The best new books this month chosen by us and other independent booksellers across the country.
This Month's #1 Indie Next List Pick...
Moonglow By Michael Chabon
(Harper, 9780062225559, $28.99)
"The intersection of world history and family history, the interplay of memory and imagination, a tangle of humor and grief, and the blurred and shifting line that separates sanity and madness all come into play in this stunning book. In the months before his death, Chabon's grandfather revealed much of his life to his grandson. On that foundation, Chabon has built a novel filled with family stories, World War II episodes--including an appearance by Wernher von Braun--an obsession with rocketry, and a vividly realized, against-all-odds love story. While all the characters are richly developed, the narrator's grandfather--the brave, eccentric, anger-fueled, and deeply loving center of this novel--will remain with readers forever."
--Banna Rubinow, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, NY
This Month's #1 Indie Next List Pick Author Interview
Independent booksellers across the nation have chosen Moonglow, the new novel by Michael Chabon (Harper, November 22), as their number-one pick for December's Indie Next List.
Chabon's novel has been described by Harper as "a lie that tells the truth, a work of fictional nonfiction, an autobiography wrapped in a novel disguised as a memoir." In Moonglow, the narrator, who bears the same name as Chabon, sits by the bedside of his grandfather, who during the months before his death recounts the previously untold tales of his life: his work as an intelligence officer and technical specialist during World War II, the obsession with rocketry that led him to a career building scale models for NASA, and his complex love for Chabon's grandmother, a Holocaust survivor.
"The intersection of world history and family history, the interplay of memory and imagination, a tangle of humor and grief, and the blurred and shifting line that separates sanity and madness all come into play in this stunning book," said Banna Rubinow of the river's end bookstore in Oswego, New York. "While all the characters are richly developed, the narrator's grandfather--the brave, eccentric, anger-fueled, and deeply loving center of this novel--will remain with readers forever."
Chabon recently spoke from Berkeley, California, about his new book.
Do you think the description of Moonglow as "an autobiography wrapped in a novel disguised as a memoir" is a good representation of your work?
Yes, I think that's a good description. It is a novel and it is a novel disguised as a memoir, but deep inside of it there is a kind of autobiography. The autobiography that is concealed inside is not a story about my real grandfather or any of my other male relatives. It's not an autobiography in the sense that it might seem obvious or evident to somebody reading and thinking about what they might already know about me in the way of factual things. When I finished writing the book and was reading it for the last time before submitting it to my editor at HarperCollins, I started to see how, on some kind of secret hidden level, it really is an autobiography. It's a self-portrait, maybe more than an autobiography. The self-portrait aspect is not of the narrator of the book with whom I share a name and many biographical details; the self portrait in the book is of the grandfather. That's all I want to say about that; it's something that I realized after I finished writing.
Are most of your novels and other works deliberately plotted out, researched, and then written, or do you more often find yourself sitting down, an idea pops into your head, and you just go with it?
The much more common thing is the second one. Almost all of my novels since The Mysteries of Pittsburgh came out of nowhere. [That novel] arose out of sources in my personal experience, it had sources in things I was reading, but I did just sort of sit down and say I'm going to write a novel and what became The Mysteries of Pittsburgh just emerged out of apparently nowhere. It arose out of things that might have been clearer to me in hindsight, but at the time I just had this sense of, "Here are some words that are coming out of me somehow and I'm going to try to write them all down before I forget them."
Then I started to work on what was supposed to be my second novel and that was a very deliberate, pre-planned, heavily researched book [that] turned into a complete disaster, which used up about five and a half years of my life. Wonder Boys was my escape out of that disaster and it was the most magical writing experience. I sat down one night and thought I was going to work on another draft of that beastly novel and instead, these words, this voice just emerged, and it was the voice of Grady Tripp saying, "The first real writer I ever knew was a man who did all of his work under the name of August Van Zorn." That first sentence kind of just emerged as is and I just followed it....
"In her gracefully written new work, the author of NW and White Teeth addresses the frustrations of family relations, the complications of race, the tyranny of celebrity, and the travesty of cultural appropriation. Smith looks at the fragile threads that tie friends together and how easily they can snap, and her prose flows without effort, granting even the most flawed characters --and there are many--a modicum of redemption."
