On the Shelf
10 December books for your reading list
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Yes, the publication schedule slows down as the nation shifts into holiday mode. But the hits of 2022 still keep coming. Whether it’s a late spy master’s revealing private letters, a fiercely feminist western, a nostalgic Gen X caper or an adventure tale on the Greenland ice cap, you’ll surely find a new release to suit you — and perhaps even something new to wrap up for a lucky loved one.
No One Left to Come Looking for You By Sam Lipsyte Simon & Schuster: 224 pages, $27 (Dec. 6) First-rate satirist Lipsyte has nothing to prove — which might be why his new novel feels so free, fast and funny. In Manhattan’s East Village, circa 1993, musician Jack discovers his band’s drug-addled lead singer has gone missing — and so has a valuable bass guitar. Setting off on an odyssey to retrieve the instrument, Jack encounters the kinds of characters who once dominated the Lower East Side. It’s the journey, not the arrival, that matters in this paean to artistic freedom.
Stella Maris By Cormac McCarthy Knopf: 208 page, $26 (Dec. 6) At 89, McCarthy is still a literary lion. “Stella Maris” is a close companion to his October novel “The Passenger,” although each focuses on a different (incestuously inclined) sibling. Here the focus is Alicia Western, self-committed to a Wisconsin mental hospital. A brilliant mathematician and schizophrenic (in contrast to her lapsed-physicist brother Bobby and their father, a developer of the atom bomb), she dialogues with her therapist in a haunting, cerebral and desperate coda whose intellectual firepower caps a singular literary career.
Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Passenger’ and ‘Stella Maris’ display his brilliance in full, exploring math, physics and incest in a brother-sister story.
Razia Mirza lives in 1980s Queens, belongs to a close-knit Pakistani American clan and happens to like girls. To embrace her future, she’ll have to make difficult choices between family and friends, faith and love and George Michael versus Tom Robbins. Rehman fully immerses readers in Razia’s world, but she writes with contemporary edge. The narrative never seems historical or predetermined. It feels, rather, like the account of a warrior describing her journey.
“Being a woman is a dangerous business,” says Mrs. Parks, the keeper of a brothel in 1850s Monterey, Calif., to the young prostitute Eliza. Her employee knows that — one of Eliza’s colleagues has been murdered — but she decides to run to the danger, hoping to win some measure of safety for all of them. Working with her friend Jean, Eliza follows the process of her favorite fictional character, Edgar Allan Poe’s detective Dupin. If you know smely and worry this is a departure, run to the danger; in this feminist western, she is at her stunning best.
Manenzhe, no matter how acclaimed, still refers to herself as a “South African villager and storyteller.” This particular story is sparked by the 1927 Immorality Act, which made sex between Black and white residents illegal. Among the families this immoral law devastates is the Van Zijls clan. Alisa, wife to the white man Abram and mother to Dido and Emilia, makes a shattering choice early on in this affecting novel that traces the country’s “scatterlings,” the great apartheid diaspora, to this fateful moment.
If you’ve ever referred to a pigeon as a “rat with wings” or dealt with a termite situation, you’ll understand what we modern humans refer to as “pests.” Brookshire, a science writer, wants us to reexamine that loaded designation, to see how our glib taxonomy defines us far more precisely than it does our co-inhabitants of this delicate planet. Why is “squab” a delicious entree but a “pigeon” a rodent-like nuisance? Read on.
Grose, a New York Times opinion writer, understands personally how difficult modern American standards of motherhood can be; she tried and failed to meet them after her first pregnancy. She also knows that most women feel exactly the same kind of internalized shame. Melding personal narrative with clear-eyes reportage from the front lines, she works to redefine what exactly a “mother” is, or should be, in a society that demands so much more from its childbearing women than it has to offer.
Edited by Le Carré’s son, never made public before, these letters will draw in longtime readers of the great spy novelist, who died in 2020, and push them away in equal measure. Le Carré, famously outed as a retired spy for Britain’s MI5 and MI6, shows an acerbic side in his views on women, fellow writers and sundry other subjects. But for a lonely boy brought up by a notorious scam artist, the need to communicate was clearly vital — and the letters reveal more about his motivations than we had ever known.
Thurman grew up left-handed and never felt “right.” Eventually this led the longtime New Yorker staff writer to pursue pieces about women whose passions, projects and personalities set them at odds with their time and cemented their place in history. From Cleopatra to emmyly to Miuccia Prada and on to lesser known but equally fabulous figures (including Black couturier Anne Lowe, who made Jackie Kennedy’s wedding dress), Thurman’s subjects leap to fascinating life.
Known as “the dean of adventure writing,” the late David Roberts published more than 30 books. His final narrative relates the thrilling and arduous work of Henry George “Gino” Watkins, who in 1930 set out to organize a base camp on the Greenland ice cap, 8,200 feet above sea level — and shows how its maintenance put a team member in mortal danger. Could Watkins rescue him? The resulting narrative is better than almost any thriller.
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