Barbara’s Picks, Jan. 2013, Pt. 3: Jim Harrison, Adam Mansbach, Jared Diamond, and More

Christopher, Nicholas. Tiger Rag. Dial: Random. Jan. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9781400069217. $26. LITERARY FICTION
An exquisite writer of both fiction and nonfiction (I loved his Trip to the Stars), Christopher should be better known. Perhaps this juicy new novel will do it. Her cardiologist husband has left her for a younger woman, her gifted jazz-musician daughter is just out of rehab, and her distant mother has just died‚ but not before dredging up unpleasantness from the past. So what does Dr. Ruby Cardillo do? She drinks 1988 Chateau Latour, then drafts her daughter for a trip from their Key Biscayne home to snowbound New York, where they end up hunting for a recording Edison was said to have made, somehow connected to their family history.

Harrison, Jim. The River Swimmer: Novellas. Atlantic Monthly. Jan. 2013. 240p. ISBN 9780802120731. $25; eISBN 9780802193803. NOVELLAS
Harrison is one of America’s great literary treasures; his rugged, beautifully tough-minded works help define America and its wide-open spaces, and his readers form almost a cult. Here, he will delight them by delivering not one but two works: The Land of Unlikeness, in which a 60-year-old academic on the verge‚ he’s divorced, estranged from his daughter, and a failed artist‚ returns to his Michigan home for a real act of renewal. In Water Baby, an Upper Peninsula farm boy isn’t dreaming; he sees ghostly creatures in the waters of the nearby lake and is repeatedly drawn to it. Magic realism √† la Harrison? Cool.

Mansbach, Adam. Rage Is Back. Viking. Jan. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780670026128. $25.95. Downloadable: Penguin Audio. POP FICTION
Mansbach was minding his own business as a respected novelist, poet, and essayist, appearing in various journals and on All Things Considered, when he pulled an extraordinary coup by writing the No. 1 New York Times best-selling Go the F**k To Sleep. His new novel would seem to have the same refreshing edginess. Biracial Brooklynite Kilroy Dondi Vance, who attends prep school on a scholarship and deals pot on the side, is the son of renowned graffiti writer Billy Rage, who vanished in 1989 after locking horns with Metropolitan Transit Authority chief Anastacio Bracken. Flash forward a couple of decades, and Rage is back; Bracken is running for mayor, and all the leading graffiti writers of yore are organizing a citywide stunt to defeat him. Honestly, you don’t have to be a New Yorker to enjoy this ode to urban ingenuity; with a five-city tour.

Diamond, Jared. The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? Viking. Jan. 2013. 512p. ISBN 9780670024810. $36. CD: Penguin Audio. HISTORY
The Pulitzer Prize‚ winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel addresses not what separates us from traditional societies, e.g., written language, world travel, and cellphones, but what connects us. We’ve still got issues like raising children, managing each day, and caring for elders, and Diamond argues that traditional societies have much to teach us in this regard, even if we do not accept all their practices. Diamond draws on his work with Pacific Islanders, as well as studies of Inuit, Amazonian Indian, Kalahari San, and other cultures to make his argument. With a 12-city tour.

Stuart, Andrea. Sugar in the Blood: A Family’s Story of Slavery and Empire. Knopf. Jan. 2013. 448p. ISBN 9780307272836. $28.95; eISBN 9780307595461. HISTORY
Stuart won the Enid McLeod Literary Prize for The Rose of Martinique: A Biography of Napoleon’s Josephine. Francophiles loved it, but her scope here is broader and should attract significant readership. Drawing on her own family history, the Caribbean-born Stuart shows how sugar, slavery, and New World colonization are intimately linked. It’s astonishing how one crop‚ sugar, here from the island of Barbados‚ could so radically change the world, making some Europeans wealthy, precipitating a rush to settlement, and turning many, many free Africans into enslaved Americans. Stuart brings the story up to today.

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.