--Peggy Latkovich, Mac's Backs, Cleveland Heights, OH
The Fate of the Tearling By Erika Johansen
(Harper, 9780062290427, $25.99)
"Johansen has created an incredibly intense, intriguing, and completely captivating conclusion for her Tearling trilogy, that is sure to please all readers awaiting Queen Kelsea's fate. Rash, reckless, and filled with rage, Kelsea has surrendered to the Red Queen while unwittingly unleashing the Orphan, a threat so evil that both soon find themselves fighting together for their own survival. Will Kelsea unravel the mystery of her magical sapphires and save the Tear kingdom from ultimate destruction? Or, is she destined for an early demise thereby sealing the fate of the Tearling?"
--Kristin Bates, McLean & Eakin Booksellers, Petoskey, MI
To Capture What We Cannot Keep By Beatrice Colin
(Flatiron Books, 9781250071446, $25.99)
"Societal constraints and expectations of the time impede the love affair of Caitriona Wallace and Émile Nouguier from the moment they meet in a hot air balloon above the Champ de Mars in 1886. Émile's ailing mother is pressuring him to marry, start a family, and take over the family business even as he is facing both public and professional stress as co-designer of the Eiffel Tower. Cait is a young Scottish widow forced to work as a chaperone to a wealthy brother and sister. Cait's and Émile's paths cross and crisscross as Colin vividly captures the sights and sounds of La Belle Epoque in this quiet, atmospheric novel."
--Jennifer Gwydir, Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, TX
The Elephants in My Backyard: A Memoir By Rajiv Surendra
(Regan Arts, 9781682450505, $26.95)
"While filming Mean Girls in 2003, actor Rajiv Surendra is told by the cameraman that he must read Life of Pi because he is Pi. As he reads the novel, Surendra is amazed at the similarities that he discovers between himself and Pi--both live by a zoo, are the same height, and share a similar heritage. Realizing that the book is to be made into a movie, Surendra embarks on a personal journey to win the lead in the film. Along the way, he shares his own epic quest of self-discovery as he experiences exhilaration, disappointment, failure, and love, offering an intimate view of his journey."
--Fran Keilty, Hickory Stick Bookshop, Washington Depot, CT
The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars By Dava Sobel
(Viking, 9780670016952, $30)
"Spectrography is a way of studying stars by taking pictures that separate astral light into different wavelengths. The practice was pioneered by Dr. Henry Draper of the Harvard Observatory in the late 1800s, but the long and detailed work of interpreting the images and classifying the stars was done by a group of women. In this long overdue tribute to Harvard's 'human computers,' Sobel, author of the classic Longitude, brilliantly intertwines science, history, and biography, charting not only the advances in astrophysics from the 1870s to the 1940s, but also following the progress women made in establishing themselves in a notoriously male-dominated field."
--Laurie Greer, Politics & Prose Bookstore and Coffeehouse, Washington, DC
Scrappy Little Nobody By Anna Kendrick
(Touchstone, 9781501117206, $26.99)
"Scrappy Little Nobody is less outsider-looking-in as it is insider-looking-out. Kendrick's anecdotes, experiences, and her initiation as a working youth breaking into Hollywood reflect her social awkwardness and self-deprecation as the product of a blue-collar family and a dogged work ethic. Humble and hilarious, Kendrick's lack of the knack for celebrity life allows for an unapologetic 'so-it-goes,' bluntness that makes her book relatable and heartwarmingly familiar. Never too funny to not be serious and never too serious to not be personable, Scrappy Little Nobody is filled with genuine thoughtfulness, a life's worth of intelligence, and Kendrick's impossible charm."
--Nolan Fellows, Rediscovered Books, Boise, ID
Moranifesto By Caitlin Moran
(Harper Perennial, 9780062433756, $15.99)
"Moran is a British journalist whose columns are known for covering a broad range of topics, from feminism and politics to fashion and TV. Some of those columns are reprinted in Moranifesto, a hilarious collection of opinion pieces that are Moran's personal manifesto for changing the world. The collection covers topics as diverse as the Syrian refugee crisis, cystitis, David Bowie, and why she no longer wears heels. As dissimilar as these themes may be, they are all tackled with the blunt humor for which Moran is known. Moranifesto is gloriously funny, feminist, and timely."
--Agnes Galvin, Oblong Books & Music, Millerton, NY
Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire By Julia Baird
(Random House, 9781400069880, $35)
"Only 18 when she assumed the throne, Victoria ruled a vast empire for more than 60 years. In this biography Baird reveals a woman who so dominated the world that an entire epoch was named for her. Her nine children and their children inhabited most of the thrones of Europe until the upheaval of World War I, and her expansionist policies enabled Great Britain to rule over a quarter of the entire world. Baird also portrays a passionate and vibrant woman who struggled to assert herself in a time and place that was dismissive of the female sex. This enthralling biography is a welcome addition and nuanced look at a dynamic queen."
