Like we did last year, we thought it might be fun to compare the U.S. and U.K. book cover designs of this year’s Morning News Tournament of Books contenders. Book cover design never seems to garner much discussion in the literary world, but, as readers, we are undoubtedly swayed by the little billboard that is the cover of every book we read. Even in the age of the Kindle, we are clicking through the images as we impulsively download this book or that one. I’ve always found it especially interesting that the U.K. and U.S. covers often differ from one another, suggesting that certain layouts and imagery will better appeal to readers on one side of the Atlantic rather than the other. These differences are especially striking when we look at the covers side by side. The American covers are on the left, and clicking through takes you to a page where you can get a larger image. Your equally inexpert analysis is encouraged in the comments.
[caption id="attachment_65903" align="aligncenter" width="570"] Connie Yori, Ankeny's prolific scorer, putting up a short-range jumper.[/caption] This past March I was sitting on a stool at my local sports bar, waiting for a sandwich and daydreaming about the local team and my son’s alma mater, the Wisconsin Badgers, playing their way into the NCAA finals. (It’s amazing how much loyalty writing four years of tuition bills can instill.) I wasn’t paying much attention to the women’s basketball game on the screen until I noticed the Nebraska coach. I looked closer, and sure enough, I realized I knew the woman in the business suit, standing on the sidelines, directing the Cornhuskers. Actually, I didn’t really know Connie Yori. But I remembered her well. In 1981, I’d watched her throw down 49 points in the Iowa state tournament quarter-finals against Charles City, on the way to leading her Ankeny team into their second consecutive state tournament finals. Girls basketball back then was huge in Iowa. The girls state tournament routinely outsold the boys basketball tournament and the top players were legitimate state celebrities. Like Indiana back in Hoosiers (the movie) days, there was only one big tournament -- none of this modern division stuff. Connie Yori was the best girls basketball player I’d ever seen live. Five-ten, with an honest-to-god, NBA-style jump shot. She seemed to get along famously with her teammates and middle-aged coach, although at the end of practice she’d regularly ask him the same question. “How about letting us play some five-on-five?” He never, to my experience, relented. Because in Iowa, the game that the state was wild about was six-on-six. It was illegal for players to cross the center line. Not like “over-and-back.” Ever. Three girls played all-time defense, three played offense. Dribble three times, and it was a travel. Hold the ball for more than three seconds, turnover. They’d been playing these rules since the '40s, and it created a major uproar when they finally switched to standard rules in 1994. I’d started following the Ankeny girls team in the fall of 1980, introducing myself to the coach, getting permission to visit the occasional practice and scrimmage. I took a lot of pictures. That summer, I’d called the editor of The Iowan magazine, proposing a feature story giving an inside look into this sporting phenomenon by doing a “season on the brink” -- following a girls basketball team from first practice to last game. “Okay,” the editor said, unenthusiastically. “Just don’t spend too much time on it.” I knew what he meant. I was writing regularly for The Iowan and I knew to expect the normal payment, in the low three figures. An extra hundred if I provided the photos, which I certainly planned on doing. I wasn’t discouraged. For me, it would be an adventure, and surely a stepping stone to my dream job on the staff of Sports Illustrated. I began looking for the right team, one within reach of my home base in Ames, Iowa, where the large city high school had no tradition of girls basketball. Girls basketball in Iowa had been the province of small-town Iowa, all the way back to its earliest days, when the basket was a peach basket and, on the rare occasion when a player managed to throw the lop-sided ball inside, a broomstick was required to knock it free. Growing up in Iowa, even in Dubuque, where the only girls high school sports were tennis and golf, girls basketball was part of the culture. Each spring the TV broadcasts from the capacity crowds at the state’s largest arena in Des Moines took over one of the three stations our antenna received, and it was largely from these games that I learned the names of small town Iowa: Grundy Center, Montezuma, What Cheer. I can’t recall a single boys high school player from my childhood outside my hometown, but remember watching in awe as Denise Long of Union-Whitten knocked down 111 points against Daws in the 1968 state tournament. The Des Moines Register, a paper that everyone in state seemed to get, joined in the fun when she was later drafted in the 13th round in 1969 by the NBA’s San Francisco Warriors in a publicity stunt. Women's college basketball wasn’t even in the picture and wouldn’t be for another decade. [caption id="attachment_65904" align="aligncenter" width="570"] The starting Ankeny Iowa six, 1981.[/caption] After considering Story City, to the north of Ames, I decided on Ankeny, a city of 15,000 south of Ames, north of Des Moines. The first time I introduced myself to coach Dick Rasmussen, he seemed a bit leery of the idea of a young reporter following his team all year, but as we chatted he came around. “You ought to see them play softball,” he said. It was only years later than I checked the record book. The basketball girls all played on his softball team as well, winning the previous three state championships. I had stumbled onto an unusually talented group of athletic girls, under the direction of one of Iowa’s legendary coaches. He would later say that Connie Yori, the star of that 1981 team, was the best basketball player he’d ever coached. I would be surprised if she wasn’t. It was a bit odd, at first, watching the three-on-three girls format, especially the somewhat awkward exchanges over the center line from the defensive team to the offensive one. The two dribble rule also made the game pass-centric, if somewhat stuttering. When a team made a basket, a referee hustled the ball to mid-court to a waiting colleague where it was snapped to the offensive player stationed inside the center circle. The result was a fast-paced game, with the number of offensive possessions close to double typical in standard rules and some prodigious offensive statistics. The six-on-six rules were wildly popular in Iowa and Oklahoma. For most of the rest of the country, organized interscholastic girls basketball just didn’t exist and wouldn't take hold until Title IX’s impact in the mid-'70s, which in 1981 was still just beginning to reshape girls and women’s sports. The history of six-on-six rules is a bit obscure. It's hard, with basketball such a huge business these days, to imagine the days when it a casual gymnasium PE activity with a wide variety of fluid rules, like the odd game of capture the flag or kickball. At one time, the court was divided into three areas -- one for offense, one for defense, and a center area where two players did a jump ball after every score. That form of basketball was not destined for prime time. Whatever the exact details, it’s clear that the intent of six-on-six was to limit full-court running, which was felt to be too taxing for members of the fairer sex. In fact, this same sentiment was behind the demise of girls basketball in larger Iowa cities, where the belief that sports would damage young women gathered more support than in the smaller farming communities, where it was probably pretty self-evident that hard work was not the cause of widespread female health problems. In her history of Iowa girls basketball, From Six-on-Six to Full Court Press (Iowa State University Press, 1993), Janice Beran cites anti-basketball advocates stating that competitive basketball fostered “aggressive...unladylike” characteristics. They apparently found plentiful medical experts who believed athletics affected menstrual cycles and the capacity to have children. She quotes a Scientific America article from 1926 which stated, “It may be a good thing that women are not as interested in athletics for feminine muscular development interferes with motherhood.” But despite its dodgy conceptual roots, I grew to enjoy the frequent passing, the ability of a single player to dominate the offensive game, the frustration of teams trying to double-team Yori, only to have her slip passes to her teammates, one of whom would go on to be a Division 1 collegiate basketball guard for Drake. You might say it was the original triangle offense. Yori, unlike the stars of just a decade earlier, had the opportunity for athletic scholarships and inter-collegiate play. She ended up in Omaha, at Creighton, where she became a mainstay among the top scorers in collegiate basketball. [caption id="attachment_65905" align="aligncenter" width="570"] The girls state high school tournament regularly filled the largest auditorium in Iowa, Veterans Memorial in Des Moines. On the floor, the three offensive players wait at half-court for a rebound or a scored goal.[/caption] The 1981 team dominated the regular season and played into the state finals for the second year in a row. The Iowan got me a press pass and it was my first, and only, visit to the tournament. The scene at Veteran’s Auditorium for the state tournament was, pardon the cliché, electric. The place was sold out and raucous. The boys from these small schools seemed to be unabashed fans, the younger kids, face painted in school colors, gave it a carnival atmosphere. I remember chatting with a young Congressman courtside, Chuck Grassley, who was wearing a shiny suit with a wide tie displaying a gigantic knot. He seemed to be having a grand time, meeting and greeting folks in preparation for the launch of his 30-plus-year career in the U.S. Senate. Sports Illustrated was covering the event and had installed flashes in the rafters of the gym, so that its photographers could get perfectly lit photos of the action. I pushed my black and white film setting and shot with a blurry, wide-open aperture, sitting on the floor courtside with all the pro shooters with larger, faster lenses. It was a close contest, with Ankeny losing the game on a final-second basket by Norwalk, reversing the two-point win over Norwalk Ankeny had scored in the finals the previous year. I still have a roll of film shot from the basketball floor after the buzzer, where I, only somewhat shamefully, roamed, capturing the hugs and tears. Four years later, the tournament was broken into two divisions as larger schools joined the Title IX sports revolution. The larger schools played five-on-five, while the smaller schools continued with the old format. These two styles co-existed uncomfortably until 1993, when Atlantic beat Montezuma. The following year, the tournament was split into four divisions, based on enrollment, and they all played by standard modern rules. As for my career as a sports writer, I did, that winter, cover a professional tennis tournament in Chicago for World Tennis Magazine. I watched the Chicago press corps grumble about the free sandwiches they were fighting for, two old rivals, who seemed like grandpas to me, almost coming to blows. They asked the players ridiculous questions in the press conference, including one reporter wondering if John McEnroe feared being shot by a fan. Another reporter went on a tirade because the tournament changed the order of an evening’s program, after he’d gone to press, turning him “into a liar.” That was end of my short, happy life as a sports reporter, and close to the end of my days in Iowa. I never covered another basketball event as a writer, and soon moved away, never to return. That’s made my season on the brink all the more memorable and special. When I think fondly of my home state, in my mind, the three girls on the offensive team are still out there on the hardwood, in their black kneepads, waiting at center court for a defensive rebound and a chance to move the ball, two steps at a time, towards the goal.
