10 Books to Pick Up in the New Year

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”

Movie studios save the best for last, releasing potential award winners at the end of the year. An article in Psychology Today on behavioral decision-making explores this phenomenon:

Either movie executives know to release their “Oscar bait” films at the end of the year, or that those in charge of nominating films for awards tend to pick films that were released in the last few months of the year. Either way, movies that opened later in the year are overrepresented.

Book publishers, on the other hand, release very few books in December. Magazines and newspapers focus on year-end lists of top books, not reviews of new books. Holiday shoppers are looking for gift books they’ve heard about, not brand-new books by unknown authors. Booksellers can’t learn about new books during the Christmas rush. And no one has any time to read — they’re at the movies.

After New Year’s Day, bookstore shelves and tables will be stocked with shiny new hardcovers and paperbacks. Spend that gift card you just received on yourself — and even though all the diet books come out in January, don’t buy The Paleovedic Diet or The 17-Day Green Tea Diet. Buy yourself a book that will entertain, absorb, and enlighten you, and curl up with a cup of tea, green or not.

New in hardcover:

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian (1/5)
I’m adding this to my list of books that made me cringe, but that I couldn’t put down. Does that make sense? As always, Chris Bohjalian knows how to tell a story. In his latest novel, he sheds light on white slavery and prostitution. Think of the movie Taken — but imagine those horrific events taking place in the United States, with the involvement of upper-middle class suburbanites.

The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner (1/5)
Wow! I read this memoir about growing up in a polygamist Mormon doomsday cult in one day. The author is her mother’s fourth child and her father’s 39th.  If you liked The Glass Castle, The Sound of Gravel is for you.

The Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee (1/12)
I dislike the term “women’s fiction” — but when you have a novel about three women, all expatriates in Hong Kong, who are grappling with their roles as mothers/caretakers and daughters, that’s what it is. But it’s women’s fiction at its very best — tautly written, with well-developed characters and a surprising storyline.

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout (1/12)
Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout (Olive Kitteridge) is one of my favorite authors. Her new book tells the story of Lucy Barton, a young woman from an abusive and impoverished background who (perhaps, she suggests, because she is “ruthless”) becomes a functioning adult and successful writer. The book, like Kent Haruf’s Our Souls at Night, is very short, with no wasted words; it’s a novel that raises many questions and that I won’t soon forget.

25279165The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin (1/26)
The surprise in this delightful book is not that Melanie Benjamin paints a complete portrait of Truman Capote, which I expected, but that she brings Babe Paley to life as a lonely and wounded woman. I’ve read and enjoyed all of Benjamin’s biographical novels — The Swans of Fifth Avenue is my favorite.

The Road to Little Dribbling : More Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson (1/19)
Some of Bryson’s books are funnier than others, but they’re all amusing, informative, and worth reading. His latest is a follow-up to Notes from a Small Island, a view of Britain from an American expatriate’s perspective, which came out 20 years ago.

New in paperback:

Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova (1/5)
This could be Lisa Genova’s best novel yet. The story of a loving family in crisis, Inside the O’Briens focuses on Joe O’Brien, a tough Boston cop who is devastated when he learns that he is suffering from Huntington’s disease — and that his four children may have inherited the lethal gene from him.

The Daylight Marriage by Heidi Pitlor (1/5)
I couldn’t stop reading The Daylight Marriage — spent a Sunday reading it, with the New York Times remaining in its plastic wrapper until I finished. This novel about a broken marriage, one which was perhaps ill-fated from the beginning, is devastating. Think Gone Girl with real people you might know instead of psychopaths.

f6720869102a7a8921af812ebe9bd8ccThe Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton (1/5)
Readers of this blog are probably tired of hearing me rhapsodize about Scotton’s debut novel, one of my 2015 favorites. I’m thrilled that it’s out in paperback and will reach more readers.

Leaving Before the Rains Come by Alexandra Fuller (1/12)
Fuller’s eventful life continues to provide her with interesting and thought-provoking subject matter. In her latest memoir, the dissolution of her marriage causes her to face her past from a new vantage point.

Books on the Table wishes you a happy, healthy, and book-filled 2016!

 

Dog-Eared Pages: 10 Quotes I Love

My third grade teacher, Mrs. Pierce, once reprimanded me for turning down the page of my book. She informed me that this was called “dog-earing” and it was very, very bad, on a par with wasting food at lunchtime and talking in the halls — two other crimes I had committed. Now I’m almost as old as Mrs. Pierce was then, and I can dog-ear my books anytime I want. If you borrow a book from me and there are lots of pages turned down, you know that this is a really good book filled with passages worth rereading and remembering.

