Lion Forge: Black Comix Returns by John Jennings and Damian Duffy

BookPeople of Moscow Issue for Tuesday, February 20, 2018

From the Shelf

A Sense of Place... to Place to Place

When readers speak or write about "sense of place" in praising books, they often mean a particular landscape, but the phrase can also be--maybe always is to a degree--more fluid than that. Some of my favorite recent books have each deftly stretched the concept of place in different ways.

In Willy Vlautin's novel Don't Skip Out on Me (HarperCollins), Horace Hooper is a lost young man living a hard but also secure life on a Northern Nevada ranch. He's itchy to move beyond safety and prove himself as a boxer. This isn't a good plan, but it propels him on a tough, compelling journey from Tucson to Mexico to Las Vegas in search of his own elusive place in the world.

Growing up in an Idaho mountain landscape offered a beautiful sense of place for Tara Westover, but her strict Mormon fundamentalist family tempered nascent dreams. In Educated: A Memoir (Random House), she chronicles how she was able to transcend minimal home schooling and her restrictive upbringing to achieve academic success at Brigham Young University and the University of Cambridge.

In The Unmade World (Unbridled Books), Steve Yarbrough shows how place can become a web as the intense story moves from Krakow to California to the Hudson Valley, with Poland threading through the narrative. Colm Toibin nailed it when he wrote that this "many-layered novel is a thriller, a love story, a travelogue full of richly observed scenes from Polish and American life, a morality tale replete with betrayal, remorse and lust for revenge, and a hilarious comedy."

Sense of place is intensely multilayered in Peter Carey's novel A Long Way From Home (Knopf, Feb. 27). During the 1950s, Willie Bachuber, a man devoted to maps, takes part in the Redex Trial, a 10,000-mile car race through the unforgiving Australian outback. There he is confronted with equally unforgiving revelations about his personal and cultural history that no map could chart.

Place is complicated. As Westover writes at one point, "I could have said, 'That place has a hold on me, which I may never break.' " --Robert Gray

Clarion Books: Florette by Anna Walker

Mira Books: Rosie Colored Glasses by Brianna Wolfson

Square Fish: Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1) by Leigh Bardugo

In this Issue...

Reviews

National Book Award finalist Naomi Shihab Nye's smart and accessible collection of poetry asks teen readers to listen to all the voices--past and present--"floating around out there."

Read this review >>

In a collection of striking essays, novelist Maggie O'Farrell describes the too-close encounters with death she and her loved ones have experienced.

Read this review >>

Feel Free: Essays

by Zadie Smith

This is a substantial and enjoyable collection of recent essays by acclaimed British author Zadie Smith.

Read this review >>

Review by Subjects:

Fiction Mystery & Thriller Romance Food & Wine Biography & Memoir Social Science Essays & Criticism Science Children's & Young Adult

Greenleaf Book Group Press: Brain Safari: 5-Minute Experiments to Explore the Space Between Your Ears by Eric Haseltine

From BookPeople of Moscow

Upcoming Events

Annette Bay Pimentel | Girl Running

02/24/2018 - 11:00AM

Author Annette Bay Pimentel will read and sign copies of her new book Girl Running: Bobbi Gibb and the Boston Marathon. It is the inspiring true story of the first female to run the Boston Marathon. The picture book comes to life in stunningly vivid collage illustrations. Pimentel loves true stories about real people. She also wrote the picture book Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost His Groceries, Changed His Plans, and Helped Cook Up the National Park Service. She spends her days...

UI's Sneak Peeks Reading

03/01/2018 - 7:00PM

Each year, the University of Idaho’s Creative Writing Program sponsors the Hemingway Festival to honor the annual PEN/Hemingway Award recipient. This prestigious award is given for a novel or collection of short stories by an American author who has not previously published a book of fiction. The author then visits the University of Idaho to read and to meet with students, faculty and the community during the festival. This year, the University of Idaho English Department’s 9th annual...

Book Candy

The Resurgence of Typewriters

Headline of the day (via the Christian Science Monitor): "Digital burnout leads to a resurgence of vintage typewriters, and it isn't just a fad."

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To celebrate Toni Morrison's recent birthday, Mental Floss shared "11 haunting facts about Beloved."

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"A visual tour of 35 literary bars and cafés from around the world" was conducted by Lit Hub.

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"Juliet changes her mind." Electric Lit considered "alternate Shakespearean endings."

