This week: Lovecraft gets graphic, the rise of the American novel, and what nonhuman species reveal about being human. Plus, getting held hostage in a small town.
Harvard Square by Andre Aciman (Norton) - Aciman’s stock in trade is nostalgia. In his latest novel another autobiographical hero, this one unnamed, dreams of the past but desires it only as it is conjured in his memory. He looks back at himself as a navel-gazing Egyptian-Jewish Harvard grad student stuck in Cambridge during the lonely and hot, but game-changing, summer of 1977. To avoid studying, he remembers trawling the empty town, running into a Tunisian cab driver named Kalaj.
Living with Shakespeare: Essays by Writers, Actors, and Directors edited by Susannah Carson (Vintage) - In this lively and stimulating volume, an esteemed (and in many instances, famous) group of actors, directors, authors, academics, and others share insights and experiences about their relationship to Shakespeare’s literary and dramatic inheritance.
Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz (Candlewick) - As summer vacation starts, 11-year-old Annie has the same three wishes as always: to get taller, to have an adventure, and to meet her father. She’s not holding her breath—nothing ever happens in her tiny town, and although Annie and her younger brother, Rew, spend hours spinning stories about their father, they know he’s dead. They live with their grandmother near a jail, and when an escaped prisoner holds them hostage in their house, two of Annie’s wishes come true in ways she never imagined.
Truth’s Ragged Edge: The Rise of the American Novel by Philip F. Gura (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) - Those who agree with Hemingway’s claim that Huckleberry Finn created all modern American fiction will find this study of our pre-Twain literary tradition illuminating. Gura shows that this tradition consisted of far more than just Uncle Tom, Captain Ahab, Leatherstocking, and Hester Prynne. The book’s main thread is a liberated sense of self that Gura traces back to Jonathan Edwards’s passionate sermonizing.
The Book of Barely Imagined Beings by Caspar Henderson (Univ. of Chicago) - Tangentially inspired by Borges’s Book of Imaginary Beings, and assembled like a cabinet of curiosities, journalist Henderson’s first book highlights what nonhuman species reveal about being human. Henderson’s contagious awe of life effortlessly advances his argument.
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P. Lovecraft and I.N.J. Culbard (SelfMadeHero) - British Fantasy Award–winning artist Culbard (At the Mountains of Madness) brings his skill as an adapter to Lovecraft's chilling tale of horror and mistaken identity in this fine graphic version. Opening in media res, the story begins with the assumed disappearance of Charles Dexter Ward from a mental hospital; his family friend and physician, Dr. Willett, is brought in for questioning.
How to Create the Perfect Wife: Britain’s Most Ineligible Bachelor and His Enlightened Quest to Train the Perfect Mate by Wendy Moore (Basic) - Enlightenment ideals become weapons in the battle of the sexes in this riotous saga of ill-starred romance. Journalist Moore recounts the bizarre marriage project of Thomas Day, an 18th-century radical whose disdain for grooming, fashion, polite society, and female agency led to a string of rebuffed proposals and broken engagements. The result is both a scintillating read and compelling social history.
Fear in the Sunlight by Nicola Upson (Harper/Bourbon Street) - British author Upson surpasses herself with her mesmerizing and psychologically complex fourth whodunit featuring real-life mystery writer Josephine Tey. In part one, set in 1954 London, an American detective informs Scotland Yarder Archie Penrose that a suspect who has confessed to the murders of three women on the set of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window in California has also confessed to three other murders committed 18 years earlier in the resort town of Portmeirion, Wales.
Shadow Warrior: William Egan Colby and the CIA by Randall B. Woods (Basic) - A lifelong CIA counterinsurgency specialist, William Egan Colby (1920–1996) was a central figure in America’s post-WWII clandestine operations. University of Arkansas history professor Woods delivers an engrossing account of Colby’s contentious life and career, from early intelligence recruit during the Second World War to his suspicious demise in the Chesapeake Bay.