This week: a bright and colorful atlas of classic literature, and the latest from Michel Houellebecq and Orhan Pamuk.
Plotted: A Literary Altas by Andrew DeGraff, with essays by Daniel Harmon (Zest) - llustrator DeGraff has created a collection of maps that are paired with essays by Harmon (Super Pop!), illuminating classic works of literature in fun and appealing new ways. Through these intricate and inventive illustrations, DeGraff seeks to create visual representations for some of his favorite works that "provide a sense of contour—sometimes literal and sometimes metaphorical." Many of the stories depicted are from classic works of children's literature (such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and A Wrinkle in Time), and all are plotted intricately with vibrant colors. DeGraff also includes sophisticated renderings from the works of Shakespeare, Kafka, Borges, Homer, Austen, and Verne. Some representations are maps in the common sense, with DeGraff tracing the movements of Odysseus around the Mediterranean, Scrooge and company around London, or Hamlet et al. through the rooms of Elsinore castle. Some feature diagrams, such as the depiction of the Pequod from Moby-Dick, while others are more abstract, making this a complete, rewarding package for bookworms of all ages.
Submission by Michel Houellebecq, trans. from the French by Lorin Stein (FSG) - It’s hard to overstate the controversy that has hounded Houellebecq’s Submission since its publication in France—which coincided with the attacks on the office of Charlie Hebdo—and the persistent accusations of Islamophobia might well color the reception of the English-language translation (by Lorin Stein of the Paris Review). This would be a travesty. The novel’s moral complexity, concerned above all with how politics shape—or annihilate—personal ethics, is singular and brilliant. An expert on the works of J.K. Huysmans, François is a lonely professor at a semi-prestigious Paris university; subsisting on frozen dinners and occasional sex, he is politically indifferent. Nonetheless, he is forced to take notice when the Muslim Brotherhood, under the leadership of the charismatic Mohammed Ben Abbes, comes to power in an electoral coup. François’s colleagues scramble to adapt to (or resist) the now non-secular university’s policies, as women are excluded from teaching and a Muslim-friendly president is installed. This novel is not a paranoid political fantasy; it merely contains one. Houellebecq’s argument becomes an investigation of the content of ideology, and he has written an indispensable, serious book that returns a long-eroded sense of consequence, immediacy, and force to contemporary literature.
Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Knopf) - Star-crossed lovers fight for survival in this visually stunning adventure, the first in a trilogy and told through myriad documents and archived information, including instant messages, email, interview transcripts, memos, and security footage. Following a devastating attack on their home planet, Kady Grant and Ezra Mason, having just broken up, end up on different ships, part of a refugee fleet fleeing a cosmic dreadnought. Additionally, a virus is turning the survivors into bloodthirsty monsters, while one ship’s murderous AI takes extreme measures to protect the fleet. Though separated, Kady and Ezra rekindle their relationship while everything collapses around them. What starts off as a spacefaring action-romance evolves into a nerve-wracking horror story as the true scope of the situation becomes clear.
America's Bank: The Epic Struggle to Create the Federal Reserve by Roger Lowenstein (Penguin) - This superb chronicle by Lowenstein (Buffet), a former Wall Street Journal reporter, traces the formation of America’s Federal Reserve. Lowenstein helpfully reminds readers that at the start of the 20th century, the U.S. was the world’s sole industrialized nation to lack a central banking system, following two failed attempts, in 1791 and 1816, respectively, and a charter vetoed by President John Tyler in 1841. With many Americans, especially those in rural areas, suspicious of both banks and the federal government, the idea of a government-run banking system was widely unpopular. Lowenstein identifies four figures as integral in turning the tide, starting with Paul Warburg, a German immigrant who believed the American system should mimic the European model, and Sen. Nelson Aldrich, an ambitious, successful Republican from Rhode Island who was the subject of intense criticism by muckraking journalists. Centralization was also championed by President Wilson and Rep. Carter Glass, a Virginia Democrat, who was charged with creating a plan that would balance reform with states’ rights. Lowenstein vividly recounts the key moments in this hard-fought battle, resulting in a captivating and enlightening experience.
Finding Winne: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattlick, illus. by Sophie Blackall (Little, Brown) - Mattick is the great-granddaughter of Capt. Harry Colebourn, the Canadian veterinarian who set all things Winnie-the-Pooh in motion: while en route to join his unit during WWI, Harry rescued an orphaned bear cub from a trapper (it cost him $20) and named her Winnipeg (Winnie for short), after his hometown. She accompanied Harry to England and became the mascot of the Second Canadian Infantry Brigade. Knowing Winnie couldn’t follow him to France, Harry arranged for a new home for her at London Zoo, where a boy named Christopher Robin discovered her, and the rest is literary history. Framed as a bedtime story that Mattick tells her toddler son, Cole (who interjects questions such as “Is twenty dollars a lot?”), the book strikes a lovely, understated tone of wonder and family pride.
