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The Weekly Read: What’s New in Books

Notable page-to-screen adaptations, Nora Ephron’s ‘Heartburn’ turns 40 and an author's connection to Benjamin Banneker

left late author nora ephron right heartburn by nora ephron
Scott McDermott/USA/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images / Vintage Books

Nora Ephron’s ‘classic of literary revenge’ turns 40

One of the beloved writer Nora Ephron’s most well-known creations — along with iconic films such as When Harry Met Sally… and Sleepless in Seattle — is her 1983 comic novel, Heartburn. Book publisher Vintage is celebrating its 40th birthday this month by releasing an anniversary edition featuring a new, very brief foreword by actor and foodie Stanley Tucci, who compares the book to Ephron herself: “smart, witty, sensitive, dark and hopeful.”

Famously inspired by the late author’s own disastrous marriage to Washington Post journalist Carl Bernstein, the story is about Washington, D.C.-based food writer Rachel Samstat, who’s heavily pregnant when she learns that her political journalist husband is cheating on her (Bernstein had an affair when Ephron was pregnant with their second child). The Washington Post has described it as “a classic of literary revenge.”

Ephron also included recipes throughout the book — among them a simple salad dressing that actress Olivia Wilde recently made famous on social media (Vanity Fair explains the backstory). Meryl Streep, who played Rachel in the 1986 movie version with Jack Nicholson, narrates the audiobook.

Page to screen

Spring brings some notable TV series inspired by books, including Lucky Hank, which premiered March 19 on AMC. Loosely based on Richard Russo’s 1997 novel Straight Man, it stars Bob Odenkirk as the head of an unimpressive Pennsylvania university’s English Department who’s wrestling with a midlife crisis. 

Odenkirk’s always a treat to watch, but I’m particularly interested in checking out Tiny Beautiful Things on Hulu (all eight episodes will be released on April 7). The series is adapted from the memoir/self-help book of the same name by Cheryl Strayed, an advice columnist known as Dear Sugar and author of the best-selling 2012 memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (made into a film starring Reese Witherspoon). The new show stars Kathryn Hahn as a writer with loads of personal problems who nonetheless tries her darndest to offer wisdom and compassion to others.

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Pick of the week: ‘Benjamin Banneker and Us’

left the book cover for benjamin banneker and us by rachel jamison webster right author rachel jamison webster
Henry Holt and Co. / Adele Fammeree

Rachel Jamison Webster, who is white and works as a creative writing professor at Northwestern University, discovered at a family reunion in 2016 that she’s related to Benjamin Banneker, the esteemed African American mathematician, almanac author and astronomer who was hired to help survey the District of Columbia (and famously wrote a letter to Thomas Jefferson imploring him to apply his ideas of liberty to enslaved peoples).

Webster’s new book, Benjamin Banneker and Us: Eleven Generations of an American Family (March 21), explores that ancestral story, including Banneker’s fascinating life. 

When I emailed the author to ask how it felt to discover that she had a connection to this remarkable man, she wrote, “I was extraordinarily proud and humbled.” She added that she didn’t feel surprised to learn that she had African American roots, but rather “relieved, the way you feel when something that’s been denied is finally acknowledged and put into alignment.”

New in historical fiction

Beyond That, the Sea, by Laura Spence-Ash (March 21), is a moving debut novel about a young English girl, Beatrix, who is sent by her working-class London parents across the Atlantic to live with a wealthy New England family for safety during the bombing raids of World War II. Beatrix grows up between these two worlds, her relationships — including with her two surrogate brothers — and identity evolving through the years.

In case you missed it: Picks of the week (March 14 Edition)

from left to right book covers forty eight clues into the disappearance of my sister by joyce carol oates then hello beautiful by ann napolitano then i will find you by harlan coben
Mysterious Press / The Dial Press / Grand Central Publishing

Three unputdownable novels are among the top new releases for fiction lovers: 

48 Clues into the Disappearance of My Sister by Joyce Carol Oates. Oates offers a seriously unreliable narrator in a gripping story that’s told through the eyes of a troubled woman named Gigi, whose beautiful younger sister, Marguerite, has gone missing and is presumed dead. We learn more about Gigi’s disturbed mind as she unspools clues to her sister’s fate. It’s a fast, absorbing read. 

Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano. The author of the 2020 bestseller Dear Edward (now a TV series on Apple TV+) introduces us to two young people, Julia and William, who fall in love and marry. Julia and her three sisters embrace William, but as time passes his depression creates a rift and their paths diverge. This one’s a must if you’re looking to sink into an emotionally complex family story. It'll be big: Oprah has just chosen it as her 100th book club pick.

