Tuesday, May 08, 2007

New Book Roundup: March/April 2007

In the last two months I've seen enough exciting reviews to keep me reading for the rest of the year. The Fiction, Literature and Gay Interest sections are particularly well-stocked this time out. (In Gay literature alone we've got the return of Maupin, Schulman, Leavitt and Delany to look forward to). OK, I better get reading.


Falling Man by Don DeLillo
It seems there's been kind of a nasty backlash against DeLillo the last few years, but this novel may put him back on top. I'm certainly reading it.

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
McEwan's 13th work of fiction concerns the story of a marriage in 1963. The story of a couple's wedding night and how it affects their lives sounds like the perfect focus for McEwan's psychological fiction.

The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon
Judging by Chabon's latest (and news of the novel coming later in the year), Chabon is settling into a mission of quirky genre fiction. The latest is high-concept, being set in an Alaska where Jews settled post-WWII instead of Israel. Yet it also sounds noirish in a way that reminds me of Lethem.

Dark Reflections by Samuel R. Delany
A "fascinatingly structured experiment in alternative autobiography—what if Delany had remained a poet and not turned to prose?"(PW) Even though I'm a rather new Delany fan, I'm pretty excited about this.

Shakespeare Riots: Revenge, Drama, and Death in Nineteenth-Century America by Nigel Cliff
Shakespeare caused a deadly riot in NYC in 1849. Yes, sure. Wait. What?


Ravel by Jean Echenoz
A Prix Goncourt-winner's novel covers the last 10 years of Maurice Ravel's life, including the composer's mental decline and brain surgery.

Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story by Leonie Swann
German novel about a flock of Irish sheep who decide to solve the murder of their kind shephard--weird, eh? And it's getting some great reviews. Sounds fun.

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
Overdue translation of one of Norway's most highly-regarded writers. I've seen some top-notch reviews for this novel online.

The Last Novel by David Markson
I've only seen one (glowing) review for this experimental work of fiction, the final work of a dying (fictional) novelist. Sounds intriguing.

The Damned Season by Carlo Lucarelli
A cop struggles to survive in Italy post-Mussolini (1946) in this second part of a trilogy. Sounds a bit noirish, and at novella length it sounds worth checking out.

Day at the Beach by Helen Schulman
Sounds like one of the better 9/11 novels so far.

Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey by Chuck Palahniuk
A typically twisted and bizarre story from Palahniuk about a nasty young man in a bizarre urban future who likes to infect himself and as many others as possible with rabies.

The Rebels by Sandor Marai
Mixed reviews (including some very enthusiastic) for this Eastern European writer who’s suddenly in the spotlight because of a series of new translations.

The Chess Machine by Robert Lohr
German historical novel about a Baron who engineers a chess-playing automaton to impress an Empress, but as it's 1770 he cheats.

The Savage Garden by Mark Mills
A mystery with a literary theme (referring to Dante), from the acclaimed author of Amagansett.

The Slynx by Tatyana Tolstaya
I'm late in learning about this, Tolstaya's only novel, a postapocalyptic story with a humorous edge. It was out in hardcover a few years ago but NYRB is bringing out the first paperback now. Sounds like it fits in well now with McCarthy's The Road.

Best of Wodehouse: An Anthology by P. G. Wodehouse
A chance for people who've never read him to sample the legendary humorist's best work.

Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje
I've never read Ondaatje, but this story sounds interesting. Maybe after I see some more strong reviews.

Sheppard Lee: By Himself by Robert Montgomery Bird
What?! A peer of Poe's who wrote a dark American satire involving metempsychosis, compared to Melville's The Confidence-Man? This sounds awesome!

Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman
Good and evil, supeheroes and archvillains, yet a more realistic, humorous literary approach--sounds like it has potential.

North River by Peter Hamill
Depression-era story of a GP in New York, a wounded vet of World War I whose wife has left him and whose daughter has left her two-year-old in his care.

The Uncertain Hour: A Novel by Jesse Browner
Novel about the last days of the ancient Greek Petronius, whom the Emperor Nero sentenced to death. Given the choice of suicide or execution, he chose the former. Mostly strong reviews, though one reviewer called it "hollow."

The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton
Not sure what to make of this recent addition to the NYRB line: Nick Hornby relates it to Dickens and Martin Amis, and the WWII era story concerns a battle of wills between two women in a boardinghouse. Serious? Campy? I'm curious.

The World to Come by Dara Horn
This novel came out last year but the wonderful paperback art got my attention really for the first time. And it sounds good!

Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings
Hemmings follows up her short story collection with a very well-reviewed Hawaiian family drama.

Bow Grip: A Novel by Ivan E. Coyote
I'd like to see more reviews, but this tale of a small-town mechanic who takes up the cello to fill the void when his wife leaves him sounds good.

