goal, to get people talking about these issues.

Do you have a stack of books to read for pleasure outside of your research, or do those lines blur?

Well, I just had twins (they're four months as of this writing), so I've been a bit derelict with my reading. I can tell you, though, that there are some remarkable books coming down the pipeline (or already here) that I was fortunate to have read and blurbed before the twins turned my life upside down, among them: Karen Rinaldi's It’s Great to Suck at Something (which totally gave me the confidence to try running again with a post-pregnancy body), American Predator by Maureen Callahan (the scariest book I've ever read), The Ghosts of Eden Park by Karen Abbott (a sexy bootlegging murder mystery mixed with The Great Gatsby) and Ada Calhoun's Why We Can't Sleep (a deeply reassuring look at the new midlife crisis that women face).

And in terms of those lines blurring, yes! It was so fun to reread One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Erica Jong's Fear of Flying, Joan Didion's The White Album and Tom Wolfe's essays and Susana Kaysen's Girl, Interrupted. I had so much fun immersing myself in the work of that era.

What's next for you?

I've worked on this book for five years. Next up? A massage.

Finally, if sanity and insanity exist, how shall we know them?

Oh, to answer this one in a short paragraph--an impossible task! --Katie Weed

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Review


The Book of Lost Saints

by Daniel José Older

Marisol Aragones, the youngest of three sisters, disappeared during the Cuban Revolution, caught up in the violence between warring factions of soldiers and resistance cells. Half a century later, her spirit--never quite able to rest--begins visiting her nephew, Ramón, a shaggy gentle giant who works at a New Jersey hospital by day and spins records at a local club by night. In The Book of Lost SaintsDaniel José Older (Dactyl Hill SquadShadowhouse Fall) unfolds Marisol's story through the memories she shares with Ramón.

At first, readers may find Marisol's memories as confusing as Ramón does: half-remembered encounters with neighbors and friends who, like Marisol, end up joining the revolution in various capacities. Meanwhile, Ramón navigates his tricky relationship with Aliceana, a Filipina medical resident at the hospital where he works. Plus, he's dealing with pressure from a local heavy who may have some connection to Marisol and wants to use Ramón's popular DJ shows for his own ends. Eventually, Ramón and Aliceana, along with Ramón's roommate Adina, book a trip to Cuba in search of answers.

Between the grisly scenes of war, prison and heartbreak, Older's otherworldly narrative gives way to moments of lightness: Adina's dry sense of humor, wisecracks from assorted Cubano relatives, the growing love between Ramón and Aliceana. Infused with the pounding beats of Ramón's nightclub, the colors and sounds of prewar Cuba and the complicated ties of family, The Book of Lost Saints is a gritty, compelling look at love and war and the ways past actions reverberate down through the generations. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Daniel José Older's dreamy novel follows a Cubana revolutionary whose spirit visits her nephew in modern-day New Jersey.

Imprint, $26.99, hardcover, 336p., 9781250185815

The Man Who Saw Everything

by Deborah Levy

Saul Adler's world is made up of car crashes, camera lenses, jaguars, tinned pineapple and the Beatles. His mother, a Holocaust survivor, died when he was a child, and his father, a Communist, was always a cold and heavy hand. What marks Saul Adler is not his Jewishness or even the tragedy of his life, but his almost freakish beauty, one that draws gazes, lenses and surveillance of every kind. A young professor, Saul is researching cultural resistance to Nazism, which brings him to East Germany in 1988, on the eve of the country's dissolution. After a breakup and an accident on Abbey Road days before his trip, Saul arrives, wounded and heartsick, in the country that was the birthplace of his mother and the materialization of his father's ideology.