--Barbara Hoagland, The King's English Book Shop, Salt Lake City, UT
Writing to Save a Life: The Louis Till File By John Edgar Wideman
(Scribner, 9781501147289, $25)
"This is a powerful meditation on the life of Louis Till, the father of Emmett Till whose brutal murder in 1955 spurred the Civil Rights Movement forward. It is not common knowledge today that Louis Till was convicted of a crime and executed in Italy while serving in the Army during World War II. Wideman was 14 years old-- the same age as Emmett when he died--the year he saw pictures of Emmett Till's body in Jet magazine. When he found out decades later about Louis Till's fate, Wideman set out to investigate the tragic lives of both father and son. The result is a profound and moving exploration of race, manhood, violence, and injustice in our society."
--Cody Morrison, Square Books, Oxford, MS
Absolutely on Music: Conversations By Haruki Murakami and Seiji Ozawa Jay Rubin (Transl.)
(Knopf, 9780385354349, $27.95)
"To sit down with Absolutely on Music is to sit down with two maestros--acclaimed writer Haruki Murakami, in a way you've never experienced him before, and famed conductor Seiji Ozawa who lives and breathes classical music. This book is the result of several conversations over two years between the two friends that focused on the music they both love, on writing, and on how the two connect. Written by Murakami in a question-and-answer format, Absolutely on Music offers note-by-note talks about classical music and about Ozawa's and Murakami's lives and the intricacies of both. Readers will hear the music!"
--Terry Tazioli, University Book Store, Seattle, WA
Who Watcheth: An Inspector Irene Huss Investigation By Helene Tursten Marlaine Delargy (Transl.)
(Soho Crime, 9781616954048, $26.95)
"Tursten does not disappoint in the ninth installment of her impeccable Inspector Irene Huss Investigation series, moving it forward on a perfect note with Irene and her husband, Krister, beginning a new stage in their lives. One of the things I've always admired about this series, in addition to Irene's strength and intelligence, is the normalcy of her life. I loved this book, but I was so busy racing through it to unravel the various threads that now I need to read it again slowly and savor it. You will, too!"
--Eileen McGervey, One More Page Books, Arlington, VA
I'll Take You There By Wally Lamb
(Harper, 9780062656285, $25.99)
"Lamb offers another nostalgia-fueled foray into the world of Felix Funicello, last seen in the hilarious and poignant Wishin' and Hopin'. This time around readers find Felix as a film studies professor in the present, being schooled by the ghosts of silent screen icons, all of them women. Through the magic of film, they reveal Felix's childhood and the stories of the unforgettable women who shaped him. Lamb, in his inimitable way, weaves a family dramedy in the era of bobbysoxers and hidden 'women's problems,' with the rise of feminism and one man's history as a brother, husband, and father."
--Chrysler Szarlan, Odyssey Bookshop, South Hadley, MA
Normal By Warren Ellis
(FSG Originals, 9780374534974, $13)
"This is an eerily fun read. What if Big Brother was as small as an ant? Patients at a private asylum deep in the woods are all from the world of either Foresight Strategy or Strategic Forecasting. This means they are smart people, but deeply depressed--and many have gone insane--because they are paid to look into the future and it isn't looking good. Visionary writer Ellis offers readers 1984 meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in this provocative novel."
--Randy Schiller, Left Bank Books, St. Louis, MO
The History of Rock & Roll, Volume 1: 1920–1963 By Ed Ward
(Flatiron Books, 9781250071163, $35)
"This is a great, fun book by Ward, a correspondent for NPR's All Things Considered and one of the founders of the South by Southwest Conference and Festivals (SXSW). Covering the period of 1920 to 1963, almost every chapter in the book is devoted to a single year and the songs that were recorded and/or released during that year. This is a broad overview that substitutes breadth for depth but doesn't spare the entertainment factor. Ward's sweeping survey reads like the 400-plus page liner notes for a 1,000-song box set and, as a music nerd, that is one of the best compliments I can give!"
--Joe Turner, BookPeople, Austin, TX
Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood By Trevor Noah
(Spiegel & Grau, 9780399588174, $28)
"Noah's perspective of growing up as the son of a black woman and white man in South Africa during apartheid, mixed with his trademark humor, is both insightful and poignant. We in the U.S. are often presented with what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has termed 'the danger of the single story,' which depicts history only from the point of view of the oppressors. It is refreshing and enlightening to learn history from someone directly affected by the heinousness of the apartheid laws."
