Books, Books, Books

What do you do in your teenage years when you realize what your parents taught you wasn't enough? You must go out and find books and poetry and pop songs and bad heroes — and build yourself.

It's 1990. Johanna Morrigan, fourteen, has shamed herself so badly on local TV that she decides that there's no point in being Johanna anymore and reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde — fast-talking, hard-drinking gothic hero and full-time Lady Sex Adventurer. She will save her poverty-stricken Bohemian family by becoming a writer — like Jo in Little Women, or the Brontës — but without the dying-young bit.

By sixteen, she's smoking cigarettes, getting drunk, and working for a music paper. She's writing pornographic letters to rock stars, having all the kinds of sex with all the kinds of men, and eviscerating bands in reviews of 600 words or less.

But what happens when Johanna realizes she's built Dolly with a fatal flaw? Is a box full of records, a wall full of posters, and a head full of paperbacks enough to build a girl after all?

Imagine The Bell Jar — written by Rizzo from Grease. How to Build a Girl is a funny, poignant, and heartbreakingly evocative story of self-discovery and invention, as only Caitlin Moran could tell it.

The author of the best-selling and award-winning Netherland now gives us his eagerly awaited, stunningly different new novel: a tale of alienation and heartbreak in Dubai.

Distraught by a breakup with his long-term girlfriend, our unnamed hero leaves New York to take an unusual job in a strange desert metropolis. In Dubai at the height of its self-invention as a futuristic Shangri-la, he struggles with his new position as the “family officer” of the capricious and very rich Batros family. And he struggles, even more helplessly, with the “doghouse,” a seemingly inescapable condition of culpability in which he feels himself constantly trapped — even if he’s just going to the bathroom, or reading e-mail, or scuba diving. A comic and philosophically profound exploration of what has become of humankind’s moral progress, The Dog is told with Joseph O’Neill’s hallmark eloquence, empathy, and storytelling mastery. It is a brilliantly original, achingly funny fable for our globalized times.

When a boy tries to save his parents’ marriage, he uncovers a legacy of family secrets in a coming-of-age ghost story by the author of the internationally bestselling phenomenon, The Art of Racing in the Rain.

In the summer of 1990, fourteen-year-old Trevor Riddell gets his first glimpse of Riddell House. Built from the spoils of a massive timber fortune, the legendary family mansion is constructed of giant, whole trees, and is set on a huge estate overlooking Puget Sound. Trevor’s bankrupt parents have begun a trial separation, and his father, Jones Riddell, has brought Trevor to Riddell House with a goal: to join forces with his sister, Serena, dispatch Grandpa Samuel—who is flickering in and out of dementia—to a graduated living facility, sell off the house and property for development into “tract housing for millionaires,” divide up the profits, and live happily ever after.

But Trevor soon discovers there’s someone else living in Riddell House: a ghost with an agenda of his own. For while the land holds tremendous value, it is also burdened by the final wishes of the family patriarch, Elijah, who mandated it be allowed to return to untamed forestland as a penance for the millions of trees harvested over the decades by the Riddell Timber company. The ghost will not rest until Elijah’s wish is fulfilled, and Trevor’s willingness to face the past holds the key to his family’s future.

A Sudden Light is a rich, atmospheric work that is at once a multigenerational family saga, a historical novel, a ghost story, and the story of a contemporary family’s struggle to connect with each other. A tribute to the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, it reflects Garth Stein’s outsized capacity for empathy and keen understanding of human motivation, and his rare ability to see the unseen: the universal threads that connect us all.

“No book this fall is more impressive than A Brief History of Seven Killings.” (Publishers Weekly)

From the acclaimed author of The Book of Night Women comes one of the year’s most anticipated novels, a lyrical, masterfully written epic that explores the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in the late 1970s.

On December 3, 1976, just before the Jamaican general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica Concert, gunmen stormed his house, machine guns blazing. The attack nearly killed the Reggae superstar, his wife, and his manager, and injured several others. Marley would go on to perform at the free concert on December 5, but he left the country the next day, not to return for two years.

