Jo Hamya’s perceptive and acidic Three Rooms springs from Virginia Woolf’s observation, “A woman must have money and a room of her own,” chronicling the year in the life of an unnamed British scholar as she shuttles among three rooms while attempting to launch her career. From the room in Oxford where she finishes up her academic career, to renting space on a couch while she ekes out a precarious existence as a copywriter at a society magazine, to a room in her childhood home, Hamya charts her protagonist’s attempt at financial independence with wit, compassion, and uncompromising insight. The result is a rich exploration of a character’s inner life as well as a sharp social critique of early twenty-first century Britain. Critics have met Hamya’s debut novel with universal acclaim, with The New York Times Book Review saying it “invokes the reality of living in a world where a reasonable demand is resolutely categorized as unreasonable” and The Boston Globe calling it “an excellent evisceration of contemporary life.” She spoke to us about Woolf’s influence, treating the internet as a physical space, and how poetry helped shape her narrator’s voice.
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Elinor Lipman On How The Secret Service, An Optometrist, and Shirley Maclaine Helped Craft Her Delightful New Comedy of Manners
In Rachel to the Rescue, Elinor Lipman’s effervescent new novel, the astute and observant Rachel finds herself in a dead end job in the White House Office of Records Management, archiving the various paperwork President Trump rips up by painstakingly taping them back together. One night, made over-confident by too much alcohol, Rachel inadvertently sends an all-staff email eviscerating her job’s pointlessness and tediousness. The next morning, Rachel is promptly fired. Yet when she crosses the street she’s hit by a car, the driver of which is a mysterious figure en route to a clandestine meeting with the President. Recovering from her concussion, Rachel finds herself thrust into a new world, working for an inept investigative journalist, fending off overprotective parents, and navigating a new relationship with the charming proprietor of the wine store near her apartment. The result is a delightful comedy of manners that mixes political intrigue with deeply felt relationships.
As a teenager, Arezu, an Iranian American teenager, visited Marbella in an attempt to reconnect with her estranged father. Her father failed to materialize, however, instead sending Arezu money via his new wife’s nephew, Omar, a forty-year-old Lebanese man. Two decades later, Arezu still grapples with the aftershocks of her complicated relationship with Omar that summer, one which shadows every other aspect of her life. When she inherits her father’s apartment, she returns to Marbella with her best friend, Ellie, an Israeli American professor. Confronted with the physical space of her most traumatic experiences, Arezu attempts to reconstruct the events of that summer from an adult perspective, in hopes that she can finally give words to a relationship that she has never been able to describe. In Savage Tongues, Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi plumbs the depths of a character’s psyche, while giving the reader a thrilling glimpse of the political, religious, and philosophical components of women’s friendship. Critics have heaped praise on Savage Tongues, with Vulture calling it a “a love story of the most fevered, brutal order,” and Refinery29 hailing it as “a hauntingly beautiful depiction of the way past traumas grip at our insides, threatening to tear us apart years after we’ve experienced them.”
Nicole Glover on Pocket Diaries, Floating Books, and Creating the Fantastical World of her Debut Novel
With The Conductors, Nicole Glover creates a fascinating alternate reality—a Reconstruction-era Philadelphia where magic exists and is regulated by the government—in which readers will want to get lost. Hettie Rhodes, a former conductor on the Underground Railroad, spends her days working as an in-demand seamstress and her nights as a detective, tackling the cases that the white police force ignore. Hettie is aided in her pursuits by her husband, Benjy, a former Conductor like Hettie but now a gifted blacksmith. When an acquaintance is murdered, Hettie and Benjy dive into an investigation that causes them to explore the many facets of Black Philadelphia, while also confronting dormant issues in their relationship and events from their past. In her debut novel, Glover confidently creates a complex world rooted in real-life history, as well as a gift for empathetically delving into the interior lives of her characters. She talked with us about filling in the lives of her supporting characters, her research process, and what the future holds for Hettie and Benjy.
