Let Me Count the Ways: A Memoir (American Lives)

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Mishra, Poddar, Bennet, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Pankaj Mishra, Namrata Poddar, Claire-Louise Bennet, and more—that are publishing this week.
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Run and Hide by Pankaj Mishra

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Run and Hide: “Mishra returns to fiction (after Bland Fanatics, a collection of criticism) with a circuitous story of an Indian man opting out of an ostensibly bright future. Arun Dwivedi, a literary translator, recounts his life to a writer named Alia, who is working on a book about India’s new global power brokers with a focus on his former classmates at the cutthroat Indian Institute of Technology in the 1990s. He describes a fractured upbringing with an abusive father and a modest young adulthood after IIT, contrasted with that of two fellow lower-caste friends who went on to great heights. There’s ‘financial wizard’ Virendra, who makes a fortune in America, and social climber Aseem, who insinuates himself into high society as a writer. Arun, on the other hand, moves to a small Himalayan village to look after his abandoned mother. After Aseem introduces him to Alia, she invites him on a getaway to Pondicherry, where their relationship turns sexual. While away, Arun’s mother dies and he makes an impulsive decision to follow Alia to London. Arun’s reflections are nearly sunk by tedious philosophizing about India’s place in the early 21st century and the rise of nationalism, but are saved by the searing portraits of purportedly successful Desis. There are plenty of insights, but the rambling structure and navel-gazing narration will tax readers’ patience.”

Border Less by Namrata Poddar

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Border Less: “Poddar’s illuminating debut, a loosely connected novel in stories, follows a woman’s quest for belonging as she explores notions of culture, gender, class, and identity. ‘Help Me Help You’ finds Dia Mittal, the sole breadwinner for her lower-middle-class family, striving at a call center in Mumbai and hoping for a promotion that would help her get to the U.S. When Dia returns to Mumbai after eight years away in ‘So Long, Cousin,’ she gets iced out by her upper-class relatives and no longer feels at home there. ‘Nature, Nurture’ considers gendered expectations within South Asian culture as Dia finally gets traction in her dream career in the arts in Southern California, but discovers her worth as a daughter-in-law only rests in her culinary and homemaking skills. ‘Shakti at Brunch’ examines the necessity of cultivating a home away from home, showing how Dia bonds with a group of friends in Los Angeles she calls her ‘sisters.’ As Poddar traces Dia’s reconciliation with the meaning of home, she also brings forth stories of other South Asians, such as an immigrant maid, a single mother, a travel agent—juxtaposing their pursuits of belonging with Dia’s, and connecting the fragmented narrative with sharp prose. The range of perspectives harnessed announces Poddar as an exciting new voice in immigrant fiction.”

Groundskeeping by Lee Cole

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Groundskeeping: “Cole’s nimble debut combines elements of Southern fiction, the campus novel, and youthful romance. Twenty-eight-year-old Owen Callahan, an aspiring writer, returns to his native Kentucky in 2016 after being semi-homeless in Colorado. He takes a job as a groundskeeper at Ashby College, where he audits a writing workshop and meets Alma Hadzics, the daughter of Bosnian immigrants. Alma has already published a book of short stories and is at Ashby on a fellowship. Alma has a sort of boyfriend, and she and Owen drift into a relationship that slowly becomes more serious. Inevitably, he introduces her to his dysfunctional family and she introduces him to her prosperous mother and father. Owen’s uncle Cort is a MAGA-lover, and Alma’s parents always have MSNBC on. In the end, it’s not politics that threatens to derail Owen and Alma’s romance but fealty to their own professional aspirations as Owen’s literary career begins to take off. Cole fills his novel with a gallery of fascinating supporting characters such as Owen’s conspiracy theorist coworker Rando; Owen’s grandfather, a WWII vet who keeps a VHS collection of classic westerns; and Alma’s Springsteen-loving father. And though Owen makes some questionable choices, he and Alma make for an odd couple worth rooting for. In the end, this is the strongest story about young writers in love since Andrew Martin’s Early Work.”

Let Me Count the Ways by Tomás Q. Morín

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Let Me Count the Ways: “Combining elegiac vignettes with luminous prose, poet Morín (Machete) reflects on his coming of age in South Texas and life with obsessive-compulsive disorder. His disorder first emerged when, as a boy in the 1980s, he was told to keep watch for police on his father’s frequent missions to get heroin (when he couldn’t score, Morín writes, ‘a stomach folding like an accordion was the only music at night in our house’). With his parents’ attentions divided between his father’s other family (‘He played the role of the Latin lover as if it had been written for him’), drug addiction, and occasional imprisonments, Morín was forced to reckon early on with feelings of alienation and loneliness. Resorting to silence, Morín comforted himself privately through anxious rituals—compulsively blinking and internally reciting ‘Left Right Left.’ Those three words punctuate his account as he reflects on masculinity (when the word hombre ‘dropped… into the lake of my life, its rings spread silently into a future I couldn’t imagine’); recounts finding refuge in art and, later, teaching; and reconciles his fraught origins. With quotations from medical literature, historical treatises, and poetry threaded in, the narration is hypnotic, as is Morín’s evocative imagery. Readers will find it hard to put this one down.”

Checkout 19 by Claire-Louise Bennet

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Checkout 19: “Bennett’s idiosyncratic and arresting latest (after Pond) explores a woman’s tenacious attachment to the written word. The unnamed narrator describes her peculiar experience of reading as a young bookish girl: she thinks ‘the left page nearly always has better words on it,’ and, given the readerly urge to turn the page, typesetters are ‘irresponsible’ for allowing ‘important sentences to appear at the very end of the right page.’ As an adult, she studies literature, works weekends at a grocery store, and scours books for words that feel ‘as if they are being written as you read them, that your eyes upon the page are perhaps even making them appear.’ Along with the narrator’s recollections are accounts of her early efforts at writing fiction, ‘the quickening revolutions of my supremely aberrant imaginings.’ She recreates the intensity of artistic inspiration and then, from a distance of years, recomposes the lost or abandoned stories themselves, an exercise that proves much more successful than one might expect, as seen in, for instance, a Borgesian tale about a library of blank books concealing one transformative sentence only visible to the collection’s owner. Bennett’s narrator also recounts interactions with men: a charismatic teacher who senses her fierce talent; vindictive and entitled friends and lovers; and a Nietzsche-toting grocery shopper who, in a scene that demonstrates the destabilizing joy of this book, fills his cart in an ‘exquisite sequence of sublime prestidigitation.’ Encompassing literary criticism, suggestive fables, feminist polemic, a portrait of the artist, and a phenomenology of reading, this transfixes on both the right page and the left. Bennett marvels once again.”

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