The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store is James McBride’s magnificently drawn portrait of a 1930’s community of African Americans and Jewish immigrants living side by side in the neglected, hardscrabble Chicken Hill neighborhood of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, struggling to survive at the margins of white Christian America. With pitch-perfect vernacular and dialogue, the prose radiates a kind of exuberance that makes this a rollicking good read, with a whole cast of larger-than-life characters worth rooting for. These big personalities are matched by a big storyline that is heartwarming and compassionate, inventive, fun, joyous, even life-affirming. This is a story of community, and beyond the fast-talking humor and intriguing backstories and suspenseful plot the novel manages to have a lot to say about class divides, racism and bigotry, kindness and courage, and, in a neighborhood of shared hopes and heartbreak, the commonalities that connect us all. The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store is an absorbing drama and a warm, humane comedy, a mesmerizing and almost magical tale with a determined sense that, when marginalized groups with interlocking destinies look out for one another, justice will win out in the end. (And be sure to read the inspiring acknowledgments at the end.) Ed loved and highly recommends!
“It was an uncertain spring” is the perfect, understated beginning to Sigrid Nunez’s new novel The Vulnerables, a fictionalized memoir of time spent during what we now colloquially know as ‘lockdown.’ In a narrative that turns out to be a universal remembrance of the time we ALL spent there, her memories are our memories, of the collective conversations and soul-searching we all shared. I love the book’s inventive form and intimate tone, blurring the lines between fiction and memoir, essay and story, a hybrid essay-novel, “written to a rhythm, not to a plot”, that is an extended rumination on what it means to live in a world “defined by continuous disaster” --by high anxiety, collapsing systems, and apocalyptic fears. The Vulnerables is perceptive and delightful all at once, full of warmth and feeling and insight, funny, thoughtful, and witty, with reflections on yearning, grief, and happiness, our competing notions of love, and the many adventures and excitements we experience in our universal search for human connectedness and community. And the novel has as much to say about life under lockdown as it does about writing and writers, with wonderful asides and quotations from famous authors on memory, imagination, and storytelling—and the problem of finding the ‘perfect’ first sentence for your novel! There is an intelligence and joyfulness, a poignancy and thoughtfulness to her writing that, when I turned the last page, I felt sorry to be leaving her company. Surprising in its originality and brilliant in its simplicity, Ed loved and highly recommends!
The Maniac is an exciting and compelling tour-de-force, truly a work of beauty on an even grander scale than Labatut’s previous When We Cease to Understand the World. Through a chorus of biographical sketches by family members and well-known scientists, and in an extraordinary hybrid of fact and fiction blending form/structure/content in a lyrical, inventive, engrossing narrative, the “novel” tells the story of John von Neumann, the greatest mathematician of the 20th century, and his lifelong project of trying to create a self-replicating machine, an intelligence able to evolve beyond human understanding and control (what we now call “AI”). The novel charts the parallels between genius and insanity, and between the rise of the new quantum physics and the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930’s and 1940’s, where the world no longer seemed so solid, with logic, order, and rationality giving way to uncertainty, randomness, and chaos, all leading to the consequent development of the atomic bomb (all thrillingly told here!) and eventually leading to present day AI programs that beat the world’s best chess and GO players (again, all thrillingly told here!) By scrutinizing John von Neumann the man and his monumental, mathematical breakthroughs, The Maniac explores the wonders and horrors that can be unleashed by science, revealing the many philosophical/scientific paradoxes and contradictions of the 20th century, including the delusion of “progress”, where in our search for scientific transcendence, we have replaced “god” with a technology so complicated and advancing so rapidly that it could spell our doom. Ed loved and highly recommends!
