Noteworthy paperbacks

December 7, 2013 

The Inventor and the Tycoon: The Murderer Eadweard Muybridge, the Entrepreneur Leland Stanford, and the Birth of Moving Pictures by Edward Ball. (Anchor) At the height of his genius, Eadweard Muybridge, a British immigrant whose advancements in photography in the late 1800s gave rise to the motion picture industry, killed his wife’s lover in cold blood. Ball weaves an account of that crime, and the sensational trial that followed it, into the larger story of Muybridge’s complicated relationship with his patron, the railroad magnate Leland Stanford.

Middle C by William H. Gass. (Vintage International) Gass’ unquiet bildungsroman about a family of Austrian emigrants – fraudsters who cast themselves as Jews during World War II – is arranged in a variety of rhythms, forms and tones, with music as both theme and structure.

Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother by Eve LaPlante. (Simon & Schuster) Louisa May Alcott’s much-put-upon mother, Abigail May Alcott, is the complex core of “Little Women.” LaPlante, a descendant of Abigail’s brother, mines what’s left of Abigail’s letters and journals to show that “Marmee” (as her daughters called her) was a fine writer, an indefatigable reformer and Louisa’s literary lodestar.

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version by Philip Pullman. (Penguin) Since Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published their first volume two centuries ago, stories like “Rapunzel” and “Hansel and Gretel” have become embedded in the Western imagination. Pullman, author of “The Golden Compass,” has chosen 50 classic tales; each includes commentary on its sources and the various forms it has taken over the years.

What’s A Dog For?: The Surprising History, Science, Philosophy, and Politics of Man’s Best Friend by John Homans. (Penguin) This fascinating and emotionally satisfying book is both a survey of the latest research on canine cognition and a memoir of a family’s years with their Lab mix, Stella. Homans travels far and wide, speaking to scientists, aid workers and breeders to discover how dogs have achieved their “honorary personhood.”

Magnificence by Lydia Millet. (Norton) A new widow inherits a peculiar Southern California estate in the final installment of Millet’s lyrical trilogy that started with “How the Dead Dream” and “Ghost Lights.” The mansion would have done Hitchcock proud: It features a menagerie of elaborate taxidermied animals, from big game to flamingos.

Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights by Marina Warner. (Belknap/Harvard University) From Freud to Disney, Warner examines the impact of “The Arabian Nights” – Scheherazade’s “polyvocal anthology” – on the West.

New York Times

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