Barbara’s Picks, Sept. 2013, Pt. 2: Alice McDermott, Bill McKibben, Amos Oz, Jesmyn Ward

McDermott, Alice. Someone. Farrar. Sept. 2013. 224p. ISBN 9780374281090. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781429969420. CD: Macmillan Audio. LITERARY FICTION
As evidenced by her seamless National Book Award winner, Charming Billy, few authors are as good as McDermott at making the ordinary extraordinary. Her new novel opens with young, bespectacled Marie meeting free-spirited Pegeen, who declares herself an amadan (a fool) and thereafter tumbles down some stairs, signaling that we all make fools of ourselves and take unexpected falls. From Marie’s first heartache to her marriage, from the birth of her children to the death of her parents, from her brother’s entering the priesthood to his loss of faith, through World War II and beyond in a tight-knit Irish American neighborhood, McDermott tracks one emblematic life.

McKibben, Bill. Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist. Metropolitan: Holt. Sept. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9780805092844. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780805098389. CD: Macmillan Audio. ENVIRONMENT
An environmental activist, fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and New York Times best-selling author, McKibben spent three days in jail in summer 2011 for leading a massive protest against the Keystone XL pipeline in Washington, DC. Here he argues for a thoroughgoing approach to preserving the planet, encompassing the large (combating the fuel-fossil industry) and the small (part of the narrative relates the year McKibben spent with a beekeeper dedicated to the local food movement). A key topic, and the high-profile McKibben—a busy speaker and much-followed tweeter whose environmental organization,, has a powerful web presence—will attract readers.

Oz, Amos. Between Friends. Houghton Harcourt. Sept. 2013. tr. from Hebrew by Sondra Silverston. 192p. ISBN 9780547985589. $24; ebk. ISBN 9780547985596. LITERARY FICTION
The winner of international honors from the Prix Femina to the Frankfurt Peace Prize, Oz began writing on a kibbutz in the late 1950s, the setting of his latest work. The characters in these eight linked stories embody the idealism of the time while following distinctive trajectories. A woman writes touching missives to her husband’s mistress, for instance, while a father fails to challenge his daughter’s lover, an old friend his own age. Essential for smart readers.

Ward, Jesmyn. Men We Reaped: A Memoir. Bloomsbury USA, dist. by Macmillan. Sept. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9781608195213. $26. MEMOIR
In her National Book Award–winning Salvage the Bones (one of my favorite novels ever), Ward writes so sharply and affectingly of African American life in the rural South that everyone should be anticipating this memoir cum social observation. Over five years, Ward saw the death (by drugs, suicide, accident, and more) of her brother and four other young men to whom she was close, and she came to realize what seemed so obvious in hindsight: they all died as a consequence of the limited economic opportunity and fractured family life that is the legacy of longstanding racism in America. As she reflects on her losses, telling the stories of her community, she gives us an intimate understanding of deep-rooted social issues.

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.