Margaret Drabble was named a dame of the British Empire in 2008 for her 17 novels, which have mirrored the changing lives of women over the past 50 years. A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman gathers 14 stories from what Drabble herself calls "a lifetime of really not writing short stories." When she saw the stories arranged in chronological order, she found them to be a kind of emotional autobiography, from the breakup of her marriage in the '70s to the rise of her career and the care and rearing of three young children.
Novels devoted to middle-aged divorcees rebuilding their lives are becoming their own genre. The latest example is Cleaning Nabokov's House by Leslie Daniels, which is set in the residence occupied by Vladimir and Vera Nabokov when the famous writer was teaching in nearby Ithaca, N.Y. Its current resident is newly divorced Barb Barrett, the novel's narrator and main character. "Love, attraction, literary values, cooking, cleaning, the making of good sentences, kissing well, raising children and wardrobe malfunctions all come under scrutiny in this engaging story," said reviewer Alan Cheuse.
Writer Donna Leon has lived in Venice, Italy, for three decades, and in that time she has published 20 crime novels featuring the suave detective Commissario Guido Brunetti. As usual, the latest Brunetti thriller, Drawing Conclusions, features plenty of red herrings, glasses of wine and servings of pasta. It begins with Brunetti being called away from dinner to investigate the death of a widow. Although the medical examiner has declared that she died of a heart attack, Brunetti is suspicious and applies his considerable detective skills to get to the truth.
Gypsy Rose Lee was the most popular theatrical entertainer of her time, famed as much for her wit as for her shtick. Yes, she'd slip off certain articles of clothing. But you'd see just as much flesh in a Doris Day movie. Gypsy Rose Lee always, but always, left her admirers wanting more. "Her great accomplishment," author Karen Abbott says, "was the idea of blending sex and comedy." But "Gypsy the person had a really conflicted, tortured relationship with Gypsy Rose Lee the creation," Abbott says. "She loved Gypsy Rose Lee because it brought her all these things she wanted — fame, and money, and security — but she also loathed the limitations of her creation. She sort of lived in an exquisite trap that she herself had set."
Rodney Crowell has been called Nashville's "golden boy" and "the songwriter's songwriter." He has released nearly 20 albums in the past four decades and received awards from ASCAP, the American Music Awards and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, which wrote that he "revolutionized the sound of country music with his Cherry Bombs band and with the records he produced for Rosanne Cash." In Chinaberry Sidewalks, his rough-and-tumble childhood in East Texas sounds like fodder for a good country song: There were a hard-drinking father and a churchgoing mother and a good dose of honky-tonk music — with drugs, sex, fighting and love thrown in for good measure. Then, in 1972, Crowell moved to Nashville to follow his own passion: songwriting, where he set about becoming an artist.
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.