For Saul, the accident on Abbey Road and his time in the German Democratic Republic become a confluence of events that orient the rest of his life. The Man Who Saw Everything is bifurcated into two time periods: 1988 and 2016, but by Deborah Levy's deft hand and brilliant command of metaphor, the boundaries of space and time collapse. This is an extraordinary novel that captures the zeitgeist and specters of 20th-century Communism in such a way that far exceeds the 200 pages it is bound in. As Saul attempts to free himself from the strictures of history, fatherhood and fatherland, two-time Booker finalist Deborah Levy (Hot Milk; Swimming Home) cements herself as one of the 21st century's most crucial novelists. --Emma Levy, publishing assistant, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In Deborah Levy's stylistically bold and brilliantly layered The Man Who Saw Everything, a young historian grapples with the spectral forces of authoritarianism and fatherhood.

Bloomsbury, $26, hardcover, 208p., 9781632869845

Mystery & Thriller

Blue Moon

by Lee Child

Jack Reacher is on a bus, minding his own business as usual and headed nowhere in particular, when he sees someone who looks as though he needs Reacher's particular brand of help. Reacher follows the elderly man, Aaron Shevick, off the bus and saves him from a mugging. But when it's clear the man and his wife are being preyed upon by a local loan shark, Reacher decides to stick around to help rescue what little is left of their livelihood.

Two gangs--an Albanian and a Ukrainian one--control the town where the Shevicks reside. They're engaged in a turf war, and the elderly couple are only two of the many innocents caught in the middle. When Reacher inserts his 250 lbs., 6'5" self into the skirmish, the gangs quickly realize he's their most dangerous adversary.

Though it's number 24 in the Jack Reacher series, Lee Child's Blue Moon shows that Reacher isn't slowing down. If anything, he's deadlier than ever to bad guys; the body count in Blue Moon might be the highest in the series. Some of the violence is over the top, characters like hapless cartoons who blow themselves up. Some of it is disturbing, more execution than self-defense. The timeliness of the story, however, will provide some satisfaction to those frustrated with certain systemic flaws in the U.S. It's as if Child became fed up after seeing the lack of protection for society's most helpless and decided to send in Reacher to be the great equalizer in a place where so much inequality exists. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: Jack Reacher combats two gangs to save an elderly couple--and their town--from ruin.

Delacorte, $28.99, hardcover, 368p., 9780399593543


The Bromance Book Club

by Lyssa Kay Adams

It takes two people to fall in love, but it also "takes two people to ruin a relationship." Such is the case for Gavin Scott--a second baseman for the Nashville Legends baseball team, who suffers from a stuttering problem--and his loyal, devoted wife, Thea, the mother of their young twin girls. The couple married when Thea became pregnant. What started as a happy union settled, over time, into a sexless routine as "the daily necessities of dealing with the kids and the house and his game schedule" wore down their relationship.

When Gavin learns that Thea's been faking it in their marital bed for years, the revelation pits them against each other, resurrecting more truths and slights, until their faltering marriage comes completely undone. Gavin seeks the support of his friends, a group that meets covertly to eat, drink and discuss Regency romance novels. They refer to these books set in 18th- and 19th-century England as "manuals" that coach them in their romantic dealings with their partners and spouses.

The Bromance Book Club is the opening installment of a fun and funny, sports-related romance series. It unspools a dual-threaded narrative that juxtaposes Gavin and Thea's story alongside that of a Regency countess and her knight in shining armor. Through a series of clever, entertaining plot twists and striking parallels in the relationships of both couples, centuries apart, Lyssa Kay Adams (The Prospect) depicts how love--and the complications and ecstasies therein--never really changes or goes out of style. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: With the help of a romance book club for men, a baseball player sets off on a clever crusade to save his marriage.

Berkley, $16, paperback, 352p., 9781984806093

Biography & Memoir

Little Weirds

by Jenny Slate

Judging from the content of Jenny Slate's Little Weirds, the inside of her mind is a fascinating, if unusual, place. In this collage of essays, stories, dreams (both night and day), and pieces that defy easy categorization, the actor and comedian invites readers to pay an extended visit, one that will leave them enlightened, moved and sometimes pleasantly puzzled.

In an assortment this diverse, it's perilous to try to isolate recurring themes. But among the more prominent ones is Slate's often vexed relationships with men. In "Daydreams/Tides," for example, she bemoans a fantasy that's nothing more than an "amalgamation of my different recent loves, who have all been terribly disappointing and irredeemable," what she calls a "flock of flimsy fools."

