Mantel’s body of work spanned memoir, short stories, essays — and, of course , historical fiction. Here’s a guide to her writing.
The British novelist Hilary Mantel, who died on Thursday at age 70, left a wide-ranging plus hard-to-classify body of work that encompassed memoir, story collections, contemporary novels and brilliant, querulous literary essays. But she was most celebrated for her work as a historical novelist, covering subjects from the French Revolution to the Protestant Reformation — especially in her Wolf Hall trilogy, about Thomas Cromwell’s role as Henry VIII’s chief fixer and enforcer. Writing with her usual spiky language and rich immediacy of detail, she reinvigorated a genre that had long been ridiculed as “relentlessly uncontemporary and easy to caricature, filled with mothballed characters who wear costumes rather than clothes, use words like ‘Prithee, ’” as the novelist Jonathan Lee wrote in a recent essay .
Mantel won the Booker Prize twice — first for “Wolf Hall, ” which, as our critic Janet Maslin wrote, “turned the phlegmatic villain Thomas Cromwell into the best-drawn figure and easily mixed 16th-century ambience with timeless bitchery” — and then for its sequel, “Bring Up the Bodies. ”
Here is a selection of The New York Times’s coverage of Mantel over the years, along with some of her own writing for the newspaper.
This fictional portrait of Henry VIII’s scheming aide Thomas Cromwell — the first volume of Mantel’s celebrated trilogy — won the Booker Prize in 2009. “‘Wolf Hall’ has epic scale but lyric texture. Its 500-plus pages turn quickly, winged and falconlike, ” Christopher Benfey wrote in his review.
The second installment in the trilogy, this book finds Cromwell coping with Henry VIII’s tumultuous marriage to Anne Boleyn as Jane Seymour rises in the king’s estimation. “The wonder of Ms. Mantel’s retelling is that she makes these events fresh plus terrifying all over again, ” Janet Maslin wrote in her review.
The “triumphant capstone” to the series, as our former critic Parul Sehgal called it, begins in 1536, with the 50-year-old Cromwell “rich beyond all his imagining and very much alone. ” In order to finish the 800-page book, Mantel imposed a “punishing schedule” on herself, Alexandra Alter wrote in a 2020 profile , and afterward decided that “she’s done with historical fictional and plans to focus on composing plays. ”
This collection of work from The London Review of Books contains Mantel’s the majority of incendiary essay, “Royal Bodies, ” which compared Prince William’s wife, Catherine, to a plastic doll. Fernanda Eberstadt, who reviewed the guide for us, wrote that “actually the essay’s most incendiary moment is when Mantel, at a Buckingham Palace reception, finds herself staring at the queen: ‘I passed my eyes over her as a cannibal views his dinner, my gaze sharp enough to pick the meat off the girl bones. ’”
Mantel’s seventh novel, and her second to be published in the United States, follows the adult Carmel McBain, who, in a “Proustian time-warp experience, ” Margaret Atwood wrote in her evaluation, falls down a rabbit hole of memories associated with her Catholic childhood and coming-of-age. “This is Carmel’s story, ” Atwood published, “but it is that of her generation as well: girls at the end of the ’60s, caught between two sets of values, who had the pill but still ironed their boyfriends’ shirts. ”
Mantel’s memoir of her “tough childhood and a serious illness, ” our reviewer said, “does not reassure. It scalds. ” The eldest child associated with poor Irish Catholic parents living outside Manchester, Mantel suffered fevers and “the crippling tedium and unintelligible torments of a rough Catholic primary school, ” and was separated from the girl father at a young age. When she was 20 doctors diagnosed her chronic pain as “a bad case of female overambition” — a decade later, she discovered it was endometriosis. “Hers are very vital ghosts, ” our own reviewer wrote. “What she has done is to invite us into their unquiet company. ”
First published in Britain in 2003, the same year she published “Giving In the Ghost, ” this variety of stories echoes many of the preoccupations of that memoir, following children and adolescents in midcentury northwest England who are “at odds with their families, neighbors and schools, ” the reviewer said, “striving to decipher the unspoken, and often hindered more than helped by cleverness and curiosity. … These stories hold worlds as wide as those of her longest novels. ”
In this interview, brimming with marvelous, craggy detail about creating and reading, Mantel told The Times that the best part of working on a book was “the moment, at about the three-quarter point, where you see your way right through to the end: as if lights had flooded an unlit road. But the pleasure is double-edged, because from this point you’re going to work inhuman hours, not caring about your health or your human relationships; you’re just going to head down that road like a charging bull. ”
Shortly before “The Mirror as well as the Light” was published, Mantel spoke with The Times about the “Wolf Hall” trilogy. “Once those voices begin, ” said Mantel, who had been fascinated by the life of Thomas Cromwell since she was a child, “it’s like having the radio on in the background for 15 years. It never actually fades. ”
What is it like for an author to shepherd her story onto the stage? In 2015, Mantel had written about, as she put it, starting to “build a theater inside my head. ” This is an account of how the “Wolf Hall” novels made it in order to Stratford-on-Avon, then to Broadway. As she wrote: “Snipped from the record, processed into a novel, recycled into script, sieved through 10 drafts, through 20, they stick because they’re the best words. The dead are speaking to us, hand on our arm. ”
In 2012, Mantel contributed a tart, honest and witty essay about working as an English teacher in Botswana within the 1970s. She moved there with her geologist husband when she was 25, and she ended up in a classroom after another instructor failed to materialize. She wrote, “Today, my pupils from 1978 are never out of my thoughts: a boy called Justice, a girl called Tears. ”
In this novel, a woman tries to reconstruct her dead mother’s emotional history using a handful of objects — a pink kimono, a notebook along with cryptic scribblings. The story begins “warily, ” Mantel writes, “as if the business associated with storytelling might be an infringement of good manners. ”
“Barry Unsworth’s latest novel is a sad comedy of cheats and fools, ” Mantel wrote, “a story of unbounded beauty and blighted hopes, of multiple and layered betrayals, ‘a regression of falsehoods and deceptions going back through all the generations to the original agreement, God’s pact with Adam. ’”
“This is powerful material, and Ms. O’Brien has apparently decided the girl prose must rise to it. The reader may feel some initial queasiness, ” Mantel wrote. Her criticism is scalpel sharp, delivered with a crisp bedside manner.
