Barbara’s Picks, Mar. 2013, Pt. 1: Hamid, Hemon, Haruf, Oates, & More

Hamid, Mohsin. How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Mar. 2013. 240p. ISBN 9781594487293. $26.95. LITERARY FICTION
The title could come from one of those get-rich-quick books that the young and ambitious eat up, and in fact Hamid imaginatively uses that genre’s format to shape his narrative. But this is very much a novel, by the author of the Betty Trask Award–winning Moth Smoke and the best-selling, Man Booker–shortlisted The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Here, a nameless protagonist somewhere in Asia goes from rags to riches as he builds a corporate empire based on that increasingly scarce commodity: water. His path repeatedly, and passionately, crosses that of a pretty young woman who’s also on the rise. Hamid has always had a way of nicely nailing the realities of the culturally seismic post-9/11 world, and I expect him to do the same here.

Haruf, Kent. Benediction. Knopf. Mar. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9780307959881. $25.95; eISBN 9780307959898. LITERARY FICTION
Haruf made his name with the heartfelt Plainsong, a best seller and a finalist for the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Award, among other honors. The subsequent Eventide, also a best seller, revisited Plainsong’s setting, high-plains Holt, CO. In his latest title, Haruf returns to Holt yet again but brings with him a new cast of characters. Among them is Dad Lewis, dying of cancer and comforted by his wife and daughter, though the absence of Dad’s estranged son hurts. In addition, a girl living with her grandmother recalls her mother’s death, the new preacher struggles with both his family and his congregation, and a widow and her middle-aged daughter look to their neighbors’ well-being. Bittersweet charm; with a nine-city tour to Denver, Jackson, Kansas City, Lincoln, Milwaukee, Oxford, Portland, St. Louis, and Seattle.

Hemon, Aleksandar. The Book of My Lives. Farrar. Mar. 2013. 176p. ISBN 9780374115739. $25. MEMOIR
Anyone familiar with MacArthur Fellow Hemon’s three distinctive story collections, as well as his novel, The Lazarus Project—emotionally arresting, formally inventive, and a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award—knows to expect his first nonfiction venture to go beyond standard memoir. Yes, Hemon recounts the arc of his life, from enjoying a childhood in vibrantly multiethnic Sarajevo, to being stranded in Chicago as his hometown came under siege and his family was forced to abandon everything as it fled, to building a new life and a family of his own in America. Folded within this narrative, though, is a tale of two cities—Sarajevo and Chicago—and his love for them both, for his family, and for soccer. Look for a tour.

Oates, Joyce Carol. The Accursed. Ecco: HarperCollins. Mar. 2013. 688p. ISBN 9780062231703. $27.99; eISBN 9780062234360. lrg. prnt. HISTORICAL FICTION
Billed as historical fiction, this book has a spooky Oatesian twist. At the turn of the 20th century, strange things start happening in peaceful, polished Princeton, NJ. Folks dream about vampires, the daughters of the town’s classiest families start vanishing, and a bride-to-be runs away with a vaguely menacing European, presumably a prince and possibly the Devil. As her brother gives chase, he encounters (among others) former President Grover Cleveland, future President Woodrow Wilson, and writers Jack London, Upton Sinclair, and Mark Twain, all cursed with dark visions. Do these visions hint at personal or collective anguish? Read to find out; with a 100,000-copy first printing.

Parravani, Christa. Her: A Memoir. Holt. Mar. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780805096538. $26. MEMOIR
There’s great in-house excitement about this memoir by photographer Parravani, writing about what it’s been like to have lived with and lost twin sister Cara, a talented writer sucked into a downward spiral of drugs and depression to an early death. (Cara’s stories appeared in numerous literary journals, sometimes accompanied by her sister’s photographs.) Raised by a tough-minded single mother, the sisters were stung early by their father’s rejection; Cara was also raped as a young adult, which magnified the pain that eventually led to her drug overdose. Christa reflects on their close bond and the struggle to survive without Cara. With a reading group guide and intensive promotion.

Spencer-Wendel, Susan with Bret Witter. Breathe Deeply: A Book About Living. Harper: HarperCollins. Mar. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9780062241450. $25.99. lrg. prnt. MEMOIR
Diagnosed at age 45 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Spencer-Wendel plunged into a live-each-day-fully whirlwind that has already made news (she was spotlighted in the Wall Street Journal, and the film rights to her story have been acquired for $2.5 million). Here she recounts trips to the Yukon to see the Northern Lights with her best friend, to Budapest to see the home she and her husband first shared, to Northern California to meet her birth mother, to Cyprus to see the country of her deceased birth father, and, most tellingly, to New York to shop with her 14-year-old daughter at Kleinfeld’s Bridal for the wedding dress she won’t live to see her daughter wear. Foreign rights have been sold to nearly 20 countries, and the first printing is 250,000 copies. An obvious purchase; no dry eyes here.

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.