Slate has a fascination for the otherworldly, whether she's writing about a long-dead sea captain's cache of letters discovered in her Massachusetts childhood home, or musing about the people who preceded her in her more-than-a-century-old Los Angeles house. But it would be unfair to give the impression that the dominant tone of Little Weirds is moroseSlate flashes her comedic gift often, in pieces like "Letter: Dreams," where she imagines correspondence from the "Committee for Evening Experiences," chiding the author for the pedestrian quality of her dreams, notably one in which "you were waiting in line for a sandwich, and that this was the whole dream."

Whether one chooses to accompany her throughout her "peppy procession of all of my little weirds," or drop in at any point along the way, this collection promises a refreshing, original journey. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Discover: Life, death, love and ghosts are but a few of the subjects visited in Jenny Slate's freespirited nonfiction collection.

Little, Brown, $27, hardcover, 240p., 9780316485340

Rising: Becoming the First North American Woman on Everest

by Sharon Wood

For more than three decades, Sharon Wood has been a professional speaker, thanks to one single achievement: in 1986, she became the first North American woman to climb to the top of Mount Everest. While she has had other accomplishments over the years, including being a business owner, an internationally certified alpine guide and the first recipient of the Explorers Club's Tenzing Norgay Award for exceptional mountaineering, she has resisted writing a book about her Everest experience, until now. In Rising: Becoming the First North American Woman on Everest, an older and perhaps wiser Wood uses the mountain as a backdrop for discussing emotional growth and examining the value of relationships--"my relationship with myself, with some remarkable people and with the world around me."

Rising strikes a nice balance between the technical aspects of climbing and the emotional story, giving context and definitions for mountaineering jargon throughout the driving narrative. Wood weaves together her own Everest journey when she was young, focused and driven, with the dramas that can occur in small communities, such as her ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend showing up during her Everest attempt as competitors on the opposing team. "Climbing Everest reveals the best and the worst of the human condition," Wood writes in the introduction. "The story I have told... conveys the former: a story of exceptional teamwork and the impact it has had on my life." Written lyrically about the harsh natural environment and with unflinching candor about personal growth, Rising illustrates how social connections and support systems--essentially relationships of all kinds--can have lingering effects and shape the path to success. --BrocheAroe Fabian, owner, River Dog Book Co., Beaver Dam, Wis.

Discover: The first North American woman to summit Everest reflects on her groundbreaking achievement, the sport of mountaineering and the subsequent 30 years of personal and relationship development.

Mountaineers Books, $24.95, hardcover, 272p., 9781680512625

The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini

by Joe Posnanski

What's left to be said about Harry Houdini? Curiosity about the magician's enduring fame drives sports journalist Joe Posnanski's fascinating account of Houdini and the immortal legacy he left. Houdini was unquestionably the most famous magician ever to live, and his life and character have been documented in every way imaginable. Gathered together, all of the biographies published on Houdini might fill a library.

As a man obsessed with Houdini, Posnanski (The Soul of Baseball; Paterno) investigates many of the most beloved tales associated with the escape artist and master self-promoter. Even better, he travels the country to visit with strange but wonderful individuals who also find themselves unable to stop thinking about Houdini. For example, there's Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brooks, two magicians who run a museum dedicated to Houdini in Scranton, Pa. Popular magician David Copperfield guides Posnanski through his personal museum in Las Vegas--complete with Houdini's original milk can and other priceless ephemera. These are but a few of many engrossing moments that make The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini such a rare treat. By infusing his own passion for the subject into his reporting, Posnanski reveals the extent to which Houdini still captivates audiences. --Zack Ruskin, freelance reviewer

Discover: A journalist investigates the details of Harry Houdini's enigmatic life, celebrating the peculiar individuals who still obsess over the magician today.