In 1998, Mantel cut to the chase in the first line of her review of Mary Gordon’s novel, “Spending”: “Sex, art, money: That’s what it’s all about, ” she wrote. “So we learn in the neatly chiseled opening sentences of Mary Gordon’s new novel. Add in death and we would have a ferocious quaternity to frame the particular action. ”
Longest single-volume book in the world goes on sale – and is impossible to read
The 21, 450-page volume of manga series One Piece is physically unreadable, to highlight how comics now exist as commodities
A limited edition single volume of the long-running manga One Piece is being billed as the longest book in existence.
At 21, 450 pages, it is physically impossible to see, making it less of a book and more of a sculpture.
Priced at €1, 900 (£1, 640), the book isn’t credited to Eiichiro Oda, the writer and artist behind One Piece, which has been serialised in Japanese magazine Shōnen Jump every week since 1997. It is being sold instead as the work of Ilan Manouach, the multidisciplinary artist who has designed the particular limited edition volume, which is titled ONEPIECE.
Manouach printed out the Japanese digital edition of One Piece plus bound it together, treating the comic not as a book but as “sculptural material”, according to the book/ artwork’s French publisher JBE .
A spokesperson for JBE told the Guardian that ONEPIECE is an “unreadable sculpture that takes the shape of a guide – the largest one to date in page numbers and spine width – that will materialises the ecosystem associated with online dissemination of comics. ” Whatever it is classed as, there certainly seems to be a market for ONEPIECE – the limited edition run of 50 copies sold out within days of its release on 7 September.
Manouach’s piece came about because of the “profusion of available online content and the rampant digitisation of the comics industry” which “challenges the state-of-the-art of comics craftsmanship”, according to his publisher. “Ilan Manouach’s ONEPIECE proposes to shift the understanding of digital comics from a qualitative examination of the formal possibilities of digital comics to a quantitative reappraisal of ‘comics as Big Data’. ”
JBE also described comics as “dual objects”, having a “use value” for readers and an “exchange value” for collectors. In creating a book you cannot read, Manouach apparently wanted to highlight the way comics can be found as both commodity plus literature. It’s a theory that the comics industry itself has already embraced — one company, CGC , offers a service where it grades customers’ comics and encases them in protective plastic.
When asked if Eiichiro Oda had been involved or consulted about the creation associated with ONEPIECE, and if there were any copyright considerations, JBE’s spokesperson said: “This piece is about Manouach’s work around ecosystems of comics, here as a sculptor who uses online dissemination as source material, not reading copyrighted content material. ” There could be no infringement of copyright, the author believes, because it is physically difficult to read the book.
Keita Murano, a member of the international rights staff at Shueisha, the Japanese publisher of Oda’s manga, confirmed that his company had not been consulted about the JBE guide. He said: “The product you mentioned is not official. We don’t give permission to them. Our licensee within France which publishes One Piece is the publisher Glénat. ”
Eiichiro Oda may not be getting any kind of royalties from the publication of ONEPIECE, but his comic series have already made him the richest manga creator of all time, with an estimated net worth of around $200m. His original One Item manga is listed by the Guinness Book of Records as having the most copies published for the same comic book series by a single author, with more than 416m copies printed to date.
The particular sale of the ONEPIECE sculpture isn’t the first time that the art world has made lots of money from the comics world – pop artist Roy Lichtenstein built a career on it, with his monumental canvases copied directly from existing comics: Whaam! (1963), lifted from a panel in DC’s All-American Men of War from the previous year, while Sleeping Girl – which last sold for $44. 8m 10 years ago – was based on an illustration from another DC comic, in issue 105 of Girls’ Romances .
