In a season that promises fresh attention for J.D. Salinger, John Updike, Penelope Lively, and others, let’s not forget the pleasures of a great essay collection.
Of the essay collections included on this list, perhaps none is more anticipated than the late German novelist W.G. Sebald’s A Place in the Country, the last of his major works to be translated into English, here by Sebald scholar Jo Catling. A collection of six interlocking portraits of writers and artists, the book evokes Sebald’s fiction.
Christopher Buckley’s collection But Enough About You: Essays is his first collection since 1997’s bestselling Wry Martinis. The irreverent Buckley narrates stories of literary friendships with Joseph Heller and Christopher Hitchens, as well as tackling subjects such as “How to Teach Your Four-Year-Old to Ski.”
Novelist, short story writer, and critic Lynne Tillman (Someday This Will Be Funny) will surely surprise, thrill, and confound in What Would Lynne Tillman Do? Essays, in which she ponders topics as disparate as Whitney Houston, interior design, Jane Bowles, O.J. Simpson, the state of fiction, and the state of her mind. Readers looking to discover an exciting new voice should check out novelist Leslie Jamison’s first work of nonfiction, The Empathy Exams: Essays. As mentioned in PW’s starred review, Jamison (The Gin Closet) offers “a heady and unsparing examination of pain and how it allows us to understand others, and ourselves.”
In an era when every author needs a Twitter account, two books highlight the enduring mystique of longtime recluse J.D. Salinger. In J.D. Salinger: The Escape Artist, novelist and fellow Manhattanite Thomas Beller (The Sleep-Over Artist) offers a “quest biography” that follows Salinger’s trail, from his Park Avenue childhood to his final refuge in New Hampshire. Readers will learn as much about Beller as they do about Salinger. Salinger is also the touchstone for poet, novelist, and critic Joanna Rakoff’s memoir, My Salinger Year (sharing the same publication date as Beller’s book). At 23, Rakoff (A Fortunate Age) became the assistant to Salinger’s literary agent. The memoir promises to be a coming-of-age story and tribute to the pre-digital world.
Moving into more familiar territory, at least where the American canon is concerned, critic Adam Begley’s biography, Updike, draws on extensive research and interviews with colleagues, friends, and family of the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Witches of Eastwick and Couples. Traveling further back in the canon, The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature by Ben Tarnoff (A Counterfeiter’s Paradise), which PW praised for its “glimmering prose,” is a group portrait of pioneering Western writers Twain, Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard, and Ina Coolbrith.
Dame Penelope Lively, the Booker Prize–winning author of Moon Tiger, shares the story of her colorful life in Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir, which PW called an “erudite, witty narrative.” With an “expert observer’s eye and eloquent touch,” Lively writes about mortality, memory, and her literary influences.
From the famous to the obscure. Who exactly is David Markson? Called a “writer’s writer” and championed by the late David Foster Wallace and other fans of experimental fiction, Markson, who died in 2010, was the author of critically acclaimed novels including Wittgenstein’s Mistress and Reader’s Block. Poet and Markson correspondent Laura Sims presents a first collection of letters in Fare Forward: Letters from David Markson. Erudite, funny, cantankerous, and entertaining, the letters will be welcomed by Markson fans and hopefully introduce him to new readers.
PW’s Top 10: Literary Biographies, Essays & Criticism
A Place in the Country. W.G. Sebald, trans. by Jo Catling. Random House, Feb. 11
But Enough About You: Essays. Christopher Buckley. Simon & Schuster, May 6
What Would Lynne Tillman Do? Essays. Lynne Tillman, Red Lemonade, Mar. 11
The Empathy Exams: Essays. Leslie Jamison. Graywolf Press, Apr. 1
J.D. Salinger: The Escape Artist. Thomas Beller. Amazon/New Harvest, June 3
My Salinger Year. Joanna Rakoff. Knopf, June 3
Updike. Adam Begley. Harper, Apr. 8
The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature. Ben Tarnoff. Penguin Press, Mar. 20
Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir. Penelope Lively. Viking, Feb. 6
Fare Forward: Letters from David Markson. Edited by Laura Sims. powerHouse Books, Apr. 8
Literary Biographies, Essays & Collections Listings
(dist. by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
J.D. Salinger: The Escape Artist by Thomas Beller (June 3, hardcover, $20, ISBN 978-0544261990). A spirited, deeply personal inquiry into the near-mythic life and canonical work of J.D. Salinger by a writer known for his sensitivity to the Manhattan culture that was Salinger’s great theme. 10,000-copy announced first printing.
