Sybil Steinberg, former contributing editor for Publisher’s Weekly returned to the Westport Library to share her recommendations for summer reading and beyond. Always a highlight for local readers in Connecticut, hearing Sybil speak about each book and author is enriching, motivating the crowd to add to their TBR list! Out of the books presented, I plan to read The Vaster Wilds, In Memoriam, The Covenant of Water and The Wager. Which ones are on your list?
The Vaster Wilds by Lauren Groff (Historical Fiction, Sept. 2023)
A taut and electrifying novel from celebrated bestselling author Lauren Groff, about one spirited girl alone in the wilderness, trying to survive
A servant girl escapes from a colonial settlement in the wilderness. She carries nothing with her but her wits, a few possessions, and the spark of god that burns hot within her. What she finds in this terra incognita is beyond the limits of her imagination and will bend her belief in everything that her own civilization has taught her.
Lauren Groff’s new novel is at once a thrilling adventure story and a penetrating fable about trying to find a new way of living in a world succumbing to the churn of colonialism. The Vaster Wilds is a work of raw and prophetic power that tells the story of America in miniature, through one girl at a hinge point in history, to ask how—and if—we can adapt quickly enough to save ourselves.
In Memoriam by Alice Winn (Historical Fiction)
A haunting, virtuosic debut novel about two young men who fall in love during a time of war.
It’s 1914, and World War I is ceaselessly churning through thousands of young men on both sides of the fight. The violence of the front feels far away to Henry Gaunt, Sidney Ellwood and the rest of their classmates, safely ensconced in their idyllic boarding school in the English countryside. News of the heroic deaths of their friends only makes the war more exciting.
Gaunt, half German, is busy fighting his own private battle–an all-consuming infatuation with his best friend, the glamorous, charming Ellwood–without a clue that Ellwood is pining for him in return. When Gaunt’s family asks him to enlist to forestall the anti-German sentiment they face, Gaunt does so immediately, relieved to escape his overwhelming feelings for Ellwood. To Gaunt’s horror, Ellwood rushes to join him at the front, and the rest of their classmates soon follow. Now death surrounds them in all its grim reality, often inches away, and no one knows who will be next.
An epic tale of both the devastating tragedies of war and the forbidden romance that blooms in its grip, In Memoriam is a breathtaking debut.
The Postcard by Anne Berest (Historical Fiction)
Anne Berest’s luminous, moving, and unforgettable new novel The Postcard is the most acclaimed and beloved French book in recent years.
At once a gripping investigation into family secrets, a poignant tale of mothers and daughters, and an enthralling portrait of 20th-century Parisian intellectual and artistic life, The Postcard tells the story of a family devastated by the Holocaust and yet somehow restored by love and the power of storytelling. Heartbreaking, funny, atmospheric, and a sheer joy to read, The Postcard is certain to find fans among readers of Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française, Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, and Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See.
January 2003. Together with the usual holiday cards, an anonymous postcard is delivered to the Berest family home. On the front, a photo of the Opéra Garnier in Paris; on the back, the four names of Anne Berest’s maternal great-grandparents, Ephraïm and Emma, and their children, Noémie and Jacques—all of whom died at Auschwitz in 1942.
Almost twenty years after the postcard is delivered, Anne is moved to discover who sent it, and why. Aided by her chain-smoking mother, countless family, friends, and associates, a private detective, a graphologist, and many others, she embarks on a journey to uncover the fate of the Rabinovitch family: their flight from Russia following the revolution, their journey to Latvia, Palestine, and Paris, the war and its aftermath. What emerges is a thrilling and sweeping tale that shatters her certainties about her family, her country, and herself.
Kairos by Jenny Erpenbeck (Historical Fiction)
Jenny Erpenbeck’s much anticipated new novel Kairos is a complicated love story set amidst swirling, cataclysmic events as the GDR collapses and an old world evaporates Jenny Erpenbeck (the author of Go, Went, Gone and Visitation ) is an epic storyteller and arguably the most powerful voice in contemporary German literature. Erpenbeck’s new novel Kairos―an unforgettably compelling masterpiece―tells the story of the romance begun in East Berlin at the end of the 1980s when nineteen-year-old Katharina meets by chance a married writer in his fifties named Hans. Their passionate yet difficult long-running affair takes place against the background of the declining GDR, through the upheavals wrought by its dissolution in 1989 and then what comes after. In her unmistakable style and with enormous sweep, Erpenbeck describes the path of two lovers, as Katharina grows up and tries to come to terms with a not always ideal romance, even as a whole world with its own ideology disappears. As the Times Literary Supplement writes: “The weight of history, the particular experiences of East and West, and the ways in which cultural and subjective memory shape individual identity has always been present in Erpenbeck’s work. She knows that no one is all bad, no state all rotten, and she masterfully captures the existential bewilderment of this period between states and ideologies.” In the opinion of her superbly gifted translator Michael Hofmann, Kairos is the great post-Unification novel. And, as The New Republic has commented on his work as a translator: “Hofmann’s translation is invaluable―it achieves what translations are supposedly unable to do: it is at once ‘loyal’ and ‘beautiful.’”
