Venice, 1459. London, 1953. The Republic of the Congo, 1964. Harlem, 1976. Travel through time with these titles and then tell us your thoughts. Enjoy classics and contemporary fiction. Also…Space!
Widowland by C.J. Carey
LONDON, 1953. Thirteen years have passed since England surrendered to the Nazis and formed a Grand Alliance with Germany. It was forced to adopt many of its oppressive ideologies, one of which was the strict classification of women into hierarchical groups based on the perceived value they brought to society.
Rose Ransom, a member of the privileged Geli class, remembers life from before the war but knows better than to let it show. She works for the Ministry of Culture, rewriting the classics of English literature to ensure there are no subversive thoughts that will give women any ideas.
Outbreaks of insurgency have been seen across the country with graffiti made up of seditious lines from forbidden works by women painted on public buildings. Suspicion has fallen on Widowland, the run-down slums where childless women over fifty have been banished. Rose is given the dangerous task of infiltrating Widowland to find the source of the rebellion before the Leader arrives in England for the Coronation ceremony of King Edward VIII and Queen Wallis.
Will Rose follow her instructions and uncover the criminals? Or will she fight for what she knows in her heart is right?
Breaking and Entering by Don Gillmor
Forty-nine and sweating through the hottest summer on record, Beatrice Billings is rudderless: her marriage is stale, her son communicates solely through cryptic text messages, her mother has dementia, and she conducts endless arguments with her older sister in her head. Toronto feels like an inadequately air-conditioned museum of its former self, and the same could be said of her life. She dreams of the past, her days as a newlywed, a new mom, a new homeowner gutting the kitchen—now the only novel experience that looms is the threat of divorce.
Everything changes when she googles “escape” and discovers the world of amateur lock-picking. Breaking into houses is thrilling: she’s subtle and discreet, never greedy, but as her curiosity about other people’s lives becomes a dangerous compulsion and the entire city feels a few degrees from boiling over, she realizes she must turn her guilty analysis on herself. A searingly insightful rendering of midlife among the anxieties of the early twenty-first century, Breaking and Entering is an exacting look at the fragility of all the things we take on faith.
Here Begins the Dark Sea by Meredith F. Small
In 1459 a Venetian monk named Fra Mauro completed an astonishing map of the world. Seven feet in diameter, Fra Mauro’s mappamundi is the oldest and most complete Medieval map to survive into modernity. And in its time, this groundbreaking mappamundi provided the most detailed description of the known world, incorporating accurate observation, and geographic reality, urging viewers to see water and land as they really existed. Fra Mauro’s map was the first in history to show that a ship could circumnavigate Africa, and that the Indian “Sea” was in fact an ocean, enabling international trade to expand across the globe. Acclaimed anthropologist Meredith F. Small reveals how Fra Mauro’s mappamundi made cartography into a science rather than a practice based on religion and ancient myths.
Here Begins the Dark Sea brings Fra Mauro’s masterpiece to life as a work of art and a window into Venetian society and culture. In telling the story of this cornerstone of modern cartography, Small takes the reader on a fascinating journey as she explores the human urge to find our way. Here Begins the Dark Sea is a riveting testament to the undeniable impact Fra Mauro and his mappamundi have had over the past five centuries and still holds relevance today.
Crook Manifesto by Colson Whitehead
It’s 1971. Trash piles up on the streets, crime is at an all-time high, the city is careening towards bankruptcy, and a shooting war has broken out between the NYPD and the Black Liberation Army. Amidst this collective nervous breakdown furniture store owner and ex-fence Ray Carney tries to keep his head down and his business thriving. His days moving stolen goods around the city are over. It’s strictly the straight-and-narrow for him–until he needs Jackson 5 tickets for his daughter May and he decides to hit up his old police contact Munson, fixer extraordinaire. But Munson has his own favors to ask of Carney and staying out of the game gets a lot more complicated–and deadly.
1973. The counter-culture has created a new generation, the old ways are being overthrown, but there is one constant, Pepper, Carney’s endearingly violent partner in crime. It’s getting harder to put together a reliable crew for hijackings, heists and assorted felonies, so Pepper takes on a side gig doing security on a Blaxploitation shoot in Harlem. He finds himself in a freaky world of Hollywood stars, up-and-coming comedians, and celebrity drug dealers, in addition to the usual cast of hustlers, mobsters and hit men. These adversaries underestimate the seasoned crook–to their regret.
1976. Harlem is burning, block by block, while the whole county is gearing up for Bicentennial celebrations. Carney is trying to come up with a July 4th ad he can live with. (“Two Hundred Years of Getting Away with It!”), while his wife Elizabeth is campaigning for her childhood friend, the former assistant D.A. and rising politician Alexander Oakes. When a fire severely injures one of Carney’s tenants, he enlists Pepper to look into who may be behind it. Our crooked duo have to battle their way through a crumbling metropolis run by the shady, the violent and the utterly corrupted.
Crook Manifesto is a darkly funny tale of a city under siege, but also a sneakily searching portrait of the meaning of family. Colson Whitehead’s kaleidoscopic portrait of Harlem is sure to stand as one of the all-time great evocations of a place and a time.
