Norwegian author Per Petterson may be Scandinavian, but his books are as quiet and contemplative as Stieg Larsson's Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books are violent and action-packed. Petterson's last book, Out Stealing Horses, was a surprise hit in the U.S. In I Curse the River of Time, he draws on tragedies in his own family to explore the thorny relationship between a mother and son. As the novel begins, Arvid's marriage is ending — just as his mother learns that she is dying of cancer. She wants nothing more than to be alone, and so she heads out to the family's summer cottage in Denmark. Arvid, obsessed with his own problems, follows her, determined to repair their relationship, which was strained when he became a communist. Eschewing plot, Petterson draws the reader in with his spare, eloquent use of language, which compels the reader to slow down and pay attention.
Combining elements of fashion, cutting-edge technologies, spy thrillers and science fiction, Zero History has been hailed as one of Gibson's best efforts since the cyber punk novels that made his name. At the center of this near-future tale is the mysterious businessman Hubertus Bigend, who previously appeared in Pattern Recognition and Spook Country (though it's not necessary to read those books to enjoy this one). In his pursuit of military fashion –- which he believes is impervious to economic recession — Bigend enlists down-on-her-luck rock star Hollis Henry to track down a brand of denim that's so exclusive it's virtually non-existent. More than the plot and characters, what's most captivating is Gibson's vivid, textured prose and the stunning insight into the present.
The Hare with Amber Eyes was NPR critic Nancy Pearl's favorite work of nonfiction last year. The author, a potter and curator of ceramics at the Victoria & Albert Museum, contemplates the history of his ancestors, a fabulously wealthy Jewish banking family, from the late 19th century through World War II. The linchpin for his discussion is a collection of 246 netsukes, miniature ornamental carvings (including one of a hare with amber eyes), which were originally collected by the first Charles Ephrussi, scion of a family that was a cultural force both in Vienna and in Paris. Charles was a patron of many artists and writers; he was also the model for Swann in Proust's great novel, and he appears in Renoir's The Luncheon of the Boating Party. Anyone who loves history or biographies or art will enjoy it.
We suffer the judgments and manipulations of others, the embarrassment of our bodily fallibility, our clumsiness and failures — and through these humiliations become human. In a world that seems increasingly fake, humiliation rings true for everyone. In a series of fugue-like meditations, noted poet and critic Wayne Koestenbaum explores the idea of humiliation in history, literature, art, current events, music, film, and his own life. Mingling observations on cultural icons like Basquiat and the Marquis de Sade with political scandals, reality television and erotic Craigslist personal ads, he looks at the circumstances that make humiliation possible, such as the triangle of victim, abuser and witness. His wide-ranging exploration also encompasses racism, lynching, and police brutality, and how humiliation blurs the distinction between observing and experiencing suffering.