October 21, 2023
These five books are examples of what reading pleasures still await in the fall season. An extraordinary portrait of an enslaved girl; a welcome new novel from a Nigerian American writer; the reintroduction to readers of one of the best living Australian writers; an ambitiously thrilling new novel from one of the finest chroniclers of the Vietnam era; and for a deep belly laugh, a New Yorker cartoonist’s latest graphic novel for adults.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
Let Us Descend
By Jesmyn Ward
Published by Scribner
It is the early 1800s and Annis, born of a slave owner and a slave, flees after her mother is sold to another plantation. Ward was inspired and deeply affected by an NPR piece about the New Orleans slave pens bringing people from the Carolinas to Louisiana. The characters in her new book have personal resonance, and she revised it for years trying to get the sense of loss right. Annis’s story is fraught with tension and, as in Sing, Unburied, Sing, this novel touches on elements of the afterlife. Once again, Ward exposes the beauty in hardship to resounding success.
By Teju Cole
Published by Random House
Cole (Open City) is intimidatingly smart. Our protagonist, a Nigerian American photography professor in Cambridge ponders Bach’s cello suites, the brutality to Native Americans during New England colonialism, the John Wayne movie The Searchers, and more. The novel showers you with images and ideas, traveling from Boston to Lagos, Nigeria (“all that matters is one’s people”), bombarding the reader with many voices and indelible descriptions (“…the city was drowning and burning at the same time,” and “…in a museum life floods the viewers in waves.”) You come away with a knowledge of many cultural facts and mourn the violence of history. The last paragraph is a stunner..
The Children's Bach
By Helen Garner
Published by Pantheon
Due to our Bookstore Manager Jory’s great passion for the writing of Helen Garner, a fellow Australian, we have sold many copies of her earlier books. Two more are being reissued in the U.S. this fall with more to come. This 1984 novel carries a foreword by Rumaan Alam in which he cites her usual milieu as middle-class domesticity (a compliment). Here an ensemble of characters in Melbourne are brought to vivid life—a husband and wife, their sons, an old flame with a musician lover, sisters and daughters among them. Garner’s extraordinary ability to capture ‘modern life’ with all its messiness and pleasures is unsurpassed. She is an essential writer. Limited signed copies available.
By Tim O'Brien
Published by Mariner Books
Boyd definitely needs a change. At middle age he is a former journalist turned JC Penney manager who drinks too much. His child is dead, as is his marriage. Why not rob a bank and invite the teller to accompany you cross-country? O’Brien takes the reader on a fast-paced, comic joy ride, satirizing America, the pandemic, and Trump’s ridiculous and dangerous presence. O’Brien says that a writer’s ideas arise from the “moral quandaries that we endure in our lives.” That makes his new book more than just an excellent road trip novel. He’s also stated that this will be his last book; I hope not..
I Must Be Dreaming
By Roz Chast
Published by Bloomsbury
As a child, Chast wondered: “Why didn’t I switch off when I fell asleep like TV channels…?” In her hilarious new graphic novel, she explores her fascination with the mysterious world of dreamland, with nods to Ancient Egyptian and Greek theories, Freud and Jung dream interpretations, the Finnish concept of “Primitive Instinct Rehearsal,” recurring dreams (I lost my purse, I’m back in high school), random celebrity appearances (Fran Lebowitz, Henry Kissinger, Wallace Shawn, and Elizabeth Taylor), even her adventures with LSD. Once she dreamed that a slang word for penis was “Sharon.” I nodded along, discovering that she too has creepy dreams about dentists and body horror. But mainly I just laughed my head off.