Barbara’s Picks, Sept. 2013, Pt. 3: Barnes, Carroll, Coetzee, Ford, George, Harding, Hastings, Kennedy, Lahiri

Barnes, Julian. Levels of Life. Knopf. Sept. 2013. 144p. ISBN 9780385350778. $22.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385350785. MEMOIR
Not a conventional memoir—did you really expect something so mundane from the multi-award-winning author of Flaubert’s Parrot and The Sense of an Ending?—this book aims to “put together two things that have not been put together before, and the world is changed,” as the author himself says. Treading back to the 19th century, Barnes talks about ballooning and Sarah Bernhardt, then reflects on his own life to convey an experience of heartrending loss. Excellent for discussion, so the reading group guide is a plus.

Carroll, Sean B. Genius: A Scientist, a Philosopher, and Their Daring Adventures from the French Resistance to the Nobel Prize. Crown. Sept. 2013. 576p. ISBN 9780307952332. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780307952356. HISTORY/SCIENCE
Iconic author Albert Camus and Jacques Monod, a trailblazer in molecular biology, were both awarded the Nobel Prize. They were also fast friends, having met as members of the French Resistance. Carroll, a National Book Award finalist and winner of a Phi Beta Kappa Science Book Award, draws on fresh, unpublished material to profile their friendship and the individual (and earthshaking) accomplishments of each man. There’s a wide audience for this book, bridging history, science, and literature, and the skillful Carroll will make the discussion of Monod’s work accessible and engaging for those who struggled through biology.

Coetzee, J.M. The Childhood of Jesus. Viking. Sept. 2013. 240p. ISBN 9780670014651. $26.95. LITERARY FICTION
A fable, a child’s story, a novel of ideas, a religious allegory, and the chronicle of a journey, both real and metaphysical—this latest work by the masterly Nobel Prize laureate and two-time Booker Prize winner is all these things and more. Traveling by ship to a new country, young David is separated from his mother and also loses paperwork that would have explained his circumstances, so he is looked after by fellow passenger Simón. Once the ship docks, they are given new names and even new birth dates, heightening the sense of dislocation, and they set off in search of David’s mother—and life itself. A positively Godotish-sounding tale, told mostly through dialog, about finding one’s fate.

Ford, Jamie. Songs of Willow Frost. Ballantine. Sept. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780345522023. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780345522047. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. LITERARY/HISTORICAL FICTION
Readers who pushed sales of Ford’s affecting Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet to 1.3 million copies (and counting) will be happy to learn about this follow-up novel. Here, Ford’s protagonist is William Eng, a Chinese American boy living at Seattle’s Sacred Heart Orphanage during the Depression. On a birthday outing to the movies, William sees actress Willow Frost onscreen and is convinced that she is his mother, whom he last saw being taken from their apartment by the local doctor. Now he sets out to find her, trying to understand his own past and why she has never come to find him. Asian Pacific American Award winner Ford gets a 12- to 15-city tour.

George, Elizabeth. Just One Evil Act: An Inspector Lynley Novel. Dutton. Sept. 2013. 736p. ISBN 9780525952961. $29.95. CD/downloadable: Penguin Audio. MYSTERY
When the daughter of Taymullah Azhar vanishes with her mother, Angelina, whom Azhar never married, Det. Sgt. Barbara Havers can’t help because Azhar has no legal claim on the child. Then Angelina returns to inform them that little Hadiyyah has been kidnapped from an Italian marketplace, and Inspector Thomas Lynley, Havers’s partner, heads south to mediate between the anguished parents and the Italian police. Soon, dark secrets about Angelina, her new lover, and Azhar himself emerge, further complicating the case. The last Inspector Lynley novel debuted in the top spot on the New York Times best sellers list, so you can bet on this title, too.

Harding, Paul. Enon. Random. Sept. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9781400069439. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780812984606. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. LITERARY FICTION
Harding’s debut novel, the wise, exquisitely written Tinkers, was a tremendous personal discovery, and not just for me; it won the Pulitzer Prize and has racked up sales close to 500,000 copies in the trade paperback and ebook formats combined. Writing in the first person and again using New England as a setting, Harding explores the grief of his protagonist, Charlie Crosby (grandson of Tinkers character George Crosby), over the loss of his daughter. Look for an eight-city author tour to Boston, Austin, New York, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland, OR, galley mailings to top libraries, and a prepublication booksellers tour.

Hastings, Max. Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War. Knopf. Sept. 2013. ISBN 9780307597052. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780385351225. HISTORY
Distinguished British author/journalist Hastings, winner of the 2012 Pritzker Military Library Literature Award, frequently writes about World War II. But here he shifts his attention to the Great War that preceded it, focusing not on causes or the slogging years of trench warfare but on the war’s opening months, a time of intense military and political maneuvering as Germany overran Belgium on its way to France, Britain protested the violation of Belgian neutrality and sent forces to the Continent, and Austria-Hungary squared off against Serbia even as the Russian army mobilized. Essential reading as we approach the centenary of World War I; with a four-city tour to Boston, Chicago, New York, and Washington, DC.

Kennedy, Randall. For Discrimination: Race, Affirmative Action, and the Law. Pantheon. Sept. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780307907370. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307907387. SOCIAL SCIENCE
As the Supreme Court reviews Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin and the country prepares for a major ruling on affirmative action, Kennedy offers both a history of this policy, first put in place in the early 1960s, and an analysis of its advantages and disadvantages. He’s the man for the job; Michael R. Klein Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and author of such hard-hitting books as Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word, a New York Times best seller, he is frequently asked by the media to comment on affirmative action. With the Court presumably ruling this spring, we will have had weeks to reflect before this book arrives in September; it should help us understand what comes next.

Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Lowland. Knopf. Sept. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780307265746. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385350402. lrg. prnt. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. LITERARY FICTION
Winner of a Pulitzer Prize, numerous best books honors, and enough readers to make her recent Unaccustomed Earth a No. 1 New York Times best seller (really something for a story collection), Lahiri does here what she does best: she writes about family relations within the context of the global Indian-American experience. Tightly bound brothers Subhash and Udayan Mitra, born 15 months apart in Calcutta, nevertheless differ greatly in perspective: Udayan joins the insurgent Naxalite movement, intent on ridding India of inequality, while Subhash quietly conducts scientific research in America. But when tragedy strikes, Subhash must return home and tends to his family. Love, responsibility, and idealism in a significant Sixties setting; with a nine-city tour to Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Providence, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

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.