This week, what we don't know about memory, rethinking caveman nostalgia, and hidden cities. Plus: Aleksandar Hemon's fist book of nonfiction.
Farther and Wilder: The Lost Weekends and Literary Dreams of Charles Jackson by Blake Bailey (Knopf) – Award-winning literary biographer Bailey has already tackled Cheever and Yates, to amazing results. Here, he takes on Charles Jackson and his dark personal life. Check out Bailey’s 5 Writing Tips.
Pieces of Light: How the New Science of Memory Illuminates the Stories We Tell About Our Pasts by Charles Fernyhough (Harper) – In this refreshingly social take on a personal experience, psychologist Fernyhough aims to debunk the myth that memory is purely retrospective—memories, he argues, are not “heirloom[s] from the past” summoned back for display in the present; they are momentary reconstructions.
Hidden Cities: A Memoir of Urban Exploration by Moses Gates (Tarcher) - Whereas most travel authors highlight the museums, fashionable streets, and restaurants of the great cities of the world, Gate’s passion lies elsewhere. He revels in surmounting contrived barriers, whether in New York, Paris, or Ukraine. A solidly entertaining ride for those seeking a gritty travel experience.
The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death, Honor and Shame in the Turbulent Sixteenth Century by Joel F. Harrington (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) - In Harrington’s gruesome and enlightening latest, the career of German executioner Frantz Schmidt is used to paint a ghastly portrait of life in the “long sixteenth century.” The book’s backbone is Schmidt’s remarkable journal, a laconic catalogue of 45 years of executions and reflections. Take a look inside how Harrington constructed the book.
The Book of My Lives by Aleksandar Hemon (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) - A collection of 15 mostly previously published essays assembled in somewhat chronological order, the book has the feel of a patchwork memoir that focuses on defining and enlightening moments in the author’s life. A dynamic, beautiful book.
Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology, Second Edition by Paul Hoover (Norton) - The range in this anthology is stunning, from Charles Olsen’s panoramic histories to Frank O’Hara’s chatty cityscapes to Lyn Hejinian’s bottomless autobiography. What makes this edition so welcome, for both classroom and personal use, is its inclusion of many newer poets whose careers hadn’t yet begun when the first edition was published.
Double Feature by Owen King (Scribner) - This witty debut novel from King, son of Stephen, is about film and family. Endearing, irascible Sam Dolan is a young filmmaker with a big father problem—that is, his dad, B-movie actor Booth Dolan, has a personality that’s a big problem. Artful, and sometimes very funny prose.
The Story Until Now: A Great Big Book of Stories by Kit Reed (Wesleyan Univ.) - The prolific Reed has been a significant figure in speculative fiction and literature for over 50 years. This impressive tome collects 34 of her short works, including six previously unpublished stories and others gathered from across the expanse of her career.
OCD, the Dude, and Me by Lauren Roedy Vaughn (Dial) - Senior year is starting, but Danielle Levine isn’t looking forward to it. Even though everyone at her school has a learning disability, it’s still divided into cool kids and outcasts, and Danielle—with her flaming red hair, nonwaiflike physique, OCD, and penchant for hats—is in the second camp.
Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet, and How We Live by Marlene Zuk (Norton) - In thoroughly engaging and witty prose, Zuk (Sex on Six Legs), a biologist from the University of Minnesota, dismantles the pseudoscience behind nostalgic yearnings for our caveman days. She goes on to demonstrate the ways in which humans are still evolving, citing differences in earwax characteristics around the globe as evidence of our continuing journey.