The secret that informs the family story in Tayari Jones' third novel, Silver Sparrow, is revealed in the first line: "My father James Witherspoon is a bigamist." As critic Rigoberto Gonzalez explains, "two families live with this reality, but only one knows the truth. The daughters become friends. They are half sisters, but only one of them knows it. One girl moves through life guarding this secret, the other lives in blissful ignorance. While Jones' book is fiction, it has roots in her biography." Ultimately, Gonzalez says, this is "a fascinating story that examines the psychological effect a father's deception has on his wives and children."
David McCullough is "about as dependable as they come if you're in the mood for a narrative history that sweeps you, through luscious detail and anecdote, into a bygone age," says NPR book critic Maureen Corrigan. His new book, The Greater Journey, moves beyond the historical events and personages of his works like 1776 and John Adams to follow the young Americans like Mary Cassatt and Oliver Wendell Holmes who sailed to the Old World between 1830 and 1900 to soak up the education in art, medicine and science the New World couldn't offer. "McCullough evokes a vision of early 19th-century Paris crowded with restaurants and gambling houses," says Corrigan, "but his greatest achievement is the realization he gives readers of how new America still was back then, sans medical schools and serious art academies."
"Give me writing that reeks of sound and motion," writes Roy Blount Jr. as he one-ups his 2008 lexicon, Alphabet Juice, with Alphabetter Juice. As book critic Heller McAlpin sums up, "Blount is partial to words that are what he calls "sonicky," at once sonic and kinesthetic — words like hump, hunch, blurt and blob. He likes hippopotamus for evoking both hippy and bottomous, and because it's fun to say. Before getting into the etymology of strumpet, he comments, "A synonym for whore that rhymes with trumpet! If that ain't brassy, what is?" Whether you're a wordsmith, a stickler for grammar, or you just miss William Safire's column on language, there's a lot to wrap your head around in this quirky, freshly squeezed alphabetical compendium of verbal curiosities, spiked, of course, with Blount's sharp wit."
New York Times financial writer Diana Henriques was the first journalist to interview Bernie Madoff after the money manager was sentenced to 150 years in prison for his Ponzi scheme, and says she was struck that even behind bars, Madoff was a "fluent liar." Henriques was not duped by Madoff financially, but she did know him in the 1990s on Wall Street as one of the key figures reshaping the American stock market through automation and computerization. Madoff's scheme exploited "not investors' greed but investors' fear — their fear of volatility, their fear of losing what they have," she explains. "In fact, through many of the years of Madoff's fraud, investors could have made a lot more money even in some of the very prominent mutual funds. ... But they were willing to give up those greater returns in exchange for the consistency of Madoff's returns. He made them feel safe."
Bill James is perhaps best known for creating a system of statistics that changed the way baseball was seen, measured and played. But his most recent work focuses on a very different pastime of his. His latest book, Popular Crime, presents James' thoughts on some of our culture's most infamous crime stories, such as the Boston Strangler of the early 1960s, or the 1954 case of a pregnant woman who was murdered in her Cleveland home that inspired the film and TV series The Fugitive. Among the questions he raises: How reliable is the justice system? Can we count on justice being done? What do we do with prisoners? James says the distaste many people have for issues related to crime and punishment prohibits a meaningful public debate about it. The problem, he says, is that "we can't get past the 'ugh' factor."
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.