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When is the right time to tell aspiring writers about their job prospects? In graduate school? Before they even apply to graduate school? Or sooner than that even—in their first creative writing class? Never? Let them Google it because it’s just too depressing otherwise?
Looking back through old posts at The Millions, one of my favorites is my post going through every New Yorker story in 2005. It was a somewhat grueling post to compile, but in the spirit of recent New Year's resolutions, also very rewarding. I spend a lot of time each year reading the New Yorker and so it seems fitting that I might reflect on that time spent and revisit some of what I read. As perhaps the most high-profile venue for short fiction in the world, taking stock of the New Yorker's year in fiction is a worthwhile exercise for writers and readers alike.As with my effort a few years ago, what you'll find below is more an exercise in listing and linking than any real attempt at summary, but hopefully some folks will enjoy having links to all of this year's stories on one page. I've also included some links to people who talked about New Yorker stories during the year. I'll include Perpetual Folly here rather than with the stories below since it reflected on every story in the New Yorker over the course of 2008.In revisiting all of the stories, one major over-arching theme emerged for me, the conflict between stories that center on what I call "suburban malaise" (born out of "The Swimmer" and "What We Talk about When We Talk about Love" among many others) and those that don't. The former are what I think of as the base condition for New Yorker (and indeed all of contemporary American and UK short fiction) and the latter are the departures from that. The departure can be one of character, theme, setting, or style. The distinction is, of course, imprecise, and there are many riveting, impeccable examples of the "suburban malaise" story on offer from the New Yorker. The departures, meanwhile, can serve as a breath of fresh air and when done well, expand the boundaries of short fiction for the reader.January 7, "Outage" by John Updike - The New Yorker kicked off the year with old standby John Updike offering a story that begins somewhat quaintly with protagonist Brad being thrust into a reverie by a storm-caused power outage. The story continues on quaintly as Brad wanders through his darkened town, but changes tone when he encounters a similarly dazed neighbor Lynne and the plot shifts to one of more typical New Yorker-esque suburban malaise and infidelity. Updike's The Widows of Eastwick was published in October. Links: Jacob Russell, Richard LarsonJanuary 14, "Wakefield" by E.L. Doctorow - Speaking of suburban malaise, Doctorow takes it to the next level in this long story of a disaffected husband and father who hides out in his garage attic, letting his family believe he's gone missing. Like a stowaway on his own property, Howard Wakefield scavenges for food and spies on his wife as she steers the family ship. The central drama of the story hinges on how long Howard will keep up his ruse and the story's end is tantalizing. This one, interestingly, is a retelling of a Nathaniel Hawthorne story of the same name. Docotorow has a new, as yet untitled novel coming out late this year. Links: One Real StoryJanuary 21, "Ash Monday" by T. Coraghessan Boyle - Like many Boyle classics, this one is set in California where the fear of natural disaster is always present in the background. On the surface, this story is one of neighbors doing what neighbors sometimes do: hate each other. Though it is the New Yorker's third story in a row about the suburbs to lead off 2008, this one, with its west coast focus, is far from typical for the magazine. Boyle, who knows how to end a story, closes this one out in a blaze of glory. Boyle's new book The Women comes out soon.January 28, "The Reptile Garden" by Louise Erdrich - Goodbye suburbs. Erdrich's story is about dreamy Evelina in North Dakota who is not adjusting to college life very well. She obsesses over Anais Nin and eventually ends up taking a job at a mental hospital where she meets Nonette, who, like Nin, is French. The type of friendship that could only bloom inside the confines of a mental hospital ensues. Eventually, Evelina makes the transition from staff to patient. The story is excerpted from Erdrich's novel Plague of Doves.February 4, "Friendly Fire" by Tessa Hadley - Hadley, like the four preceding writers, is a favorite of New Yorker fiction editors. Her stories seem to exude the grayness of lower middle-class English towns. This one is about a pair of women who do cleaning jobs. Pam owns the little business and Shelly helps out. Shelly's son Anthony is in Afghanistan and this fact lends some definition to her otherwise mundane life. This is a story of dialog and exposition, not plot. It's funny in parts and looks in on a life. Hadley's The Master Bedroom was published last year.February 11 & 18, "Free Radicals" by Alice Munro - Munro is a favorite of mine, though I've preferred several of her stories from over the years to this one. Still, it's quite good and even gripping in parts. Even just now, skimming through it, I'm getting sucked back in. It's about recently widowed Nita. Munro sets the stage with a lengthy introduction to Nita, her life proscribed and seemingly shrinking following the death of her husband. With a knock at the door and an unexpected visitor, however, the story takes an abrupt and darker turn. Munro's most recent collection is 2006's The View from Castle Rock. Links: Armenian Odar, Lemon HoundFebruary 25, "Shelter of the World" by Salman Rushdie - Channeling the "The Emperor's New Clothes," Rushdie introduces Akbar the Great who has "an imaginary wife," Jodha. Akbar being who he was, "no man dared gainsay him." Akbar's people build him a city, he employs an "Imperial Flatterer First Class," and he speaks in the royal "we." Akbar's inability to say "I" is a symptom of the great solitude that results from his great power and feeling experimental he tries referring to himself as "I" with his imaginary wife. As you can imagine, the story has the qualities of a parable. It's also quite funny in parts. "Shelter of the World" is an excerpt from Rushdie's novel The Enchantress of Florence. Links: Jacob Russell, N+1March 3, "Leaving for Kenosha" by Richard Ford - Fresh off finishing up his Bascombe trilogy, Ford offers up a story about another divorced father, this one in New Orleans. "It was the anniversary of the disaster." and Walter Hobbes is spending the day with his teenage daughter Louise who wants to say goodbye to a classmate who is leaving the city for good, part of the ongoing, post-Katrina exodus. While Louise is at the dentist, it's up to Walter to find a card for the occasion, "There was simply nothing he could do that was right here, he realized. The task was beyond his abilities." The story offers up ample amounts of patented Richard Ford suburban malaise and the meeting at the story's end - Walter and Louise and the departing family - manages to capture a certain feeling about what has happened in New Orleans. Ford's most recent book is 2006's The Lay of the Land. Links: Jacob RussellMarch 10, "Raj, Bohemian" by Hari Kunzru - A very quirky story. The narrator travels in rarefied social circles, attending high concept dinner parties in spectacular, rent-free lofts, that sort of thing. The circle is infiltrated by Raj, who photographs one such party and uses the pictures in an ad. The narrator gets ticked off, the party's host says, "That's so Raj." Another says, "Get over yourself, man. You're acting so old-fashioned, like some kind of Communist." The narrator begins to suspect that all of his friends are trying to sell him something, that their "coolness" has become a marketable commodity. An interesting paranoia sets in, but Kunzru doesn't take the concept as far as he might have. Kunzru's most recent book is last year's My RevolutionsMarch 17, "The Bell Ringer" by John Burnside - In Scotland, Eva's father dies, "still, the fact was that in the aftermath of the funeral, when it had seemed as if the whole world had fallen silent, what had troubled Eva most was her marriage, not her father's absence." Her husband is the distant Matt. To escape her solitude, Eva signs up for a bell-ringing club, out of which a love triangle of sorts emerges. The story fits into the modern British and Irish short story tradition of William Trevor, Roddy Doyle, and Tessa Hadley and is a decent example of the style. Burnside has a new novel, The Glister, coming out in March.March 24, "The Region of Unlikeness" by Rivka Galchen - The narrator insinuates herself into the odd friendship of Jacob and Ilan. The two men are talkers, name-dropping intellectuals who delight in both low and high culture. The narrator is mesmerized by them and they see her as a sort of "mascot." Then she gets caught between the two men. They seem to be quarreling initially, but a mystery emerges, something involving time travel and all sorts of odd meta-physics. This one is an excerpt from Galchen's debut, Atmospheric Disturbances.March 31, "Great Experiment" by Jeffrey Eugenides - This is a memorable story, one that seems even more timely now than when it was published. Kendall is a poet with a day job working for eighty-two-year-old Jimmy Dimon's boutique publishing house, helping Dimon publish whatever strikes Dimon's fancy, an abridged edition of Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America in this case. Kendall is bitter, underpaid, and unsupported by his equally bitter wife making him easy prey for Dimon's crooked accountant, Piasecki, who ropes Kendall into an embezzlement scheme. Eugenides strikes a nice balance in this one. The reader feels sympathy for Kendall's predicament but also a loathing for his tendency to blame all his ills on others. Eugenides hasn't had any new books out in a while, but he recently edited the anthology My Mistress's Sparrow Is Dead. Links: Good ReadingsApril 7, "The House Behind a Weeping Cherry" by Ha Jin - Awkward, innocent Wanren is living in a rooming house for prostitutes in Flushing, Queens. Short on rent, Wanren is pushed into service as a driver by the landlady (and madame) Mrs. Chen. Wanren becomes like a brother to the three girls he lives with, but falls for one of them, Huong and hatches a plan to start a new life with her. Jin offers up an engaging peek into a hidden subculture of illegal immigrants, sweatshops, and sex workers. Another memorable story from the magazine this year. Jin's most recent book is last year's A Free Life.April 14, "The Lie" by T. Coraghessan Boyle - Boyle was the New Yorker's first repeat visitor to the fiction department last year, and by mid-April no less. This story offers a somewhat more generic vision of suburban malaise than is typical of Boyle (again in California), but it also goes for the gusto. Like Wakefield of Doctorow's story in January, Boyle's Lonnie plays a sort of disappearing act, not with himself, but with his baby instead. Unable to stop himself, Lonnie dismantles his life almost in slow motion and it's hard to look away, though you want to. No natural disasters here, though.April 21, "The Repatriates" by Sana Krasikov - Grisha and Lera spent a decade in America finding opportunity but Grisha, though he finds plenty of success and