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Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction

Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson. Quirk, $19.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-68369-138-9

Kröger and Anderson anthologize the histories of horror’s greatest female writers into this meticulously compiled resource. Covering over three dozen writers, the coauthors reveal the experiences, whether with mysticism, trauma, or societal repression, that defined their subjects and led them toward the macabre. Kröger and Anderson describe the flamboyant public persona of pioneering feminist and science fiction writer Margaret Cavendish, the “stormy vacation” that inspired Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, the proto-Wiccan musings of Dion Fortune’s occult detective stories, and the wellspring of creativity that “weird Western” writer Eli Colter found in a period of temporary blindness. Most significantly, the genre of horror is explored as a medium for “psychological excavations into how humanity sees itself,” in which a ghost might function as a “metaphorical mirror for what was already haunting the character.” In addition to the analysis and history of these writers, Kröger and Anderson offer a list of essential readings from, and film adaptations of, each woman’s work. This biographical index will reawaken readers’ admiration for established virtuosos of literary terror and inspire curiosity in lesser-known specialists in fictitious fear. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Human Relations and Other Difficulties: Essays

Mary-Kay Wilmers. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (272p) ISBN 978-0-374-17349-4

Spanning four decades spent as London Review of Books editor, this eclectic and acidic selection of pieces by Wilmers (The Eitingtons), mostly published in the LRB, captures the evolution of a sharp-eyed literary critic. The book under review is often incidental; instead, Wilmers offers fascinating character studies of the authors and their subjects, both of whom tend to be “difficult” women, including Germaine Greer, Patty Hearst, Marianne Moore, and Jean Rhys. Wilmers has a voice as crisp, clear, and dry as gin, simultaneously amused and wise, as when she notes that “what we see when we look into [the past] is that it was never all that stable or all that virtuous.” She delights in the absurd—for instance, during a rambling through the late Victorian bestseller Pears’ Shilling Cyclopaedia, she came across entries under “T” that included “Tea Drinkers, the Greatest,” “Tourists Killed in the Alps,” and “Trades Injurious to the Teeth.” Avowedly not a feminist, Wilmers nonetheless conveys a sharp sense that “it is a man’s world that we live in.” Given her ear for the perfect quote, irony, and glancing judgment on human foibles—none of which “exceed the proper bounds of malice,” as she observes of well-written Times of London obituaries—fellow critics will appreciate this distillation of Wilmers’s legacy and the record of a distinct sensibility that feels bitterly astute, inimitably of its time, and enduringly relevant. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Deep History of Ourselves: The Four-Billion-Year Story of How We Got Conscious Brains

Joseph Le Doux. Viking, $30 (434p) ISBN 978-0-7352-2383-7

The eons-long development of the mechanics of thought—and other aspects of life—are covered in this sprawling, sometimes indigestible treatise from NYU neuroscientist Le Doux (The Emotional Brain). Surveying the rise and evolution of life-forms out of the primordial soup, he highlights such milestones as the acquisition of neurons by jellyfish and the arrival of mammals with their structured brains. Le Doux then focuses on the neuroscience of how brains process information and control behavior, elaborating on two themes: that, contrary to conventional wisdom, one’s emotions do not cause one’s behaviors and that, contrary to anthropomorphism, nonprimate animals may not have emotions, or even consciousness. The book contains provocative, sometimes unsettling descriptions of experiments, by Le Doux and others, that demonstrate how much seemingly conscious, willed behavior is actually unconscious and automatic, along with detailed discussions of the complex interactions of perception, memory, emotions, and cognition that underlie consciousness. However, Le Doux’s writing tends to bog down in impenetrably dense terminology: “The dorsal and ventral lateral prefrontal cortex regions also receive inputs from the multimodal convergence zone in the neocortical pareital and temporal lobes.” Though this exhaustive study brings up some fascinating concepts, the often arcane presentation will deter all but the most devoted of lay readers. Agent: Katinka Matson, Edge. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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World Class: One Mother’s Journey Halfway Around the Globe in Search of the Best Education for Her Children