The Adventures of Henry Thoreau: A Young Man’s Unlikely Path to Walden Pond by Michael Sims (Feb. 18, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-1620401958) reveals the formative years of the famed American writer, out of which he became the patron saint of nonviolent activism and environmentalism.
Things I Don’t Want to Know: On Writing by Deborah Levy (June 10, hardcover, $22, ISBN 978-1620405659) will be published simultaneously with Black Vodka (Levy’s new collection of short stories,); this work blends personal history, gender politics, philosophy, and literary theory.
Coffee House Press
(dist. by Consortium)
Sidewalks by Valeria Luiselli, trans. by Christina MacSweeney, intro. by Cees Nooteboom (May 13, trade paper, $15.95, ISBN 978-1566893565) comprises cosmopolitan, vivacious essays in the tradition of Brodsky’s Watermark and Benjamin’s The Arcades Project. The celebrated young Mexican author’s U.S. debut is coming out along with her novel, Faces in the Crowd.
Columbia Univ. Press
(dist. by Perseus)
The Other Black List: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s by Mary Helen Washington (Apr. 8, hardcover, $35, ISBN 978-0231152709) reveals the formative influence of 1950s leftist radicalism on African-American literature and culture.
Reading Style: A Life in Sentences by Jenny Davidson (June 24, hardcover, $24.50, ISBN 978-0231168588). Professor, critic, and insatiable reader Davidson investigates the passions that drive us to fall in love with certain sentences over others and the larger implications of our relationship with writing style.
(dist. by PGW)
Distant Neighbors: The Selected Letters of Gary Snyder & Wendell Berry, edited by Chad Wriglesworth (May 13, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-1619023055) collects more than 40 years of letters between Berry and Snyder, discussing spirituality, Christianity, Buddhism, and the environment.
The Extraordinary Life of Rebecca West: A Biography by Lorna Gibb (May 13, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-1619023062) offers the definitive biography of one of the great British literary figures of the 20th century.
Young Ovid: A Life Recreated by Diane Middlebrook (June 10, hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-1619023314). Middlebrook was unable to complete her ambitious project on Ovid before her death in 2007. She left behind an extraordinary look at the conditions Ovid was exposed to, as well as an acute interpretation of his personal life, gleaned from readings of his poetry and letters from exile.
Faber and Faber
American Smoke: Journeys to the End of the Light by Iain Sinclair (Apr. 15, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-0865478671). Sinclair takes an epic walk in the footsteps of Malcolm Lowry, Charles Olson, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Gary Snyder, and others, heated by obsessions (the Old West, volcanoes, Mexico) and enlivened by false memories, broken reports, and strange adventures.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
The Tastemaker: Carl Van Vechten and the Birth of Modern America by Edward White (Feb. 18, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-0374201579). A revealing biography of the influential and controversial cultural titan who embodied an era.
The Shelf: From LEQ to LES: Adventures in Extreme Reading by Phyllis Rose (May 13, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0374261207) chronicles a grand literary experiment, with Rose reading her way through a random shelf of library books.
The Animals: Love Letters Between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, edited by Katherine Bucknell (May 13, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-0374105174). The love story between Isherwood and Bachardy in their own words. Bold, transgressive, and playful, the book shows readers the devotion between two creative spirits in tenderness and storms.
MFA vs. NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction, edited by Chad Harbach (Feb. 25, trade paper, $16, ISBN 978-0865478138). Harbach and contributors map out the “two cultures” of American fiction: M.F.A. programs and New York City publishing. Established writers, M.F.A. professors and students, and New York editors, publicists, and agents discuss these overlapping worlds.
Fordham Univ. Press
(dist. by Oxford Univ.)
The Humanities and Public Life, edited by Peter Brooks, with Hilary Jewett (Mar. 1, trade paper, $18, ISBN 978-0823257058) brings together distinguished scholars and intellectuals to debate the public role and importance of the humanities.
