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During times like these we're grateful for the solace and escape of a great book. We're grateful also for your support. We hope you and yours are all safe and sound, and we hope you love these books as much as we do.
During times like these we're grateful for the solace and escape of a great book. We're grateful also for your support. We hope you and yours are all safe and sound, and we hope you love these books as much as we do.
(Knopf, 9780525658696, $25.95)"Majumdar's suspenseful narrative holds a mirror up to society at large, reflecting the lies people tell themselves to rationalize sacrificing morality for personal gain. Unintended consequences from an impulsive social media post explode against a backdrop of deep economic insecurities and centuries-old prejudices. A searing debut, this novel is timely and timeless. It packs a punch way above its weight. Brilliant."
|(photo: Elena Seibert)|
Independent booksellers across the country have chosen A Burning by Megha Majumdar (Knopf) as their number-one pick for the June 2020 Indie Next List. A Burning, Majumdar's debut novel, follows three characters in contemporary India who each have different dreams: Jivan wants to rise to the middle class, PT Sir chases political power as his country barrels toward right-wing extremism, and Lovely seeks fame. After Jivan is accused of being connected to a recent terrorist attack, their loosely connected lives become intertwined in ways they never could have imagined, and all three must decide what it means to be complicit.
Where did the idea for this book come from?
I was keeping track of the news and looking at what's happening in India, which is where I grew up. There's been a rise of the right wing in India, which, I think, is mirrored with the rise of the right elsewhere in Europe and certainly here in the U.S. I wanted to write from that place of fear and alarm and anger, while looking at this turn to the right. And I also wanted to explore how individuals pursue their dreams and hold onto who they are and what kind of life they want to have even when the systems and institutions around them defeat them at every turn.
Jivan's narrative touches on many current issues in the political world, from discussions of media corruption to the issue of effective counsel, all beginning with a simple post on Facebook. How did you craft her character?
I wanted to write about somebody who has a very earnest goal and is very determined to meet it. I also wanted to write about things that should be very simple, like getting a reliable water supply to your home or having a place to live that is not threatened and does not have to be guarded from demolition, which Jivan is not able to. She has to constantly fight to get these things and is defeated by the social institutions that are meant to serve her, like the water supply board and her lawyer who is assigned to her from the courts.
On the issue of effective counsel, did you have any recent cases in mind while writing?
A lot of this is inspired by what I read in the news, especially the lynching of people who are suspected of having killed a cow or eaten beef. A frightening thing that's happening in India is that Hindus consider the cow to be sacred, and they don't eat beef, but Muslims do eat beef; the sacredness of the cow has become this issue behind which Hindu nationalists have found themselves gathering with increasing fervor, so there's definitely been cases where people are attacked and killed because they're suspected of having eaten beef. I wrote about a truck transporting cows being stopped and searched on the highway--that was inspired by stuff that was in the news.
As an American reader, I couldn't help but notice the parallels between the society this book portrays and that of the U.S. Was this something you wanted to evoke?
Yes--while being very specifically about India, I also wanted it to ring true for an American reader. I think, right now, we are in a moment during this pandemic where we are definitely seeing how we're at the mercy of a state that does not really care about the wellbeing of the people who live here. There's a growing sense that the institutions and branches of the government that are supposed to serve us perhaps don't have our best interests at heart. And there is also the sense--with bringing up mutual aid groups, neighbors trying to help neighbors, people checking in and doing what they can for each other during this time, and the fundraising that's going on for so many kinds of nonprofits and bookstores--that we are all we have. The state isn't stepping in in an effective way. I hope that this sense of being betrayed by institutions that are meant to serve us will help American readers think about their lives and what they're seeing about government and class and resources and stratification and privilege here.
Lovely, an aspiring actress, plays what on the surface appears to be a small role in Jivan's story, but by the end is clearly much larger. How did you craft her character and her voice?
I wanted to write about somebody who is marginalized in all of these complex ways, but still has great intelligence, great humor, and a strong sense of who she is. That's why I wrote her dialogue and voice in the way that I did, which is a kind of altered English. In India, and I think in a lot of places and perhaps here, too, there is this sense that English is this centered language. You have to learn English to get ahead, and how well you speak English is the gauge for how far up you are in society. I wanted to write about somebody who is not interested in that kind of learning, but still has intelligence and her own kind of learning with which she makes her way in the world. And so, altering her voice a little bit and making it stand out from the other characters was, I hope, a way of signaling those issues of class and education while not compromising at all on the way she's thinking about social issues and her own place in the world.