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McSweeney's imagined "if literature's 'complicated men' were on Tinder."

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The Guardian showcased "the 24 finalists competing to illustrate a new edition of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Selected Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes."

Independent Publishers Group: Celebrate Black History

Great Reads

Rediscover: Blue Angel

Author, essayist and book critic Francine Prose's Blue Angel (2000) is coming to select theaters on March 9. Submission, adapted and directed by Richard Levine, stars Stanley Tucci as creative writing professor Ted Swenson, whose deeply rooted cynicism is challenged by an unexpectedly gifted undergrad. It's been decades since Swenson last published a novel, and the dreary routine of reading poorly written student manuscripts and putting up with the smugness of his fellow professors has left him complacent. Angela Argo (played by Addison Timlin) seems like yet another undergrad with more enthusiasm than literary ability. But when she privately shares a draft of her novel, Swenson discovers the first potentially great writer he's ever taught. The fact that her work revolves around a romance between a teacher and student slips his mind, at first, until Swenson's obsession with his pupil turns disastrously inappropriate. His good intentions, if stupid actions, culminate in campus-wide humiliation, desertion by his family and colleagues, and a sexual harassment hearing of farcical proportions.

Francine Prose received the PEN Translation Prize in 1988 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1991, among other accolades for her voluminous body of work. Blue Angel was a finalist for the National Book Award. It was published in paperback in 2006 by Harper Perennial ($14.99, 9780060882037). --Tobias Mutter

The Writer's Life

Maggie O'Farrell: Close Encounters with Death

photo: Murdo Macleod

Inspired by her daughter's severe case of anaphylaxis, Costa Novel Award-winning author Maggie O'Farrell's memoir, I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death (Knopf, February 6, 2018), explores her close encounters with death, in forms that range from her childhood encephalitis to a chance meeting with an apparent serial killer. O'Farrell's (The Hand That First Held Mine) candor and grace render these stories both sobering and life-affirming.

You've published seven novels since 2000, but this is your first work of nonfiction. What were some of the challenges in writing a memoir?

I always planned to never write a memoir. I never thought I would write about myself in that way. I've always been uncomfortable with the idea of exposing so much about yourself. The genre of memoir can also be a huge tax on your friends and family. But you don't necessarily choose the book, the book chooses you. This book just appeared in the back of my notebooks. I was so reluctant about it that when I signed the contract in the U.K., I said I didn't want an advance for it, because I didn't know whether I was going to finish it or, if I did, whether I was going to publish it. My agent told me I had to be paid something to make it legal, so I asked for £1.

What led to your decision to structure the memoir as 17 non-chronological essays about what you call "brushes with death," each one associated with a body part or body system, rather than a more conventional narrative?

As a writer of fiction, chronology is never something that's interested me. I find it quite tyrannical. I don't think our brains, our memories, our personalities work like that. Coming up with the structure was quite liberating for me. Not only did the format of these episodes release me from the tyranny of chronology, it allowed me to leave quite a bit out, including not having to expose other people who don't have a right of reply to what I write.

You have three children, and you've said that you wrote this book to help them understand that your daughter's health challenges, including an extreme risk of anaphylactic shock, aren't abnormal. They're still perhaps too young to absorb that message fully, so how have you dealt with it, if at all, in their lives so far?

The book was written because my daughter suffers this life-threatening immune disorder, something we grapple with on a daily basis, the idea of keeping her alive. If one member of a family has a disability or health problem, it's something that's shared by the whole family. As the mother, you have to think about how it affects the other two children. The book was an attempt to try to make sense of what my daughter is going through, what it's like to come so close to death, to feel your body conspiring against you, but also what it's like to be close to someone you love in that condition, what it's like for my other children to deal with that.

Your own childhood was profoundly affected by a bout of encephalitis at age eight. Can you describe how that's shaped the rest of your life, both physically and emotionally?

It's quite hard to imagine what I would have been like without that experience. It happened at such a young age that it's always felt very much a part of me. In a lot of ways, I don't know where my encephalitis begins and where I end. There are so many things in my physical being that seem completely normal to me that I realize to other people aren't normal. I wouldn't describe what I have as disabilities; they're mild incapabilities, perhaps. I just get on with it. Someone once asked me, if you could wave a magic wand and wish that you didn't have encephalitis as a child, would you do it? And I don't know. Coming so close to death at such a young age, and hearing people talk about it, I think gives you a very strong sense of living on borrowed time, that it's a bit extra, and that I need to make the most of it. It could have made me quite a cautious person, quite fearful, but in fact it had the opposite effect. I think it made me a bit too reckless, actually. And when I didn't die, the doctor said I would never walk again, never write again, but I managed to find a way out of that particular destiny. I've always felt, since then, like the luckiest person alive.

