Barbara’s Picks, Apr. 2013, Pt. 1: Aslam, Berg, Close, Dalrymple, Lanier, Leibovich

Aslam, Nadeem. The Blind Man’s Garden. Knopf. Apr. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780307961716. $26.95; eISBN 9780307961723. LITERARY FICTION
Winner of Betty Trask and Kiriyama honors and shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (for Maps for Lost Lovers), Aslam is among an outstanding group of Pakistani-born writers now working in English (e.g., Daniyal Mueenuddin, Mohammed Hanif, and Kamila Shamsie). His most recent novel, The Wasted Vigil, is as nuanced a discussion of Middle East complexities as one can find and remains one of my favorite pieces of fiction. Here, foster brothers Jeo and Mikal surreptitiously cross the border from Pakistan to Afghanistan shortly after 9/11, intent not on challenging U.S. troops but caring for the wounded. They leave behind their blind father, mourning both his dead wife and his possibly rash actions in support of country and Islam, and Jeo’s wife, increasingly assured in running the household despite her tradition-bound mother. A journey, then, for everyone; don’t miss.

Berg, Elizabeth. Tapestry of Fortune. Random. Apr. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9780812993141. $26; eISBN 9780679644699. POP FICTION
Craving change (don’t we all?), Cecilia Ross takes time off from her job, disposes of her home, and moves into a grand old house in St. Paul, MN, with a front porch, a back garden, and three roommates. The four women decide to take a road trip, but not for frivolity’s sake; one wants to connect with the daughter she gave up, another with a former husband, and a professional chef wants to check out other restaurants for inspiration. As for Cecilia, that unexpected letter from former heartthrob Dennis Helsinger has her sailing on the wind. Who better to tell this story than quintessential women’s author Berg, a best seller whose Open House was an Oprah’s Book Club selection and whose Durable Goods and Joy School were selected as ALA Best Books of the Year.

Close, Jennifer. The Smart One. Knopf. Apr. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780307596864. $24.95; eISBN 9780307962324. CD: Random Audio. LITERARY FICTION
Close’s best-selling debut, Girls in White Dresses—about three young women dealing with job stress, dashed hopes, and uncertain love while everyone else is getting married—sounded suspiciously like a made-for-TV movie but, given the elegance and insight of the writing, was something else entirely. Once again she sets out to deal smartly with domestic crisis. Weezy and Will Coffey always tried to be the best of parents—making sure the homework was done and the birthday cakes were homemade. So why is thin-skinned Martha back home in her childhood bedroom after a career crisis, Claire locked in her apartment after ditching her fiancé, and college senior Max in real girl trouble? A novel for today from an author tracking upward.

Dalrymple, William. The Return of a King: Shah Shuja and the First Battle for Afghanistan. Knopf. Apr. 2013. 496p. ISBN 9780307958280. $30. HISTORY
We’ve been fighting in Afghanistan for 11 years, with no end in sight, and we hear increasingly that we ought to have paid more attention to the West’s history of blundering in that country (not to mention the recent diastrous Soviet experience) before blundering in ourselves. For perspective, it pays to go back to the first Afghan War, a great imperial disaster for the British, and Dalrymple—winner of two major history prizes in Britain, the Wolfson and the Duff Cooper, and a best-selling author as well—obliges us with this chronicle. Here we see the British marching into Afghanistan in 1839 to reestablish Shah Shuja on the throne (as a puppet) and the Afghanis rising up and pushing them back in a disastrous rout; of the 18,000 troops that descended on Kabul, only one made it back to Jellalabad. Expect a rigorous and engaging account; Dalrymple, I think, won’t be so easily defeated by Afghanistan.

Lanier, Jaron. The Fate of Power and the Future of Dignity. Free Pr: S. & S. Apr. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9781451654967. $26.99. SOCIAL SCIENCE
Computer scientist and revolutionary thinker, a leading researcher in the area of virtual reality who either coined or popularized that term (depending on whom you ask), and a remarkable musician to boot—he has an expansive collection of rare instruments and has worked with folks from Philip Glass to Sean Lennon—Lanier is the person to listen to about technology. Here he argues that while digital technologies should be guaranteeing our financial health, given the efficiencies they deliver, the information economy has in fact concentrated wealth in the hands of a few—in a way that is weakening our middle class and hence our democracy. Lanier doesn’t just sling arrows but has suggestions to make—including monetizing data now treated as being cost free.

Leibovich, Mark. The Club. Blue Rider: Penguin Group (USA). Apr. 2013. 464p. ISBN 9780399161308. $27.95. GOVERNMENT
Washington, DC: it’s a hell of a town. Just ask Leibovich, a New York Times political feature correspondent based there. In this muckraking tell-all, which would be as darkly funny as it’s billed to be if it weren’t all true, Leibovich depicts a shameless town where funerals are for networking, disgraced aides come out ahead, and getting one’s name in print is the only thing that matters (except maybe money). It’s the media industrial complex, which, come to think of it, Leibovich is part of, so look for greased-lightning insight. Embargoed until publication date, after which, I suppose, Leibovich will have to get out of town.

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.