I Will Find You by Harlan Coben. A classic Coben tale: fast-paced and twisty, and probably already on its way to a TV adaptation, like so many of his books. David Burroughs is a broken man serving a life sentence for the murder of his son — which he vehemently denies. When he finds out the boy may be alive, it sounds impossible, but he plots a daring escape from prison to find the truth.

Check out our Members Only Access interview with Coben, who discusses who'd play him in the movie of his life, how he once found writing inspiration during Uber rides, and more. 

Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward: A love affair to remember

left book cover for head over heels by joanne woodward and paul newman right joanne woodward and paul newman
Voracious / Photo by Peter Kramer/Getty Image

We heard about Paul Newman’s intense passion for Joanne Woodward, now 93, in his recent posthumous memoirThe Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man, edited by David Rosenthal. Newman, who passed away in 2008 and was married to Woodward for 50 (sometimes rocky) years, revealed, among other things, that “Joanne gave birth to a sexual creature. ... We left a trail of lust all over the place.”

Fans wanting to learn more about the stars’ romantic partnership can look forward to the recently announced October release of Head Over Heels: A Love Affair in Words and Pictures. It features photos of the couple compiled by their daughter Melissa Newman, 61, who tells us that she’s always been struck by “the inexorability” of her parents’ relationship: “You catch the gestures and the looks in some of the photos that speak of such lovely intimacy. … They were tempestuous, but absolutely hitched, and they had such fun together.”

If that’s not enough, you can actually buy Woodward’s wedding dress, among some 300 other items owned by the pair — including memorabilia from their films, as well as art and furniture from their Connecticut home — to be sold by Sotheby’s in a series of auctions starting in June.

Weirdly specific … or fascinating deep dives?

from left to right ice by amy brady then lapidarium by hettie judah then egg by lizzie stark
G.P. Putnam's Sons / Penguin Books / W. W. Norton & Company

How interested are you in, say, onions? Enough to buy a book on them? Authors writing about such microtopics is not a new trend: Michael Pollan did it brilliantly in 2001’s The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World, where in four separate chapters he dissected the role of the apple, potato, tulip and marijuana plant in shaping our world. And Mark Kurlansky is known for his books on tiny subjects such as SaltMilkPaper, and Cod (his The Core of an Onion: Peeling the Rarest Common Food comes out in November).

But there seems to be more than the usual number of new and upcoming books with similarly narrow foci. This month, we’ve got Lapidarium: The Secret Lives of Stones, by Hettie Judah (March 7), which, according to its publicity materials, “uses sixty stones to tell the story of our shared history through the realms of geology, anthropology, art, myth, and philosophy,” and Egg: A Dozen Overtures, by Lizzie Stark (March 28), billed as “an unconventional history of the world’s largest cellular workhorse.”

And just in time for the summer heat, there’s Ice: From Mixed Drinks to Skating Rinks: A Cool History of a Hot Commodity, by Amy Brady (June 6), which uses ice as a means to explore unique bits of cultural history — like women’s role in whetting America’s appetite for ice. “They became early adopters of the stuff and among ice companies’ first salespeople," according to Brady.

“So often history is presented as a single, overarching narrative, but it’s actually filled with more stories and interesting people than any one story can tell,” she adds by email, in response to questions about her seemingly narrow topic. “Looking at history through a single subject like ice helps to make those ‘hidden’ stories more visible.”


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A most intriguing duchess is now a novelist

left sarah furguson duchess of york and author of a most intriguing lady right the cover of a most intriguing lady

You may know Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York (“Fergie,” for short), as the ex-wife of Prince Andrew, Duke of York (King Charles III’s black-sheep brother, who recently settled out of court over sexual assault allegations).

But the duchess is also a skilled novelist — or at least a skilled co-novelist. Her latest, written with romance writer Marguerite Kaye, A Most Intriguing Lady (March 7), is an entertaining love story/mystery focused upon a duke’s rebellious daughter, Lady Mary Montagu Douglas Scott. This book follows the duo’s 2021 novel, Her Heart for a Compass, which was centered on Mary’s also-rebellious flame-haired older sister, Lady Margaret.

Both books are rich with details about royal manners in Victorian-era Britain — no surprise, as Mary’s parents, the fifth duke of Buccleuch and his wife, are based on the author’s own great-great-great grandparents.

In an emailed response to questions, Ferguson, 63, reports that she had long dreamed of becoming a novelist, “but it wasn’t until I was 61 that I finally had the courage to start a new career.” While researching her ancestors’ stories for the novel, she says, she concluded that courage has been a consistent family characteristic — “Strength, resilience, courage, kindness … it’s all in the DNA.”

