The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet: A Novel

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The Millions Top Ten: April 2016

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for April. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 1. Fortune Smiles 5 months 2. - The Sympathizer 1 month 3. 4. What Belongs to You 4 months 4. 5. My Name is Lucy Barton 4 months 5. 6. The Past 3 months 6. 3. The Big Green Tent 6 months 7. 8. Girl Through Glass 2 months 8. 10. The Lost Time Accidents 2 months 9. 7. A Brief History of Seven Killings 5 months 10. - Mr. Splitfoot 1 month If you're reading this, you survived to bear witness as Donald Trump became the Grand Old Party's official presidential candidate. (Thanks a lot, William Faulkner!) And if the unpredictable, foreboding days spread out ahead promise nothing if not apocalyptic visions - glimpses of failures personal and societal, as well as cosmic - then take solace in this one thing: the Millions Top Ten abides as ever - safe, regular, and fun. For here on our list, we celebrate the buying habits of our readers, and we can illuminate the works that bring them joy, inspire them, or whisk their emotions. Surely in these trying times, that's better to read than, say, any newspaper. Right? And so let's begin with the good news. We graduated two - count 'em! - books to our hallowed Hall of Fame this month. First, David Mitchell launched his fourth - count it! - book to immortality, as his latest novel, Slade House, joined three of his others: Cloud AtlasThe Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, and The Bone Clocks. (Connections abound with that last one, noted Alex Miller, Jr. in his review for our site.) Next, our own Garth Risk Hallberg sent his debut novel, City on Fire, to the Hall as well. Although this is the first time Garth has reached the Hall of Fame as the author of a work of fiction, he did previously reach it as the editor of one of our Millions Originals - Konstantin Kakaes's The Pioneer Detectives. Filling those two opened spots are Samantha Hunt's Mr. Splitfoot and Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer. Hunt's work is an "elegantly structured novel," observed our own Kaulie Lewis in the Great 2016 Book Preview, and it "promises to be the year’s most unusual ghost story." Don't miss her interview for our site with Adam Vitcavage. Meanwhile Nguyen's work is "rich, surprising, and often darkly funny," according to Claire Messud in her most recent Year in Reading entry. (Bonus: Thanh Nguyen contributed his own entry in that same year's Year in Reading series.) You can read an excerpt from The Sympathizer from our friends at Bloom. Elsewhere on the list, A Brief History of Seven Killings dropped from seventh position to ninth. Ordinarily I wouldn't remark about a book moving down our list, but this is a special case because it only needs one more month to reach our Hall of Fame, and frankly I nagged y'all too damn hard for it to drop out when it's this close. Do your part and buy seven copies immediately, please. Now, wasn't that better than reading the political tipsheets? This month's near misses included: The Queen of the NightThe Sellout, The Nest, When We Came to the City, and The Turner House. See Also: Last month's list.

The Millions Top Ten: March 2015

  We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for March. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 1. The Novel: A Biography 6 months 2. 2. Station Eleven 6 months 3. 3. My Brilliant Friend 4 months 4. 5. The Narrow Road to the Deep North 6 months 5. 7. The Strange Library 4 months 6. 6. The David Foster Wallace Reader 3 months 7. 9. Dept. of Speculation 4 months 8. 8. All the Light We Cannot See 5 months 9. 10. Loitering: New and Collected Essays 3 months 10. - The Buried Giant 1 month   Well, folks, it's happened. The enduring success of David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks has pushed the author to a Millions echelon so high that it's never before been reached. That's right: Mitchell is now the only author in site history to reach our hallowed Hall of Fame for three (count 'em!) different works. And with The Bone Clocks joining his past works, Cloud Atlas and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Mitchell's latest achievement puts him ahead of David Foster Wallace (Infinite Jest,The Pale King), Junot Díaz (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, This Is How You Lose Her), Stieg Larsson (The Girl with the Dragon TattooThe Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest), Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies), Jonathan Franzen (The Corrections, Freedom), George Saunders (Tenth of December, Fox 8), and Dave Eggers (Zeitoun, The Circle), each of whom authored two Hall of Fame titles. Maybe this repeated success will be enough to coax him into a Year in Reading 2015 appearance. (ARE YOU LISTENING, PUBLICISTS?) Joining this month's list thanks to The Bone Clocks's graduation is Kazuo Ishiguro's latest novel, The Buried Giant. It's a book "about war and memory," wrote Millions staffer Lydia Kiesling in her extremely personal review of the work for this site. "But it is also about love and memory, and you don’t need to have lived through an atrocity to get it." Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that our own Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven, which is poised to graduate to our Hall of Fame next month, was the recent winner of The Morning News's annual Tournament of Books. (It beat out Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See, which is also on our Top Ten.) The novel, which has earned the praise of George R. R. Martin, took the final match-up by a score of 15-2, which should be decisive enough to persuade all of you who haven't yet bought the book to do so immediately. Join us next month as we graduate three books and open the doors for three newcomers. Will they be among the "Near Misses" below, or will they be something new entirely? Near Misses: My Struggle: Book 1, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, An Untamed State, The Paying Guests and The First Bad Man. See Also: Last month's list.

The Millions Top Ten: September 2014

  We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for September. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. - The Bone Clocks 1 month 2. 1. A Highly Unlikely Scenario, or a Neetsa Pizza Employee's Guide to Saving the World 5 months 3. 9. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves 3 months 4. 2. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage 2 months 5. 7. Cosmicomics 2 months 6. 4. The Round House 3 months 7. 5. Well-Read Women: Portraits of Fiction's Most Beloved Heroines 6 months 8. 10. My Struggle: Book 1 3 months 9. 8. Reading Like a Writer 3 months 10. 6. The Son 6 months   Welcome to the party, David Mitchell! Or, perhaps it's more accurate to say, "Welcome back to the party." Mitchell's no stranger to our Top Ten, you see. Back in May, I observed that Mitchell is part of an elite group of eight authors who have reached our Hall of Fame on two separate occasions. Will this be number three? Every indication so far tells me that, yes, The Bone Clocks will follow in the footsteps of its predecessors — Cloud Atlas and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet — straight to the Millions record books. (No author has made it to our Hall of Fame for three separate books.) Why, exactly, is The Bone Clocks so individually appealing, though? Well, as Brian Ted Jones put it in his review for our site, the book serves as a pivot point in Mitchell's canon: The Bone Clocks marks such a change of attitude in Mitchell, a turn toward something grimmer. He’s always been drawn to elements of darkness, of course. Predacity — the animal way humans have of making prey out of each other — has been his primary theme throughout the five novels that came before this. And those novels, to be sure, are all full of monsters. In The Bone Clocks, though, Mitchell explores a new theme:  regret. And, aside from what's different, the book also displays some of Mitchell's best writing to date. As Jones explains: There is a moment in the very last pages — you will definitely know it when you get there — where Mitchell reaches right into your chest, puts his fingers on your heart, and presses down. The kind of moment you would choose to live inside for all eternity, if you had to pick just one. I predict we'll be seeing Mitchell's name atop our Top Ten for many months to come. Meanwhile, with the addition of one work comes the graduation of another. At long last, Jess Walter's Beautiful Ruins has ascended to our Hall of Fame. Walter's novel represents the first addition to our Hall of Fame since last June. Near Misses: The Children Act, To Rise Again at a Decent HourAmericanah, 10:04, and The Secret Place. See Also: Last month's list.

The Millions Top Ten: May 2014

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for May. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 1. The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose 6 months 2. 2. Beautiful Ruins 3 months 3. 5. Bark: Stories 2 months 4. 3. The Son 2 months 5. 4. Just Kids 5 months 6. 8. Eleanor & Park 2 months 7. 6. Well-Read Women: Portraits of Fiction's Most Beloved Heroines 2 months 8. 9. The Good Lord Bird 2 months 9. - A Highly Unlikely Scenario, or a Neetsa Pizza Employee's Guide to Saving the World 1 month 10. 10. Jesus' Son: Stories 2 months   In order to graduate to our Hall of Fame, books must remain on the Millions Top Ten for more than six months. The feat has only been accomplished by 82 books in the series's five year history. Within that subset of hallowed tomes, though, eight authors have attained an even higher marker of success: they've reached the Hall of Fame more than once. This accomplishment is remarkable for two reasons: 1) the Top Ten typically favors heavily marketed new releases, so it means that these eight authors have more than once produced blockbusters in the past few years; and 2) because Top Ten graduates must remain on our monthly lists for over half a year before ascending to the Hall of Fame, that means their books must be popular enough to have sustained success. (In other words, marketing only gets you far.) The names of these eight authors should be familiar to Millions readers, of course. They belong to some of the most successful writers of the past 25 years: David Foster Wallace* (Infinite Jest, The Pale King), Junot Díaz (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, This Is How You Lose Her), Stieg Larsson (The Girl with the Dragon TattooThe Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest), David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet), Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies), Jonathan Franzen (The Corrections, Freedom), George Saunders (Tenth of December, Fox 8), and — as of this month — Dave Eggers (Zeitoun, The Circle). (*David Foster Wallace has the unique distinction, actually, of having two of his own books in our Hall of Fame in addition to a biography written about him.) Even money would seem to indicate that Alice Munro is poised to join this esteemed group next. Her Selected Stories graduated to the Hall of Fame shortly after her Nobel Prize was awarded in 2013, and her collection, The Beggar Maid, has been holding fast ever since. Meanwhile, the surprise re-emergence of Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son, which has been hovering at the bottom of the Top Ten lists these past two months, indicates that maybe he'll reach that group soon as well. His novella, Train Dreams, graduated in August of 2012. Changing gears a bit: the lone new addition to our Top Ten this month in the form of Rachel Cantor's mouthful of a novel, A Highly Unlikely Scenario, or a Neetsa Pizza Employee's Guide to Saving the World. The book, which was published last month, was featured in our Great 2014 Book Preview, during which time Millions staffer Hannah Gersen posed the eternal question, "It’s got time travel, medieval kabbalists, and yes, pizza. What more can you ask for?" What more, indeed? Near Misses: Little Failure: A MemoirAmericanahStories of Anton Chekhov, My Struggle: Book 1, and Tampa. See Also: Last month's list.

