What do we want from our favorite writers? This spring’s books suggest that we want to peek into both their minds and their mailboxes. The following titles lead readers through past lives, current struggles, and affirm the importance of the translator’s art.

Fans of award-winning critic Janet Malcolm, biographer of Sylvia Plath and Gertrude Stein, will be delighted by the publication of Forty-one False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers. The collection includes essays written and published over several decades, many from the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books, and reflects on the work of artists including David Salle (in the title essay), Edward Weston, and Thomas Struth. While Malcolm’s place in the nonfiction canon is well-established, Rumpus cofounder and film critic Michelle Orange hopes to have a similar impact with her collection, This Is Running for Your Life: Essays. Meditating on technology, film, and even market research techniques based on MRI scans, Orange’s humorous and sharp voice, according to PW, “feels at once fresh and inevitable.”

The latest from Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Alice Walker, The Cushion in the Road: Meditation and Wandering as the Whole World Awakens to Being in Harm’s Way, probes spiritual and political questions as she wrestles with subjects that include Barack Obama and Palestine. Nothing less than salvation is on the table for David Shields, the author of 2010’s acclaimed Reality Hunger. Billed as a combo of “confessional criticism and anthropological autobiography,” How Literature Saved My Life promises intellectual engagement and entertainment.

Now for that mailbox. Most current is Here and Now: Letters (2008–2011) by Paul Auster and J.M. Coetzee. As the story goes, after meeting in February 2008, Coetzee suggested to Auster that they begin exchanging letters. Leaping back many decades, Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941–1985 offers the first collection in English of correspondence by the Italian author of Invisible Cities. Introduced by scholar Michael Wood and translated by Martin McLaughlin, the approximately 650 letters include brief notes to his parents (while hiding from the antifascist Resistance) and letters to filmmakers Michelangelo Antonioni and Pier Paolo Pasolini. Another landmark collection is The Selected Letters of Willa Cather, edited by Cather scholars Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout. Cather fans will surely be sated by this collection of 564 letters, which Cather forbade in her will from being published. Turning to biographies, the latest from Megan Marshall, author of The Peabody Sisters, resurrects the editor of the Transcendental literary journal the Dial in Margaret Fuller: A New American Life. According to PW’s review, “a lifetime of impassioned intellectual discourse, both public and private” is rendered with empathy. Far more well-known, though perhaps just as little understood, Sylvia Plath at age 21 is examined in poet Elizabeth Winder’s first biography, Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953. This life-changing summer inspired The Bell Jar, and Winder utilizes previously unexamined sources and in-depth interviews to reveal the girl before she became the poet, let alone the myth.

The following list relies upon the work of many translators, whose achievements and perspectives receive their own book in the anthology, In Translation: Translators on Their Work and What It Means, edited by Esther Allen and Susan Bernofsky, and featuring essays on craft, politics, theory, and more from Haruki Murakami, Alice Kaplan, Forrest Gander, and others.

PW’s Top 10: Literary Biographies, Essays & Criticism

Forty-one False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers. Janet Malcolm. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, May

This Is Running for Your Life: Essays. Michelle Orange. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Feb.

The Cushion in the Road: Meditation and Wandering as the Whole World Awakens to Being in Harm’s Way. Alice Walker. New Press, Apr.

How Literature Saved My Life. David Shields. Knopf, Feb. Here and Now: Letters (2008–2011) Paul Auster and J.M. Coetzee. Viking, Mar.

Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941–1985. Italo Calvino, trans. by Martin McLaughlin. Princeton Univ., Apr.

The Selected Letters of Willa Cather. Willa Cather, edited by Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout. Knopf, Apr.

Margaret Fuller: A New American Life. Megan Marshall. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Mar.

Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953. Elizabeth Winder. Harper, Apr.

In Translation: Translators on Their Work and What It Means. Edited by Esther Allen and Susan Bernofsky. Columbia Univ. Press, May.

Literary Biographies, Essays & Criticism Listings


Dashiell Hammett: Man of Mystery by Sally Cline (June 1, hardcover, $19.95, ISBN 978-1611457841). The first new biography in 25 years of this American master, creator of the modern crime novel.