(dist. by Macmillan)
The Empathy Exams: Essays by Leslie Jamison (Apr. 1, trade paper, $15, ISBN 978-1555976712) range from personal loss to phantom diseases and won the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize.
Updike by Adam Begley (Apr. 8, hardcover, $34.99, ISBN 978-0061896453) A much anticipated biography of one of the most celebrated figures in American literature, Pulitzer Prize–winning author John Updike. 35,000-copy announced first printing.
The Art of Neil Gaiman by Hayley Campbell (May 20, hardcover, $39.99, ISBN 978-0062248565). With unprecedented access to Neil Gaiman’s personal archives, Campbell gives an insider’s glimpse into the artistic inspirations and musings of one of the world’s most visionary writers. 50,000-copy announced first printing.
Harvard Univ./Belknap Press
The Novel: A Biography by Michael Schmidt (May 12, hardcover, $39.95, ISBN 978-0674724730). The 700-year history of the novel in English defies straightforward telling. Encompassing a range of genres, the novel is geographically and culturally boundless and influenced by great writers working in other languages. Schmidt, choosing as his travel companions not critics or theorists but other novelists, does full justice to its complexity.
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff (June 3, hardcover, $25.95, ISBN 978-0307958006). In this memoir about literary New York in the late ’90s, then 23-year-old Rakoff takes a job as assistant to the storied literary agent of J.D. Salinger. 40,000-copy announced first printing.
Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity by Prue Shaw (Feb. 10, hardcover, $28.95, ISBN 978-0871407429) communicates the imaginative power, the linguistic skill, and the emotional intensity of Dante’s poetry.
The Gray Notebook by Josep Pla, trans. by Peter Bush, intro. by Valenti Puig (Feb. 25, trade paper, $19.95, ISBN 978-1590176719). The first English translation of the most celebrated work of 20th-century Catalan literature, admired as much for its pitch-perfect prose as for its shrewd observance of the human comedy.
The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature by Ben Tarnoff (Mar. 20, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-1594204739) presents the unforgettable story of the birth of modern America and the Western writers who gave voice to its emerging identity.
(dist. by Norton)
Short: An International Anthology of Five Centuries of Short-Short Stories, Prose Poems, Brief Essays, and Other Short Prose Forms, edited by Alan Zeigler (Feb. 19, trade paper, $16.95, ISBN 978-0892554324), offers the tradition and glorious present of these popular forms that stretch and defy genre, featuring hundreds of inventive, entertaining, and addictive pieces from 1500 to the present.
Peter Owen Publishers
(dist. by IPG)
Lorca: Living in the Theatre by Gwynne Edwards (May 1, trade paper, $24.95, ISBN 978-0720615548) deals not only with the plays themselves, but includes material on the social and political character of the 1920s and 1930s, the cultural background, and Lorca’s friendships with Dalí and Buñuel.
(dist. by Random House)
Fare Forward: Letters from David Markson, edited by Laura Sims, afterword by Ann Beattie (Apr. 8, trade paper, $12.95, ISBN 978-1576877005). In this first book of letters by novelist Markson—a quintessential “writer’s writer”—readers will see Markson at his wittiest and warmest in correspondence with the poet Sims.
Princeton Univ. Press
Moral Imagination: Essays by David Bromwich (Mar. 23, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-0691161419) brings together a dozen essays by one of America’s premier cultural critics addressing such thinkers and topics as Gandhi and Martin Luther King on nonviolent resistance, the dangers of identity politics, and the psychology of the heroes of classic American literature.
A Place in the Country by W.G. Sebald, trans. by Jo Catling (Feb. 11, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-1400067718). A collection of interlinked essays about place, memory, and creativity, this is the last of Sebald’s major works to be translated into English. The book walks the tightrope between critical essay and memoir.
(dist. by PGW)
What Would Lynne Tillman Do? Essays by Lynne Tillman, intro. by Colm Tóibín (Mar. 11, trade paper, $17.95, ISBN 978-1935869214) offers an American mind interrogating our society’s complacencies with grace and compassion.
