This week, the worst book ever to take on an airplane, "the skirt amongst men," and why obsessive-compulsives helped build the United States. Plus: Curtis Sittenfeld's latest.
On the Floor by Aifric Campbell (Picador) - This 2012 Orange Prize nominee from Campbell , a former managing director at Morgan Stanley, punctures the seamy darkness of banking with acute observations in this heart-pounding ride about being “the skirt amongst men.” A gift for math helped Geri Molloy trade her meager Irish beginnings for a top trader post in the early ’90s at British investment banking firm Steiner, where she mistrusts but uses her male coworkers and boss. Read an essay from Campbell on how investment banking prepares you to be a writer.
The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence (Redhook) - Seventeen-year-old Alex Woods was a household name even before authorities discovered 113g of marijuana and the ashes of an old man in the car he drove across the English border. At the age of 10 Alex became a national celebrity after being hit by a meteorite. In his teenage years he was most comfortable with adults like his doctors and Isaac Peterson, an irascible, reclusive, pot-smoking American widower who lives nearby in Alex’s small village; Alex’s only teenage friend is an emo goth girl named Ellie. Extence’s engaging coming-of-age debut skillfully balances light and dark, laughter and tears.
Full Upright and Locked Position: Uncomfortable Truths about Air Travel Today by Mark Gerchick (Norton) - Former FAA counsel Gerchick’s lucid and horrifying overview of air travel in America does its job too well: after reading this book, you’ll never want to set foot on a commercial flight again. After an overview of the current state of flying and its discontents, Gerchick conducts a point-by-point dismemberment of the business—the hidden charges, the pinching seats, the bacteria, and delays.
The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison (Penguin) - Canadian author Harrison’s first novel is a smart, nuanced portrait of a dying marriage. Psychotherapist Jodi Brett is content with her tidy, tranquil existence—cooking for her husband, Todd Gilbert; walking the dog; seeing a few clients out of their gorgeous Chicago condo—while headstrong Todd works as a professional renovator. As Jodi sees it, they complement each other, and she doesn’t mind pretending to disregard Todd’s indiscretions. But when her existence is interrupted, Jodi decides she will do anything to take it back.
America’s Obsessives: The Compulsive Energy that Built a Nation by Joshua Kendall (Grand Central) - In this quirky history, journo Kendall profiles a “ticker-tape parade of American icons” in an effort to understand how their “obsessions and compulsions... fueled their stratospheric success.” Across a range of disciplines, from sexuality to sports, these seven legendary figures (including Lindbergh and Estée Lauder) revolutionized their fields, and they all likely had obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.
The Graphic Canon, Volume 3: From “Heart of Darkness” to Hemingway to “Infinite Jest” edited by Russ Kick (Seven Stories) - One of the most beautiful books of the year, the third volume collects 500 pages of classic 20th-centry literature reimagined graphically by 70+ artists. All your favorites are here: "The Emperor of Ice Cream," Lolita, "Araby," Virginia Woolf, Kate Chopin, Kafka, Beckett. Take an inside look at the stunning art.
Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry by David C. Robertson, with Bill Breen (Crown Business) - Wharton professor Robertson’s entertaining, informative, and fast-paced account of LEGO’s rise, fall, and subsequent victory in the marketplace will have readers rooting for the survival of the little brick. This book will be a valuable read for any business leader or student, but will also delight those familiar with the beloved toy.
Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld (Random) - Delicious insights into sisterhood and motherhood are peppered throughout Sittenfeld’s novel about identical twins with ESP. The story, though, isn’t as convincing as the twins, who are rendered so vividly that readers would be able to pick them out of a crowd. Kate, a stay-at-home mom in St. Louis, Mo., is embarrassed by her sister Violet, who ekes out a living as a psychic. After a minor earthquake in the area in September 2009, Violet’s guiding spirit warns her that a major quake is imminent. When Kate has a premonition that it will occur on October 16, she allows Violet to share the date with the public if she doesn’t reveal its source. Kate tells the story in chapters that alternate between timelines, one beginning with the September quake and one beginning when the twins are born.
Breakfast on Mars and 37 Other Delectable Essays edited by Rebecca Stern and Brad Wolfe (Roaring Brook) - Battling against the rigid, five-paragraph essay structure, the editors of this compilation claim they have “let essays out of their cages, and... set them free. We’ve allowed them to go back to their roots.” The result is a refreshing and useful tool for every middle- and high-school writing teacher to keep handy. Thirty-eight short essays—many humorous, some poignant—come from Sloane Crosley, Sarah Prineas, Ned Vizzini, Scott Westerfeld, Rita Williams-Garcia, and more.