Tag Archives: LIttle Brown

#fridayreads

In Chicago once more, the DBC team has many fall titles left to scale. Many of them will take us plain through to 2013. Here now are just a couple selections that we’ll be previewing shortly:

Both Flesh and Not: Essays by David Foster Wallace.

Little, Brown releases 15 never-before-anthologized essays by our most revered literary genius. The titular essay on Roger Federer is held up by fans alongside Infinite Jest as Wallace’s unparalleled masterpiece (something with which Kevin wholeheartedly agrees), and we’re particularly excited to read (and re-read) his dissection of Terminator 2, which we hope will cause the same unexpected stir of emotions that his 1996 essay on David Lynch and the film Lost Highway did. Though of course, because of whom we’re talking about, it will cause the unexpected either way.

 An End to All Things: Stories by Jared Yates Sexton.

It’s exciting when DBC’s Illinois-born-and-bred contingent can read a collection rooted entirely in the Midwest. Indiana, with its contrast between vast cornfields, a storied state university, and Gary’s industrial narrative, serves as a microcosm for America as a whole. These stories chronicle a town wracked with doubt as the collapsing economy closes in — written in presumed contrast to the book’s author, earner of an MFA who has the choice to be there or not be there. It’s a dangerous thing to trust just anyone with a Midwestern voice, so likely to accidentally condescend or misconstrue as they may be. But I trust Atticus Books, and doubt they’d put their faith in anything less than the real deal.

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Kevin Powers’s “The Yellow Birds”

America is often reminded by its elected leaders and government officials that War is Hell. This is not offered as a condemnation of the act, but as a valorized supporting argument: war’s totally bad but we do the totally bad thing because the alternative is way, way worse—trust us!—and it’s not like we want to do all the messy stuff that comes with war, we kinda have to, shrug. And it seems like every few weeks Americans are reminded—by way of violence on another continent or a report on our fleet of flying death robots—just how bad war is, while our leaders bluster about more more more war to the world.

It’s my generation’s great shame. As someone who studied history, I’m hesitant to cliche it up and say that history will not justify our carelessness and our cruelty and our killing—but what the hell, man, it’s true. We’re not coming out of this looking good.

In his gutpunch of a debut, The Yellow Birds, Kevin Powers doesn’t let your mind stray far from that shame for a moment. The story of two friends—Privates Bartle and Murphy—is not only a striking and seemingly flawless first novel but also a brutally and importantly honest account of America’s “shitty little war” in Iraq.  Continue reading

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Five Debuts to Watch

In a way, 2011 was the year of the debut: Chad Harbach, Karen Russell, Teju Cole, and Téa Obreht enchanted with first-time efforts. Though 2012 hasn’t offered any debuts on the literary level of Open City, or any with the blistering industry-wide hype to match The Art of Fielding, the second-half of this year will feature many notable debuts that you’ll be hearing a lot about—some of which we’re lucky enough to review.

Here are five to watch.

Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles (Random House, June 26)
The year’s representative from the Earth-Shattering Hype category might be this debut from Walker, a former editor at Simon & Schuster. The Age of Miracles has a bold premise: the earth has, inexplicably, started to slow. And all the while the eleven-year-old Julia must find a way to cope while being a person with those other problems—you know, the ones that don’t have an effect on the earth’s rotation, like losing friends or watching her family disintegrate. Early reviews have been stunningly positive, with Publisher’s Weekly calling it a “triumph of vision, language, and terrifying momentum.” Continue reading

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Rowling in the Dough

Unless you’ve been living under a rock with no wifi, or were just so ensconced in your weekend Oscar ballot that you could think of little else, then you heard last week’s announcement that J.K. Rowling will be teaming up with Michael Pietsch at Little, Brown (and the UK’s David Shelley) to release a new novel, this time for adults.

Even non-Potter fans can imagine the mass hysteria that has ensued.

I saw the news unfold yesterday at lightning speed from my desk at work, in the way that tight-lipped news usually does: people repeating, over and over again, the same two known facts and quotes that the story has to offer.  Jo is excited, Little, Brown is excited, and no, this book will NOT in any way be connected to Harry Potter. Add to that further discussion of the as-yet-to-be-revealed Pottermore and Twitter declarations like “Anything written by JK Rowling is a literary masterpiece,” and you begin to get the full picture of what fervor any Rowling release will cause. Continue reading

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Ayad Akhtar’s “American Dervish”

If there is a quality about Ayad Akhtar’s debut novel American Dervish, it is the author’s willingness to deal with the messiness of his subject—the Muslim Experience in America: warts and all. What stymies this effort, however, is Akhtar’s seeming desire to contain such messiness in a tidy package, a story which ending—heartbreaking content aside—seems engineered to comfort the reader.

American Dervish relays the adolescence of Hayat Shah, an American of Pakistani descent living in Milwaukee. Hayat’s parents have raised him in a fairly Westernized, secular environment, adhering only to the less spiritual, cultural norms of their homeland. But when Hayat’s mother’s friend Mina comes to America—after a messy divorce from an arranged marriage—Hayat is introduced to the beauty and wonder of the Koran.