Deftly spanning decades and continents and peopled with a wide range of characters — assassins, journalists, drug dealers, and even ghosts — A Brief History of Seven Killings is the fictional exploration of that dangerous and unstable time and its bloody aftermath, from the streets and slums of Kingston in the ‘70s, to the crack wars in ‘80s New York, to a radically altered Jamaica in the ‘90s. Brilliantly inventive and stunningly ambitious, this novel is a revealing modern epic that will secure Marlon James’ place among the great literary talents of his generation.

Mags was once an enslaved orphan living a harsh life in the mines, until the King's Own Herald discovered his talent and trained him as a spy. Now a Herald in his own right, at the newly established Heralds' Collegium, Mags has found a supportive family, including his Companion Dallen.

Although normally a Herald in his first year of Whites would be sent off on circuit, Mags is needed close to home for his abilities as a spy and his powerful Mindspeech gift. There is a secret, treacherous plot within the royal court to destroy the Heralds. The situation becomes dire after the life of Mags' mentor, King's Own Nikolas, is imperiled. His daughter Amily is chosen as the new King's Own, a complicated and dangerous job that is made more so by this perilous time. Can Mags and Amily save the court, the Heralds, and the Collegium itself?

The second volume of the bestselling landmark work on the history of the modern state

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, David Gress called Francis Fukuyama’s Origins of Political Order “magisterial in its learning and admirably immodest in its ambition.” In The New York Times Book Review, Michael Lind described the book as “a major achievement by one of the leading public intellectuals of our time.” And in The Washington Post, Gerard DeGrott exclaimed “this is a book that will be remembered. Bring on volume two.”

Volume two is finally here, completing the most important work of political thought in at least a generation. Taking up the essential question of how societies develop strong, impersonal, and accountable political institutions, Fukuyama follows the story from the French Revolution to the so-called Arab Spring and the deep dysfunctions of contemporary American politics. He examines the effects of corruption on governance, and why some societies have been successful at rooting it out. He explores the different legacies of colonialism in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, and offers a clear-eyed account of why some regions have thrived and developed more quickly than others. And he boldly reckons with the future of democracy in the face of a rising global middle class and entrenched political paralysis in the West.

A sweeping, masterful account of the struggle to create a well-functioning modern state, Political Order and Political Decay is destined to be a classic.

From the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom, a powerful new reckoning with Jefferson Davis as military commander of the Confederacy

History has not been kind to Jefferson Davis. His cause went down in disastrous defeat and left the South impoverished for generations. If that cause had succeeded, it would have torn the United States in two and preserved the institution of slavery. Many Americans in Davis’s own time and in later generations considered him an incompetent leader, if not a traitor. Not so, argues James M. McPherson. In Embattled Rebel, McPherson shows us that Davis might have been on the wrong side of history, but it is too easy to diminish him because of his cause’s failure. In order to understand the Civil War and its outcome, it is essential to give Davis his due as a military leader and as the president of an aspiring Confederate nation.

Davis did not make it easy on himself. His subordinates and enemies alike considered him difficult, egotistical, and cold. He was gravely ill throughout much of the war, often working from home and even from his sickbed. Nonetheless, McPherson argues, Davis shaped and articulated the principal policy of the Confederacy with clarity and force: the quest for independent nationhood. Although he had not been a fire-breathing secessionist, once he committed himself to a Confederate nation he never deviated from this goal. In a sense, Davis was the last Confederate left standing in 1865.

As president of the Confederacy, Davis devoted most of his waking hours to military strategy and operations, along with Commander Robert E. Lee, and delegated the economic and diplomatic functions of strategy to his subordinates. Davis was present on several battlefields with Lee and even took part in some tactical planning; indeed, their close relationship stands as one of the great military-civilian partnerships in history.

Most critical appraisals of Davis emphasize his choices in and management of generals rather than his strategies, but no other chief executive in American history exercised such tenacious hands-on influence in the shaping of military strategy. And while he was imprisoned for two years after the Confederacy’s surrender awaiting a trial for treason that never came, and lived for another twenty-four years, he never once recanted the cause for which he had fought and lost. McPherson gives us Jefferson Davis as the commander in chief he really was, showing persuasively that while Davis did not win the war for the South, he was scarcely responsible for losing it.

