Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins thinks that too many poets show off and write obscure verses that turn off many readers. In his latest collection, Horoscopes for the Dead, he strives to write poetry that all readers can appreciate. "I'm trying to write poems that involve beginning at a known place, and ending up at a slightly different place," he says. "I'm trying to take a little journey from one place to another, and it's usually from a realistic place, to a place in the imagination."
One part crime thriller, one part ambitious novel, one part prose poem, Cara Hoffman's haunting debut tells the tale of two girls who go missing in a small town in upstate New York. Journalist Stacy Flynn decides to use the first girl's murder as a chance to ask big questions about assault, women, blame and deceit in a small town. Then 15-year-old Alice Piper, a local brainiac and the daughter of Gene and Claire (who narrate much of the novel), reads Flynn's story and decides to do some probing of her own, connecting several dots and nearly discovering the killer — until she too disappears.
Historian Adam Hochschild traces the patriotic fervor that catapulted Great Britain into war during the summer of 1914 in his historical narrative To End All Wars. The book frames the Great War not as a struggle between nations but as a struggle between individual people — sometimes even family members — who supported and opposed the war. "If you look at the conflicts our country has been involved with in recent years — Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq — it's the poor who have done most of the dying. But in WWI it was different because it was the tradition in most of the major countries for upper-class young men to have military careers, who led their men into a hail of machine gun fire."
Like many couples, Robert and Dayna Baer met at work, fell in love and got married. Unlike many couples, the Baers met while they were part of a covert team of CIA operatives. Dayna was an up-and-coming young agent when she went to Sarajevo. For Robert, it was more of a last hurrah. "I had a cloud over my head," he says. "I was sort of in hiding, even within the CIA, because I had attempted to assassinate Saddam Hussein." Though their operation in Sarajevo was legal, it was aborted at the last minute and Robert ended up under investigation, which he knew meant the end of his career. That didn't stop him from finishing off the mission in a flamboyant manner. He picked Dayna up at the airport in a lime-green rented station wagon with "Orangina" emblazoned in orange on the side.
"Take a lesson from me," Irwin Shaw advised William Styron. When you become a father, "dole the child out to yourself in small doses, for your career's sake." Styron was predisposed to take this advice. "The Novel," his youngest daughter Alexandra tells us in her exquisitely written biography Reading My Father, "owned his heart." Success for Styron came early in life with Lie Down in Darkness (1951), but he remained a perfectionist, producing in his 81 years only two more novels, The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967) and Sophie's Choice (1979). Reading My Father delivers a portrait of an immensely talented and troubled, agnostic and alcoholic man — and a candid, compelling account of his daughter's struggle to understand, forgive and maybe even like him.
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.