PT Sir, a teacher who falls in with the right-wing party, also contributes to a larger conversation this book engages with about political complicity. Can you talk more about that?
I wanted him to be a complex character, somebody who is drawn to this tiny glimpse of power in a country with huge power differentials, where most people feel that they don't have very much power in the face of the government. I wanted to write about what this ordinary, middle-class schoolteacher does when he faces an opportunity to grab some power. How will he act? What does he do? And how does his moral center shift? He is a person grasping for power, and you can't call him evil or not. He's just reaching for the thing that will make his life and his wife's better. I tried to keep from portraying him as an evil person, but to show how someone who is very ordinary and has not been involved in politics his whole life can get drawn into this because of the appeal of having some power. He does, of course, become complicit in really profound ways, but I hope that the book is able to urge readers to ask what they might have done differently.
There's also brief interludes throughout the book that give readers a look at the world of some peripheral characters. Why did you want to include these perspectives?
Initially, I was a little bummed to realize that I could only really write about three characters in depth and with any real specificity when there were so many stories that I could follow and so many specific lives and circumstances I could explore. So, the interludes, I hope, signal that there is such a wealth of stories in this country. There is such a wealth of people finding their own ways, being creative in their lives, doing what they have to in order to move up and earn a better way of life for themselves and their families. I simply did not have the room to write all of them while keeping it a novel that would follow some people in depth.
Is there anything that you'd like to add?
I want to encourage readers to buy a book from an independent bookstore right now. One of the silver linings of this moment is that my local bookstore can be any bookstore in the country. I've found it really special and enlightening and fun to go to the websites of bookstores that I've never actually visited in cities far away from New York and see what their staff picks are and buy from them.
(St. Martin's Press, 9781250248732, $26.99)"Utterly and wonderfully charming! The residents of Chawton, England, who seem to have nothing in common, come together by their love for the writings of Jane Austen. They quickly come to realize that true friendship depends on nothing but a caring heart and the willingness and courage to be open to others. This is a book to read again and again whenever your faith in humanity is threatened."
(Riverhead Books, 9780525536291, $27)"Brit Bennett's second novel broke my heart. She doesn't shy away from the sadness inherent in each character's life, yet she left me feeling better for having met all of them. I read The Vanishing Half with a sense of hope, despite my dread that terrible things might befall the characters. Desiree and Stella's story unfolds with a deft delicateness in a book that is astonishingly accomplished and sweeping, and yet so very intimate."
(Berkley, 9781984806734, $16, trade paper)"What do you get when you cross a disillusioned romance author with a Hemingway wannabe? A compulsively readable book where you kind of hope for your train to be delayed so you can spend a few more minutes with January and Gus. These two, saddled with writer's block, make a pact to write the other's genre. Literary snobbery is (rightfully) called out, and the two begin to navigate a friendship outside of writing as they explore the other's process. Reader, I loved it."
(St. Martin's Press, 9781250239341, $26.99)"While reading The Second Home, you can taste the saltwater of both the ocean and the tears of familial pain. Christina Clancy has written a beautiful story of family and the bonds that can be broken and somehow repaired again. The characters and location are so well-written, you'll feel like you've vacationed on the Cape for years with the Gordon family. Fans of Jane Hamilton and We Were the Mulvaneys will love The Second Home."
(Hanover Square Press, 9781335013934, $27.99)"Broken People tells one man's deeply personal story of confronting insecurities, obsessions, and frustrations while challenging many current cultural constructs. The pain and self-doubt will be recognized by many a reader, who will in equal measure cheer and thank Lansky for sharing a hopeful journey to forgiveness."
(Custom House, 9780062905659, $27.99)"Getting into Catherine House is the key to success. Spend three years here completely removed from the outside world, separate yourself from your life before Catherine House, and when the three years are over, you'll be unstoppable. That's the premise for this evocative and gripping gothic novel. Elisabeth Thomas' ability to create at once an elusive yet highly practical world makes her a stunning new literary voice. Inspired by secret societies, scientific experimentation, and the mysteriousness of finding ourselves, Catherine House is sure to haunt readers."
