This week, a creepy story collection, weird sex in the ancient world, and what matters in Jane Austen's world. Plus: a great book with a very long title.
Stories from Jonestown by Leigh Fondakowsk (Univ. of Minnesota) - On November 18, 1978, 918 people, including U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan, died in Jonestown, Guyana, most of them members of the Peoples Temple who drank poisoned punch at the urging of their charismatic leader, Jim Jones. Fondakowski perfectly captures the rapturous hope surrounding Jonestown, which makes its demise all the more heartbreaking.
Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir by Eddie Huang (Random/Spiegel & Grau) - Huang, the founder of the popular East Village food shop Baohaus, tells his unconventional immigrant fable with his FOB (“fresh off the boat”) parents and his unusual relatives living the Yankee dream. He traces his food jones to his father’s restaurant in Orlando, Fla., wrestling with his Chinese identity, while embracing a love of old school hip-hop, Michael Jackson, Charles Barkley, and Jonathan Swift’s satirical “A Modest Proposal.” Check out our profile of Huang.
Engineers of Victory: The Problem Solvers Who Turned the Tide in the Second World War by Paul Kennedy (Random) - Kennedy takes a fresh and stimulating approach to the history of WWII in his latest, wherein he focuses on the war’s middle years and its middle level: the implementation of strategies, doctrines, and policies as devised by Churchill and FDR in Casablanca in January 1943 and carried out into 1944.
The Joy of Sexus: Lust, Love, & Longing in the Ancient World by Vicki Leon (Walker) - In concise entries divided into nine readable sections, León (Working IX to V) delivers a snappy ride into the stunning, sometimes barbaric, and always entertaining sexuality of the ancient world. From aphrodisiacs and diaphanous silks to abduction and the very upsetting practice of infibulation, she minces no words exposing the truth behind ancient sex practices.
What Matters in Jane Austen: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved by John Mullan (Bloomsbury) - Austen expert Mullan (How Novels Work), an English professor at University College London, cleverly captures the novelist’s brilliance by answering a set of 20 questions—ranging from unpromising ones such as “How much does age matter?” and “Why is the weather important?” to more seductive ones such as “Do sisters sleep together?” and “Is there any sex in Jane Austen?”—that uncover the details that give Austen’s novels their depth and lasting appeal.
Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales by Yoko Ogawa, trans. from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder (Picador) - Weaving together the morbid tales of 11 unnamed narrators, prolific Japanese author Ogawa (Hotel Iris), a Shirley Jackson Award winner, presents an intense rumination on the precariousness of interconnected lives. Severed hands show up in gardens; a heart rests outside of a character’s chest. A jigsaw pleasure comes from anecdotes and details slipping into place between stories.
There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband and He Hanged Himself by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya (Penguin) - Full of meaningful, finely crafted detail, this story collection set in Russia manages to tackle the grimmest of situations head-on with compassion and a great deal of warmth. Characters sell rare books for alcohol, shave their heads, and choose to raise a child together after a one-night stand.
The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War by Daniel Stashower (Minotaur) - John Wilkes Booth succeeded in 1865, but the first major plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln unfolded in 1861. Stashower (The Beautiful Cigar Girl) explains how Allan Pinkerton, a temperamental Scottish cooper turned “fierce and incorruptible lawman” and founder of the Pinkerton Agency, sought to infiltrate and obfuscate a murderous group led by Cypriano Ferrandini. An enthralling page-turner.
Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente (Subterranean) - Valente’s adaptation of the fairy tale to the Old West provides a witty read with complex reverberations from the real world. Snow White is the daughter of a Crow woman abducted and forced into marriage by an unloving white magnate called only Mr. H. Original atmosphere, complex interplay of elements, and outstanding writing propel this book.