Jo Nesbo is celebrated as one of Norway's most acclaimed thriller writers, having won the Glass Key Award for Best Nordic Crime, an honor also bestowed on Sweden's Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell. As NPR book critic Maureen Corrigan observed, "The Snowman stars Nesbo's police detective antihero Harry Hole, who, like most of his tribe, drinks too much and has trouble sustaining relationships. When women in and around Oslo begin disappearing, Hole realizes that all of them have strayed from their marriages. Even odder, a snowman marks the spot where the disappearances have occurred. ... The Snowman is a standout thriller, capable of disturbing your slumbers long after the first thaw."
Way back in 1979, Albert Brooks' film Real Life demonstrated eerie foresight about the depths to which today's reality TV routinely sinks. So it makes sense to pay attention to his first novel, 2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America. As critic Glen Weldon describes it, "in Brook's vision, the cure for cancer results in an America that can no longer afford to care for its increasingly hale, hearty and long-lived elderly; the deep resentment harbored by young people over the crippling debt visited upon them by their parents flares into violent acts; and the long-predicted Big One finally arrives. ... Brooks' voice is consistently engaging, his comic timing lets him know when to leaven the proceedings with a joke, and he resolves the novel's crisis in a way that's both surprising and inevitable."
Jo Ann Beard's first novel, In Zanesville, captures the terror, joy, uncertainties and angst of growing up in small-town 1970s America, from best friends to big sisters, boys, baby-sitting and clothes-buying expeditions, according to librarian Nancy Pearl. "I don't think I'll ever forget the unnamed, perfectly realized 14-year-old narrator of In Zanesville. ... The writing is simply radiant," she says. But in the spirit of full disclosure, Pearl also added "I gave this book to both of my grown daughters and, independently, they each told me they found it too depressing."
Funny and influential poet James Tate has been up to something unusual in the latter half of his long career, represented by The Eternal Ones of the Dream, a new selection of his poems, says critic Craig Morgan Teicher. "Tate usually starts somewhere plausible but unlikely," he explains. The poem "Shiloh" begins "On Monday, Miss Francis told her sixth-grade / class that she was getting married soon," leading into a story about a teacher who bends her students' ears about breakups and reconciliations with her husband-to-be rather than teach the Civil War. "You'll laugh out loud then wonder ... if you've ever seen yourself so clearly," concludes Teicher.
The IBM computer Deep Blue that beat chess champion Gary Kasparov in 1997 is only one recent example of our centuries-old aspiration to create a machine that thinks like humans. The star of the latest chapter of that story is the IBM supercomputer Watson, which competed against champions on the game show Jeopardy! As Stephen Baker shows in Final Jeopardy, his account of Watson's development, the computer doesn't just have to know math; it has to understand natural language, too — including the nuances and irony in the questions on Jeopardy! It's a much tougher challenge than just thinking 20 steps ahead in chess.
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.