The Last Love of George Sand: A Literary Biography by Evelyne Bloch-Dano (Feb. 6, hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-1611457162) portrays the writer, political activist, and cultural figure as she starts a new chapter in her ever-surprising life: the mature years with her last lover, the young engraver Alexandre Manceau. According to PW, “readers who know Sand largely through her outsized literary reputation will find this portrait of her as a love-smitten romantic intriguing.”

Columbia Univ. Press

(dist. by Perseus)

In Translation: Translators on Their Work and What It Means, edited by Esther Allen and Susan Bernofsky (May 28, trade paper, $29.50, ISBN 978-0231159692). The most comprehensive collection of perspectives on translation to date, with essays from Haruki Murakami, Alice Kaplan, Peter Cole, Eliot Weinberger, Forrest Gander, and Jose Manuel Prieto, provides students and professionals with much-needed guidance on technique and style, while also affirming for all readers the cultural, political, and aesthetic relevance of their work.


(dist. by PGW)

Railtracks by Anne Michaels and John Berger (Feb. 12, hardcover, $18, ISBN 978-1619020726). A profound meditation on railways, love, and loss, this collaboration between Berger (Hold Everything Dear) and Michaels (Fugitive Pieces) is accompanied throughout by the evocative photography of Tereza Stehlíková.

Cornell Univ. Press

The Birth Certificate: The Story of Danilo Kis by Mark Thompson (Mar., hardcover, $40, ISBN 978-0-8014-4888-1). PW wrote that this “exhilarating feat of biography and literary criticism” introduces English readers to “the cerebral and experimental works of the Yugoslavian poet, novelist, and playwright Danilo Kis” and that Thompson (The White War) is “a graceful writer and storyteller in his own right.”


The Book of Marvels: A Compendium of Everyday Things by Lorna Crozier (Mar. 12, hardcover, $17.95, ISBN 978-1926812755). In a series of playful and startling prose meditations, Canadian poet Crozier (The Blue Hour of the Day) brings her rapt attention to household objects: everything from doorknobs, washing machines, rakes, and zippers to the kitchen sink.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Truth’s Ragged Edge: The Rise of the American Novel by Philip F. Gura (Apr. 9, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-0809094455). An authoritative new history of the early American novel from National Book Critics Circle Award– finalist Gura (American Transcendentalism) that PW called “illuminating.” Gura argues that the early novel never fully left its origins behind, and remained a means of theological and philosophical dispute, reflecting the oldest and deepest divisions in American Christianity, politics, and culture.

Forty-one False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers by Janet Malcolm (May 7, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-0374157692) brings together for the first time essays published over the course of several decades (many from the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books) that reflect Malcolm’s (Iphigenia in Forest Hills) preoccupation with artists and their work.

Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet by Harry Eyres (June 4, hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-0374172749). With a light touch and a keen critical eye, Eyres (Hotel Eliseo) reveals a lively, relevant Horace, whose society—Rome at the dawn of the empire—is much more similar to our own than we might want to believe.

The Book of My Lives by Aleksandar Hemon (Mar. 19, hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-0374115739). The first nonfiction book from the acclaimed author of The Lazarus Project, this collection is a love song to two cities and paean to the bonds of family. As noted by PW, “the book culminates with ‘The Aquariam,’ which is “nothing short of a tour de force—a terrible beauty that demonstrates Hemon’s transformation as a writer and a man.”

This Is Running for Your Life: Essays by Michelle Orange (Feb. 12, trade paper, $16, ISBN 978-0374533328). Orange (The Sicily Trade Papers), a cofounder of the Rumpus, uses the lens of pop culture to decode the defining characteristics of our media-drenched times in a collection that PW called “whipsmart” and “achingly funny.”