Now that the kids are back in school and the nights are getting longer, it’s time to think about what to read this fall. Here are a few brand new titles to check out:
When Abdulrazak Gurnah won the Nobel Prize in literature last year, most Americans had never read anything by this fascinating author.
Born in 1948 in Tanzania, Gurnah fled to England after the 1964 uprising in Zanzibar. Over the years, he’s written 10 critically-acclaimed novels.
The latest, “Afterlives” (Riverhead), offers an intimate look at village life within East Africa during the period of German colonialism at the start of the 20th century. This is a book that reclaims forgotten history and honors lost people in a way that’s heartbreaking and revelatory.
Maggie O’Farrell’s novel “Hamnet, ” about the death of William Shakespeare’s only son, was one of the best books of 2020.
Now O’Farrell is back with “The Marriage Portrait” (Knopf), a terrific historical thriller that drops us into the panicked mind of a teenage girl who knows her husband is plotting to kill her.
The girl is Lucrezia de’ Medici, immortalized by Robert Browning’s poem, “My Last Duchess. ” History tells us she died in 1561 before she could celebrate her first anniversary, but O’Farrell will have you guessing ’til the very last page.
Mary Rodgers, who died in 2014, lived the girl life in the melodies of American musical theater. She was Richard Rodgers’ daughter, composer Adam Guettel’s mother, and Stephen Sondheim’s friend – and she was an accomplished composer and author herself.
The 2022 National Book Awards Longlist: Translated Literature
This week, The New Yorker will be announcing the longlists for the 2022 National Book Honours. This morning, we presented the ten contenders in the category of Young People’s Literature . Check back tomorrow morning for Poetry.
Yoko Tawada, who was born in Tokyo and lives in Berlin, has written some of her books in Japanese and others in German. Tawada, Julian Lucas writes in his review of her latest novel, “Scattered All Over the Earth, ” has been called “the world’s leading practitioner of ‘exophonic literature, ’ or writing in a foreign language, a description that her unique practice has made applicable to nearly all her work. ” In “Scattered All Over the Earth, ” a climate refugee from Japan—a country that, along with her mother tongue, no longer exists—teaches a language she has invented to young immigrants in Denmark. The particular novel, the first in a planned trilogy, explores the porousness of borders, climate change, language, and forced migration.
“Scattered All around the Earth” is one of two dystopian novels on the longlist for this year’s National Book Award for Translated Books, along with Olga Ravn’s “The Employees, ” a workplace satire set aboard a twenty-second-century spaceship. Other nominated works explore mysticism, mythology, and religion across the centuries: “Ibn Arabi’s Small Death, ” by Mohammed Hasan Alwan, fictionalizes the life of the Sufi master, poet, and philosopher Ibn Arabi; Olga Tokarczuk’s “The Books of Jacob” is based on the eighteenth-century historical figure Jacob Frank, whose charisma led many to believe he was the Messiah; and Scholastique Mukasonga’s “Kibogo” depicts the clash between Rwanda’s core mythologies plus attempts by colonialists and Christian missionaries to suppress and erase them. The ten books being considered for the award were originally published in nine different languages. Six honorees have previously been recognized by the particular National Book Awards. The full list is below.
Mohammed Hasan Alwan , “ Ibn Arabi’s Small Dying ” Translated, from the Arabic, by William M. Hutchins Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin
The judges for the category this year are Nick Buzanski, the general manager of Books Are Magic; Veronica Esposito, a writer plus mental-health clinician in training; Ann Goldstein, who has translated the work of Elena Ferrante and more than twenty other writers into English; Rohan Kamicheril, the editor and founder of the cooking Web site Tiffin; and Russell Scott Valentino, who teaches Slavic and Eastern European literature at Indiana University Bloomington. ♦
A family flees the violence of Kingston, Jamaica, for Miami in the 1970s, only to find an uphill battle against racism, economic woes and catastrophic storms. The characters face long odds with resilience and humor.
Charlie Reade had to grow up quickly. After his mother was killed in a car accident, his father became an alcoholic, leaving Charlie to steady them both. Once he meets a nearby eccentric, he’s granted access to an alternate universe. This novel, King says, is the result of asking himself, “What could you write that would make you happy? ”
O’Farrell’s previous novel, “Hamnet, ” imagined the life of Shakespeare and his wife. In this new one, set in 16th-century Italy, she again uses creative license to fill the gaps in our knowledge about a real historical character: the unhappily married (and possibly poisoned) Lucrezia de’Medici.
Set in Cuba in the late 1990s, “Sacrificio” centers on a group of young Cuban counter-revolutionaries that oppose the Castro government and are planning an attack in order to coincide with Pope John Paul II’s visit. The narrative, which blends elements of spy fiction and political thrillers, explores the H. I. V. crisis, poverty and the failures of the Castro government.
Homes’s first novel in 10 years is set in the wake of Barack Obama’s victory in the 2008 presidential election. The Big Guy, a Republican donor upset with the outcome, plots his next political move while his family strains under its own dysfunctional dynamics and those of the country at large.