--Karena Fagan, Bookshop Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA
The Whole Town's Talking By Fannie Flagg
(Random House, 9781400065950, $28)
"This book will leave you nostalgic for simpler times and craving a homemade piece of pie! Flagg offers an absolutely lovely story about a small Missouri town from its founding in 1889 through the present and beyond, told through narrative, letters, and a gossip column. I will be joyfully recommending this charming and wonderful story to all readers!"
--Mary O'Malley, Anderson's Bookshop, Naperville, IL
Ema, the Captive By César Aira Chris Andrews (Transl.)
(New Directions, 9780811219105, $14.95)
"Ema, the Captive is a gentle meditation on the natural world in its grotesqueness and its beauty, humanity's place within it, and the effect that human progress has had on both. With his usual incredible attention to detail and in measured, lucid prose, Aira somehow turns this tale into a page-turner, the kind of feat only he could accomplish."
Mincemeat: The Education of an Italian Chef By Leonardo Lucarelli
(Other Press, 9781590517918, $25.95)
"This is not a typical chef story where the aspiring individual goes to culinary school, learns all the traditional styles, and then apprentices under a great chef to become established in the profession. Lucarelli started as a dishwasher and then through dumb luck became the chef in a restaurant after its two chefs fought with each other and left. Subsequent kitchens all offered a variety of challenges and disruptive, combative elements that helped to move Lucarelli's career along. If you want to experience some real 'behind the scenes' views of restaurant life, then do yourself a favor and read Mincemeat."
--Jason Kennedy, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, WI
Out of Bounds: A Karen Pirie Novel By Val McDermid
(Atlantic Monthly Press, 9780802125743, $25)
"McDermid is a thriller writer at the top of her game and Out of Bounds has everything readers want in a character-driven suspense novel: fully human characters, tight plotting, unexpected twists, and a story that grabs and won't let go. Karen Pirie is still reeling from the death of her partner and is coping by throwing herself into her work as detective chief inspector of Scotland's Historic Cases Unit. As the unit works to unravel a 20-year-old case through a DNA match from the driver in a recent car accident, Pirie skates on thin ice with her superiors by digging into the background of a mentally disturbed man who appears to have committed suicide. Highly recommended!"
--Carol Schneck Varner, Schuler Books & Music, Okemos, MI
The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels and the History of American Comedy By Kliph Nesteroff
(Grove Press, 9780802125682, $18)
"This is a sweeping, in-depth story of how American comedy evolved from its earliest days. From Vaudeville and radio to mob-controlled night clubs and television, Nesteroff is adept at showing how the seedy underbelly of show business shaped the stars of yesterday and today. Stuffed to the brim with amusing anecdotes and insider gossip, it is an eye-opening trip. A former comedian himself, Nesteroff has long been a chronicler of the history of comedy in America, and this book is the culmination of years of interviews and research. Fun, entertaining, and insightful."
--Jay Aubrey-Herzog, Northtown Books, Arcata, CA
First Bite: How We Learn to Eat By Bee Wilson
(Basic Books, 9780465094127, $16.99)
"Food scholar Wilson explores not only how our food habits are shaped and the origins of our tastes, but also the problems we have with our present diet and how we can change our palates to lead healthier lives. Entertaining, informative, and packed with food wisdom, First Bite belongs on the shelves of food lovers, history buffs, and all fans of good writing."
--Linda Bond, Auntie's Bookstore, Spokane, WA
The Guest Room By Chris Bohjalian
(Vintage, 9780804170987, $16)
"From the explosive beginning all the way to the adrenaline rush of its conclusion, The Guest Room packs an emotional punch that will leave the reader gasping. When a bachelor party goes terribly wrong and two Russian mobsters wind up dead in his home, financier Richard Chapman finds himself struggling to save his job and marriage. Intertwined with Richard's story is the tale of Alexandra, a young sex slave with a narrative voice that will break your heart. Nobody does domestic drama quite like Bohjalian. Once again he proves himself a master of page-turning literary fiction."
--Pamela Klinger-Horn, Excelsior Bay Books, Excelsior, MN
Like Family By Paolo Giordano
(Penguin Books, 9780143108610, $13)
"This short, spare, beautifully evocative novel becomes a major meditation on the mystery of life, with all of its attendant joy and sorrow. The story of Anna--caretaker, nanny, and confidant--becomes the tale of all families with the extremes of happiness and sadness inherent in every situation. Like Family is poignant, sure to stir emotions in any reader and, in the end, a paean to living the life that is given."