Free Press

Portrait Inside My Head: Essays by Phillip Lopate (Feb. 12, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-1451695861). Essayist Lopate (Against Joie de Vivre) offers a lively, tender new collection. According to PW, “with his typical elegance and peripatetic curiosity, Lopate ranges over topics from the adventures of parenting, his enduring love of baseball, and changing one’s mind about a movie to a thoughtful meditation on the conflict between city planner Robert Moses and city champion Jane Jacobs.”

Graywolf Press

The Virtues of Poetry by James Longenbach (Mar. 5, trade paper, $14, ISBN 978-1555976378). In 12 interconnected essays, Longenbach (The Iron Key) analyzes poems by Shakespeare, Donne, Blake, Keats, Dickinson, Yeats, Pound, Bishop, and Ashbery (among others), exploring the ways in which they transmuted the material of their lives into art and emphasizing that the notions of excellence we derive from art are fluid.


Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 by Elizabeth Winder (Apr. 16, hardcover, $25.99, ISBN 978-0062085498). A compelling portrait of the young Plath and the month she spent in New York City—June 1953—that lay the groundwork for The Bell Jar. Winder aims to undo the cliché of Plath as the demon-plagued artist. 35,000-copy announced first printing.

Harper Perennial

Literary Rogues: A Scandalous History of Wayward Authors by Andrew Shaffer (Feb. 5, trade paper, $14.99, ISBN 978-0062077288). A funny history and analysis of the bad boys and girls of Western literature from the author of Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love. PW said that the book “offers a terrific blend of literary history, biography, and witty commentary.” 30,000-copy announced first printing.

Harvard Univ. Press

Tiger Writing: Art, Culture, and the Interdependent Self by Gish Jen (Mar., hardcover, $18.95, ISBN 9780674072831). This collection of edited lectures explores the aesthetic and psychic roots of the independent and interdependent self—each mode of selfhood yielding a distinct way of observing, remembering, and narrating the world. According to PW, “Jen raises important questions about how we fashion our own stories and how cultural differences influence that process.”

Lu Xun’s Revolution: Writing in a Time of Violence by Gloria Davies (Apr., hardcover, $35, ISBN 9780674072640). Recognized as modern China’s pre-eminent man of letters, Lu Xun (1881–1936) is revered as the nation’s conscience, a writer comparable to Shakespeare or Tolstoy.

Harvard Univ. Press/Belknap Press

Algerian Chronicles by Albert Camus, trans. by Arthur Goldhammer, edited and with an intro. by Alice Kaplan (May 6, hardcover, $21.95, ISBN 9780674072589). More than 50 years after Algeria’s independence, Camus’s prescient analysis of the dead end of terrorism appears in English for the first time.


(dist. by IPG)

Nietzsche by Stefan Zweig, trans. by Will Stone (June 1, trade paper, $15.95, ISBN 978-1843913832). This new translation of the third essay in Zweig’s The Struggle with the Demon displays his particular forte for creativity. Zweig (1881–1942) eschews traditional academic discussion and focuses on Nietzsche’s habits, passions, and obsessions.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

I Can’t Complain: (All Too) Personal Essays by Elinor Lipman (Apr. 16, hardcover, $20, ISBN 978-0547576206). A winning collection of essays about home, love, cooking, politics, and the writing life from the acclaimed novelist. 15,000-copy announced first printing.

Margaret Fuller: A New American Life by Megan Marshall (Mar. 12, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-0-547-19560-5). The award-winning author of The Peabody Sisters examines the trailblazing life of a great American heroine—Thoreau’s first editor, Emerson’s close friend, the first female war correspondent, passionate advocate of personal and political freedom. 25,000-copy announced first printing.


How Literature Saved My Life by David Shields (Feb. 5, hardcover, $25.95, ISBN 9780307961525). The acclaimed author of Reality Hunger uses himself as a representative for all readers and writers who seek to find salvation in literature. Blending confessional criticism and anthropological autobiography, Shields explores the power of literature to make life endurable.

The Selected Letters of Willa Cather, edited by Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout (Apr. 16, hardcover, $37.50, ISBN 978-0307959300). The first publication of letters from one of America’s most consistently admired and studied writers.

