Walking on the Ceiling
While studying literature in Paris—where she fled after her mother’s death in Istanbul—Nunu meets M., an older British writer whose novels about her home country she’s always admired (and which Nunu’s mother never found authentic). The student and writer strike up a friendship, first via email and then on long walks around the city, and Nunu questions and reshapes the stories of her past, at first in the service of M.’s new novel, and then as a necessary untangling of her own memories.
When her friend and mentor dies, the narrator of Sigrid Nunez’s The Friend—winner of the 2018 National Book Award—inherits the friend’s large and depressed Great Dane, Apollo. The narrator’s musings on grief coalesce with her thoughts on living and working as a writer, a vocation she and her friend shared, and she finally begins to bond with Apollo while reading her drafts out loud from her writing desk.
Set among the hallowed halls of an exclusive New England MFA program, Mona Awad’s sophomore novel is biting, brilliant, and totally unconventional. Samantha Mackey couldn’t be more different than the cloying, self-obsessed rich girls in her fiction cohort, who call each other Bunny—but when she’s invited to their off-campus “Workshop,” Samantha’s let in on their chilling, ritualistic practices of creation and imagination.
How Could She
Reeling from a breakup and jealous of two friends’ seemingly glamorous lives in New York City, 39-year-old Geraldine decides to call it quits in Toronto and reboot her life in NYC, where she makes a career pivot into podcasting. Hidden from social media are Sunny and Rachel’s struggles—Rachel trying to keep writing as a new mother, and both women struggling to stay afloat in the world of print media.
In 1990s New York City, James Smale has just about given up on ever selling his novel when it’s finally bought by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Of course, there are pains in publishing autobiographical work, even when it’s shelved as fiction, and James’s relationships with his family and partner may be undone by his work. Jackie encourages James to go home and face his mother, in order to reach an ending—for the book, and for his past—that feels right.
Casey Cep’s true-crime thriller meets literary biography in Furious Hours—an engrossing look at a murder trial in 1970s Alabama that novelist Harper Lee spent years reporting on, with no book to show for it in the end. One thread unfolds the crimes of murderous preacher Reverend Willie Maxwell and the vigilante relative who shot and killed him; the other follows Lee in her post-To Kill a Mockingbird years, struggling with newfound fame and the pressure to write another great novel.
The Body Lies
Seamlessly shifting gears between literary fiction and thriller, Jo Baker’s latest plays out in the confines of a creative writing classroom. Thinking of her new teaching job in the English countryside as a needed refuge, a young professor finds herself reading increasingly disturbing drafts by a male student, who’s cast her as an ill-fated character in his book. With The Body Lies, Baker spins an unflinching, slow-burning story about violence against women.
Rudyard Kipling reached the peak of his literary fame in 1907 when, at age 41, he became the youngest winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Raised in colonial India and educated in England, Kipling is infamous for works both canonized (The Jungle Book) and loathed (“The White Man’s Burden”). In If, scholar Christopher Benfey recounts Kipling’s rise and fall, bringing to light his years in America that Benfey calls “the key creative period in (Kipling’s) entire career.”
In the third and final installment of the Jack Dana series, retired Marine infantry officer Jack hopes to finally settle down into his career as a novelist and start a family with his partner, Heidi—which should follow suit, as his archnemesis is finally dead, and he’s living pretty off royalties and movie rights for his war-themed novels. But a new killer known only as “the Monster” enters Jack’s life, leading to a series of horrific events.
The Secrets We Kept
Lara Prescott’s debut novel tells two unforgettable—and overshadowed—stories in one. There’s the legendary love story between author Boris Pasternak and his lover, Olga Ivinskaya, who inspired the heroine of Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago; and then there’s the story of two secretaries plucked from the CIA typing pool and tasked with smuggling Pasternak’s unpublished Zhivago manuscript out of the USSR. It’s everything you want from historical fiction, and then some.
The Vanished Bride
Brontë fans, delight! In the start of a new historical mystery series, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë repurpose their rich imaginations and sharp readerly sensibilities to become “lady detectors.” Their first case involves a young wife and mother who’s disappeared from Yorkshire in 1845, and their sleuthing puts them in no small amount of danger (and no small amount of critique from a culture that thinks women should stay home).
The Sweetest Fruits
Nineteenth-century writer Lafcadio Hearn wrote 29 books during the course of his career, in nearly every genre. In The Sweetest Fruits, Monique Truong shapes his biography through three women who made his work possible: his mother, who was forced to leave 2-year-old Hearn behind in 1852 Ireland; his first wife, a former slave who met Hearn in Cincinnati; and his second wife, a former samurai’s daughter, who collaborated on his work.
If you love books, odds are you love books about books—including the authors who write them, the editors who champion them, and, in at least one case, the women who smuggle them out of the USSR so they can be published for the world to read. We’ve rounded up 12 of our favorite new books about writers both real and fictional. Crossing era, genre, and levels of literary fame, these reads offer a peek into where the magic happens.
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