At least two of the incidents in the book involve encounters with criminals--one a likely serial killer who murdered another young woman shortly after you met him, the other a machete-wielding thief. In describing the former, you write, "Death brushed past me on that path, so close that I could feel its touch, but it seized that other girl and thrust her under." Have these incidents influenced how you feel about life's sheer fortuity?

The first instance, when I was 18, I completely buried. I never talked to anyone about it and left the area where it occurred soon afterwards. In an odd sense, I feel both quite lucky to have survived and quite guilty. It very easily could have been me, but it turned out to be someone else. One of the reasons I never talked about the incident in later life is that, in a sense, the story doesn't really belong to me, the narrative isn't mine. The central tragedy belongs to the other girl; I'm just a footnote in that chapter. And one of my impulses in writing that chapter was to protect her. As a novelist, you can have complete ownership. In a memoir, it's much more nuanced and complicated.

You write, "We are, all of us, wandering about in a state of oblivion, borrowing our time, seizing our days, escaping our fates, slipping through loopholes, unaware of when the axe may fall." Have your near-death experiences made you more mindful, more appreciative of life?

From a very young age, I've had a sense of the frailty of human existence. That we all hang by a thread; that we all could take a few steps in the wrong direction; that we could take the wrong path; that we could meet the wrong person and that's it, it's all over. Probably more than most people, I have a stronger sense of how temporary it all is and how fragile we all are, but also how strong. There's a huge amount of strength in our frailty.

In many ways, I Am, I Am, I Am is quite a life-affirming book, but what do you say to readers who might be inclined to avoid it because they consider the subject matter morbid or depressing?

Even though the subtitle includes the word "death," the book is really about life. It's about how we carry on, why it's important to live your life to the fullest. This is something I say to my daughter when she feels upset about what she's going through: "Everybody has something they're struggling with, that challenges them." We've all just got to try to live the best life we can, live the biggest life we can. We all have strictures around us, whether they're physical or financial, spiritual, geographical or social. Everybody has to do the best. We all have to seize the day, because we're all only here for a short time. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Book Reviews

Fiction

The Winter Station

by Jody Shields

The Winter Station by Jody Shields (The Fig Eater) is an atmospheric thriller based on the Great Manchurian Plague. "It's a live thing, a beast with a strategy for survival," when it arrives in Kharbin, China, in 1910 during the Russian occupation of the area.

Kharbin is strategically important for international trade, and its train station is China's busiest, although frigid temperatures make it an extraordinarily difficult place to live. The Russian army controls the city, maintaining a strained relationship with Chinese, Japanese and European interests. The Baron, a wealthy Russian physician deployed as medical commissioner, investigates dead bodies discovered near the rail station that mysteriously disappear. Even as the number of corpses surge, General Khorvat, the authority in Kharbin, brushes off their significance.

The Baron eventually realizes that plague has arrived and its reach is widening, information that the government hopes to hide. With no understanding of how it spreads or how to treat it, quarantines are ordered as panic begins. Even so, fatalities increase, and the futility of the fight is apparent. "Doctors cling to the belief that they have a remedy.... Everyone at the hospital works a fraud," says one physician. The Baron finds himself fighting bureaucracy and Western medicine to keep the plague from following the rail lines and spreading to the rest of the world.

Shields writes movingly of the human cost of this forgotten epidemic. She reminds us that, to an imperceptible enemy, the lines dividing nations are only a mark on a map. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: The Winter Station is a sensitive and atmospheric thriller about the futile race to stop a plague epidemic in Manchuria in 1910.

