We’ve further expanded the definition of AVQ&A—our Monday and Friday discussion prompts—by asking you (and two of our regular contributors) a simple question once per month: What have you read in the past month, or what are you currently reading? If you have suggestions for AVQ&A questions, big or small, you can e-mail them to us here.
Among the notable May new book releases: Sidney Poitier makes his fiction debut with Montaro Caine, a novel about how a baby born with a coin in her hand changes life, and the perception of life, for a loosely connected group of people. Sounds downright odd, but intriguingly ambitious for someone coming to fiction for the first time after such a long and successful career in another field entirely. Dan Savage returns to books with American Savage: Insights, Slights, And Fights On Faith, Sex, Love, And Politics, which pretty much describes itself. Previous mega-bestsellers Dan Brown (The DaVinci Code) and Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner) are back with new novels, each of which remain firmly in the author’s established wheelhouse. The Brown book, Inferno, is yet another world-hopping thriller in which Harvard symbology professor Robert Langdon investigates another familiar artwork—this time, Dante’s Inferno—and blah blah something “Langdon races to find answers and decide whom to trust… before the world is irrevocably altered.” The Hosseini novel, And The Mountains Echoed, starts with a Middle Eastern fable about family and sacrifice, then sprawls outward to connect the story’s themes with a large cast of characters around the globe. And there’s a new high-end John Le Carré political thriller, A Delicate Truth, plus Christopher Tolkien exhumes another incomplete J.R.R. Tolkien project, a narrative poem about King Arthur, and bundles it with his father’s notes for The Fall Of Arthur. We have reviews of all these planned, plus a not-exactly-enthusiastic look at Paul Samuel Dolman’s previously self-published Hitchhiking With Larry David, about encounters with the comedian.
It was a busy reading month for me, starting with Joe Hill’s thoroughly enjoyable NOS4A2, which also prompted me to re-read Stephen King’s Christine, just to see how father and son dealt with the idea of an evil, jealous, animate car similarly and differently. Christine is underrated early King—the storytelling is unbalanced, with plenty of Ray Bradbury reverie, heavy foreshadowing, and a narrator switch that pulls the story out of the seeming protagonist’s head a third of the way through, all of which slow down the narrative and make it read more like a mainstream literary novel about nostalgia for the ’50s than a pulp piece about a magic car. King sure does love his bloody mayhem, though. I also read, loved, and recommended Hugh Howey’s Wool, which was a smash in its initial self-published online form, then picked up and published in paperback by Simon & Schuster. It’s about a series of protagonists living in a giant silo in a post-apocalyptic future, but it doesn’t read like a post-apocalyptic story; it’s more a tale of political and personal clashes and of world-discovery. Protagonist amnesia has become old hat; it’s a convenient way to let readers learn about characters organically, because the characters are learning about themselves at the same time. Wool is a story of cultural amnesia, where an entire society that’s been kept in the dark about its own history and design slowly learns crucial facts about itself, taking readers along for the ride. It’s a rich novel and a breathless read, and I loved it. I wasn’t nearly as fond of David Sedaris’ Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls, but I’ll leave it to the reviewer to start that debate; a review should go up next Monday.
Currently, I’m reading Steelheart, a superhero novel by Brandon Sanderson, author of Elantris, the Mistborn series, and the post-Robert Jordan Wheel Of Time books. It’s a fun, fast-paced dark fantasy about a calamity that gives the world super-powered humans called Epics, who promptly brutalize the world and take it over for their own benefit. It’s a pretty absorbing light read with a series of clever turns, though my favorite part so far is a small touch: The protagonist, who sets out to join an underground rebellion and kill Steelheart, the invulnerable Epic who rules Chicago, was raised as child labor in a factory setting, and doesn’t have the cultural education to know common similes, so he tends to make up his own outsized, colorful ones, to the consternation of everyone around him. It’s a silly little touch, but Sanderson has a lot of fun with it. Random House actually approached us about hosting a sneak peek at the book’s first chapter, so look for that in May. No, it isn’t sponsored content, and no one’s paying us; it’s just some free fiction that I stumped for as a fun thing to post online. If you hate it, blame Sanderson first, then me.
Last year, I wrote about Kiera Cass’ The Selection for YA Why. A pulpy look at a dating show set in a dystopian world, the book is good, light-hearted summer fare, especially for fans of romance, global strife, or TV. The Selection was the first in a trilogy, and its sequel, The Elite, came out April 23. The Elite picks up where its predecessor left off, with protagonist America (for real, that’s her name) still in the running to marry Prince Maxon and be crowned princess of Illéa. She isn’t entirely sold on the idea, but she’s friendly with the prince, so she’s hanging in there, especially now that her secret crush from home, Aspen, is working as a palace guard. With rebel attacks continually threatening the palace and fellow contestants dropping like flies, America is more torn than ever between Aspen and Maxon, especially when she starts thinking that maybe Maxon isn’t the benevolent leader he seems to be. It’s a campy but compelling read. The CW seems to think so as well, and is working on its second pilot around the series.
I primarily read silly showbiz books for work, books about the strange lives of curious people. But every once in a while, I want to be part of the cultural conversation and read something seemingly everyone has read, something with a cultural footprint at least a little bigger than the memoir Diff’rent Strokes’ Willis wrote about the various crack houses he ran. To that end, I have been tackling Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs, the mammoth, much-buzzed-about biography of the man whose charisma and relentless ambition changed the world and made a big old dent in the universe. I’m only about a third of the way through, but so far I’m finding it riveting. Isaacson writes about technological innovations in a way that makes complex ideas seem simple and accessible, but Steve Jobs is ultimately less a story about computers than it is a story about people, and how the same drive and enthusiasm that made Jobs a giant also made him a pretty awful boss and a difficult, often-abrasive human being. It’s an epic book about an epic life, and I am enjoying it tremendously.