Avid Reader Press, $28, hardcover, 336p., 9781501137235

Travel Literature

How to Travel

by The School of Life, Alain de Botton, editor

Combining elements of an activity book, journal and philosophical treatise, How to Travel reimagines the inspirational travel guide. It appropriately builds upon series editor Alain de Botton's ideas in books such as The Art of Travel, about daydreaming of holidays and appreciating mementos.

How to Travel first considers the destination, discussing exoticism, to sun or not to sun, and emotional resonance. It also unpacks travel related to families and romantic relationships--the layers of meaning, of memories, of expectations and realities. The volume explores ways to engage, with special attention paid to shyness and crowds, the power of observation, and the benefits of drawing rather than photographing a scene. There is advice about the holiday fling, the healing nature of a change in perspective, and the religious underpinnings of a pilgrimage. Lastly, the book discusses notions of home: whether to stay there, what coming back is like, and how to live in the present while preserving those precious memories.

Across 30 chapters, with 20 essays of advice and inspiration, thoughtful exercises, illustrations and photographs, and blank pages for jotting down notes, travelers are asked to consider where they are going and why, what they will do when they get there and why, and how to get the most out of the experience of traveling itself. -- BrocheAroe Fabian, owner, River Dog Book Co.

Discover: An inspirational travel guide advises travelers on how to get the most from their journeys.

School of Life, $14.99, paperback, 132p., 9781999917968

Reference & Writing

The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia: From Abraham to Zabar's and Everything in Between

by Stephanie Butnick, Liel Leibovitz, Mark Oppenheimer

Not since 1973's The Jewish Catalog has there been a reference book that aimed to cover Jewish life, culture, religion, history, food and "everything in between." That new reference book is The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia, compiled by the creators of the Jewish magazine Tablet and the popular podcast Unorthodox.

For beginners curious about the basics of Judaism, one entry is entitled "Shabbat in Seven Easy Steps." The "Delicatessen" entry, a two-page spread, regales history buffs with the progression of Eastern European immigrants spreading across America with their pastrami, pickles, corned beef and rye. There are cross-references ("socialism/socialists" also refers to entries "Radical Jews" and "Politics and Jews"), common Yiddish terms ("schlep... both a verb and a noun... the hauling of cumbersome packages... a long and annoying commute") and cultural definitions ("Ladino.... Also known as Judeo-Spanish or Judezmo, Ladino is the language of Sephardi Jews; it originated in Spain in the fifteenth century"). A Jewish family tree traces the semi-accurate myth that all Ashkenazi Jews are related, from Karl and Groucho Marx (Groucho is Karl's "second cousin once removed's wife's second husband's aunt's first cousin twice removed") to Maggie Gyllenhaal and Irving Berlin (Maggie being Irving's "wife's eighth cousin five times removed"), and the Ashkenazim themselves command an entry a page later.

Often irreverent, completely entertaining and always informative, The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia covers the secular and religious aspects of Judaism from ancient history to 21st-century pop culture, with more than 1,000 entries, charts and infographics, plus 300 photographs and illustrations. -- BrocheAroe Fabian, owner, River Dog Book Co., Beaver Dam, Wis.

Discover: A culturally sensitive and snarky tell-all encyclopedia of Judaism and Jewishness from the creators of Jewish magazine Tablet and the Unorthodox podcast.

Artisan, $36, hardcover, 320p., 9781579658939

The Book of Forgotten Authors

by Christopher Fowler

"Absence doesn't make the heart grow fonder. It makes people think you're dead," begins Christopher Fowler's The Book of Forgotten Authors. It is a journey through once-popular literature that has, for one reason or another, disappeared from print, memory or both. Authors can be "ubiquitous, influential and massively successful only to disappear within their own lifetimes," but why?

Pamela Branch, compared favorably with Evelyn Waugh by critics of the time, wrote what Fowler calls "bizarre, deliciously funny" mysteries, but died young. Well-loved children's author Sheila Hodgetts's books, which contained "the full panoply of fairy tale tropes," possibly lacked sticking power because they did not have the merchandising and licensing opportunities of others. Charles Hamilton "was one of the most prolific authors in history, but hardly any of his books can now be found," both because he used so many pen names and because his schoolboy adventure stories, though popular at publication, did not age well.