Little, Brown, $27, hardcover, 352p., 9780316385343

Call Me Zebra

by Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi

The eponymous Zebra (née Bibi Abbas Abbas Hosseini) of Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi's second novel is a young raconteur in search of the sources of her intellectual family's wandering past and cultural legacy. Born in an erudite Iranian family under constant threat, she is smothered in learning--memorizing passages from influential world literature and assimilating a dozen languages before her teens. Her father reads her bedtime stories from Nietzsche, Dante and Kafka. Finally without options in their native land, her family uproots and begins a treacherous refugee journey through Turkey to Spain and ultimately to the "new world" of the United States. Zebra loses her mother along the way, and her father dies when she is just 22 and a student at New York University. Call Me Zebra is the wildly imaginative story of her attempt to reverse her family's journey while toting the baggage of her parents' lessons and memories.

A Whiting Award-winner and MacDowell and Fulbright fellow, Oloomi (Fra Keeler) wears her weighty intellectual bona fides lightly. Her novel is one of philosophical curiosity, so it is awash in quotations and references. Filled with literature, art and sex, it is rambling and picaresque, as quirky and funny as its rambunctious narrator. The many digressions into philosophy and history are not obstacles--they are stepping stones. Call Me Zebra is a grand story but, as Zebra describes herself when looking in a mirror, it is also "as troubling as literature, as disquieting as language itself." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: With a healthy dose of literary allusions and excerpts, Call Me Zebra is a vibrant novel of a young woman's odyssey into her family's legacy of exile and erudition.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24, hardcover, 304p., 9780544944602

Mystery & Thriller

This Is What Happened

by Mick Herron

Mick Herron's standalone This Is What Happened begins in medias res, with 26-year-old Maggie Barnes hiding in a bathroom in a high-rise building during a dangerous spy mission. Until recently, she was working in the corporate mailroom there, but then the mysterious Harvey Wells recruited her into MI5. Her ordinariness makes her the perfect mole, the last person anyone would suspect of bringing down an evil establishment. But that average quality also means she's no Jane Bond. As Maggie creeps around the building to complete her mission while trying to evade the security guards, her chances of failure and level of fear are high. It's a killer opening.

And that's all anyone should know before starting this thriller. Part of its impact comes from the discoveries. Herron (Spook Street) constantly throws in plot bombs to blow up expectations. His sentences have no wasted words; they're just long enough to land their punches and leave. The story goes to dark, disturbing places, but not without a sense of humor. Regarding current events, Maggie observes, "people would still fight for stupid reasons. It didn't matter that clever ones had become available." Another character intimidates someone by invoking a fake law firm: "Her imaginary firm's title contained five surnames, and simply reciting them felt like an act of assault with a briefcase." Readers can trust Herron knows exactly what he's doing, even if what happened may not be what happened. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: An ordinary woman is recruited into MI5, but her experience isn't what she expected.

Soho Crime, $25.95, hardcover, 272p., 9781616958619

Mister Tender's Girl

by Carter Wilson

Alice Hill, a 20-something owner of a coffee shop in Manchester, N.H., is friendly but cautious. That's because she is also Alice Gray, the victim of an infamous attack in her native England. At the age of 14, Alice was lured and viciously stabbed by twin sisters who were "commanded" by Mister Tender, a character from a graphic novel. And Mister Tender was the creation of Alice's father, who was killed on the streets of London just a few years ago.

So begins Mister Tender's Girl, a thriller made more chilling by its true-life inspiration, the Slender Man trial. Alice is a survivor, but hanging by a thread. She's consumed by debilitating panic attacks and struggles to maintain a relationship with her mother and brother, who are locked in a destructive reliance on each other. When Alice receives a copy of Mister Tender: Last Call in the mail, she discovers that someone is out to finish both the novel and Alice herself, once and for all. "Everything seems endlessly connected," Alice says at one point, "yet I can't figure a single thing out." How will Alice confront the past to ensure that she still has a future?

Mister Tender's Girl is a first-rate novel of suspense that doesn't rely on its ripped-from-the-headlines origins for cheap thrills. Not only will readers want to find out who's taunting Alice, they'll want her to be at peace in a world that fetishizes violence in all its lurid detail. With its fierce heroine and surprises at every turn, Mister Tender's Girl is a thriller to devour. --Frank Brasile, librarian

Discover: A character from a graphic novel is resurrected and torments the survivor of a savage attack in this intelligent and propulsive thriller.

Sourcebooks, $15.99, paperback, 400p., 9781492656500

Romance

The Last Wolf

by Maria Vale

In a shapeshifting romance unlike any other, newcomer Maria Vale combines her medieval expertise with a deep knowledge of lupine behavior for an unusually deep take on werewolf society.