An obscure English novelist (William Ainsworth, a contemporary and rival of Charles Dickens), a missing-heir trial known as "the Tichborne Case," and a story of slavery and its aftermath in Jamaica provide the true, historical springboards for Zadie Smith's latest, The Fraud, a fascinating historical novel set in the mid 1800's, Victorian in feel, about ego and authorship, identity and deception, and who deserves to tell their story and who deserves to be believed. With a stimulating mix of fact and fiction, the novel provides a special lens into Victorian manners, mores and literature that is entertaining, tongue-in-cheek funny, scathingly sarcastic, and fiercely clever (in the manner of a Jane Austen novel!) The Fraud is written in short, 2-page chapters imitating novels that were serialized in the 1800's (like Dickens, who is a character here as well!), and offers astute observations and insights (from a woman's perspective thru the character of Eliza Touchet) on race, class, colonialism, politics, writing and "womanhood." In juxtaposing the fictional with the factual, and in deftly managing a whole host of characters and plot lines, the author has created a Dickensian potboiler that feels both modern and Victorian, that both entertains and informs. Ed loved and highly recommends!
The first full biography in decades, King mixes revelatory and exhaustive new research with brisk and accessible storytelling to forge the definitive life for our times.
The year is 1998. The Soviet Union is dissolved, the Cold War is over, and Bunny Glenn is a lonely American teenager in Azerbaijan with her Foreign Service family. Through Bunny's bemused eyes, we watch global interests flock to her temporary backyard for Caspian oil and pipeline access, hearing rumbles of the expansion of the American security state and the buildup to the War on Terror. We follow Bunny from adolescence to middle age--from Baku to Athens to Houston--as her own ambition and desire for comfort lead her to a career in the oil industry, eventually returning to the scene of her youth, where slippery figures from the past reappear in an era of political and climate breakdown. Propulsive and thought-provoking, empathetic yet pointed, Mobility is a story about class, power, politics, and desire told through the life of one woman--her social milieu, her romances, her unarticulated wants. Through Bunny's life choices, Lydia Kiesling masterfully explores American forms of complicity and inertia, moving between the local and the global, the personal and the political, and using fiction's singular power to illuminate a life shaped by its context.
The two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and bestselling author of Harlem Shuffle continues his Harlem saga in a powerful and hugely-entertaining novel that summons 1970s New York in all its seedy glory.
It’s 1971. Trash piles up on the streets, crime is at an all-time high, the city is careening towards bankruptcy, and a shooting war has broken out between the NYPD and the Black Liberation Army. Amidst this collective nervous breakdown furniture store owner and ex-fence Ray Carney tries to keep his head down and his business thriving. His days moving stolen goods around the city are over. It’s strictly the straight-and-narrow for him — until he needs Jackson 5 tickets for his daughter May and he decides to hit up his old police contact Munson, fixer extraordinaire. But Munson has his own favors to ask of Carney and staying out of the game gets a lot more complicated – and deadly.
1973. The counter-culture has created a new generation, the old ways are being overthrown, but there is one constant, Pepper, Carney’s endearingly violent partner in crime. It’s getting harder to put together a reliable crew for hijackings, heists, and assorted felonies, so Pepper takes on a side gig doing security on a Blaxploitation shoot in Harlem. He finds himself in a freaky world of Hollywood stars, up-and-coming comedians, and celebrity drug dealers, in addition to the usual cast of hustlers, mobsters, and hit men. These adversaries underestimate the seasoned crook – to their regret.
1976. Harlem is burning, block by block, while the whole country is gearing up for Bicentennial celebrations. Carney is trying to come up with a July 4th ad he can live with. ("Two Hundred Years of Getting Away with It!"), while his wife Elizabeth is campaigning for her childhood friend, the former assistant D.A and rising politician Alexander Oakes. When a fire severely injures one of Carney’s tenants, he enlists Pepper to look into who may be behind it. Our crooked duo have to battle their way through a crumbling metropolis run by the shady, the violent, and the utterly corrupted.
Crook Manifesto is a darkly funny tale of a city under siege, but also a sneakily searching portrait of the meaning of family. Colson Whitehead’s kaleidoscopic portrait of Harlem is sure to stand as one of the all-time great evocations of a place and a time. Click here to pre-order!