Mina’s arrival sets off a traditional conflict: east and west, secular and fundamentalist, etc. Hayat soon decides he wants to be a hafiz—someone who memorizes the entire Koran. But in the process, he discovers the texts many gaps and contradictions—and its less-than-savory treatment of women and Jews. And while Mina herself views the Koran through a more liberal, interpretive lens, Hayat is drawn to the idea that the entire Koran—every sentence, every word—is the true word of God; there can be no doubt.  Continue reading

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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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David Foster Wallace’s “The Pale King”

The first thing you ought to know about David Foster Wallace’s posthumous novel The Pale King is that it’s incomplete. The second thing is that it’s rife with boring, directionless passages that may have been excised either by Wallace himself or his editors at Little, Brown at a later stage, long novella-ish chapters that either contain dialogue tag-less conversations about American civics or circuitous character sketches  from the childhoods and adolescences of characters whose contemporary-as-in-the-book-as-it’s-happening selves remain murky and difficult to engage with. The third thing is that it’s deeply personal—Wallace himself is a character, and many of the book’s figures bear a resemblance to the author. The last thing you ought to know is that The Pale King is, with the provisional all things considered, a brilliant work, and a reflection of not only Wallace’s enduring genius but his maturation as a writer. Continue reading

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#fridayreads

This post-Thanksgiving stupor thing is taking days to like stop. It’s really a pretty big hindrance life- and blog-wise, but we’ll persevere and have some ballin’ new content next week, including reviews of Sara Levine’s quick and engrossing debut Treasure Island!!! and David Foster Wallace’s posthumous exercise in fake memoir The Pale King. We’ll also start previewing some of our big-time January reviews, so look for that!

In the meantime, here’s our #fridayreads.

Ayad Akhtar’s American Dervish
I have to say, starting a blog is pretty conducive to reading cool stuff before it comes out. Flipping through the Little, Brown catalog for the spring and summer, I was immediately grabbed by American Dervish—both its arresting cover art and intriguing story. Akhtar tells the story of a Pakistani family in suburban Milwaukee, and their relationship with Islam. It is complicated and intense, and—quite refreshingly—not at all morally didactic; the conflicts are layered and the characters, forgive the cliché, really do make you think. It’s a story that benefits from Akhtar’s pedigree as a playwright, as it’s driven by some difficult-to-write showdowns between culturally diverse characters. I’m about seventy-five percent of the way through it, and I’m confident it will be one of the most talked about books of 2011.

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Peter Orner’s “Love and Shame and Love”

The word epic is used rather flippantly these days, no? I hear it everywhere: film trailers, idle conversation, restaurant reviews. Of course, there’s epic the adjective—that was epic—and epic the noun—now Beowulf, there’s an epic. So when I spotted Daniel Handler’s front-cover blurb of Peter Orner’s Love and Shame and Love, I was a little squeamish. 

“Love and Shame and Love is an epic book—epic like Gilgamesh and epic like a guitar solo.”

It’s a bit of a turnoff to see that right there: on the front cover. It’s a clever little language-trick pulled by Handler, but that is an expectation-escalator, if there ever was one.

I winced on sight. I have no idea how to define an epic—noun—in the modern sense. The Greek version, of course, is so much easier to pin down. We understand what is a Greek epic and what isn’t because, well, there are lists out there and academics who trouble themselves with those questions. We know because we are told.

But if I had to come up with a workable definition, I might posit that a modern epic would find a way to organically comment or touch on or involve every sphere of the American experience. That would be an epic, for me. And I use the qualifying adverb “organically” in my definition with a clear purpose: separating aspiration form ambition. A work that aspires to be anything but lacks the ambition to be that thing will ultimately fail. Maybe that’s why the word epic is so slippery: you can pick an epic out of a lineup, but you can’t sketch one out. Continue reading

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#fridayreads

So I go to this cafe that shall remain unnamed basically every day for lunch. Given that I work in the area around Boston Common, sensible and sanitary meals are hard to come by, so my personal philosophy is: when you find a place, don’t let go.

This cafe screws up my order every single day. And I’m not talking about screwing up a nonfat caramel macchiato with brown sugar dabbed on the whip cream in healthy increments. No, I’m talking about such brainteasing orders as everything bagel with hummus, or side salad or glass of water.

Its floor design is abysmal; there are no walking lanes; if you’re carrying a hot plate: good luck. They usually burn espresso. If you complain, they are brutally nonchalant about it. Their Yelp page basically corroborates all of my experiences.

So, yesterday, thinking that I might have to find a new place to get my nom on every afternoon, I decided to order something new, that day’s soup du jour, Thai chicken curry. It wasn’t otherwordly, but my usually awful barista asked a very simple, very surprising question: Do you want croutons in your soup?

WHO EVEN KNEW THAT WAS A THING?

YES. YES. A THOUSAND TIMES YES.

Peter Orner’s Love and Shame and Love
In the creative writing department at my alma mater, Orner’s writing is required reading. Having read “The Raft” on multiple occasions in class, I picked up Esther Stories last year. It’s hard to pin down what’s so moving about his writing beyond the fact that Orner has a particular skill for deployment: his scenes are often brusque and short, but what’s contained in them is so essential (I’ve found this to be true in my foray into Love and Shame and Love). It’s unfair to call this approach minimalistic or drag Ray Carver into it. There’s just an immediacy to what’s on the page. It’s impossible to stop paying attention when what’s there so forcefully commands you to stay engrossed.

Love and Shame and Love is out Monday. Go get it.

(I’m not shilling; it’s very good.)

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