The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese (Historical Fiction)
A stunning and magisterial new epic of love, faith, and medicine, set in Kerala and following three generations of a family seeking the answers to a strange secret.
Spanning the years 1900 to 1977, The Covenant of Water is set in Kerala, on South India’s Malabar Coast, and follows three generations of a family that suffers a peculiar affliction: in every generation, at least one person dies by drowning—and in Kerala, water is everywhere. The family is part of a Christian community that traces itself to the time of the apostles, but times are shifting, and the matriarch of this family, known as Big Ammachi—literally “Big Mother”—will witness unthinkable changes at home and at large over the span of her extraordinary life. All of Verghese’s great gifts are on display in this new work: there are astonishing scenes of medical ingenuity, fantastic moments of humor, a surprising and deeply moving story, and characters imbued with the essence of life.
A shimmering evocation of a lost India and of the passage of time itself, The Covenant of Water is a hymn to progress in medicine and to human understanding, and a humbling testament to the hardships undergone by past generations for the sake of those alive today. It is one of the most masterful literary novels published in recent years.
Victory City by Salman Rushdie (Fantasy)
‘A total pleasure to read, a bright burst of colour in a grey winter season’ Sunday Times
She will whisper an empire into existence – but all stories have a way of getting away from their creators . . .
In the wake of an insignificant battle between two long-forgotten kingdoms in fourteenth-century southern India, a nine-year-old girl has a divine encounter that will change the course of history. After witnessing the death of her mother, the grief-stricken Pampa Kampana becomes a vessel for a goddess, who tells her that she will be instrumental in the rise of a great city called Bisnaga – literally ‘victory city’ – the wonder of the world.
Over the next two hundred and fifty years, Pampa Kampana’s life becomes deeply interwoven with Bisnaga’s as she attempts to make good on the task that the goddess set for her: to give women equal agency in a patriarchal world. But all stories have a way of getting away from their creator, and as years pass, rulers come and go, battles are won and lost, and allegiances shift, Bisnaga is no exception.
‘A celebration of the power of literature and the endurance of storytelling’ Guardian
Hello, Beautiful by Ann Napolitano (Contemporary Fiction)
An emotionally layered and engrossing story of a family that asks: Can love make a broken person whole?
William Waters grew up in a house silenced by tragedy, where his parents could hardly bear to look at him, much less love him. So it’s a relief when his skill on the basketball court earns him a scholarship to college, far away from his childhood home. He soon meets Julia Padavano, a spirited and ambitious young woman who surprises William with her appreciation of his quiet steadiness. With Julia comes her family; she is inseparable from her three younger sisters: Sylvie, the dreamer, is happiest with her nose in a book and imagines a future different from the expected path of wife and mother; Cecelia, the family’s artist; and Emeline, who patiently takes care of all of them. Happily, the Padavanos fold Julia’s new boyfriend into their loving, chaotic household.
But then darkness from William’s past surfaces, jeopardizing not only Julia’s carefully orchestrated plans for their future, but the sisters’ unshakeable loyalty to one another. The result is a catastrophic family rift that changes their lives for generations. Will the loyalty that once rooted them be strong enough to draw them back together when it matters most?
Vibrating with tenderness, Hello Beautiful is a gorgeous, profoundly moving portrait of what’s possible when we choose to love someone not in spite of who they are, but because of it.