Rowman & Littlefield
(dist. by NBN)
Influencing Hemingway: People and Places That Shaped His Life and Work by Nancy Sindelar (May 16, hardcover, $38, ISBN 978-0810892910). Arranged chronologically and punctuated with photographs, this narrative charts Hemingway’s actions, writings, and obsessions.
(dist. by Perseus)
Limber by Angela Pelster (Apr. 15, trade paper, $15.95, ISBN 978-1936747757). This startling, lyrical essay collection focused on trees moves from author’s childhood in rural Canada to Niger, the Philippines, and Greece.
The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan, intro. by Anne Fadiman (Apr. 8, hardcover, $23, ISBN 978-1476753614). An affecting and hope-filled posthumous collection of essays and stories from the talented young Yale graduate whose title essay captured the world’s attention in 2012.
Simon & Schuster
But Enough About You: Essays by Christopher Buckley (May 6, hardcover, $27.50, ISBN 978-1476749518). Buckley at his best: a wide-ranging selection of essays both hilarious and moving, irreverent and delightful.
Give War and Peace a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled Times by Andrew D. Kaufman (May 20, hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-1451644708). A popular Tolstoy scholar makes an entertaining, thought-provoking, and accessible argument for why War and Peace is more relevant to readers than ever.
(dist. by Perseus)
The Unknown Henry Miller: A Seeker in Big Sur by Arthur Hoyle (Mar. 4, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-1611458992). Written with the cooperation of the estates of Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, and others, the book quotes extensively from Miller’s correspondence.
St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne
Maeve Binchy: The Biography by Piers Dudgeon (July 22, hardcover, $27.99, ISBN 978-1250047144). The first biography of Binchy since her death, the book chronicles her path to becoming a writer.
Univ. of Chicago Press
A Story Larger than My Own: Women Writers Look Back on Their Lives and Careers by Janet Burroway (Feb. 21, trade paper, $18, ISBN 978-0226014104) gathers well-known woman writers (Maxine Kumin, Julia Alvarez, Jane Smiley, Erica Jong, and 15 other accomplished women of their generation) at late stages in their career to reflect on their lives, accomplishments, difficulties they faced, and lessons they can draw for women just setting out as writers.
You Feel So Mortal: Essays on the Body by Peggy Shinner (Apr. 1, hardcover, $22, ISBN 978-0226105277). A collection of 12 searing and witty essays about body image, gender, and familial legacy.
Univ. of Chicago Press/Seagull Books
Conversations, Vol. 1, by Jorge Luis Borges and Osvaldo Ferrarri, trans. by Jason Wilson (June 15, hardcover, $27.50, ISBN 978-0857421883). Buddhism, love, Henry James, and the tango are just a few of the topics Borges touches upon.
Univ. of Notre Dame Press
(dist. by CDC)
Hidden Possibilities: Essays in Honor of Muriel Spark, edited by Robert Ellis Hosmer (May 30, trade paper, $35, ISBN 978-0268030995), gathers distinguished writers from both sides of the Atlantic to offer an overview of Spark’s life and work. Critics have often read Spark in a somewhat narrow context. These essays situate her in a broader tradition.
Univ. of Wisconsin Press
(dist. by CDC)
The First Epoch: The Eighteenth Century and the Russian Cultural Imagination by Luba Golburt (July 1, trade paper, $29.95, ISBN 978-0299298142). Why did 19th-century Russians put the 18th century so quickly behind them? Interpreting texts by Lomonosov, Pushkin, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and others.
Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir by Penelope Lively (Feb. 6, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-0670016556). The bestselling author takes an intimate look at a life of reading and writing, from her early childhood in Cairo and boarding school in England to the sweeping social changes of 20th-century Britain.
The Keillor Reader by Garrison Keillor (May 1, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-0670020584) includes stories, essays, poems, and personal reminiscences from the sage of Lake Wobegon.
Yale Univ. Press
Wilfred Owen by Guy Cuthbertson (Mar. 25, hardcover, $40, ISBN 978-0300153002). One of Britain’s best-known and popular poets, Owen (1893–1918) was killed on one of the last days of WWI. Cuthbertson provides a fresh account of Owen’s life and formative influences and chronicles his growth to poetic maturity.