Two simple phrases are all you need to evoke the absurdity of war and of life: "catch-22" and "So it goes." The two 1960s works that gave us these now-indispensable phrases, Joseph Heller's Catch-22 and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, changed our idea of what a war novel could be: irreverent, caustic, comic, yet brutally realistic. Four years after Vonnegut's death, we have bestselling author (Mockingbird) Charles J. Shields's And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life; the 50th anniversary of Catch-22's publication brings Just One Catch: A Biography of Joseph Heller by Donald Barthelme's biographer, Tracy Daugherty.
And since publishers are gluttons for anniversaries, we also look forward to the 2012 bicentennial of the birth of the quintessential Victorian novelist in Charles Dickens: A Life by the multiaward-winning Claire Tomalin.
On a more morbid note, it is five decades since Ernest Hemingway's suicide, and NBCC-award winner Paul Hendrickson gives some insight into that tragic event in Hemingway's Boat: Everything He Loved in Life and Lost, 1934–1961.
No anniversary is required for Herbert Leibowitz's much anticipated life of one of America's greatest poets, "Something Urgent I Have to Say to You": The Life and Works of William Carlos Williams.
We still know little about the inner life of first lady Pat Nixon. Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life is neither a biography nor a work of fiction. It is something more original: Beattie starts with actual facts and then lets her imagination run wild, illuminating the workings of fiction and the writer's creative process.
Someone who well understood both fiction and the creative process was Lionel Trilling. It's almost inconceivable that a classic work by one of the pre-eminent literary critics of his time could ever have been out of print. But that was the case for Trilling's The Liberal Imagination (recently reissued by New York Review Books). Why should it matter? Adam Kirsch, a senior editor at the New Republic, tells us in Why Trilling Matters in a time when many fear literature is in decline.
The equally eminent John Berger has ranged in his writings from Booker-winning fiction and art criticism to sociology. In Bento's Sketchbook, he brings the arts of seeing and reading together in discussing art as a form of storytelling that can allow us to see the world in new ways.
John Jeremiah Sullivan is the newest literary voice on this list. PW called the former sportswriter's first book, Blood Horses, "as remarkable as the finest horses it documents." Now a contributor to GQ and Harper's, Sullivan brings his unique voice and perspective to all areas of American culture in Pulphead.
Pomegranate Press has undoubtedly found a gem in Floating Worlds: The Letters of Edward Gorey and Peter F. Neumeyer. Gorey, whose inimitable illustrations are known to all, was contracted to illustrate a children's book by Neumeyer, and the two men shared both personal and intellectual companionship in a voluminous correspondence printed along with reproductions of decorated envelopes that Gorey sent to his friend. This will be a treasure trove to fans of both authors.
PW's Top 10 Literary Essays & Criticism
And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life
Charles J. Shields. Holt, Nov.
Just One Catch: A Biography of Joseph Heller
Tracy Daugherty. St. Martin's, Aug.
Charles Dickens: A Life
Claire Tomalin. Penguin Press, Oct.
Hemingway's Boat: Everything He Loved in Life and Lost, 1934–1961
Paul Hendrickson. Knopf, Sept.
"Something Urgent I Have to Say to You": The Life and Works of William Carlos Williams
Herbert Leibowitz. FSG, Oct.
Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life
Ann Beattie. Scribner, Nov.
Why Trilling Matters
Adam Kirsch. Yale Univ., Sept.
John Berger, Pantheon, Nov.
John Jeremiah Sullivan. FSG, Oct.
Floating Worlds: The Letters of Edward Gorey and Peter F. Neumeyer
Edward St. John Gorey and Peter F. Neumeyer. Pomegranate, Sept.
Literary Essays & Criticism
(dist. by PGW)
Winter: Five Windows on the Season by Adam Gopnik (Oct., paper, $19.95, ISBN 978-0-88784-975-6). New Yorker contributor and international bestselling author Gopnik does for winter what he did for the City of Light in the New York Times bestseller Paris to the Moon.
Arte Público Press
Crossing Borders: Personal Essays by Sergio Troncoso (Sept., paper, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-55885-710-0). In 16 essays, the author seeks to connect his upbringing in a home steps away from the Texas-Mexico border to people he meets on the East Coast as an Ivy League student and documents his role as a father and husband.
A Voice of My Own: Essays and Stories by Rolando Hinojosa (Nov., paper, $19.95, ISBN 978-1-55885-712-4). The author of the acclaimed Klail City Death Trip series muses on writing in 14 essays touching on assimilation, border life, and discrimination; also includes four short stories.
