Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, January 3, 2020
From My Shelf
For the New Decade, Perennial Book and Movie Favorites
"To end the decade: books and movies that never die" were featured by Quirk Books.
"Remember mail?" The New York Public Library shared some old postcards to celebrate a new year."
Electric Lit posed "17 impossible questions for the writer in your life."
"Can you guess J.K. Rowling's fantastic beast from its magical power?" Mental Floss asked.
A Dutch art detective has recovered an 18-karat gold ring given by Oscar Wilde to a friend. It had been stolen from Oxford University's Magdalen College, Smithsonian reported.
A Reader's Life
Sonny Mehta: Publisher-Editor-Reader
On Monday, the book industry was shaken by the death of one of the most beloved and illustrious publishers and editors in the business, Sonny Mehta, who was the editor-in-chief of Knopf and chairman of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, only the third person to head the Knopf imprint in its storied 104 years. He was 77 and had been in charge of Knopf since 1987.
While many may not be familiar with his name, even the most occasional reader is likely to have read books that Sonny Mehta published or edited. His special gift was applying his exacting standards in editorial, production, design, marketing, and publicity to everything from high literature to books that sold many millions of copies. During his tenure, Knopf published works by six Nobel Prizes winners--Kazuo Ishiguro, Alice Munro, Orhan Pamuk, Imre Kertész, V.S. Naipaul and Toni Morrison--as well as books by Michael Ondaatje, Ryszard Kapuscinski, Haruki Murakami and Gabriel García Márquez. At the same time, Mehta published the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy by E.L. James (under the Doubleday imprint), the Millennium series by Stieg Larsson and works by Michael Crichton, including Jurassic Park.
In 2018, when he received the Maxwell E. Perkins Award for lifetime achievement from the Center for Fiction, Mehta gave an indication of why he had tastes that resonated with millions of readers around the world. Accepting the award, he said, "Reading has been a constant in my life. I have always found comfort in the confines of a book or manuscript. Reading is how I spend most of my time, is still the most joyful aspect of my day. I want to be remembered not as an editor or publisher but as a reader."
The Writer's Life
Reading with... Jessica Fletcher
Jessica Fletcher (born Jessica Beatrice MacGill) writes her bestselling mysteries as "J.B. Fletcher." Her real-life exploits investigating actual murders were famously chronicled on a long-running television show that has given way to a series of books that follow the same Murder, She Wrote format. The 50th in that series, A Time for Murder (Berkley), features Jessica recalling her first murder investigation 25 years ago in Appleton, Maine. She now makes her home 30 miles away in the seaside town of Cabot Cove, where she is at work completing her next Murder, She Wrote title, The Murder of Twelve, which is due out in May 2020.
On your nightstand now:
I always have multiple books on my nightstand, at least two, and one of them is always a mystery. Right now, the mystery is The Night Fire by Michael Connelly. I so enjoy Harry Bosch and I enjoy him even more now that he's partnered with Renée Ballard. Guess I'm a sucker for female detectives!
Alongside The Night Fire is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I have a penchant for re-reading classics like that because I think absorbing their prose makes me better as a writer myself.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Depends on how old! I must confess to being a huge fan of the Nancy Drew books in junior high, and I even dabbled a bit in the Hardy Boys. As a younger child, I used to love Grimm's Fairy Tales. Rereading those now leaves me struck by their structure and intensity. Reading Grimm made me fall in love with the whole notion of storytelling, and I often muse that many of my murder mysteries are just retellings of those old fairy tales that are much darker than people realize. As Victor Hugo once said, "Good writers borrow, but great writers steal."
Your top five authors:
Oh my, just five? Now that's a challenge. I'm going to start with Charles Dickens, my personal favorite of his being The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which he never actually finished. Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie, of course, though I prefer Jane Marple to Hercule Poirot--a girl thing, I guess! And my list wouldn't be complete without Philip Kerr and Ross Macdonald. How many is that, because I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Flannery O'Connor, whose short stories I can read a hundred times and always find something new.
Book you've faked reading:
Ulysses by James Joyce, when I was in college in New Hampshire. I once heard that the only way to read it was to have read it once before reading it for the first time. With apologies to all the classicists out there, this is one I just never could grasp.
Book you're an evangelist for:
How about an author instead of a book? You might not know it from my books, but I'm quite the fan of noir so I love to point readers toward the series Donald Westlake wrote as Richard Stark featuring Parker. I'm also fond of recommending the great Lee Marvin movie Point Blank, which was based on a Parker novel called The Hunter.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Ha-ha! Well, I'm such a poor judge of what works that I always rely on my publisher to choose my covers. As far as other authors, I remember being in an airport and spotting a cover that featured a subway train. I'd heard of the author but never read any of his work. That book was Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child. And I've read all of Child's Jack Reacher books since then.