Good Night, Irene by Luis Alberto Urrea (Historical Fiction)
In the tradition of The Nightingale and Transcription, an exhilarating World War II epic that chronicles an extraordinary young woman’s heroic frontline service in the Red Cross
“Urrea’s touch is sure, his exuberance carries you through . . . He is a generous writer, not just in his approach to his craft but in the broader sense of what he feels necessary to capture about life itself.” —Financial Times
In 1943, Irene Woodward abandons an abusive fiancé in New York to enlist with the Red Cross and head to Europe. She makes fast friends in training with Dorothy Dunford, a towering Midwesterner with a ferocious wit. Together they are part of an elite group of women, nicknamed Donut Dollies, who command military buses called Clubmobiles at the front line, providing camaraderie and a taste of home that may be the only solace before troops head into battle.
After D-Day, these two intrepid friends join the Allied soldiers streaming into France. Their time in Europe will see them embroiled in danger, from the Battle of the Bulge to the liberation of Buchenwald. Through her friendship with Dorothy, and a love affair with a gallant American fighter pilot named Hans, Irene learns to trust again. Her most fervent hope, which becomes more precarious by the day, is for all three of them to survive the war intact.
Taking as inspiration his mother’s own Red Cross service, Luis Alberto Urrea has delivered an overlooked story of women’s heroism in World War II. With its affecting and uplifting portrait of friendship and valor in harrowing circumstances, Good Night, Irene powerfully demonstrates yet again that Urrea’s “gifts as a storyteller are prodigious” (NPR).
I Have Some Questions For You by Rebecca Makkai (Fiction/Mystery)
A successful film professor and podcaster, Bodie Kane is content to forget her past—the family tragedy that marred her adolescence, her four largely miserable years at a New Hampshire boarding school, and the murder of her former roommate, Thalia Keith, in the spring of their senior year. Though the circumstances surrounding Thalia’s death and the conviction of the school’s athletic trainer, Omar Evans, are hotly debated online, Bodie prefers—needs—to let sleeping dogs lie.
But when the Granby School invites her back to teach a course, Bodie is inexorably drawn to the case and its increasingly apparent ﬂaws. In their rush to convict Omar, did the school and the police overlook other suspects? Is the real killer still out there? As she falls down the very rabbit hole she was so determined to avoid, Bodie begins to wonder if she wasn’t as much of an outsider at Granby as she’d thought—if, perhaps, back in 1995, she knew something that might have held the key to solving the case.
Trespasses by Louise Kennedy (Historical Fiction)
Set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, a shattering novel about a young woman caught between allegiance to community and a dangerous passion.
Amid daily reports of violence, Cushla lives a quiet life with her mother in a small town near Belfast. By day she teaches at a parochial school; at night she fills in at her family’s pub. There she meets Michael Agnew, a barrister who’s made a name for himself defending IRA members. Against her better judgment – Michael is not only Protestant but older, and married – Cushla lets herself get drawn in by him and his sophisticated world, and an affair ignites. Then the father of a student is savagely beaten, setting in motion a chain reaction that will threaten everything, and everyone, Cushla most wants to protect.
As tender as it is unflinching, Trespasses is a heart-pounding, heart-rending drama of thwarted love and irreconcilable loyalties, in a place what you come from seems to count more than what you do, or whom you cherish.
Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton (Mystery/Thriller)
Birnam Wood is on the move . . .
Five years ago, Mira Bunting founded a guerrilla gardening group: Birnam Wood. An undeclared, unregulated, sometimes-criminal, sometimes-philanthropic gathering of friends, this activist collective plants crops wherever no one will notice: on the sides of roads, in forgotten parks, and neglected backyards. For years, the group has struggled to break even. Then Mira stumbles on an answer, a way to finally set the group up for the long term: a landslide has closed the Korowai Pass, cutting off the town of Thorndike. Natural disaster has created an opportunity, a sizable farm seemingly abandoned.
But Mira is not the only one interested in Thorndike. Robert Lemoine, the enigmatic American billionaire, has snatched it up to build his end-times bunker–or so he tells Mira when he catches her on the property. Intrigued by Mira, Birnam Wood, and their entrepreneurial spirit, he suggests they work this land. But can they trust him? And, as their ideals and ideologies are tested, can they trust each other?
A gripping psychological thriller from the Booker Prize-winning author of The Luminaries, Birnam Wood is Shakespearean in its wit, drama, and immersion in character. A brilliantly constructed consideration of intentions, actions, and consequences, it is an unflinching examination of the human impulse to ensure our own survival.