Backward Ran Sentences: The Best of Wolcott Gibbs from the New Yorker by Thomas Vinciguerra, Wolcott Gibbs, foreword by P.J. O'Rourke (Sept., paper, $18, ISBN 978-1-60819-550-3) is a landmark celebration of a forgotten New Yorker writer who wrote prodigiously and wittily for three decades.
Columbia Univ. Press
Stalking Nabokov by Brian Boyd (Nov., hardcover, $35, ISBN 978-0-231-15856-5) is a collection of essays by the man who, at the age of 21, wrote an essay on Nabokov that the author called "brilliant." In 1991, after gaining exclusive access to Nabokov's archives, Boyd wrote a two-volume, award-winning biography, Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years and Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years.
Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ, and the Vichy Dilemma by Barbara Will (Sept., hardcover, $35, ISBN 978-0-231-15262-4) explores the Jewish writer Gertrude Stein's bizarre role in France during WWII writing propaganda for the collaborationist Vichy regime.
Critical Children: The Use of Childhood in Ten Great Novels by Richard Locke (Sept., $29.50, ISBN 978-0-231-15782-7). Locke, a writing professor at Columbia, takes a crackling tour of 10 Anglo-American fictional children in difficult circumstances, among them Oliver Twist, Huckleberry Finn, and Holden Caulfield.
Deliriously Happy: And Other Bad Thoughts by Larry Doyle (Nov., paper, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-06-196683-5). The winner of the 2008 Thurber Prize for American Humor collects his essays from the New Yorker, Esquire, and National Lampoon, along with new pieces.
What Light Can Do: Essays on Art, Imagination, and the Natural World by Robert Hass (Sept., $22.99, ISBN 978-0-06-192392-0). A wide-ranging collection of pieces, many on photography with the accompanying photos throughout, from the beloved, award-winning poet.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere by André Aciman (Sept., $25, ISBN 978-0-374-10275-3) is a new collection on memory and exile by the acclaimed author of Call Me by Your Name.
Pulphead: Essays by John Jeremiah Sullivan (Oct., paper, $16, ISBN 978-0-374-53290-1). A sharp-eyed, humane tour of America's cultural landscape—from high to low to lower than low—by the Whiting and National Magazine Award–winning young star of the literary nonfiction world.
"Something Urgent I Have to Say to You": The Life and Works of William Carlos Williams by Herbert Leibowitz (Nov., $35, ISBN 978-0-374-11329-2). This much anticipated biography documents the life of one of America's leading poets—who rubbed shoulders with Man Ray, Allen Ginsberg, and others—and offers a new perspective on Williams's poetry.
Dante in Love by A.N. Wilson (Oct., $28, ISBN 978-0374-13468-6) is a portrait of the vivid life and turbulent times of the poet-cum-politician whose Divine Comedy and other works helped shape our ideas on love, sex, and death.
The Other Walk: Essays by Sven Birkerts (Sept., paper, $15, ISBN 978-1-55597-593-7). A series of autobiographical pieces by a master of reflection examines family, memory, and the small but illuminating moments of life.
Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens by Christopher Hitchens (Sept., $30, ISBN 978-1-4555-0277-6). A collection of some of the finest recent writings, the author's first since 2004, by "America's foremost rhetorical pugilist" (Village Voice).
Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst (Oct., $29.95, ISBN 978-0-674-06226-4). A look at the novelist as self-made man, both literally and literarily, as the young man grew into a writer who invented the Victorian age as much as he was created by it.
And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life by Charles J. Shields (Nov., $30, ISBN 978-0-8050-8693-5) is the authoritative and authorized biography of Kurt Vonnegut Jr., a writer who changed the conversation of American literature.
Literary Brooklyn: The Writers of Brooklyn and the Story of American City Life by Evan Hughes (Aug., paper, $17, ISBN 978-0-8050-8986-8). For the first time, here is Brooklyn's story through the eyes of its greatest storytellers, from Walt Whitman to Jonathan Lethem.
Henry Holt/Metropolitan Books
Lives Other Than My Own by Emmanuel Carrère, trans. by Linda Coverdale (Sept., $26, ISBN 978-0-8050-9261-5). The acclaimed French author, in an act of generous imagination, unflinchingly records devastating loss and the wealth of human solace that follows in its wake.
