NPR book critic Heller McAlpin writes that Jeffrey Eugenides' Pulitzer Prize-winning 2002 novel, Middlesex, was a tough act to follow. It explores identity transformations on both national and personal levels, as his characters change countries and genders. In contrast, Eugenides' 2011 novel, The Marriage Plot, involves "what may strike some readers as a rather ordinary love triangle between three freshly minted Brown University graduates striving to find their footing in the world," McAlpin writes. "Set in 1982 — when Eugenides was, in fact, an undergraduate at Brown — it seems in many ways like a more typical first novel than a third. ... Among the questions the students fervently discuss is whether books can be 'about' something at all, and, if so, whether they are about 'real life' or just 'other books.' Eugenides' The Marriage Plot manages, impressively, to be about both."
Chosen as one of the year's freshest reads by bookseller Rona Brinlee of The BookMark in Neptune Beach, Fla., Sebastian Barry's latest novel, On Canaan's Side, is about an 89-year-old woman named Lilly who looks for a reason to go on after the death of her grandson Bill. The story is structured around the 17 days after Bill dies, as Lilly writes her life's story. Brinlee writes, "In these days, Lilly receives visitors who conjure up stories from her past. The men in Lilly's life appear and disappear, often mysteriously. Somehow, she is so captivating, it's easy not to worry or wonder what happened to these men. When they reappear at the end of the novel and their fates are revealed, the reader may be surprised. This fast-paced part of the novel seems like an extra gift. It is juxtaposed to a gentle and poetic story about a life well-lived and the musings of a woman deciding what her end will be."
One aspect of Barack Obama's presidency that consistently arouses curiosity is his marriage. New York Times correspondent Jodi Kantor has covered the president and the first lady's very public relationship through his presidential campaign and their years in the White House. In The Obamas, Kantor traces how the couple has dealt with the criticism that comes with acting as prominent role models both nationally and internationally — and how they have tried to maintain their marriage and family life in the midst of a very public spotlight. "My goal was to write a book about the presidency that treated the president and the first lady as partners, which is what I truly think they are," she tellsFresh Air's Dave Davies.
In September 1957, as 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford approached Little Rock High School in the wake of the Supreme Court decision that outlawed racially segregated schools, she was met by a mob of white segregationists, many of them students. One picture in particular came to represent that incident to the world; a photo of Eckford with her back to an advancing crowd and one young white woman screaming at her. That young woman was another teenager named Hazel Bryan. But, of course, there was more to the story. David Margolick's book Elizabeth and Hazel expands on the weeks, months and years after the Little Rock incident. In it, Margolick shines light on Eckford's battle with post-traumatic stress and on the intriguing relationship that developed between the adult Eckford and the woman who once tormented her.
These days, so much of our communication is expressed in text that people become deeply attached to the typeface they use. Like the car you drive or the clothes you wear, your font expresses who you are, and can go in and out of style. Simon Garfield's new book Just My Type explores the history of typography in a series of meditations that appealed strongly to bookstore owner Daniel Goldin of Boswell Books in Milwaukee. "From hand lettering to Gutenberg to hot metal type to computer graphics, Garfield's story is filled with twists and turns, and what I can only call typography gossip," Goldin writes. "This book unlocked so many memories, [from] tracing fonts out of a library book as a child ... [to] my own search for a sign typeface for our bookstore ... Just My Type has not just been fun to sell, but fun to discuss."
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.