Galloway, Heller, Jonasson, Prose; Doll, Dyer, Petit, Todd | Barbara’s Picks, May 2014, Pt. 1


Galloway, Steven. The Confabulist. Riverhead. May 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781594631962. $27.95. LITERARY/HISTORICAL
Galloway’s poignant, sharp-eyed The Cellist of Sarajevo was both a commercial and a critical success, having sold over 100,000 copies, won multiple awards (e.g., the Evergreen Award), been nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Award and Scotiabank Giller Prize, been featured by several One City, One Read programs, and been made a Freshman Year Experience pick. So it’s thrilling to see him back with another novel, this one viewing the world from the perspective of master magician Harry Houdini. Imagine that trickster’s view on World War I spies and the death of the Romanovs, not to mention the history of magic. With a multicity tour and lots of publicity.

Heller, Peter. The Painter. Knopf. May 2014. 288p. ISBN 9780385352093. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385352086. CD/downloadable: Penguin Random Audio. LITERARY
Heller sparkled with The Dog Stars, his edge-of-the-earth breakout debut, and it looks as if he’s going down the same road again. Protagonist Jim Stegner has a dark side, having served time for shooting a man in a bar. (Mercifully, the victim lived.) Now he’s a painter who gets good money for his work at a Santa Fe gallery and has sworn off drinking and violence. Out driving his truck, he spies a bad-news local named Dell beating a horse and intervenes, breaking Dell’s nose. A painting he does of a man digging a grave proves prophetic, as Jim, boiling with rage, again encounters Dell and kills him, Now he’s on the run from both the police and Dell’s brother. With a reading group guide and an eight-city tour to Albuquerque, Boulder, Denver, New York, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Santa Fe.

Jonasson, Jonas. The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden. Ecco. May 2014. 320p. tr. by Rachel Wilson-Broyles. ISBN 9780062329127. $25.99. LITERARY/HUMOROUS
Jonasson gave us a crusty centenarian in his debut, The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window, which has sold more than five million copies worldwide and 100,000 copies in the United States. Now he gives us Nombeko Mayeki, born desperately poor in Soweto, who works her way up from house cleaner to chief adviser on a hush-hush project. Though South Africa voluntarily dismantled its six nuclear missiles in 1994, Nombeko knows about a seventh missile. Now she’s running hard from South Africa’s secret service and ends up in Sweden—which is why, on June 14, 2007, the king and prime minister of Sweden are suddenly not to be found chatting up dignitaries at a gala banquet at the Royal Castle. With a 100,000-copy first printing.

Prose, Francine. Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932. Harper. May 2014. 288p. ISBN 9780061713781. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062199133. LITERARY/HISTORICAL
A National Book Award finalist and former president of PEN American Center, Prose originally meant to write a nonfiction book about Hungarian photographer George Brassaï and his iconic photograph of two lovers at a Paris nightclub. I’m sure that book would have been interesting, but this new novel sounds truly magnetic. At its tumultuous heart is the Chameleon Club, a shadowy jazz venue that attracts a host of interesting characters, among them athlete and notorious cross-dressing lesbian Lou Villars, Hungarian photographer Gabor Tsenyi, upper-crust art patron Baroness Lily de Rossignol, and sharp-tongued American novelist Lionel Maine. (There are echoes here of the real-life figures Violette Morris, Brassaï, Peggy Guggenheim, and Henry Miller, respectively.) As told by these varied characters, the story melts from freewheeling 1920s Paris to the grim 1930s, when Lou shocks everyone with a change of allegiance. With a 50,000-copy first printing and an eight-city tour to Boston, New York, Washington, DC, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and Raleigh/Durham.


Doll, Jen. Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest. Riverhead. May 2014. NAp. ISBN 9781594631986. $27.95. HUMOR
I’ve heard nothing but raves about this compendium from Doll, who’s made her name as a smart, sassy observer writing for venues as varied as the Atlantic, the New York Times Book Review, the Hairpin, Toast, and Vice. She’s so funny that a publicist reading the manuscript was reportedly given hell by her airplane seatmates for laughing so hard. It’s the era of mega-weddings, and Doll has been to dozens of them—for childhood friends, for friends she’s then lost, all the way to Jamaica, and with a date who showed up in black jeans for a black-tie ceremony. Meanwhile, she reflects on the significance of making the marital commitment in a time of real anxiety, financial and personal.

Dyer, Geoff. Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the USS George H.W. Bush. Pantheon. May 2013. 208p. ISBN 9780307911582. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307911599. Downloadable: Penguin Random Audio. TRANSPORTATION
You’ve gotta love British author Dyer, the author of so many border-bending books; he never does the same thing twice, whether he’s writing fiction (e.g., Death in Varanasi), nonfiction (e.g., Zona), or criticism (e.g., the Somerset Maugham Award winner But Beautiful). It’s not actually so surprising that Dyer would write an account of what life is like aboard an American aircraft carrier, since he devoted many hours during childhood to building model airplanes. What fascinates him, too, is that the carrier’s completely structured life of regulations, acronyms, and multiple stairs and walkways is so different from his own. Readers will recognize Dyer’s subject as the ship aboard which President Bush announced the resolution of the Iraq War, an eerie resonance.

Petit, Philippe. Creativity: The Perfect Crime. Riverhead. May 2014. 288p. ISBN 9781594631689 $27.95. ARTS
Sure, he’s artist-in-residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, as well as a juggler, street performer, and magician, but we all know Petit as the man who walked between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. He had to do some unorthodox planning to pull off that stunt, and he argues here that every born artist is also a born rebel, ready to upend the rules. Here he shows us how his life has embodied the idea that creativity requires transgression.

Todd, Chuck. The Stranger: Barack Obama in the White House. Little, Brown. Apr. 2014. ISBN 9780316079570. $29; ebk. ISBN 9780316234863. lib. ebk. ISBN 9780316234887. CD/downloadable/MP3: Hachette Audio. POLITICAL SCIENCE
This late April book just crossed my radar, and you should know about it. Chief White House correspondent and political director of NBC News, Todd spent time with President Obama’s inner circle so that he could give this overview of Obama’s two terms in the White House. His argument: Obama was the classic outsider, spending his first term learning to contend with opposition from the GOP and even his own party. In the second term, though, he’s coming into his own. It will be interesting to see Todd’s take on the government shutdown, right?

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.