Mystery author Christopher Fowler (Bryant & May: Strange Tide) has turned his own life-long love of books into a literary monument to forgotten authors. Though his focus is limited mostly to white British and American writers, he addresses minority authors (along with a plea for greater diversity in publishing) and a historical lack of non-English translations in his notes on the choices he made. Fowler's literary guidebook covers 100 individual authors across a broad spectrum of genres and includes 14 additional essays, such as "The Forgotten Rivals of Holmes, Bond and Miss Marple," which are delightful dissections of why some authors succeeded while others have vanished. Bibliophiles wishing to discover "new" authors will appreciate the easily digestible sections and conversational tone. --Jennifer Oleinik, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Christopher Fowler offers an entertaining and well-researched examination of once-popular authors who have been all but forgotten.

Quercus, $15.99, paperback, 400p., 9781786484901

Children's & Young Adult

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story

by Kevin Noble Maillard, illus. by Juana Martinez-Neal

While Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story is recommended for audiences ages three to six, it's undoubtedly a book that will last on shelves well into readers' double digits. Kevin Noble Maillard--co-editor of Loving v. Virginia in a Post-Racial World, Syracuse University law professor and a member of the Seminole Nation, Mekusukey band--has effectively written two books for multiple age groups.

The first two-thirds is an affecting picture book that features family and friends gathering, creating and enjoying fry bread together. Glorious double-page spreads introduced by pithy, resonating phrases define the Native American staple: "FRY BREAD IS FOOD," "FRY BREAD IS COLOR," "FRY BREAD IS HISTORY." Caldecott honoree and Pura Belpré-awarded illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal's (Alma and How She Got Her Name) artistry revels in the faces: the children's hungry delight at the "light like snow and cream/ Warm like rays and sun" results; the adults' joy in "moments together." Maillard's text readily convinces that "FRY BREAD IS US," as "we strengthen each other/ To learn, change, and survive."

Then comes book two, which augments the simple, sincere verses with illuminating edification for older readers. Maillard's expansive author's note follows across nine pages, amplifying every descriptive "Fry bread is..." phrase with context, background, history and personal tidbits. Insisting on inclusive recognition, Maillard gives "voice to the Indigenous nations and communities within the United States" by including tribe names across the endpapers. Remarkable in balancing the shared delights of extended family with onerous ancestral legacy, Maillard both celebrates and bears witness to his no-single-recipe-fits-all community. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: In Kevin Noble Maillard's debut, the simple act of making Native American Fry Bread becomes a practice of tradition, a celebration of community and the honoring of crucial historical legacy.

Roaring Brook Press, $18.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 3-6, 9781626727465

Homerooms & Hall Passes

by Tom O'Donnell

Meet Devis the thief, Thromdurr the barbarian, Sorrowshade the gloom elf assassin, Vela the Valiant paladin and Albiorix the apprentice wizard--your typical group of middle school-aged Bríandalörians. They take on campaigns "thwarting evil. Righting wrongs. Closing infernal gates opened by demented cultists"--you know, the usual. As a break from the quests, the crew plays its favorite game, Homerooms & Hall Passes (H&H), the "role-playing game of nonadventure... set in the fictional Realm of Suburbia." Players embody the roles of "middle-school students" and create characters who fit into different categories (Thromdurr plays Douglas the 8th level Nerd; Vela plays Valerie the 8th level Overachiever). When Devis steals from a cursed treasure horde, the tweens are transported to J.A. Dewar Middle School and into the lives of their H&H characters. All five must excel or they'll "blow it" and be "permanently eliminated from the game"--effectively, "academic failure... means death." (Thromdurr laments this fate: "I had hoped to be mauled by wild pigs... the traditional death of a berserker of the Sky Bear clan.")

