Book of the Week: Bad Dreams and Other Stories – Tessa Hadley

Elizabeth Strout. Alice Munro. Marilyn Robinson. This elite club of writers creates a small miracle with their exquisite, economical prose. I never ceased to be amazed by their ability to look behind the quotidian dailiness of peoples’ lives (mostly women’s) and unfurl for us a vast star map of the human heart.

Anyone who has read Tessa Hadley will add her to the top of this list. Hadley finally broke out in the U.S. with her bestselling novel, The Past, which the Washington Post compared to Anne Tyler and Alice Munro, noting that “the book offers similar deep pleasures. Like those North American masters of the domestic realm, Hadley crystallizes the atmosphere of ordinary life in prose somehow miraculous and natural…. Extraordinary.”

Lily King commented:

Few writers have been as important to me as Tessa Hadley. She puts on paper a consciousness so visceral, so fully realized, it heightens and expands your own. She is a true master, and The Past is a big, brilliant novel: sensual, wise, compelling—and utterly magnificent.”

As good as the novel is, I think Hadley is at her very best with the short stories. (The New Yorker has published 22.) She always seems able to lever the constraints of the shorter form in an exhilarating way. In her 2014 novel, Clever Girl, interlinked stories accrued in discreet story-like chapters to create the story of one woman’s life in the later 20th century. It’s easily the peer of the remarkable Olive Kitteridge and, like that book, remains one of the my most rewarding reading experiences.

So, this new collection from Hadley is a very happy event—and already has two starred advance reviews. I expect it to be reviewed widely.

Young women and girls take the measure of themselves in Hadley’s remarkably precise and perceptive collection of short stories, set in the middle-class Britain of the 1950s and ’60s and in the present day. Chance encounters disrupt the punctiliously observed rituals of daily life, often leading to a lifetime of consequence for Hadley’s characters…. In subtly insightful and observant prose, Hadley writes brilliantly of the words and gestures that pass unnoticed “in the intensity of [the] present” but echo without cease.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Quietly explosive short stories that reveal, with unsparing precision, the epic drama simmering beneath the mundanity of everyday life…. Achingly lovely, though never sentimental, Hadley’s collection renders common lives with exquisite grace.”
Kirkus (starred review)

Bad Dreams and Other Stories (9780062476661) by Tessa Hadley. $26.99 hardcover. 5/16/17 on sale.

Nonfiction Short Take: Love, Africa – Jeffrey Gettleman

Gettleman is a Pulitzer-Prize winning war correspondent who for fifteen years has reported from war zones all over the world. But Africa is his great love—the place he wanted to live since his teens. He has reported from there for the last decade as the NYT’s East Africa Bureau Chief. This memoir is the story of both achieving that dream and the difficult path to also balancing it with the dream of marriage and family.

As well as writing for the NYT, Gettleman has also appeared as a commentator on CNN, BBC, PBS, NPR and ABC so we expect good coverage for the book.

“[An] exciting, harrowing memoir that aptly displays why [Gettleman’s] a Pulitzer Prize winner and a New York Times bureau chief…. there’s a thrilling immediacy and attention to detail in Gettleman’s writing that puts the reader right beside him…Gettleman’s memoir is an absolute must-read.”
Booklist (starred review)

A passionate debut memoir bears witness to political turmoil… A stark, eye-opening, and sometimes horrifying portrait by a reporter enthralled by the ‘power and magic’ of Africa.”
Kirkus Reviews

 Gettleman recounts his dangerous reporting from global hot spots: interviewing Taliban POWs in Afghanistan; surveying firefights and suicide-bomb carnage in Iraq; and exploring famines, insurgencies, tribal massacres, and a pirate café in East Africa, where he is the Times bureau chief. Sharing many of his exploits is his wife and sometime colleague Courtenay; their star-crossed relationship, including bouts of infidelity, complicates his wanderlust…. Many episodes are riveting.”
Publishers Weekly

Love, Africa: A Memoir of Romance, War, and Survival (9780062284099) by Jeffrey Gettleman. $27.99 hardcover. 5/16/17 on sale.

New YA Fiction: Thick as Thieves – Megan Whalen Turner

Add Turner to the list of major children’s book authors that booksellers have clued me in to. Excitement and anticipation for this new installment in Turner’s Queen’s Thief series was so high that a half-dozen booksellers asked me for reading copies before I’d ever heard of the book.

Written over the course of twenty years and starting with the Newbery Honor winning book, The Thief, the four books in this series can be read as standalone novels and are all the richer read as a series.