The Millions Top Ten: December 2010

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for December. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 1. Freedom 5 months 2. 3. A Visit from the Goon Squad 5 months 3. 6. (tie) Room 4 months 4. - Atlas of Remote Islands 1 month 5. 6. (tie) Faithful Place 6 months 6. 4. Super Sad True Love Story 5 months 7. 8. The Passage 6 months 8. - Cardinal Numbers 1 month 9. 9. The Finkler Question 2 months 10. - Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption 1 month During the month of December, The Millions was flooded with book recommendations thanks to our Year in Reading series. Many of these recommendations piqued the interest of our readers, and a pair of hidden gems were intriguing enough to make it into our Top Ten. One was Anthony Doerr's effusive praise for Judith Schalansky’s Atlas of Remote Islands, and the other was Sam Lipsyte's unearthing of the late and little known Hob Broun and his Gordon Lish-edited book Cardinal Numbers. A third debut in December was Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken, her hotly anticipated follow up to Seabiscuit that was noted with an "AAAH!" in December by Sam Anderson. December also graduated a pair of books to our Hall of Fame, the second such honor for each of the authors. Joining Cloud Atlas as an all-time Millions favorite is David Mitchell's newest, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. Meanwhile, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is a second inductee from the late Stieg Larsson's global sensation, the Millennium Trilogy Finally, it's worth noting that after many months of skewing male, our list has acheived gender parity, with four of the top five books penned by female writers. Don't be surprised if Jennifer Egan's breakout hit A Visit from the Goon Squad eclipses Jonathan Franzen's Freedom next month for our top spot. Near Misses: Skippy Dies, The Imperfectionists, The Hunger Games, The Autobiography of Mark Twain , and Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D. H. Lawrence. See Also: Last month's list

A Year in Reading: Lydia Kiesling

I read The Children's Book, and I sort of didn't like it that much.  But I'm putting at the top of my Year in Reading because it disturbed me profoundly, and that has to count for something.  I finished it late at night while my beloved was sleeping, and when I turned off the light I clutched him, feeling terrified. I liked its Arts and Crafts conceit, but sometimes it seemed a conceit alone, an excuse for a nifty Morris-esque cover design.  Occasionally I found myself wanting to glaze a bowl, but I also found myself thinking: "This is no Possession." Then everyone started dying, and I thought, "Wow, A.S. Byatt is mean."  And A.S. Byatt is probably not mean, but I was overwhelmed by the union of war's indiscriminate horror with the steely moral judgment of her universe.  It's a serious business, the kind that keeps you up at night. Freedom, to echo Garth and Stephen and Dan. Freedom was a book that I read pretty much straight through, and when it was over I started again, only to find, for the nth time, that it doesn't work that way.  You can't have it again, there being no time like the first time and all that.  I also felt that way about The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and The Museum of Innocence, as I've said before. I unwittingly read wonderful books that turned out to be part of trilogies: The Lyre of Orpheus (Cornish) and Independence Day (Bascombe) and The Persian Boy (Alexander).  So that turned into six more books to read, and to date I've only finished Mary Renault's Alexandriad.  But I'm all about Richard Ford for 2011.  And Robertson Davies--he's kind of like a male Iris Murdoch. I didn't do my regular rotation of re-reads this year for some reason, except for Lucky Jim and The Corrections (which seems to have entered the biennial rotation). I read non-fiction now, which has been an adjustment.  Non-fiction does not often leave me clutching my beloved in the night, although it probably should.  I liked Rebel Land, about eastern Turkey, Armenians, and Kurds, because it made more meaningful gestures toward readability than many works aiming to inform; in fact, in the end I think it turned out to be more enjoyable than informative. It helps that Christopher de Bellaigue, in addition to having a life that generates maximum personal envy (speaking fluent Turkish and Persian; writing things in the NYRB), knows a thing or two about a well-placed vignette.  He might not be a bona fide historian, but there's a story about a cardoon seed and a cuckoo that almost had me turning to the adjacent bus-rider to say "Lemme read you this part." A good year, all told. More from a Year in Reading 2010 Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 The good stuff: The Millions' Notable articles The motherlode: The Millions' Books and Reviews Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions

A Year in Reading: Ed Champion (The 13 Most Underrated Books of 2010)

