Everything from the serious to the goofy in this week’s anticipated reads.
Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli by Mark Seal
The story of how The Godfather was made is as dramatic, operatic, and entertaining as the film itself. Over the years, many versions of various aspects of the movie’s fiery creation have been told—sometimes conflicting, but always compelling. Mark Seal sifts through the evidence, has extensive new conversations with director Francis Ford Coppola and several heretofore silent sources, and complements them with colorful interviews with key players including actors Al Pacino, James Caan, Talia Shire, and others for irresistible insights into how the movie whose success some initially doubted roared to glory.
On top of the usual complications of filmmaking, the creators of The Godfather had to contend with the real-life members of its subject matter: the Mob. During production of the movie, location permits were inexplicably revoked, author Mario Puzo got into a public brawl with an irate Frank Sinatra, producer Al Ruddy’s car was found riddled with bullets, men with “connections” vied to be in the cast, and some were given film roles.
Due October 19
Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout
Through her “careful words and reverberating silences” (The New York Times), Elizabeth Strout has long captured readers’ hearts with her spare, exquisite insights on family, relationships, and loss. And never has her “perfect attunement to the human condition” (Hilary Mantel) been so evident as in these pages, as Strout’s iconic heroine Lucy Barton, of My Name Is Lucy Barton, recounts her complex, tender relationship with William, her first husband–and longtime, on-again-off-again friend and confidant. Recalling their college years, through the birth of their daughters, the painful dissolution of their marriage, and the lives they built with other people, Strout weaves a portrait, stunning in its subtlety, of a decades-long partnership.
A masterful exploration of human empathy, Oh William! captures the joy and pain of watching children grow up and start families of their own; of discovering family secrets, late in life, that rearrange everything we think we know about those closest to us; and the way people live and love, despite the variety of obstacles we face in doing so. And at the heart of this story is the unforgettable, indomitable voice of Lucy Barton, who once again offers a profound, lasting reflection on the very nature of existence. “This is the way of life,” Lucy says. “The many things we do not know until it is too late.”
Due October 19
The Long War by David Loyn
Three American presidents tried to defeat the Taliban—sending 150,000 international troops at the war’s peak with a trillion-dollar price tag. But early policy mistakes that allowed Osama bin Laden to escape made the task far more difficult. Deceived by easy victories, they backed ruthless corrupt local allies and misspent aid.
The story of The Long War is told by the generals who led it through the hardest years of combat as surges of international troops tried to turn the tide. Generals, which include David Petraeus, Stanley McChrystal, Joe Dunford and John Allen, were tested in battle as never before. With the reputation of a “warrior monk,” McChrystal was considered one of the most gifted military leaders of his generation. He was one of two generals to be fired in this most public of commands.
The fourth president to take on the war, Joe Biden ordered troops to withdraw in 2021, twenty years after 9/11, just as the Taliban achieved victory, leaving behind an unstable nation and an unforeseeable future.
Due September 21
Reprieve by James Han Mattson
On April 27, 1997, four contestants make it to the final cell of the Quigley House, a full-contact haunted escape room in Lincoln, Nebraska, made famous for its monstrosities, booby-traps, and ghoulishly costumed actors. If the group can endure these horrors without shouting the safe word, “reprieve,” they’ll win a substantial cash prize—a startling feat accomplished only by one other group in the house’s long history. But before they can complete the challenge, a man breaks into the cell and kills one of the contestants.
Those who were present on that fateful night lend their points of view: Kendra Brown, a teenager who’s been uprooted from her childhood home after the sudden loss of her father; Leonard Grandton, a desperate and impressionable hotel manager caught in a series of toxic entanglements; and Jaidee Charoensuk, a gay international student who came to the United States in a besotted search for his former English teacher. As each character’s journey unfurls and overlaps, deceit and misunderstandings, fuelled by obsession and prejudice, are revealed, forcing all to reckon with the ways in which their beliefs and actions contributed to a horrifying catastrophe.
Due October 5
Black Paper by Teju Cole
“Darkness is not empty,” writes Teju Cole in Black Paper, a book that meditates on what it means to sustain our humanity—and witness the humanity of others—in a time of darkness. One of the most celebrated essayists of his generation, Cole here plays variations on the essay form, modeling ways to attend to experience—not just to take in but to think critically about what we sense and what we don’t.
Wide-ranging but thematically unified, the essays address ethical questions about what it means to be human and what it means to bear witness, recognizing how our individual present is informed by a collective past. Cole’s writings in Black Paper approach the fractured moment of our history through a constellation of interrelated concerns: confrontation with unsettling art, elegies both public and private, the defense of writing in a time of political upheaval, the role of the color black in the visual arts, the use of shadow in photography, and the links between literature and activism. Throughout, Cole gives us intriguing new ways of thinking about blackness and its numerous connotations. As he describes the carbon-copy process in his epilogue: “Writing on the top white sheet would transfer the carbon from the black paper onto the bottom white sheet. Black transported the meaning.”