remuneration, becomes disillusioned and has visions of greater things back in Russia. As the title indicates, this is a story of repatriation, rather than the expatriation that has been an inspiration for so many expats writing in America. That unique element, plus the exotic locale of Russia (I'm a sucker for exotic locales), made this one a winner for me. This story appeared in Krasikov's debut, One More Year. Krasikov also appeared in our Year in Reading and penned a guest post for us.April 28, "Bullfighting" by Roddy Doyle - British suburban malaise takes wing to Iberia. In this very memorable story, Donal and his middle-aged buddies plan a guys' trip to Spain, where Doyle serves up a compelling mix. The guys all have fun, getting away from the families and all that, but Doyle also makes clear how circumscribed their lives really are and how finding real joy and escape is a near impossibility. Doyle's latest is a collection of stories, The Deportees.May 5, "Them Old Cowboy Songs" by Annie Proulx (registration required) - This was a very affecting story that stayed with me a long time and that I still remember vividly eight months after first reading it. Proulx captures the frontier, Western spirit as well as any writer ever has, but she certainly doesn't romanticize it. The hardships and loneliness faced by homesteaders Archie and Rose McLaverty are unfathomable to us today. A must read. This story appears in Proulx's most recent collection, Fine Just the Way It Is: Wyoming Stories 3.May 12, "A Man Like Him" by Yiyun Li - This is a strange story with a surreal quality that seems common in contemporary Asian fiction. At its heart though, the story is about an older generation being bewildered and wounded by the younger. In China, where the story takes place, modernization has come quickly, and one imagines that the older folks must look upon the younger ones like aliens. In Li's story, an allegedly unfaithful father has been publicly pilloried on his daughter's popular blog and become something of a national scapegoat. Teacher Fei is sympathetic and tracks down the man, as much to commiserate with him as to try to understand. Li's debut novel The Vagrants comes out in February.May 19, "East Wind" by Julian Barnes - Another entry in the British suburban malaise column (though technically the malaise is felt by the seaside). Vernon lives in a small beach town. "He'd moved here to have no weather in his life." He isn't looking for love but unexpectedly finds it (or something like it) with Andrea, an immigrant waitress with East German roots. She's got a skeleton in the closet, one that was particular appropriate for an Olympic year. Barnes' latest is his memoir Nothing to be Frightened of.May 26, "The Full Glass" by John Updike - Updike makes his second appearance of 2008, and he's feeling old in this one, kicking off with the senior citizen narrator's pharmaceutical regimen. It's not long before he's reminiscing about growing up during the Great Depression and then alighting from one reminiscence to another with the notion of his various habits tying the memories together. A solid story that has a very different narrative arc from most of what appears in the magazine. Links: Ward SixJune 2, "A Night at the Opera" by Janet Frame - This brief story was a previously unpublished piece by the late writer from New Zealand. It is essentially a reverie - a distant memory - that bubbles up in the mind of an institutionalized woman as she watches a Marx Brothers film. Another more "experimental" piece than is typically seen in the magazine. Frame wrote Faces in the Water and several other novels.June 9 & 16, The Summer Fiction issue: "Natasha" by Vladimir Nabokov - A lovely line: "With a pout, Natasha counted the drops, and her eyelashes kept time." Last year, Verses and Versions, a collection of poetry translated by Nabokov was published. "Tits Up in a Ditch" by Annie Proulx (registration required) - Proulx paints tough life for Dakotah, born to a teen-aged mom, raised by her cruel grandparents. She gets married, has a baby, the marriage falls apart, and she joins the Army. The tragedies are laid on thick from there, but it's a vibrant, gripping read. "Don't Cry" by Mary Gaitskill (registration required) - This has a very "issues of the day" feel to it. Janice goes with her friend Katya to Ethiopia where Katya is looking to adopt a child. There are roadblocks both bureaucratic and emotional and all in all it's a solid story. The rendering of Ethiopia is nicely done. This is the title story in Gaitskill's forthcoming collection.June 23, "The Headstrong Historian" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - A sweeping story about a woman named Nwamgba, almost epic in its scope, and in following her life, we are witness to the many changes over the decades that overtake her land and people. Nwamgba bears a son Anikwenwa after many miscarriages but then is widowed. She sends Anikwenwa to school where he learns English. Adichie explores the distance that grows up between Nwamgba and Anikwenwa, she knowing only the old ways, he becoming steadily assimilated by the new. By the time Grace, Nwamgba's grand-daughter is born and comes of age, the generations are separated by a gulf, and the story itself becomes an intriguing parable of the changes that came to Africa in the 1900s, what many things were altered and what few things nonetheless endured. Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun won much praise when it was published.June 30, "Deep-Holes" by Alice Munro - Munro makes her second appearance of 2008. This story, like the prior week's story, covers decades. In this one, a family disintegrates and then two of its members come back into contact. It's not quite as good as "Free Radicals," but, being an Alice Munro story, it's still quite good.July 7 & 14, "Thirteen Hundred Rats" by T. Coraghessan Boyle - With the year only half over, Boyle logs his third appearance in the magazine. There are few "literary" writers that can base a story around the outlandish and pull it off. Were Boyle's stories to actually take place in real life, the climactic moments would be fodder for those "strange but true" stories that get forwarded to everyone's email inboxes. It's a quality that not all readers appreciate. This story, as the title suggests, involves quite a few rats. In my opinion Boyle pulls it off. But then, I'm a Boyle fan. Links: Too Shy to Stop.July 21, "Yurt" by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum - A very fun read. This story takes us into an elementary school, among harried, altruistic teachers and their petty gossip. I loved how Bynum adopts the proscribed vocabulary of the elementary school, referring to all her characters as Ms. or Mr. The big news in the teachers' lounge is that the flighty Ms. Duffy has returned pregnant from a long trip overseas. There's much to love here. It doesn't have the ponderousness of emotion that so many New Yorker stories bear. The story is an excerpt from the novel Ms. Hempel Chronicles.July 28, "The Teacher" by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala - A rather strange story and fairly memorable, though we're getting into the last half of 2008 here, so I suppose I didn't read this all that long ago. This one could have been tightened up a bit, but I loved the off-kilter characters: the narrator, two spinsters, and some sort of latter day mystic. I have no real-life analogs for them, yet they leaped off the page for me. The plot was less intriguing to me, however. A little tighter, and this story would have been a favorite. Jhabvala won the Booker Prize in 1983 for Heat and Dust. Links: EmdashesAugust 4, "Clara" by Roberto Bolaño - 2008 was the year of Bolaño, and the New Yorker took part in the surge of interest surrounding the late author. This brief story seems almost in a dream. The narrator is in love with Clara. They write letters to each other and talk on the phone from afar. The distance between them seems more than just physical. It's as if the universe has willed it. Bolaño's 2666 was published in translation to much acclaim last year.August 11 & 18, "The Dinner Party" by Joshua Ferris - More suburban malaise. This time of the variety that takes place in Brooklyn. But it's not about a dinner party so much as waiting for a dinner party to occur. The dinner party is one of the mundanities of life - the couple hosting the party clearly thinks so - but much as we rebel against these mundanities it doesn't take much to make you realize that bitching and moaning isn't rebelling. This story has suspense and a very nice narrative arc that I won't ruin by divulging its details. Ferris' debut Then We Came to the End was a National Book Award finalist. Ferris appeared in our Year in Reading in 2007. Links: Too Shy to Stop, I Read A Short Story TodayAugust 25, "Awake" by Tobias Wolff - This tiny story is a well rendered little sketch. Wolff takes us into the head of Richard, lying awake in bed, musing on various things and wanting to put the moves Ana, his girlfriend, lying next to him. The story captures well the competing influences in the mind of the young man: sex and all the complications that come with the pursuit of it. Wolff's Our Story Begins: New and Selected Stories came out last year. Links: Under the Midnight Sun, One Real Story, Too Shy to StopSeptember 1, "Gorse is Not People" by Janet Frame - This is the second story by the late Frame in the magazine in 2008 and this one is pretty mind blowing. Written in 1954, it's about a dwarf named Naida, who, living very much in her own head, believes that she will be released on her 21st birthday from the institution that houses her. She also believes that she will get married and live some kind of glamorous life. It's clear that Naida is mentally disturbed and that she would likely not fare well on the "outside," but she is also incredibly sympathetic. Frame captures Naida's odd mindset that fuses child-like thoughts with adult desires. It's a powerful, affecting story that is a major departure from what is typically found in the magazine.September 8, "Face" by Alice Munro - Munro lands in the magazine for a third time in 2008. Like "Deep-Holes" from earlier in 2008, "Face" covers almost a whole lifetime in a short story. The narrator has a troubling childhood featuring a cruel father and a large birthmark on his face. The narrator grows up and becomes a successful radio actor and announcer ("He has a face for radio" was the juvenile thought that crept into my head) and in his old age is reminiscing about a childhood event that haunts him, when his birthmark came into focus for him and when his life was seemingly set on the course that has taken him through the decades. Munro makes one think that many novels might be better served as short stories, particularly in the hands of a master like her. Links: I Read A Short Story TodaySeptember 15, "A Spoiled Man" by Daniyal Mueenuddin - I found this story to be irresistibly charming because its protagonist was so irrepressible. Rezak insinuates himself into a job among the large staff on the estate of a man and his American wife. He lives in a home of his own construction that might be best described as a crate and breaks it down and moves it with him wherever he goes. Much time is spent describing Rezak's ingenious modifications to the crate. Rezak is, it seems, a man who would be happy almost no matter what. He even finds himself a wife. But the realities of Rezak's circumstances eventually close in on him. Mueenuddin's debut collection In Other Rooms, Other Wonders will be published in February. Links: In Other Rooms, Other Wonders was one of Manil Suri's Year in Reading picks.September 22, "The Noble Truths of Suffering" by Aleksandar Hemon - I'm generally a big fan of Hemon's work though I'll acknowledge that it seems like he goes back to the same well for all of his