Books & Fiction

In ‘Learning to Talk,’ Hilary Mantel Conjures a Troubled Childhood

Lee Polevoi

All the stories here are closely observed, showcasing the author’s exemplary skill at painting secondary characters with a simple literary flourish: “Myra was little, she was mere, rat-faced and meager, like a nameless cut in a butcher’s window in a demolition area.” Also, Mantel reliably locates the right sensory details to evoke a childhood disrupted by arcane family dynamics and the ambition to escape provincial life in the North of England.

Forecasting the End of Cold in Porter Fox’s ‘Last Winter’

Lee Polevoi

What he conveys clearly to readers adds to a growing array of dire global scenarios, wherein mankind must somehow learn to live with huge spikes in the frequency of forest fires and, among other things, higher sea levels because of the unrelenting release of carbon into the atmosphere.In his reporting, Fox isn’t motivated solely by a general anxiety about where the planet is headed. His very young daughter Grey, whom he anticipates growing up to have her own family sometime around 2060, will face a world of frightening change.

Beguiling Tales of County Mayo in Colin Barrett’s ‘Homesickness’

Lee Polevoi

In these beguiling stories, we are for the most part steadfastly situated in County Mayo, Ireland. As in Young Skins, this hugely talented writer immerses us in a remote part of the Emerald Isle, serving up (with great sympathy) characters who display his signature mix of humor and melancholy. Life is hard for County Mayo residents, eased only occasionally by flashes of love and warm feelings.

Straddling the Wilderness Between Russia and China in Colin Thubron’s ‘Amur River’

Lee Polevoi

During his travels, Thubron crosses more than 1,100 miles along this vast waterway—not only on horseback, but by train, car, and boat. His trek encompasses visits to desolate villages and decaying monasteries, with encounters that range from friendly and well-meaning, to more sinister interactions with local police. Who says no one is intrepid anymore? Colin Thubron is intrepid.

In Praise of Life in the Last Frontier in ‘Nobody Gets Out Alive’

Lee Polevoi

What emerges most strongly in Nobody Gets Out Alive is Newman’s love of and appreciation for this last frontier—its wildlife, topography, and the skewed, rugged psyches of those who choose life in such a remote and challenging environment. The author of a memoir set in Alaska called Still Points North, she demonstrates a keen understanding of what it takes to survive in this state.

Chronicling the Inner Workings of Guillermo del Toro’s Brilliant Mind and Career

Ulises Duenas

Guillermo del Toro was never shy about being upfront about his interests, and he has shown that he wants to make dumb, trashy, popcorn-chomping movies on top of his more thought-out, artistic pieces. Saving the Pan’s Labyrinth section of the book for later ended up being a smart move as it’s given more context from the previous parts. I wouldn’t say Nathan’s style of writing is perfect, but it’s an ideal fit this kind of book.

Paying Homage to a Literary Master and His Garden in ‘Orwell’s Roses’

Lee Polevoi

Orwell wrote not one, but two century-defining works, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four—novels that speak directly to readers today, more than 50 years later. He dedicated his life to writing about and warning of the dangers of totalitarian politics and, most presciently, the breakdown of language when it comes to previously clear distinctions between truth and falsehood. The life story of this brilliant writer underpins the free-flowing structure of Rebecca Solnit’s new book, Orwell’s Roses.

A Father’s Quest to Save His Son in Trevor J. Houser’s New Book

Trevor J. Houser

Later my father put on a gray sweater. We ate chili by a fire. We talked about baseball. My father smiled. He was growing a beard. One day he would be smiling in the Denver Airport of Death, but today he was smiling under normal non-death conditions; breathing without making fearful choking faces, with his bowl of chili, and his facial hair, that together signified peerless health and stability or something like stability.

New Graphic Novel Pays Homage to a Kurt Vonnegut Classic

Garrett Hartman

The adaptation translates this perfectly, instead of treating us to panels showing the things Vonnegut describes, the authors instead do what Vonnegut did and tell us a bit about the creation of the original work. Part of what makes the execution of this graphic novel so brilliant is that the authors do not pretend to write as Vonnegut, but narrate this portion as themselves, similarly to how Vonnegut narrates Billy Pilgrim’s story.

Snakes, Arm Wrestling, and Childhood Adventures in Padgett Powell’s ‘Indigo’

Lee Polevoi

And now Powell’s fans get a different view of the stubbornly individualistic author. The essays in Indigo encompass, among other things, a profile of Cleve Dean, a one-time arm-wrestling champion who has “ballooned to nearly seven hundred pounds”; memories of an eventful childhood in Florida; a quirky tour of the French Quarter in New Orleans; and insightful (though frustratingly brief) assessments of writers like Flannery O’Connor, Donald Barthelme, and William Trevor.

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