Ma’s debut novel, “Severance, ” was a widely acclaimed, prizewinning success. It was a dark and satirical story of office life (yet not the source material for “Severance, ” the dark and satirical story of office life on Apple TV+). She follows that effort with this eclectic group of eight fantasy-tinged short stories.
An unnamed white man tries to outrun his history: He strips himself of identifying factors, packs an envelope of cash and heads to a far-off place where he feels he can begin again. As he settles into a new existence, traces of his past are revealed as others in his new community make sense of him, a mysterious interloper with uncertain motives.
This new collection zeros in on quiet, intimate memories: Couples come apart and are knitted back together; a dog is stirred by the scent of the man who abandoned her. In the title tale, nurses trade stories associated with past patients — those who survived and those they lost — and find shared comfort against a background of grief.
After her husband is sent to prison for fraud, Suzanne divorces him plus remakes her life in a middle-coast Cape Cod town. But as she carries on with her new lifestyle, she makes a choice with profound consequences not only for herself and her ex, but for the other people in his life — their son, his new wife and even his mother.
Workman, Sept. 20
The Essential Stephen King
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A prolific author. Stephen King published his 1st novel, “Carrie, ” in 1974. Since then, he has written more than 70 books, including novels, nonfiction and story collections. If you’ve never read his work, here are a few suggestions to get you started:
“Salem’s Lot. ” The best-selling vampire novel is the perfect King classic, containing many of the most recognizable elements of his style: a writer protagonist, a Maine town full of idiosyncratic characters and memorably creepy setpieces.
“The Stand. ” In this 1, 000-plus page book, a superflu kills most of Earth’s population . Once the book’s scariest elements subside, it shifts into a story about survival, friendship and sacrifice, leading to a rich, post-apocalyptic clash between the forces of good and evil.
“Different Seasons. ” Though he’s most famous for his horror novels and stories, King has written a significant amount outside of the genre. “Different Months, ” for example , is a collection of four novellas , and three of them have nothing to do with the particular supernatural.
“Pet Sematary. ” A young family moves into a new house, and terrible things happen after they discover an ancient burial ground in the woods. Contrary to what you might think of King’s novels, many of them do end with a sense of optimism. Not this one, though. It’s as grim as he’s ever gotten.
“Misery. ” Paul Sheldon, the novel’s protagonist , is a writer who else finds himself in a particularly horrifying situation — held captive, post-car accident, by an obsessed fan who wants him to write a book just for her. The subtext is clear: Sometimes, fame can feel like a trap.
Greer’s “Less, ” a comic novel that won the Pulitzer Prize, followed the particular minor novelist Arthur Less as he traveled the world to attend a string of mostly minor literary events. In this sequel, he takes a road trip across America.
A beloved Strout heroine takes on the pandemic. This novel, a follow-up to “My Name Is Lucy Barton” and “Oh William!, ” finds the title character in the early phase of lockdown, as her ex-husband persuades her to leave New York to stay along with him in Maine. From there, they build a tenuous bond, helping their children navigate crises and watching the country grapple with political and social upheaval.
Xie’s second collection, after the impressive plus intimate “Eye Level” (2018), centers on the human costs and historical ripples associated with China’s Cultural Revolution, which claimed her grandmother as a victim: “The brutalized. The hanged. The stoned. The lashed. The suicides. The betrayed. The paranoid. The disappeared. ”
Growing up in Karachi, Maryam and Zahra maintained a close relationship despite their differences in temperament and background. Years later, as adults in London, their friendship and values are tested as they navigate new ethical territory.
A woman in the girl 30s returns home to live with her widowed mother, causing an uproar by bringing her girlfriend to live there, too. As mother and daughter renegotiate their relationship, the novel raises questions about autonomy, justice and freedom — and the duty we owe to our loved ones.
Previously published in order to acclaim in Riley’s home country, England, “First Love” plus “My Phantoms” now arrive in the United States. Both deal with toxic family relationships, including those between mother and daughter, the central concern of “My Phantoms, ” a book The particular Guardian said was full of “horrible, funny, uncomfortable truthfulness. ”
Serpell’s epic debut novel, “The Old Drift, ” followed families across generations in Zambia, stretching from the colonial era into the future. Now she tells the story of Cassandra, a woman already haunted by the disappearance of her younger brother when the girl meets a mysterious man who shares her brother’s name.
Atkinson is perhaps best known for her novel “Life After Life, ” which followed the British woman who is continuously resurrected to encounter different possible fates. Her new novel is set in 1920s London, and features a character named Nellie Coker seeking a foothold in Soho’s nightclub scene for her six children.
Life is quiet and constrained for Bird and his father, a former university librarian, as they adapt to authoritarian rules: Officials are permitted to displace the children associated with dissidents, and books seen as “unpatriotic” are being removed from shelves — including some by Bird’s mother, a Chinese American poet who left the family when he was a child.
The plague breaks out on a fictional Mediterranean island during the Ottoman era, exacerbating tensions between its Muslim and Greek Orthodox communities. After a murder leads to a strict quarantine, the island is cut off from the rest of the world — and must save itself from the threats boiling over.