The stories are rife with political machination and intrigue, war, far-flung journeys and divine intervention. The whole series has been released with spectacular new covers which, if they remind you of the opening to HBO’s Game of Thrones, well that can’t be an accident. Bookseller Kim Fox right pointed out to me that “I’ve heard it thrown out as a suggestion of what to read when you’re done with Game of Thrones, and I don’t disagree with that.”

Three starred reviews underscore the fact that this is an event in the YA world.

“What is so welcomingly familiar and so wholly real here is the depth of the characters and the tenuous, frightening instability of the world around them. …The world, its people, and its god remain as fiercely alive as they were when The Thief first stole hearts…like coming home.”
Booklist (starred review)

“As with the previous books, Turner writes with complete authority about her richly imagined landscape. Although this immersive treat is billed as a standalone, those who have read the previous books in the series will get the most from it, as Turner fills out and enriches the expansive canvas on which she stitches her epic tale.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Immensely satisfying…. This clever book is both a stand-alone introduction for those just discovering Turner’s characters and a way to move the series forward to what promises to be a stirring conclusion for longtime fans. A must for fantasy readers.”
School Library Journal (starred review)

“As with Turner’s other Attolia books, this invites an older audience, but the perilous journey, character growth, and understated affection of shield brothers offer more teen appeal…A series stand-alone that won’t disappoint Turner aficionados.”
Kirkus Reviews

Marvelous. Although this is a mew main character for the series, this has all the adventure, politics, and character development that I expect from Megan Whalen Turner. It was exactly what I wanted…until I got to the end and realized that I desperately wanted more!”
— Kim Fox, Schuler Books & Music, Grand Rapids, MI

“I love the Queen’s Thief books and I am thrilled to go back to that world and explore the politics, intrigue and stories in this wonderful series. This new book follows a Mede slave as he negotiates the politics of that vast empire as well as the role slaves play in running an empire. There are subtle touches of Rome and Greece, but the world is entirely unique.  With Megan Whalen Turner’s deft touch of developing both character and the world in which they move, Thick as Thieves is thrilling both as a political and as an adventure novel. Expect to be swept up as a reader into the world she has created.  Of course, I’ve had to go back and re-read the rest of the series!”
— Liesl Freudenstein, Boulder Book Store, Boulder, CO

Thick as Thieves (9780062568243) by Megan Whalen Turner. $17.99 hardcover. 5/16/17 on sale.

In the News: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert M. Pirsig

Like so many young people coming of age in the 1970’s this book was hugely influential to me. Thirty years later I learned it wasn’t just a relic of time and place when my 20-year-old nephew found his way to it and we bonded over the still perplexing issues the book takes on– clashing technological and spiritual worlds and cultural divides every bit as deep today as they were a generation ago.

You know by now of author Robert M. Pirsig’s passing. The obituaries have done a great job of contextualizing this uniquely American novel which explores fundamental questions of how to live one’s life.

As USA Today noted in one of last week’s many pieces, “The book was praised as a unique and masterful blend of narrative and philosophy and was compared to Moby Dick by New Yorker critic George Steiner, who wrote that Pirsig’s story ‘lodges in the mind as few recent novels have.’”

Two generations of McCunes are here to agree. Booksellers, now is the right time to give this one another tour on the front tables.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values (9780060839871) by Robert M. Pirsig. $16.99 trade paper. Available.

Publicity: Dreaming the Beatles – Rob Sheffield

 It looks like the infectious and electric Mr. Sheffield might have written himself another hit with this look at how “The Beatles” came to transcend being a mere rock band and become an enduring cultural influence. As a USA Today rave review observes:

Four Liverpool chums make a go of it as a group, climb to the toppermost of the poppermost, and break up dramatically at the height of their powers. Then here’s where the story gets really interesting: Everyone on Earth rejects that ending. Somehow, The Beatles just keep getting bigger.

‘Our Beatles,’ the author marvels, ‘have outlasted theirs.’”

First serial is already out in Rolling Stone. A second serial in People should expand interest in the book even further.

Dreaming the Beatles: The Love Story of One Band and the Whole World (9780062207654) by Rob Sheffield. $24.99 hardcover. 4/25/17 on sale.

 

Book of the Week: everybody Lies – Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

It’s hard to escape the term “big data” these days and this book is one explanation why.

Everybody Lies looks at how data researchers are crunching the unimaginably large amounts of information people feed into the web in an effort to understand our true beliefs and behaviors. It is by turns both entertaining (our obsession with sex) and alarming (how pervasive racism remains).

