new books

John Cleese Discusses Something ‘Completely Different’ in ‘Professor at Large’

Sam Chapin

If you had asked me why it was funny, I probably would have yelled, “Ni!” and ran away. And I’d wager that a lot of Python faithfuls have a hard time enunciating their affections for the material--it feels so effortlessly humorous. It’s easy to forget that someone actually wrote it. In John Cleese’s new book, Professor at Large: The Cornell Years, he gives an intimate and exhaustive exploration of his creative and analytical mind, allowing us to see firsthand the inner workings of a comedic genius. 

Ghosts and Spies Emerge From London Fog in Kate Atkinson’s ‘Transcription’

Lee Polevoi

Atkinson quickly establishes place, diction, and a credible spirit of wartime and postwar milieus—while rarely getting bogged down in unnecessary exposition. The tone in the early chapters is both keenly literary and vividly cinematic. Confusion arises, however, with a plethora of secondary characters, i.e., the German sympathizers and double agents, some of whom are being “run” by Godfrey Tobey, some by Perry (her boss). The reader might be forgiven for wondering why many of these clandestine members of the Fifth Column talk so openly about “working for Berlin” or “spying for the Gestapo” in the midst of wartime England. 

H. Jon Benjamin and the Art of Failure

Adam Gravano

We all have a friend whom we laugh and have a good time with, but later, when we go through the events of time together, when it's too late to mention and we're too far apart, we wonder if everything is all right — perhaps while lying awake. This is a book written by that friend. You'll cringe; you'll laugh; you'll cringe while laughing. The book does a remarkable job of accomplishing its goal: You'll find that failure is an option and it's nothing to be ashamed of. It's great to read and makes a more helpful suggestion to people who haven't quite found a good fitting place after graduation.

Two Killers Haunt 1950s London in ‘Death in the Air’

Lee Polevoi

Winkler describes these disparate events in impressive detail. She offers a chilling description of how abysmal government policies, combined with a bout of truly terrible weather, created the slaughterhouse effects of 1952. She writes with verve and sympathy about a handful of Christie’s victims, and seems to capture with disturbing accuracy the killer’s mental state as he commits and then hides the evidence of his monstrous crimes. 

New Zora Neale Hurston Book Slated for 2018

Jordannah Elizabeth

A barracoon is a place of confinement made specifically to hold Black slaves for a temporary period of time. This book will shed light on the reality of slavery through the eyes of a survivor. Hurston’s fearless talent and timeless writing and vision are still ever present and relevant today. “Barracoon” is set for release in May 2018. The new book, “Barracoon,” documents a period of three months Hurston spent in Plateau, Ala., where she met Cudjo Lewis. 

A Girl Vanishes, Seasons Pass, in Jon McGregor’s ‘Reservoir 13’

Lee Polevoi

A frenzied, exhaustive search gets underway. But despite the best efforts of residents and authorities, no trace of the girl is found. McGregor, employing a kind of narrative wide-angle lens, travels fitfully among the villagers—Jones, the school janitor; Jane, the vicar; the butcher Martin Fowler and his wife, Ruth; teens Sophie, James, Liam and Deepak—pausing long enough to remark on their circumstances and then moving on. 

Movies and Politics Collide in Jim Shepard’s ‘Tunnel at the End of the Light’

Lee Polevoi

In The Tunnel at the End of the Light, Jim Shepard, a professor at Williams College, exercises a different set of muscles. These essays, written for The Believer during the George W. Bush administration, closely explore a handful of iconic American films for insights they can shed on American ideas of individuality, power and imperialism. Shepard isn’t shy about naming the wrongdoers and political leaders who led the US into unwanted wars and a pernicious global recession.

James Atlas Shares His Own Life in ‘Shadow in the Garden’

Lee Polevoi

James Atlas, the author of Delmore Schwartz: The Life of an American Poet and Bellow: A Biography, has written a sort of “summing-up” of his own life, large chunks of which he’s devoted to chronicling the lives of an obscure poet of the 1930s and Saul Bellow, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist of more recent times. His memoir, The Shadow in the Garden, is an often fascinating—and, at times, very personal—account of the nearly insurmountable tasks of completing an in-depth literary biography.

In New Book, Daniel Ellsberg Warns of Nuclear Dangers

Greg Mitchell

While I wrote about the Pentagon Papers in the early 1970s, my close connection with Ellsberg began only in the 1980s after I became the editor of Nuclear Times magazine. Ellsberg, then (and still) living in the San Francisco area, had started appearing at anti-nuclear protests — the “freeze” campaign was in full swing across the country. Naturally I wanted him to write an essay for the magazine on this subject but I was warned that while he often tried to write articles he “never finishes them.” When he completed a column for us, it drew wide attention as his first published piece in many years.

A Death Haunts Sheila Kohler’s ‘Once We Were Sisters’

Lee Polevoi

Relating events that occurred a half-century or longer ago in present tense does convey a certain kind of urgent immediacy.  On the other hand, when the narrative jumps around in time from chapter from chapter—alternating between the aftermath of her sister’s death and the years they spent growing up together (and apart)—a certain lack of clarity may emerge. When exactly did a particular event take place? 

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