Millet, a prolific fiction writer, has also worked at the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Ariz., for more than 20 years . “Dinosaurs” poses questions about the power of community in the face of environmental danger. In it, a heartbroken man called Gil walks from Nyc to Arizona. Once out West, he becomes entangled having a neighboring family whose lives he can witness through the glass walls of their house.
This is the first story collection by the legendary comic book author Moore, best known for his acclaimed series “Watchmen. ” Drawing together decades of writing, these stories follow concubines who fall in love, paranormal researchers and an older guy forced to confront his past.
The author associated with “The Poisonwood Bible” and “Flight Behavior” imagines “David Copperfield” in Appalachia on her latest novel. “A kid is a terrible thing to be, ” says the narrator, the son of a teenage single mother who battles foster care, addiction plus daunting odds in this tale of survival.
In his 15th novel, the author of “The World According to Garp, ” “The Cider House Rules” and “A Prayer for Owen Meany” tells the story of a slalom skier who becomes pregnant at a competition in Aspen, Colo. Years later, her child revisits the site of the competition and encounters plenty of family history, secrets and ghosts.
It’s been nine years since Saunders published a collection of short stories, the form that made him famous. (In the interim came his first novel, “Lincoln in the Bardo. ”) As usual with Saunders, several of these stories — which includes “Ghoul” and “Love Letter” — originally appeared in The New Yorker.
When readers meet Chen Tien-Hong, he’s just been released from prison after killing his boyfriend. From there, he returns to his hometown — a small village in Taiwan that he escaped for Berlin years earlier, fleeing family expectations and seeking acceptance as a gay man. Details about their childhood — and the circumstances of his lover’s death — come into focus over the course of this debut novel. “I always wanted to write the ‘ghost’ story, ” the author notes in an afterword. “But what exactly is a ‘ghost’? ”
McCarthy’s first novels since “The Road” in 2006 are two separate but intertwined books that will be released roughly a month apart from one another. They tell the story of Bobby and Alicia Western, a brother and sister tormented by the legacy of their father, a physicist which helped develop the atom bomb, and by their love for and obsession with one another.
Many of Everett’s novels (among them, “Erasure” and “The Trees”) slyly deconstruct American sins and pieties around race and other subjects. In his latest, a math professor becomes entangled with an “aspiring villain” who wants to break into Fort Knox in order to steal an empty shoe box.
Braverman, a champion long-distance dog-sledder and author of the memoir “Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube, ” draws on her knowledge of endurance sports and harsh climates in her debut book, “Small Game, ” about a survival reality show where things — surprise — go horribly awry.
What if cities were sentient? That’s the premise of Jemisin’s “Great Cities” urban fantasy series, which began in 2020 with “The City We Became. ” In the girl latest, the human avatars who also embody the soul of New York City must fight a mysterious enemy, the Woman in White. To stop her from destroying the city, they team up with the other great cities of the world.
Three adult siblings converge for the first Christmas after their own mother’s death, as they try to manage tensions and figure out what their family life means now. Meanwhile, a young girl in town goes missing, leaving the siblings to put aside their problems and support the girl’s family.
A reconstruction of the American air attack on Tokyo the night of March 9, 1945, which flattened 16 square miles of the city and killed 100, 000 men, women and children. The book draws on first-person interviews with American pilots and Japanese survivors and examines the moral implications of the shift to deliberately targeting civilians.
Building on his award-winning reporting for The New Yorker, including a long piece from on the ground at the Capitol riots on Jan. 6, 2021, Mogelson’s book is a simultaneously broad and granular look at “accelerating civic breakdown” in the United States.
This is the first book by Aviv, an acclaimed staff writer for that New Yorker. She once said : “I think I’m drawn to stories where I feel amazed and bewildered by the way people behave, and the way the human mind works. ” Incorporating deeply reported portraits associated with several people, including herself, Aviv’s debut considers the fundamental ways in which we do — and don’t — understand mental disorders.
Bissinger, the author of “Friday Night Lights, ” unspools the story of a football game played on Dec. 24, 1944, between Marine regiments on Guadalcanal who were training for the particular Battle of Okinawa. Of the 65 men, many were college football stars. Almost a third would go on to either be drafted by or play in the N. F. L. — plus 15 would die at Okinawa.
With the midterm elections looming, the political activist Collins-Dexter’s essay collection is timely as well as pointed. In it, she argues that Democrats have taken Black voters for granted, and that the consequences of this mistake have already begun — and will accelerate.
An Oxford University scholar refocuses four centuries of American history on the Native perspective, including the fallacy of referring to the continent as the “New World”: New to whom? Even after the arrival of white settlers, Native populations flourished, Hamalainen shows, calling into question the idea of “colonial America, ” and highlighting many Native communities’ triumphs.
The acclaimed historian Hochschild’s latest book is a sweeping look at the years between World War I and the Roaring Twenties, when conscientious objectors to the war had been maltreated and conflicts over race and labor were at a high pitch. Hochschild draws direct lines among events of that time as well as the unrest of today.
