Noteworthy paperbacks

January 25, 2014 

Love Is a Canoe by Ben Schrank. (Picador/Sarah Crichton) Her marriage in trouble, the heroine of Schrank’s novel – a crackling send-up of the New York publishing industry and an inquiry into the fragility of human relationships – turns for help to the author of “Marriage Is a Canoe,” a classic self-help book she read as a child.

Engineers of Victory: The Problem Solvers Who Turned the Tide in the Second World War by Paul Kennedy. (Random House) Roosevelt, Truman, Churchill and Stalin grasped the laurels for the Allied triumph in World War II, but Kennedy’s fresh, discursive history stresses the technological innovation and organizational efforts of little-known men and women – soldiers, scientists, engineers and businessmen – who helped win the war.

Vampires in the Lemon Grove: And Other Stories by Karen Russell. (Vintage Contemporaries) A grim, stupendous magic is at work in Russell’s uncanny second collection. In the title story, a century-old marriage between two vampires (who savor lemons in lieu of blood) suffers because the husband has developed a fear of flying.

James Joyce: A New Biography by Gordon Bowker. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) Bowker, who has written biographies of Malcolm Lowry and George Orwell, intimately binds together the life and work of Joyce (1882-1941), providing nuanced accounts of his exile from Ireland; his battles with poverty; and his out-of-wedlock relationship, scandalous for the time, with Nora Barnacle.

Reasons of State by Alejo Carpentier. Translated by Frances Partridge. (Melville House) In the 1970s, Carpentier (1904-80), Gabriel García Márquez and Augusto Roa Bastos challenged one another to write novels about the dictatorships spreading misery in Latin America. (García Márquez wrote “The Autumn of the Patriarch”; Roa Bastos, “I the Supreme.”) In “Reasons of State,” first published in 1974, a Latin American despot (“the Head of State”) is luxuriating in 1910s Paris. But World War I soon breaks out, and it seems he hasn’t effectively crushed a rebellion back home.

Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala. (Vintage) One of the Book Review’s 10 Best Books of 2013, this is an unforgettable memoir of Deraniyagala’s struggle to carry on living after her husband, sons and parents were killed in the tsunami that struck the southern coast of Sri Lanka on Dec. 26, 2004.

The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman. (Bloomsbury) Beauman’s audacious second novel concerns Egon Loeser, a self-pitying set designer in 1930s Germany who is less worried about the Nazis than about the prospect that he “may never have sex again.” Beauman follows Egon’s carnal misfortunes – and his investigations into the possible existence of a teleportation device – from the experimental theaters of Berlin to the absinthe bars of Paris and the physics labs of Los Angeles.

New York Times

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