The Execution of Sherlock Holmes: New Adventures of the Great Detective by Donald Thomas
Thomas is considered one of the best practitioners of the Sherlock Holmes pastiche, and so far this latest work has gotten raves.

Right Livelihoods: Three Novellas by Rick Moody
Mixed reviews, but so far everyone seems to agree that the much-anthologized third novella, "Albertine Notes," is exceptional.

Presence: Stories by Arthur Miller
Posthumous collection of the great Arthur Miller's later stories.

Shakespeare's Kitchen: Stories by Lore Groszmann Segal
Stunning reviews celebrate the return of a much-missed author I'd never heard of.

Male of the Species by Alex Mindt
Sounds like an interesting themed collection.

Five Skies by Ron Carlson
If nothing else, I'd like to check out some of this acclaimed writer's earlier short stories.

Cat O' Nine Tales by Jeffrey Archer
Short story collection including nine inspired by tales heard when the author was incarcerated (for perjury, if I understand correctly).

Collected Stories by Leonard Michaels
A critic writes that his best work is worthy of comparison to Malamud, Paley, O'Connor and Cheever. Especially recommended were the stories "Manikin," "The Deal" and "Murderers."

The Second Book by Muharem Bazdulj
A new title from the excellent Northwestern University Press, this is the work of an Easterm European author compared to Danilo Kis, Milan Kundera, and Jorge Luis Borges. (Not clear to me whether this is stories or longer fiction.)

The Children of Hurin by J. R. R. Tolkien
Cobbled together from various sources, an unfinished Tolkien story is finished…somehow…and a friend told me she'd seen bad reviews, but I haven't. Just don't expect it to be like Lord of the Rings--that's the main thing.

Brasyl by Ian McDonald
Another novel in which characters in different time periods are linked. McDonald seems to be gaining a following and an excellent reputation.

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Vol. 1 ed. by Jonathan Strahan
SFWA European Hall of Fame ed. by James Morrow and Kathryn Morrow
Yet another "year's best" anthology; and a collection of some of the best European SF from 1987 to 2005, "impeccably translated."

In War Times by Kathleen Ann Goonan
Consistently excellent reviews for this alternate-history novel dealing with WWII and the bomb.

The Last Colony by John Scalzi
Rising SF star Scalzi's second sequel to Old Man's War. (He's also got a new writing guide out, see below under Literature.)

More Noteworthy Fiction:
Looks like the most prominent of this batch are The Lost Diary of Don Juan by Douglas Abrams, Consequences by Penelope Lively, The Big Girls by Susanna Moore, and My Holocaust, a controversial satire by Tova Reich. Not so great reviews for The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay, but I found it interesting that the story turns on the discovery of a lost Melville manuscript. Among the more unusual titles I found this time are Golem and the Wondrous Deeds of the Maharal of Prague by Yudl Rosenberg (a 1909 classic back in print), Sudoku Murder by Shelley Freydont, Vibrator by Mari Akasaka, and Spring Tides by Jacques Poulin (a 1978 French novel that sounds very weird). In SF/Fantasy, I also found Grand Solo for Anton by Herbert Rosendorfer (a man wakes up and finds he's the last person left in the world), Mainspring by Jay Lake, and Acacia by David Anthony Durham. Other titles of interest include: Before I Wake by Robert J. Wiersema, The Nature of Monsters by Clare Clark, Perfect Man by Naeem Murr, Wang in Love and Bondage: Three Novellas by Wang Xiaobo (includes "East Palace, West Palace," a gay story that became a film), The Archivist's Story by Travis Holland, Twenty Grand: And Other Tales of Love and Money by Rebecca Curtis, Laura Warholic: or The Sexual Intellectual by Alexander Theroux, and The Patience of the Spider (featuring Italian dick Inspector Montalbano) by Andrea Camilleri.


Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Danny Danziger
A cross-section of the culture of a great museum--this sounds fascinating!

Discovering Orson Welles by Jonathan Rosenbaum
Jane Campion by Kathleen McHugh
A collection of Rosenbaum's writings on Welles, one of his major areas of expertise. I'll be interested to see how much of this stuff was already included in earlier anthologies. Also, a new monograph on Campion from a series edited by one of JR's favorite writers, James Naremore.

Your Movie Sucks by Roger Ebert
I just read that the Shaun of the Dead guys used Ebert's Big Book of Hollywood Cliches to write Hot Fuzz. This volume is a companion to Ebert's I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie.

At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays by Anne Fadiman
Fadiman, author of several books about literature, turns her hand to familiar essays. I'm looking forward to giving this a shot.

