Noteworthy paperbacks

December 22, 2012 

A Man of Parts by David Lodge. (Penguin) Once called “the man who invented tomorrow,” H.(euro) G. Wells (1866-1946) wrote in a range of forms and genres: from science fiction to gritty working-class realism and Wikipedia-like history. (An autodidact of deep intellectual curiosity, he also immersed himself in socialist politics and free love.) Lodge’s smart novel reimagines Wells’ life and his many tormented relationships with women, including Rebecca West.

Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin. (Penguin) Tomalin, who has written biographies of Jane Austen, Samuel Pepys and Thomas Hardy, shows how Dickens’ difficult path to greatness – the melodrama, colorful characters and reversals of fortune – inspired the creation of several of his classic novels and left him torn between the man he wanted to be and the one he found he was.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain. (Ecco/HarperCollins) After surviving a fierce firefight in Iraq, eight American soldiers are whisked stateside for a brief victory tour (and a Dallas Cowboys game on Thanksgiving Day) in Fountain’s darkly satirical first novel.

Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness by Nicholas Humphrey. (Princeton University) In his enjoyable and instructive account, Humphrey, an emeritus professor of psychology at the London School of Economics, looks at consciousness in evolutionary terms to explain how the “magical interiority of human minds” creates the foundation for existence.

In-Flight Entertainment: Stories by Helen Simpson. (Vintage Contemporaries) Global warming hangs over many of the stories in Simpson’s fifth collection: there are activists, skeptics and those who believe in climate change but are resigned to it. In the title story, two strangers on a trans-Atlantic flight debate the subject while a third passenger is dying.

My Song: A Memoir of Art, Race, and Defiance by Harry Belafonte with Michael Shnayerson. (Vintage) Belafonte, the international calypso star, actor and mainstay of the civil rights movement, recalls his tumultuous life. There are indelible characters (Sidney Poitier, Eleanor Roosevelt, Fidel Castro) and fascinating segues (from baccarat with Frank Sinatra to lunch with Martin Luther King Jr.). “Scenes of extravagant waste, scenes of righteous anger,” Garrison Keillor wrote here, “rich contradictions abound.”

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. (Reagan Arthur/Back Bay/Little, Brown) In Ivey’s evocative retelling of a Russian fairy tale, a childless couple struggling to adapt to the harsh Alaskan wilderness in the 1920s are heartened by the arrival of a young girl who hovers between reality and fantasy.

Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942 by Ian W. Toll. (Norton) Toll’s diligently constructed history, stretching from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the Battle of Midway, calls attention to vital yet lesser-known episodes, including the desperate defense of Wake Island and the secret efforts of America’s code-breakers.

New York Times

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