I tend to follow a pretty eclectic path. With fiction, I like a good challenge, so will gravitate to writing that's maybe a little on the experimental or edgy side. But it's refreshing to come back to a good thriller or something a little more straight ahead every so often. As for non-fiction, I'm open to pretty much any general narrative or memoir that represents a fresh voice or perspective. And as a bit of a music geek, the recent spate of musician memoirs is keeping me well-occupied.
This is a fascinating account of the rapturous reception given The Origin Of Species amongst a small but potent group of American intellectuals during the period of the runup to the start of the Civil War. Darwin's ideas proved compelling, and were quickly pressed into service to support a wide range of (often opposing) views about race and religion. Fuller balances top-notch social history with wonderful first-hand accounts of the relationships and rivalries among those attempting to forge public opinion during one of our country's most fractured times.
Emma Donoghue refines the element of confinement so central to The Room in this powerful and haunting story, set in rural Ireland in the years following the potato famine. Anna is a young girl from a poor family, who seems to thrive without food; Lib is the English nurse who has been brought in to help determine whether the girl's fast is fraud or miracle. But Anna's condition worsens, and Lib is faced with standing up to an intensely devout family and community in order to save the girl's life. At heart is the power of faith, both religious and personal, to guide one's heart to the right course.
Based on his long-running Wall Street Journal column, Myers has compiled a history of 45 classic songs, spanning the period from the early 50s to the early 90s. Featuring "you are there" interviews with the composers, the producers, and the musicians themselves, Myers teases out little-known and surprising details that will send you back to your hi-fi for a fresh listen. At the very least, you will never again be able to listen to the opening riff of Proud Mary without thinking of a certain German composer and his most famous symphony!
This is simply a beautifully written story. Within Paulette Jiles' precise and economical prose lies a rich world brought to full life and color, and I was riveted by the tale of Capt. Jefferson Kidd and Joanna Leonberger. Though not familiar with Paulette Jiles before reading News Of The World, I will now be eagerly seeking out her previous novels, some of which feature related characters in a similar setting.
The stories in Robin MacArthur's debut story collection are set in the hilly backcountry of southern Vermont - a rural landscape of half-abandoned farms and run-down double-wides, but also of immense natural beauty and wildness. Her characters hew close to this land - even those who have left cannot help but return. These are beautifully drawn portraits of people who, despite poverty and decay, remain vibrantly alive to their world and to the power of memory. Many of these stories are deeply moving - I cannot wait to read more from this author!
This memoir is a deeply moving account of a son's struggle to understand the father he barely knew. Ed Forhan, whose own parents abandoned him as a child, so thoroughly wrapped himself in a cocoon of self-protection that he became almost a specter within his own family. Chris was still a teenager when his father killed himself, one final act of disappearance in a life filled with them. Set against the backdrop of middle-class suburban life in the 60s and 70s, this is a beautifully written, haunting account of one family's silent tragedy.
Expanding on a newspaper article she wrote in the aftermath of the riots in Ferguson, Mo., Carol Anderson flips the narrative of "black rage" to show how "white rage" has worked to extend the corrupt legacy of slavery throughout the years and decades beyond the end of the Civil War, right up to the present day. Anderson's economic prose cuts to the chase in a cogent and concerted style that provides an excellent overview of a continuing darkness in the heart of our society.
This is a trenchant account of the difficult middle period of the Revolutionary War. While focusing on Benedict Arnold's twin betrayals of both the revolutionary cause and his close relationship with George Washington, Philbrick also illuminates several broader webs of intrigue that drove much of the action during this period, including second-guessing subordinates and a meddlesome Continental Congress. As always, Philbrick's lively writing makes for riveting reading.
When a hunting accident results in the death of his neighbor's son, Landreaux Iron follows native tradition and offers his own son LaRose to the bereaved family. Thus begins a powerful story set among a group of families in a small community in the North Dakota hinterland. Erdrich's luminous prose captures each character's struggle to overcome their worst impulses, whether it's a handicapped man's long-nurtured quest for revenge or the pain of a mother withholding her love from her daughter. Muted on the surface, but with a heart that beats strong, Erdrich's latest novel is a book to be treasured.