A family is hunted by a centuries-old monster: a man with a relentless obsession who can take on any identity.

The String Diaries opens with Hannah frantically driving through the night — her daughter asleep in the back, her husband bleeding out in the seat beside her. In the trunk of the car rests a cache of diaries dating back 200 years, tied and retied with strings through generations. The diaries carry the rules for survival that have been handed down from mother to daughter since the 19th century. But how can Hannah escape an enemy with the ability to look and sound like the people she loves?

Stephen Lloyd Jones's debut novel is a sweeping thriller that extends from the present day, to Oxford in the 1970s, to Hungary at the turn of the 19th century, all tracing back to a man from an ancient royal family with a consuming passion — a boy who can change his shape, insert himself into the intimate lives of his victims, and destroy them.

If Hannah fails to end the chase now, her daughter is next in line. Only Hannah can decide how much she is willing to sacrifice to finally put a centuries-old curse to rest.

From longtime New York Times columnist Bob Herbert comes a wrenching portrayal of ordinary Americans struggling for survival in a nation that has lost its way

In his eighteen years as an opinion columnist for The New York Times, Herbert championed the working poor and the middle class. After filing his last column in 2011, he set off on a journey across the country to report on Americans who were being left behind in an economy that has never fully recovered from the Great Recession. The portraits of those he encountered fuel his new book, Losing Our Way. Herbert’s combination of heartrending reporting and keen political analysis is the purest expression since the Occupy movement of the plight of the 99 percent.

The individuals and families who are paying the price of America’s bad choices in recent decades form the book’s emotional center: an exhausted high school student in Brooklyn who works the overnight shift in a factory at minimum wage to help pay her family’s rent; a twenty-four-year-old soldier from Peachtree City, Georgia, who loses both legs in a misguided, mismanaged, seemingly endless war; a young woman, only recently engaged, who suffers devastating injuries in a tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis; and a group of parents in Pittsburgh who courageously fight back against the politicians who decimated funding for their children’s schools.

Herbert reminds us of a time in America when unemployment was low, wages and profits were high, and the nation’s wealth, by current standards, was distributed much more equitably. Today, the gap between the wealthy and everyone else has widened dramatically, the nation’s physical plant is crumbling, and the inability to find decent work is a plague on a generation. Herbert traces where we went wrong and spotlights the drastic and dangerous shift of political power from ordinary Americans to the corporate and financial elite. Hope for America, he argues, lies in a concerted push to redress that political imbalance. Searing and unforgettable, Losing Our Way ultimately inspires with its faith in ordinary citizens to take back their true political power and reclaim the American dream.


Tim said…
Francis Fukuyama is the same neo-conservative bonehead who once trumpeted "the end of history" once the Soviet Union collapsed. Honestly, his first book was mostly a rehash of existing political science, with acidic veins of ultra-right-wing Tea Party economics running through it. It was the Alien of political theory. His second book is much the same. Now, only now he's trying to channel Max Weber.

James McPherson's book is an interesting one. But McPherson, I think, doesn't get it. The real question to ask about Jefferson Davis is: Was he an effective president in a highly decentralized political system? McPherson is correct to emphasized Davis' illnesses during the war, which made it difficult for him to be an effective chief executive. He was right to point out Davis' excellent working relationship with Robert E. Lee, and his on-field bravery.

But: How can McPherson de-emphasize Davis' interpersonal relationships that way? The power of the presidency is the power of leadership. And a person who is truculent, thin-skinned, arrogant, and dismissive isn't a good leader.

Perhaps Davis might have overcome these interpersonal faults through sheer talent -- although it's highly unlikely. (Name a successful president whose subordinates hated him the way Davis was hated. Yup, there you go.) But that begs the question: Talent directed to what ends?

McPherson goes to great lengths to point out how much Davis focused, and focused effectively, on a Confederate foreign policy designed to win recognition for the breakaway states. But Davis left the implementation of his grand vision for winning foreign recognition to subordinates. Was that really appropriate?? Probably not.

