My Picks, January 2012, Pt. 3: From Julian Barnes to Diane Brady's Fraternity

Barnes, Julian. The Sense of an Ending. Knopf. Jan. 2012. 176p. ISBN 9780307957122. $24; eISBN 9780307957337. LITERARY
Life has been good to Tony Webster, who’s both contentedly retired and contentedly divorced. Then friends reappear from a childhood long left behind and presumably shelved, and as the past suddenly looms large, Tony must rethink everything that has been his life. In the hands of Barnes‚ winner of the Somerset Maugham Award, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, and the E.M. Forster Award‚ this should be masterly. With the book under 200 pages, there’s a gorgeous simplicity at work, as in Barnes’s recent excellent story collection, Pulse. Essential; with a reading group guide.

Dunthorne, Joe. Wild Abandon. Random. Jan. 2012. 336p. ISBN 9781400066841. $25; eISBN 9780679644647. CD: Random Audio. LITERARY
British author Dunthorne scored with his first novel, Submarine, which was translated into ten languages and is now making waves as a feature film. His second novel features Don, founder of a commune in New South Wales that’s faltering after 20 successful years, with his wife hiding out in a yurt, his son under the sway of a demagogue, and his daughter insisting on attending the village school and dating a boy whose family represents the antithesis of commune values. Don’s solution is to throw a big party (the wild abandon of the title?). Offbeat but socially incisive fiction from an author who’s blasting off.

Johnson, Adam. The Orphan Master’s Son. Random. Jan. 2012. 512p. ISBN 9780812992793. $26; eISBN 9780679643999. CD: Random Audio. LITERARY
Here’s a chance to visit sealed-off North Korea. Johnson’s protagonist is an orphan who starts out as a tunnel soldier and rises through the military ranks until he’s set to challenge Kim Jong-Il himself. Along the way, we encounter what one character calls the greatest North Korean love story ever told. Evidently a blend of personal story and political revelation, with thriller overtones thrown in for fun, this work is being positioned as a breakout for Johnson, author of novels like Emporium and director of the Stegner program at Stanford and a former Stegner fellow himself. The first two serials go to Granta in August 2011 and Playboy in January 2012. Talk about opposites, which certainly reflects the broad appeal of this book.

Smith, Tom Rob. Agent 6. Grand Central. Jan. 2012. 448p. ISBN 9780446550765. $25.99. lrg. prnt. CD/downloadable: Hachette Audio. THRILLER
Smith roared onto the thriller scene a few years back with Child 44, an international best seller and winner of both the CWA 2008 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award and the ITW 2009 Thriller Award for Best First Novel. Here he wraps up the trilogy begun with that book. It’s bad enough that Leo Demidov isn’t able to accompany his wife and daughter when they head to America in 1965 on a Peace Tour meant to ease Cold War tensions, worse when they are attacked when there. But what’s really horrible is that Demidov is expressly forbidden to investigate the matter. Does he listen? Featured at the Day of Dialog Editors’ Picks panel; essential for thriller fans.

Brady, Diane. Fraternity. Spiegel & Grau. Jan. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9780385524742. $25; eISBN 9780385529624. CD: Random Audio. BIOGRAPHY/HISTORY
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Pulitzer Prize‚ winning author Edward P. Jones. Leading defense attorney Thomas Wells. Former New York City deputy mayor Stanley Grayson. And Miami Dolphins running back Eddie Jenkins. What they all have in common is Rev. John Brooks, a Jesuit priest at Holy Cross College who in 1968 went on a hunt for talented young African American high schoolers whom he brought to the college and mentored‚ with obviously stellar results. BusinessWeek senior editor Brady, a Deadline Club and Front Page award winner, has pulled together what should be a heartening and eye-opening book. She even got Justice Thomas to talk. Important.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @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.