Discovering Modernism: T. S. Eliot and His Context by Louis Menand
Not new, but it's the second edition of a book I didn't know about. Menand impressed the hell out of me with The Metaphysical Club, and this book sounds intriguing, too, if not as wide-ranging.

Reflections on Literature and Culture by Hannah Arendt
Arendt on Brecht, Zweig and more.

The Sunny Side by A. A. Milne
A 1921 miscellany from Mr. Winnie-the-Pooh is back in print, including caricatures of fellow writers and poets.

Shakespeare and CO: Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Dekker, Ben Jonson, Thomas Middleton, John Fletcher and the Other Players in His Story by Stanley Wells
Focuses on Shakespeare and several of his contemporaries and discusses several plays which the Bard apparently collaborated on.

Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles 1910-1939 by Katie Roiphe
Never thought I'd take an interest in a Roiphe book, but this sounds fascinating.

Now and Then: The Poet's Choice Columns, 1997-2000 by Robert Hass
During his tenure as Poet Laureate Hass wrote a column in which he discussed poets and poetry and connected them to the events of the day. Collected here, they were a big success, syndicated in many newspapers.

Conversation Pieces: Poems That Talk to Other Poems ed. by Kurt Brown and Harold Schechter
Jazz Poems ed. by Kevin Young
I haven't seen any reviews of these two recent installments in the Everyman's Library poetry series, but they both sound particularly interesting.

Inner Workings: Literary Essays 2000-2005 by J.M. M. Coetzee
Kirkus wonders, "a better critical essayist than novelist?" I'm especially interested in the piece on Roth's The Plot Against America.

Working IX to V: Orgy Planners, Funeral Clowns and Other Prized Professions of the Ancient World by Vicki Leon
A clever title and lurid subtitle, attention grabbers both. Will our fascination with the ancients ever be sated?

Justinian's Flea: Plague, Empire, and the Birth of Europe by William Rosen
A look at the late Roman empire and the plague that helped usher in the Dark Ages.

Sea Venture: The Ship That Rescued Jamestown and Established the English Presence in the New World by Kieran Doherty
This ship had quite a story, setting out for the new world but getting shipwrecked in Bermuda instead (inspiring Shakespeare's The Tempest) but eventually fuelling an effort to get to Jamestown and save the day for the English. Sounds riveting.

Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648-1815 by Tim Blanning
A new volume in the Penguin History of Europe series.

End Times: Death of the Fourth Estate by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair
I've seen no reviews yet (and I'm not holding my breath for any, given their radical politics), but Cockburn's always got something interesting to say.

From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America by Chris Finan
Sounds like it puts recent events in an important historical context.

Debating Race by Michael Eric Eric Dyson
I'm late in mentioning this one, but I'm intrigued that Dyson has, instead of writing a lecture, chosen such an interesting array of people to engage in conversation. Could be very interesting.

The Trap: Selling Out to Stay Afloat in Winner-Take-All America by Daniel Brook
Praised as a refreshing look at the state of our nation and its economic inequality.

What is Your Dangerous Idea?: Today's Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable ed. by John Brockman, with Richard Dawkins (Afterword) and Steven Pinker (Intro)
I found this in a catalogue, not in the reviews, but it sounds intriguing: Brockman (who edited the similarly intriguing title, What We Believe but Cannot Prove) asked top scientists to write about their most dangerous ideas.

Richness of Life: The Essential Stephen Jay Gould
Collection of works by one of the greats, one of my personal favorites.

The Last Human: A Guide to Twenty Species of Extinct Humans
Sounds like a fascinating look at our ancestors, our failed cousins, our pale reflections, what have you.

God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens
The always-contrarian Hitchens hops on the recent anti-religion bandwagon which I have mixed feelings about, but this does sound intriguing.

A New World: England's First View of America by Kim Sloan
Collection of John White's watercolors and ink sketches, which gave England its first look at the New World.

Pornology by Ayn Carillo-Gailey
When her boyfriend called her "pornophobic" after she confronted him about his habit, she decided to do learn all she could about the industry.

Working Stiff: The Misadventures of an Accidental Sexpert by Grant Stoddard
Cute British guy comes to the U.S. and manages to land a job writing about sex, a topic he admits he had embarassingly little experience in.

Connected: 24 Hours in the Global Economy by Daniel Altman
Sounds like a fascinating look at our global economy in all its technological complexity.

More Noteworthy Nonfiction:

There were so many notable literature titles this time, so I'll get those out of the way first: The Story Is True: The Art and Meaning of Telling Stories by Bruce Jackson, Fathers and Sons: The Autobiography of a Family by Alexander Waugh (grandson of Evelyn Waugh), Spellbound: The Surprising Origins and Astonishing Secrets of English Spelling by James Essinger, William Faulkner and Joan Williams: The Romance of Two Writers by Lisa C. Hickman, Mere Anarchy, the latest humor collection by Woody Allen, Thomas Wolfe: An Illustrated Biography ed. by Ted Mitchell, Joseph Conrad: A Life by Zdzislaw Najder, Jasmine and Stars: Reading More Than Lolita in Tehran by Fatemeh Keshavarz,
A Thief of Strings: Poems by Donald Revell, and Sorry, Tree by Eileen Myles.