Teru Clavel. Atria, $28 (368p) ISBN 978-1-5011-9297-5

Education consultant and columnist Clavel catalogues her children’s educational experiences across two continents in this thoughtful combination memoir and manual. Wanting to raise her children as global citizens, Clavel leaves the expat bubble of Hong Kong; her recounting of the family’s journey through Asia to California, with stops in four cities and several schools, highlights vivid differences in philosophy, method, and results between Asian countries and the U.S. In Shanghai, Clavel marvels at the insistence on mastery and high expectations that press students to excel. In Tokyo, she enjoys how her children learn independence, cooperation, and citizenship. In both countries, she finds, “education [is] a national priority, meant to serve the public good” and governments invest in teachers in terms of both salary and training. The top-rated school district in the U.S., Palo Alto, Calif., on the other hand, dismays her with its emphasis on technology; careless approach to curriculum, instruction, and grades; and the general U.S. education funding model, in which the best education is reserved for the privileged. The personal narrative is studded with lists of useful tips about choosing schools and hiring tutors, for parents who must advocate for their children and supplement gaps in their educations. Clavel’s hard-won lessons will be appreciated most by those who share her optimism that the U.S. system can change. Agent: Anna Sproul-Latimer, Ross Yoon Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Indelible in the Hippocampus: Writings from the Me Too Movement

Edited by Shelly Oria. McSweeney’s, $16.99 (192p) ISBN 978-1-944211-71-4

Editor Oria (New York 1, Tel Aviv 0) compiles fiction, personal essays, and poetry from 21 female writers on the subjects of sexual assault, harassment, and other dehumanizing consequences of patriarchy, in order to bring #MeToo from screen to page and showcase voices less likely to be heard in mainstream media, including those of women of color, queer women, and trans women. The results are bracing and urgent. Kaitlyn Greenidge considers the question of who has the right to hear the story of her assault. Courtney Zoffness explores the implications of a student’s overtly sexualizing behavior, noting, “It didn’t matter that I had ten years on Charlie, or more degrees, or the power to fail him. He still felt compelled to exert sexual power.” In a darkly comical standout piece of fiction, Elissa Schappell imagines an email exchange between a writer submitting the story of her rape for publication and a magazine editor, whose increasingly absurd and offensive notes culminate in a disclosure that, if the writer doesn’t meet the deadline, “We’re going to be forced to swap in a photo spread of Woody Allen’s greatest hits.” The collection is far from an endless parade of suffering; the writers offer a sense of communal feeling, bravery, and triumph. It’s well worth readers’ time. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Supreme Glamour

Mary Wilson and Mark Bego. Thames & Hudson, $40 (240p) ISBN 978-0-500-02200-9

Wilson, one of the original members of the Supremes, shares her collection of some of the lavish costumes she flaunted throughout the 1960s and ’70’s. The 32 pieces exhibit evolving fashion trends, from simple beginnings with matte jersey dresses worn in 1964 to promote the Supremes’ first Billboard #1 hit “Where Did Our Love Go” to fully sequined gowns worn during one of their several appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. Wilson shares dozens of photos that illustrate the Supremes’ changing looks that paralleled the group’s rise to fame, starting from the girls’ humble beginnings as Detroit high schoolers performing in homemade dresses as the Primettes. Wilson shares fun anecdotes as the Supremes gained popularity: when the group performed at the Copacabana for the first time, Wilson recalls that the blue satin dresses with flower appliqués “looked great initially,” but on stage, “the huge flowers appeared gaudy,” and the feathers “constantly poked and tickled” the girls throughout the show. Later, in the ’70s, while Wilson faced heartbreak as the sole original member left in the Supremes, she embraced Afro hairstyles in celebration of black pride and new disco fashions, such as fringed pantsuits. Both entertaining and aesthetically pleasing, this book will appeal to Supremes fans and vintage fashion enthusiasts alike. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Why Do I Feel Like an Imposter?: How to Understand and Cope with Imposter Syndrome

Sandi Mann. Watkins, $14.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-78678-218-2

Psychologist Mann (Ten Minutes to Happiness) clearly explains how Imposter Syndrome (IS) manifests in this broad but overly busy analysis. Mann details how the syndrome was first identified by psychologists working with women navigating the workplace in the U.K. during the 1970s, which she covers with case studies that expose three main symptoms: belief that others have inflated views of your abilities, fear of being exposed as a fraud, and attribution of success to external factors. Of the various ways the syndrome can manifest, Mann describes male IS (which is compounded by stereotypes of successful manhood in the realms of business, athletics, and sexuality), social IS (which leads people to doubt their friendships and motivations for good deeds), IS provoked by the challenges of parenting, and IS in students identified as gifted. Mann then offers diagnostics, exercises, and strategies for symptom management, such as journaling to identify facts and false assumptions about oneself. Mann’s analysis relies heavily on exposing the circular thinking that leads to feelings of inadequacy, which she does with the support of many graphics. However, her clinical writing style is distancing and the many charts are often more confusing than clarifying. While those concerned about IS will find much information here, Mann’s strategies are muddled by overly prescriptive language that will fail to engage many readers. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Surfacing