Critics who produce the same tired titles for these infernal end-of-the-year lists are as useless as austere accountants who refuse to fox trot on the dance floor.  They are stiff, unimaginative, uncultured, incurious, and, quite possibly, lousy in bed.  They are the literary equivalent of unadventurous tourists who cling to tired maps and who are hopeless with a Swiss Army knife. The authors who are afforded predictable laurels are not to blame for this.  Don't get me wrong.  These folks know how to cut the rug. Paul Murray (Skippy Dies), Yiyun Li (Gold Boy, Emerald Girl), Tom McCarthy (C), Cynthia Ozick (Foreign Bodies), David Rakoff (Half Empty), Adam Ross (Mr. Peanut), David Mitchell (The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet), Matt Taibbi (Griftopia), Paul Auster (Sunset Park) and Marilynne Robinson (Absence of Mind) hardly need any help from me.  Chances are that you're already familiar with these fine titles.  As for some “masterpieces,” well, you don't really need me to tell you that the emperor wears no clothes. But who needs such unpleasantness!  2010 was a great year in books!  This was a hard list to assemble!  There were only two books this year that almost made me consider suicide! The following list represents an effort to identify books that were completely marginalized, modestly outside the radar, or needlessly condemened by certain hatchet wielders who lacked the grace and/or the intelligence to embrace a peculiar magic. Allison Amend, Stations West – Jewish cowboys, vagabonds, 19th century multiculturalism, and an elaborate storyline covering a good fifty years.  It isn't often when a novelist crams so much enjoyable story into a taut 250 page container.  In addition to the book's telling but unobtrusive historical details (“inexpensive porcelain dishes” delicately placed inside a glass case for a quiet dignity, the newspapers taking so long to deliver the news, et al.), Amend is very careful in giving the reader much to infer.  Garfield, for example, is an indolent trainhopper who becomes something of a politco.  The reasons behind this unlikely ascent are skillfully delivered: “As the country entered a new century, so did Garfield.  He was tired of the raised eyebrows, the barely polite refusals, tired of fighting just to get the same food or service everyone else did.  Just because he had a Jewish surname.”  Yet remarkably, this book has received scant notice from the book reviewing outlets.  Perhaps because it's too readable to be true. Toby Ball, The Vaults –  “So he leaned against a thick timber that had at one time served as a post for a jetty and with his collar up and hat down inhaled the sweet, moist smoke and felt the cold become a more-interesting-than-uncomfortable sensation on his skin.”  That's probably the type of hyperspecific pulp prose style that's going to infuriate the Millions readership.  The time has come to loosen up.  From a worldbuilding standpoint, why shouldn't we know the origin point of the post?  Why shouldn't we know how someone faces the cold or contends with competing dermal sensations?  These may seem flippant questions.  But if we can accept this level of detail in William Gibson or Nicholson Baker, then surely we can offer some wiggle room for an engaging novel that somehow manages to squeeze such intriguing sentences into brisk chapters (did I mention that this book moves?) for a high-octane, multiple character story that involves a parallel dystopian America in the 1930s. Robin Black, If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This – Forget Wells Tower. Robin Black's marvelous short story collection, which was needlessly ignored by The New York Times and The Washington Post, is very much on the level: far truer to human existence than anything written by that lumbering Young Turk. These subtle and mature stories avoid belabored metaphors and neat conclusions, revealing numerous nuances about the human condition in its careful use of understated language   Black knows “the heavy lifting when the conversation sags.”  In “A Country Where You Once Lived,” cybersex involves “gasps from behind a curtain of shimmering color blocks.” The striking possibility that humans can surrender to their baser instincts is suggested by “Harriet Elliott”'s narrator sleeping in a bedroom filled with stuffed animals.  Some stories are interrupted by terrible accidents, often of the car crashing variety.  But these stories don't just tell the truth; like much great literature, they make a quiet case for perseverance. Paula Bomer, Baby – These darkly hilarious tales are somewhat reminiscent of Kate Christensen, Iris Owens, and Maggie Estep.  Yet Bomer is more willing to investigate that uncomfortable territory between extreme behavior and insanity. In a Bomer story, you'll find a perverse passage (“She didn't know what to do. But that was how it was. Babies screamed, you tried all sorts of things, and sometimes, they just kept screaming anyway.”) that makes you ponder why the character hasn't been arrested for outright neglect.  (What “things” did this mother try?  And why is her partner so complicit?)   Unfortunately, mainstream publishers don't have the stones to publish such material anymore.  Fortunately, Word Riot Press is there to cover the gap. Jane Brox, Brilliant – In The Journal of American History, Jill Lepore unfurled a Bummer Bertha, suggesting that microhistories, by way of auctorial passion, have little to offer the serious minded.  Such a distressingly humorless attitude can be handily answered by Jane Brox's fascinating book, emerging from a straightforward examination of how artificial light has permanently altered human existence.  Before reading this book, I had no idea how difficult it was for astronomers to locate dark patches of the sky.  I knew that the end of the curfew had augmented nightlife, but I hadn't fully considered how swiftly gaslight had superceded candlelight, making such items as theatrical makeup more garish.  The common electricity that we now take for granted is a relatively recent phenomenon.  Imagine that you're a farmer in the 1930s who has recently received rural electrification.  Now imagine that you're given the sudden ability to see beyond the circumference of the kitchen table and how this alters your everyday family life.  Brox's book is loaded with such examples.  And I include it on this list, with the proviso that you may become as intoxicated by the subject matter as I was: so much so  that you will find yourself flocking to the library, seeking the many sources and pondering the vantage point of someone illuminated in 1849. Andrew Ervin, Extraordinary Renditions – Ervin's debut novel is one of two Hungary-themed books on this list. I don't know what it is about Hungary, but maybe the Budapest Tourist Office will explain this obsession to me one day. Extraordinary Renditions was one of those novels (or three interconnected novellas; pick your category!)  that made it into my backpack at BEA (I have no recollection of acquiring it; so perhaps it was a plant!) and which I very much enjoyed.    Like the Amend and Bomer books, it's very much the kind of book you don't see published by a major house anymore.  No coverage in The New York Times, nothing in The Washington Post, some coverage in some newspapers.  See a trend?  Anyway, this book's about national identity and expatriates running around Hungary.  It's funny, alarming, evocative, and, very often with its internal description, defies its apparent historical setting.  It echoes political texts while presenting political folly (and youthful folly).  Said folly even extends to the naivete of a celebrated composer of some years, who shuffles the Budapest streets like a young man. James Hynes, Next – Knowing of my needless difficulties in obtaining review copies from Little Brown, a good friend placed this novel in my hands and urged me to read it.  Not only did I finish this tome in one sitting, but I plunged into Hynes's backlist, discovering the wonderfully twisted book, Kings of Infinite Space.  I don't say this lightly, but James Hynes is very much the real deal.  He is as worthy a literary satirist as Sam Lipsyte, Lydia Millet, George Saunders, Jess Walter, and countless others.  But you won't see him in The New Yorker anytime soon.  And that is because, from his homebase in Austin, he understands the human condition too well.  Hynes knows that what occurs on your way to a job interview is often just as important as whether or not you get the job.  The result here is a novel that is both hilarious and revealingly introspective. Charlie Huston, Sleepless – The prolific and highly enjoyable Charlie Huston has given us some gleefully brutal moments, vampirism afflicting the marginalized, and comic capers involving a crime scene cleanup. But Sleepless signaled an unexpected gravitas and several ambitious steps forward. With its plot set in the daringly recent future (six months from now), with 10% of the population suffering from permanent insomnia and addicted to a massively multiplayer game called Chasm Tide, Huston portrays an increasingly more persuasive world in which life is dictated by the cultural dregs that remain. Where Gary Shteyngart offered little more than expansive (yet enjoyable) detachment with his dystopian epic, Super Sad True Love Story, Huston wants to get at the manner people carry on.  Does it come from fatherhood?  Some larger sense of responsibility?  The ability to withstand horrific torture or loved ones disappearing?  Manhood's certainly part of the game, but the chessboard's much larger.  And Huston only gets better. Julie Orringer, The Invisible Bridge – This sweeping epic was, at 624 pages, perhaps too much for some critics to take in.  One snarky scribbler condemned this book for “feel[ing] birfurcated” without bothering to cite a reason.  (Perhaps the events of the Holocaust?  Known to unsettle populations and disorder romantic harmony?  Just a few wild stabs in the dark.)  Such foolish snaps don't even begin to approximate what Orringer's magnificent debut novel does.  Using beautiful language to depict the near disappearance of an idyllic paradise (“He entered through a floriated wrought-iron gate between two stern figures carved in stone, and crossed a sculpture garden packed with perfect marble specimens of kore and kouros, straight from his art history textbook, staring into the distance with empty almond-shaped eyes.”), this powerful novel is equally unflinching in ilustrating how its colorful cast of characters (including an acrobatic family member) “might grow up without the gravity...without the sense of tragedy that seemed to hang in the air like the brown dust of bituminous coal.”  This is a book that approaches unspeakable barbarism with a rare ebullience, feeling neither inappropriate nor unconsidered.  It is a call for hope and small acts of resistance.  It may be set in the past, but this is very much a novel for our times. Gary Rivlin, Broke USA – Many flocked to Matt Taibbi's excellent Griftopia as the high finance expose of the year.  But Gary Rivlin's understated look at predatory lending is also worth a look.  The book collects perspectives from every end of the spectrum.  There's Chris Browning, the former manager of a Check 'n' Go in Ohio, who was fired because she was required by the higher ups to upsell and lend money to anybody who walked through the door; Martin Eakes, the man behind the Center for Responsible Lending offering a more reasonable APR through his credit union.  And then there's the sordid history of the rapacious corporations that built up their businesses with the refund anticipation loan, disguising the hidden costs of tax preparation.  Like Howard Karger's Shortchanged and John Lanchester's IOU, Rivlin's book is vital in understanding some of this nation's most underreported issues. Matthew Sharpe, You Were Wrong – Lips are “two fat garden slugs making love.”  There is “no worse violation of a soul than hope.” We're told that “tones can be tough for everyone and were extratough for Karl, who was lately an avid pupil in the urgent remedial project of tones.”  Sometimes the reader is subtly addressed.  Sometimes not.  There is a curious precision to the description in the way the “midafternoon sunbeam entered the house through a bedroom window to the right.”  These are just some of the many nonsequitur joys (or planned pleasures?) to be found within Matthew Sharpe's extremely goofy and very enjoyable novel, which seems to be channeling Flann O'Brien's madcap spirit. Scarlett Thomas, Our Tragic Universe – Scarlett Thomas's subtle efforts to examine the relationship  between narrative and life – to say nothing of the omega point – were drastically misunderstood by those who expected another The End of Mr. Y.  For this masterful novel -- defiantly plotless after the success of Thomas's previous pageturners -- is very much interested in how narrative must rely upon contrivances in order to present life. Beyond this, it dares to portray Meg Carpenter, an intelligent woman whose identity is occluded by the driftless mumbling of her flaccid partner.  By offering a protagonist brazenly defiant of reader expectations, Thomas subtly channels Henry James's Isabel Archer (with Meg, like Isabel, even running into some money), while also demonstrating that the quest for the new often leads to the same old cycles. Donald E. Westlake, Memory – This lost novel in a drawer, published by Hard Case Crime after four decades of dutiful dust collection, revealed that  Westlake was far more than a mystery master.  The book's taut and fatalistic narrative arguably aligns itself with Knut Hamsun's Hunger and Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground.  And had Westlake pursued more solitary outcasts like protagonist Paul Cole, he may very well have pursued John Banville's trajectory (ironically, with Banville finding his alter ego, Benjamin Black, in the end).  Which isn't to take away from Westlake's Dortmunder books or Westlake's wonderful Parker novels (written under Richard Stark) – all very deserving of praise.  Memory confirms that “inferior” genres must be reconsidered by the seemingly discriminating. More from a Year in Reading 2010 Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 The good stuff: The Millions' Notable articles The motherlode: The Millions' Books and Reviews Like what you see? 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The Millions Top Ten: November 2010