fiction, plumbing his own experience of leaving Bosnia before the war and trying to assimilate into American life (and particularly American academic and literary life). In this story Hamon's narrator is back in Bosnia, returned from the U.S., but he is still at prey to the awkwardness of his double life, illuminated when through a confluence of events, a famous American author visiting the country ends up joining him at his parents' house for dinner. There is a neat story within a story element to this one as well (another hallmark that crops up in Hemon's work). Hemon's latest is 2008 National Book Award finalist The Lazarus Project. Links: Under the Midnight Sun.September 29 "Three" by Andrea Lee - Three vignettes about three people who died. This story didn't do much for me. Even though I read it just three months ago, I had trouble remembering it. Did I inadvertantly skip this one? Could be. Lee's latest is Lost Hearts in ItalyOctober 6, "The Idiot President" by Daniel Alarcon - Alarcon appears in the New Yorker fairly frequently. This story, like his others, takes place in Latin America. In this one, the narrator expects to be leaving for America soon, but in the meantime he has joined an acting troupe, traveling around. They put on a memorable performance in a mining town for the workers there. There's not much drama here. It's mostly a tale of the narrator's stasis. Alarcon's most recent novel is Lost City Radio. Links: Under the Midnight Sun.October 13, "Gold Boy, Emerald Girl" by Yiyun Lee - The second story by Li in 2008 and this one is also very good. It is about a middle-aged, unmarried man, Hanfeng, and woman, Siyu. Hanfang's mother, Professor Dai, was Siyu's teacher. Dai is the formidable sort and would like to see the two married, less out of compassion that out of a desire to see the two of them squared away. Siyu and Hanfeng pursue the relationship in order to please Professor Dai, but the pleasure in the story is the way Yi explores the relationships and teases the back story out of the various interactions.October 20, "Sleep" by Roddy Doyle - This is Doyle's second story of 2008, and it's a snack of a story filled with musing and reminiscing. In some ways the story is about being with someone and what you think about while they sleep - when you are alone, but not really because that person is right next to you - but the story is about a lot more too.October 27, "The Boy Who Had Never Seen the Sea" by J.M.G. Le Clezio (registration required) - Le Clezio raised his profile quite a bit in the U.S. this year with his surprise Nobel Prize win, but I regret to say that this story was a major dud for me. There's just nothing to hang your hat on in this one. Daniel is the boy of the title, and though he has never seen the sea, he is obsessed with it. So he leaves his boarding school and heads to the water. I didn't enjoy the thoroughly dreamy language in this one, nor the lack of specifics. It was told like a myth or parable but for no reason that I could discern. It was as if Le Clezio was using the dreamy style to excuse himself from the constraint of constructing a believable narrative. Links: After Le Clezio won the big prize, we heard from one of his American publishers.November 3, "The Fat Man's Race" by Louise Erdrich - The New Yorker continues to go back through its roster of writers as Erdrich makes a second appearance on the year. This one is the magazine's most bite-sized of the year, an amuse bouche as all eyes turn to the election. It's about a woman who is sleeping with devil, which maybe makes it fitting for election week. This story may or may not be in Erdrich's new collection The Red Convertible.November 10, "Leopard" by Wells Tower - A very inventive story from Tower whose fiction and non-fiction I'd love to see more of in the New Yorker. This one is told in the second person about (by?) an unpopular eleven-year-old boy. Tower gets into the boy's head incredibly well - the perpetually wounded pride, the outlandish fantasies that punish those who have wronged him. This story appears in Tower's excellent forthcoming collection, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned. Links: Sana Krasikov picked Tower's collection for her Year in Reading and Tower appeared in our Year in Reading as well.November 17, "Lostronaut" by Jonathan Lethem - This story was pretty awesome. It was the only speculative fiction to land in the New Yorker this year, not quite making up for the absence of Murakami and Saunders from the magazine's pages. This story is told in the form of letters from Janice, a "Lostronaut" aboard some sort of space station, to her "Dearest Chase." She and her fellow astronauts are trapped in orbit by Chinese space mines and that's not even the worst of it for poor Janice. While the premise and epistolary style are intriguing, Janice's unique, irrepressible voice really carries the story. Lethem has an as yet untitled novel slated for September. Links: DiscoverNovember 24, "Ghosts" by Edwidge Danticat - This story takes us way out of the New Yorker comfort zone to the rundown neighborhoods of Haiti. It looks at Pascal, a young man who occupies two worlds. His parents run a fairly upstanding restaurant but Pascal has been befriended by the gang members who patronize the place. Pascal gets in a bit too deep with them and the result is quite gripping. Danticat's most recent book is her memoir Brother, I'm Dying.December 1, "In Other Rooms, Other Wonders" by Daniyal Mueenuddin - It took me a while to get into this very long story but in the end I liked it quite a bit. It basically chronicles the relationship between an old Pakistani patriarch Harouni and his young mistress Husna. Husna is not of the same social standing as Harouni but her proximity to him allows her to experience an extravagant life. She seems to understand the trade-off, but not enough to maintain her position once Harouni's daughters appear on the scene. This story, along with Mueenuddin's earlier in 2008, shows off an expansive, almost lyrical style. This is the title story in Mueenuddin's forthcoming debut collection.December 8, "Waiting" by Amos Oz - This was an engaging story about a daily routine interrupted. There is a bit of mystery behind it. Instead of meeting small-town Israeli bureaucrat Benny Avni for lunch as she always does, Avni's wife has sent him a cryptic note. Avni is very rigid in his ways and so we follow him through all of his perfectly sensible rationalizations for Luda's sudden change in behavior. The enjoyment (if that is the right word) comes in watching a sense of concern creep into the actions of this otherwise aloof man. Oz has a new book Rhyming Life and Death coming out in April.December 15, "The Woman of the House" by William Trevor - Trevor, perhaps the most frequent fiction contributor to the New Yorker over the last decade, makes his first appearance of 2008. I'm not a huge fan of Trevor's gray, damp landscapes and characters but he is no doubt a masterful storyteller and a genius with the British version of suburban malaise. This one is unique in that it places a pair of itinerant, immigrant painters at the center of the action. Told partly through their eyes, the story of the woman living as caretaker for her crippled cousin is seen from an outsider's perspective. The prolific Trevor's most recent collection is Cheating at Canasta.December 22 & 29 - The year closes out with the annual winter fiction issue (slimmer than usual this time). There were four stories in this one. Here they are in order from my most favorite to least: "Another Manhattan" by Donald Antrim, "Some Women" by Alice Munro (a fourth New Yorker appearance in 2008!) (registration required), "The Gangsters" by Colson Whitehead (registration required), and "Meeting with Enrique Lihn" by Roberto Bolaño.And to wrap up this already overlong exercise, my favorite New Yorker stories of 2008 were "Wakefield" by E.L. Doctorow, "Free Radicals" by Alice Munro, "The Lie" by T. Coraghessan Boyle, "Them Old Cowboy Songs" by Annie Proulx, "Yurt" by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, "The Dinner Party" by Joshua Ferris, "Gorse is Not People" by Janet Frame, "Leopard" by Wells Tower, "Lostronaut" by Jonathan Lethem, and "Another Manhattan" by Donald Antrim.Bonus Link: The 2008 Year in Reading series
This November, Knopf recently announced, Alice Munro will publish Dear Life: Stories, her 13th book of shorts and second since her announced “retirement” in 2006. For Alice Munro fanatics -- a group in which I proudly include myself -- this is, of course, wonderful news. It’s also an excuse, as if we needed one, to revisit her previous work, and to push her books on the world’s non-Munroviacs. Considering which of Alice Munro’s stories to read can feel something like considering what to eat from an enormous box of chocolates. There are an overwhelming number of choices, many of which have disconcertingly similar appearances -- and, while you’re very likely to choose something delicious, there is the slight but real possibility of finding yourself stuck with, say, raspberry ganache. Herewith, a partial guide: The Munro book to read if you’re only willing to read one: Selected Stories The Munro book to read if you’re only willing to read one but don’t like the idea of reading a literary greatest hits album: The Beggar Maid. Published in 1977, The Beggar Maid is as close as Munro has ever come to writing a novel, but it actually does a better job than just about any novel I know of getting an entire, living human being onto the page. The book follows a woman named Rose all the way from her early childhood to her middle age, and never feels stretched. It’s an extraordinarily high-grade steak that just happens to be served in slices. Best story, in the category of autobiographical-seeming stories about love: “Bardon Bus,” which contains some of the most convincingly rendered emotional agony I’ve ever read. Best story, in the category of historical drama: “A Wilderness Station,” which should, with its many voices and bizarre, dramatic happenings, put to rest any notion of Munro as a predictable dispenser of affair/epiphany-type fiction. Best story, all categories: “The Beggar Maid,” which showcases, among other things, her remarkable deftness in telling stories that leap around in time. Story featuring most implausible twist: “Tricks.” A woman falls in love with a man, meets him again and is puzzled by his coldness. Turns out, the cold one was an identical twin. She acknowledges the silliness within the story, but still. Stories featuring drownings or near-drownings: “Miles City, Montana,” “Changes and Ceremonies,” “Gravel,” “Walking on Water,” “Love of a Good Woman,” “Pictures of the Ice,” “Child’s Play.” Stories featuring murders or near-murders: “Open Secrets,” “Fits,” “Dimension,” “Free Radicals.” Story whose plot, after three or four readings, I’m still not sure I understand: “Open Secrets.” Most depressing story that will somehow leave you uplifted: “Dulse,” in which a woman spends a few days thinking gloomy thoughts in New Brunswick in the wake of a devastating breakup. The brilliant little breakfast scene with the Willa-Cather-obsessed man is a joy. Most uplifting story that will somehow leave you depressed: “The Turkey Season,” in which the narrator cheerfully remembers the winter she spent working in a turkey barn. A sense of never-quite-resolved unease hovers over this story like a snowstorm. Authors to read once you’ve finally gotten your fill of Munro: William Maxwell (who’s Munro’s favorite writer), Eudora Welty (whose story, “A Worn Path,” Munro has called the most perfect story ever written), and George Saunders (whose stories, despite very much not being set in rural Canada, are as moving and smart and humane as Munro’s). Appendix: Lives of Girls and Women: “Changes and Ceremonies” Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You: “Walking on Water” The Progress of Love: “Miles City, Montana,” “Fits” Friend of My Youth: “Pictures of the Ice” Open Secrets: “A Wilderness Station,” “Open Secrets” Love of a Good Woman: “Love of a Good Woman” The Moons of Jupiter: “Turkey Season,” “Bardon Bus” Runaway: “Tricks” Too Much Happiness: “Free Radicals,” “Dimension,” “Child’s Play”
