Barbara's Picks, March 2012, Pt. 3: A Departure for Lansdale, Essays from Robinson

Baker, Tiffany. The Gilly Salt Sisters. Grand Central. Mar. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9780446194235. $24.99. POP FICTION
Independent-minded Jo Gilly is committed to the family’s Cape Cod salt farm, prom queen‚ type sister Claire just wants to leave, and town lore has it that both might be witches. Still, wealthy townie Whit Turner marries Claire (though his first love is Jo) and sweeps her away. Years later, Claire returns to the farm for a reckoning, and some dark family history comes out as complex relationships shift like sifting salt. Baker’s splendidly offbeat debut, The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, was much loved; expect lots of interest in this follow-up.

Dau, Stephen. The Book of Jonas. Blue Rider: Penguin Group (USA). Mar. 2012. 272p. ISBN 9780399158452. $24.95. LITERARY
One of the first books from Penguin’s new Blue Rider imprint, and it sounds like a winner. In an unidentified Muslim country, 15-year-old Jonas loses his entire family when his village is destroyed in a U.S. military operation gone wrong; Christopher Henderson, the U.S. soldier who saved him, has been missing since. Brought to America by an international relief organization, Jonas finally begins talking about Chris, even meeting his mother, and a terrible secret is revealed. This debut comes highly recommended; the Penguin sales reps nominated it as a Rep Pick for Winter 2012, along with only two other adult titles, and Dau, who lives in Belgium, will appear at the ABA Winter Institute in January and on a debut author panel at the Public Library Association conference in March (which I’m moderating!).

Gupta, Sanjay, MD. Monday Mornings. Grand Central. Mar. 2012. 272p. ISBN 9780446583855. $24.99. CD/Downloadable: Hachette Audio. POP FICTION
Practicing neurosurgeon, Time columnist, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, host of the half-hour weekend show House Call with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, 60 Minutes contributor, and author of the best-selling Cheating Death, Gupta would seem too busy to write a first novel. But evidently not. This work centers on one hospital’s Morbidity and Mortality conferences, held each Monday morning, at which surgeons are called on to explain operations that have not gone as planned. A look at how medicine really works from someone who knows, this was cited at Day of Dialog’s Editors’ Picks panel and should attract Gupta’s many fans.

Lansdale, Joe R. Edge of Dark Water. Mulholland: Little, Brown. Mar. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9780316188432. $25.99. THRILLER/LITERARY
As you can see, I’m genuinely flummoxed about how to classify this book, which is one thing that makes it so good. Yes, it’s being published by Mulholland, Little, Brown’s thriller imprint, and, yes, it opens as teenaged Sue Ellen and her abusive, foul-mouthed father pull May Lynn from the Sabine River, a sewing machine tied to her feet. From there, this novel evolves into a brisk, lyric, tightly knit study of friendship as Sue Ellen and friends Terry, relentlessly taunted as a sissy, and Jinx, a colored girl (this is pre‚ Civil Rights Texas), determine that they must travel to Hollywood to scatter the dead girl’s ashes‚ pretty May Lynn always dreamed of becoming a screen star. Still reading, but I’m decidedly impressed with the evocation of time, place, and character; this puts me in mind of Daniel Woodrell with a touch of To Kill a Mockingbird. A departure for Edgar and Bram Stoker award winner Lansdale that all readers can enjoy.

Cotton, Dorothy. If Your Back’s Not Bent: How the Civil Rights Movement Gained Victory. Atria: S. & S. Mar. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9780743296830. $24. AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Education director for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) for 12 years, Cotton was born poor in 1930s North Carolina and subsequently dedicated herself to the Civil Rights movement. She worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King, helping organize the Birmingham campaign and traveling with him to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace prize but leaving Memphis shortly before he was murdered because she had important SCLC work to do elsewhere. Dorothy Cotton Institute of Cornell University honors her legacy. So does this autobiography, essential reading for anyone interested in American history.

Lanzmann, Claude. The Patagonian Hare: A Memoir. Farrar. Mar. 2012. 496p. ISBN 9780374230043. $35. MEMOIR
You probably know Lanzmann as director of the nine-and-a-half-hour documentary Shoah, a legendary oral history of the Holocaust. But there’s a lot more to his life than that. He served with the Resistance during World War II, studied philosophy at the Sorbonne, then became editor of the literary/political journal Les Temps Modernes, founded by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, with whom he had a long affair. All this before turning 30‚ and he’s still chief editor of the journal. This memoir embraces a significant chunk of 20th-century history while plunging deep into the swirling influences of politics, literature, and art. So far, my favorite memoir for the spring.

Robinson, Marilynne. When I Was a Child I Read Books: Essays. Farrar. Mar. 2012. 336p. ISBN 9780374298784. $26. LITERATURE/ESSAYS
Starting with the remarkable debut, Housekeeping (1981), and continuing with Gilead and Home, Robinson’s novels are few and far between and immensely appreciated when they arrive, having garnered a Pulitzer Prize, an Orange Prize, and a National Book Critics Circle award among them. (Readers I respect say her name kind of breathlessly.) Her essay collections are also few and far between and immensely appreciated, and this latest will be no exception. Here Robinson revisits favorite themes, considering the impoverishment of consumer culture, the role of faith, and the complexities of human nature. For all your smart readers.

Stringer, Chris. Lone Survivors: How We Came To Be the Only Humans on Earth. Times Bks: Holt. Mar. 2012. 336p. ISBN 9780805088915. $27. SCIENCE
In the past, famed paleoanthropologist Stringer of London’s Natural History Museum challenged multiregionalists (who argue that modern humans developed from ancient ancestors in different parts of the world) by proposing that humans emerged rapidly in one small part of Africa and then went forth to replace all other hominid species. Now he challenges himself, using new archaeological and genetic evidence (e.g., DNA studies of Neanderthals) to proclaim that distinct humans coexisted, competed, and even interbred throughout the African continent. How modern humans emerged from that mix should be an exciting story as told by Stringer, who has a jolly time promoting his ideas; he’s been known to bring along a (clearly stuffed) mammoth to speaking engagements. What’s more exciting than where we came from?

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.