(G.P. Putnam's Sons, 9780593187708, $27)"What a delightful surprise! Instead of the usual woe-is-me, angsty, life's-got-me-down book, we have a fusty, recently divorced, middle-aged British artist who's forced to rent his house out on an Airbnb equivalent to make ends meet. But instead of feeling sorry for himself, he takes time to reassess things and slowly turns his life around. Told with great empathy and nice, droll humor, this is one we need for these crazy times."
(Doubleday, 9780385545723, $24.95)"Jean Kyoung Frazier's Pizza Girl breathes honesty into narratives surrounding pregnancy and motherhood, and faces the desperate ambivalence that often accompanies these experiences but is left unspoken. We explore this through characters who cling to one another in an attempt to escape the disappointment and stresses of their own personal lives. Pizza Girl presents us with an important sentiment: You cannot outrun the fact that the people who created you will always be a part of you to some degree or another. But you can work to grasp the ways in which you manifest that into who you are as an individual."
(Berkley, 9780593102527, $16, trade paper)"Something to Talk About is an incredible debut about a Hollywood showrunner, Jo, and her assistant, Emma, who realize the tabloids may be correct in thinking there is something romantic between the two of them. The slowest of slow-burn romances in the best possible way, Something to Talk About touches on the #MeToo movement, the meaning of consent, and what it means to be a powerful woman in Hollywood."
(Europa Editions, 9781609455750, $18, trade paper)"I hardly know where to start with my need to talk about this book! Reproduction is a love story spanning three decades, from the early '80s to the 2000s, starting in Toronto, a city of vast differences in wealth and cultures. The unlikely couple (Edgar, a rich, idle German, and Felicia, a poor 19-year-old immigrant from the West Indies) meet and start an unconventional relationship, with lifelong consequences for them both. Don't let the 550-page count fool you: The writing style is the opposite of weighty and dense--it is mischievous, funny, moving, and full of stunning revelations about how strangers become family. Simply breathtaking!"
(Catapult, 9781948226509, $26)
"Zaina Arafat's You Exist Too Much is one of my favorite books of the year. This debut novel blew me away. Arafat's narrator is confident in her vulnerability; her desire to be seen and understood is visceral and uncomfortably familiar. The intoxication of unrequited love and the disconcerting feeling that can accompany settling down are recognizable, yet in Arafat's capable hands, I was transported. This book is for anyone who has struggled to fit into society's neat boxes, who has been frustrated when emotions don't follow a logical path, or who has been disappointed to find that sometimes the love of others isn't enough."
(Knopf, 9780525521815, $26.95)"Over the latter half of the past decade, Elliot Ackerman has established himself as one of the great forces in modern literature. His novels and essays have provided uncommon depth of understanding of a world in constant violent conflict, all written with a superb command of language. His newest novel once again delves into a world of corruption and deception, but this is done at a much more personal level as the crisis of a marriage in Istanbul reflects the underlying rot of society. Set in the course of one day and developed through flashbacks, the reader learns the toll on individuals and society in a world of deceit."
(Algonquin Books, 9781616208578, $26.95)
"Imagine finding out that you have terminal cancer and are faced with the decision of whether or not to seek treatment. The next thing you know, you are the only survivor of a plane crash and no one knows who you are or how you survived. Well-written and plausible, The Falling Woman is a story about a woman who decides to take control of the rest of her life in an unconventional way for the benefit of herself and her family."
Indies Introduce -- outstanding debuts as selected by independent booksellers
(William Morrow, 9780062844484, $27.99)"A beautifully written story of identity lost and found, friendship, the love of a mother for her child, and what happens when decades-old secrets are brought to light. Ginny is married with a teenage daughter when her husband's scandal threatens to bring her world crashing down around her. Strong female relationships take the lead as Ginny strives to protect her daughter and reckons with her past. Highly recommend."
