Spring Arts - Books: Series are completed, old tales extended
Spring is a season of literary return this year, of series and trilogies ended, or old stories extended.
Roddy Doyle returns to Barrytown, Armistead Maupin gently leads Anna Madrigal to the exit, and David Brion Davis completes a masterful trilogy on slavery.
As always, there are plenty of biographies, with e.e. cummings and John Wayne prominent among the subjects this time around.
And as always, talented newcomers like Matthew Quick, Helen Oyeyemi, and Teju Cole polish their reputations with fine new work.
Here is a list of some of the best new books to appear this spring.
- Michael D. Schaffer and Tirdad Derakhshani, Inquirer staff writers
For expanded coverage, go to www.inquirer.com/springbooks
The Guts, by Roddy Doyle (Viking, January). The Booker-winning Irish author revisits fictional Barrytown, scene of his superb trilogy: The Commitments, The Snapper, The Van. This time, the situation is a little more somber. Jimmy Rabbitte Jr. is 47, beset with colon cancer, and confronting his mortality.
The Days of Anna Madrigal, by Armistead Maupin (Harper, January). Transgender mother-confessor Anna Madrigal is now 92 and, as one character puts it, "kinda . . . packing up," but she wants to visit Winnemucca, her Nevada hometown, before she reaches the end of the home stretch, in the last of Maupin's Tales of the City series.
The Good Luck of Right Now, by Matthew Quick (Harper, February). Quick, the former high school teacher from South Jersey who hit it big in 2008 with The Silver Linings Playbook, brings us another character whose hold on reality is a little iffy. This time, it's Bartholomew Neil, laying out his confusion about life in a series of letters to Richard Gere.
Bark: Stories, by Lorrie Moore (Knopf, February). Ghostly visitation, divorce, 9/11, and disappointed ambition figure in Moore's collection of eight stories, all told with a sublime sense of the ridiculous in her first story collection since Birds of America in 1998.
I Am Abraham: A Novel of Lincoln and the Civil War, by Jerome Charyn (Liveright, February). Charyn has made his mark with a picaresque style that lends itself well to a novelistic treatment of the melancholy president with a seemingly endless supply of off-color jokes and a deep-seated morality.
Boy, Snow, Bird, by Helen Oyeyemi (Riverhead, March). Novelist Oyeyemi draws on the Snow White tale, translated to small-town Massachusetts, to explore issues of race and the power of beauty, jealousy, and appearance.
Every Day Is for the Thief, by Teju Cole (Random House, March). Nigerian-born Cole, who made an impressive debut in 2011 with his first novel, Open City, returns with the story of a writer living in New York who returns to Nigeria for a visit.
In Paradise, by Peter Matthiessen (Riverhead, April). Three-time National Book Award winner Matthiessen, 86, says In Paradise "may be my last word." Clements Olin, an American academic of Polish descent, visits Auschwitz to research the suicide of a Holocaust survivor. There, he joins a group of men and women who have come to meditate on the horrors of the Holocaust.
Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932, by Francine Prose (Harper, April). Using multiple viewpoints, Prose tells the strange, complex, and compelling story of Lou Villars - cross-dressing lesbian athlete, race-car driver, entertainer, Nazi spy.
The Snow Queen, by Michael Cunningham (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, May). The author of The Hours explores the human need for something beyond the material world. A Manhattanite turns to religion after seeing a vision in a snowy Central Park sky. Over in Brooklyn, his brother turns to drugs to help him write a wedding song for his ailing fiancée.
e.e. cummings: A Life, by Susan Cheever (Pantheon, February). The celebrated author and biographer (Louisa May Alcott, American Bloomsbury) reexamines the life, artistic development, and mature work of the popular yet controversial poet and novelist, who was beloved by some and reviled by others.
Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism, by Thomas Brothers (Norton, February). A hefty, detailed biography of the great jazz innovator that focuses on his most prolific years in the 1920s and 1930s. Brothers, a Duke University musicologist, has written extensively about the New Orleans legend.
The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation, by David Brion Davis (Knopf, February). Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Davis concludes his great trilogy on The Problem of Slavery (The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770-1823) by focusing on the "incredible moral achievement" that saw slavery abolished from Canada to Brazil in the century between the 1770s and the 1880s.
The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words, 1000 BCE-1492 CE, by Simon Schama (Ecco, March). In the first of two planned volumes, published as a tie-in with a PBS/BBC series, cultural historian Schama, one of the great literary stylists among the current generation of historians, tracks the first 2,000 years of the Jewish people.
Bill Giles & Baseball, by John B. Lord (Temple University Press, April). An insider's look at the life and 44-year career of the Phillies chairman and part-owner that focuses on the business of sports, by a St. Joseph's University marketing professor, who also is the school's director of sports marketing.
John Wayne: The Life and Legend, by Scott Eyman (Simon & Schuster, April). He was an American icon, big and bluff and dominating, as if born to be a symbol of frontier spirit. But he wasn't born that way, writes biographer Eyman, who tells the fascinating story of how Marion "Duke" Morrison made himself into John Wayne.
Living With a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth About Everything, by Barbara Ehrenreich (Twelve, April). The 72-year-old feminist author and political activist, who describes herself as "a myth-buster by trade," revisits the journal she kept as an adolescent, reexamining her life's quest as a philosophical - and spiritual - journey.
The Stranger: Barack Obama in the White House, by Chuck Todd (Little, Brown and Company, April). NBC News' chief White House correspondent follows the president's two-term tenure and the resistance he faced when members of both parties bridled at his grand vision for changing the culture of Washington and reshaping America.
Updike, by Adam Begley (Harper, April). Literary critic Begley takes a sharp-eyed look at the writer from Berks County, who himself took a sharp-eyed look at middle-class America in 60 books published over half a century.
The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death, by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday, May). The novelist (The Intuitionist, Zone One) and MacArthur Fellowship recipient covered the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas in 2011 as a journalist. He uses the experience to dig deep into poker culture in this social satire about an amateur player's adventures in the big leagues.