Joseph Boyden, Rivka Galchen, Tom Rachman, Phyllis Rose, Colson Whitehead | Barbara’s Picks, May 2014, Pt. 5

Boyden, Joseph. The Orenda. Knopf. May 2014. 448p. ISBN 9780385350730. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385350747. LITERARY/HISTORICAL FICTION
Canadian Boyden has a shelf full of awards for his first two novels, and from what I’ve seen of this arrestingly written new work, soon he’ll have more. When his guides flee the rampaging Iroquois, Jesuit missionary Christophe finds himself abandoned in the Canadian wilderness, then captured with an Iroquois girl named Snow Falls by the Huron warrior and elder Bird. Bird wants Christophe as a go-between with New France and Snow Falls as a replacement for two daughters slaughtered by the Iroquois, but instead all three face battle, illness, and death. With a nine-city tour to Jackson, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Nashville, New Orleans, New York, Oxford, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Galchen, Rivka. American Innovations: Stories. Farrar. May 2014. 192p. ISBN 9780374280475. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780374711207. SHORT STORIES
Galchen has published stories and essays in venues like The New Yorker, which named her one of its “20 Under 40” American fiction writers in 2010. But we’ve been waiting for something bigger since 2008’s eye-catching debut, Atmospheric Disturbances. Here it is, a collection that features stories responding from a female perspective to classic works by the likes of James Thurber, Nikolay Gogol, and Jorge Luis Borges. What are we to make of stories that feature furniture storming out on its owner and a woman harangued into delivering a takeout order wrongly called in to her? Lots, I think.

Rachman, Tom. The Rise & Fall of Great Powers. Dial. May 2014. 400p. ISBN 9780679643654. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780812995725. CD: Penguin Random Audio. LITERARY FICTION
Rachman follows his New York Times best-selling debut, The Imperfectionists, with a story focused on an American named Tooly Zylberberg, who runs a bookstore in Wales. Tooly is still confused after being abducted as a child and shuttled worldwide by book-loving Russian Humphrey, sexy Sarah, and mysterious ringleader Venn, whose disappearance when Tooly is 20 leaves her adrift. Now she’s on another world tour, having received information from an old boyfriend that could explain why all this happened to her. With a six-city tour to New York, Boston, Washington, DC, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Seattle and a powerful sense that books can make a difference.

Rose, Phyllis. The Shelf: From LEQ to LES: Adventures in Extreme Reading. Farrar. May 2014. 288p. ISBN 9780374261207. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780374709792. LITERARY CRITICISM
When Rose, author of the National Book Award–nominated A Woman of Letters, wanted to get at the heart of why fiction works, she decided to read from a shelf she chose randomly at an Upper East Side lending library in Manhattan. LEQ to LES yielded not just Mikhail Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time and Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera but a 17th-century picaresque, a California-based mystery, and more. With a reading group guide, of course.

Whitehead, Colson. The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death. Doubleday. May 2014. 256p. ISBN 9780385537056. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385537063. Downloadable: Penguin Random Audio. HUMOR
Poker holds no interest for me, but I’d read anything by MacArthur Fellow Whitehead, author of indelible books like Sag Harbor. A casual poker player, he had a game change when the online ESPN offshoot Grantland staked him $10,000 to play in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Soon, Whitehead was working practice trips to Atlantic City around his children’s New York City school schedules. Though the book originated in Whitehead’s Grantland articles, more than half the material is new. As much social satire and gentle self-mockery as a book of gamesmanship; fans brought on board by Whitehead’s zombie hustle, Zone One, are expected to show interest.

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.