Small Mercies by Dennis Lehane (Mystery/Thriller)
The acclaimed New York Times bestselling writer returns with a masterpiece to rival Mystic River —an all-consuming tale of revenge, family love, festering hate, and insidious power, set against one of the most tumultuous episodes in Boston’s history.
In the summer of 1974 a heatwave blankets Boston and Mary Pat Fennessy is trying to stay one step ahead of the bill collectors. Mary Pat has lived her entire life in the housing projects of “Southie,” the Irish American enclave that stubbornly adheres to old tradition and stands proudly apart.
One night Mary Pat’s teenage daughter Jules stays out late and doesn’t come home. That same evening, a young Black man is found dead, struck by a subway train under mysterious circumstances. The two events seem unconnected. But Mary Pat, propelled by a desperate search for her missing daughter, begins turning over stones best left untouched—asking questions that bother Marty Butler, chieftain of the Irish mob, and the men who work for him, men who don’t take kindly to any threat to their business.
Set against the hot, tumultuous months when the city’s desegregation of its public schools exploded in violence, Small Mercies is a superb thriller, a brutal depiction of criminality and power, and an unflinching portrait of the dark heart of American racism. It is a mesmerizing and wrenching work that only Dennis Lehane could write.
Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (Historical Fiction)
“Anyone will tell you the born of this world are marked from the get-out, win or lose.”
Set in the mountains of southern Appalachia, this is the story of a boy born to a teenaged single mother in a single-wide trailer, with no assets beyond his dead father’s good looks and copper-colored hair, a caustic wit, and a fierce talent for survival. In a plot that never pauses for breath, relayed in his own unsparing voice, he braves the modern perils of foster care, child labor, derelict schools, athletic success, addiction, disastrous loves, and crushing losses. Through all of it, he reckons with his own invisibility in a popular culture where even the superheroes have abandoned rural people in favor of cities.
Many generations ago, Charles Dickens wrote David Copperfield from his experience as a survivor of institutional poverty and its damages to children in his society. Those problems have yet to be solved in ours. Dickens is not a prerequisite for readers of this novel, but he provided its inspiration. In transposing a Victorian epic novel to the contemporary American South, Barbara Kingsolver enlists Dickens’ anger and compassion, and above all, his faith in the transformative powers of a good story. Demon Copperhead speaks for a new generation of lost boys, and all those born into beautiful, cursed places they can’t imagine leaving behind.
The Other Eden by Paul Harding (Historical Fiction)
A novel inspired by the true story of the once racially integrated Malaga Island off the coast of Maine, by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Tinkers.
In 1792, formerly enslaved Benjamin Honey and his Irish wife, Patience, discovered an island where they could make a life together. More than a century later, the Honeys’ descendants remain there, with an eccentric, diverse band of neighbors: a pair of sisters raising three Penobscot orphans; Theophilus and Candace Larks and their nocturnal brood; the prophetic Zachary Hand To God Proverbs, a Civil War veteran who carves Biblical images in a hollow tree. Then comes the intrusion of “civilization”: eugenics-minded state officials determine to cleanse” the island, and a missionary schoolteacher selects one light-skinned boy to save. The rest will succumb to the authorities’ institutions or cast themselves on the waters in a new Noah’s Ark.
Full of lyricism and power, This Other Eden explores the hopes and dreams and resilience of those seen not to fit a world brutally intolerant of difference.
Sam by Allegra Goodman (Fiction/Coming of Age)
What happens to a girl’s exuberance and wonder as she becomes a woman? This unforgettable portrait of coming-of-age offers a powerful reflection on class, addiction, parenthood, longing, and ambition.
There is a girl, and her name is Sam. She adores her father, though he isn’t around much. Her mother, Courtney, struggles to make ends meet, and never fails to remind her daughter that her life should be different. Sam doesn’t fit in at school, where the other girls have the right shade of blue jeans and don’t question the rules. Sam doesn’t care about jeans or rules. She just loves to climb–trees, fences, walls, the side of a building. When she’s climbing, she discovers a place she belongs: she can turn off her brain, pain has a purpose, and it’s okay if you want to win.
As Sam grows into her teens, she grapples with self-doubt and insecurity. She yearns for her climbing coach to notice her, but his attention crosses boundaries she doesn’t know how to resist. She wishes her father would leave for good, instead of always coming and going, but once he’s gone, she realizes how much she’s lost. She rages against her mother’s constant pressure to plan for a more secure future. Wrestling with who she wants to be in the face of what she’s expected to do, Sam comes to understand that she alone can make her dreams come true.
