The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation by Jon Gertner. (Penguin) Bell Labs, the onetime research and development wing of AT&T, was behind many of the technological transformations that define modern life, including the transistor, lasers and cellular telephony. Gertner’s incisive history is filled with inspiring lessons and asks a critical question: What causes innovation?
Coral Glynn by Peter Cameron. (Picador) Set in the English countryside in spring 1950, Cameron’s novel is a story of love missed and love found among the withdrawn inhabitants of an isolated mansion. At its center are Coral, a young nurse caring for Edith Hart, the terminally ill lady of the house; and Clement Hart, Edith’s war-ravaged son.
India Becoming: A Portrait of Life in Modern India by Akash Kapur. (Riverhead) Raised in the southern state of Tamil Nadu and educated in America, Kapur returned to India in 2003. His lucid, balanced account shows how change has brought contrast and contradiction – despite decades of new opportunities, poverty stubbornly persists; heedless growth despoils the environment – and weaves the stories of an array of Indians similarly disoriented by the rapid transition.
The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin. (Harper Perennial) In a rural stretch of the Pacific Northwest at the turn of the 20th century, Talmadge, the reclusive protagonist of Coplin’s first novel, offers sanctuary to two pregnant teenage runaways. But armed men are after the girls, and the tragedy that follows sets Talmadge on an irrevocable course not only to save them but also to reconcile the misfortune of his own troubled past.
The Lives of Margaret Fuller by John Matteson. (Norton) A fiery social critic known today primarily as a transcendentalist, Fuller (1810-50) was one of the most talented and provocative women of her generation. Matteson’s biography stresses Fuller’s “protean character,” revealing in chapter titles her successive, overlapping “lives” – from “prodigy” and “misfit” to “revolutionary” and “victim.”
What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank: Stories by Nathan Englander. (Vintage International) Englander insightfully and uproariously tackles questions of morality and history with characters who define themselves largely through their embrace (or rejection) of Jewish tradition. The title story, inspired by Raymond Carver’s classic, transposes New Mexico to South Florida but still takes the form of a quiet competition between two couples.
Mycophilia: Revelations From the Weird World of Mushrooms by Eugenia Bone. (Rodale) Bone, a food writer and skilled forager, explores all things fungal and offers colorful field notes on mushrooms as culinary delicacies, biofuels, hallucinogens and more.
The Sugar Frosted Nutsack by Mark Leyner. (Back Bay/Little, Brown) Leyner’s antic novel is a self-referential epic of mischievous gods (XOXO, Fast-Cooking Ali, Mogul Magoo) and their chosen one, an unemployed butcher from New Jersey named Ike.
New York Times