Sebastian Barry, James Bowen, Joshua Ferris, Val McDermid, James Oakes | Barbara’s Picks, May 2014, Pt. 3

Barry, Sebastian. The Temporary Gentleman. Viking. May. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780670025879. $26.95.LITERARY FICTION
The popular Barry (On Canann’s Side), a Costa Award winner who has been twice shortlisted for a Booker, turns in the story of Irishman Jack McNulty, a “temporary gentleman” because his commission in the British Army during World War II wasn’t made permanent. Since the war, he has served as an engineer and a UN observer, but his real reason for writing his memoirs in Accra, Ghana, in 1957, is to sort out his feelings about his marriage to the beautiful, high-spirited Mai Kirwan, who eventually escaped him. Expect Barry’s usual luminous language and delicate insight into the human spirit.

Bowen, James. The World According to Bob: The Further Adventures of One Man and His Street-Wise Cat. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. May. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9781250046321. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466846500. MEMOIR
Once upon a time, Bowen was a struggling street musician. Then he became a struggling street musician with a marmalade-colored cat. Then, with A Street Cat Named Bob, he became a best-selling author, with rights sold to 27 countries and, in America, eight reprints in two weeks after the book’s No. 7 debut on the New York Times best sellers list. In this new book, Bowen explains how Bob helped him through the shock of international celebrity—and shares all the other lessons Bob has taught. Expect lots of publicity, including on (Bob eats Kibble?).

Ferris, Joshua, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. LIttle, Brown. May 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780316033978. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316329132. lib. ebk. ISBN 9780316329156. CD/downloadable: Hachette Audio. LITERARY FICTION
Ferris launched his debut with an unsetting parable of office life, Then We Came to the End, which hit it big as a finalist for the National Book Award and winner of the Barnes & Noble Discover Award. His second novel, The Unnamed, dared big and ended up as a No. 1 IndieNext Pick. And you’re wondering why I’m making his next novel a pick? Featuring Paul O’Rourke, a bundle of nervous contradictions—he’s a heavy-smoking dentist who decries technology but loves his iPhone, gets upset when his beloved Red Sox win, and can’t quite let go of believing in God—this novel has an absurdist premise attuned to the tensions of our times. When someone starts impersonating Paul online, he’s at first furious by the invasion of privacy, then forced into painful soul-searching when the online Paul looks to be better than the real thing. With a ten-city tour to New York, Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison, Ann Arbor, San Francisco, Austin, Seattle, and Portland.

McDermid, Val. Northanger Abbey. Grove. May 2014. ISBN9780802123015. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780802180391. POP FICTION
Winner of a Gold Dagger and Cartier Diamond dagger from the Crime Writers’ Association, McDermid puts her gift for writing taut, delectable thrills to good use in this update of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. A sheltered minister’s daughter, Cat Morland is thrilled when family friends invite her to attend Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival. There, with some updated clothes from her benefactors, she charms everyone. Meanwhile, Cat herself is charmed by Henry Tilney, a rising lawyer whose home is the craggy, steeped-in-history Northanger Abbey, and his sister, Eleanor. But is there something dark and creepy along the edges of the seemingly perfect Tilneys, or is Cat’s imagination fired by too much novel reading? Definitely atmospheric.

Oakes, James. The Scorpion’s Sting: Antislavery and the Coming of the Civil War. Norton. May 2014. 160p. ISBN 9780393239935. $23.95. HISTORY
The title of this new study by two-time Lincoln Award winner Oakes, Distinguished Professor of History and Graduate School Humanities Professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center, references an image that animated antislavery leaders in the antebellum era. A scorpion surrounded by fire stings itself to death, just as abolitionists hoped that by surrounding slave states with free states, thus giving slaves greater means of escape and undermining the Southern economy, slavery itself would collapse. In this slim, intensely argued book, Oakes considers whether abolition could have been achieved peacefully.

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.