Winter with Knausgaard & Ali Smith, Cornwell Revisits Shakespeare, & More | Barbara’s Picks, Jan. 2018

Benjamin, Melanie. The Girls in the Picture. Delacorte. Jan. 2018. 448p. ISBN 9781101886809. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781101886816. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. LITERARY/HISTORICAL FICTION
Mary Pickford was full of the firsts: the first to have her name above the marquee, to win Academy Award for Best Actress in a Talkie, and to place her hand- and footprints in Grauman’s wet cement. Her friend and creative partner, Frances Marion, was a screenwriter famous for classics like Anna Christie and Dinner at Eight. Together, they’re Benjamin’s golden, glowing women in the pictures, struggling for power in a world dominated by men. From the New York Times best-selling author of The Swans of Fifth Avenue and The Aviator’s Wife; with a six- to eight-city tour.

Boot, Max. The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam. Liveright: Norton. Jan. 2018. 784p. ISBN 9780871409416. $35. HISTORY
Said unsettlingly to be the model for Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, CIA operative Edward Lansdale receives a revisionist biography from New York Times best-selling author Boot, the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Boot argues that Landsdale originated the idea of “hearts and mind” diplomacy in the Philippines, then carried it over to Vietnam, where it was quashed by the military’s fondness for troop buildups and falling bombs. Drawn on all-new declassified CIA material, this book offers a portrait of both Landsdale and 1950s–1960s American involvement in the Far East. With an 11-city tour to New York, Washington, DC, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Denver, and Philadelphia.

Cornwell, Bernard. Fools and Mortals. Harper. Jan. 2018. 384p. ISBN 9780062250872. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062250919. lrg. prnt. CD: HarperAudio. HISTORICAL FICTION
Having trod the mud of early England in his New York Times best-selling “Saxon Tales,” Cornwell leaps to the late 1500s to chronicle the first production of Shakespeare’s shimmering A Midsummer Night’s Dream, graced by that immortal proclamation from beloved troublemaker Puck, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” But instead of two troubled couples and the parallel king and queen of Athens and of the fairy world, Cornwell focuses on Shakespeare himself and his putative estranged younger brother, Richard, a struggling actor in Shakespeare’s company. Lord, what rivals these brothers be! With a 100,000-copy first printing.

Eggers, Dave. The Monk of Mokha. Knopf. Jan. 2018. 368p. ISBN 9781101947319. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101947326. lrg. prnt. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. LITERARY FICTION
Trust Eggers to write a novel of immediate political import yet surrounded (at least initially) by the warm glow of coffee. The son of Yemini immigrants living in San Francisco, 24-year-old Mokhtar Alkhanshali works as a doorman until he becomes interested in coffee and journeys to his parents’ homeland to learn more about its cultivation and help Yemeni farmers return their crops to the renown they once had. All’s well until the 2015 civil war breaks out, the U.S. embassy shuts its doors, and Mokhtar finds he’s a U.S. citizen trapped in the crosscurrents of sectarian violence. With author appearances in New York, San Francisco, and Seattle, and lots of publicity, of course.

Ferguson, Niall. The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook. Penguin Pr. Jan. 2018. 480p. ISBN 9780735222915. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780735222922. CD/downloadable: Penguin Audio. HISTORY
Traditionally, history has come from the “tower,” with events related from the perspective of rulers and military leaders; even when the lives of ordinary folks in the “square” are documented, that material comes from formal organizations like guilds and trade unions. Ferguson argues, however, that the fluid networks defining social media today have always existed and can deliver a fresh understanding of history, if only we know where to look. From ancient Roman cults to Freemasons to the revolutionaries of 1700s France and America, these networks are the real source of new ideas and movement forward. Currently Senior Fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, multi-award-winning historian Ferguson (Kissinger) picked the brains of nearby Silicon Valley smarties for this book. Positioned as a disrupter.

Harkaway, Nick. Gnomon. Knopf. Jan. 2018. 560p. ISBN 9781524732080. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9781524732097. LITERARY SF
In a world called Gnomon, dominated by the sort of high-tech government surveillance one might expect of edgy, ever-popular Harkaway (Tigerman), state inspector Mielikki Neith is asked to investigate when suspected dissident Diana Hunter dies in government custody. As she surveys the neural recordings, Mielikki discovers that Diana had sought to slow the investigation by unfurling the stories of a fantastic array of characters, ranging from an ancient Carthaginian alchemist to a lovesick Athenian financier to a London-based Ethiopian painter working on a boundary-breaking new video game. Diana herself begins emerging as a distinctive individual, and Mielikki starts asking questions that a loyal servant of the state probably shouldn’t ask. Literary-gilded dystopia from a frequently best-booked author; with a four-city tour to New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC, plus Facebook and Instagram campaigns.