Farther and Wilder: The Lost Weekends and Literary Dreams of Charles Jackson by Blake Bailey (Mar. 12, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-0-307-27358-1). From National Book Critics Circle Award–winner Bailey (Cheever: A Life comes the fascinating biography of Charles Jackson, the author of The Lost Weekend—a writer whose life and work encapsulated what it meant to be an addict and a closeted gay man in mid-century America, and what one had to do with the other.

Lynne Rienner

African Lives: An Anthology of Memoirs and Autobiographies by Geoff Wisner (May 1, trade paper, $26.50, ISBN 978-1588268877). A pioneering pan-African anthology of memoirs and autobiographical writings, drawing from the work of Africa’s finest writers and most significant personalities.

McSweeney’s/Believer Books

Always Apprentices: The Believer Magazine Presents Twenty-Two Conversations Between Writers, edited by Sheila Heti, Ross Simonini, and Vendela Vida (Mar. 12, trade paper, $16, ISBN 978-1938073250) collects five years of intimate, wide-ranging conversations with many of today’s most prominent writers (including Mary Gaitskill, Don DeLillo, Bret Easton Ellis, and Joan Didion) taken from the pages of the Believer. PW called it “enthralling.”

William Morrow

The Lady and Her Monsters: A Tale of Dissections, Real-Life Dr. Frankensteins, and the Creation of Mary Shelley’s Masterpiece by Roseanne Montillo (Feb. 5, hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-06-202581-4). This blend of literary analysis, lore, and scientific history traces the origins of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

New Directions

Professor Borges: A Course on English Literature by Jorge Luis Borges, trans. by Katherine Silver, edited by Martín Hadis and Martín Arias (May 23, hardcover, $26.50, ISBN 978-0811218757) Borges scholars Hadis and Arias present, for the first time in English, 25 erudite and entertaining lectures on English literature, from Beowulf to Oscar Wilde, that Borges delivered in 1966 at the University of Buenos Aires.

Borges at Eighty: Conversations by Jorge Luis Borges, trans. by Willis Barnstone (May 24, trade paper, $18.95, ISBN 978-0811221214). In these interviews with Barnstone, Dick Cavett, and Alastair Reid, Borges touches on favorite writers (Whitman, Poe, Emerson) and familiar themes—labyrinths, mystic experiences, and death.

New Press

The Cushion in the Road: Meditation and Wandering as the Whole World Awakens to Being in Harm’s Way by Alice Walker (Apr. 2, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 9781595588722). In her newest collection of meditations, Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Walker (We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For) revisits themes of racism, Africa, solidarity with the Palestinian people, the presidential campaign of Barack Obama, Cuba, health care, and the work of Aung San Suu Kyi.

NYRB Classics

The Hall of Uselessness: Collected Essays by Simon Leys (June 25, trade paper, $18.95, ISBN 978-1590176207). Eminent sinologist and essayist Pierre Ryckmans (whose pen name is Simon Leys) turns his attention to such subjects as the Cultural Revolution, Nabokov, Hitchens, Orwell, Simenon, Confucius, and the fate of the university.

Other Press

Story of My People by Edoardo Nesi, trans. by Antony Shugaar (May 7, hardcover, $19.95, ISBN 9781590515549). This blend of essay, social criticism, and memoir is a striking portrait of the effects of globalization on Italy’s declining economy.

Oxford Univ. Press

Helen of Troy: Beauty, Myth, Devastation by Ruby Blondell (May 2, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 9780199731602). A compelling new portrait of the most famous femme fatale in history as she appears in Greek myth and literature.

Princeton Univ.

Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941–1985 by Italo Calvino, trans. by Martin McLaughlin, intro. by Michael Wood (Apr. 21, hardcover, $39.50, ISBN 978-0691139456). The first collection of letters in English by one of the great writers of the 20th century. Calvino’s correspondents include Umberto Eco, Primo Levi, and Gore Vidal.

Kafka: The Years of Insight by Reiner Stach, trans. by Shelley Frisch (June 9, hardcover, $35, ISBN 978-0691147512) tells the story of Kafka’s final years (1916–1924) as never before in the newest volume in the definitive biography.


