February 3, 2024
If the groundhog’s prediction is to be believed, we can look forward to an early spring, but in the meantime, there are treasures published weekly to make staying inside pleasurable. February is Black History Month, and this week we are highlighting a new book about Black Appalachian cooking and the family stories that inform the recipes. See more of our current and classic picks to celebrate the month on our website. An Aboriginal Australian writer will grace our stage in an exciting event as part of our International Library series; a story set in ’90s London reveals the seedy side of journalism; a splendid writer returns with her tenth novel, set in Scotland’s Kingdom of Fife; and a Canadian writer transforms her journals into a literary high-wire act.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
Praisesong for the Kitchen Ghosts
By Crystal Wilkinson
Published by Clarkson Potter
Combining memoir, history, food, and stories passed down through the decades, Wilkinson’s wonderful new book is a paean to generations of ancestors from the Appalachian Mountains. In her introduction she dispels some misrepresentations of the large remaining Black population, which is descended from former slaves turned landowners. It is chock full of delicious recipes including Hot Milk Cake which the author says, “smells like a vanilla dream,” and Indian Creek Chili, perfect for cold winter nights with a peanut butter sandwich on the side. Wilkinson is the former poet laureate of Kentucky and the kitchen ghosts of the title, “who have taught [her] well,” shine in her lyrical family anecdotes.
Ordinary Human Failings
By Megan Nolan
Published by Little, Brown and Company
This Irish-born Brooklyn writer follows up her successful debut (Acts of Desperation) with a very different sort of story—from toxic romance to a take on the crime novel. We follow an Irish family on the margins now living in a poor London neighborhood whose 10-year-old is in police custody following the disappearance of a toddler. Enter a ruthless journalist looking for a sensational story to make his reputation. Questions of what defines ‘ordinary’ and the sad truths that surround a broken-down family with little means or ability to see how they are being manipulated make for a powerful and brutal piece of fiction..
By Alexis Wright
Published by New Directions
This extraordinary indigenous Australian writer is from the Waanyi nation of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Deeply involved in preserving Aboriginal oral traditions, she has sought inspiration in literary icons as diverse as Joyce and Heaney, Borges and García Márquez. Praiseworthy is the name of the town where the story takes place, mixing allegory and climate change into a magical, absurdist tour de force. The character names alone entice—Widespread, Aboriginal Sovereignty, Dance Steel—in a tale about the coming ecological apocalypse and (see the cover) one man’s scheme, involving donkeys, to save the planet. It is an ambitious, ingenious book about colonialism and the end of the world.
The Road from Belhaven
By Margo Livesey
Published by Knopf
It is 19th-century Scotland, and Lizzie has a secret: she can see the future (“she thought of them as pictures, because she could see everything so clearly…”). Orphaned young, brought up by her grandparents on their farm, she meets Louis and goes with him to Glasgow. Things don’t turn out as she expected but her second sight might just save her. Full of wonderful, luscious descriptions of the people and landscape of Scotland, and a hark back to Livesey’s 2001 novel Eva Moves the Furniture, in which Eva, based on Livesey’s mother, also has the second sight. And this coming-of-age story was inspired by her grandmother..
By Sheila Keti
Published by FSG
Heti’s (Pure Colour) diaries of the last ten years provide a springboard for her to revisit who she has been, and how she has transformed. By dumping half a million words into a spreadsheet, she then ordered her sentences alphabetically. The result is a fascinating look at her life, turning navel-gazing into an art. A: “All I ever wanted when I was younger was to be a writer, to be able to sit in one place and write things forever…” And R: “Remember, it doesn’t matter what you write about.” Here, every emotion is expressed, with no filter. She is one of the most inventive and interesting writers today.