Harris, Robert. Munich. Knopf. Jan. 2018. 304p. ISBN 9780525520269. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780525520276. lrg. prnt. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. HISTORICAL FICTION
Having excavated ancient Rome and the Papacy in recent titles, Harris returns to the territory of his first novel, the alt-history classic Fatherland. His new thriller is set in September 1938, at the time of the Munich Conference, and features two friends from 1920s Oxford now wrestling with the weighty issues of loyalty, conscience, and betrayal. In fact, they’re about to clash in an unexpected way, for British diplomatic up-and-comer Guy Legat serves as private secretary to placating Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, while German Foreign Office staffer Rikard von Holz secretly belongs to the anti-Hitler resistance. From a consistent strong seller for the publisher.

Horn, Dara. Eternal Life. Norton. Jan. 2018. 256p. ISBN 9780393608533. $25.95. LITERARY FICTION
Named one of Granta‘s Best of Young American Novelists and the two-time winner of the National Jewish Book Awards, Horn returns with a protagonist who faces a problem of biblical proportions. Ever since she made a spiritual bargain to spare her first son in Roman-occupied Jerusalem, Rachel cannot die, and she’s been through dozens of marriages and hundreds of children since then. She’s also been stalked through the centuries by a man she once loved deeply. But it’s 2018, new technologies facilitating immortality are buzzing, and Rachel realizes that if her children and grandchildren are to live fully, she’s got to find a way to quit this life forever. Clearly, a book about the big questions; with an author tour to the New York City metropolitan area, plus Boston, Washington, DC, and Los Angeles.

Knausgaard, Karl Ove. Winter. Penguin Pr. Jan. 2018. 240p. ISBN 9780399563331. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780399563348. LITERARY MEMOIR
Following Autumn, the start-up of an autobiographical quartet grounded in the four seasons and exploring the close relationship between parent and child, this new work finds Knausgaard anticipating the birth of his daughter. “It is strange that you exist, but that you don’t know anything about what the world looks like,” he muses. So he looks for her, surveying the moon and owls and birthdays as the earth lies dormant as he pays close attention to the quotidian in his inimitable style. After the monumental “My Struggle” series, which brought Knausgaard New York Times bestsellerdom and international fame, this series is more compact and easier for a range of readers to grab.

Mukherjee, Neel. A State of Freedom. Norton. Jan. 2018. 304p. ISBN 9780393292909. $25.95. LITERARY FICTION
In this follow-up to The Lives of Others, which was short-listed for Man Booker and Costa Novel honors, Mukherjee continues to explore the lives of the marginalized and the expat’s unsettling experience of being a stranger in his homeland. Linked narratives relate events surrounding an Indian-born father and his American son, shocked to see a construction worker fall to his death; the construction worker himself; an indigent man and his bear, related to the worker; an Indian-raised, London-based man interested in his parents’ Mumbai cook; and a servant girl with revolutionary convictions. All are striving for more, and their stories are told in densely packed prose.

Saadawi, Ahmed. Frankenstein in Baghdad. Penguin. Jan. 2018. 288p. tr. from Arabic by Jonathan Wright. ISBN 9780143128793. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780143128809. Downloadable: Penguin Audio. LITERARY FICTION
In U.S.-occupied, bomb-strewn Baghdad, a local eccentric named Hadi collects human body parts and lovingly sews them together, intent on creating a whole corpse representing the city’s slain, which he hopes the government will recognize as deserving of a proper burial. But the corpse is stolen, and soon an unkillable monster is marauding about, committing murder, feeding off the guilty and finally anyone else it encounters, and signifying the runaway chaos in Iraq. Winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (often called the Arabic Booker Prize ) and Le Grand Prix de L’Imaginaire, this work has already received coverage in the New York Times, The New Yorker, and the New York Review of Books, with Saadawi presented as a rising writer in Iraq (offering an insider’s post-invasion view) and elsewhere in the Arabic world.

Smith, Ali. Winter. Pantheon. Jan. 2018. 208p. ISBN 9781101870754. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101870761. LITERARY FICTION
Published last spring and limning the final day of a lifelong friendship between university lecturer Elisabeth and her former neighbor, centenarian Daniel, Autumn was the first of four novels from Smith named for the seasons and drawing on their moods. (She and Karl Ove Knausgaard seem to be working in step.) Her new work takes an icy look at the era of Brexit and fake news, examining themes of history and memory and celebrating our will to survive. Smith has won the Baileys Women’s Prize and the Costa Novel Award and has thrice been short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, among other honors; smart readers shouldn’t miss.

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Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (bhoffert@mediasourceinc.com, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.

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