Also new and notable

left the book cover for saving time by jenny odell right untold power by rebecca boggs roberts
Random House / Viking / Getty

If you’re not too busy (ha!), check out Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond the Clock by Jenny Odell (March 7). The author had a hit with her 2019 book How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, which President Barack Obama dubbed one of his favorite books of the year. In her latest, Odell offers ways readers can disengage from the corporate clock and the idea that time is money.

Another new nonfiction contribution comes from journalist Cokie Roberts’ daughter, who seems to share her late mother’s interest in American history: Rebecca Boggs Roberts has written Untold Power: The Fascinating Rise and Complex Legacy of First Lady Edith Wilson (March 7), an exploration of a complicated character who married widower Woodrow Wilson while he was president and took on many presidential duties after his stroke in 1919. “What I find most fascinating about Edith Wilson is that she is someone who made history while pretending she did nothing of the kind,” Roberts told AARP.

Tragedy befalls Clytemnestra (again)

left author costanza casati right the book cover for her novel clytemnestra
Arianna Genghini / Sourcebooks Landmark

March 7 was meant to be the release date for Costanza Casati’s novel Clytemnestra, which offers a feminist spin on the story of Ancient Greece’s legendary matriarch of an epically dysfunctional (and cursed) family. She murdered her husband, Agamemnon, and was killed herself, by her children Electra and Orestes.

Publicity materials called it “a blazing novel,” an all too apt description. The truck carrying “every single copy of the book” — 35,000 to 40,000 —  caught fire on the way to a warehouse, says Cristina Arreola, the book’s publicist at Sourcebooks. The cause is under investigation (and, thankfully, no one was injured in the incident). “When I told my colleagues, ‘I hope this book catches fire!’ I didn’t mean it literally,” she quips. The new pub date is May 2.

Spring’s big memoirs

Lucinda Williams, Chita Rivera, Laura Dern and Diane Ladd
Crown / HarperOne / Grand Central Publishing / Getty

It’s been at least a few weeks since we’ve greeted the release of another big celebrity memoir. Are the stars suddenly keeping their troubled childhoods, disastrous romantic lives and ambivalence about fame to themselves? Hardly! This spring brings more tell-alls, including three arriving on April 25:

Don’t Tell Anybody the Secrets I Told You, by Lucinda Williams: The three-time Grammy-winning singer, songwriter and musician, 70, opens up about her unstable upbringing in the Deep South, and the stories that inspired her wonderfully evocative songs. (If you don’t know her music, please pause here to listen to “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.” So good.)  

Honey, Baby, Mine: A Mother and Daughter Talk Life, Death, Love (and Banana Pudding), by Diane Ladd and Laura Dern: The two actresses, ages 87 and 56, offer up a series of conversations about big topics, plus anecdotes from their lives, family photos and recipes.

Chita, by Chita Rivera (with Patrick Pacheco): The Broadway legend, 90, recalls her famous role as Anita in the first production of West Side Story — where she met and married a fellow dancer (a Jet!) Tony Mordente — and more from her remarkable career.

Have you read any of these books? Me neither, but maybe we should!

Pen Faulkner Longlist
W. W. Norton & Company / Mariner Books

March 14 Update: The five finalists for the award — those marked with an asterisk in the list below — were announced on March 2. 

The PEN/Faulkner Foundation has announced a list of 10 contenders for the 2023 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, which is chosen by three fiction writers (this year they are Christopher Bollen, R.O. Kwon and Tiphanie Yanique). Five finalists will be selected in early March, with the winner announced in April. Of the 10, I recall having heard of only one (Jonathan Escoffery’s If I Survive You). You may be thinking, What? She’s never heard of The Book of Goose? But I do think that, as is often the case with this extremely prestigious annual award, the chosen books are decidedly less well known than, say, those nominated for the National Book Award. When I asked Louis Bayard, chair of the PEN/Faulkner Awards Committee, what the judges’ criteria are, he said it’s simply to choose “a book of excellence, whether it has been written by a well-known writer or a relative unknown.”

As to my observation that the books on the list may be a bit obscure to readers, Bayard responded, “Saying a book is obscure only means you haven’t read it yet, and isn’t that one of the great delights of reading? To find new voices and new stories? That’s why I’m still at it.” To which I can only say: Good point!

The long list:

  • Does My Body Offend You? by Mayra Cuevas and Marie Marquardt
  • The Family Izquierdo by Rubén Degollado
  • If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery*
  • Hawk Mountain by Conner Habib
  • Fruiting Bodies by Kathryn Harlan*
  • The Islands by Dionne Irving*
  • Self-Portrait With Ghost by Meng Jin
  • Invisible Things by Mat Johnson
  • The Book of Goose by Yiyun Li*
  • Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm by Laura Warrell*

Editor's note: This article was originally published on June 21, 2022. It has been updated to reflect new information. 

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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