Books & Fiction

Gary Rivlin’s ‘Katrina’ Portrays a Destroyed City and Its Painful Recovery

Lee Polevoi

Katrina opens with a compelling set piece that encapsulates many of the book’s themes—the chaos after Katrina made landfall, the lack of emergency coordination among local officials, dire situations made worse by crippling issues of race. On August 30, a group of predominantly black residents, seeking to escape flooding and destruction in their neighborhoods, crossed a bridge spanning the Mississippi for the relative safety of suburban Gretna, a predominantly white community. 

On the Water With a Surfing Memoir and History of the North Sea

Lee Polevoi

Water is the element through which two new books flow, though everything else about them is different. In his surfing memoir Barbarian Days, William Finnegan chronicles a life of more than half a century spent in pursuit of waves in Hawaii, California, Australia, Fiji and elsewhere. A staff writer for The New Yorker, Finnegan has supplemented his reporting from global hot spots—apartheid-era South Africa, Central America, and Sudan—with whatever opportunities he could find for surfing in (oftentimes) uncharted waters. 

Author Laura Pedersen Tackles the Highs and Lows of Life in New York

Gabriella Tutino

A native upstate New Yorker from Buffalo who arrived in 1984 and has chronicled her time and observations of NYC in her latest memoir, Life in New York: How I Learned to Love Squeegee Men, Token Suckers, Trash Twisters and Subway Sharks. Pedersen has already established herself as a successful writer, so this memoir doesn’t follow the upward mobility storyline of “country-girl-to-big-city-slicker.” Rather, Pedersen writes about the ever-changing history and culture of NYC--spanning the 1600s to the 18th century to the present

The Disappointment of Harper Lee’s ‘Go Set a Watchman’

Kaitlin Ebersol

The reception of this controversial second book, Go Set a Watchman, released in July of 2015, has met with equally mixed reviews. However varied their opinions of the story, critics seem to agree on one aspect of the work: one can’t read Watchman without comparing it to, or at least mentioning, To Kill a Mockingbird. For one, Mockingbird so strongly impacted society at the time of its release, winning Lee a Pulitzer Prize and the movie adaptation of her novel three Oscars, and it has remained a staple of high school curricula and American culture ever since.

Comedy, Tragedy Collide in Thomas McGuane’s ‘Crow Fair’

Lee Polevoi

Flash forward some 40-odd years, and McGuane’s writing has grown leaner and more mature, while maintaining a characteristically deft balance between over-the-top comedy and heartbreaking tragedy. In Crow Fair, a new collection of short stories set mostly in Montana’s Big Sky country, he depicts better than most what one character thinks of as “the blizzard of things that could never be explained and that pointlessly exhausted all human inquiry.”

Erik Larson’s ‘Dead Wake’ Chronicles Horrific Sinking of ‘Lusitania’

Lee Polevoi

On the first page of his masterful account of the sinking of the Lusitania, Erik Larson notes that while researching the book, he realized that “buried in the muddled details of the [Lusitania] affair … was something simple and satisfying: a very good story.” It’s one of those occasions when an author doth protest too much. How a deluxe ocean liner, among the fastest ships on the sea at the time, came to be torpedoed off the Irish Coast remains a powerful episode of history, no matter how many times it’s retold.

T.C. Boyle Focuses on Cycles of Rage in ‘The Harder They Come’

Lee Polevoi

In the opening pages of Boyle’s new novel, The Harder They Come, a 70-year-old Vietnam vet named Sten Stensen and his wife are part of a tour group robbed at gunpoint while on vacation in Costa Rica. At some point during the ordeal, his long-ago military training kicks in and Stensen subdues one of the robbers, killing him in the process. On the bus ride back to the Red Cross Clinic, he experiences the adrenalin-charged aftermath of the incident.

Author David Downie Unravels the Mysteries of Paris

Gabriella Tutino

Ask anyone about the most romantic cities to visit, and Paris will undoubtedly be on the list. The city seems to be in everyone’s subconscious; Paris screams ‘romantic.’ But what is it about the City of Light--with its turbulent yet mesmerizing history of politics, violence, art and sex--that attracts thousands of visitors? What is that special essence of Paris that deems it so romantic? These are a few of the questions David Downie sets out to answer in his latest book A Passion for Paris: Romanticism and Romance in the City of Light.

Taming 30 Ounces of Death in Helen Macdonald’s ‘H is for Hawk’

Lee Polevoi

When her father died unexpectedly several years ago, the British naturalist, historian and academic Helen Macdonald was devastated. Unhinged by grief, she sought relief in an unusual activity--training a captive-bred goshawk from infancy to maturity. The result is H is for Hawk, one of the most striking memoirs to appear in recent years. Macdonald, an experienced falconer, had never before taken on training a goshawk. 

 

Truman Capote’s Tale of Murder: ‘In Cold Blood’ Fifty Years Later

Mike Peters

Almost from the moment of first publication in book form In Cold Blood - soon to be a best-seller and Book-of-the-Month Club selection - is surrounded by controversy. Has the author, by not doing enough to prevent the two culprits` executions, compounded the ruthless and chilling murders depicted in his book?  After all, without them and their co-operation, there would be no book. In spite of Capote`s furious protests and in spite of such notable defenders of his cause as the notable cultural commentator, Diane Trilling, the phrase `in cold blood` begins to take on additional significance.

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