A couple of general titles: How to Hepburn: Lessons on Life from Kate the Great by Karen Karbo and Educating Peter: How I Taught a Famous Movie Critic the Difference Between Cabernet and Merlot or How Anybody Can Become an (Almost) Instant Wine Expert by Lettie Teague. Several nature titles: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, Dog Days: Dispatches from Bedlam Farm by Jon Katz, Nature's Engraver: A Life of Thomas Bewick by Jenny Uglow, and Silence of the Songbirds: How We Are Losing the World's Songbirds and What We Can Do to Save Them by Bridget Stutchbury. A technology title, GLUT: Mastering Information through the Ages by Alex Wright. A couple art books that caught my eye: Dada: Themes & Movements ed. by Rudolf Kuenzli and The Clarks of Cooperstown by Nicholas Fox Weber (rival heirs of the Singer sewing machine fortune were apparently huge art collectors). And a big batch of history titles: The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down by Colin Woodard, Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power by Robert Dallek, The Last Days of the Incas: The Story of the Longest Guerilla War in the Americas by Kim MacQuarrie, Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire by John Pilger (journalist/filmmaker writes about the political situations in Israel, India, South Africa, Afghanistan and the Chagos Islands), In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia by Ronald H. Spector, Margaret Fuller: An American Romantic Life: Vol. II: The Public Years by Charles Capper, Satan's Circus: Murder, Vice, Police Corruption, and New York's Trial of the Century by Mike Dash, and Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski.

Of Gay Interest:

Fellow Travelers by Thomas Mallon
A fairly timely novel set in the McCarthy era that deals with the relationship between a powerful politician and a more innocent young man. Been compared to Vidal but it also reminds me of Preminger's Advise and Consent.

Michael Tolliver Lives by Armistead Maupin
(Glowing) reviews say Maupin insists it isn't a Tales of the City sequel but then call him a liar.

I Had to Say Something: The Art of Ted Haggard's Fall by Mike Jones
The hustler who blew the whistle on Haggard has a memoir coming out.

The Child by Sarah Schulman
Schulman finally returns with a new novel, and it sounds like a completely different and intriguing direction. Welcome back, Sarah, we missed you!

The Indian Clerk by David Leavitt
Leavitt seems to be continuing his interest in mathematicians, this time Srinivasa Ramanujan and Bloomsbury friend G. H. Hardy.

When You Were Me by Robert Rodi
Seen only one review which was terrible, but come on, it's a cute premise. (And I had no idea the body-switching genre was started in the Victorian era by someone named F. Anstey in his Vice Versa: A Lesson to Fathers. Interesting.)

Also Noteworthy: Userlands: New Fiction Writers from the Blogging Underground ed. by Dennis Cooper, Hot Rocks (Nick Hoffman mystery) by Lev Raphael, Forgiveness by Jim Grimsley, Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys: True Tales of Love, Lust, and Friendship Between Straight Women and Gay Men ed. by Melissa de La Cruz and Tom Dolby, Always by Nicola Griffith, Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity by Julia Serano, Chaos: A Novella and Stories by Edmund White, Enemy by Rafael Campo, Letter from Point Clear: A Novel by Dennis McFarland, and The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein by Martin Duberman.

Of Chicago Interest:

Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul by Karen Abbott
Now this sounds like the Chicago that Al Swearengen (the Deadwood character) came from!

The Chicago School: How the University of Chicago Assembled the Thinkers Who Revolutionized Economics and Business by Johan Van Overtveldt
The book goes beyond an exploration of the famous school of economic thought to look at the entire Hyde Park intellectual scene's history."

Throw like a Girl: Stories by Jean Thompson
Kirkus writes: "Illinois author emerges as something very like America's Alice Munro."

Graphic Work:

The Living and the Dead by Jason
The Norwegian's cartoonist's short zombie tale is supposed to be funny, sweet and very entertaining.

Also Noteworthy: Schulz's Youth by Charles M. Schulz (collection of his early, biweekly Christian teen magazine strip, "Young Pillars"), Alice in Sunderland by Bryan Talbot, Alias the Cat by Kim Deitch, Krazy & Ignatz 1939-1940: "A Brick Stuffed with Moombins" by George Herriman, and Ex Machina, Volume 5: Smoke Smoke and Y: The Last Man, Volume 9: Motherland by Brian K. Vaughan.



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