Tom O'Donnell's middle-grade novel is both exactly what you'd expect from the author of Hamstersaurus Rex and delightfully surprising. Every chapter begins with text from one of the 27 H&H rule books, giving readers a hilarious, uncanny view of middle school from the perspective of game-makers who reside in a Dungeons & Dragons-style world. Role-players, fantasy-lovers, fans of silly books... all should be entertained by O'Donnell's outrageously funny characters, over-the-top villains and solid one-liners. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A group of adventurers must break the curse that has transported them to the Realm of Suburbia in Tom O'Donnell's wild Homerooms & Hall Passes.

Balzer + Bray, $16.99, hardcover, 352p., ages 8-12, 9780062872142

Caspian Finds a Friend

by Jacqueline Véissid, illus. by Merrilees Brown

In Jacqueline Véissid (Ruby's Sword) and Merrilees Brown's Caspian Finds a Friend, Caspian lives in a lighthouse "surrounded by a cold gray-blue sea." Every night the lonely boy "casts his light out into the darkness, searching... but no one arrives, just the sea and the skies." One day, Caspian decides to take his happiness into his own hands and launches a plea into the ocean by way of the proverbial message in a bottle. "Days sink into weeks, weeks into months. He waits and waits, his hopes bobbing like a bottle on waves." When Caspian receives a response, he sets out on a voyage across the murky waters, the stars splashed against the sky "illuminating the darkness." At the other end of the sea, a furry friend with "warm and gentle" eyes lies in wait.

Véissid's lilting, rhythmic text calls to mind the rocking of waves. Brown's luminous illustrations digitally combine oil paint, relief print and charcoal to bring to life textured landscapes, poignant facial expressions and extraordinary spreads that take readers on a wondrous visual journey. As the narrative grows more hopeful, her art shifts from darker, melancholic shades to lighter, more cheerful tints, her palette of mostly turquoise, white and red giving Caspian's world a hyperreal, otherworldly feel. Kids will likely delight in Brown's illustrative details, such as the rainbow fish that seem to follow Caspian wherever he goes. Véissid's words and Brown's images combine in Caspian Finds a Friend to create a moving picture book that speaks to our need for connection, and encourages us to use our ingenuity to find it. --Shelley Diaz, supervising librarian, BookOps: New York Public Library & Brooklyn Public Library

Discover: A lonely little boy wishes for a friend and bravely takes steps to find one in Jacqueline Véissid and Merrilees Brown's dreamlike picture book.

Chronicle, $17.99, hardcover, 36p., ages 4-7, 9781452137803


Author Buzz

The Wild Card
(A Rivers Wilde Novella)

by Dylan Allen

Dear Reader,

"What if…?" is my favorite question to ask myself when I start writing a book. The answers that Cassie and Leo's story delivered were unexpected and heartwarming. Adding a heist and serendipitous reunion into the mix took my tried and true favorite trope, second chance, to a whole new level. Theirs is a classic case of right person/wrong time. Whether you're a Rivers Wilde newbie or expert, watching them overcome some pretty steep hurdles is a wild, thrilling, feel good ride.

I hope you love every word. xo,

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: The Wild Card (A Rivers Wilde Novella) by Dylan Allen

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
January 16, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book


Kids Buzz

Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night

by Steven J. Simmons and Clifford R. Simmons
illus. by Ruth E. Harper

Dear Reader,

My newest and latest in a three-book series, Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night?, came from seeing the fascination so many kids have with the ocean and ocean creatures. How do a whale, octopus, dolphin, clownfish, great white shark and so many other undersea animals get their rest?

After all, they need to get their rest and sleep, just like all of us. So dive into this rhyming STEM picture book to encourage a love of nature and the environment--and under the covers for a great bedtime story.

"What do animals do when children are sleeping? Featuring creatures young children are likely to know, this book has the answers....[and] unusual nighttime facts are a plus." --Kirkus

Steve Simmons

KidsBuzz: Charlesbridge: Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night? by Steven J. Simmons and Clifford R. Simmons, illus. by Ruth E. Harper


Pub Date: 
April 16, 2024


Type of Book:
Picture Book

Age Range: 

List Price: 
$17.99 Hardcover

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