Tolstoy: A Russian Life by Rosamund Bartlett (Nov., $35, ISBN 978-0-15-101438-5). This new biography draws on recently released archives to present a complete portrait of the much mythologized Russian literary master.
The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2011, edited by Dave Eggers (Oct., paper, $14.95, ISBN 978-0-547-57743-2) is a selection of the best writing, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, comics, and blogs, published during 2010.
The Best American Essays 2011, edited by Edwidge Danticat, series editor, Robert Atwan (Oct., paper, $14.95, ISBN 978-0-54747977-4) collects the year's best essays published in periodicals.
Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters by Joseph Roth, trans. and edited by Michael Hofmann (Jan., $39.95, ISBN 978-0-393-06064-5). Containing 457 newly translated letters, this volume presents a portrait of the great European journalist and novelist's own catastrophic life and the catastrophe he saw building before his death in 1939.
Bento's Sketchbook by John Berger (Nov., $28.95, ISBN 978-0-307-37995-5). From one of the most original writers, a meditation on drawing, Spinoza, and learning to see the invisible.
Driving Home: An American Journey by Jonathan Raban (Sept., $30, ISBN 978-0-307-37991-7). No other non-native writer can offer the insights that Raban has into America's character, contradictions, and idiosyncrasies, and this omnibus addresses a variety of subjects over the two decades he has lived in America.
In the Company of Rilke: Why a 20th-Century Visionary Poet Speaks So Eloquently to 21st-Century Readers by Stephanie Dowrick (Sept., paper, $17.95, ISBN 978-1-58542-867-0). In the first major study to look at poetry luminary Rainer Maria Rilke from a spiritual perspective, Dowrick (Seeking the Sacred) reveals how his visionary poetry connects us with our inner life and the complex beauty of human existence.
Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin (Oct., $36, ISBN 978-1-59420-309-1). The tumultuous life of England's greatest novelist, beautifully rendered by literary biographer Tomalin.
Floating Worlds: The Letters of Edward Gorey and Peter F. Neumeyer by Edward St. John Gorey and Peter F. Neumeyer (Sept., $35, ISBN 978-0-7649-5947-9). In 1968 Gorey and Neumeyer began an invigorating friendship, fueled by a wealth of correspondence. Featured here are the never-before-published letters along with reproductions of 38 envelopes featuring drawings by Gorey.
Princeton Univ. Press
On Conan Doyle: Or, the Whole Art of Storytelling by Michael Dirda (Oct., hardcover, $19.95, ISBN 978-0-691-15135-9) is a delightful introduction to the creator of Sherlock Holmes, from the Pulitzer Prize–winning critic.
Hemingway's Boat: Everything He Loved in Life and Lost, 1934–1961 by Paul Hendrickson (Sept., $30, ISBN 978-1-4000-4162-6). Through new materials and interviews with Hemingway's sons, Hendrickson gives a new understanding of the life and tragic suicide of one of America's most important writers.
45th Parallel Communications
(dist. by Consortium)
The Literary Heritage of the Arabs: An Anthology by Suheil Bushrui and James M. Malarkey (Jan., $29.95, ISBN 978-0-86356-452-9). A landmark anthology of the finest literature produced by Arab writers from the past 1,500 years, this comprehensive anthology by two of the world's leading scholars will become the key reference.
(dist. by Consortium)
Rough Likeness: Essays by Lia Purpura (Jan., paper, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-936747-03-0) takes a conversational turn to examine the smallest things imaginable—beach glass, the color "gunmetal," a mushroom—as well as states of being.
Small Fires: Essays by Julie Marie Wade (Nov., paper, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-936747-02-3) recreates the landscape of Wade's childhood and coming-of-age. She then turns her attention mercilessly on herself—all this in an attempt to answer the question: what have you given up in order to become who you are?
Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life by Ann Beattie (Nov., hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-1-4391-6871-4) is a wholly original nonfiction work about Pat Nixon, and about how writers create characters.
Seven Stories Press
Unstuck in Time: A Journey Through Kurt Vonnegut's Life and Novels by Gregory D. Sumner (Nov., $24.95, ISBN 978-1-60980-349-0) guides readers, with insight and passion, through a biography of 15 of Kurt Vonnegut's best-known works, his 14 novels, from Player Piano to an epilogue on his last book, A Man Without a Country.