As a student, Sarah Bakewell was fascinated by the writings of the great existentialist philosophers. Later, as a seasoned writer, she was drawn to know more about who they were and how they engaged with their world (and each other). In her latest book, she brings Sartre, de Beauvoir, Camus, and many others wonderfully to life and shows how their thought developed through the prolonged experience of 20th-century European conflict. This is not just a lively book about some dead philosophers; without question, the issues they engaged with in their day are just as relevant now.
Barbara Parker's ambition to make it as the English Lucille Ball animates this breezy romp through the trenches of early-sixties British TV. She may be graced with the kind of looks that open doors, but it's her quick wit and knack for comedy that get her from provincial Blackpool to London and into her first TV role in record time as the lead in a domestic comedy series that breaks all records. Her catalytic spirit inspires her co-workers to follow their own dreams as the grey fog of post-war conformity lifts and the Technicolor sixties come to life. Nick Hornby writes warmly, with lots of laughs and lots of heart.
In Vienna, two CIA operatives become lovers. Years later, having long gone separate ways, they meet for dinner at a quiet seaside restaurant. It is a simple setting for what turns out to be so much more than a simple encounter. This tightly wound game of cat-and-mouse will keep you off-balance until the very last word.
Theroux dispenses with the indignities and hassles of international travel and takes a road trip - several in fact - to the heart of the American south. Liberated by the freedom of car travel, and drawn back again and again to the towns and people he's visited, Theroux dives deep into the soul of a region that has in many ways been left behind. With sidetrips into subjects such as the history of the n-word and the legacy of William Faulkner, Theroux's trenchant observations bring the Deep South to life in what is rightfully being called his best book in years.
Kelly ekes out a living stripping abandoned buildings for anything of value. When he rescues a terrified young boy from a boarded-up cellar, his life takes on an unexpected purpose. Scrapper is at once a haunting exploration of the lengths to which one man will go to redeem himself, and a paean to a vanishing Detroit.
Rebanks (known to thousands by his Twitter handle @herdyshepherd1) takes us through a year in his life as a working shepherd in northern England, going deep into the history of the land, the close ties between farmer and flock, and the special knowledge that is passed from generation to generation. You are with him through all the highs and lows of the farming year – from the births of the newborn lambs, to the seasonal auctions that form the social high point of the year, to the joy of turning the flock out to the common grazing fields. This is a rich and delightful book, full of the warmth of the summer sun on the high Lake District fells.
Marlon James' graphic prose captures the many voices of 70's Kingston, Jamaica, where rival slum lords vie for power, forming alliances with CIA operatives or communist infiltrators depending on who's offering the best terms. With anarchy in the air, people look to "the singer" (think Bob Marley) for unity. After a failed assassination attempt, the perpetrators and others flee to the depraved underworld of 80's NYC and take up the old ways in a new setting. Inspired by real incidents, James' cutting edge writing makes captivating reading, but is not for the faint of heart.
The seven good years of this memoir's title are those between the birth of the author's son and the death of his father. In a series of short, wry vignettes that will have you laughing one moment and tearing up the next, Israeli writer and film maker Keret limns those small moments of sadness and joy that color the details of daily life.
Written by a true publishing industry insider (Galassi is president of Farrar, Straus & Giroux), Muse is a sprightly gem of a book. While rival publishers battle over a prized author, it is a young editor with divided loyalties to both who ultimately becomes the author's confidante. Jonathan Galassi's debut novel (he is also a published poet) is part publishing-world satire, part paean to the joy of literature, and imbued throughout with great warmth and affection for those who love the power of the written word.
Their mother's threat to sell the family home pulls the four grown children of Rosaleen Madigan back to their western Ireland home for Christmas, where they must face each other and the force of her fierce love. While spinning out to such far flung places as western Africa and New York City during the 80s AIDs scare, Booker-winner Enright's latest novel possesses a spirit as wild as the primal Green Road of the title.
A fascinating perspective on Ulysses, one of the most written-about books of all time. Self-exiled from his Irish homeland, driven across war-torn Europe, James Joyce fights encroaching blindness while devoting every waking hour to the tiniest details of his burgeoning masterpiece. Meanwhile, printers won't touch it for its obscenity, "bookleggers" print unauthorized editions, and his champions - many female - risk everything in support of his art. Kevin Birmingham does justice to his subject in an approach that recalls Erik Larson at his best.