In high school, one of my favorite English teachers, Mr. Regan, told us that “quote” is a verb and “quotation” is a noun. Mr. Regan, the co-author of our textbook, the English Competence Handbook, devoted an entire chapter to the proper use of “Quotations”. To the chagrin of English teachers everywhere, the word “quote” has become commonly used as a noun. Even the people in charge of websites devoted to cataloging quotes seem confused. One website calls itself The Quote Garden (“celebrating 17 years online”) but lists quotations in hundreds of categories, from “curmudgeonesque” to “ladybugs”.

Ever since I left Mrs. Pierce’s classroom,  I’ve dog-eared quite a few pages. Here are some of my favorite quotes (sorry, Mr. Regan!) about books and reading:

9780385531955When a book is a time machine, taking me back and sideways to other minds and times and cities and planets but mostly forward, forward to dinnertime, to when my mother would walk in the door and the unsympathetic girl would leave and I could re-emerge into my life, and it would be only the two of us again, my mother and me, and although I felt like I barely had her at least she was mine alone — who would give such magic away?
Holly LeCraw, The Half Brother

There is something called the rapture of the deep, and it refers to what happens when a deep-sea diver spends too much time at the bottom of the ocean and can’t tell which way is up. When he surfaces, he’s liable to have a condition called the bends, where the body can’t adapt to the oxygen levels in the atmosphere. All of this happens to me when I surface from a great book.
Nora Ephron, I Feel Bad About My Neck

962ab117cc4ac2dd9054af8b597fde98At eight, Arthur was walking five miles every other Tuesday to Mrs. Robert J. Taylor’s in Glassville to borrow a book from her considerable collection of eighty-five volumes. He was Robinson Crusoe sneaking through the jungle, scouting for ambush. He was Gulliver negotiating the fleshy landscapes of the Brobdingnags. He was Ahab, substituting green moss boulders for the white whale and losing his leg a thousand times. For Arthur, the words gathered in waterfall thoughts that spilled off the page into the pools of imagination collecting in his head.
Christopher Scotton, The Secret Wisdom of the Earth

Never did she find anything so difficult as to keep herself from losing her temper when she was suddenly disturbed while absorbed in a book. People who are fond of books know the feeling of irritation which sweeps over them at such a moment. The temptation to be unreasonable and snappish is one not easy to manage.
Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess

imgresSo Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.
Roald Dahl, Matilda

Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

ZHer library would have been valuable to a bibliophile except she treated her books execrably. I would rarely open a volume that she had not desecrated by underlining her favorite sections with a ball-point pen. Once I had told her that I would rather see a museum bombed than a book underlined, but she dismissed my argument as mere sentimentality. She marked her books so that stunning images and ideas would not be lost to her.
Pat Conroy, The Prince of Tides

It was easy enough to write a sentence, but if you were going to create a work of art, the way Melville had, each sentence needed to fit perfectly with the one that preceded it, and the unwritten one that would follow. And each of those sentences needed to square with the ones on either side, so that three became five and five became seven, seven became nine, and whichever sentence he was writing became the slender fulcrum on which the whole precarious edifice depended. That sentence could contain anything, anything, and so it promised the kind of absolute freedom that, to Affenlight’s mind, belonged to the artist and the artist alone. And yet that sentence was also beholden to the book’s very first one, and its last unwritten one, and every sentence in between.
Chad Harbach, The Art of Fielding

9781410468895When I read a book, I want you to be reading it at the same time. I want to know what would Amelia think of it. I want you to be mine. I can promise you books and conversation and all my heart, Amy.
Gabrielle Zevin, The Storied LIfe of A.J. Fikry

I never deliberately learned to read, but somehow I had been wallowing illicitly in the daily papers. In the long hours of church — was it then that I learned? I could not remember not being able to read hymns. Now that I was compelled to think about it, reading was something that just came to me, as learning to fasten the seat of my union suit without looking around, or achieving two bows from snarl of shoelaces. I could not remember when the lines above Atticus’s moving finger separated into words, but I had stared at them all the evenings in my memory . . . Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved reading. One does not love breathing.
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Do you turn down pages, highlight, underline, or use Post-It notes to remember favorite passages?

For more inspiring and thought-provoking literary quotes, check out The Broke and the Bookish, host of Top 10 Tuesday.