McPherson goes to great lengths to point out how much Davis focused, and focused effectively, on a military strategy and tactics. But did Davis need to do so? Probably not. The Union learned early on that "political generals" (those without formal military training) were largely inept. The Confederacy never did; Jefferson Davis, unfortunately, continued to play the role of political general. And while his relationship with Robert E. Lee may have been a good one, his relationship with other generals was extremely poor. And the Confederacy can't win if it isn't winning on all fronts.

Tim said…
McPherson seems not to realize that war-making requires an effective economy to support it. When Davis left economic policy to his subordinates, was that wise?? Hardly. By 1863, the Confederacy was nearly prostrate, economically. Each state had a different gauge for its railways, making it almost impossible to move troops and material effectively by rail. Each state set its own different tariffs, making an effective international trade policy almost impossible to achieve. The Confederacy relied heavily on donations (donations!!!) from the states in order to wage war on a national level, and this strategy completely failed. Most Confederate armed forces were concatenations of state-raised troops, under the command of a general appointed by the central government. Each state had its own rifles, each state's rifles took a different caliber bullet. Each state had its own artillery, and each cannon used a different caliber ball, and different caliber gunpowder charge. Each state had its own requirements for tents, cooking utensils, wagons, horses, and mules. Instead of buying a single caliber bullet, creating an economy of scale and reducing costs by a factor of 100,000, there were 15 different kinds of bullets which had to be purchased.

How can this be considered effective leadership???? Being ill, being an egotist, being cold to subordiantes, or whatnot can't explain away the fundamentally poor choice of values, goals, and strategy Davis made in regard to the Confederacy's economy. And without an economy, he could not sustain his troops in the field, no matter how brilliant Robert E. Lee might be.

History is harsh on Jefferson Davis, in part, because Davis created the idea of the Civil War fought for state's rights. That justification had NEVER been raised prior to the Civil War. Every public statement was that the Civil War was being fought SOLELY to preserve slavery.

The idea that it was fought for Constitutional reasons was the brainchild of Jefferson Davis, something he introduced into his writings shortly before his death.

That, of course, was a stunningly poor value-choice. In essence, Davis did something that McPherson claims he never did: That is, Davis abandoned the cause of the South. Davis backtracked on slavery, the very cause the South fought for.

Essentially, Jefferson Davis was the first Neo-Confederate. Today, "state's rights" as a rallying cry is used for a wide range of heinous policies. We can blame Jefferson Davis for that. Today, honest people really believe that the South fought for "the Constitution and state's rights" -- and dismiss racism and slavery as myths fabricated by an unethical, value-less, consumerist North.

McPherson takes Davis at his word, essentially, and finds that Davis did what he said he would do. But in the larger scheme of things, were this goals appropriate, effective, strategically useful? No.

I think that, as a historian, McPherson isn't really aware of the means by which political scientists evaluate leaders and presidents.
Writer said…
Thank you for this, Tim. I really can't comment much because I really only go by what the book blurb says and who takes the time to give a critiquing blurb on the book.

I'd never heard of the first author previous to this. And the only other book I've read about Jefferson Davis was a slim volume by Robert Penn Warren called Jefferson Davis Gets His Citizenship Back.

(Also, though I grew up a 30 minute drive from it, I've never visited the Jefferson Davis Monument in Christian County - which is adjacent to Muhlenberg.)
Tim said…
Confederate monuments are creepy. You just have to wonder what the FUCK IT IS they are celebrating. Slavery, mostly...

Fukuymaa is a complete turd of a human being. He crafted the Reagan Doctrine, the idea that the U.S. should arm and freedom fighter anywhere in the world and begin aggressively exporting democracy and capitalism. (It's evangelical Marxism in reverse.) He aggressively pushed for a U.S. invasion of Iraq, and then when it all went south he was all "No, no, that's not what I meant!"
Writer said…
It's all very confusing. In the same general area of the Davis Monument is a park dedicated to the Trail of Tears. When it comes to history, Kentucky is very ambivalent...guiltily so.

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