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for November. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 1. Freedom 4 months 2. 2. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet 6 months 3. 5. A Visit from the Goon Squad 4 months 4. 9. Super Sad True Love Story 4 months 5. 4. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest 6 months 6. (tie) 6. Room 3 months 6. (tie) 8. Faithful Place 5 months 8. 7. The Passage 5 months 9. - The Finkler Question 1 month 10. 10. Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling With D.H. Lawrence 6 months November saw Booker-winner The Finkler Question, which we reviewed here, debut on our list. Last year's Booker winner Wolf Hall also landed on our list after being awarded the prize and ended up in our Hall of Fame. Speaking of which, another prizewinner, Pulitzer-winning underdog Tinkers is the newest inductee into our hallowed hall. Meanwhile, Freedom by Jonathan Franzen retains our top spot, while Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad and Super Sad True Love Story continue to surge higher on a wave of interest from Millions readers. Near Misses: The Hunger Games, The Imperfectionists, Things We Didn't See Coming, The Autobiography of Mark Twain, and The Gone-Away World. See Also: Last month's list

The Notables: 2010

This year’s New York Times Notable Books of the Year list is out. At 100 titles, the list is more of a catalog of the noteworthy than a distinction. Sticking with the fiction exclusively, it appears that we touched upon a few of these books as well: The Ask by Sam Lipsyte (our profile of Lipsyte, a most anticipated book) Bound by Antonya Nelson (a most anticipated book) Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick (a most anticipated book) Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (our review, an all-female book club reads Freedom, taking down B.R. Myers' take on Freedom, "Is Big Back?," the Franzen cover of Time, a Millions Top Ten book, a most anticipated book) Fun With Problems by Robert Stone (our review, a most anticipated book) The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson (The Stieg Larsson takedown, a most anticipated book, a Millions Top Ten book) Great House by Nicole Krauss (National Book Award finalist, a most anticipated book) I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson (a most anticipated book) The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman (our review) The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer ("20 More Under 40," a most anticipated book) The Long Song by Andrea Levy (Booker shortlister) The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli (Tatjana Soli's writing at The Millions) Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes ("Is Big Back?") Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr (our review, a most anticipated book) The Privileges by Jonathan Dee (The Millions interview) Room by Emma Donoghue (our review, Booker shortlister, a Millions Top Ten book) Selected Stories by William Trevor (a most anticipated book) Solar by Ian McEwan (a most anticipated book) Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart (our review, a most anticipated book, a Millions Top Ten book) The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee (a most anticipated book) The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (a morning with David Mitchell, our review, a Millions Top Ten book, a most anticipated book) To the End of the Land by David Grossman (our review) A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (our profile of Jennifer Egan, our review, a Millions Top Ten book, a most anticipated book) What Becomes by A.L. Kennedy (a most anticipated book)

The Millions Top Ten: October 2010

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for October. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 1. Freedom 3 months 2. 2. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet 5 months 3. 4. Tinkers 6 months 4. 3. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest 5 months 5. 6. (tie) A Visit from the Goon Squad 3 months 6. 10. Room 2 months 7. 5. The Passage 4 months 8. 6. (tie) Faithful Place 4 months 9. 9. Super Sad True Love Story 3 months 10. 8. Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling With D.H. Lawrence 5 months October was relatively quiet for our list, with no new arrivals or departures, but Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad and Emma Donoghue's Booker shortlisted Room were our top movers, with both books continuing to enjoy significant interest. Meanwhile, the same four books remained ensconced in our top four spots, with Freedom by Jonathan Franzen still in the top spot, while Pulitzer-winning underdog Tinkers continues to find new fans. Near Misses: The Imperfectionists, The Gone-Away World, The Girl Who Played with Fire, Things We Didn't See Coming, and Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. See Also: Last month's list

The Millions Top Ten: September 2010

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for September. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 1. Freedom 2 months 2. 2. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet 4 months 3. 3. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest 4 months 4. 5. Tinkers 5 months 5. 4. The Passage 3 months 6. (tie) 10. A Visit from the Goon Squad 2 months 6. (tie) 6. Faithful Place 3 months 8. 8. (tie) Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling With D.H. Lawrence 4 months 9. 8. (tie) Super Sad True Love Story 2 months 10. - Room 1 month Summer favorites stayed firmly ensconsed on our list in September, but Emma Donoghue's Booker shortlisted Room managed to debut on the list in the tenth spot. Edan recently offered up a compelling review of the book in our pages. Meanwhile, the top three spots on our list remain unchanged from the prior month, with Freedom by Jonathan Franzen still in the top spot. Garth's review of the book was published here in August. Graduating to our Hall of Fame this month was Michael Lewis' The Big Short. Garth offered up a a look at the book and n+1's entry into the financial meltdown post-mortem genre earlier this week. Near Misses: The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Gone-Away World, War and Peace, Things We Didn't See Coming, The Imperfectionists. See Also: Last month's list

Millions Top Ten: August 2010

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for August. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. - Freedom 1 month 2. 2. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet 3 months 3. 4. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest 3 months 4. 10. The Passage 2 months 5. 3. Tinkers 4 months 6. 4. Faithful Place 2 months 7. 6. The Big Short 6 months 8. (tie) 7. Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling With D.H. Lawrence 3 months 8. (tie) - Super Sad True Love Story 1 month 10. - A Visit from the Goon Squad 1 month Three of the summer's biggest literary novels vaulted onto our list in August. Surprising probably no one, Freedom by Jonathan Franzen came out on August 31 and in one day was popular enough to debut at the top of our list. Two other literary superstars also debuted, Gary Shteyngart with Super Sad True Love Story, reviewed here, and Jennifer Egan with A Visit from the Goon Squad, reviewed and profiled here. Meanwhile, David Shields' controversial Reality Hunger ended its run on our list and graduated to the Hall of Fame. Shields wrote a spritied defense of his book for us and provided a supplementary and exhaustive reading list as well. Elsewhere, Stieg Larsson's second "Millennium" book, The Girl Who Played with Fire, got bumped from our list (though the trilogy's final book remains firmly ensconced), as did weighty fave War and Peace. Near Misses: The Girl Who Played with Fire, War and Peace, The Imperfectionists, The Gone-Away World, Things We Didn't See Coming. See Also: Last month's list

