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The Weekly Read: What’s New in Books

Hot releases, literary happenings and the latest from the publishing world

The Hotel Nantucket, Elin Hilderbrand; Paris; Ulysses by James Joyce
Little, Brown and Company/ Getty Images / Vintage

Paris, Anyone? These Recent Historical Novels Will Take You There

Most people would read guidebooks before embarking on a visit to a new city. But fiction lover that I am, I prepared for my first-time visit to Paris this spring by diving into novels set in the city, a wildly popular backdrop for historical fiction.

See our story describing some top picks. And they just keep coming. Among the latest is The Ghosts of Paris by Tara Moss, which takes place in the city just after WWII and features Australian private investigator Billie Walker, whose search for answers to a few mysteries (among them what happened to her missing husband) takes her throughout the city, including Notre Dame and the catacombs below.

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There’s another excellent historical novel out this summer that’s set more broadly in France — and about 600 years ago. Joan by Katherine J. Chen (available July 5) is a fictionalization of the remarkable life of the legendary Joan of Arc. Is it historically accurate? Loosely, but it’ll transport you to another time and place as you follow Joan’s rise from a vulnerable little girl with an abusive father to a fierce warrior who sent France’s enemies packing.

Visitors take turns reading from Ulysses at Sweny’s in Dublin (May 2022). and the cover of Ulysses by James Joyce
Visitors take turns reading from Ulysses at Sweny’s in Dublin (May 2022).
AARP/Vintage

Blooming Fun in Dublin

On the same trip, I visited Dublin, where last week, on June 16, bookish revelers celebrated Bloomsday — marking the day in 1904 that James Joyce’s famous Ulysses takes place. In the novel, a satiric take on Homer’s The Odyssey that many consider to be a modernist masterpiece (full disclosure: I can’t get past the first pages of the chaotic saga), the main character, Leopold Bloom, wanders Dublin while offering stream-of-consciousness observations as he goes about his day.

This year, the 100th anniversary of the novel’s publication, events in Dublin included Joyce fans dressing up in period costumes, Ulysses readings, and reenactments of scenes from the book.

At any time of year, visitors to Dublin should head to Sweny’s Pharmacy, a few blocks from Trinity College. Featured in Ulysses back when it was a pharmacy (Bloom bought his lemon soap here), it’s now a cool, book-cluttered James Joyce Heritage Visitor Centre. You’ll likely find Joyce scholar P.J. Murphy behind the counter, welcoming volunteers who show up to read aloud from Ulysses throughout the day; if you’re lucky, Murphy might break out his guitar and sing you an old Gaelic tune. (We stopped there on this fun city tour.)

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Charter #42851, Rachael Showerman, South Lyon, MI
Charter #42851, Rachael Showerman, South Lyon, MI
Courtesy of Little Free Library

Find Free Books in Your Neighborhood

It can feel like luck to run into a Little Free Library (LFL) — those often whimsically decorated boxes bibliophiles like to plant on their front lawns, inviting passersby to take or leave a free book. Now the nonprofit behind the concept has an app that allows users to find most of the 150,000 LFLs around the world, read their backstories and save their faves. Download the app for free on iOS and Android devices, or search online. It found the six LFLs within a few blocks of my home in Northwest Washington, D.C., missing just one. (Some stewards, as the owners of the libraries are called, opt not to register them with the LFL organization, according to director of communications Margret Aldrich.)

Here’s how to start your own Little Free Library.

 Hilderbrand and her fans gather on Nantucket for a Bucket List Weekend.
Hilderbrand and her fans gather on Nantucket for a Bucket List Weekend.
Courtesy of Little Gem Resorts

Beach Bound? Try the Latest Hilderbrand

It’s beach-read time, people! And few writers are more beachy than the beloved Elin Hilderbrand, who’s been writing her Nantucket-set novels for more than 20 years. Her new one is The Hotel Nantucket — next on my TBR list, it’s about the renovation of a storied hotel on the Massachusetts island that’s haunted by the ghost of a 19-year-old chambermaid who died there in a fire decades before. It strikes a personal chord: At age 18 I spent a summer working as a chambermaid at a different Nantucket hotel. Thankfully, the experience was far from tragic, but the book evokes some fond memories of those golden (minus the toilet-cleaning) few months.

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If you’re one of the world’s countless big-time Hilderbrand fans, incidentally, consider joining her for her annual Elin Hilderbrand’s Bucket List Weekend, which has been held every January on Nantucket for seven years. But the author has announced that 2023 will be the last year for this festive gathering (usually about 150 fans attend), so she’s planning two: Jan. 5–9 and Jan. 12–16. Both are full, but there’s a wait list. And while the itineraries haven’t been confirmed, last year’s gathering was packed with activities led by the author, including a beach walk, cocktail party, yoga and a gala dinner at the Nantucket Hotel (not to be confused with the aforementioned chambermaid-haunted Hotel Nantucket).

still image of Paul Newman from the 1962 film Sweet Bird of Youth; cover of his memoir Paul Newman: The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man
Still image of Paul Newman from the 1962 film Sweet Bird of Youth; cover of his memoir Paul Newman: The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man.
Bettmann/Getty Images; Knopf

Coming Attractions

Entertainment fans can look forward to a particularly tall stack of celebrity memoirs coming out this October, including Boldly Go: Reflections on a Life of Awe and Wonder by Trekkie William Shatner, 90, writing with Joshua Brandon; Waxing On: The Karate Kid and Me by Ralph Macchio; and Geena Davis’s Dying of Politeness. And on Nov. 1, we’ll get books from Bono (Surrender) and Friends star Matthew Perry, who gets frank about his battles with addiction in Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing. (Read our interview with Jennifer Grey, the Dirty Dancing actress whose memoir Out of the Corner hit shelves this spring.)

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But the biggest, most surprising October release of all may be the posthumous book from acting legend Paul Newman. The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man, edited by David Rosenthal. The project began 20 years before the actor’s death, when Newman asked his close friend screenwriter Stewart Stern to create an oral history of his life, says Peter Gethers, the book’s editor at Knopf. Stern interviewed Newman’s friends and family members, along with Newman himself, while Newman also wrote many pages of his own memories.

His family eventually wrote a book proposal, based on over 10,000 pages of transcripts. “The material was extraordinary” and Knopf snapped it up in a heated auction, says Gethers.

What surprised Gethers most about the memoir/biography? “What a brilliant writer he was, how extraordinarily honest and insightful he was, how insecure he was.”

Please share your own favorite new (or old) books, upcoming releases you’re excited about, or anything book related in the comments section.

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