 

10 Books to Read This Winter

A few months ago, I shared a list of 10 books to read in the fall. I’ve read most of them — and Jane Smiley and Colm Tóibín, I apologize! I’ll get to Some Luck and Nora Webster very soon, I promise. I know they’re both going to be wonderful. (I really need to read Some Luck because the second book in Smiley’s trilogy, Early Warning, is coming out in April. )

Even though I still have many, many books from 2014 (and before) in my to-read stack, the publishing industry is not going to wait for me, or anyone, to catch up. So here’s a list of 10 exciting new books with winter 2015 publication dates. Is it a coincidence that three of them have “girl” in the title? Did the success of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl convince publishers and authors that “girl” is the magic word? I’ve already found several intriguing “girl” books coming out this spring — Hyacinth Girls, Girl Underwater, Girl at War . . .

962ab117cc4ac2dd9054af8b597fde98First of all, happy publication day to Christopher Scotton, whose debut novel, The Secret Wisdom of the Earth, is undoubtedly going to be one of my favorite books of 2015. It’s a  coming-of-age story set in Appalachia 30 years ago. Following a family tragedy, 14-year-old Kevin is sent to spend the summer with his veterinarian grandfather (“Pops”) in Medgar, Kentucky. Pops, whose life has brought him wisdom and an unwavering moral compass, will remind readers of Atticus Finch. Medgar is a depressed coal town facing a massive mountaintop removal operation that is blowing up the hills, backfilling the hollows — and deeply dividing the townspeople. The violent events of that summer will begin Kevin’s transformation from a wounded boy into an adult.9781594633669M

If you’re in the mood for a very smart, well-plotted psychological thriller, I recommend The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (due next Tuesday, January 13). I read the entire book on one cold, rainy Sunday, thanks to a suggestion from my friend Sue at the Cottage Book Shop. The New York Times says: “The Girl on the Train has more fun with unreliable narration than any chiller since Gone Girl, the book still entrenched on best-seller lists two and a half years after publication because nothing better has come along. The Girl on the Train has Gone Girl-type fun with unreliable spouses, too.” I’m not sure I’d agree that “nothing better has come along” — what about The Headmaster’s Wife?

Tim Johnston has written a YA novel and a collection of short stories, but Descent (published today) is his first novel for adults. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s been receiving great reviews. Here’s what NPR has to say, including the inevitable Gone Girl comparison:

The premise of Descent may sound pretty straightforward: One summer morning while vacationing with her family in the foothills of the Rockies, a young girl, a high-school athlete in her senior year, goes out for a run in the higher altitudes — and disappears.

And Moby-Dick‘s about the whaling industry.

A good genre writer might have turned this into a conventional suspense novel, making us worry about the missing girl with every page that goes by — but Tim Johnston has written a book that makes Gone Girl seem gimmicky and forced. I worried about the missing girl with every page, yes. But I also suffered every torment felt by her family, father, mother, brother, and those linked to the family. So this is a thriller plus!

I’m currently reading and enjoying West of Sunset, by Stewart O’Nan (due January 13) about the last few years of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life, when he tried to rejuvenate his career by working as a Hollywood screenwriter. I think O’Nan, author of 15 novels, is a brilliant and unappreciated writer. He writes beautifully about everything from the quiet days of an elderly widow (Emily, Alone) to a diphtheria outbreak in mid-19th century Wisconsin (A Prayer for the Dying) to a bankrupt couple trying to save their marriage (The Odds).

1402298684.01.LZZZZZZZThe Magician’s Lie (due January 13), by Greer Macallister, has been described as a cross between Water for Elephants and The Night Circus — sounds intriguing! Publishers Weekly gives it a starred review, calling it “top-notch”:

This well-paced, evocative, and adventurous historical novel from Macallister, a poet and short story writer, chronicles the career of America’s preeminent female stage illusionist at the turn of the 20th century, who, as the Amazing Arden, created the lurid, controversial stage act known as the Halved Man. When Arden’s husband is found murdered following her performance in Waterloo, Iowa, she falls under suspicion, particularly after she goes on the lam.

As I’ve mentioned before, I can never resist a boarding school novel. Some are excellent (Old School) and some are not (The Starboard Sea), but I read them all. The Half Brother, by Holly LeCraw, (due February 17) has an unusual perspective: it’s about a young teacher coming of age, not a student. The plot twists are truly amazing. The website The Millions just published its “Great Book Preview” for 2015, listing The Half Brother as one of its most anticipated releases:

The novel begins with an epigraph from gifted teacher-writer Andre Dubus, who says he “learned to walk into a classroom wondering what I would say” rather than planning. The Half Brother captures his spirit, and the result is one of the finest school-set novels in recent memory.

