In 11/22/63, Stephen King tells the story of a small-town teacher who goes back in time to stop one of the watershed events of American history — the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. But that turns out to be even tougher than it sounds. Although King is known as a science fiction and horror master, his recent novels have shown that he defies genre. Here's NPR critic Michael Schaub's verdict: "Although 11/22/63 combines the page-turning suspense of Dolores Claiborne with the history-obsessed literary fiction of Hearts in Atlantis, it is really unlike anything King has written before. ... [He] has managed to craft an exciting, plot-driven novel that's also a smart, sometimes heartbreaking reflection on what's left of the American dream."
Ali Smith's novel There But For The was selected by NPR critic Heller McAlpin as one of five books that made a lasting impression on her last year. Here's why: "Ali Smith's clever, by turns whimsical and subtly wrenching fifth novel ... sends you back to the beginning once you've reached the end, both to connect the dots of her intricately structured story and to marvel at what she has pulled off. It's about a dinner party guest who locks himself into his host's spare bedroom between the main course and dessert and refuses to come out for months, stoking an absurd media frenzy. With her penchant for wordplay on full display, the author of The Accidental switches between the perspectives of four people whose lives have been peripherally touched by her gentle shut-in."
When Columbus crossed the Atlantic in 1492, his journey prompted the exchange of not only information but also food, animals, insects, plants and viruses between the continents. Charles C. Mann writes about the changed world after Columbus' voyage in 1493. "It was a tremendous ecological convulsion — the greatest event in the history of life since the death of the dinosaurs," Mann tellsFresh Air's Terry Gross. "All of the great diseases from smallpox to measles to influenza ... [did not] exist in the Americas because they didn't have any domesticated animals. When the Europeans came over ... the result was to wipe out between two-thirds and 90 percent of the people in the Americas. It was the worst demographic disaster in history."
Every child jumping into the ocean or the deep end of the pool for the first time learns to fear Great Whites, even without seeing Jaws. But it has been years since we've had a serious investigative inquiry into the species. In Demon Fish, Juliet Eilperin, a seasoned journalist who has written previously about national politics, dives — literally — into the world of sharks, examining the ways different cultures have responded to and treated the fish over the centuries. She traveled the globe to report the book, spending plenty of time underwater, in close contact with the most deadly predators. What emerges is a detailed and thorough glimpse into the story behind the feared (and often misunderstood) creatures.
In 1934, Ernest Hemingway was the reigning king of American letters. He was just back from safari in Africa and the first thing he did after returning was head to the Wheeler shipyard in Brooklyn, N.Y., and buy a 38-foot fishing boat he named Pilar. Pilar would be Hemingway's refuge for the rest of his life, a place to escape from bad reviews and broken relationships. It's also the inspiration for a new book about the author, Hemingway's Boat. Author Paul Hendrickson says he discovered another side to the man on board Pilar. "He could be everything on that boat, he could be a boor and a bully and an overly competitive jerk, and he could save somebody who was in the water swimming from shark attack on that boat, and he could treat people with uncommon kindness on that boat," Hendrickson tells NPR's Rachel Martin.
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.