Allegra Goodman’s beautiful and wise novel Sam is deceptively simple: it is about a girl who becomes a woman. But underneath its straightforward chronology and spare sentences lie layers of extraordinary depth, sensitivity, and tenderness. This unforgettable ode to girlhood asks, What happens to a child’s sense of joy and belonging–her belief in herself–as she grows up? The answer will break your heart, but will also leave you full of hope.
Night of the Living Rez by Morgan Talty (Short Stories)
Set in a Native community in Maine, Night of the Living Rez is a riveting debut collection about what it means to be Penobscot in the twenty-first century and what it means to live, to survive, and to persevere after tragedy.
In twelve striking, luminescent stories, author Morgan Talty—with searing humor, abiding compassion, and deep insight—breathes life into tales of family and community bonds as they struggle with a painful past and an uncertain future. A boy unearths a jar that holds an old curse, which sets into motion his family’s unraveling; a man, while trying to swindle some pot from a dealer, discovers a friend passed out in the woods, his hair frozen into the snow; a grandmother suffering from Alzheimer’s projects the past onto her grandson, and thinks he is her dead brother come back to life; and two friends, inspired by Antiques Roadshow, attempt to rob the tribal museum for valuable root clubs.
In a collection that examines the consequences and merits of inheritance, Night of the Living Rez is an unforgettable portrayal of a Native community and marks the arrival of a standout talent in contemporary fiction.
In a jar
Get me some medicine
Food for the common cold
In a field of stray caterpillars
The blessing tobacco
Night of the living rez
The name means thunder
The Wager by David Grann (History/True Crime)
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Killers of the Flower Moon, a page-turning story of shipwreck, survival, and savagery, culminating in a court martial that reveals a shocking truth. The powerful narrative reveals the deeper meaning of the events on The Wager, showing that it was not only the captain and crew who ended up on trial, but the very idea of empire.
On January 28, 1742, a ramshackle vessel of patched-together wood and cloth washed up on the coast of Brazil. Inside were thirty emaciated men, barely alive, and they had an extraordinary tale to tell. They were survivors of His Majesty’s Ship the Wager, a British vessel that had left England in 1740 on a secret mission during an imperial war with Spain. While the Wager had been chasing a Spanish treasure-filled galleon known as “the prize of all the oceans,” it had wrecked on a desolate island off the coast of Patagonia. The men, after being marooned for months and facing starvation, built the flimsy craft and sailed for more than a hundred days, traversing nearly 3,000 miles of storm-wracked seas. They were greeted as heroes.
But then … six months later, another, even more decrepit craft landed on the coast of Chile. This boat contained just three castaways, and they told a very different story. The thirty sailors who landed in Brazil were not heroes – they were mutineers. The first group responded with countercharges of their own, of a tyrannical and murderous senior officer and his henchmen. It became clear that while stranded on the island the crew had fallen into anarchy, with warring factions fighting for dominion over the barren wilderness. As accusations of treachery and murder flew, the Admiralty convened a court martial to determine who was telling the truth. The stakes were life-and-death–for whomever the court found guilty could hang.
The Wager is a grand tale of human behavior at the extremes told by one of our greatest nonfiction writers. Grann’s recreation of the hidden world on a British warship rivals the work of Patrick O’Brian, his portrayal of the castaways’ desperate straits stands up to the classics of survival writing such as The Endurance, and his account of the court martial has the savvy of a Scott Turow thriller. As always with Grann’s work, the incredible twists of the narrative hold the reader spellbound.
One New Haven summer evening in 2006, a retired grandfather was shot point-blank by a young stranger. A hasty police investigation culminated in innocent sixteen-year-old Bobby being sentenced to prison for thirty-eight years. New Haven native and acclaimed author Nicholas Dawidoff returned home and spent eight years reporting the deeper story of this injustice, and what it reveals about the enduring legacies of social and economic disparity.
In The Other Side of Prospect, he has produced an immersive portrait of a seminal community in an old American city now beset by division and gun violence. Tracing the histories of three people whose lives meet in tragedy—victim Pete Fields, likely murderer Major, and Bobby—Dawidoff indelibly describes optimistic families coming north from South Carolina as part of the Great Migration, for the promise of opportunity and upward mobility, and the harrowing costs of deindustrialization and neglect. Foremost are the unique challenges confronted by children like Major and Bobby coming of age in their “forgotten” neighborhood, steps from Yale University. After years in prison, with the help of a true-believing lawyer, Bobby is finally set free. His subsequent struggles with the memories of prison, and his heartbreaking efforts to reconnect with family and community, exemplify the challenges the formerly incarcerated face upon reentry into society and, writes Reginald Dwayne Betts, make this “the best book about the crisis of incarceration in America.”