Plot Horses and Narrative Helmets: A Morning with David Mitchell

Although many readers at The Millions are likely to have at least one David Mitchell book under their belt (Cloud Atlas was admitted into The Millions Hall of Fame earlier this year, after all), I’m sure most of you remember what it’s like for the uninitiated. Everyone tells you that you must read Cloud Atlas, and you buy it and it sits on your shelf for three years. You assume that his work is intellectual, serious, complicated, experimental; a multi-voiced beast that is said to be amazing, but that has to be heavily grappled with in order to appreciate. However, spending even a couple of minutes with David Mitchell -- the man -- made me realize that neither he nor his work should be approached with the kind of hesitation or trepidation that some readers have. Just before his reading at Skylight Books, Mitchell tiptoed down the stairs from the mezzanine office. He sat on the third step clutching his cup of tea, hidden from the adoring masses by a waist-high wall that serves as a railing. From my chair at the back desk, I had the perfect angle for a photo opportunity: the big author mentally preparing for his last reading before heading home. Instead, when he noticed me with the camera, he started making faces at me and mock-scowling. During his reading, he paused mid-sentence to tell anecdotes, he told us that he likes to create onomatopoetic verbs to mess with his translators, and he occasionally provided sound effects to go with his metaphors. This was not the brooding intellectual one might have expected. This was not the “serious author” whose books are to be spoken about with mountainous respect in hushed tones. This man was playful, and instantly open, and remarkably nimble. Although David Mitchell is almost universally hailed as a creator of literary fiction, it is the lens of games and child-like amusement that often sharpens his work into focus. Michael Chabon described Cloud Atlas as “the novel as series of nested dolls or Chinese boxes, a puzzle-book.” Mitchell has been called a ventriloquist for the way that he inhabits voices and “does” other genres so well. Even his naysayers use this lens: in the LA Times, reviewer Eric Banks described the second section of Mitchell’s new book, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, as a foray into “comic-book Japonica.” I asked Mitchell what his favorite game was growing up, hoping it might tell us something about his writing as a whole. He described a loose kind of game that most of us probably played in some form or another: an improvised war-type game with two opposing sides and rules and goals that you kind of made up as you went along. You would advance into each other’s territory, set ambushes, and try to spring your own men who’d been captured. Guns were made up of two fingers and a thumb, and there was a sort of honor system when a confrontation occurred. It may be a bit of a stretch, but I think that it can describe what Mitchell has done in his books – he makes up a new set of rules each time, and he treads into territory that you might not expect in terms of genre, voice, and style. There are usually opposing forces at play, though who is playing for which side can be ambiguous and shifting. From the micro-view of his own memory, Mitchell quickly waxed analytical. He suggested that games allow us a small view into how the mind works: We don’t have an effective vocabulary of the mind, because we don’t really know what it is. And we need a couple of Newtons or Darwins or Einsteins--in neurology--before, I think, we’ll begin to “get it”… We know much more about [the mind’s] pathology than we do about its anatomy. But it becomes visible in games. Games gives us a vocabulary of mind that we otherwise lack… Patterns can be made manifest in one form. Fiction can also “do the mind” -- it picks up on patterns like games do. Towards the end of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Jacob fleshes out the story of Phoebus in Greek mythology and then says: “The truth of a myth, Your Honor, is not its words, but its patterns.” Several of Mitchell’s novels use games to show macro tendencies: he uses a rugby match to ruminate on chance and fate in Ghostwritten, in Black Swan Green it’s something called British Bulldogs that sheds light on growing up in Thatcher’s England, and in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, the Japanese game Go provides the ripples and layers. In the final section, after we’ve gotten some sense of the relative equilibrium between the Dutch and the Japanese on Dejima (the Dutch East India Company’s outpost off the coast of Japan in 1799), in comes the English ship, bringing with it global machinations and the need for shifting alliances and multilayered strategies. It is immediately followed by an actual Go match, also full of machinations and strategies, which has taken on all sorts of significance of its own. Not only does it illustrate the power play happening between the Magistrate and Lord Abbot, it foreshadows the waning strength of Japan’s isolationist policies in the face of global advances. In the present day, interestingly, Go has the opposite role to play in the global advance of technology -- Mitchell told me that an algorithm is no match for a master Go player, and the game is “one of humanity’s last strongholds against the computer.” Perhaps Mitchell is aware of these tendencies, for even he uses toys and games of childhood to describe his writing process. On the recent challenge of writing a libretto for an opera, David wrote that “packing so much human luggage into so few syllables” was similar to sudoku. When I asked him whether one needs to live in a place in order to write about it, he said it’s hard to make it smack of authenticity if you haven’t. You need more tricks and sleight-of-hand to mask the fact that you haven’t been there. For example, Mitchell had never been to New York when he was working on Ghostwritten. One of the sections is takes place there, so he set it in winter, when windows are hard to see through and details are muted by snow. And then he made the bulk of the action occur on a radio show. How’s that for literary prestidigitation! Historical fiction, however, tends to thrive on rich detail, and after reading his latest novel, no one would doubt that Mitchell spent nearly a decade living in Japan. Finally, I asked him how, after observing a place in the present, do you access its past or imagine its future? I’m sure that there is some element of Faulkner’s famous quote at work, that “the past isn’t dead. It’s not even past.” David also suggested that first you gather the bits. Then, essentially, you’re playing dress up with dolls: You just think about the story first. And… the people. But they are, as it were, naked.         Temporally naked. So you just think about the story and the relationships and… what their hearts want. And how these wants bounce off each other. Then when you’ve got those, then you clothe them. Literally clothe them in appropriate period costumes, but also sort of… attitudinally clothe them. While answering questions after his reading at Skylight Books, Mitchell got into a groove and offered, in rapid succession, three extended metaphors for his writing process. The best one, the one that can help both writers and readers, came to him just a few weeks ago. He said that writing a novel is like an amusement arcade horse race game with five horses – character, plot, theme/ideas, structure, style – and the goal is for them all to finish at once. For example, you develop the character horse, his history and his personality, and then you ask “What would he do in this situation?” Then the plot horse catches up. I found this metaphor to be useful to me as a reader as well, in terms of describing what does and doesn’t work in a novel.  I asked Mitchell whether one of his horses needed more training, or whether one came more naturally than the rest. It varies from book to book. I would say that generally, my themes/idea horse probably hasn’t much rider. I don’t really think “This book is going to be about this,” ahead of time. Or perhaps, specifically, it sort of leaves on its own sweet time, late and last. And at some point, after the others have streaked ahead, the rider sort of hops over the barrier from the crowd and then sort of jumps on …[here Mitchell made leaping gesture with his hand];. And then, “Okay, this is what you’re about. Now I see, now I see…" The other metaphor that Mitchell threw out there was one that helped him finally master writing in the third person: that of the “narrative helmet.” One character wears it at a time, and it’s got a “camera filming the action but with a spike going into the brain so you can get that character’s thoughts but no one else’s.” He then told us that the plot of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet is perhaps more complex than it seems: in the first act, only Jacob wears the helmet. In the second act, the helmet alternates between Orito and Ogawa. In the final act, Jacob, the Magistrate, and the English sea captain wear the helmet. By doing it this way, the momentum increases as you progress in the book. With building blocks, some children build simple walls and steps, and others build castles with moats and turrets using the exact same materials. Mitchell must have been one of the latter --  he recently described his books as “Lego-novels,” made up of component pieces. After spending a few hours in his presence, it is clear that he thinks of language and literature in degrees of magnitude. “A word is a musical note, with its own timbre and attack and fade,” he said at the reading. “And a sentence is therefore a musical phrase, and a paragraph, therefore, is something like a song.” He’s written several novels of interconnected stories and his latest is really more like three successive novellas. But we’ve all built towers that collapsed, and even David Mitchell can attempt too much. He told me that Cloud Atlas was originally going to have nine parts, not six, but it got unwieldy. One of the narratives was to be from a Korean rock star who was watching a video cassette that (of course) broke in the middle. But when Mitchell sensed it wobbling, he realized that he already had a young musical prodigy in Frobisher. He couldn’t bear to waste the time and money spent on researching Korea, so he set “An Orison of Sonmi-451” there instead. Mitchell brings to his work the fine balance of playfulness and complexity. I think what turns some people off from “postmodern” writing in general, and something that Mitchell manages to avoid, is a feeling of being toyed with, a feeling that the writer knows something that the reader doesn’t. When you finish, you want to feel as though your mind has been engaged, not as though you’ve been had. Mitchell teased out the distinction a bit: Maybe it’s the difference between, in the former case, being obliged to be the victim of a practical joke, where it’s not fair because you don’t know what the terms are, and it’ll happen to you and you just have to sit there and take it. Which is really annoying. As opposed to sort of being taught the rules of the game, and sort of being given an invitation, “Would you like to play, too? Mitchell invites us to play with him, to enjoy the stories he writes, and to have fun trying to figure things out. He also invites us to think hard, and to grapple with the challenges of civilization. As a culture, we could use a bit more of that playfulness and complexity. Bonus Link: A podcast of the Mitchell event at Skylight Books in Los Angeles

The Booker’s Dozen: The 2010 Booker Longlist

With the unveiling of the Booker Prize longlist, the 2010 literary Prize season is officially underway. As is typically the case, the list offers a mix of exciting new names, relative unknowns and beloved standbys. The instant favorites to win for most readers will be David Mitchell, Peter Carey, and, though he is something of a newly minted literary superstar, Tom McCarthy. Several of the books named appeared on our "most anticipated" lists for the first and second halves of 2010. All the Booker Prize longlisters are below (with excerpts where available): Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey (excerpt) Room by Emma Donoghue (excerpt) The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore (excerpt) In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut (excerpt) The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson The Long Song by Andrea Levy (excerpt) C by Tom McCarthy The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (excerpt) February by Lisa Moore (excerpt) Skippy Dies by Paul Murray (excerpt) Trespass by Rose Tremain (excerpt [scroll down]) The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (excerpt) The Stars in the Bright Sky by Alan Warner

