Barbara’s Picks, Apr. 2013, Pt. 3: Aciman, Margulis, Roach, Tremain, Wolitzer


Aciman, André. Harvard Square. Norton. Apr. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780393088601. $25.95. LITERARY FICTION
From vivid, scalding Alexandria (Out of Egypt: A Memoir) to the sensuous Italian Riviera (Call Me by Your Name) to snow-crusted Manhattan during Christmas (Eight White Nights), Aciman has transported us far and wide in his acutely observed works, whether fiction or nonfiction. Now, drawing on “Monsieur Kalashnikov,” a National Magazine Award–shortlisted story that appeared in the Paris Review, he lets us breathe the overheated air of late 1970s Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA. His protagonist is a diffident graduate student much taken by a larger-than-life character, a Tunisian Muslim cabbie who becomes such a fast friend that our hero begins neglecting his march toward being a good American. Get ready for an intense character study; Aciman always has insights.

Margulis, Jennifer. The Business of Baby: What Doctors Don’t Tell You, What Corporations Try To Sell You, and How To Put Your Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby Before Their Bottom Line. Scribner. Apr. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9781451636086. $26. HEALTH/PARENTING
Winner of an American Society of Journalists and Authors Award, Margulis “probably has considerable influence, more than she rightly deserves”—or so said a disgruntled blogger whom Margulis cheekily features on her website. The site leads with the quote “A writer who’s not afraid to stick her neck out” alongside a graceful portrait of a giraffe, which tells you a lot about Margulis, as does her modestly stated assertion that she “tries to champion the nation’s most vulnerable.” The vulnerable here are mothers and babies; Margulis points out that despite its cutting-edge medical technology, the United States has among the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the industrialized world. The reason? Says Margulis, doctors, Big Pharma, and others are handing out bad advice—because there’s money in it. Not just for parents to ponder.

Roach, Mary. Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal. Norton. Apr. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780393081572. $26.95. SOCIAL SCIENCE
Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers. Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex. Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void. Roach certainly has a way with deeply weird, deeply fascinating, sometimes nausea-inducing subjects—and titles. Her latest fits right in; it’s a journey straight down the gullet into the mysteries of digestion. Eat, drink, and be merry while reading yet another fun Roach book.

Tremain, Rose. Merivel: A Man of His Time. Norton. Apr. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9780393079579. $26.95. LITERARY FICTION
Tremain’s nuanced works have deservedly received many awards (e.g., Orange, Whitbread), but fans may have a special fondness for Restoration—shortlisted for the Booker Prize, the Sunday Express Book of the Year, and the basis of the Academy Award–winning film starring Robert Downey Jr. as Merivel, a physician and then courtier in and out of favor with Charles II. Merivel here returns, traveling first to Versailles (filthy beneath the sparkle) and then to Switzerland, where he’s quite cozy with a lovely woman botanist until her husband brings out the dueling pistols. Undoubtedly a big, gorgeous sprawl of a novel suggestive of its time and of the desires that tear at us all.

Wolitzer, Meg. The Interestings. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Apr. 2013. 464p. ISBN 9781594488399. $27.95. LITERARY FICTIONr
In a March 2012 story in the New York Times Book Review, Wolitzer caused a stir by arguing persuasively that fiction by women and particularly the subject matter often associated with women—the edgy, delicate give and take of human relationships—continues to be disparaged by men. So let’s consider her latest novel. Several friends who met at a summer arts camp for teens remain close, but while Jules doesn’t make it as an actress, her two closest buddies, now married to each other, have hit gold artistically and financially, and Jules broods while hating that she broods. Money, power, envy, ambition, artistic vying—what’s for a man not to like? With an online writing group guide; get the guys involved.


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.