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When I find that a sentence I’m writing isn’t working, I don’t think about what I want that sentence to look like or to be; I don’t pull it from the page to weigh it in my hand; I don’t worry over its internal balance. I simply ask myself, 'What do I need this sentence to do?'
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The literary story so far in 2011 has certainly been the posthumous publication David Foster Wallace's The Pale King -- though folks like Tea Obreht, Kate Christensen, and Ann Patchett have grabbed their share of the literary limelight. While the second half of 2011 is unlike to produce a media whirlwind to match the one that accompanied The Pale King this spring (or Freedom last year, for that matter), we will see new books from some heavyweights, including Haruki Murakami, Jeffrey Eugenides (both in October), and Don DeLillo (in November). But, even as fans look forward to books from these favorites, there will undoubtedly be many new discoveries in the coming months as well, some of which, hopefully, we can introduce you to today. The list that follows isn't exhaustive -- no list could be -- but these are some of the books we're looking forward to. At 7,500 words strong and encompassing 66 titles, this is the only second-half of 2011 book preview you will ever need. July or Already Out: Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell: The Cinderella finalist for last year’s National Book and National Book Critics Circle Awards follows up her story collection American Salvage with this novel about sixteen-year-old Margo Crane, a rifle-toting “feral beauty” (says Jaimy Gordon) who embarks on a river journey through rural Michigan, “with only a few supplies and a biography of Annie Oakley,” in search of her mother. Booklist gives it a starred review and calls it a “dramatic and rhapsodic American odyssey. A female Huckleberry Finn. A wild-child-to-caring-woman story.” Presumably Norton will print more than the 1,500 copies that the unsuspecting Wayne State Press initially printed of American Salvage. Cinderella, indeed! (Sonya) The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock: Former meatpacker and paper mill employee Pollock follows his popular story collection Knockemstiff his debut novel. Set in the 50s and 60s, The Devil All the Time “centers on the convergent lives of a tough but morally-upright young man from Ohio, a pair of serial killers who prey on hitchhikers, and an itinerant, spider-handling preacher and his crippled guitar virtuoso accompanist.” Reviews have begun to trickle in, and they focus, unsurprisingly, on the violence (or lack there of) in the book. (Patrick) Lola, California by Edie Meidav: Edie Meidav's third novel (the first two are The Far Field: A Novel of Ceylon and Crawl Space) is concerned with questions of parenthood, friendship, and the legacy of the seventies. The year is 2008, and Vic Mahler, 1970s cult leader and current death row inmate, has ten days left before his sentence his carried out. His daughter Lana has been in hiding for some years; her childhood friend Rose, now a lawyer, is determined to find her and reunite her with her father. (Emily M.) Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta: Dana Spiotta won accolades from formidable quarters with her earlier novels, Eat the Document and Lightning Field, and Stone Arabia has already generated considerable buzz. The novel explores the relationship between a brother and sister--the former a musician who carefully constructs an alternate reality for himself as an artist--the latter who watches, worries, and reflects on the past and the present. Comparisons to Jennifer Egan will prove unavoidable given the related meditations on music and fame/not-fame, but early reports indicate that Spiotta has created something wonderful that is all her own. (Lydia) A Dance with Dragons: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book Five by George R. R. Martin: The hit HBO show has made Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" the sweeping fantasy epic mostly likely to be discussed at your nearest cocktail party. While the HBO fans may have a ways to go before they're ready for book five, true fantasy connoisseurs, for whom Martin's series is the current ne plus ultra of the form, have been eagerly, even impatiently, awaiting this new installment. The latter group will eagerly devour Dragons and begin clamoring for books six and seven, still forthcoming. (Max) August: The Magician King by Lev Grossman: In The Magicians, Grossman introduced the magical world of Fillory, where hipster magician-from-Brooklyn Quentin is now a king, along with a few of his friends from magical college. Allusions to Hogwarts and Narnia abound, but no homage is paid, as Grossman’s sequel continues his dark, nuanced look at magical life and the wizards who lead it. Quentin and his friends are lazily soaking up their royal luxury until an enchanted ship takes him to the last place he thought he’d ever return: Massachusetts. (Janet) House of Holes: A Book of Raunch by Nicholson Baker: From the publisher: “Brimful of good-nature, wit, and surreal sexual vocabulary, House of Holes is a modern-day Hieronymous Boschian bacchanal that is sure to surprise, amuse, and arouse.” Also described as “fuse-blowing,” “sex-positive,” and “over-the-top.” The book is set in some sort of fantastical pleasure resort where guests “undergo crotchal transfers . . . make love to trees . . . visit the Groanrooms and the twelve-screen Porndecahedron . . . or pussy-surf the White Lake.” From Sam Anderson at the NY Times: “Hoo-boy, people, get ready for this book. It is going to be Talked About.” (Sonya) The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta: The author of the best-selling satires of suburban life, Little Children and The Abstinence Teacher, Perrotta turns his dark arts to the strange tale of a small town grieving the loss of many of its citizens to a rapture-like event known as The Sudden Departure, which has caused millions of people the world over to suddenly and mysteriously disappear. The science-fiction premise is a departure for Perrotta, who made his bones skewering the mundane realities of American life, but the plot focuses less on the logistical/religious implications of The Sudden Departure and more on the emotional aftermath felt by those left behind. Some join cults, others follow mad prophets, while still more find solace in the age-old pursuits of adulterous sex. We are, in other words, very much in Perrotta Country. (Michael) We Others: New and Selected Stories by Steven Millhauser: It’s been three years since Steven Millhauser’s Dangerous Laughter was released to unsurprising acclaim: the foreboding collection of fables continued a winning streak that included a Pulitzer Prize and The Illusionist (adapted from a Millhauser short story, “Eisenheim the Illusionist”). The trend will likely continue with the bric-a-brac We Others: New and Selected Stories. As always with Millhauser, old Austria, carnival grounds, and teenage wastelands will be brought to alarming life. (Jacob) The Missing of the Somme by Geoff Dyer: Dyer’s meditation on the psychic after effects of World War I has been kicking around UK bookstores for nearly two decades, but this August it appears in the US for the first time. Dyer has explained what moved him to write the book: “like the youthful Christopher Isherwood who wanted to write a novel entitled ‘A War Memorial’, I wanted to write a book that was not about ‘the War itself but the effect of the idea of [the War] on my generation’.” What he produced is a powerful work of nonfiction, framed around a road trip he and a few friends took along the Western Front during which he reflected on the Great War’s human toll. “If the Empire’s dead marched four abreast down Whitehall,” he wrote, “it would take them three and a half days to pass the Cenotaph.” (Kevin) Train Dreams by Denis Johnson: The selected favorite of two out of three PEN/O. Henry Prize jurors in 2003 – David Guterson and Jennifer Egan – Train Dreams is now being released by FSG as a novella (previously published only in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2003). Guterson: “a sweeping tall tale, an homage to Bret Harte, a work of North American magical realism, a yarn of the supernatural variety, and finally the biography of a widower and hermit […] who weeps in church, fears his dreams, and dies in 1968 without having used a telephone. Is it a short story? That's difficult to say.” Egan: "'Train Dreams' was not the one that moved and compelled me the most […] Its protagonist is opaque to the point of cipherdom, and its leisurely, episodic unfolding seems perversely old-fashioned against the sly compression of some other stories. But weeks after reading them, it's the one that continues to float into my thoughts with the persistence of a dream, or some troubling relic of my own experience. Why?” Egan has her own answer, but you’ll probably want to come up with your own. (Sonya) Beijing Welcomes You by Tom Scocca: Slate blogger and newly minted Deadspin managing editor Scocca chronicles his years spent in Beijing, observing a city and a culture moving into the global spotlight. The book examines the Chinese capital on the cusp of its global moment, as it readies for the 2008 Olympics. Scocca's astute and often scathing cultural criticism makes this more than your typical work of cultural anthropology. (Patrick) Anatomy of a Disappearance by Hisham Matar: In 1990, Hisham Matar's father, Jaballa Matar, was kidnapped in Cairo and extradited to Tripoli as a political dissident. Since then, Matar's family has endured a special hell of loss and uncertainty–scant news punctuating long periods of silence–which the novelist draws upon in his new novel (already out in the UK). A meditation on family relationships, personal loss, and politics as they play out in the life of a young man with a disappeared father, initial reviews indicate that Matar's new novel more than fulfills the promise of his Man Booker shortlisted title, In the Country of Men. (Lydia) Lights Out in Wonderland by DBC Pierre: Caramelized, milk-fed white tiger cub with borlotti beans & baby root vegetables, anyone? Such are the flavors of Lights Out in Wonderland, the third novel from DBC Pierre, who won the Booker Prize in 2003 for Vernon God Little. Wonderland is a satire on the obscenity and decadence of late capitalism, with a plot and verbal flare as baroque as its subject. One blurb from across the pond promises a "sly commentary on these End Times and the entropic march towards insensate banality." British reviews have been mixed—depending, it would seem, on the reviewer's appetite for the rococo. (Emily W.) The Call by Yannick Murphy: Yannick Murphy, who bewitched me with her short story “In a Bear’s Eye” and later, with her novel Signed, Mata Hari, brings us a new novel, The Call. Composed of diary entries by a veterinarian in New England named David Appleton, The Call records a difficult year in the life of Appleton’s family: a recession, a mysterious stranger, and his son who falls into a coma after a hunting accident. Publishers Weekly says, “Murphy's subtle, wry wit and an appealing sense for the surreal leaven moments of anger and bleakness, and elevate moments of kindness, whimsy, and grace.” The book sounds more conventional than Murphy’s previous work, but I have no doubt that her distinct prose and point of view will render this story truly