At the Movies with David Mitchell: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Our household is in the middle of a paradigm shift—new city, new occupations.  The timing of this transition worked so that I should have had approximately one month to do nothing but read novels, eat sardines on toast, and fan myself.  Predictably, various things popped up.  Having repressed the memories of past moves, I had forgotten that moving is never a two-day affair, but rather a weeks-long nightmare represented by a massive Venn diagram showing the things you need to do and the things you did, the middle part of which is very small.  Add to these obligations the things that invariably happen when one has some free time (getting rashes, waiting for the bus, vacuuming the underside of rugs, panicking about money, breaking things that turn out to be important, misunderstanding the labels on cleaning products, accidentally working, having houseguests), and I realize that I do not actually have anything like the time I thought I had. That’s life and I’m not complaining.  I tell you all this so you will understand the circumstances in which I read David Mitchell’s new novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.  I had half-open boxes all about me, a room full of upside-down rugs, two sneezing cats, and lots and lots to do.  But I was yearning to read this book, so I left the apartment wild-eyed, dust-streaked, and sweat-soaked, and handed over a shocking twenty-eight dollars.  Then I marched home with my long-anticipated booty, sat down amid boxes, and read until night.  In the morning I woke up, put on my dirty clothes, and read until it was finished.  And then I cried, and picked up my vacuum and went to work feeling sort of elevated and melancholy for the rest of the day. It’s hard to imagine a better reading experience. I read Wyatt Mason’s profile of David Mitchell in the New York Times, in which the journalist catalogued the bewildering list of authors to whom Mitchell has been compared.  Basically, it’s a litany of the canonical writers, and it’s absurd.  Mitchell is a phenomenal writer and a master mimic when he wants to be, and comparisons are the bread and butter of readers and reviewers.  I think, though, that throwing out names like Nabokov, Melville, Twain, Sterne, Joyce, Tolstoy, shows a poverty of something, effort, maybe, though I don’t wish to impugn the various august readers who have weighed in on Mitchell’s work.  But it’s hard for me not to imagine a reviewer in a nightcap with a hot cocoa and a Mitchell novel.  He wiggles his toes at the pleasure of good fiction and thinks to himself, “This is a wow.  You know who else was a wow?”  I'm saying I think many of the comparisons have to do with the relative enthusiasm of the reader, rather than similarities in the authors’ respective styles.  Because Mitchell is not like any of those writers, who are not like one another, except in that they are all artists, and much beloved. At any rate, in this new work, Mitchell owes much to film and television.  I am not the only reviewer to note (cf. James Wood) that this novel is highly cinematic.  For one, it takes place (jarringly, I thought, until I got used to it) in the present tense, like a screenplay.  Some scenes end almost with an audible “Dum dum dum . . . ” timpany flourish.  Some scenes are pure visual slapstick.  The gross scenes are excruciatingly gross, the kind where everyone in the theater groans.  The first scene in which the titular De Zoet makes an appearance (Chapter 2, the trial of the waggish Snitker) is so camera-ready I pictured Russell Crowe in his Master and Commander outfit, or Leonardo DiCaprio reprising his accent from Blood Diamond. Lest you think I bring up screen hunks to mitigate the power and style of Mitchell’s novel, I should say that this cinematic quality is one of the things I so enjoyed about the book, and why, I think, I read the thing almost in one sitting.  You don’t watch a movie over days and days, no matter how long.  Obviously books, like movies, can be absolutely vivid and transporting, but it’s rare to find a transporting book that doesn’t manage to embarrass you at some point with its prose.  It’s rare also to find one that creates so much so well within a largely unplumbed historical context. The historical context here is the closed Japanese Empire, circa 1799, specifically, a Dutch trading post off of Nagasaki, and the novel addresses the fortunes of the men and woman thereon and around.  The novel is about a lot of things—love, of course, and trade, and medicine, and language, and religion, and country, and lost children.  I didn’t realize until I finished the book, but there are so, so many lost children.  I don’t wish to exhaust you with my rendering of the novel's plot, which has been rendered elsewhere, better.  It’s a lot of great storytelling, is what it is, set in a moment I imagine few people know much about. In addition to enjoying his prodigious stylistic gifts, I find David Mitchell’s novels refreshing  because they are in their way morally unambiguous.  It’s usually not clear right away who the good guys are, and there are lots of bad guys disguised as good ones and good guys doing bad deeds.  Nonetheless, Right and Wrong are things in Mitchell’s universe(s), and his work seems to have a lot invested in righting wrongs.  I’ve read all of his novels but one (Number9Dream), and in each I have been surprised and touched by the author’s care for people. This novel is no different; by the end, you know just who to root for.  I don’t look for morality in my books, but it’s nice to read something outside of the young adult section that reminds us, just to be on the safe side, what’s what.  It’s kind of retro, actually, considering the decades of post-war literature that told us there isn’t right or wrong, just our own confused, fucked-up feelings (man).  Maybe I’m the victim of some haute post-modern joke, but Mitchell seems very earnest to me.  To throw my own potentially bizarre comparison into the mix, David Mitchell is a little bit like Lois Lowry (The Giver, Number the Stars), writ large and writ for grownups. Despite that fact that I've basically (I realize now) presented The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet as a made-for-TV movie for a juvenile audience (starring Russell Crowe), I loved this book.  It’s the best thing I read on what was supposed to be my summer vacation.  If you have free time or can fashion some, you should read it too.

The Millions Top Ten: June 2010

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for June. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 1. Reality Hunger 5 months 2. 5. Stoner 6 months 3. 8. Tinkers 2 months 4. 6. The Big Short 4 months 5. (tie) - The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet 1 month 5. (tie) - The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest 1 month 7. 10. Wolf Hall 6 months 8. 9. War and Peace 3 months 9. - The Girl Who Played With Fire 1 month 10. - Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling With D.H. Lawrence 1 month With four books -- The Death of Ivan Ilych and Other Stories, The Mystery Guest, Let the Great World Spin, and The Interrogative Mood? -- graduating to our Hall of Fame, we have plenty of room for newcomers on our latest list. The late Stieg Larsson, whose The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is already in our Hall of Fame, has the rest of his trilogy make the list, The Girl Who Played With Fire and the recently released The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. Meanwhile, David Mitchell's new novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, which was released only a few days ago, debuts tied at number five, and Geoff Dyer's 1998 bio of D.H. Lawrence, Out of Sheer Rage, which was recently championed by David Shields in these pages, debuts in the last spot on the list. And it's Shields' controversial Reality Hunger that's still holding on to our top spot. Near Misses: Twilight of the Superheroes, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, The Known World, Then We Came to the End, The Imperfectionists See Also: Last month's list

