Barbara’s Picks: Alter on the Election and William Gass’s First Fiction in Nearly Two Decades

Alter, Jonathan. Untitled on Obama. S. & S. Mar. 213. 448p. ISBN 9781451646078. $30; eISBN 9781451646108. CURRENT EVENTS
No one knows how Alter’s book will end, as it will be essentially the story of how President Obama won or lost his bid for a second term. Author of the best-selling The Promise: President Obama, Year One, Bloomberg View columnist Alter will continue his focus on the President’s performance while tracking the campaigns of both candidates as they battle over the economy in an America as bitterly polarized as ever. He’s also set to tell us why this election matters so much. Not to be missed.

Ballantyne, Lisa. The Guilty One. Morrow. Mar. 2013. 480p. ISBN 9780062195517. pap. $14.99. POP FICTION
London-based solicitor Daniel Hunter typically takes on dicey cases, but his latest is especially troublesome. He’s defending 11-year-old Sebastian, accused of killing a younger boy, and as he probes Sebastian’s knotty home life he’s reminded of his own tragic past: a childhood in foster care until he was adopted by a loving woman who then betrayed him so despicably that he turned his back on her forever. And if that setup doesn’t intrigue you, nothing will. Lots of excitement for this debut, including sales to 21 territories so far and a 100,000-copy first printing.

Deraniyagala, Sonali. Wave. Knopf. Mar. 2013. 224p. ISBN 9780307962690. $24; eISBN 9780307962706. Downloadable: Random Audio. MEMOIR
The Indian Ocean tsunami that broke loose on December 26, 2004, killed something like 230,000 people, including Deraniyagala’s parents, husband, and two young sons. And though she opens by taking us straight into the wave, 30 feet high and rushing toward Sri Lanka at 25 miles an hour, this book is ultimately an account of her coping with her grief while also celebrating the memories of those she loved. As she ranges over her childhood in Colombo, meeting her English husband at Cambridge, and giving birth to her children, we learn how she managed to keep these wrenching memories, and hence her family, with her.

Gass, William H. Middle C. Knopf. Mar. 2013. 464p. ISBN 9780307701633. $28.95; eISBN 9780307962263. FICTION
A literary event! You’ve often heard it said, but that’s what this publication really is. At 88, after 17 years, the masterly Gass (whose multiple honors include the inaugural PEN/Nabokov Award and three National Book Critics Circle Awards for criticism) returns with a new novel. His hero is Joseph Skizzen, whose father brought the family out of Austria in 1938, pretending to be Jewish, so as to avoid association with the Nazis. After the family settles in London, the father disappears, and the remaining Skizzens decamp for small-town Ohio. As an adult, Joseph accepts guilt for crimes against humanity while creating a fantasy self that remains sin-free; he likewise dreams of founding an Inhumanity Museum. Gass, of course, does not let us off easy; essential for committed readers.

Sheff, David. Clean: 12 New Steps to Overcoming Addiction. Houghton Harcourt. Mar. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780547848655. $25. MEDICAL/PUBLIC HEALTH
Sheff triumphed with Beautiful Boy, a No. 1 New York Times best seller and Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers award winner that probed his son Nic’s drug addiction. Here he addresses not just the addicted but family, friends, educators, and policymakers to suggest a new way of addressing both drug addiction and prevention, drawing on up-to-date research and his own experiences. The premise? Science, not shame, crossed fingers, or prayer, will make the difference. With an author tour to New York, Boston, Washington, DC, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Denver/Boulder, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle; indisputably 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.