My friend and coworker Kathy, who has impeccable taste in books, recommends Funny Girl, by Nick Hornby, (due February 3). Funny Girl, about a young TV starlet in 1960s London, is “both a heartfelt defence and a wholly convincing example of what popular entertainment can achieve”, according to the London Telegraph. I love Nick Hornby for the comments 9781594205415Hhe made recently when speaking about his new novel at the Cheltenham Literary Festival:

My real campaign is to get everybody – adult, kids, everybody – to read something that they’re loving. And if they’re not loving it, stop reading it . . . Every time we pick up a book for a sense of duty and we find that we’re struggling to get through it, we’re reinforcing the notion that reading is something you should do but telly is something you want to do. It shouldn’t be like that. Novels should be like TV. It shouldn’t be hard work and we should do ourselves a favour. It doesn’t mean you have to read easy books, because you can have very complicated connections to very difficult books, but as long as you’re racing through it, that’s the thing.

Girl Runner, by Carrie Snyder, (due February 3) was recommended to me by another trusted source (also named Cathy), our HarperCollins sales rep. Inspired by the 1928 Canadian Olympic women’s track team, Girl Runner is the story of female athletes in the 1920s, an era when women’s sports became popular. According to the Canadian publication Quill and Quire:

Girl Runner is a plot-driven narrative of one of those forgotten women, fictional 104-year-old Aganetha “Aggie” Smart. Now wheelchair-bound, alone and abandoned in a nursing home, Aggie asks, “Who will write my obituary?” now that everyone who knew her is gone. The ambitious and uncompromising Aggie reflects on her rich and storied life: her childhood in rural Ontario, her work at the Rosebud Confectionery factory, the friendships she forged, her brief fame as a 1920s Olympic track star and Canadian darling, and her failures and triumphs along the way.

9781250043962Doesn’t everyone sometimes dream of running off to an idyllic tropical island? (Especially if you live in Chicago and the temperature is hovering near zero . . .) The Last Good Paradise, by Tatjana Soli (due February 10) Is about a group of people who have done just that. Soli has one of the best author websites I’ve ever seen, and she introduces her latest novel with a beautiful letter:

Dear Reader:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” 
Mark Twain

A successful attorney at a big Los Angeles law firm is about to open a restaurant with her chef husband. Suddenly they take off, and you find they have gone to the South Pacific with one-way tickets. How does that happen? I find it fascinating when someone starts one life to start another entirely different one, one of the most famous examples being Gauguin . . .

I know March seems far away, but I have to mention Erik Larson’s upcoming book, Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania (due March 10). I’ve loved every one of Larson’s books (In the Garden of Beasts is his most recent, published four years ago) and I have high hopes for Dead Wake. Here’s what Kirkus Reviews has to say:

Larson once again demonstrates his expert researching skills and writing abilities, this time shedding light on nagging questions about the sinking of the Lusitania on May 7, 1915 . . . An intriguing, entirely engrossing investigation into a legendary disaster. Compared to Greg King and Penny Wilson’s Lusitania (2014), also publishing to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the sinking, Larson’s is the superior account.

What’s on your winter reading list?

WWW Wednesday — New Year’s Eve

What did you just finish reading? What are you currently reading? What do you think you’ll read next?

9781607747307First of all, based on how my clothes are fitting, I SHOULD be reading one of the zillions of diet books that magically appear on bookstore shelves this time of year. The Bulletproof Diet: Lose Up to a Pound a Day, Reclaim Energy and Focus, Upgrade Your Life  . . . The Burn: Why Your Scale is Stuck and What to Do About It  . . . 20 Pounds Younger: The Life-Transforming Plan for a Fitter, Sexier You! I’m particularly intrigued by Zero Belly Diet: Lose Up to 16 Lbs. in 14 Days! Unfortunately, the only surefire method I know for losing weight quickly is a case of the flu, and I’m trying to avoid that.

I did just read a book related to self-improvement: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo. Recently published in the United States after hitting the bestseller lists in Japan and Europe, this is no ordinary guide to household management. Kondo is more of a Zen philosopher than an organizational expert. For example, most professional organizers advise clients to get rid of clothes they haven’t worn in a year. Kondo tells her readers to remove every item from their closets, determining which items “spark joy”.  New York Times writer Penelope Green tested Kondo’s advice and found it surprisingly effective: Continue reading