Most Anticipated: The Great 2010 Book Preview

Update: Don't miss our newest "Most Anticipated" list, highlighting books for the rest of 2010 and beyond. There's something for every lover of fiction coming in 2010, but, oddly enough, the dominant theme may be posthumous publication. Roberto Bolaño's relentless march into the canon has inured us to the idea of the bestseller from beyond the grave (and of course, for as long as there have been literary executors, this has been nothing new), but beyond the four(!) new books by Bolaño we also have have potentially important works by the likes of Ralph Ellison and Henry Roth, intriguing new books from Robert Walser and Ernst Weiss, a guaranteed bestseller from Stieg Larsson, and, looming in 2011, the final, unfinished novel of David Foster Wallace. Perhaps, amid all this, it is a relief to hear that we have many exciting books on their way from those still with us, including Elizabeth Kostova, Joshua Ferris, David Mitchell, Jennifer Egan, Don DeLillo, Ian McEwan, Yann Martel, and many others.Special thanks to The Millions Facebook group for helping us compile this list.January (or already available) Three Days Before the Shooting by Ralph Ellison: Fitting that this book preview starts off with a posthumous novel. Ellison's unfinished opus will not be the the only posthumous work to grab readers attention in 2010, but it will be perhaps the one with the most history attached to it and maybe, in the accounting of those who manage the canon, the most important. Ellison famously struggled to complete a second novel after the landmark publication of The Invisible Man. After Ellison's death, Juneteenth was cobbled together by his literary executor John Callahan and met with decidedly mixed reviews. But, as a 2007 article in the Washington Post argues, Three Days Before the Shooting, the result of years of work by Callahan and co-editor Adam Bradley, was always meant to be the true Ellison second novel. Readers will soon find out if it's the masterpiece they've been waiting for for decades.The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris: If your debut effort (in this case, Then We Came to the End) gets nominated for a National Book Award, you are on the express train to literary stardom. Quickly, however, focus shifts to the sophomore effort. For Ferris, early signs look good. Word is that The Unnamed is dark in tone, darker than and by all early accounts dissimilar to TWCTTE. The protagonist Tim's affliction is that he's unable to stop walking. In an early review, Bookforum likes it and says "Ferris possesses an overriding writer's gift: a basic and consistent ability to entertain while spurring engagement." See also: Joshua Ferris writing at The MillionsMonsieur Pain by Roberto Bolaño: The frenzy of posthumous Bolaño publication will continue in 2010 with as many as four (that I was able to find) books by the Chilean author published. Bolaño has been unmistakably one of the biggest publishing stories of the last few years, and publisher New Directions has been capably and speedily adding title after title to the Bolaño shelf at your local bookstore. Monsieur Pain (January) is about a Peruvian poet with a chronic case of hiccups. Antwerp (April) has been described as both a prose poem and a crime novel. The Return (July) is a new volume of short stories, as is The Insufferable Gaucho (August?), which was apparently the last book Bolaño delivered to a publisher. And look for more Bolaño in 2011. Garth may need to start updating his Bolaño Syllabus on a quarterly basis.Fun with Problems by Robert Stone: Fun with Problems will be Stone's first collection of short fiction in twelve years. And his first book since his 2007 memoir Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties (see Garth's review).Ordinary Thunderstorms by William Boyd: Boyd's novel is already out in the UK where it has been receiving characteristically good notices. "There are tantalising hints of a broader ambition in William Boyd's wide-ranging new thriller," said The Guardian. The book is ostensibly about a man on the run, but Boyd, in an interview with Edinburgh Festivals alluded to the depth that The Guardian picked up on, "It's a chase. And the drive is that the man is being hunted. But like the last four of my novels, it's also about identity, about what happens when you lose everything that makes up your social identity, and how you then function in the modern city."The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova - The follow-up to Kostova's big selling The Historian (the first ever first novel to debut at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list) promises to be just as densely detailed as its predecessor, weighing in at a hefty 576 pages. Recently departed Kirkus has some quibbles with the plot machinations, but says "lush prose and abundant drama will render logic beside the point for most readers." PW adds "The Swan Thieves succeeds both in its echoes of The Historian and as it maps new territory for this canny and successful writer." See Also: Elizabeth Kostova's Year in ReadingIn January, Archipelago Books will publish a translation of Ernst Weiss' Georg Letham: Physician and Murderer some 70 years after the novel's appearance in German. Enthusiasts of German-language literature have compared Weiss favorably with his contemporary Thomas Mann and his friend Franz Kafka, but he has remained something of an unknown on this side of the Atlantic. Already, Joel Rotenberg's translation has begun to remedy this neglect. An excerpt appeared in A Public Space a while back. (Garth)February Point Omega by Don DeLillo: Anticipation for DeLillo's forthcoming book has been decidedly truncated. Publisher Scribner first tweeted about DeLillo delivering the manuscript in June, and the book will hit shelves a scant eight months later. One reason for the quick turnaround might be the book's surprising slimness, coming in somewhere between 117 pages (says PW) and 128 pages (says Scribner). Imagine: reading an entire DeLillo novel in an afternoon, or perhaps just over lunch. So will the book's slight profile belie some interior weightiness? A recently posted excerpt may offer some clues, and PW says "Reading it is akin to a brisk hike up a desert mountain—a trifle arid, perhaps, but with occasional views of breathtaking grandeur."Reality Hunger: A Manifesto by David Shields: We've already discussed Shields' forthcoming "manifesto" quite a lot at The Millions. It was first noted, in glowing terms, by Charles D’Ambrosio. This prompted me to dig deeper in a longer look at the book. From my sleuthing, and noting blurbs by J.M. Coetzee, Jonathan Lethem, and others, I posited "the intriguing possibility that a book of ideas will capture the popular interest [in 2010]." The book now sits on my desk, and while haven't yet jumped in with both feet, I can report that it is both structurally (a lettered and numbered organization scheme whose logic is not immediately discernible) and stylistically (deep thoughts, reminiscences, aphorisms, and pop culture nuggets abound) unique. It will be interesting to see if readers decide the book coalesces into a successful whole. This just in - British publisher Hamish Hamilton reports that Zadie Smith will be writing up the book in The Guardian soon. See Also: David Shield's Year in ReadingThe Infinities by John Banville: Banville follows up his Booker-winning effort The Sea with a novel with a rather unique conceit: it is narrated by the god Hermes. The reviews hint at further oddities. In The Guardian, for example, "Old Adam, a physicist-mathematician, has solved the infinity problem in a way that's not only led to some useful inventions – cars that run on brine, for example – but also proved the existence of parallel universes, a category that includes the one he inhabits. In this novel, Sweden is a warlike country, and evolution and relativity have been discredited."Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett: Haslett made a big splash in 2002 when his debut effort - a collection of short stories called You Are Not a Stranger Here - was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Union Atlantic, his first novel, takes the depths of the recent financial collapse as a backdrop (which explains why a work of literary fiction is getting notice from publications like American Banker). PW gave it a starred review and insinuates it might be a seminal novel of that particular historical moment. Esquire recently published the novel's prologue. It begins, "Their second night in port at Bahrain someone on the admiral's staff decided the crew of the Vincennes deserved at least a free pack of cigarettes each."March Solar by Ian McEwan: McEwan's new novel was discussed extensively in Daniel Zalewski's New Yorker profile of McEwan in February 2009. More recently, the magazine published an excerpt from the novel. The book's protagonist is a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, and it appears that the book's chief drama will arise in his becoming embroiled in the climate change "debate." The book is also being called a satire, but, to the extent that several of McEwan's books have elements of satire, it's unclear whether Solar will be much of a departure for McEwan. The excerpt in the New Yorker would seem to indicate it'll be a typical, and probably quite good, effort.The Ask by Sam Lipsyte: Lipsyte had a breakout hit with Home Land in 2005. His follow-up novel was reviewed recently in The Quarterly Conversation, which says "let’s be frank: this is a hard novel to review. The Ask makes for your heart with its claws so efficiently that it leaves you torn and depleted. How are you to review a book that simply frightens you?" Ultimately, TQC decides The Ask "isn’t quite as good as Home Land. The latter was nearly perfect in idea and execution—an ’80s high-school movie gone sick with nostalgia for its own John Hughesian past. The Ask is more generationally diffuse. While just as snot-blowingly funny as its predecessor, The Ask is more devastating in its pitilessness."The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee: Bookdwarf read this one recently and says Lee "offers no easy endings or heartwarming coming-together, instead bringing to life a powerful, unpredictable, and occasionally painful story."Burning Bright by Ron Rash: Rash's follow-up to Serena is a collection of stories. The book's title story appeared in Ecotone in 2008.One More Story: Thirteen Stories in the Time-Honored Mode by Ingo Schulze: Garth has been talking about Schulze here for at least two years. Most recently he wrote "The East German setting of New Lives, and its uroboric epistolary structure – starting late in the story, slowly filling in the background – made for slow going at first, but the ethical intensity of its restaging of Faust has haunted me since I read it." The English (and somewhat illogical) title of Schulze's new book would seem to obscure the unifying theme of the new collection, whose title, translated directly from the German original, is Cell Phone: Thirteen Stories in the Old Style. According to an abstract for a paper in the journal German Monitor, "the cell phone functions in many stories as a threatening symbol of exposure to pressures and problems that make East(ern) Germans feel ill at ease."So Much for That by Lionel Shriver: More hot button issues. Just as Ian McEwan's forthcoming novel is informed by climate change, Shriver's latest takes on the healthcare debate. The Bradshaw Variations by Rachel Cusk: Cusk's novel is already out in the U.K. where Hilary Mantel wrote, "It is the author's mix of scorn and compassion that is so bracing. Sometimes she complicates simple things, snarling them in a cat's cradle of abstraction, but just as often, a sentence rewards with its absolute and unexpected precision."Silk Parachute by John McPhee: This new collection by McPhee is built around what FSG's promotional material calls "McPhee’s most anthologized piece of writing." "Silk Parachute" is, especially for the typically measured McPhee, a brief, tight, funny and emotional essay (It's available here as a .doc file). The rest of the new collection is composed of McPhee's recent New Yorker essays on lacrosse, "long-exposure view-camera photography, the weird foods he has sometimes been served in the course of his reportorial travels, a U.S. Open golf championship, and a season in Europe 'on the chalk' from the downs and sea cliffs of England to the Maas valley in the Netherlands and the champagne country of northern France." Since McPhee's most recent collections have had fairly strong thematic threads running through them, this more loosely tied book sounds like a bit of a departure.Long for This World by Sonya Chung: And, of course, Millions contributor Sonya Chung will see her debut novel Long for This World arrive in March. Sonya wrote about the peculiar challenges of settling on a book design in a recent essay.April The Notebook by Jose Saramago: Nobel Laureates can do "blooks" too. The Notebook is the collected entries from 87-year-old Saramago's blog, O Caderno de Saramago. The book, "which has already appeared in Portuguese and Spanish, lashes out against George W. Bush, Tony Blair, the Pope, Israel and Wall Street," according to the Independent, in its report on the book's Italian publisher dropping it for criticizing Prime Minister Silvio Burlusconi. Despite his age, Saramago is a busy man. In addition to The Notebook, there's an August release date in the U.K. for a new novel, The Elephant's Journey, which "traces the travels of Solomon, an Indian elephant given by King John III to Archduke Maximilian II of Austria," and Cain, "an ironic retelling of the Bible story," was recently published in Portuguese and Spanish.Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey: Carey's new book is based on the life of Alexis de Tocqueville and wields two narrators. Olivier, the de Tocqueville "character" is, like de Tocqueville, the heir apparent of a wealthy family. Parrot is his clever servant who also happens to be a spy and all around rake. Early reviews from Australia, where the book is already out, have been strong. The Sydney Morning Herald called it "a tour de force, a wonderfully dizzying succession of adventures and vivid, at times caricatured, characters executed with great panache."The Dead Republic by Roddy Doyle: This book wraps up Doyle's The Last Roundup trilogy (previously: A Star Called Henry and Oh, Play That Thing!). This time Henry Smart has gone to Hollywood and then back to Dublin. A bomb blast there turns him into an accidental hero.What Becomes by A.L. Kennedy: This short story collection is already out in the U.K. The Spectator likes it: "The hardest thing about the advent of a new collection of stories by A.L. Kennedy... is the search for synonyms for 'brilliant.'"Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel: Though Martel's previous effort, Life of Pi, was far from universally loved, the book became something of a literary phenomenon, putting up sales impressive even for a Booker winner. As a result, nearly a decade later, Martel's follow up is one of the most heavily anticipated books of the year. As before, it seems Martel will be trading in talking animals, a taxidermied donkey and monkey. More details: The book is about the Holocaust, reportedly. It's Canadian publisher has called it "shocking." And Martel is comparing it to Animal Farm.The Big Short by Michael Lewis: Original set for November 2009, the publication of Michael Lewis’ much anticipated chronicle of the financial crisis, The Big Short has been pushed back to April. In October 2008, when economic uncertainty was at its height and fears were voiced in some rarefied quarters about the possibility of some sort of structural collapse, we wrote, “The world needs an exhaustive look at what happened in 2008 and why.” There have already been many books about the collapse and what caused it, from The Two Trillion Dollar Meltdown to The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008, but many readers have been waiting for a book by Lewis, both because of his long history writing about Wall Street’s excesses and because of the powerful essay he penned on the topic for Portfolio magazine at the height of the crisis. Some readers may be weary of the topic by the time the book comes out, but it’s sure to garner some interest. Noir by Robert Coover: An excerpt of this new novel by "pioneering postmodernist" Coover was published a while back in Vice. It is introduced thusly: "Noir is a short novel starring you as Philip M. Noir, Private Investigator. It began as a story about a dockside detective in pursuit of something—like truth or beauty, the ineffable—and became over the course of its writing a kind of companion piece to Ghost Town, which played with the western genre and mythology the way this one plays with the hard-boiled/noir genre and urban myth. It was the French who discovered and defined noir; consequently, this book will have its first publication in Paris, in French, in the spring of 2008."May The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis: This book, long in the works, has been evolving as Amis has struggled to write it. In 2006, he told The Independent it was, "blindingly autobiographical, but with an Islamic theme." As it turns out, the autobiographical bits were causing Amis trouble. He told the National Post in August 2009, "it turned out it was actually two novels, and they couldn’t go together. So I wrote The Pregnant Widow, [that’s] one half of it, and the other half I started, and it will be very autobiographical, the next one." Subsequent comments from Amis appear to indicate the two book solution is still the plan. Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis: Imperial Bedrooms is reportedly a sequel to Ellis' first novel Less Than Zero. First sentence of the novel? "They had made a movie about us."The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer: Orringer received more than the typical notice for a debut short story collection when her 2003 How to Breathe Underwater was named a New York Times Notable Book, landed on various other lists, and picked up a small prize or two. It's looking like that promising first effort may translate into a "big" novel for Orringer in 2010. Library Journal reported a 60,000-copy first printing for The Invisible Bridge - the book follows a trio of Hungarian brothers in Budapest and Paris before and during World War II - and it carries with it a blurb from Michael Chabon ("To bring an entire lost world... to vivid life between the covers of a novel is an accomplishment; to invest that world, and everyone who inhabits it, with a soul... takes something more like genius.")The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson: Larsson's nordic crime fiction (which has won Larsson posthumous stardom in the States) isn't exactly in The Millions wheelhouse, but, with nary a mention on the site, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo vaulted into our Millions Top Ten and has stayed there. When Millions' readers get behind a book, it's often worth taking notice. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is the final book in Larsson's "Millennium Trilogy" (Dragon was the first and The Girl Who Played with Fire, the second). Though just becoming well known in the U.S., Larsson was the second top-selling author in the world in 2008. Part of Larsson's sudden success is his odd path to (posthumous) publishing fame. Larsson was a journalist and activist who died of a heart attack. The manuscripts of his novels were found after his death. He had apparently written them just for fun. Five years later, the books are a publishing sensation.Private Life by Jane Smiley: There's not much info on this one yet other than that it follows a Missouri woman's life, from the 1880s to World War II.The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman: Pullman (famous for his His Dark Materials children's series) will once again be courting controversy with this new book. According to The Guardian, "The book will provide a new account of the life of Jesus, challenging the gospels and arguing that the version in the New Testament was shaped by the apostle Paul." In addition, the book will be released on Easter in the U.K. and is part of Canongate's "Myths" series of books. Pullman also wrote an introduction to that series.The Microscripts by Robert Walser: The pothumous publication of Nabokov's The Original of Laura, reproducing, front and back, the notecards on which Nabokov hat charted this unfinished work, was met with no small amount of scorn. This year, another posthumously published book, based off of notecard scrawlings, may be met more favorably. The story behind Walser's Microscripts is fascinating. From the New Directions blog: "Walser wrote many of his manuscripts in a highly enigmatic, shrunken-down form. These narrow strips of paper... covered with tiny ant-like markings only a millimeter or two high, came to light only after the author’s death in 1956. At first considered a secret code, the microscripts were eventually discovered to be a radically miniaturized form of a German script: a whole story could fit on the back of a business card... Each microscript is reproduced in full color in its original form: the detached cover of a trashy crime novel, a disappointing letter, a receipt of payment."June The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell: After Black Swan Green, a departure from the frenetic, layered Cloud Atlas which was broadly considered one of the best novels of the last decade, Mitchell fans may be pleased to hear that The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is being described as a return to form. It's long (512 pages) and set in Japan in 1799. The Guardian says, "Mitchell returns to the big canvas with this historical novel set in a Japanese outpost of the Dutch empire."An American Type by Henry Roth: Here's another interesting posthumous publication. Roth is revered for his 1934 novel Call It Sleep and his 1990s "comeback" effort, the Mercy of a Rude Stream cycle, and so news of this book, "discovered," according to the publicity materials, "in a stack of nearly 2,000 unpublished pages by a young New Yorker editor," will surely interest readers. A little more detail from the publicity materials: "Set in 1938, An American Type reintroduces us to Roth’s alter ego, Ira, who abandons his controlling lover, Edith, in favor of a blond, aristocratic pianist at Yaddo. The ensuing conflict between his Jewish ghetto roots and his high-flown, writerly aspirations forces Ira, temporarily, to abandon his family for the sun-soaked promise of the American West."A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan: This new novel by National Book Award nominee Egan sounds like it's as ambitious and layered as Look At Me--and I'm sure it'll be as addictively readable as The Keep. According to Amazon, it centers on the life of Bennie Salazar, "an aging former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs," and the narrative traverses various eras and locales, "from the pre-Internet nineties to a postwar future." Color me intrigued. (Edan)July Update: Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart: A reader points out in the comments that Shteyngart has a new book coming out and since we absolutely would have included it had we known about it, here it is. A recent item at The Rumpus has the scoop: "His new novel is set slightly in the future. When he started writing it a few years ago, he envisioned a world where the world’s economy had collapsed and the central banks had to bail out the Big Three automakers. As that came to pass, he had to keep changing his novel, which got bleaker and bleaker. And now it’s set in 'a completely illiterate New York,' he said. 'In other words, next Tuesday.'" August Sympathy for the Devil: This is a long way off so it's hard to say how good it will be, but it sounds pretty cool: an anthology of stories about the devil from the likes of Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Kelly Link, China Mieville, Michael Chabon, and others.I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson: Petterson has been on the road to international literary stardom for a few years now and that means his new novels get translated into English with relative alacrity. This means that English-speaking readers will get to see I Curse the River of Time, first published in Norwegian in 2008, later this year. The book won the Norwegian Brage prize and, according to a "sample translation" on Petterson's agent's website, it begins: "I did not realize that my mother had left. There was too much going on in my own life. We had not spoken for a month, or even longer, which I guess was not that unusual, in 1989, when you consider the things that went on around us back then, but it felt unusual." September C by Tom McCarthy: At Ready Steady Book in September 2007, Mark Thwaite asked McCarthy: "What are you writing now?" And McCarthy responded: "Pathetically, my answer to this question is the same as it was when you last asked it over a year ago. I’m just under half way through a novel called C, which is about mourning, technology and matter. I’m writing it very slowly. It’s called C because it has crypts, cauls, call-signs, cocaine, cyanide and cysteine in it. And carbon: lots of carbon."Unknown Nemesis by Philip Roth: News of this novel was announced nearly a year ago, but there is no release date thus far and not much is known about it beyond that it's "a work of fiction set in the summer of 1944 that tells of a polio epidemic and its effects on a closely knit Newark community and its children."Freedom by Jonathan Franzen: Jonathan Franzen's follow-up to The Corrections, Freedom, is likely to cause a stir when it appears, most likely in the fall. Among the prominent media narratives - the backlash, the backlash-to-the-backlash - will be the length of the novel's gestation. Really, though, in novelist time (as distinct from internet time), nine years is a mere blip - particularly when you publish two books of nonfiction in the interim. Far more remarkable is how tight-lipped Franzen has managed to be about the novel's content. From various obscure interviews, we've managed to cobble together the following: 1) The novel has something to do with U.S. politics, of the Washington, D.C. variety. 2) Franzen's original conception of how those politics would intersect with the narrative changed radically in the writing, likely shifting from an "inside baseball" look at bureaucracy toward the personal. 3) Germany, where Franzen has spent some time recently, "will play an important role in the novel." 4) After two New Yorker short stories notable for their smallness and misanthropy, the excerpt from the novel that appeared last year was notable for its return to the more generous ironies that endeared The Corrections to our "Best Fiction of the Millennium (So Far) panel." (Garth)The Pale King by David Foster Wallace: Wallace's unfinished opus is sure to be a blockbuster when it appears - April 2011 is the latest word on a release date. The Howling Fantods, home to all things DFW, has been staying on top of the story. A recent report contained a number of tidbits, including this: "The subject of the novel is boredom. The opening of the book instructs the reader to go back and read the small type they skipped on the copyright page, which details the battle with publishers over their determination to call it fiction, when it's all 100% true. The narrator, David Foster Wallace, is at some point confused with another David F. Wallace by IRS computers, pointing to the degree to which our lives are filled with irrelevant complexity."There are many other exciting books coming out in 2010 not mentioned here - let us know what books you are most looking forward to in 2010 in the comments section below.
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