Laura Blackett and Eve Gleichman on Co-Writing a Novel, Google Doc Etiquette, and Creating the Most Unexpected Relationship of the Summer
Ava Simon has insulated herself from the trauma of the death of her girlfriend by throwing herself into her job at STÄDA, a minimalist Scandinavian design company in Brooklyn. Her ordered world, however, is thrown into tumult when her charismatic new boss, Mat Putnam, wiggles his way into her personal life. Overconfident and gregarious, Mat appears to be everything Ava is not, a Golden Retriever in human form. The two strike up a surprising relationship, and for the first time since her girlfriend’s death, Ava surprises herself by developing romantic feelings for another person. Yet Mat contains secrets of his own, and as Ava begins to pull at the threads of his facade she threatens to unravel her hard-won happiness. Laura Blackett and Eve Gleichman’s A Very Nice Box is a gleeful satire of relationships and start-up culture, as well as an incisive examination of grief and male entitlement, one that has earned plaudits from critics. The New York Times Book Review raved about the book, stating “the book’s authors, Laura Blackett and Eve Gleichman, are linguistic magicians, and their sparkling debut manages to expose the hollowness of well-being jargon while exploring, with tender care and precision, how we dare to move on after unspeakable loss.” Blackett and Gleichman talked to us about their unconventional writing process, creating the richly detailed world of their novel, and creating one of the most unanticipated relationships of the summer.
When Dennis McCarthy approached Michael Blanding after an author event for Blanding’s last book, the journalist little knew that he was about to embark on a research project that would take him all over Britain and Italy in pursuit of an unconventional theory about the source material for Shakespeare’s plays. McCarthy, a charismatic independent Shakespearean scholar, was eager to investigate the life of Thomas North, a sixteenth century courtier and scholar who McCarthy believed wrote a series of plays that Shakespeare later used as the basis for his own work. An initially reluctant Blanding was persuaded to follow McCarthy when part of McCarthy’s prodigious research was published in a book he co-wrote with Shakespearean scholar June Schlueter. Blanding and McCarthy found themselves in England and Italy, retracing different trips North took that McCarthy believed influenced the plays he wrote and investigating firsthand documents in libraries. The resulting book, North by Shakespeare: A Rogue Scholar’s Quest for the Truth Behind the Bard’s Work, is a wildly entertaining read that illuminates a forgotten figure in British history and brings the political intrigue of sixteenth century England to rip-roaring life. Critics have been equally enthusiastic over North by Shakespeare as they were with Blanding’s last book, the NPR Book of the Year The Map Thief: The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps. The Christian Science Monitor raved, “The book likewise does a virtuoso job of evoking both the realities of Shakespeare’s world and the twists and turns of the whole Shakespeare question” and Publishers Weekly praised it, saying, “Shakespeare fans and readers who enjoy the thrill of a good bibliographic treasure hunt will want to check this out.”
Jonathan Parks-Ramage on Subverting the Expectations of Genre and the ‘Fever Dream’ of His New Novel
Jonathan Parks-Ramage’s debut novel Yes, Daddy is an unnerving examination of the relationship between Jonah, a young writer struggling in New York City, and Richard, an incredibly wealthy, much-lauded middle-aged playwright. Jonah, who is barely able to make ends meet working at a restaurant for an abusive boss, is initially swept away by Richard’s lavish lifestyle and career full of accolades. Their idyllic romance turns dark, however, when Richard invites Jonah to his opulent compound in the Hamptons. Jonah, awed by the cultural glitterati who pop by for Richard’s wild weekend parties, overlooks several ominous signs, including the compound’s forbidding iron gates and the bruises that appear on the bodies of the handsome young men who serve as Richard’s staff. Yet after a fallout with Richard, Jonah finds himself plunged into a terrifying situation, one that forces him to confront some of the darkest moments from his past. In Yes, Daddy, Parks-Ramage deftly hops among multiple genres to spin an unsettling tale of abuse, betrayal, and atonement, crafting a story that will enthrall critics and readers alike.