Born with a crippled leg, Silver Nilsdottir has only one chance to escape a life of servitude as an unmated, submissive wolf. If she can save the life of Tiberius Leveraux--the half-Pack stranger who drags his bloodied, beaten body onto Pack land--and prove him worthy of life as a wolf, both of them will become full Pack members. However, failure means exile, and the pair face long odds.

In The Last Wolf, Vale flips the mythos. Rather than humans who turn canine, these wolves occasionally wear the guise of humans while retaining their wild instincts. Etiquette forbidding crotch-sniffing among humans mystifies them, and Pack members mate according to strength and social status.

Ti is half-Shifter, a wolf's natural enemy, feared and hated for their ability to control the change even during the full moon--unlike Silver, who rarely changes into "skin." When Ti does change, he makes for a "crappy wolf" in Silver's estimation, clumsy and inept. Despite their challenges, Ti and Silver bond and spark, but his deadly secret will threaten everything she holds dear.

Silver, the underdog, revels in her own wildness, and adventurous readers will find themselves rewarded with a wholly fresh, detailed take on a long-beloved paranormal subgenre. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager, Main Branch, Dayton Metro Library

Discover: In her first novel, Maria Vale offers a fresh and engrossing take on werewolf romance featuring a new breed that regards itself as more wolf than human.

Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99, mass market paperbound, 320p., 9781492661870

Food & Wine

Chinese Soul Food: A Friendly Guide for Homemade Dumplings, Stir-Fries, Soups, and More

by Hsiao-Ching Chou

Hsiao-Ching Chao is a former Seattle Post-Intelligencer food columnist and cooking instructor. In Chinese Soul Food, she celebrates the simplicity of Chinese cookery and distills many of its recipes into approachable steps that rely on pantry staples and classic food preparation techniques.

Chou begins with a primer about the differences between the many varieties of soy sauce sold in Asian markets. She also distinguishes between noodle types and suggests appropriate ingredient substitutes. This section comprises the first quarter of the book and is critical for understanding how to interpret the recipes that follow in subsequent sections.

A later chapter is devoted exclusively to dumpling making--including scratch-made dumpling wrappers (water and flour), fillings (vegetables and mostly pork) and cooking methods (boiled, steamed and pan-fried). Chou describes dim sum staple shao mai, an eight-ingredient pork-and-shrimp dumpling, as "probably the least challenging and most forgiving to make."

Many of the recipes reflect American Chinese restaurant fare and can be prepared easily in home kitchens: simple stir-fries with an assortment of meat and vegetables, an Asian spin on fried egg with toast, as well as Taiwanese red-braised beef noodle soup (Chou's go-to comfort food). She also includes a few guilty pleasures not Chinese in origin (Crab Rangoon and General Tso's Chicken) and a sample of Chinese New Year dishes with a few words about the traditions affiliated with each.

Chou's teaching style is conversational and encouraging. She patiently demonstrates her craft in a way that cooks of any experience level can follow easily. After all, she says, "My ultimate goal is to get you into the kitchen." The recipes in Chinese Soul Food more than accomplish this task. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: A former food writer and cooking instructor demonstrates the simplicity in preparing classic Chinese comfort foods at home.

Sasquatch Books, $24.95, hardcover, 256p., 9781632171238

Biography & Memoir

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death

by Maggie O'Farrell

If you need a frank reminder of life's sometimes terrifying fortuity, look no further than Maggie O'Farrell's chill-inducing memoir, I Am, I Am, I Am. As its subtitle suggests, the 17 essays that compose the book recount in precise, unwavering prose the too-close encounters with death O'Farrell and her loved ones have experienced in her 45 years. Whether it's an ominous exchange with a man who might be sizing her up as a murder victim or the lifelong effects of a debilitating illness, O'Farrell's brisk stories slip effortlessly over the borderline that separates life from death and back again.

O'Farrell (2010 Costa Novel Award winner for The Hand That First Held Mine) relates more than one near-drowning, a confrontation with a machete-wielding robber in Chile and a life-threatening bout of dehydration caused by an amoebic parasite in China. The longest essay, "Cerebellum," is a painfully observant account of O'Farrell's bout of encephalitis in 1980, at age eight, what she calls "the hinge on which my childhood swung." The physical aftermath of the illness has made her life "a series of cover-ups, smoke-screens and sleights of hand."

