Picks of the week
- In King: A Life by Jonathan Eig (May 16), the author of 2017’s Ali: A Life, about Muhammad Ali, dives into Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s family history, childhood, accomplishments, private life and more — hoping to create “a more intimate kind of biography,” the author has said. Of course, King’s life has been plumbed by countless historians, but this take may rise above many others. Dwight Garner offers a glowing review in The New York Times, calling it “supple, penetrating, heartstring-pulling and compulsively readable.”
- Thriller lovers will be snapping up blockbuster author Linwood Barclay’s The Lie Maker (May 16), a stand-alone story about a struggling writer hired to provide fictional backstories for people in the federal government’s Witness Security Program. While doing so he decides to look for his father, who was taken into witness protection long ago, his whereabouts unknown.
- And there’s lots of buzz over Yellowface by R.F. Kuang (May 16), a piercingly satiric tale about a young, ambitious writer, June Hayward, so desperate for attention she steals a manuscript written by her Hong Kong–born former Yale classmate Athena Liu — a far more successful literary darling — when Liu dies. June submits it as her own, using the ethnically ambiguous pseudonym Juniper Song. Hayward, our narrator, finds success, but is haunted by her actions.
From microhistories to the ultimate macrohistory — set to music!
A few months ago, I wrote about the appeal of microhistories — books that focus on seemingly tiny topics as a way to view larger issues, such as Mark Kurlansky’s 1998 bestseller Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World and this year’s Egg: A Dozen Ovatures by Lizzie Stark.
But what about the authors who try to take on, essentially, everything? Such is the case with the British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of 2016’s The Romanovs, in his impressive, if daunting, new 1,344-page book, The World: A Family History of Humanity (May 16). He starts with a set of five footprints found in England and thought to have been made by a family 950,000 to 850,000 years ago — “the oldest family footprints ever found,” he writes — and goes on to use the stories of families through time to tell the history of humanity, through the current tumultuous age.
And this is fun: Montefiore offers a Spotify playlist for his book, a “Soundtrack to the World,” on lithub.com. It includes his 422 picks for the greatest songs about history. Among them: “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones, which he declares “the greatest history song of all time,” with “its lyrics narrated by the devil perpetrating the great crimes of the 20th century.” Others in this cool mix range from classics like “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” by The Band and “Strange Fruit" by Nina Simone to the less-expected “Baraye” by Iranian Shervin Hajipour and Ava Max’s 2020 hit “Kings & Queens,” which the historian calls “a rallying cry for modern feminism.”
Two novelists win a Pulitzer
The 2023 Pulitzer Prize for fiction has been awarded to two thick best-selling 2022 novels: Trust by Hernan Diaz and Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver.
Great picks. But it’s the first time since the award’s 1948 beginning that two novels have received a Pulitzer in one year. So why two, I asked Diaz’s understandably ecstatic publicist at Riverhead Books, Bianca Flores. She responded by email: “no idk! We were all just as surprised!!!” (I reached out to the Pulitzer organization but haven’t received a response.)
The award committee describes Trust as “riveting” and “a complex examination of love and power in a country where capitalism is king.” HBO is adapting it for a limited series starring Kate Winslet.
“I had to leave the restaurant when I heard, and I started weeping on the curb,” Diaz (whose first novel, In the Distance, was a Pulitzer finalist as well five years ago) told The Washington Post. “It was very embarrassing. Three very kind ladies came and said, ‘Honey, are you okay?’ And I did tell them what happened, and we were all hugging. It was very sweet.”
Demon Copperhead, meanwhile, is an absorbing story inspired by Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield and centered on a young man growing up in poverty in Appalachia who faces trials galore.
His Name Is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice by Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa, won the Pulitzer for general nonfiction.
Andrew McCarthy — who’s not a brat! — on ‘Walking With Sam’
Remember the Brat Pack, those hot young actors of 1980s coming-of-age films like Pretty in Pink and St. Elmo’s Fire? Turns out they are no longer bratty (if they ever even were) — or at least Andrew McCarthy isn’t. Now 60, he was friendly and thoughtful when I talked with him recently about his new book Walking With Sam: A Father, a Son and Five Hundred Miles Across Spain (May 9). It’s his story about an epic five-week bonding adventure he shared with his 19-year-old son, Sam, walking the famous Spanish pilgrimage route, the Camino de Santiago.
McCarthy — who does a mix of acting, writing and directing these days — candidly describes his insecurities and various tensions with Sam during the often grueling, life-changing trip, which we discussed along with what he’s reading (lots of nonfiction about spies, for one) and a documentary he’s filming about the Brat Pack. You can read more from the interview on Members Only Access.
Picks of the week (May 9 edition)
- The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece by Tom Hanks (May 9). Turns out Hanks isn’t just a stellar actor. He’s also a darn-good writer. His first novel is a wonderful, often humorous story that jumps from 1947 to 1970 and on to the present-day creation of a splashy superhero movie based on an old comic book. Film lovers will eat it up. (Read my review here.)
- Who Cares: The Hidden Crisis of Caregiving, and How We Solve It by Emily Kenway (May 9). Beginning with a wrenching description of Kenway’s exhausting (emotionally and physically) experience caring for her mother as she’s dying of cancer, the author argues that we are on the brink of a caregiving crisis, with people living longer, and urgently need to address it. Her words will ring true for family caregivers — which so many of us are, have been, or will be.
- The Collected Regrets of Clover by Mikki Brammer (May 9). This is a warm-hearted novel that’s also (sort of) about caregiving. Its focus is on Clover Brooks, an antisocial death doula who — since her beloved grandfather’s death — has been devoted to making sure that others’ dying journey is peaceful, yet does nothing to focus on her own happiness. Then she meets Claudia, an older woman who, in a roundabout way, inspires her to open her heart and embrace life. Kirkus calls it “a beautiful tale” that “walks the edge of sentimentality with poignant success.”
Elin Hilderbrand’s (almost) last Nantucket novel
Summer’s coming, which means it’s time to start thinking about beach reads, people! And few authors are more beachy than the beloved Elin Hilderbrand, 53, who’s been writing her Nantucket-set novels for more than 20 years. Her next one, The Five-Star Weekend, comes out on June 13, and her fans will want to savor it because there will only be one more to come. As she told me in a recent interview (check it out on AARP.org next month), her last summery Nantucket island tale will be published in 2024.
Why stop now? “I am just flat out running out of ideas,” Hilderbrand said. “I’m at the top of my game right now, and I don’t want the quality of the books to fail — so I’m doing everybody a favor.”
She added that she’s not retiring from writing altogether, but is eager to focus more on her true love: reading other authors’ novels. A few of her recent favorites: I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai, Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld and Pineapple Street by Jenny Jackson.