Simon & Schuster
Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone: The Essential Writing of Hunter S. Thompson by Hunter S. Thompson, editors of Rolling Stone, and Jann Wenner (Oct., $30, ISBN 978-1-4391-6595-9). Rolling Stone's editors compile highlights of Thompson's illustrious career—articles he published for them in his 35-plus years as a contributor.
Yossarian Slept Here: When Joseph Heller Was Dad, the Apthorp Was Home, and Life Was a Catch-22 by Erica Heller (Aug., $25, ISBN 978-1-4391-9768-4). The daughter of Catch-22's author describes life with her brilliant, eccentric father, his celebrity friends, and her parents' turbulent 38-year marriage.
Stieg Larsson: The Real Story of the Man Who Played with Fire by Jan-Erik Pettersson (Sept., $22.95, ISBN 978-1-4027-8940-3). Stieg Larsson's former publisher reveals the man behind the bestselling author: one who fought for human rights and brought that same political and moral passion to his writing.
Maurice Kenny: Celebrations of a Mohawk Writer by Penelope Myrtle Kelsey (Nov., paper, $29.95, ISBN 978-1-4384-3802-3) explores the work of a pivotal figure in American Indian literature from the 1950s to the present.
Temple Univ. Press
Reading Up: Middle-Class Readers and the Culture of Success in the Early Twentieth-Century United States by Amy Blair (Nov., paper, $28.95, ISBN 978-1-4399-0668-2). Before Oprah's book club, there was Ladies Home Journal's Hamilton Wright Mabie, who promoted readerly eclecticism in America. Blair examines the role and practice of promoting reading as a means of self-improvement and social mobility.
A Boy at the Hogarth Press by Richard Kennedy (Oct., paper, $12.95, ISBN 978-1-84391-461-7). A coming-of-age memoir sheds light on the workings of Leonard and Virginia Woolf's Hogarth Press.
Univ. of California Press
The Grand Canyon Reader by Lance Newman (Oct., paper, $19.95, ISBN 978-0-520-27079-4) offers powerful and compelling writing about the Grand Canyon that represents the full range of human experience in this wild, daunting, and inspiring landscape: stories, essays, and poems written across five centuries by people inhabiting, surviving, and attempting to understand the "Great Unknown."
Univ. of Chicago Press
The Poet's Freedom: A Notebook on Making by Susan Stewart (Nov., paper, $22.50, ISBN 978-0-226-77387-2). MacArthur Award–winning poet and critic Stewart considers the entwining of freedom and making to consider such questions as why the poet is a figure of freedom in Western culture.
Univ. of Illinois Press
Becoming Ray Bradbury by Jonathan R. Eller (Sept., $34.95, ISBN 978-0-252-03629-3) is the authoritative biography of Ray Bradbury's early years, which include the writing of The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451.
Univ. of Minnesota Press
Remixthebook by Mark Amerika (Sept., paper, $19.95, ISBN 978-0-8166-7615-6) explores the mashup as a defining cultural activity in the digital age, tracing the art of the remix to previous forms of avant-garde and modernist art through mashups of deftly sampled phrases and ideas.
Univ. of Nebraska Press
Wright Morris Territory: A Treasury of Work by Wright Morris, edited by Alicia Christensen and David Madden (Sept., $19.95, ISBN 978-0-8032-3658-5) culls from the photo-text books, criticism, and short stories of the Nebraska-born author who won two National Book Awards.
Let's Be Reasonable by Joel Sartore (Sept., $21.95, ISBN 978-0-8032-3506-9) collects essays and photographs by National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore, including his contributions to CBS Sunday Morning.
Univ. of Texas Press
West of 98: Living and Writing the New American West, edited by Lynn Stegner and Russell Rowland (Sept., paper $21.95, ISBN 978-0-292-72686-4). Louise Erdrich, Walter Kirn, and dozens of others contribute essays describing how the West imprints itself on its residents and vice versa, demythologizing the past to describe a real place they call home.
Yale Univ. Press
The Shadow of a Great Rock: A Literary Appreciation of the King James Bible by Harold Bloom (Sept., $28, ISBN 978-0-300-16683-5). Master literary critic Bloom contends that the King James Bible stands at "the sublime summit of literature in English," an honor shared only with Shakespeare.
Why Trilling Matters by Adam Kirsch (Sept., $24, ISBN 978-0-30015269-2). One of the leading critics of our era, Kirsch examines how Lionel Trilling, the pre-eminent critic of his time, can enlighten us about our fears about the decline of literature and reading.