Brian Broome on Gwendolyn Brooks, Giving Everybody the Benefit of the Doubt, and Why He Loves Writing on the Bus
Brian Broome’s triumphant memoir Punch Me Up to the Gods heralds the arrival of an extraordinary new writer. In essays of searing wit and compassion, Broome leads the reader through growing up Black and gay in rural Ohio, examining his relationship with his pragmatic mother and defeated father. As a young adult, he moves to Pittsburgh. The city affords him the community he had long sought growing up, but also causes him to confront his issues with addiction and past traumas. In every essay, Broome’s joyful empathy shines through, as he unflinchingly recollects the darkest moments of his life with sensitivity and good humor. Broome’s book has been met with glowing praise by fellow writers and critics. The New York Times Book Review stated, “Punch Me Up to the Gods feels like a gift,” and Kiese Laymon said, “Punch Me Up to the Gods obliterates what we thought were the limitations of not just the American memoir, but the possibilities of the American paragraph. I’m not sure a book has ever had me sobbing, punching the air, dying of laughter, and needing to write as much as Brian Broome’s staggering debut.”
Norman Ohler’s The Bohemians: The Lovers Who Led Germany’s Resistance Against the Nazis brings to light two fascinating figures in Germany’s anti-Nazi resistance movement, Harro Schulze-Boysen and Libertas Haas-Heye. The two lovers began a passionate courtship in 1934 that soon led to a very unconventional marriage. As a student activist, Harro had long been a vocal critic of the Nazi party, and his outspoken dissent had caused him to be imprisoned and tortured by the Nazis for a brief time. Undeterred by his horrific treatment, he resolved to bring the Nazi Party down. As a member of Germany’s Air Force ministry, he funneled air strike plans to the Allies, and later was a key source of information surrounding Nazi atrocities to the Allies. He and Libertas quickly became key figures in the resistance movement, strategizing methods of amplifying the message of the resistance movement and bolstering support among their myriad networks, chiefly in the Bohemian community. Ohler’s The Bohemians is a rigorously researched account of Harro and Libetras’ dazzling lifestyle, transporting the reader from glittering cocktail parties in Berlin to clandestine Resistance meetings. Ohler’s work has been showered with praise, with The New York Times Book Review calling The Bohemians “a detailed and meticulously researched tale… that reads like a thriller.”
“I Want Ordinary Americans to Feel Like They Have a Stake in How the Constitution is Interpreted and Developed” – Jamal Greene on the Role Rights Play in the U.S. Legal System
Rights have always been an integral part of the American identity. In his compelling new book, How Rights Went Wrong: Why Our Obsession with Rights Is Tearing America Apart, legal scholar Jamal Greene examines the evolving role rights have played in U.S. legal history. Commencing with how the Framers of the Constitution originally viewed the role of rights in the judicial process, Greene guides the reader through key moments in U.S. legal history to study the increasingly divisive status rights have assumed over time. In considering key cases and historical figures, Greene studies the polarizing effect rights have had on the country’s culture, and posits the changes necessary in order to move away from the current binary definition of rights. Greene, the Dwight Professor of Law at Columbia University’s Law School, has earned high praise for his first book. Of How Rights Went Wrong, Publishers Weekly raved, “Greene delves deeply into the legal, cultural, and political matters behind rights conflicts, and laces his account with feisty legal opinions and colorful character sketches” and past president of the ACLU Nadine Strossen hailed it as “fastidiously researched and immensely readable.”
At first glance, the fiercely loving family at the heart of Hala Alyan’s extraordinary The Arsonists’ City has it all. The parents, Idris and Mazna, lead a life of upper-class comfort in California, while their three children pursue seemingly glamorous careers in Brooklyn, Austin, and Beirut. Yet the family is thrown into disarray when Idris impulsively decides to sell his family home in Beirut following the death of his father. Mazna, a former actress in her native Syria, uses her formidable charm and political skills to summon all three children to the family man for one last visit to the ancestral manse. Yet once reunited, long held family secrets erupt, threatening to upend the fragile peace among family members and causing everyone to reckon with uncomfortable truths in their own personal lives.
