Eric Foner, Seth Grahame-Smith, Edith Pearlman, & More | Barbara’s Picks, Jan. 2015, Pt. 3

Cohen, Roger. The Girl from Human Street: Ghosts of Memory in a Jewish Family. Knopf. Jan. 2015. 336p. ISBN 9780307594662. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385353137. MEMOIR
New York Times columnist Cohen, honored by the Overseas Press Club for his work as the paper’s Balkans bureau chief during the Bosnian War and in charge of the Pulitzer Prize–winning coverage of the aftermath of 9/11, chronicles the post-Holocaust Jewish experience largely through the life of his mother and her family. As the narrative moves from Lithuania to South Africa, England, the United States, and Israel, Cohen considers the all-too-familiar racism of apartheid, a cousin’s discomfort with policing the West Bank in Israel, and how the inevitable sense of otherness has damaged his family emotionally, contributing to a deep streak of manic fonerdepression. Getting at the big picture through the personal.

Foner, Eric. Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad. Norton. Jan. 2015. 320p. ISBN 9780393244076. $26.95. HISTORY
You probably don’t know the names Sydney Howard Gay, Louis Napoleon, and Charles B. Ray, but you will after reading this chronicle by towering Civil War specialist Foner, winner of the Pulitzer, Lincoln, and Bancroft prizes. An abolitionist newspaper editor, a furniture polisher, and a black minister, respectively, these three activists ran the Underground Railroad in New York, a dangerous task in a city whose banks, businesses, and politics all profited mightily from the slave trade. Working in concert with underground railroad operators in other cities and with the black dockworkers who passed on information about arriving fugitives, they were instrumental in helping 3,000 fugitive slaves reach freedom between 1830 and 1860. Drawing on newly tapped materials like Gay’s meticulous records of slave rescues; with a five-city tour to Cincinnati, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC.

Grahame-Smith, Seth. The Last American Vampire. Grand Central. Jan. 2015. 320p. ISBN 9781455502127. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781455502103. lib. ebk. ISBN 9781455552498. CD/downloadable: Hachette Audio. HORROR
Admit it; you wondered whether Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was pushing the envelope. But Grahame-Smith’s amazing mashup pleased enough people to become a New York Times best seller, netting 1.5 million copies across formats. In this follow-up, vampire Henry Sturges, staggering after the shock of friend Lincoln’s death, launches on an epic road trip that takes him from an encounter with Jack the Ripper to turn-of-the-century New York, Russia’s October Revolution, the crash of the Hindenburg, two world wars, and President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. A vampire’s-eye view of history, with Grahame-Smith doing what he does best.girlontrain

Hawkins, Paula. The Girl on the Train. Riverhead. Jan. 2015. 336p. ISBN 9781594633669. $26.95. CD: Penguin Audio. THRILLER
A featured title at Day of Dialog’s Editors’ Picks panel and subsequently in the LJ Book Review editors’ BEA roundup, this debut thriller has a decided Rear Window feel, but the window in question belongs to the commuter train Rachel takes daily. From the train she always sees a couple she’s dubbed Jason and Jess peacefully breakfasting on their roof deck, a real stab in the heart after the breakup of her marriage. Then Rachel spots someone new in the yard, and subsequently the woman of the house disappears. Informing the police gets Rachel in deep—and might have done more harm than good. DreamWorks has already acquired the film rights for the London-based journalist’s works, so don’t miss out.

Malkiel, Burton G. A Random Walk Down Wall Street: The Time-Tested Strategy for Successful Investing. Norton. Jan. 2015. 464p. ISBN 9780393246117. $29.95. INVESTING
Malkiel, the Chemical Bank Chairman’s Professor of Economics at Princeton University and a former member of the Council of Economic Advisers, knows his investing. Why else would his investment classic have sold more than 1.5 million copies? So readers will be happy with this completely revised and updated version. (The last revision was 2011.) Hot new topics include exchange-traded funds and investment opportunities in emerging markets, and there’s a brand-new chapter on “smart beta” funds. As the subtitle suggests, this book has stood the test of time.

Mo Yan. Frog. Viking. Jan. 2015. 480p. tr. from Chinese by Howard Goldblatt. ISBN 9780525427988. $27.95. LITERARY FICTION
This latest from Chinese writer Mo Yan will attract attention, not only because he is the 2012 recipient of the Nobel prize but because he’s been criticized both for supporting China’s rulers while showing little solidarity with fellow writers and for approaching recent Chinese history with a satiric touch that would seem to belie some terrible tragedies. He’s also considered a consummate stylist whose punch-in-the-gut writing goes over the top and takes us along. With this book, billed as Mo Yan’s first major publication since winning the Nobel prize (it’s really more his first publication with a major house), readers can decides for themselves. Here we get what the Nobel committee called the author’s hallucinatory realism: a playwright called Tadpole conceives a work about his aunt, a beautiful midwife who opts to prove her loyalty to the Communist Party when her lover defects by vigorously enforcing the country’s one-child policy. Her work thus includes some gruesome, late-term abortions. Changes to the controversial honeydewone-child policy were announced by the government late last year; this book could help us understand why.

Pearlman, Edith. Honeydew. Little, Brown. Jan. 2015. 272p. ISBN 9780316297226. $26. SHORT STORIES
Pearlman has been publishing award-winning stories since the late 1970s but became a household name (at least among smart readers) with the spectacular and incisive story collection Binocular Vision, which won the PEN/ Malamud and National Book Critics Circle awards and was a finalist for the National Book Award, the Story Prize, and the Los Angeles Times Book Award. Her stories show us the edginess in the ordinary, as with the title story, which encompasses an affair, an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, anorexia, and adolescent drug use while capturing the inner thoughts of little Emily, who wants to be a bug. In “Sonny,” a mother surprises us by praying for her daughters to be barren so they never have to mourn the death of a child. The book as a whole should be an unassailable delight.

Shields, David & Caleb Powell. I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel. Knopf. Jan. 2015. 272p. ISBN 9780385351942. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385351959. LITERARY CRITICISM
A novelist, critic, and all-round original thinker whose Reality Hunger was named a best book by more than 30 publications and whose The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead shieldswas a New York Times best seller, Shields loves his art but wishes he had a life. Friend Powell has published stories and essays, but with life intervening—he’s been a musician, construction worker, and teacher and is now stay-at-home dad to three girls—he can’t commit to art. Here, they’ve captured a dialog they had on a self-imposed retreat to a cabin in the Cascade Mountains, where they discussed art-vs.-life issues while touching on genocide, marriage, sex, Toni Morrison, sports, porn, the death penalty, baldness, betrayal, alcohol, Rupert Murdoch, and more. They also watched films, including My Dinner with André, appropriate enough at the time and even more so now that James Franco adapted the book into a film (Shields and Powell star) that will debut at Sundance in January 2015. How cool is this? With a six-city tour to Boston, Los Angeles, New York, Portland (OR), San Francisco, and Seattle.


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.