The lucid prose is equal to the gravity of O'Farrell's concerns: "We are, all of us, wandering about in a state of oblivion, borrowing our time, seizing our days, escaping our fates, slipping through loopholes, unaware of when the axe may fall," she writes. That's a near-perfect summary of the content of this sobering yet life-affirming book. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Discover: In a collection of striking essays, novelist Maggie O'Farrell describes the too-close encounters with death she and her loved ones have experienced.

Knopf, $25.95, hardcover, 304p., 9780525520221

Social Science

Text Me When You Get Home: The Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendship

by Kayleen Schaefer

There's no denying that female friendship is having a moment. In Text Me When You Get Home: The Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendship, journalist Kayleen Schaefer explains that the phenomenon owes something to the fact that women are getting married later--they have more time to cultivate friendships before submitting to the demands of family. Another factor: the midcentury march of women into the workplace got them out of the house and exposed to a vast menu of friend possibilities. By the 1980s, television networks recognized that women's friendships had marketing promise, leading to hit shows like The Golden Girls and Designing Women, which parted the waters for gal pal extravaganzas like Sex and the City and, more recently, Girls and Broad City.

Schaefer uses her journalistic chops to cover this and other ground, and to solicit fizzy insights about friendship from female authors, entrepreneurs and entertainers. She also discusses her personal path to female-friendship evangelism, which took a while: hell-bent to succeed in the male-dominated world of magazine writing, the younger Schaefer felt that friendships with women would ghettoize her--"I would have yanked out all of my eyelashes before I'd go to a girls' night." Now she considers her female friends her lifeblood and is wholly committed to the historically new idea that "our friends are not our second choices" over family. The misleadingly titled Text Me When You Get Home is a quick but nutritive read. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and author

Discover: Part social history, part personal narrative, Text Me When You Get Home is a Valentine to female friendship.

Dutton, $24, hardcover, 288p., 9781101986127

Essays & Criticism

Feel Free: Essays

by Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith (Swing Time) claims to be a little anxious about whether she is making a fool of herself. "I have no real qualifications to write as I do. Not a philosopher or sociologist, not a real professor of literature or film, not a political scientist, professional music critic or trained journalist... no MFA... no PhD." It doesn't matter. Her own well-educated and sensitive responses to whatever she observes are enough.

She has an open curiosity about so many things, and writes like a charming and brilliant friend who is dying to confide her ideas and learn what others have to say. Despite her anxiety, she seems to treasure her own idiosyncratic and sometimes even naïve perspective, not wanting to censor herself too much. Writing sympathetically about John Berger's wish to demystify art, she says: "He urged us to throw aside the school-taught sensations of high culture anxiety and holy awe. They were to be replaced with a fresh and invigorating mix of skepticism and pleasure."

Smith considers movies and books and art, her childhood neighborhood, politics, Facebook, diary writing, death, her parents, Schopenhauer and public libraries. "Dance Lessons for Writers" is a collection of notes for writers on sets of dancers--Fred Astaire/Gene Kelly, Janet Jackson/Madonna/Beyonce, David Byrne/David Bowie. "For me the two forms are close to each other: I feel dance has something to tell me about what I do." Smith is one of the most skillful and enjoyable essayists working today, and there is plenty to discover, enjoy and argue with in these pages. --Sara Catterall

Discover: This is a substantial and enjoyable collection of recent essays by acclaimed British author Zadie Smith.

Penguin Press, $28, hardcover, 464p., 9781594206252

Science

The Spinning Magnet: The Electromagnetic Force that Created the Modern World--and Could Destroy It

by Alanna Mitchell

In The Spinning Magnet, science journalist Alanna Mitchell crafts a comprehensive history charting the discovery of Earth's electromagnetic field. The planet is a giant magnet spinning in space with two poles: north and south. Between them, "stretchy magnetic field lines" extend beyond the planet "where they interact with the magnetic fields of the sun and the galaxy" before reentering the Earth at the opposite pole in "unending, erratic loops." This force field protects Earth from harmful solar radiation and has mystified humans since ancient Greece. Even now, scientists worry about what will happen when--not if!--the poles reverse direction, as they have done hundreds of times over the centuries.

