What We're Reading, Jan. 6-12, 2010
This week, Anne Tyler's new novel explores one man's rudderless existence, and Elizabeth Gilbert offers an older and wiser follow-up to Eat Pray Love. Also, a narrative of life in North Korea, and in Summertime, J.M. Coetzee offers a fictional biography of the author ... J.M. Coetzee.
A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage
By Elizabeth Gilbert
Elizabeth Gilbert and Felipe, the man she fell in love with at the end of her best-selling memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, promised to love but never marry. (Both survived painful divorces.) They are forced into a decision by a Homeland Security agent who detains Felipe at an airport: They must marry or he cannot live with her in the U.S. During months in exile, she agonizes about her reservations and explores the meaning of marriage across cultures and its historic implications for women.
Hardcover, 304 pages, Viking Adult, List price: $26.95, pub. date: Jan. 5
By Anne Tyler
Liam Pennywell is a genial man whose life has been beset by a series of failures that he accepts without argument. When we first meet him, at age 60, he has just lost his job teaching philosophy at a middling private school and is downsizing into a prefab apartment complex next to a shopping mall on the outskirts of Baltimore. He plans to live out the rest of his life reading books and avoiding his nagging ex-wife, three grown daughters and sister — who buzz in and out of his life with an energy and purposefulness that stands in contrast to Liam's rudderless existence. As the story begins, Liam is shaken out of his dormant state by an intruder who enters his new apartment through an unlocked patio door and knocks him unconscious. Liam, who has no memory of the blow, becomes obsessed with reconstructing those missing hours and sets off on a series of improbable adventures that reawaken him to his past.
Hardcover, 288 pages, Knopf, list price: $25.95, pub. date: Jan 5
Nothing To Envy
Ordinary Lives in North Korea
By Barbara Demick
North Korea is among the most opaque and wretched countries on the planet. Trying to write a narrative book about the closed, Stalinist nation is a task most journalists wouldn't take on a bet. But Barbara Demick has pulled it off. Demick, a former Los Angeles Times correspondent in Seoul, spent seven years interviewing defectors who lived in the North Korean city of Chongjin at the height of a famine that cost up to 2 million lives. Relying on their remarkably detailed recollections, she has crafted a vivid, oral history of a single city in the darkest days of one of the world's worst regimes.
Hardcover, 336 pages, Spiegel & Grau, list price: $26, pub. date: Dec. 29
By J.M. Coetzee
Summertime is the third of J.M. Coetzee's fictionalized autobiographical novels. In the first two, Boyhood and Youth, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist provided glimpses of his coming of age in South Africa and London, respectively. In Summertime, he takes a different tack. The book is set soon after the death of the fictional writer J.M. Coetzee. It's told through a series of interviews between a fictional biographer and five people who knew the "late" writer before he became famous. The interviews are bookended by two sets of the writer's notebooks, which trace his metamorphosis into a novelist. In real life, Coetzee is a notoriously private man, and much of the fictional Coetzee's life differs starkly from the author's own experiences, so where fiction ends and autobiography begins is anybody's guess.
Hardcover, 272 pages, Viking Adult, list price: $25.95, pub. date: Dec. 24
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