In 2012, Quammen published “ Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic . ” A decade later, he’s produced this closely reported account of that pandemic, along with portraits of the scientists who scrambled — and scramble still — to fully realize and protect us against Covid-19.
Haberman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Times journalist, has covered Trump throughout her career. The book offers a wide-ranging look at what drives the former president and the cultural forces that allowed him in order to ascend.
In the vein of Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s “ Random Family , ” Dawidoff’s new book is a look at large and urgent American social problems through the details of one case and one community. Dawidoff, a native of New Haven, Conn., spent eight years in his hometown reporting for this book, which focuses on a murder and the subsequent conviction of a teenager, plus zooms out to examine the costs of social and racial inequality.
Mukherjee’s “ The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer ” is one of the most acclaimed science books from the past 20 years. Here, he offers a sweeping history of cells, from their discovery in the 1600s to our remarkable manipulations of them for medical purposes today.
The 1921 massacre in Tulsa, Okla., during which white mobs destroyed a prosperous Dark neighborhood, killing many of its residents, has lately received renewed attention from journalists and historians. Young approaches the subject as a native Oklahoman now living in Tulsa, and he argues that some tensions in the city remain the same a century later.
Greenidge, a historian at Tufts University, tells the story of the Grimkes, whose members included renowned white abolitionist sisters as well as slaveholders, shifting attention to the particular siblings’ overlooked — plus impressively accomplished — Black relatives, in a biography that will stretches from the 18th to the 20th century.
Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).
It’s a joy to read a few pages in my library in the evenings. Weekend reading outside is also wonderful. But I think I most love a reading lunch with my wife, because we get to chat about what we’ve just read over coffee.
What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?
I hope people have heard of Keith Houston’s book “The Book. ” It’s a great book about the history of books.
What book should everybody read before the age of 21?
“Peanuts” collections. Any of them. All of them. Often.
What book should nobody read until the age of 40?
I would never age out the curious reader. Instead, I’d ask someone in midlife to go back and reread their “Peanuts” collections. Any of them. All of them. Often.
Which writers — novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets — working today do you admire most?
I love the abundance of curiosity and invitations to think in a new way found in the writings of Jacqueline Woodson, Carlo Rovelli and Susan Orlean.
What book most influenced your decision to become an illustrator or contributed to your artistic development?
In the fall of 1987 one of the book vendors on Astor Place said he had something for me and pulled out a battered, old copy associated with “The Cartoon Treasury, ” edited by Lucy Black Johnson and Pyke Johnson Jr. (1955). It only cost a few bucks (which is how many I had at the time). I bought it, took it back to my apartment plus did not leave for a week. So many glorious days and nights reading, rereading plus trying to copy the drawing styles I found on the pages. Searle! Sempé! Steinberg! Kovarsky! So many greats! And the angles! The pointy noses, the funny shoes! The exaggerated yet inevitable designs of places and things! And those were just the drawings — the ideas behind the particular gags were often subtle and occasionally sublime.
I still pick up my copy for inspiration.
Exactly what contemporary picture book writers and illustrators do you especially recommend?
This is tough, because the picture book world is populated by so many talented practitioners and I’m a fan of anyone who writes and draws to children, not at all of them.
So , while this is by no means an exhaustive list, I particularly appreciate the work of Dan Santat, LeUyen Pham, Kadir Nelson, Sandra Boynton, Laurie Keller, Oliver Jeffers, Andrea Tsurumi, Christian Robinson and Melissa Sweet.
What’s the last book you read that made a person laugh?
Dani Rabaiotti and Nick Caruso’s “Does It Fart? ” is a gas.
What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?
The Himalayas are an accumulation of marine life.
What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
I’m a sucker for a good book about Genghis Khan.
Which subjects do you wish more authors would write about?
Which genres would you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?
I wish I was better at reading through poetry, as it shares so many similarities with picture book writing in terms of utilizing simple, specific yet elusive language. My son has been making reading suggestions and I’m working on it.
How do you organize your books?
My library has art and illustration collections at eye-level, image books below, history and science above. There’s another shelf off to the side for philosophy and humor, which I see as being the same category.
As for exactly what I’m planning on reading, that’s a mix of purchased, library plus borrowed books stacked higgledy-piggledy in the living room.
How have your reading tastes changed over time?
In my 20s and 30s I read fiction (in prose and comix), bouncing from Iris Murdoch to “Spiderman. ” Over the last quarter-century I’ve gravitated toward nonfiction (also in prose and comix). The only constant has been example, picture books and “Peanuts. ”
What’s the last book you recommended to a member of your family?
I have recently gifted a few copies of Kate Murphy’s “You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters” because it was so fascinating. Also saying, “Let ME tell you ALLLLLL about what I’VE learned about listening! ” seems off.
You’re organizing the literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?
This is not just a question of whom I’d like to meet, but when in their lives I’d like to meet them.
One of the joys of befriending people like Norton Juster and John G. Morris later in their lives was that they had accumulated, retold and refined many wonderful stories plus insights. Conversely, I get a kick out of the surprising ideas that burst forth through my youngest pals.
