This week, Joyce Carol Oates unleashes the demons, one of the best memoirs of 2013, and a vertical city. Plus: redefining the idea of "Southern identity."
The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson (Scholastic/Levine) - Eighteen-year-old artist June Costa is a citizen of Palmares Três, a vertically structured city in what was once Brazil, with the rich at the top, the poor at the bottom. Privileged June and Gil live on Tier Eight, and get involved with Enki, a beautiful bottom-tier resident who will serve a year as the summer king before his ritual sacrifice.
The Fun Parts by Sam Lipsyte (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) - In this second story collection, fierce satire mingles with warmth and pathos as Lipsyte showcases his knack for stylistic variety and tangles with the thorny human experiences of moving beyond one’s past or shedding one’s personal baggage. Lipsyte’s biting humor suffuses the collection, but it’s his ability to control the relative darkness of each moment that makes the stories so engrossing.
The Virtues of Poetry by James Longenbach (Graywolf) – Robert Lowell, Emily Dickinson, John Ashbery, W.B. Yeats, and Shakespeare are all examined in this lively and fond look at the power of poetry’s words. Never too academic, Longenbach gives us new ways to think about the writers we love.
C.S. Lewis: A Life by Alister McGrath (Tyndale) - To the question of whether the world really needs another biography of C.S. Lewis, McGrath’s lucid and unsentimental portrait of the Christian champion responds with a resounding “yes.”
The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates (Ecco) - First drafted in the early 1980s, then set aside, the novel is, in addition to being a thrilling tale in the best gothic tradition, a lesson in master craftsmanship. Distilled, the plot is about a 14-month curse manifesting in Princeton, N.J., from 1905 to 1906, affecting the town's elite. Within, you’ll find everything from vampires and demons to Antarctic voyages and parallel worlds. Hang on for the ride. Check out our profile of Oates.
The Still Point of the Turning World by Emily Rapp (Penguin Press) – This memoir is a bracing, heartbreaking countdown in the life of her terminally ill son. At age nine months, Ronan was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs, a rare, degenerative disease, involving the lack of an enzyme that is always fatal, striking the parents as a complete surprise. Unflinching and unsentimental, Rapp's work lends a useful, compassionate, healing message for suffering parents and caregivers.
Storm Kings: The Untold History of America’s First Tornado Chasers by Lee Sandlin (Pantheon) – Tracking everything from the first meteorologist in America, James Espy, to Ben Franklin’s kite experiment, Sandlin makes man’s effort to comprehend storms come brilliantly to life.
Bruised by Sarah Skilton (Abrams/Amulet) - In this problem novel that quickly takes a romantic turn, first-time author Skilton paints a vivid portrait of a girl whose shame leads to an identity crisis. Offering psychological drama and an introduction to a martial-arts code of behavior, the book has a meaningful message about power, control, and the internal bruises carried by victims.
Visions of Infinity: The Great Mathematical Problems by Ian Stewart (Basic) –This entertaining history of mathematics gives a fresh look at some of the most challenging problems and puzzles in the history of the field. Check out Stewart’s (understandable) exploration of the hardest math problem in the world.
The New Mind of the South by Tracy Thompson (Simon & Schuster) – Thompson re-examines the notion of Southern identity (following W.J. Cash’s The Mind of the South) for the 21st century. This is a nuanced—and sometimes astringently humorous—portrait of a multifaceted, often misunderstood region that overturns stereotypes.