(Harper Paperbacks, 9780062974846, $15.99, trade paper)
"This book is a tasty, delicious treat! When you mix delicious food and hate-to-love romance in a book, you instantly have me hooked. Lumi Santana is a chef with the gift of synesthesia: She can feel a person's emotions just by tasting their cooking. When she opens a restaurant and it fails, she takes a sous chef position at a French restaurant with Julien Dax, a celebrated chef known for his good looks but bad attitude. Lumi can't stand Julien but tastes his cooking because it looks so irresistible, and when she's overcome with intense emotions she wonders if she wants more. If you are looking for something that's fun and tasty and will test your senses, you will enjoy this book."
(William Morrow, 9780062434029, $28.99)"This is a crazy funny new take on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream that will have you laughing out loud and getting goofy looks from the other people in the coffee shop. Christopher Moore is always entertaining, and this book is no exception--you will enjoy it from the first sentence to the very last. And, yes, there are squirrels in the story!"
(Ballantine Books, 9781984819482, $27)"This narrative contains two different love stories, centuries apart, that are connected by both art and ancestry. It's hard to say which I preferred: the modern tale of an almost-reclusive book restorer and an artist client unhappy in his marriage, or the story from Renaissance Venice of the client's ancestor, a respected artist and a beautiful courtesan to one of the city's leading luminaries. Woven together, they form an intriguing tapestry of love, family, history, and art."
(HarperOne, 9780062942807, $17.99, trade paper)"I adored this book! I laughed until I cried, I cringed in shared embarrassment, and I read entire essays out loud to anyone who would listen. Although almost any reader will find something to relate to in Mia Mercado's writing, she will speak directly to the hearts of millennials who still remember their hilariously terrible first AIM screennames. For all the laughs, Weird but Normal also delivers heartfelt truths about issues ranging from racism in America to depression. Can't wait to see what Mercado does next!"
(Graywolf Press, 9781644450314, $26)
"At the age of five, Wayetu Moore and her family were forced to flee Liberia on foot in the midst of a brutal civil war. As Wayetu's father and elders attempt to get her and her sisters to safety by traversing a deadly and unforgiving landscape, Wayetu's mother, who is attending college in New York, waits to hear from her family--until she can wait no longer. Moore makes brilliant creative choices with structure, voice, and point of view in this deeply moving, lovingly crafted, and unique memoir. Her story is both a thoughtful examination of the emigrant experience and an inspiring testament to the incredible power of familial love."
(Penguin Books, 9780525559757, $17)"Mona Awad tells a harrowing story of a writer trying to overcome her writer's block while simultaneously refusing to look deeper into herself or acknowledge her own needs or desires. This lack of self-knowledge leads her to a friendship with a group of young MFA students who are always 'workshopping'…with disastrous consequences. The writing feels cinematic at times, moody and illustrative. Home, identity, love (both romantic and platonic), inner (and outer) demons, and academic elitism all play a part in this spectacle of creation and destruction. Awad creates a kind of magic that changes with the wind, a contemporary Prometheus tale."
(Ballantine Books, 9780525619260, $17)
"Evvie Drake is young and newly widowed, but no one knows that on the day her husband died, she had finally worked up the nerve to leave him. Dean Tenney is a major league baseball pitcher who has inexplicably lost the talent that made him a star. When Dean moves to Evvie's small town to escape the humiliating sports headlines, their friendship proves to be just what both of them need. This is an absolute treasure of a novel--big-hearted, funny, sweet, and utterly satisfying. I cannot wait to sell this charming gem."
(Anchor, 9780525565390, $16)"CJ Hauser has written a completely original novel featuring an eccentric cast of characters who distract themselves from the ignorance and squalor of the past, their failures and fears, and all the warning signs of imminent end times. It's also about a duck with joie de vivre. A comedy of maladaptive manners, Family of Origin is hard to pin down and even harder to put down. Hauser's uncommonly funny and moving novel transported me out of my day-to-day life while letting me see the world as it is but also anew."
(Atria Books, 9781501190117, $17)
"Just having children does not make you a parent, and that truth is apparent in the pages of this book. A wealthy family in London seems to have everything--a great home, private schools, mentions in the press--but it is somehow not enough. Once you open the door to the unknown, can it really ever be closed? The influence of the charismatic egotist is told with flawless accuracy and stark images. In these situations, the children suffer the most; they are powerless and easy prey. This book details an unfolding family crisis where abuse can take many forms. Hard to put down and with several huge twists, The Family Upstairs will satisfy even the most discriminating fan. Lisa Jewell has exceeded all expectations!"