original. (Edan) September: Reamde by Neal Stephenson: Is there anything Neal Stephenson can't do? Snow Crash is a cyberpunk classic. Cryptonomicon tackled code-breaking and cryptography. Anathem was speculative fiction teeming with holy wars, global catastrophes, mathematics and techno miracles. Now comes Reamde, the story of a draft dodger named Richard Forthrast who makes a bundle selling marijuana and becomes addicted to an online fantasy game that puts him in touch with Chinese gold farmers. Only trouble is, Richard gets caught in the deadly crossfire of his own fantasy war game. Fans who have come to expect a lot of meat on the bones of a Stephenson novel won't be disappointed by Reamde – which weighs in at 960 pages. (Bill) River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh: After Sea of Poppies (shortlisted for the Man Booker in 2008), River of Smoke is the second installment of the Ibis trilogy, which documents the nineteenth century opium trade from production in India to circulation in China. Against the backdrop of the 1838 Opium Wars, Ghosh describes the complex and multifaceted nature of global trade from the micro to the macro; with the travails of his Parsi traders, American sailors, Cornish explorers, and a host of other characters, Ghosh breathes life into the dates and places of history. (Lydia) Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens: In what would seem to be one of the more aptly-titled books of the season, the often-argumentative Hitchens' first new essay collection since 2004 spans four decades, from early work for the New Statesman to recent pieces written for Slate, The Atlantic, The Nation and Vanity Fair. He covers topics ranging from Vietnam to Charles Dickens, from civil rights to radical Islam; exploring, according to his publisher, "how politics justifies itself by culture, and how the latter prompts the former." (Emily M.) The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach: Preliminary buzz on this first novel by N+1 cofounder Chad Harbach centered on the staggering advance he managed to procure - an art in itself, in these days of editorial caution. Expectations will be commensurately high, but Harbach's novel aims squarely at what's left of the American mainstream - baseball and college - and, at 500 pages, is clearly swinging for the fences. Jonathan Franzen and James Patterson are early fans. And, together, an exhibit for the odd-bedfellows wing of the Blurbing Hall of Fame. Interesting question, though: will women - you know, the people who actually buy novels - read it? (Garth) Philip Roth: The American Trilogy (Library of America): If Roth lives long enough for the Nobel Prize committee to recognize that he, despite his unfortunate Americanness, is probably the world’s greatest living writer, his long-overdue laurels will be due to this brilliant trilogy of novels, American Pastoral, I Married a Communist, and The Human Stain. After a bit of a fallow period in the 1980s and early 1990s, Roth, once the enfant terrible of American letters, came roaring back with these three novels, which serve as meditations on three very different brands of subversion in American life. Roth has written some bad books in his day, and lately has shown a tendency to say foolish things in public (like, for instance, that he has given up on reading fiction), but this is Roth at his best: angry, incisive, and occasionally hilarious. (Michael) Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks: When Tom Perrotta explored our country’s mercilessness towards sex offenders, he tucked it inside a romance, a dog pill smooshed in cheddar. The resulting Little Children was, while not uncomplicated, fairly easy to swallow. Russell Banks, however, takes on the same subject in Lost Memory of Skin—and as it comes from the unsparing source of Affliction and Cloudsplitter, the pill will go down raw; much of Memory takes place in an encampment of outcast offenders. There is an excellent chance that Patrick Wilson will not appear in this book’s film adaptation. (Jacob) Last Man in Tower by Arvind Adiga: Thirty-something Adiga burst onto the literary scene in 2008 with his Booker Prize winning novel The White Tiger, which was described with only a measure of hyperbole as the Invisible Man for modern day India. With his second novel, Adiga continues to mine the implications of India’s rapid modernization. The novel depicts the struggle between Donald Trumpian real estate developer Dharmen Shah, who wants to clear out a crumbling apartment building to make way for a luxury high-rise, and the one insignificant man standing in his way. All of the old building’s residents are on board (they’re set to be generously compensated for finding a new place to live) but Masterji, a retired school teacher, refuses to go, imperiling the construction project and the windfall relocation fees for the building’s residents, and inviting the wrath of his neighbors. (Kevin) I Married You for Happiness by Lily Tuck: Tuck returns with her first work of fiction since her National Book Award-winning novel The News From Paraguay. I Married You for Happiness tells the story of a marriage in a single night, as artist Nina sits vigil at the deathbed of her mathematician husband Philip, recalling the entire history of their relationship. Publishers Weekly has already weighed in with a starred review that calls the book "breathlessly mannered" and a "triumph of a novel." (Patrick) There But For The by Ali Smith: A British literary phenom, Smith sets her third novel (after Hotel World and The Accidental) at the posh London suburban home of the Lee family, who are throwing a dinner party one night when guest Miles Garth goes upstairs and locks himself in a room. While his host, her daughter, an old school friend, and the Lees’ neighbor all try to coax him out, he communicates only via notes passed out under the door, resulting in a game of words as engaging for the reader as for Miles’ unwitting hosts. (Janet) King of the Badgers by Philip Hensher: T.S. Eliot once remarked that Henry James had "a mind so fine that no idea could violate it." Our review of the English writer Philip Hensher's celebrated 2008 novel, The Northern Clemency, argued something similar: that aside from much fine writing, there wasn't a hell of a lot that stayed with you. Then again, Eliot was wrong about James, and maybe down here among the literary mortals, Hensher's new effort will make us change our mind. Again, the setting is suburban-ish England, but here the clemency is southern. And where its predecessor was structured around family, King of the Badgers broadens the focus to an entire community - one haunted by the disappearance of a girl. (Garth) Chango's Beads and Two-tone Shoes by William Kennedy: William Kennedy, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the magisterial Albany cycle of novels (including Billy Phelan's Greatest Game, Legs and Ironweed), now takes us to the Florida bar in pre-revolutionary Cuba, where the journalist Daniel Quinn meets a fellow lover of simple declarative sentences, Ernest Hemingway. After brushes with revolutionaries, crooked politicians and drug-running gangsters, Quinn winds up in Albany as it is engulfed in race riots on the eve of Robert F. Kennedy's assassination. Hungry fans are sure to rejoice over Kennedy's first novel in almost a decade. (Bill) Crossbones by Nuruddin Farah: Nuruddin Farah, recipient of a formidable number of literary prizes, writes beautifully and prolifically about his native Somalia. Exiled in 1976, Farah has returned in recent years to work as a peace broker between factions therein; in Farah's own words, his writing is a way to "keep my country alive." His upcoming novel Crossbones completes a trilogy begun with Links and Knots, and describes the specific travails of three family members who are swept up in intra- and international conflicts featuring pirates, religious radicals, and Ethiopian invasion. (Lydia) The Little Bride by Anna Solomon: Anna Solomon’s debut novel is about a sixteen-year-old mail-order bride named Minna whose life changes dramatically when she leaves her native Odessa to meet her future husband in America. Set in the nineteenth century, The Little Bride follows Minna to the unforgiving landscape of South Dakota, where she marries Max, a man twice her age, and goes to live with him in a one-room hut with his two grown sons. Solomon, a winner of two Pushcart Prizes, has written what Audrey Niffenegger calls “an intensely imagined book, an elegantly written pocket of forgotten history.” I got my hands on an advance copy of The Little Bride and found it to be unflinchingly vivid, beautifully told, and even a touch sexy. (Edan) Luminous Airplanes by Paul La Farge: Paul La Farge, the author of two previous novels (Haussmann, or the Distinction and The Artist of the Missing) and one "book of imaginary dreams" (The Facts of Winter, to be reissued by McSweeney's, also in September) returns with Luminous Airplanes, a book that promises an unusual reading experience: his publisher reports that "the novel, complete in itself, is accompanied by an online 'immersive text,' which continues the story and complements it." The place is America, and the year is 2000: a young programmer returns home from a festival and learns that his grandfather has died. He has to return to the isolated town of Thebes—a place so isolated, in fact, that it has its own language—to straighten out his grandfather's affairs and clean the house that his family has occupied for generations. A meditation on "love, memory, family, flying machines, dance music, and the end of the world." (Emily M.) The Funny Man by John Warner: Warner, the managing editor of McSweeney's Internet Tendency, delivers a satirical debut novel about a celebrity facing trial for manslaughter. The book centers on the exploits of the nameless "funny man," who rises to stardom due to his ability to fit his entire hand in his mouth. Millions readers may know Warner from his running commentary -- along with Kevin Guilfoile -- of the Morning News' Tournament of Books. Whether Warner's own novel will compete in next year's ToB remains to be seen. (Patrick) October: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami: After years of anticipation the US release of Murakami’s first novel in four years is just months away. Murakami’s three-volume stemwinder came out in Japan in 2009 where it sold out its first printing in a day and did more than a million copies in a month. The alpha-numeric title is a play on Orwell’s 1984 – in Japanese the letter Q is a homophonic with the number 9 – and the book’s plot (which was a tightly guarded secret prior to its Japanese release) concerns two characters, a PE teacher and a writer, who become involved in a religious cult through which they create “a mysterious past, different than the one we know.” (Kevin) The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides: For Eugenides fans, October is a long time coming. Nine years after the publication of Middlesex, The Marriage Plot (The Millions took an exclusive look at the first lines), will deal, in Eugenides' own words with "religion, depression, the Victorian novel, and Roland Barthes" (also Mother Teresa). Unlike the multi-generational Middlesex, The Marriage Plot sticks close to 1982, following three college graduates as they wander around the Eastern Seaboard and Calcutta thinking about love and novels and one another. Eugenides has shown that he can work across material, space, time (and page length). As we move toward the publication date I anticipate a buzz frenzy, and I can't wait. (Lydia) Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World by Michael Lewis: Already a well-known chronicler of Wall Street manias and interesting intersections of sports and ideas, Lewis catapulted to wide attention with his writing on the financial