The Temptressby Paul Spicer
A true story of glamour, scandal, and murder in colonial Africa.
The Temptress may be nonfiction, but the world it describes is straight out of Fitzgerald: Alice de Janzé, Spicer’s mother’s friend, was a millionaire heiress from Chicago. After scandalizing Paris by leaving her aristocratic French husband for an English playboy, and then shooting that playboy in the Gare du Nord, she fled to “Happy Valley,” a decadent colonial enclave in Kenya, where she began an affair with her friend’s husband, Lord Erroll. Lord Erroll was shot and his murderer never found. Paul Spicer, whose mother was De Janzé’s confidante, sets out to prove she did it in this book. The Times of London calls it “a good quick read.”
The Surf Guruby Doug Dorst
An often hilarious collection of short stories.
The Surf Guru—the follow-up to Doug Dorst’s highly celebrated debut novel, Alive in Necropolis—is a short-story collection that shows the author at his best. And most entertainingly ranging. The title story, for example, provides a hilarious, yet fragmented, look at the CEO of a surfboard company as he sips Chianti on his ocean-side deck and watches surfers wearing his company’s gear. Then there’s the story “Dianburg’s Cake,” in which a rejected chef bonds with her daughter through hard times. And there are tales of drunken debaucheries, too, like “Vikings” and “What Is Mine Will Know My Face.” As The Austin Chronicle’s Kimberley Jones writes of the stories, “The fineness of the language, the specificity of the worlds created within, and the astonishing, deeply imaginative variedness of them are all that link the stories, which experiment with form, with subject, with tone.”
The Cookbook Collectorby Allegra Goodman
A novel about greed—and money—during the dot-com boom.
Set during the height of dot-com hysteria, The Cookbook Collector tells the story of two sisters with divergent lives, two pairs of lovers with conflicting values, and an almost too-full cast of other characters as they deal with the gold-rush of those years. “What a strange effect money or the idea of money had on people,” Goodman writes, as her characters, one sister a CEO of her own startup and the other a tree-hugging philosophy major working in a bookstore, discover that navigating love and career can be a collision course full of surprising misjudgments and ironies. Goodman has been called the Jane Austen of our time and, according to Publishers Weekly, her “subtle, astute social comedies perfectly capture the quirks of human nature.” This book is a testament to that.
The Disappearing Spoonby Sam Kean
A science book you didn’t have to get beaten up in high school to read.
Although the last memory of the Periodic Table most of us have is from high-school chemistry, Sam Kean’s The Disappearing Spoon is a fresh look at the elements that make up our world. Framing them in a historical and practical perspective, Kean uses his training in literature and the sciences to make the subject come alive. Adeptly avoiding any dryness, the book is peppered with anecdotes about the elements’ application and the surprisingly colorful scientists who were involved in their discovery and development. Leaving no substance in the table unexplored, the former schoolteacher provides interesting and sometimes startling facts about the building blocks of the universe. Now a Washington D.C. based correspondent for Science magazine, The Disappearing Spoon is Sam Kean’s first book, and has already garnered rave reviews. As Publishers Weekly said, “Kean writes with wit, flair and authority in a debut that will delight even general readers.”
Granta 111: Going BackEdited by John Freeman
Mark Twain, Richard Russo and others look back in Granta's latest issue.
After issues on sex and work, the acclaimed literary magazine has another evocative theme for their new issue: Going Back. With their unique blend of fiction, autobiography, essays, and poetry, Granta has put together an issue that ranges widely on remembrance and return, from a moving essay by Richard Russo on the fading fortunes of Richard Russo’s industrial hometown to Janine Di Giovanni’s visit to Sarajevo looking for a missing boy. While Granta always has a mix of notable writers (in this issue alone, there are contributions from Seamus Heaney, Iris Murdoch, and Joseph O’Neill) along with bright, new talents, perhaps the most exciting contributor is none other than Mark Twain with an excerpt from his unexpurgated autobiography, which, at his instructions, is being released in 2010, 100 years after his death. His account of boyhood visits to his uncle’s farm fit quite naturally with the rest of the collection. Once again Granta has taken an incongruous topic and assembled an amazing array of talent to offer readers nothing less than a radical new look at how we imagine the past.