(Bloomsbury Publishing, 9781635575286, $16)"In West Mills is a beautiful and cohesive debut. Reminiscent of Janie Crawford in Their Eyes Were Watching God, Winslow has written the character of Knot Centre, a woman who speaks her mind--for better or for worse--and who is passionate, intelligent, and stubborn to a fault. The events of the novel take place from the 1940s to the 1980s, allowing readers to watch as fateful decisions and their consequences play out for the city's citizens. In such a small town, secrets weigh heavy and threaten to tear people apart, but Winslow's writing is exuberant and full of life. His characters are never fully taken under by their sorrows--a rarity in literature today."
(Random House Trade Paperbacks, 9780812982756, $18)
"Man, I could live my whole life inside this novel and be perfectly happy. Téa Obreht is the real thing. Inland has the stern gorgeousness of Blood Meridian, the cinematic perfection of Station Eleven, the fantasia-like atmosphere of Cloud Atlas, and the deep-heartedness of The Winter Soldier. This is the sort of novel that makes people want to get up and soldier on. I really loved this book."
(Penguin Books, 9780525559078, $17)"Make yourself an Aperol Spritz (or an entire pitcher) and find a comfortable chair because you're going to spend the afternoon reading Leading Men by Christopher Castellani. Tennessee Williams was a genius--charming, brilliant, and powerful--but he was hell to live with and even harder to love, a challenge even for the man who loved him best, Frank Merlo. Castellani's fourth novel brings to life not only their fraught relationship, but also the gritty glamour of their time. It's a rich and gorgeous party whose guests include Truman Capote, Luchino Visconti, and you. Fortunately, you have that Aperol Spritz. Salut!"
(Vintage, 9780525435341, $16)"Some memoirs transcend the author's experience and become universal--I always thought of those as the good ones. Then I read Jayson Greene's memoir of loss and grief and was forced to confront the fullness of his individual humanity in a way I hadn't experienced before. Grief is distinctly personal and Greene's story of the death of his two-year-old child is simply unfathomable to me, yet his honesty and willingness to sit in the fearfulness of this new life resonated deeply. Once More We Saw Stars is a wonderfully written memoir that connects on the most basic human level.
(Harper Perennial, 9780062676849, $16.99)
"I really love this series by Anthony Horowitz. The mystery behind the murders is so expertly plotted and layered that you could make a case for any suspect. In this book, a divorce lawyer is found dead in his home after being beaten over the head with a VERY expensive bottle of wine, and the number 182 is painted on his wall. When Private Investigator Daniel Hawthorne drives onto the set of Horowitz's TV show shoot, Horowitz has no choice but to follow his lead and write about the case. As always, I'm anxiously awaiting the next in this series."
(Atria Books, 9781476749303, $17)
"The work of a master storyteller about the making of a young storyteller, This Tender Land is a coming-of-age novel for the ages. It begins in an isolated Dickensian boarding school in Minnesota during the early years of the Depression, then morphs into the story of four runaways in a canoe à la Huckleberry Finn. On the run from their school headmistress and the law, they encounter other wanderers and escapees from life as they canoe towards St. Louis to find their only known relative and a possible home. Odie, his brother Albert, their schoolmate Mose, and newly orphaned Emmy are unforgettable characters in an unforgiving era. Epic, thrilling, and beautifully written, this is storytelling at its very best."
(Celadon Books, 9781250318008, $16.99)
"A creepy, sinister, can't-put-it-down story of a town that survives and then relives the crimes of a child serial killer. For those who love psychological thrillers (with the absence of gore but plenty of plot twists and turns), The Whisper Man is a grand ride into the minds of those who kill and those who are victims. You'll find yourself looking over your shoulder when reading this book. Don't stand too close to an open window..."
(Flatiron Books, 9781250205360, $16.99)
"It was inevitable that, with the #MeToo movement sweeping America, someone would pen a novel encompassing the realities of working women in our country. What I wasn't prepared for, however, was the degree to which I'd become involved in Whisper Network, racing home to finish it because I loved the story. I haven't felt this strength of solidarity with other women since the march in D.C. I closed this book with a resounding, 'Oh, hell yes!'"