With that in mind, let’s invite two 6-year-olds, Iris Murdoch and Michel de Montaigne, along with a 66-year-old Epicurus.
And, let’s make it a picnic in Epi’s garden.
If you were to write something besides picture books, what would you write?
Nothing is off the drawing table. I’m currently writing the libretto for my second short opera.
Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?
Somewhere along the line I liberated myself from the idea that I have to finish every book I start, instantly enlarging my exposure to new kinds of books.
A book doesn’t have to be to my taste to be “good. ”
What do you plan to read next?
I am just about to start Jorge Cham and Daniel Whiteson’s “We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe. ” I really enjoyed the breezy yet content-heavy look at physics in “Frequently Asked Questions About the Universe. ” I hope this one will be a romp as well.
Welcome to ABC Arts’ monthly book column. Each month, we present a shortlist of new releases read and recommended by The Bookshelf’s Kate Evans and The Book Show’s Claire Nichols and Sarah L’Estrange — alongside freelance writers and book reviewers. This month, we’re sharing recommendations from Declan Fry.
All four read voraciously and widely, and the only guidelines we gave them were: make it a new release; make it something you think is great.
The resulting list includes the latest from the bestselling author of Booker Prize finalist Room (later adapted by the author into a movie starring Brie Larson); a sci-fi debut set in Melbourne 60 years into the future; a meditation on queer, interracial love in 50s Australia; and two essay collections — one about the power dynamics inherent in translation, and the other the celebration of the work of writers of colour from Australia.
Haven by Emma Donoghue
Picador (Pan Macmillan)
Picture three men in a boat, laden with provisions, heading towards an island that one of them has seen in a dream. They carry with them a leather sail, crocks full of oats, a pouch of salt, fishhooks, a knife, a mallet for cracking stones, and seeds to plant for an imagined future. There is no room for spare clothes, for the comfort of a jar of honey, even for that bone pipe the youngest man plays. There is room, however , for vellum, holy water and blessed wafers, because these men are monks, within seventh-century Ireland.
Writer Emma Donoghue – whose earlier books include The Wonder, Astray, and Room – has created an entire world in this trio of males. Artt is the leader and visionary, driven to create a pure and holy place. Trian is not yet 20, always hungry, twitching with energy, desperate to be worthy. Cormac is an older man; he’d been a pagan, had a family who died in a plague; he’s an injured soldier, a convert and a man with a story for every occasion.
These three come upon the skellig: a stark rocky island with sheer cliffs and little water, honeycombed with puffin burrows, encircled by shearwaters and other birds, screeching with life. There, all the dramas of a community in miniature are played out: a fellowship associated with unequals, with a leader who’s a zealot and two followers working themselves to the bone.
Donoghue shifts between the fascinating day-to-day details of survival – the fire horn Cormac carries, to preserve embers; splitting rocks to make a dry wall; finding enough food – as well as the dynamics of the group. We need shelter, two of them say; no, we must build an altar, says the leader.
The tensions rise, the particular birds are slaughtered, and the weather is changing. An ostensibly tiny story into which so much can be go through. KE
Marlo by Jay Carmichael
Finding love was not easy in 50s Australia if you were a gay man. Christopher, the protagonist of Marlo, The writer Carmichael’s second novel, must break into the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria (simply referred to as the “Gardens”) at night to visit a known beat — which police might be staking out to entrap unsuspecting visitors, or where homophobic thugs might be waiting instead (sometimes they were one and the same).
Homosexuality was a criminal offence in Australia at this time, and as Carmichael explains in his epilogue, the 50s were a period of increasing hostility, stigma, surveillance and pathologisation of homosexuality, with people being convicted for what was called “unnatural offences”.
At the opening of the novel, Christopher offers escaped the socially conservative coastal Gippsland town of Marlo for Melbourne to start a new life. But he discovers that even in a big city, life is constrained for those who don’t conform to heterosexual expectations. Despite not having a name for his urges, this individual lives in constant fear of being found out. Christopher desperately wants a private oasis where he can be free: “I could not protect myself in the outside globe from the people who didn’t want me to exist in it. ”
A chance encounter in the Gardens leads him to Morgan, a good Aboriginal man with whom he bonds; but it’s an uneasy bond, as they can only show affection under the cover of night, and even a simple trip to the zoo attracts police attention. Christopher finds it hard to speak his mind and say what he wants, while Morgan is also dealing with the violence of racism.
In the epilogue, we’re reminded that homosexual relationships are largely absent from the historical record of the 50s, but Carmichael brings them movingly to the fore in this short, atmospheric novel. My only complaint is that Marlo left me wanting more. SL
Against Disappearance: Essays on Memory
Dear reader, in recommending books to you, know that I only have 300 words to say whatever it is I wish to, and that part of me thinks maybe today I should just write the following three words 100 times: Read this book.