Mitchell's accounting of the studies of the earth and its forces is densely packed with historical data, like walking a timeline through a museum devoted to magnetism, electricity, geology and solar radiation. It is a slow read, yet one that leaves readers tingling with anticipation and a bit of anxiety as they learn the electromagnetic field is diminishing and has even started to reverse, in what is called the South Atlantic Anomaly. The last big reversal happened more than 700,000 years ago, so we are due for a change at any time, but will the modern world, with much of its infrastructure hooked to a global electric and technological grid, survive? Mitchell's excellent research provides the background to potential answers, but the future remains unwritten. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: A thorough investigation of the scientific discoveries surrounding the electromagnetic field and what might happen when this force field fails.

Dutton, $28, hardcover, 336p., 9781101985168

Children's & Young Adult

Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners

by Naomi Shihab Nye

"In our time/ voices cross the sea/ easily/ but sense is still difficult to come by."

In the introduction to her poetry collection Voices in the Air, poet, essayist, anthologist and novelist Naomi Shihab Nye wonders, "[W]as life always strange--just strange in different ways? Does speaking some of the strangeness help us survive it, even if we can't solve or change it?" Each reader will have to answer that question for her or himself, but Nye's nearly 100 poems will certainly help all of us survive the strangeness in our lives. With her trademark conversational style, she feels like the sister you wish you had: warm, curious and insightful. She writes for and about the people who have inspired her: Peter Matthiessen, Townes Van Zandt, Rosa Bonheur, Bruce Springsteen, Israeli poets, Palestinian journalists, eco-activists, wives of writers, daughters of poets, hairdressers. (Happily, she also includes short bios of each in the back material.)

The poems in this collection are suffused with humor and thoughtfulness. Nye, a National Book Award finalist (19 Varieties of Gazelle) and four-time Pushcart Prize recipient, is prolific and varied in her work. Her range is wide: short short stories (There Is No Long Distance Now), children's fiction (The Turtle of Oman) and, of course, a whole lot of poetry for all ages (Fuel; Red Suitcase; Transfer). Never content simply to describe, Nye's "lushly layered" poems always seem to ask something of the reader.

There's a political edge to many of her poems, some more overt than others: "Just in case justice suddenly walks into the room and says,/ Yes I'm finally here sorry for the delay./ Tell me where to sign." Teen readers will love the gentle intensity of Nye's words and messages and the accessibility of her poetry. Beautiful. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: National Book Award finalist Naomi Shihab Nye's smart and accessible collection of poetry asks teen readers to listen to all the voices--past and present--"floating around out there."

Greenwillow/HarperCollins, $17.99, hardcover, 208p., ages 13-up, 9780062691842

Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli

by Kyo Maclear , illust. by Julie Morstad

Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad (Julia, Child) team up once again in a new picture book biography of revolutionary fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli. Born in 1890 to a strict, aristocratic family, Elsa's home is "dark and gray." Her older sister, Beatrice, is "Mamma's favorite," because she is "bella" (beautiful), while the disappointing Elsa can only be considered "brutta" (ugly). Elsa, ignored but surrounded by the beautiful colors of Rome, grows up with a vivid imagination and appreciation for the beauty in everyday items: "I am an explorer, a circus performer, and even the night sky. Dress up. Pretend. Make believe. The world feels brighter." As an adult, Elsa leaves home to travel the world, braving rejection and poverty to create her groundbreaking and modern fashion. "Boundless, unstoppable," she experiments with unusual fabric combinations, colors and shapes. Lace and leather, wool and cellophane, "WHY NOT a shoe on my head, a coat with many drawers, a lobster dress?" Overcoming doubts, Elsa creates fashion that is also art and, at the "late-blooming" age of 37, her innovations take the fashion world by storm.

Morstad's (When Green Becomes Tomatoes) lush illustrations match Maclear's enlightening narrative. Using liquid watercolor, gouache and pencil crayons in an early 20th-century stencil treatment called pochoir, her illustrations rise and fall with Elsa's emotional and artistic journey, some pages spare and gray, others a riot of color. For readers who want to go deeper, the back matter includes an author and illustrator note, endnotes, sources and further reading. Together Maclear and Morstad have created a picture book that, like Elsa's art, is "daring, different, and whole" and that reminds us that "together, we BLOOM and BLOOM." --Jennifer Oleinik, freelance writer and editor

Discover: This winsome picture book explores the life of revolutionary fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, from insecure child to inspirational artist.

HarperCollins, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780062447616

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Publisher: Evil Eye Concepts, Inc.  

Pub Date:
November 7, 2017

ISBN:
9781945920561

List Price: $2.99

 

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