--Bill Cusumano, Square Books, Oxford, MS
The Madwoman Upstairs By Catherine Lowell
(Touchstone, 9781501126307, $16)
"The Madwoman Upstairs is both a reference to the insane wife of Edward Rochester in Jane Eyre and to Samantha Whipple, who is the last remaining descendant of the Brontë sisters. This exciting literary debut is in part a study of literature, specifically the works of the Brontë sisters, and in part an exploration of the mystery of their legacy. Samantha cannot escape her past with their work, the world's interest in her inheritance of previously undiscovered family treasures, and the current puzzle of artifacts mysteriously appearing in her room that may or may not answer some of her questions. For mystery and Brontë fans alike, this is a delightful romp by very clever author to watch."
--Terry Gilman, Mysterious Galaxy, San Diego, CA
My Name Is Lucy Barton By Elizabeth Strout
(Random House Trade Paperbacks, 9780812979527, $16)
"Strout has the incredible ability to take ordinary, even mundane situations and use them to make acute observations on the human condition. A mother's visit to her daughter in the hospital becomes the vehicle for an astute examination of daily needs, desires, yearnings, wishes, and dreams that become so much of the remembered experience. Using spare, precise, but beautiful language, she has produced another masterpiece in a growing list of impressive work."
--Tova Beiser, Brown University Bookstore, Providence, RI
The Passenger By Lisa Lutz
(Simon & Schuster, 9781451686647, $15.99)
"Thrilling and impossible to put down, this is the sharp, witty, and often sassy story of a woman, variously known as Norah/Jo/Tanya/Amelia/Debra/et al., on the run from events in her past for which she claims innocence. Her only chance of freedom is to run, and while running she changes identities and adds new troubles almost faster than readers can keep track. A meeting with a mysterious woman named Blue puts her on a new path, one that hopefully will lead her home and give her a chance to finally clear her name. Fast-paced and full of unexpected obstacles, this is a roller-coaster ride of a read you don't want to miss."
"Remembrances from The Great Gatsby ran through my head both as a warning and a promise the entire time I read Under the Influence. I was fascinated by the Havillands, the whirlwind couple at the center of the book, with their wealth, their ease, and their charm. It is easy to see why they appeal to Helen, weary and downtrodden as she is, and why she slips so easily into their embrace. I felt a growing sense of unease as the pages passed, picking up the warning signals Helen ignores, but I was as helpless to escape as she is. I couldn't stop reading until I reached the bitter end!"
--Lauren Peugh, Changing Hands Bookstore, Tempe, AZ
A Wild Swan: And Other Tales By Michael Cunningham Yuko Shimizu (Illus.)
(Picador, 9781250097309, $16)
"The author of The Hours gives us a modern take on classic fairy tales, from a sympathetic Rumpelstiltskin to a jaded but content Steadfast Tin Soldier. Cunningham is not shy with his characters: he strips away sentimentality like an old Band-Aid, tearing through the romanticism that these tales usually inspire. Each story is less a retelling and more an unflinching dissection of human nature--our base needs and urges, our raw fears and joys. Shimizu's haunting illustrations give the book a classic feel, and make it a perfect addition to any fairy tale lover's collection."
--Jennifer Oleinik, University Book Store, Seattle, WA
The Accident Season By Moïra Fowley-Doyle
(Speak, 9780147517326, $10.99)
"Every October the accident season strikes Cara and her family. Bones are broken and skin is bruised and cut. Some years, the bad years, one of them dies, and Cara thinks this is going to be a bad year. When the origin of the accident season is revealed, no one is ready for it. Spellbinding and sharply beautiful, The Accident Season is a haunting look at the power of secrets."
--Amy Brabanec, Brookline Booksmith, Brookline, MA
Anything Could Happen By Will Walton
(Push, 9781338032499, $9.99)
"The reason books like this need to be written is to remind us that everyone deserves to be loved unconditionally. The character of Tretch is your brother, your son, your favorite co-worker, your nephew. He is one of the most kind, true, genuine teenage boys you'll ever meet. It takes great courage to be honest, and Walton's main character realizes that being truly honest opens you up to being loved. When you read Anything Could Happen, you'll hold your breath, your heart will break, and you'll wish you could see Tretch's dance moves!"
--Rachel Watkins, Avid Bookshop, Athens, GA
The Game of Love and Death By Martha Brockenbrough
(Scholastic Inc., 9780545924221, $9.99)
"This book is captivating from the very first page! Period details from 1920s Seattle form a rich backdrop for a timeless story of illicit love between a white boy and and African American girl. Adults and teens alike will enjoy this historical novel with magical elements. The characters of Love and Death add the perfect touch of magic and mystery, reminiscent of The Night Circus."
--Emily Adams, Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, WA