It’s an important book about how marketers and researchers are diving beneath what we say and to explore our innermost thoughts and attitudes. To me it feels as groundbreaking as 2005’s Freakonomics–perhaps a version 2.0 of what behavioral economics can tell us in the age of big data.

In his foreword Stephen Pinker writes, “This book is about a whole new way of studying the mind…an unprecedented peek into people’s psyches….Time and again my preconceptions about my country and my species were turned upside-down by Stephens-Davidowitz’s discoveries.”

The author is a former Google data scientist trained as both an economist and philosopher. The book has already been chosen as one of Fortune Magazine’s Best Business Books for Spring. Wired, Slate and Salon will run excerpts. The NYT will run an op-ed by the author about our Facebook lives vs. our Google lives, and additional op-eds will appear in Glamour and Fast Company. Reviews start with the Economist and New York magazine. Stephens-Davidowitz will appear on NPR an CBS This Morning.

[A] tour of the many things that big data can tell us about ourselves….[often yielding] uncomfortable results, revealing hidden reservoirs of racism, sexual insecurity, hypocrisy, and outright dishonesty. For instance, he writes, so-called undecided voters usually aren’t undecided at all…[The] data that Stephens-Davidowitz sifts through reveal a strongly racially motivated vote on the part of whites, speaking to ‘a nasty, scary and widespread rage that was waiting for a candidate to give voice to it,’ even though those same people would profess publicly to being beyond issues of race and indeed ‘postracial’…. [Stephens-Davidowitz looks]… at the correlation of education and financial success, the keywords of lying, and other big-picture questions. Statistics wonks will find much of interest in this survey.”
Kirkus

“In example after highly quotable example, he illustrates the observational power of massive data sets … While the book is brimming with intriguing anecdotes and counterintuitive facts, Stephens-Davidowitz does his level best to help usher in a new age of human understanding, one digital data point at a time.”
Fortune

Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are (9780062390851) by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. $27.99 hardcover. 5/9/17 on sale.

New Fiction: Since We Fell – Dennis Lehane

After focusing much of his attention in recent years on two books that constituted an epic American crime saga, Lehane is back to the cat-and-mouse psychological suspense that brings his fans out in droves. And rightly so—he’s a master. So says another master of the genre, Gillian Flynn:

Lehane has written two books—one, an insightful examination of the search for identity and belonging, and two, a thriller that constantly leaves you guessing-and then smashed them together into one terrific read. Lehane is the master of complex human characters thrust into suspenseful, page-turning situations. I’ll read anything he writes.”

The plot this time involves a former TV journalist reduced to living as a shut-in after an on-air meltdown suffered while covering the devastation in Haiti. This claustrophobic background serves as the stage where Rachel Childs’ anxieties play out as her marriage to the perfect husband unravels into deception, violence, and possibly madness.

Advance reviews are terrific and the book will be covered widely at on sale, starting with a first serial in Playboy, features in New York magazine, Entertainment Weekly and NPR’s Morning Edition. Review coverage starts with The Washington Post, The New York Post and O, the Oprah Magazine. As you might expect, it’s both an Indie Next and LibraryReads pick.

Set in contemporary Boston, this expertly wrought character study masquerading as a thriller from Edgar-winner Lehane features his first-ever female protagonist. Once a star journalist… Rachel Childs now barely leaves her house. Lehane portrays the frantic hamster wheel of waxing and waning anxiety with unnerving clarity. A lifetime of tension, much of it spawning from her now-deceased mother’s refusal to disclose the identity of Rachel’s father, weighs on Rachel. The quest to put a name to half her DNA is what first sets Rachel on a collision course with Brian Delacroix…. Their eventual marriage is romantic and life-affirming, as Brian coaxes Rachel through the swamp of her psyche, until it’s suddenly not. The book’s conspiracy plot doesn’t cut the deepest; it’s Lehane’s intensely intimate portrayal of a woman tormented by her own mind.”
—  Publishers Weekly

“[T]his narrative vehicle never veers out of control, and when Lehane hits the afterburners in the last 50 pages, he produces one of crime fiction’s most exciting and well-orchestrated finales-rife with dramatic tension and buttressed by rich psychological interplay between the characters. Don’t be surprised if Since We Fell makes readers forget about that other psychological thriller featuring an unstable heroine named Rachel.”
Booklist (starred review)

“A crafty, ingenious tale of murder and deception-and a deeply resonant account of one woman’s effort to heal deep wounds that don’t easily show.”
Kirkus

Since We Fell (9780062129383) by Dennis Lehane. $27.99 hardcover. 5/9/17 one day laydown.