Due October 22
Exteriors by Annie Ernaux
In this novel, which takes the form of journal entries made over the course of seven years, Annie Ernaux concentrates on the ephemeral encounters that take place just on the periphery of a person’s lived environment. She captures the feeling of contemporary living on the outskirts of a great city: tortured, chaotic, lyrical, and powerfully alive.
Exteriors is in many ways the most ecstatic of Ernaux’s books–the first in which she appears largely free of the haunting personal relationships she has written about so powerfully elsewhere, and the first in which she is able to leave the past behind her.
Due October 19
Disorientation by Ian Williams
With that one eloquent word, disorientation, Ian Williams captures the impact of racial encounters on racialized people—the whiplash of race that occurs while minding one’s own business. Sometimes the consequences are only irritating, but sometimes they are deadly. Spurred by the police killings and street protests of 2020, Williams realized he could offer a perspective distinct from the almost exclusively America-centric books on race topping the bestseller lists, because of one salient fact: he has lived in Trinidad (where he was never the only Black person in the room), in Canada (where he often was), and in the United States (where as a Black man from the Caribbean, he was a different kind of “only”).
Inspired by the essays of James Baldwin, in which the personal becomes the gateway to larger ideas, Williams explores such things as the unmistakable moment when a child realizes they are Black; the ten characteristics of institutional whiteness; how friendship forms a bulwark against being a target of racism; the meaning and uses of a Black person’s smile; and blame culture—or how do we make meaningful change when no one feels responsible for the systemic structures of the past. With these essays, Williams wants to reach a multi-racial audience of people who believe that civil conversation on even the most charged subjects is possible. Examining the past and the present in order to speak to the future, he offers new thinking, honest feeling, and his astonishing, piercing gift of language.
Due September 21
I Will Die in a Foreign Land by Kalani Pickhart
In 1913, Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring premiered at the new Théâtre de Champs-Elysées in Paris. The work so perplexed audiences that a riot broke out. “Only a Russian could do that,” says Aleksandr Ivanovich. “Only a Russian could make the whole world go mad.”
A century later, in November 2013, thousands of Ukrainian citizens gathered at Independence Square in Kyiv to protest then-President Yanukovych’s failure to sign a referendum with the European Union, opting instead to forge a closer alliance with President Vladimir Putin and Russia. The peaceful protests turned violent when military police shot live ammunition into the crowd, killing over a hundred civilians.
I Will Die in a Foreign Land follows four individuals over the course of a volatile Ukrainian winter, as their lives are forever changed by the Euromaidan protests. Katya is a Ukrainian-American doctor stationed at a makeshift medical clinic in St. Michael’s Monastery; Misha is an engineer originally from Pripyat, who has lived in Kyiv since his wife’s death; Slava is a fiery young activist whose past hardships steel her determination in the face of persecution; and Aleksandr Ivanovich, a former KGB agent, climbs atop a burned-out police bus at Independence Square and plays the piano.
As Katya, Misha, Slava, and Aleksandr’s lives become intertwined, they each seek their own solace during an especially tumultuous and violent period.
Due October 29
Permanent Astonishment by Tomson Highway
Tomson Highway was born in a snowbank on an island in the sub-Arctic, the eleventh of twelve children in a nomadic, caribou-hunting Cree family. Growing up in a land of ten thousand lakes and islands, Tomson relished being pulled by dogsled beneath a night sky alive with stars, sucking the juices from roasted muskrat tails, and singing country music songs with his impossibly beautiful older sister and her teenaged friends. Surrounded by the love of his family and the vast, mesmerizing landscape they called home, his was in many ways an idyllic far-north childhood.
But five of Tomson’s siblings died in childhood, and Balazee and Joe Highway, who loved their surviving children profoundly, wanted their two youngest sons, Tomson and Rene, to enjoy opportunities as big as the world. And so when Tomson was six, he was flown south by float plane to attend a residential school. A year later Rene joined him to begin the rest of their education. In 1990 Rene Highway, a world-renowned dancer, died of an AIDS-related illness.
Permanent Astonishment is Tomson’s extravagant embrace of his younger brother’s final words: “Don’t mourn me, be joyful.”
Due September 28
Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth by Wole Soyinka
In an imaginary Nigeria, a cunning entrepreneur is selling body parts stolen from Dr. Menka’s hospital for use in ritualistic practices. Dr. Menka shares the grisly news with his oldest college friend, bon viveur, star engineer, and Yoruba royal, Duyole Pitan-Payne. The life of every party, Duyole is about to assume a prestigious post at the United Nations in New York, but it now seems that someone is determined that he not make it there. And neither Dr. Menka nor Duyole knows why, or how close the enemy is, or how powerful.
Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth is a stirring call to arms against the abuse of power from one of our fiercest political activists, who also happens to be a global literary giant.
Due September 28