The Other Side of Prospect is a reportorial tour de force, at once a sweeping account of how the injustices of racism and inequality reverberate through the generations, and a beautifully written portrait of American city life, told through a group of unforgettable people and their intertwined experiences.
A Fever in the Heartland by Timothy Egan (History/True Crime)
A historical thriller by the Pulitzer and National Book Award-winning author that tells the riveting story of the Klan’s rise to power in the 1920s, the cunning con man who drove that rise, and the woman who stopped them.
The Roaring Twenties–the Jazz Age–has been characterized as a time of Gatsby frivolity. But it was also the height of the uniquely American hate group, the Ku Klux Klan. Their domain was not the old Confederacy, but the Heartland and the West. They hated Blacks, Jews, Catholics and immigrants in equal measure, and took radical steps to keep these people from the American promise. And the man who set in motion their takeover of great swaths of America was a charismatic charlatan named D.C. Stephenson.
Stephenson was a magnetic presence whose life story changed with every telling. Within two years of his arrival in Indiana, he’d become the Grand Dragon of the state and the architect of the strategy that brought the group out of the shadows – their message endorsed from the pulpits of local churches, spread at family picnics and town celebrations. Judges, prosecutors, ministers, governors and senators across the country all proudly proclaimed their membership. But at the peak of his influence, it was a seemingly powerless woman – Madge Oberholtzer – who would reveal his secret cruelties, and whose deathbed testimony finally brought the Klan to their knees.
A FEVER IN THE HEARTLAND marries a propulsive drama to a powerful and page-turning reckoning with one of the darkest threads in American history.
We Were Once a Family by Roxanna Asgarian (True Crime)
The shocking, deeply reported story of a murder-suicide that claimed the lives of six children—and a searing indictment of the American foster care system.
On March 26, 2018, rescue workers discovered a crumpled SUV and the bodies of two women and several children at the bottom of a cliff beside the Pacific Coast Highway. Investigators soon concluded that the crash was a murder-suicide, but there was more to the story: Jennifer and Sarah Hart, it turned out, were a white married couple who had adopted the six Black children from two different Texas families in 2006 and 2008. Behind the family’s loving facade, however, was a pattern of abuse and neglect that went ignored as the couple withdrew the children from school and moved across the country. It soon became apparent that the State of Texas knew very little about the two individuals to whom it had given custody of six children—with fateful consequences.
In the manner of Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s Random Family and other classic works of investigative journalism, Roxanna Asgarian’s We Were Once a Family is a revelation of vulnerable lives; it is also a shattering exposé of the foster care and adoption systems that produced this tragedy. As a journalist in Houston, Asgarian became the first reporter to put the children’s birth families at the center of the story. We follow the author as she runs up against the intransigence of a state agency that removes tens of thousands of kids from homes each year in the name of child welfare, while often failing to consider alternatives. Her reporting uncovers persistent racial biases and corruption as children of color are separated from birth parents without proper cause. The result is a riveting narrative and a deeply reported indictment of a system that continues to fail America’s most vulnerable children while upending the lives of their families.
The Broken Constitution by Noah Feldman (Civil War)
A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
An innovative account of Abraham Lincoln, constitutional thinker and doer
Abraham Lincoln is justly revered for his brilliance, compassion, humor, and rededication of the United States to achieving liberty and justice for all. He led the nation into a bloody civil war to uphold the system of government established by the US Constitution–a system he regarded as the “last best hope of mankind.” But how did Lincoln understand the Constitution?
In this groundbreaking study, Noah Feldman argues that Lincoln deliberately and recurrently violated the United States’ founding arrangements. When he came to power, it was widely believed that the federal government could not use armed force to prevent a state from seceding. It was also assumed that basic civil liberties could be suspended in a rebellion by Congress but not by the president, and that the federal government had no authority over slavery in states where it existed. As president, Lincoln broke decisively with all these precedents, and effectively rewrote the Constitution’s place in the American system. Before the Civil War, the Constitution was best understood as a compromise pact–a rough and ready deal between states that allowed the Union to form and function. After Lincoln, the Constitution came to be seen as a sacred text–a transcendent statement of the nation’s highest ideals.