Full of intimate stories, from chasing down secret love affairs to battling body image and struggling with familial strife, Pageboy is a love letter to the power of being seen. With this evocative and lyrical debut, Oscar-nominated star Elliot Page captures the universal human experience of searching for ourselves and our place in this complicated world.
“Can I kiss you?” It was two months before the world premiere of Juno, and Elliot Page was in his first ever queer bar. The hot summer air hung heavy around him as he looked at her. And then it happened. In front of everyone. A previously unfathomable experience. Here he was on the precipice of discovering himself as a queer person, as a trans person. Getting closer to his desires, his dreams, himself, without the repression he’d carried for so long. But for Elliot, two steps forward had always come with one step back.
With Juno’s massive success, Elliot became one of the world’s most beloved actors. His dreams were coming true, but the pressure to perform suffocated him. He was forced to play the part of the glossy young starlet, a role that made his skin crawl, on and off set. The career that had been an escape out of his reality and into a world of imagination was suddenly a nightmare.
As he navigated criticism and abuse from some of the most powerful people in Hollywood, a past that snapped at his heels, and a society dead set on forcing him into a binary, Elliot often stayed silent, unsure of what to do. Until enough was enough.
The Oscar-nominated star who captivated the world with his performance in Juno finally shares his story in a groundbreaking and inspiring memoir about love, family, fame — and stepping into who we truly are with strength, joy and connection.
The Covenant of Water is the long-awaited new novel by Abraham Verghese, the author of the major word-of-mouth bestseller Cutting for Stone, which has sold over 1.5 million copies in the United States alone and remained on the New York Times bestseller list for over two years.
Spanning the years 1900 to 1977, The Covenant of Water is set in Kerala, on South India's Malabar Coast, and follows three generations of a family that suffers a peculiar affliction: in every generation, at least one person dies by drowning--and in Kerala, water is everywhere. At the turn of the century, a twelve-year-old girl from Kerala's long-existing Christian community, grieving the death of her father, is sent by boat to her wedding, where she will meet her forty-year-old husband for the first time. From this unforgettable new beginning, the young girl--and future matriarch, known as Big Ammachi--will witness unthinkable changes over the span of her extraordinary life, full of joy and triumph as well as hardship and loss, her faith and love the only constants.
A shimmering evocation of a bygone India and of the passage of time itself, The Covenant of Water is a hymn to progress in medicine and to human understanding, and a humbling testament to the difficulties undergone by past generations for the sake of those alive today. It is one of the most masterful literary novels published in recent years.
I was totally mesmerized by Norman Rush’s spectacular novel Mating, winner of the 1991 National Book Award, but seeing a big surge in popularity now over 30 years later, even though its basic plot points seem like it could be a tough sell—the narrator, an unnamed female anthropologist adrift in Botswana pursues another anthropologist, Nelson Denoon, rumored to be setting up a utopian, matriarchal community in a remote Kalahari desert village. Smart, provocative, and brilliantly written, reading it now in 2023 is still an exhilarating experience, for there is much to admire here for readers who take the life of the mind seriously—the novel’s big intellectual sweep, its stimulating ideas on feminism, love, politics, race, language and anthropology, a proto-feminist novel written by a man that deals with the rituals of courtship and “mating” that expand beyond societal norms, a novel of ideas I’ve seen described as a “funny, smart love story about two people trying to discover what love between intellectual equals might look like.” Unafraid to tackle big ideas like the geopolitics of poverty, political utopianism, apartheid South Africa circa 1980, or the pitfalls of socialism, Mating uses extended dialogue and dense sentences (and a whole laundry list of obscure words which is quite fun!) to thrillingly explore the pitfalls and possibilities of both love and politics. In Mating Norman Rush has produced a truly great book that deserves to be read and admired. Ed loved and highly recommends!