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson, trans. Thomas Teal
In The Summer Book Tove Jansson distills the essence of the summer—its sunlight and storms—into twenty-two crystalline vignettes. This brief novel tells the story of Sophia, a six-year-old girl awakening to existence, and Sophia’s grandmother, nearing the end of hers, as they spend the summer on a tiny unspoiled island in the Gulf of Finland. The grandmother is unsentimental and wise, if a little cranky; Sophia is impetuous and volatile, but she tends to her grandmother with the care of a new parent. Together they amble over coastline and forest in easy companionship, build boats from bark, create a miniature Venice, write a fanciful study of local bugs. They discuss things that matter to young and old alike: life, death, the nature of God and of love. “On an island,” thinks the grandmother, “everything is complete.” In The Summer Book, Jansson creates her own complete world, full of the varied joys and sorrows of life.
Tove Jansson, whose Moomintroll comic strip and books brought her international acclaim, lived for much of her life on an island like the one described in The Summer Book, and the work can be enjoyed as her closely observed journal of the sounds, sights, and feel of a summer spent in intimate contact with the natural world.
Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker
Dorothy Baker’s entrancing tragicomic novella follows an unpredictable course of events in which her heroine appears variously as conniving, self-aware, pitiful, frenzied, absurd, and heartbroken—at once utterly impossible and tremendously sympathetic. As she struggles to come to terms with the only life she has, Cassandra reckons with her complicated feelings about the sister who she feels owes it to her to be her alter ego; with her father, a brandy-soaked retired professor of philosophy; and with the ghost of her dead mother.
First published in 1962, Cassandra at the Wedding is a book of enduring freshness, insight, and verve. Like the fiction of Jeffrey Eugenides and Jhumpa Lahiri, it is the work of a master stylist with a profound understanding of the complexities of the heart and mind.
The Little Book of Exoplanets by Joshua Winn
For centuries, people have speculated about the possibility of planets orbiting distant stars, but only since the 1990s has technology allowed astronomers to detect them. At this point, more than five thousand such exoplanets have been identified, with the pace of discovery accelerating after the launch of NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite and the Webb Space Telescope. In The Little Book of Exoplanets, Princeton astrophysicist Joshua Winn offers a brief and engaging introduction to the search for exoplanets and the cutting-edge science behind recent findings. In doing so, he chronicles the dawn of a new age of discovery—one that has rapidly transformed astronomy and our broader understanding of the universe.
Scientists now know that many Sun-like stars host their own systems of planets, some of which may resemble our solar system and include planets similar to the Earth. But, Winn tells us, the most remarkable discoveries so far have been of planets with unexpected and decidedly un-Earth-like properties, which have upended what we thought we knew about the origins of planetary systems. Winn provides an inside view of the sophisticated detective work astronomers perform as they find and study exoplanets and describes the surprising—sometimes downright bizarre—planets and systems they have found. He explains how these discoveries are revolutionizing astronomy, and he explores the current status and possible future of the search for another Earth. Finally, drawing on his own and other scientists’ work, he considers how the discovery of exoplanets and their faraway solar systems changes our perspectives on the universe and our place in it.
Austral by Carlos Fonseca, trans. Megan McDowell
Julio is a disillusioned professor of literature, a perpetual wanderer who has spent years away from his home, teaching in the United States. He receives a posthumous summons from an old friend, the writer Aliza Abravanel, to uncover the mysteries within her final novel. Aliza had raced to finish her work as her mind deteriorated. In her manuscript is a series of interconnected accounts of loss, tales that set Julio hurtling on a journey to uncover their true meaning. Austral tracks Julio’s trip from Aliza’s home in an Argentine artists’ colony to a forgotten city in Guatemala, to the Peruvian Amazon, and through Nueva Germania, the antisemitic commune in Paraguay founded by Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche.
A story of mourning and return-to one’s native country, to one’s darkest memories, to oneself Carlos Fonseca’s Austral interrogates the obsessions and upheavals faced by survivors of a rapidly globalizing world. A treasure map of intertwined experiences, each cleaving its own path through time, the novel is a fascinating investigation into the disappearance of culture and memory and a charting of the furthest limits of what language can do. With this remarkable exploration of the traces we leave behind, chose we erase, and how we seek to rebuild, Carlos Fonseca confirms his status as one of the most powerful voices in contemporary Latin American literature.
First Blood by Amélie Nothomb, trans. Alison Anderson
The Republic of the Congo, 1964. A young man faces a firing squad, preparing for his last moment on Earth. He is known as a complex and complicated man whose childhood left him hungry for affection and attention and who transformed his emotional wounds into a brilliant career as a diplomat and a negotiator. Now he finds himself negotiating for his own life, together with the lives of 1,500 Congolese citizens.
Inspired by the life of her father and by her lifelong effort to understand him, Amélie Nothomb’s new novel is about life-and-death decisions, about reckoning with one’s past, reconciling with one’s parents, and about the hard, often humorous work of determining one’s own path.
How to Love Your Daughter by Hila Blum, trans. Daniella Zamir
Thousands of miles from home, a woman stands on a dark street, peeking through well-lit windows at two little girls. They are the grandchildren she’s never met, daughters of the daughter she has not seen in years.
At the center of this mesmerizing story is the woman’s quest to understand how a relationship that began in bliss—a mother besotted with her only child—arrived at a point of such unfathomable distance. Weaving back and forth in time, she unravels memories and long-buried feelings, retracing the infinite acts of parental care, each so mundane and apparently benign, that in ensemble may have undermined what she most treasured. With exquisite psychological precision, Blum traces the seemingly insignificant missteps and deceptions of family life, where it’s possible to cross the line between protectiveness and possession without even seeing it—and uncertain whether, or how, we can find our way back.