The Broken Constitution is the first book to tell the story of how Lincoln broke the Constitution in order to remake it. To do so, it offers a riveting narrative of his constitutional choices and how he made them–and places Lincoln in the rich context of thinking of the time, from African American abolitionists to Lincoln’s Republican rivals and Secessionist ideologues.
Includes 8 Pages of Black-and-White Illustrations
Still Pictures by Janet Malcolm (Memoir)
“Superb . . . [The] final, splendid, most personal work of [Janet Malcolm’s] long career.” ―Charles Finch, The New York Times Book Review
For decades, Janet Malcolm’s books and dispatches for The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books poked and prodded at reportorial and biographical convention, gesturing toward the artifice that underpins both public and private selves. In Still Pictures , she turns her gimlet eye on her own life―a task demanding a writer just as peerlessly skillful as she was widely known to be.
Still Pictures , then, is not the story of a life but an event on its own terms, an encounter with identity and family photographs as poignant and original as anything since Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida . Malcolm looks beyond the content of the image and the easy seductions of self-recognition, constructing a memoir from memories that pose questions of their own.
Still Pictures begins with the image of a morose young girl on a train, leaving Prague for New York at the age of five in 1939. From her fitful early loves, to evenings at the old Metropolitan Opera House, to her fascination with what it might mean to be a “bad girl,” Malcolm assembles a composite portrait of a New York childhood, one that never escapes the tug of Europe and the mysteries of fate and family. Later, Still Pictures delves into her marriage to Gardner Botsford, the world of William Shawn’s New Yorker , and the libel trial that led Malcolm to become a character in her own drama.
Displaying the sharp wit and astute commentary that are Malcolmian trademarks, this brief volume develops into a memoir like few others in our literature.
Beyond This Harbor by Rose Styron (Memoir)
A memoir of an extraordinary life—poet, international human rights activist, founding member of Amnesty International USA, journalist, hostess, famous beauty, foreign policy advisor; friend to politicians, movie stars, the legendary; discoverer of Philip Roth, longtime wife of Bill Styron and together, America’s literary golden couple at home and abroad
An intimate portrait of a celebrated magic life and the famous and infamous who dropped in, summered, traveled with, played with, and the decades of friendship with everyone from Truman Capote and Robert Penn Warren to the Kennedys, the Bernsteins, Alexander Calder, John Hersey, and Lillian Hellman.
Here as well are the years of dedication and risk, traveling the world, from Pinochet’s Chile to El Salvador, Belfast, and Sarajevo, as Rose Styron, in search of those hiding from dictators and autocrats, bore witness to atrocities and human rights violations . . .
Styron writes of her childhood, born into a German Jewish, assimilated Baltimore family; a rebel from the start, studying poetry at Wellesley, Harvard, Johns Hopkins; traveling to Rome and her (second) meeting with Bill (the first time, “I can’t remember even shaking hands. I wasn’t thinking about him at all.”); their eventual marriage, and their more than fifty years together—in bucolic Roxbury, Connecticut, and on Martha’s Vineyard.
She writes of Bill’s writing and of retyping his manuscripts, discussing his writing progress, having babies, with visits from neighbors Arthur Miller; Mike Nichols and various wives; Dustin Hoffman buying the house over the hill; James Baldwin moving in to Styron’s writing studio and writing The Fire Next Time , with Baldwin encouraging Styron to write Nat Turner in first person; Frank Sinatra, sailing into Vineyard Haven Harbor and soon dropping by for dinners chez Styrons; the Kennedys having rowdy sleepovers . . .
And she writes in detail about Bill Styron’s full-on breakdowns, his recovery from the first depression; writing Darkness Visible . And fifteen years later, the second much worse crash; Bill Styron’s death; her year of grief, teaching at Harvard; living full time on the Vineyard and making a new full life there . . .
When the pandemic caused the Westport, Connecticut Library to cancel classes, the students of the advanced writing class agreed to continue writing by recording and sharing the effects of a changed world on their daily lives—from toilet paper shortages to lockdowns to family tragedies. By turns funny, sad, politically incorrect, poetic, argumentative, and always personal, these compiled diaries follow the unfolding of the pandemic over the course of seven months. (Black & white illustration edition.)