Against Disappearance comprises all 20 of the longlisted works from the 2021 Liminal and Pantera Press Non-Fiction Prize . There is a remarkable degree of shared imagery and overlapping concerns — especially around the right to maintain silence, to refuse. Pieces serendipitously connect to one another, and these connections make reading the book a pleasure, allowing the reader to wander, and to wonder, too, at how much might be made visible and how much concealed by the complexities of appearance, the particular violence of knowledge.
grace ugamay dulawan, describing the spectacle of colonisation and racism, writes about men who “took some of us on his arm to their country and put us not on a pedestal but our own arena in which we performed for a CAPTIVE audience […] I want to say I’m not EXQUISITE yet merely human”. dulawan is describing what it means to just be – neither as miracle nor as tragedy, not a star nor a martyr, not a trauma or a spectacle but something more: something ordinary, something alive plus real, something thoroughly unremarkable.
The final piece, by Frankey Chung-Kok-Lun, concludes the anthology on a painful but affirmative note, reminding us that no matter how much we have lost in the past few years – to COVID, to distance, to racism, to police violence, to intergenerational pain — we still have each other.
The endpapers, framed by a rectangle of black ink, invite the reader to consider exactly what might be, or have been – and, perhaps, to contribute their own thoughts. As Anwen Crawford wrote, in a book which incorporated a similar visual motif, “No document can make you manifest. ”
Hannah Wu writes in this volume, “The work of art becomes participatory, malleable; it constantly changes through the process of becoming encountered and passed on simply by others. ” We see that manifested in how Against Disappearance, under the editorship of Leah Jing McIntosh and Adolfo Aranjuez – aided by Danny Silva Soberano, Adalya Nash Hussein, Cher Tan, Shakira Hussein, Maddee Clark and Brian Castro – invites the reader in order to laugh, to rage, and to fight.
So here’s the message I want you to pass on to you: Read. This. Book. DF
Every Version associated with You by Grace Chan
Melbourne, 2080: Federation Square is gone – razed in American air strikes. The Yarra has dried up. But despite the soaring temperatures, tech fans are lining up outside a shop on La Trobe Street to be the first to get their hands on a “Neupod” – the latest development in immersive VR technology.
Tao-Yi and Navin are two of the people in that queue. Their heads are shaved (to improve the neural connection to the VR gear) and they have goggles and gloves to protect them from the pollution and heat. Back home, the Neupod will take them to the safer, cleaner digital world of Gaia, where they can work, shop, eat and party : all while appearing as the avatar of their choice.
As a speculative fiction novel, Every Version of You is cleverly done. The world Grace Chan has imagined, just two generations into the future, feels convincing plus terrifying.
But it’s as a character study that this book really shines. Tao-Yi in addition to Navin are several years into their relationship. She’s ambivalent about Gaia, and yearns for a deeper real-world connection to her depressive mother and the girl Chinese Malaysian heritage. Navin, on the other hand, is spending more and more time online. In the real world, he’s suffering from chronic health problems, but in Gaia, he is pain-free and even able to live to his full potential.
When the opportunity arrives to fully “upload” to Gaia ~ leaving the real world behind altogether – it drives the couple even further apart.
Chan masterfully explores science and the notion associated with self in one of the most assured debut novels I’ve read in a long time. I highly recommend it. CN
Violent Phenomena: 21 Essays on Translation
Tilted Axis Press
Taking its title from an observation philosopher Frantz Fanon made in 1961 (“Decolonisation is always a violent phenomenon”), Violent Phenomena asks questions about the power dynamics involved in translation. Who translates? How do we translate? These questions require time, reflection, and self-interrogation.
Given the history of colonialism, the relationship we have to language is invariably complicated. As Cairo-born literary translator Nariman Youssef and researcher Gitanjali Patel write in Violent Phenomena, “many translators regarding colour do not have a ‘heritage language’, or may be estranged from it as a result of colonial legacies, conflict, or assimilation pressures”. In the same essay, they write:
“Colonial acquisition has its rules and conventions. What is brought over is made to fit into the predetermined spaces involving labs, libraries and museums, its difference accentuated but its foreignness contained. These rules and conventions have been internalised by many in the West who are allowed to go through life with uncontested identities. Their curiosity about what lies beyond the realms of their own identities remains trapped within a scale of otherness: too foreign on one end, not foreign enough on the other. We see this in the exoticising sparkle around ‘discovering’ literature from places that have little representation in the anglophone literary sphere, as long as they contain the expected degree of foreignness; no more, no less. ”
Karachi writer Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi offers a similar sentiment in her essay within this collection, writing that “the idea of ‘decolonising translation’ seems, potentially, an oxymoron. What will we talk about next? Decolonising Colonialism? ”
The essays, selected by Dr Kavita Bhanot and Jeremy Tiang, cover a wide range of ideas, from Layla Benitez-James considering what happens when an “Oreo” – a Black person who “acts White” – encounters Proust, in Proust’s Oreo, through to Arab poet Mona Kareem questioning why the act of translation is so often heralded with saviour-complex language as a kind of “service for the Third World poet”, in Western Poets Kidnap Your Poems and Call Them Translations.
Formally inventive and thought-provoking, Chaotic Phenomena is timely together with impressive. DF