Barbara’s Picks: September 2012, Pt. 1: Boyle, Chabon, Coplin, Ennis, Smith, Toobin

Boyle, T.C. San Miguel. Viking. Sept. 2012. 384p. ISBN 9780670026241. $27.95. Downloadable: Penguin Audio. LITERARY
In 1888, ailing Marantha Waters moves to the desolate isle of San Miguel Island off Southern California’s coast with her Civil War veteran husband, who runs a sheep farm there and does everything he can to keep their aspiring-actress daughter from slipping her bonds and returning to the mainland. In 1930, New York City librarian Elise Lester and her gung-ho World War I veteran husband choose to settle on San Miguel and like the Waters family achieve only an uncertain peace. As always, Boyle gives us sharp moral conundrum in a distinctive setting; with an eight-city tour.

Chabon, Michael. Telegraph Avenue. Harper: Harper Collins. Sept. 2012. 480p. ISBN 9780061493348. $27.99; eISBN 9780062124609. CD: HarperAudio. LITERARY
Race, corporatism, and last-stand idealism: core themes of contemporary American life, and who better to explore them than Pulitzer Prize winner Chabon, whose linguistic razzle-dazzle discloses acute observations about our shared culture‚ and, especially, its borders. It’s 2004, and longtime band mates Achy Stallings and Nat Jaffe still preside over Brokeland Records, a used-record emporium and de facto town center in a fictional space somewhere between Berkeley and Oakland. Their wives are the Berkeley Birth Partners, beloved local midwives. All’s well until a former NFL quarterback, one of the country’s richest African Americans, decides to build his latest Dogpile megastore on nearby Telegraph Avenue. Not only could this spell doom for the little shop and its cross-race, cross-class dream but it opens up past history regarding Archy’s untethered dad and a crime dating back to the Black Panther era. With a one-day laydown on September 11, a 300,000-copy first printing, and a 13-city Tour to Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami (for the book fair) Nashville, New York, Raleigh/Durham, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, and Washington, DC. Get it!

Coplin, Amanda. The Orchardist. Harper: HarperCollins. Sept. 2012. 448p. ISBN 9780062188502. $25.99. HISTORICAL
At the turn of the 20th century, when two dirty, pregnant girls steal from an orchard in the foothills of the Pacific Northwest’s Cascade Mountains that Talmadge has tended for 50 years, he lets them. Soon they return, tentatively befriending this sweet, solitary soul, as rooted as the trees in the land he loves. Then armed and angry men invade the orchard, and Talmadge steps up to protect his new charges, even as he’s reminded of the past’s sorrowful secrets. Exceptional in-house cheering for this debut, with rights sold to a half-dozen countries so far and a 75,000-copy first printing. Surely this is meant as an evocative understanding of the American West and its continued grip on our psyche, and I can’t wait to see how it works.

Ennis, Michael. The Malice of Fortune. Doubleday. Sept. 2012. 400p. ISBN 9780385536318. $26.95; eISBN 9780385536325. Downloadable: Random Audio. THRILLER
When his son Juan is murdered in distant Imola, Pope Alexander asks the courtesan Damiata to discover what happened‚ and holds her young son hostage until she does. In Imola, Damiata is so undercut by the political intrigue originating with the pope’s other son, the Duke Valentino, that she turns to a little-known Florentine diplomat named Niccolo Machiavelli for help; the observational skills she needs to catch the killer are ultimately furnished by one Leonardo da Vinci. Now that sounds like fun reading; the publisher’s big fiction title of the month.

Smith, Zadie. NW: A Novel. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). Sept. 2012. NAp. ISBN 9781594203978. $25.95. LITERARY
It’s been seven years since Smith last published a novel, so we’re all really chaffing to read this one. NW stands for northwest, that is, northwest London, where a group of friends living on an estate make their way through school and on to adulthood, staying more or less true to their ideals. Smith, herself was born in London’s diverse northwest, will surely provide her usual gorgeous, almost scary understanding of that society and the world at large.

Toobin, Jeffrey. The Oath: The Obama White House vs. The Supreme Court. Doubleday. Sept. 2012. 368p. ISBN 9780385527200. $27.95; eISBN 9780385536301. Downloadable: Random Audio LAW/CURRENT EVENTS
Having laid bare the working of the Supreme Court in his prize-winning The Nine, Toobin returns to assess how the Court‚ and, specifically, Chief Justice John Roberts‚ stack up against President Obama. From the moment that Roberts blew administering the Oath of Office at Obama’s inauguration, he and the administration have been ideologically at odds. Toobin argues that the two men are both charismatic and ambitious, though Obama’s actually the conservative one; he aims for step-by-step change, building on the past, while Roberts wants to unstitch everything accomplished by the New Deal. Essential reading as we gear up for the election.

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.