(dist. by Random)

Graven with Diamonds: The Many Lives of Thomas Wyatt: Poet, Lover, Statesman, and Spy in the Court of Henry VIII by Nicola Shulman (Feb. 5, trade paperback, $19.99, ISBN 978-1-58642-207-3). In a biography that PW called “delightful,” Shulman (A Rage for Rock-Gardening: The Story of Reginald Farrer) interweaves the bloody events of Henry VIII’s reign with the story of English love poetry and the life of its first master: Sir Thomas Wyatt.


The Man from Mars: Ray Palmer’s Amazing Pulp Journey by Fred Nadis (June 13, hardcover, $28.95, ISBN 978-0399160547). The rollicking true story of the legendary writer and editor who ruled over America’s fantasy and supernatural pulp journals in the mid-20th century and shaped today’s UFO and sci-fi cultures.

Temple Univ. Press

Pimping Fictions: African American Crime Literature and the Untold Story of Black Pulp Publishing by Justin Gifford (Feb., trade paperback, $24.95, ISBN 978-1-4399-0811-2) provides a hard-boiled investigation of hundreds of pulpy trade paperbacks written by Chester Himes, Donald Goines, and Iceberg Slim (aka Robert Beck), among many others, drawing from an impressive array of archival materials to provide a first-of-its-kind literary and cultural history of this distinctive genre. PW called it a “groundbreaking study.”

Univ. of Chicago Press

Prospero’s Son: Life, Books, Love, and Theater by Seth Lerer (Apr. 5, hardcover, $20, ISBN 978-0226014418) follows up Lerer’s NBCC Award–winning Children’s Literature with a memoir of his father, who came out as a gay man late in life; his own son, who has struggled with drugs; and the love of books, words, and performance that has threaded through all their lives.

Univ. Press of Mississippi

Conversations with Percival Everett by Joe Weixelmann (July 1, hardcover, $40, ISBN 978-1617037597). The interviews collected in this volume display Everett’s abundant wit as well as the independence of thought that has led to his work’s being described as “characteristically uncharacteristic.” Everett (Erasure) discusses race and gender, his ecological interests, the real and mythic American West, the craft of writing, and more.


Distant Reading by Franco Moretti (May 7, trade paper, $24.95, ISBN 978-1781680841). The book follows two decades of Moretti’s conceptual development, organizing them around the metaphor of “distant reading.”

F: Hu Feng’s Prison Years by Mei Zhi, trans. by Gregor Benton (Feb. 12, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 9781844679676). Hu Feng, the “counterrevolutionary” leader of a banned literary school, spent 25 years in Chinese Communist Party prisons. His wife, Mei Zhi, tells of their Kafkaesque journey.


Here and Now: Letters (2008–2011) by Paul Auster and J.M. Coetzee (Mar. 7, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-0670026661). The high-spirited correspondence between bestselling author Auster (The New York Trilogy) and Nobel laureate Coetzee (Disgrace). Over three years, their letters cover subjects ranging from sports to fatherhood, film festivals to incest, philosophy to politics, from the financial crisis to art, death, family, marriage, friendship, and love.

Yale Univ. Press

How to Read Literature by Terry Eagleton (Apr. 16, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0300190960). Influential critic Eagleton’s guide to reading with deeper insight, better understanding, and greater pleasure. 10,000-copy announced first printing.

The Letters of T.S. Eliot: Vol. 4: 1928–1929, edited by Valerie Eliot and John Haffenden (May 14, hardcover, $50, ISBN 978-0300187243). Eliot’s letters in this volume were written during a period of weighty responsibilities as husband and increasing demands as editor and publisher.

Franz Kafka: The Poet of Shame and Guilt by Saul Friedländer (Apr. 28, hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-0300136616). A highly original and engaging appraisal of Kafka’s life, work, legacy, and thought. Friedländer probes major aspects of Kafka’s life (family, Judaism, love and sex, writing, illness, and despair) that until now have been skewed by posthumous censorship. 12,000-copy announced first printing.