This debut collection by of 12 stories by talented young Southern writer Megan Mayhew Bergman evaluates the surprising moments when our bonds with nature become evident. The leading story, about a single mother whose son tries to reclaim an African Gray parrot, was included in The Best American Short Stories 2011. Another story features lemurs as characters, and there's also one about a population-control activist who longs to have a baby. Overall, the collection is a delight, with fresh turns of phrase and unusual insights into the daily worlds we inhabit.
The connection between art and alcohol is legendary. In Jeanne Darst's bittersweet memoir, Fiction Ruined My Family, she writes about what happens when they become enmeshed with family life. Her story begins with her family moving from St. Louis to Amagansett, N.Y., to fulfill her father's writing ambitions. (Although he did complete a novel, he never sold it.) Meanwhile,Darst watches her mother's drinking get out of control. The greatest challenge Darst's upbringing posed for her in adulthood was how to become a writer without becoming an alcoholic. "For a long time, I was worried about becoming my mother," she tells NPR's Audie Cornish, "and then I was worried about becoming my father, and then I was worried about becoming myself."
In Eric Weiner's Man Seeks God, the former NPR foreign correspondent heads around the world on a humorous and thoughtful quest for spirituality. It's a logical next step from his 2008 book, the best-selling Geography of Bliss, an account of his hunt for happiness. Only this time, he was inspired to search for God after severe abdominal pains landed him in a hospital emergency room. But rather than exploring his Jewish heritage, Weiner spends time with the mystical Islamic Sufi sect, then Tibetan Buddhists in Katmandu and Franciscan friars in New York. In the end, Weiner doesn't come away with something entirely new to believe in. Instead, he tells NPR's Steve Inskeep, what he found was an "IKEA God": "Some assembly required. ... [The] idea [is] that you can cobble together your sort of own personal religion, a sort of mixed tape of God."
Most people are familiar with Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man drawing of a nude with his arms and legs stretched, inside a square within a circle. But few know the story behind the work — what drove him to sketch it and how it fit into his own theories about man's place in the universe. Toby Lester explores Leonardo's passion to create an image of the perfectly proportioned human in Da Vinci's Ghost. The book also delves into the facts of the artist's life and character. "You have the myth of him as this kind of fully formed genius," Lester tells NPR's John Donvan. "But at the time I'm talking about in the book, which is the 1470s and 1480s, he is coming of age; he's learning the tricks of the trade; he is apprenticing himself to other artists and making mistakes and living it up as well. And then he's trying to make a living, and he's not necessarily doing that well."
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.