Odds and Ends

Merry Sunday, everyone.

We’re doing some year-end business for the next thirteen days, but in the meantime we thought we’d let you know about our packed January review schedule.

January 3: Leigh Stein’s The Fallback Plan
Stein’s debut arrives just after New Year’s Day and deals with a topic near and dear to our hearts: what to do after college? Of course the protagonist, Esther Kohler, has a situation much more complicated than any of ours; that’s probably why she’s a character in a novel and we’re just a bunch of metropolitan white people. We digress! Stein is 26, and by all accounts, her debut is a promising entrance into the fiction world.

January 4: Sandra Newman’s The Western Lit Survival Kit: An Irreverent Guide to the Classics, from Homer to Faulkner
Newman’s flyover “guide to the classics” is certainly written at the right time: if there’s one thing the aughts-generation (Are we Generation Z or something? Whatever.) has seemingly missed out on, it’s classic literature. My high school English courses were a wasteland in terms of quality classic literature, the only two exceptions being Native Son and The Great Gatsby. (I’m not counting the abridged-to-airplane-safety-manual-size translation of The Odyssey, either.) Newman, in humorous fashion, condenses these texts, using a formula to rate and discuss them.

January 9: Ayad Akhtar’s American Dervish
Akhtar’s debut novel (can you tell we still love first-time authors?) has a very clear objective: to tell the story of being Muslim in America, long before 9/11, in the 80s and 90s. American Dervish focuses on Hayat Shah, a pre-teen Muslim in suburban Milwaukee attempting to reconcile his faith and his family. But while it focuses on Hayat, Dervish is as much about the female experience in Islam. The subject matter is charged and sure to provoke some reaction; but Akhtar’s own command of Islamic texts is so strong that there is authenticity and authority in criticisms of religious texts or traditions.

January 9: Doc Hendley’s Wine to Water: A Bartender’s Quest to Bring Clean Water to the World
Hendley’s memoir is a genuine story of a small town American meeting faraway problems in remote corners of the world. His stories are riveting, and his charm apparent.

January 17: Ben Marcus’ The Flame Alphabet
Marcus, known as much for his criticism of Jonathan Franzen as his own presence as a force in our literary culture, focuses his new novel on a plague: language. Adults, affected by their children’s use of it, are struck with a grotesque condition, with jaundice, soreness, open sores—all things one associates with, you know, plagues. The Flame Alphabet is haunting, and a slam-dunk to be on (most) year-end lists in 2012. Also: kick-ass cover art, if there ever was; my goodness.

January 17: Eli Gottlieb’s The Face Thief
Gottlieb’s new novel focuses on a protagonist, Margot, well-versed in the Chinese art of face reading. Using her new-found powers for untoward means—preying on the weaknesses of men—Margot destroys lives and families.

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