Noteworthy paperbacks

November 2, 2013 

The Keats Brothers: The Life of John and George by Denise Gigante. (Belknap/Harvard University) “The Cockney Pioneer deserves a place next to the Cockney Poet in the visionary company of Romanticism,” Gigante writes in this savvy pairing of the lives of John Keats (1795-1821) and George Keats, whose emigration to the United States and fluctuating fortunes on the Western frontier inspired his brother’s most sublime poetry.

May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes. (Penguin) Homes channels John Cheever in this acerbic novel of 21st-century domestic life. Its narrator, Harold Silver, has spent a lifetime watching his more successful brother acquire a covetable wife, two children and a beautiful home in the suburbs of New York. But when his brother’s murderous temper gets the better of him, Harold steps in as the unexpected patriarch of a family in turmoil.

Far From The Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon. (Scribner) One of The New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of 2012, this passionate and affecting work complicates everything we thought we knew about love, sacrifice and success. Solomon spent 10 years interviewing hundreds of families, exploring how they grow stronger or fall apart while coping with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia or, in some cases, multiple extreme disabilities.

The City of Devi by Manil Suri. (Norton) India and Pakistan are on the brink of nuclear war in Suri’s third novel, which completes a loose trilogy (following “The Death of Vishnu,” in 2001, and “The Age of Shiva,” in 2008). As Mumbai braces for a strike, Sarita searches for her reticent husband, Karun. Joining Sarita is the irrepressible Jaz, who has his own reasons for wanting to find Karun.

We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy by Yael Kohen. (Picador) This oral history assembles the United States’ most prominent comics, along with the club owners, producers, writers, agents and network executives in their orbit. Kohen begins with two very different 1960s innovators, Phyllis Diller and Elaine May, and ends with the sexual explicitness of Chelsea Handler, Sarah Silverman and assorted newcomers.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis. (Vintage) Working at the edges of history, Mathis’ first novel follows Hattie Shepherd, a black woman who flees the Jim Crow South for Philadelphia in 1923. The story winds its way through five and a half decades, and in overlapping vignettes we learn of the sorrows visited upon Hattie and her many children. Our reviewer, Isabel Wilkerson, called this novel “raw and intimate.”

The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate by Robert D. Kaplan. (Random House) Kaplan traces the history of the world’s hot spots - their climates, topographies and proximity to other embattled lands – and applies the lessons learned to present crises in Europe, Russia, the Middle East and elsewhere.

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