Amy Gentry on Toxic Workplaces, How to Construct the Perfect Plot Twist, and Why Grad School is the Perfect Place to Become a Villain
Amy Gentry’s engrossing Bad Habits digs into the dark recesses of academia, pulling apart the long lasting aftershocks of a toxic relationship among a dynamic professor and the two star students in her graduate program. When we first meet Mac, she’s living a seemingly glamorous life in academia, headlining conferences and on the verge of interviewing for her dream job. Yet she’s brought up short when she unexpectedly runs into her former best friend Gwen at a hotel bar. The two haven’t spoken since Gwen left their graduate program nearly a decade earlier, and the reunion stirs up dark memories of the past that Mac has long since suppressed. As high school students, they formed an intense bond over their shared appreciation of beauty and art, despite coming from wildly different backgrounds. Mac’s childhood was marked by her mother’s struggles with addiction and financial issues, while Gwen came from a world of near unimaginable wealth. Later as doctoral students in an elite graduate program, they fell under the thrall of a brilliant professor, Bethany, whose iron-like grip on her students’ lives shapes the ultimate fates of both Gwen and Mac. With spiky humor and exquisite plotting, Gentry crafts a twisty tale that explores the surprising and brutal ways a person’s past may bump against their present life.
Te-Ping Chen on the Land of Oz, Writing as a Secret Self, and the Stray Wonderings that Inspire Her Stories
Each of the stories in Te-Ping Chen’s phenomenal debut collection, Land of Big Numbers, plunge the reader into the often fantastical lives of her memorable characters. With wit, grace, and compassion, Chen brings each character fully to life, from a lovestruck flower vender who accidentally comes into possession of an expensive fountain pen to an […]
Mateo Askaripour on Mob Movies, James Baldwin, and the Book that Gave Him Permission to Not Hold Back
Four years after graduating as valedictorian from Bronx High School of Science, Darren Vender coasts through life as manager of a Starbucks in the lobby of a New York skyscraper. He spends his free time hanging out with his childhood sweetheart, Soraya, and best friend, Jason, while evading his mother’s persistent questions about his future. An unexpected career path opens up for him, however, when he impulsively up-sells one of the high profile executives who frequent his store. Soon Darren finds himself thrust into the high-pressure (and very white) start-up world, scrambling to learn a new skill set as a member of their elite sales team while dodging his racist co-workers’ attempts to sabotage him. Darren’s considerable sales acumen quickly vaults him into a world of unimaginable opulence, one that pushes him farther away from his family, friends, and neighborhood. When a tragic event upends Darren’s life, Darren finds unexpected purpose by launching an underground plot to recruit and train a more diverse sales force. With his debut novel Black Buck, Mateo Askaripour has crafted a riotously funny dissection of race, corporate culture, and the American Dream that is also one of the most anticipated books of 2021. The Washington Post called it “an irresistible comic novel about the tenacity of racism in corporate America” and Entertainment Weekly hailed it as “a combination of character study, searing indictment of all the problematics of white corporate culture, and some good old-fashioned enjoyable sarcasm.”
Violet Swan, the luminous centerpiece of Deborah Reed’s Pale Morning Light With Violet Swan, finds herself at age ninety-three closing down on life, still active as a renowned abstract artist and doted on by her son, Francisco, and his wife, Penny. Yet when an earthquake upends her idyllic community in coastal Oregon, Violet and her family are forced to confront some complicated truths that have long been ignored. Matters are further complicated with the arrival of Violet’s grandson, Daniel, who brings with him his own secrets that force Violet to reckon with traumatic events of her past, the details of which her family is unaware. Through it all, Reed charts the ever-shifting family relationships with wit and compassion, nimbly jumping between past to present, and constructing one of 2020’s most memorable characters with the enigmatic and ethereal Violet. Critics and authors alike have praised Pale Morning Light with Violet Swan. Booklist hailed it as “a poised, multilayered portrait of a complex life,” and Margaret Renkl called it “a beautiful, shimmering, heart-lifting testament to the power of memory and love and art.”