Kathleen Jamie. trade paper , $17 ISBN 978-0-14-313445-9

In a lyrical, beautifully rendered collection of essays, poet Jamie (Sightlines) meditates on the natural world, lost cultures, and the passage of time. The book’s title relates most directly to its two longest (and most philosophically engaging) pieces, both about archaeological digs. For “In Quinhagak,” Jamie travels to a small Alaskan village to help with collecting artifacts from the period before the arrival of Europeans. Seeing how “the past can spill out of the earth, become the present,” she immerses herself in the way of life of the local Yup’ik, who are deeply knowledgeable about their natural surroundings and acutely present in the moment. In “Links of Noltland,” she visits the Scottish town of Pierowall, where archaeologists are uncovering Neolithic and Bronze Age dwellings, producing information about “ordinary people’s ordinary lives” from millennia ago. Yet, Jamie insists, “those people’s days were as long and vital as ours.” Later, in “The Wind Horse,” Jamie recalls traveling to Tibet in 1989 and hearing fragmentary reports of the Beijing student protests, distressing information that she juxtaposes against the tranquility of a Buddhist monastery. Jamie’s observations about time and the interconnectedness of human lives, past and present, are insightful, and her language elegant. The result is a stirring collection for poetry and prose readers alike. George Lucas, Inkwell Management. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Peanuts Papers: Writers and Cartoonists on Charlie Brown, Snoopy & the Gang, and the Meaning of Life

Edited by Andrew Blauner. Library of America, $24.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-59853-616-4

The 33 essays, poems, and cartoons in this book, most original to the volume, are affectionate valentines to Charles M. Schulz’s much-loved comic strip, Peanuts—syndicated in newspapers from 1950 to 2000—that gauge the cultural impact of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the rest of the gang. Adam Gopnik, in “Good Griefs,” compares Schulz’s characters—kids who inhabit “the recognizable grown-up world of thwarted ambition and delusional longing”—to those of Chekhov and Salinger. Mona Simpson riffs on the theme of unrequited love rampant in the strip in “Triangle with Piano” and Sarah Boxer does the same on Snoopy the beagle’s self-invented heroic persona in “The Exemplary Narcissism of Snoopy.” Jonathan Lethem’s “Grief,” a Peanuts-referencing pastiche of Allen Ginsberg’s landmark poem “Howl,” is so perfect one could imagine a beat Linus (to whom it is dedicated) having written it. Editor Blauner includes appreciations of the animated Peanuts television specials and thought pieces ranging from the scholarly to the intimately personal by Umberto Eco, Jonathan Franzen, Maxine Hong Kingston, Rick Moody, and others. This is a heartwarming tribute to Schulz’s inimitable strip and the influence it had on its everyday audience. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Out of Istanbul: A Long Walk of Discovery Along the Silk Road

Bernard Ollivier, trans. from the French by Dan Golembeski. Skyhorse, $23.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-5107-4375-5

In this thoughtful memoir, French journalist Ollivier, grieving after his wife dies, writes of walking from Istanbul to Tehran in 1999, the first of his planned three-stage solo trek along the Silk Road. Almost immediately, dangers and doubts plague the sexagenarian’s journey: his watch is nearly stolen by thieves; the Turkish army stops him multiple times along the way and, at one point, forcibly removes him from a shelter; sheep dogs block his path; and he fears encountering terrorists (“Of course, I’m fully aware that they could hold me hostage”). Ollivier animates the landscape with vivid accounts of people he meets along the way, including a Turkish philosopher named Behçet who is eager to debate after years of solitary study in the woods, as well as several drivers who offer him rides, both amazed and stupefied by his undertaking. Suffering from dysentery, Ollivier doesn’t quite make it to Iran and returns home. However, the scope of his project remains extensive, as he chronicles the history and culture of the Turkish people. Adventurers will relish his enthusiasm and bask in his rugged sense of outdoorsmanship. (July)

Reviewed on 07/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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