The Lake House by Kate Morton (Atria) - Bestselling storyteller Morton (The Secret Keeper) excels in this mystery set against the gothic backdrop of 1930s England. In Cornwall, the wealthy Edevane family prepares for its annual midsummer ball at Loeanneth, their isolated estate. That night, teenager Alice Edevane is lingering near the nursery when someone kidnaps the cherished Edevane son, Theo; despite a lengthy investigation, he is never found. The story moves forward to 2003 London, where Det. Sgt. Sadie Sparrow is suspended after speaking to the media about a missing-person case, recently closed, that haunts her. Sparrow seeks refuge with her grandfather in Cornwall. On her first morning run there, she finds the now-dilapidated Loeanneth mansion deep in the woods. Curious, Sparrow peers through the windows into tumbledown rooms abandoned in haste long ago. She begins to investigate the 70-year-old Edevane case with help from the Cornwall locals, including a retired copper who was there in 1933 when Theo disappeared. Morton’s plotting is impeccable, and her finely wrought characters, brought together in the end by Sparrow’s investigation, are as surprised as readers will be by the astonishing conclusion.
The Mark and the Void by Paul Murray (FSG) - Murray’s follow-up to Skippy Dies is a protracted jab at the world of banking, a charming send-up of the financial crisis that is hilariously absent of hope. Claude Martingale is a French émigré living in Dublin and working for the Investment Bank of Torabundo. His life is not entertaining. So why does Paul, a novelist (who happens to share the actual author’s first name), want to make Claude the everyman protagonist of his next novel? With the approval of bank management, Paul begins to shadow Claude through his typical office work days. But it quickly becomes clear there’s more to Paul’s interest than he’s saying. Add to this intrigue the potential collapse of Ireland’s economy, tent cities inhabited by protestors dressed as zombies, and a mad Russian mathematician around whose equations BOT may be structuring its new Structured Products Department, and Murray’s latest quickly takes off. A page-turner with smarts.
You Don't Have to Like Me: Essays on Growing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding Feminism by Alida Nugent (Plume) - In this series of entertaining essays, popular blogger and author Nugent (Don’t Worry, It Gets Worse) documents her journey to feminism while skewering misogynist tropes and delivering some painful truths. Using her own experiences to expand on larger issues, Nugent bravely confides the details of her battle with bulimia and society’s ever-shifting idea of the perfect body. In an essay appropriately titled “I Am Exactly like Other Girls,” she admits her own patriarchal complicity in formerly identifying herself as a “guy’s girl.” A missed period and a pregnancy test spark commentary on sexual shame. More jovial moments are dedicated to the power of female friendships (“the salted caramel... of the relationship world”), the bacchanalia of girls’-night-out wine benders, and learning to love her looks with help from an unflattering $15 lipstick. These essays are largely aimed at this younger generation, with Nugent playing the hip older sister—providing make-up tips, a sex ed lesson that is both hilarious and instructive, and a quasi-advice column about appropriate feminist behavior—but readers of all ages will be charmed.
A Strangeness in My Mind by Orhan Pamuk, trans. from the Turkish by Ekin Oklap (Knopf) - This mesmerizing ninth novel from Nobel laureate Pamuk (Silent House) is a sweeping epic chronicling Istanbul's metamorphosis from 1969 to 2012, as seen through the eyes of humble rural Anatolian migrant workers who come to the increasingly teeming metropolis in search of new opportunities in love and commerce. Though relayed through different points of view, the fable-like story's chief protagonist is the ruminative Mevlut Karatas, son of a cantankerous peddler of yogurt and boza (a thick, fermented wheat drink), who carries on his father's trade despite its fading popularity. The book includes a dip into Mevlut's childhood in Central Anatolia and his move to Istanbul with his father when he is 12. He later meets the beautiful Samiha at a wedding and is tricked by his cousin into eloping with Samiha's less attractive older sister, Rayiha. Mevlut and Rayiha have a happy marriage nonetheless and raise two daughters as he tries to gain a foothold in business. Mevlut's progression from naïve, perpetually searching wanderer to a more fulfilled and wizened soul, despite his mostly unsuccessful attempts at getting a leg up financially, is laid bare.
I Am Crying All Inside and Other Stories: The Complete Short Fiction of Clifford D. Simak, Vol. 1 by Clifford D. Simak (Open Road) - The first volume in this ambitious series, which promises to assemble award-winning SFWA Grand Master Simak’s entire short fiction catalogue, offers 10 iconic stories from the 1950s, including one never before published. Simak’s frequently revisited themes of first contact and what it means to be human stand at the forefront of many of the stories here, examined through the plant-based intelligence of “Ogre,” the misfit robots and humans left behind in the previously unpublished title story, and the motivations of aliens who’ve saved an injured human explorer by placing his mind in an alien body in “I Had No Head and My Eyes Were Floating Way up in the Air.” “Gleaners” and “Small Deer” explore conflicts created by time-traveling explorers. Simak walks a line between SF and horror with “Madness from Mars,” about the mysterious death of the crew on an expedition to Mars, and the almost Lovecraftian “The Call from Beyond.” The oddball here is the most commercial story, “Gunsmoke Interlude,” a western with a twist ending.