Two of the most frequently repeated words in Freedom, Jonathan Franzen's much-anticipated fourth novel, are "freedom" and "mistake," and they're curiously linked. For Franzen's characters, freedom means, in part, the liberty to make mistakes — mistakes that are examined, dissected minutely and, occasionally, corrected. Some dissenters have not found Freedom all it's cracked up to be, to wit the Great American Novel hailed in a recent Time magazine cover story. But despite the inflated expectations, as well as Franzen's sometimes glaring ambition, our reviewer found that admiration won out.
The second volume of Selected Stories by William Trevor — the writer anointed by The New Yorker as "the greatest living writer of short stories in the English language" — confirms once again that Trevor is a master of capturing those small shifts in consciousness that shatter someone's world. As an Irishman who has lived most of his long life in England, he is inevitably compared to James Joyce. But Trevor's much more developed taste for the macabre creeps up on a reader slowly. And yet, the signature response of Trevor's characters to their bricked-in situation is a fatalistic shrug garnished with black Irish humor.
The phrase Nashville Chrome may bring to mind big Cadillacs from the '50s, but it actually describes a sound that changed country music when those Cadillacs were on the road. It's also the title of a new novel by Rick Bass, who describes the sound as "very safe, reassuring, and comforting." Based in fact, the novel tells the story of The Browns: three siblings (Jim Ed, Maxine and Bonnie Brown) from Arkansas who made hit records in the '50s.
Culled from South African political leader Nelson Mandela's letters, two major collections of taped conversations, notebooks and an unfinished sequel to his autobiography, this volume includes lessons in revolutionary theory from his guerrilla training, vignettes of prison life, correspondence with loved ones, political strategizing and protests, and reflections. What emerges most strongly is his resolve — "the knowledge that in your day you did your duty and lived up to the expectations of your fellow man is in itself a reward" — and the will and grace to embrace the good even in his prison guards.
Just north of China lies a vast region that's as much metaphor as it is a place: Siberia, one-twelfth of the world's land mass, winters that plunge to 90 below and swamps in the summer that produce walls of mosquitoes. It's a place synonymous with punishment and exile, or even a bad table at a fashionable restaurant. But for writer Ian Frazier, trekking across its eight time zones with a rickety van and a couple of Russian guides was a supreme adventure.
Charlotte Abbott edits "New in Paperback." A contributing editor for Publishers Weekly, she also leads a weekly chat on books and reading in the digital age every Friday from 4-5 p.m. ET on Twitter. Follow her at @charabbott or check out the #followreader hashtag.