crisis that came to a head in late 2008. In the sweepstakes to write the definitive book on the collapse, Lewis's The Big Short seemed to be the big winner. Perhaps less likely to become an economic thriller is the ongoing malaise of the aftermath -- chronic unemployment, budget cuts, litigation. To keep the thread unspooling, Lewis now goes abroad, taking us around Europe on a travelogue of collapse -- Iceland, Greece, Germany, Ireland -- in an exploration of money-fueled madness and the hard choices that have followed. (Max) The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst: Hollinghurst's last book, the Booker-winning The Line of Beauty, achieved what Philip Hensher meant to do with The Northern Clemency. That is, it combined lovely realist prose - among the best currently being written - with an acute portrait of Thatcherite England. In a just world, it would have made our Best of the Millennium Top 20. His new one goes deeper into the past, and in synopsis reads like a kind of World War I analogue to Atonement: infatuated teenagers, country estates, sibling rivalry, literature, war, and history. (Garth) Cain by Jose Saramago: In Cain, his last novel, the late Nobel laureate Jose Saramago re-imagined the Old Testament through the eyes of Cain. Skimming through time and space, Saramago's Cain witnesses some of the most harrowing events of the Bible, including the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the battle of Jericho, and Noah's construction of the ark on the eve of the flood. Translated by Margaret Jull Costa, the novel created a furor in the author's native Portugal when he suggested that society would have better off if the Bible had never been written. (Bill) Zone One by Colson Whitehead: In the aftermath of a world-wide pandemic that has sorted humanity into two types – the living and the living dead – American society is trying to rebuild under orders from a provisional government based in Buffalo, New York. Their principal mission is the resettlement of Manhattan, where government forces hold the neighborhoods south of Canal Street, known as Zone One, but must battle pockets of plague-ridden squatters living uptown to retake the rest of the island. Whitehead, who began his career with The Intuitionist, the world’s greatest novel of elevator repair, now directs his wry, pop-culture-saturated sensibility toward a new kind of post-9/11 novel about zombies, apocalypse, and New York real estate. (Michael) Estonia: A Ramble Through the Periphery by Alexander Theroux: When Theroux, a poet and author of Darconville’s Cat, decided to accompany his wife on her Fulbright Scholarship to Estonia, he began nine months of exploration into a culture and people wholly unknown to him. Theroux has described his writing as a “Victorian attic,” assorted ideas and tangents all crammed together, and indeed his encounters with Estonian customs and history get him talking about everything from Hamlet to Married...With Children, with his trademark whimsy and wit. (Janet) Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt: A manuscript’s difficulty finding its way into print is often attributed to its insufficiency and, less frequently but with greater cachet, its genius. Helen Dewitt’s work falls into the latter category--it’s as if her luck with publishing has been diminished in proportion to the magnitude of her literary feat. Her first novel, The Last Samurai, was hailed as one of the best debut novels of the aughts, and yet she briefly resorted to self-publishing her next book. (Even so, it was reviewed in the LRB.) Lightning Rods, her second novel, has waited ten years in the wings. If The Last Samurai’s focus was genius, this one is a failure’s drive to succeed. In the Mel Brooksian corporate satire, a failed salesman channels sexual fantasies into a business--and strikes gold--dealing with workplace sexual harassment. (Anne) Nightwoods by Charles Frazier: Writers, like jockeys, are advised to remount immediately after getting thrown from their mounts. After his smash 1997 debut, Cold Mountain, which won the National Book Award, Charles Frazier stumbled his second time out with Thirteen Moons, a critical and popular flop. Now he comes right back with Nightwoods, set in 1950s North Carolina, where a lonely woman named Luce cares for her murdered sister Lily's twins while the dead woman's husband – and acquitted killer – comes looking for money he's sure Lily has hidden. One early reader has said that these elements result, surprisingly, in a book that's less a thriller than an intense character study. (Bill) The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje: Michael Ondaatje's publisher, Ellen Seligman, has called his sixth novel “perhaps Ondaatje’s most thrilling and moving novel to date.” The Cat's Table is set sixty years ago; a young boy, for reasons that are initially mysterious, is leaving the country that was then called Ceylon—the only home he's ever known—and being sent to England. On board the Oronsay, "the first and only ship of his life," he falls in with two fellow travelers of about his age. It's a long voyage, involving the Indian Ocean, Red Sea, Mediterranean and Atlantic, and the three boys—virtually abandoned by their caregivers, ignored by ship's officials—become close friends. Kirkus called the book "[e]legiac, mature and nostalgic—a fine evocation of childhood, and of days irretrievably past." (Emily M.) Parallel Stories by Péter Nadás Okay, so Parallel Stories is not actually the longest novel ever written. But at 1,150 pages, it's damn close. It took Nádas decades to write - and Imre Goldstein who knows how long to translate. So it's pretty much an assured thing that this won't sell like FSG's previous venture into 1,000-page novels in translation, 2666. But the excerpt that ran in The Paris Review last year was a stunner. Nadas is one of the few contemporary novelists capable of producing masterpieces; his last novel to appear in English, A Book of Memories (no beach read itself), was one. Has he done it again? (Garth) The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright: As the Celtic Tiger was morphing into a toothless pussycat during the past decade, so the adulterous Irish lovers in Booker Prize-winner Anne Enright's fifth novel, The Forgotten Waltz, find themselves spiraling from apparent marital success into the confusions of its ruined aftermath. The married adulterers are Gina Moynihan, a successful, strong-willed IT professional, and brooding Sean Vallely. "The whole project is about failure," Gina says of adultery. "It has failure built in." Enright has written a novel that is, in one British reviewer's opinion, "the opposite of chicklit." (Bill) Nanjing Requiem by Ha Jin: For his sixth novel, Ha Jin, author of Waiting and War Trash, recreates one of the most horrific incidents of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Nanjing Requiem re-imagines the Japanese occupation of that city in 1937 through the eyes of a fictional narrator named Anling Gao, and the remarkable work of the real-life missionary Minnie Vautrin, who sheltered more than 10,000 Chinese women and children in Jinling Women's College. Readers of Iris Chang's controversial nonfiction book, The Rape of Nanking, will know much of the story, but Publishers Weekly has called Jin's novel "a convincing, harrowing portrait of heroism in the face of brutality." (Bill) Ghost Lights by Lydia Millet: Lydia Millet is delightfully promiscuous in her range of social critique--she deftly shifts from satirizing popular culture in stories that depict celebrities alongside animals (Love in Infant Monkeys), to considering the implications of the atom bomb (Oh Pure and Radiant Heart), to voicing deep ecological concerns. Her latest novel, Ghost Lights, is the second in a trilogy focused on extinction, that began with How the Dead Dream. Ghost Lights revolves around domestic unrest fueled by a man’s discovery of his wife’s infidelity. He soon sets off on his own journey to track down her boss who disappeared in the jungles of Belize. Millet’s preoccupation with “relationship of the individual self to society and the social self, and morality” promises to frame this adventure tale within a harder-hitting conceit. (Anne) The Palace of Dreams by Ismail Kadare: Ismail Kadare's Palace of Dreams, widely regarded as a modern classic, was banned in Albania almost immediately upon its publication in 1981. While Kadare is one of the better-known Eastern European novelists in the West, his work is still relatively obscure and this re-publication is overdue. Critics often invoke Orwell or Kafka or Escher to describe the quality of the book, which offers an imagined version of the nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire in which the dreams of the populace are gathered, transcribed, and interpreted by the Sultan and used to formulate policy and control the populace. (Emily W.) Nothing: A Portrait of Insomnia by Blake Butler: “Bad sugar fuels fucked dreams,” and fucked dreams are something Blake Butler’s become accustomed to, or hasn’t--as he’s prone to chronic bouts of insomnia. For a writer whose fictions often access the surreal, it’s fitting that his first book of nonfiction considers, among other things, sleep and dreams and his nightly battle to access this state. While dreams are well-trodden territory for creative types, the borders and barriers between sleep and dreams, the slippery in-between, and being shut out of the promised land, are less often considered. For a delicious glimpse of the ways Butler maps insomnia, see his “Insomnia Door.” (Anne) November: The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories by Don DeLillo: The first ever collection of short stories by Delillo, these nine were written between 1979 and 2011. Not much info has been released, but this bibliography gives a rundown of the stories that will comprise part or most of the collection. (Sonya) 11/22/63l by Stephen King: For years Stephen King has been talking about writing a novel based around time-travel. This November it arrives. The date that serves as the book’s title is the day of John F. Kennedy’s assassination; the story concerns 35-year-old Jake Epping who discovers a time portal in a diner in his hometown in Maine and travels back to 1958, which gives him five years to figure out a way to prevent Lee Harvey Oswald (or whoever it was) from taking his fateful shot. This spring Scribner released an excerpt from the book, which has the protagonist contemplating murdering Oswald. “Even if you do have to kill him, you don’t have to do it right away.” (Kevin) The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco: Last October, while Americans were transfixed by House campaigns, The Social Network, and Brian Wilson’s beard, Italy was swept up in literary controversy. Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery, published that month, followed “the most hateful man in the world”—a fictitious anti-Semitic forger responsible for The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The Vatican’s Osservatore Romano, among others, charged Eco with unwitting hate speech: “Forced to read disgusting things about the Jews, the reader remains tainted by this anti-Semitic nonsense.” Unsurprisingly, the fracas propelled The Prague Cemetery to European bestseller status; the book’s forthcoming English translation may run a similar course. (Jacob) The Third Reich by Roberto Bolaño: A posthumous examination of Bolaño's papers revealed the text of The Third Reich, a short novel written in 1989. A German war-game champion, Udo Berger, takes his girlfriend Ingeborg on vacation to the Spanish coastal town where he summered during his childhood. They meet another German couple on vacation, Charly and Hanna, and a group of locals. Charly disappears one night without a trace, and when Hanna and Ingeborg return to their lives in Germany, Udo refuses to leave the resort hotel. He quickly finds himself caught up in a round of Third Reich, an elaborate board game that pits him against El Quemado, a mysterious man from South America who rents paddle boats to tourists on the beach. (Emily M.) Blue Nights by Joan Didion: America’s most astringent commentator on life and politics in the Postwar Era turns her gimlet eye on the subjects of aging, parenthood, and loss in the wake of the death of her daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne. Billed as a sequel of sorts to Didion’s best-selling memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, about the sudden death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, this new book explores the fresh hell of her daughter’s 2005 death from a massive hematoma while Didion was on tour touting the book about her husband’s death. Now well into her 70s, Didion examines her successes and failures as a parent and meditates on the tragic fragility of life in a world where even six hours of emergency surgery cannot save her 39-year-old daughter from a burst blood vessel. (Michael) Dante in Love by A.N. Wilson: Touted as "a lively introduction to The Divine Comedy" as well as "biography as done by a novelist at the height of his powers," A.N. Wilson's Dante in Love aims to give the lay reader all the biographical and historical context she'd need to make the most of the Comedia. Other British reviewers (who've had first crack at it; it's already out across the pond) have found the book wanting: ponderous in its erudition and labyrinthine in its organization. (Emily W.) Gathering Evidence: A Memoir by Thomas Bernhard: Thomas Bernhard, the lit world’s favorite misanthrope, showed little discretion in dispersing his contempt. He hated his homeland, Austria, where he banned the posthumous publication of his works; he hated books and articles that began chronologically, with a date of birth; he despised “sinister” nature and the countryside where he was forced to live due to his poor health, and even literary prizes, which he compared receiving to “having one’s head pissed upon.” If you wonder at the sources of his cantankerousness and great despair, his five-volume memoir, Gathering Evidence, coming back into print in a paperback edition, contains an exacting ledger. From a father who didn’t acknowledge him, to bombing raids and involvement with Hitler youth, to contracting tuberculosis and his chronic convalescence in sanitariums, there’s much to lament but also great beauty in the devastation. (Anne) Adam and Evelyn by Ingo Schulze: Since getting the New Yorker treatment in the '90s, the German novelist Ingo Schulze has fallen into unjust neglect in the U.S. His great epistolary novel, New Lives and his 2009 collection One More Story were perhaps too subtle in their ironies to find a broad American readership, while not being subtle enough for the critic who gave them the most attention. But Schulze's work stays with you, if you stay with it. Adam and Evelyn is something of a departure - a comic love story, and a retelling of the Fall. It continues, however, Schulze's effort to define a post-Iron Curtain literary sensibility, drawing equally from East and West. (Garth) December: The Artist of Disappearance by Anita Desai: A collection of three novellas, The Artist of Disappearance is Anita Desai’s latest examination of Indian society—its wealth, its poverty, and the ways in which its culture permeates its daily life. Americans have been taught to view India with a mixture of awe and foreboding, as a source of exotica and our own economic displacement. But Desai reminds us that real people live there, with fears and desires at once specific and universal. In a world of Outsourced caricature, her characters are drawn with a much-needed precision. (Jacob) Triptych: How to Look at Francis Bacon by Jonathan Littel: Jonathan Littell, French-American bad boy author of the middling cyberpunk novel Bad Voltage and the controversial, hefty, first-person Nazi confessional novel The Kindly Ones, celebrated in France but—quel surprise—less loved here, is back: This time around, he's trying his hand at art history. With his apparent taste for the gruesome and atrocious (see The Kindly Ones), Littell may be just the man to have a go at the squeamish-making work of Francis Bacon. (Emily W.) January 2012: The Recognitions by William Gaddis: Mr. Difficult's classic ur-post-modern novel, first published in 1955 and returning in a new edition from Dalkey Archive, is not for the faint of heart (Gaddis himself described his work as "not reader friendly"). Notoriously difficult in all of the ways postmods are (allusive, dense, multi-plot, hyper-intellectual, long, rich in unmarked dialogue), The Recognitions is also regarded as one of the great American books of the last century. It charts the travails of aspiring artist Wyatt Gwyon, who makes exquisite forgeries of the Dutch masters—paintings so true to the originals that they're indistinguishable from them. Gwyon's plot is, of course, entangled in those of many other lives and the novel is acutely interested in figuring out what authenticity, forgery, plagiarism, and originality mean in the post-war, post-modern age. (Emily W.) The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq: Michel Houellebecq, the reigning bad boy of French letters, has been accused of every imaginable sin against political correctness. His new novel, The Map and the Territory, is a send-up of the art world that tones down the sex and booze and violence, but it does feature a “sickly old tortoise” named Michel Houellebecq who gets gruesomely murdered. The book has drawn charges of plagiarism because passages were lifted virtually verbatim from Wikipedia. “If people really think that (this is plagiarism),” Houellebecq sniffed, “then they haven’t the first notion what literature is.” Apparently, he does. The Map and the Territory was awarded the Prix Goncourt, France’s most prestigious literary prize. (Bill) The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus: Ben Marcus, who is best known for his experimental, language-driven fiction, and for editing the oft-assigned anthology The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, has a new novel, The Flame Alphabet. In an interview with HTMLGIANT, Marcus said the book is about “a husband and wife who are sickened by the speech of their daughter. Literally. So sickened that they have to leave her.” The novel is apparently a chronological narrative told by a single character; in the same interview, Marcus admitted that it’s “…formally a lot simpler than my other books, and it felt entirely new to me when I wrote it. I’ve never written a single book-length narrative that has a clear plot. I loved being in such strange waters.” (Edan) Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room by Geoff Dyer: Geoff Dyer’s books are never quite what they first seem. Out of Sheer Rage began as a critical study of D.H. Lawrence and became a vehicle for a wonderfully digressive account of avoidance that James Wood called “a work of delicious, stunned truancy.” Dyer’s novel Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi documents its real-life foundations in visits to the Venice Biennial. The two narratives themselves straddle extremes, the first a devotion to aesthetics, excess, and ennui, and the second, to self-denial and dissolution of the ego. And so while Dyer’s forthcoming Zona’s subject is Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Stalker, he strays--of course--from convention to discuss European film and realizing one’s deepest wishes, among other grander and lesser things. With Dyer at the helm there’s no telling where he’ll go, but it’s generally advisable to follow his lead. (Anne) The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes: Three-time Man Booker shortlister Julian Barnes has written a new novel, the first since Arthur & George was published in 2005. According to Barnes' website, The Sense of an Ending is a middle-aged man's retroactive search for truth about his time as a member of "sex-hungry and book-hungry" adolescent crew, one of whose members meets an untimely end. The title--certainly a nod to Frank Kermode's classic work of literary theory--suggests that Barnes, true to fashion, will apply the theories of literature to private life, hopefully with the same panache of his earlier novels. (Lydia) February 2012: Stay Awake by Dan Chaon: With the publication of his first two novels, You Remind Me of Me and Await Your Reply, Dan Chaon has gained a wider reading audience and a reputation for character-driven narratives shot through with a sinister darkness. Readers who discovered Chaon through his short stories will be delighted to see him return to the form with his latest collection, Stay Awake, his first collection since Among the Missing, which was nominated for the National Book Award in 2001. The jacket copy promises: “In these haunting, suspenseful stories, lost, fragile, searching characters wander between ordinary life and a psychological shadowland. They have experienced intense love or loss, grief or loneliness, displacement or disconnection—and find themselves in unexpected, dire, and sometimes unfathomable situations.” Sounds like good-old Dan Chaon to me. Don’t expect to be uplifted, but count on being moved, discomfited, and, certainly, impressed. (Edan) March 2012: Hot Pink by Adam Levin: Adam Levin's gigantic first novel, The Instructions, made a splashy, panache-y debut in 2010, blowing lipfarts, flipping birds, and tipping hats in the direction of George Saunders and Philip Roth. Hot Pink collects nine stories in the same inventive vein. (Garth) Arcadia by Lauren Groff: Arcadia by Lauren Groff tracks the life of Bit Stone, a man who grows up in an agrarian utopian commune in central New York that falls apart, as they generally do. Groff says, “I was interested in how a person who'd been born and raised in such an idealistic environment would adapt to the larger world--in all of the accounts I've read about communalist experiments gone wrong, the children are the silent suffering ones.” Groff, the author of the bestselling novel The Monsters of Templeton and the story collection Delicate Edible Birds, is already garnering strong praise for Arcadia. Richard Russo says, “Richly peopled and ambitious and oh, so lovely, Lauren Groff's Arcadia is one of the most moving and satisfying novels I've read in a long time. It's not possible to write any better without showing off." (Edan) April 2012: When I Was a Child I Read Books: Essays by Marilynne Robinson: “When I was a child I read books,” writes Robinson, “My reading was not indiscriminate. I preferred books that were old and thick and dull and hard...I looked to Galilee for meaning and to Spokane for orthodonture, and beyond that the world where I was I found entirely sufficient.” The exalted author of Gilead and Home claims that the hardest work of her life has been convincing New Englanders that growing up in Idaho was not “intellectually crippling.” There, during her childhood, she read about Cromwell, Constantinople, and Carthage, and her new collection of essays celebrates the joy, and the enduring value, of reading. (Janet) Night Film by Marisha Pessl: Fans of Pessl's stylistic pyrotechnics in Special Topics in Calamity Physics will be disappointed to learn that the publication of her second novel, Night Film, has been delayed by a year. One wonders if the wunderkind is having a more difficult labor with baby number two—“a psychological thriller about obsession, family loyalty and ambition set in raw contemporary Manhattan" (so Pessl's agent describes Night Film). As noted in the last Most Anticipated, Pessl's Special Topics heroine, Blue van Meer, had a distinct, scintillating voice that it'll be hard to match without imitating. (Emily W.)