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.

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: Sycamore – Bryn Chancellor

This very assured literary debut marries the uncovering of the decades-old secret behind a teenage girl’s disappearance with the effect that disappearance has on a small Arizona community. Told in multiple voices, what could have been just another “disappearing girl whodunit” instead becomes a character study in grief, secrets and reconciliation. PW calls it “riveting” and I’ve had several early readers rave, one even texting me that it left her in tears.

It’s a LibraryReads Top 10 Pick for May and received two starred advance reviews.

In this riveting first novel, 17-year-old Jess Winters, a recent transplant to Sycamore, Ariz., disappears one night in 1991, leaving behind a jagged hole in the community. Eighteen years later, Laura Drennan, a new professor at Sycamore College, goes hiking and accidentally discovers human bones in a dry streambed near the campus. Word quickly spreads, and the entire town wonders if Jess’s remains have been discovered. As speculation runs high, we meet the former friends, classmates, neighbors, and teachers who continue to be haunted by Jess’s absence. They include her still-grieving mother…. There are also flashbacks, which ultimately reveal what happened to Jess on that fatal night. This is a movingly written, multivoiced novel…. The author ends her novel with a transporting vision of community, connection, and forgiveness.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

 “A meaty, suspenseful debut.”
Booklist

“Haunting and elegiac, Bryn Chancellor’s Sycamore masterfully traces the fault lines of trauma and loss that resurface in the wake of a tragedy’s second coming. Chancellor’s multivocal narrative brims with intelligence and insight, and her subtle writing poignantly illuminates the ways in which we are sometimes bound, for better and for worse, by a collective sorrow.”
— Claire Vaye Watkins

“This deeply moving story, which could have easily veered towards melodrama and sentimentalism, explores the fateful events that led to Jess’s disappearance and slowly reveals the mistakes, secrets and regrets but also the humanity and good that resides in each of the characters. Heart-wrenching and compassionate in the manner of Kent Haruf’s stories, this is a flawless first novel.
—  Pierre Camy, Schuler Books & Music, Grand Rapids, MI

Sycamore (9780062661098) by Bryn Chancellor. $26.99 hardcover. 5/9/17 on sale.

Biography Short Take: Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama – David Garrow

At over 1,400 pages and with a quarter million copy announced first print, this epic biography of Barack Obama’s early life and career is big in every way. Pulitzer Prize winning biographer Garrow draws on more than 1,000 interviews in his exploration of how Obama’s early life, his time as a Chicago organizer, and his daring bid for a U.S. Senate seat all helped forge the politician he would become.

The book is embargoed and we expect that a number of news-making revelations will help drive the media coverage. Reviews start with the Washington Post and USA Today with much more expected to come.

 “[R]ecounts Barack Obama’s intensely political life story up to his 2008 election to the presidency, and does so without apparent political bias…. The result is a convincing and exceptionally detailed portrait of one man’s self-invention… political history buffs will be fascinated.
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Garrow is a demon for research…. Eminently solid… an impressive work that will provide grist for the former president’s detractors and admirers alike.”
Kirkus Reviews

Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama (9780062641830) by David Garrow. $45.00 hardcover. 5/9/17 on sale.

 

New YA Fiction: Ramona Blue – Julie Murphy

Murphy’s debut Dumplin’ was one of last year’s break out books, debuting at #1 on the NYT bestseller list. After a success like that I always fret a bit about the possible “sophomore slump” No worries here. Advance reviews include two starred reviews and all the reviews praise Murphy’s thoughtful and empathetic characterizations.

The protagonist this time out is Ramona Blue, a teen steering herself and her pregnant sister through life in a coastal Mississippi town after their mother leaves them. At the opening of the book Ramona’s girlfriend leaves just as an old childhood friend returns. Freddie’s a middle-class kid and when his family signs them both up at the Y for the summer, Ramona discovers a talent for swimming—and an unexpected attraction to her old friend.

In another writer’s hands, the issues here might overwhelm the story—class, race, poverty, sexuality—but in Murphy’s hands it’s these finely drawn characters who keep the limelight, with Ramona emerging like Dumplin’, as an underdog you cheer for.

There are two things Ramona knows: she likes girls, and she’s the responsible one in her family, especially now that her sister, Hattie, is pregnant. The girls’ mother left,…they live in a trailer, and Ramona is juggling multiple jobs…. In Eulogy, Miss., Murphy creates a place that feels deeply real, a Gulf Coast vacation town that’s racially and economically diverse: Ramona is white and poor, Freddie is black and middle class, and the biggest divide might be between the year-round residents and the summer visitors. It’s a great setting for a coming-of-age story, as Ramona realizes that she’s capable of more than she imagined and that some categories are more fluid than she’d thought.”
Publishers Weekly

“An exquisite, thoughtful exploration of the ties that bind and the fluidity of relationships, sexuality, and life.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Julie Murphy knows a thing or two about navigating the worlds of girls on the brink of self-discovery.”
Booklist (starred review)

“A must-have work that will resonate with teens”
School Library Journal

Ramona Blue (9780062418357) by Julie Murphy. $17.99 hardcover. 5/9/17 on sale.