Book you hid from your parents:
It was something by Harold Robbins, but I don't remember the title. It was a paperback, and I do remember cutting off the cover so my parents wouldn't know I was reading something risqué!
Book that changed your life:
John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps was the first book I read a single sitting. I was in high school at the time and absolutely devoured it when I was home sick from school one day. I can still quote passages!
Favorite line from a book:
How about a play instead, Shakespeare's Macbeth: "By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes." I love that line because it defines the very nature of the mystery novel, something wicked entering the lives of someone or someones.
Five books you'll never part with:
Appropriately enough, let's start with Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes. Every sentence in that book is a work of art. Curtain, both Agatha Christie's and Hercule Poirot's final adventure, because she left strict instructions that it was not be published until after her death. As a writer, I'm struck by the odd sense of sentimentality to that. The Salzburg Connection, because that was Helen MacInnes's best one ever and she was a kind of role model for me. Dickens's Great Expectations because that's another I'm always revisiting. Let's see, one more... the last one's always the hardest to come up with because there are so many titles swimming through my mind, but I think I'll go with Death in Venice by Thomas Mann because I find it be a cautionary tale about sacrificing one's soul in the face of obsession, something all writers and artists need to be leery of!
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
There are so many I could give you, but I'll go with an Edgar Allan Poe short story: "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," because it introduced Auguste Dupin and ushered in the modern detective story. It's obviously a bit clichéd now, but the notion of the ultimate locked-room murder, a perfect puzzle, was magic the first time I read it.
The film you've re-watched the most:
No doubt about it: The Usual Suspects, an elegant Venn diagram of a tale that wraps a mystery in deep levels of misdirection. I've never written a screenplay, but if I ever did, I'd want it to be half as good as that one--better make that, a third!
The Story of a Goat
by Perumal Murugan, trans. by N. Kalyan Raman
Discover: After attempts to censor his work failed in India, Perumal Murugan returns with this fable about a goat whose life and struggles closely parallel human experiences.
by A.R. Moxon
Discover: With a sprawling lark of a plot, A.R. Moxon's The Revisionaries offers a postmodern meditation on the relationship between writer, reader and story.
by Zeruya Shalev, trans. by Sondra Silverston
Discover: In this intricate novel, an accidental meeting gives a woman a second chance with the man who broke her heart nearly 30 years earlier.
by Raphaël Jerusalmy, trans. by Penny Hueston
Discover: Three people defy an evacuation order during a military attack in Tel Aviv, leaving them to survive on their own and make choices about what matters in life.
by Van Jensen, illus. by Nate Powell, Erin Tobey
Discover: In Two Dead, Van Jensen and Nate Powell transpose true events into a heart-thumping graphic novel that exposes the cyclical violence wrought by war, power, police brutality and unchecked racism.
Darkly: Black History and America's Gothic Soul
by Leila Taylor
Discover: Leila Taylor's Darkly invites readers into a frank and deeply felt conversation about race, violence and U.S. history by examining trends in horror and the occult.
Essays & Criticism
Peter Watts Is an Angry, Sentient Tumor: Revenge Fantasies and Essays
by Peter Watts
Discover: Science fiction author Peter Watts shares his fear, anger and a little bit of hope in this provocative collection of writings about the environment, social justice, family and more.
Snow: A Scientific and Cultural Exploration
by Giles Whittell
Discover: A scientific, historical and joyful romp through the nature of snow and its relationship to humans and the natural world.
Canyon Dreams: A Basketball Season on the Navajo Nation
by Michael Powell
Discover: A season with a Navajo high school basketball team highlights the challenges faced by teens living on the reservation.
Wherever You Go: A Guide to Mindful Sustainable, and Life-Changing Travel
by Daniel Houghton
Discover: Former CEO of Lonely Planet Daniel Houghton presents ways travel changes people for the better, through stories and interviews and glimpses of his own experiences.
Children's & Young Adult
Where the World Ends
by Geraldine McCaughrean
Discover: In this unforgettable Carnegie Medal-winning YA novel, set in 18th-century Scotland, a dozen boys and men struggle to survive when they are stranded on a remote rock outcrop.
by Ryan La Sala
Discover: After surviving an accident of which he has no memory, Kane discovers it's up to him to save his town from dreams that magically become real.
by Lance Rubin
Discover: In Lance Rubin's hilarious, heartrending novel, 15-year-old secret funny girl Winnie tries to get her improv start even as her personal life crumbles around her.