John Irving's novel is a coming-of-age story about Billy Abbott, a character at the mercy of his own teenage crushes. Billy spends many days backstage at the local theater, where gender roles can fluctuate and where his family members are regulars. Much of Billy's growing up occurs in his relationships — some with women, others with men. Irving tells NPR's Scott Simon that, as a writer well into his adult life, he was comfortable being frank about sexuality. "I just think as an older person you can be more candid with yourself about who you were and how thoroughly intimidating and confusing and conflicted the world of adult sexuality seemed when you were on the doorstep of it but still standing outside," he says.
NPR book critic Maureen Corrigan writes,"The decrepit ancestral pile where murder is committed at the beginning of Denise Mina's psychological thriller, The End of the Wasp Season, could have been lifted out of the Gothic tales that Conan Doyle savored." The story takes place in a wealthy suburb of Glasgow, Scotland, where a young woman staying in her newly deceased mother's house suddenly wakes up when the kitchen radio goes dead, and hears something outside her closed bedroom door. "Like her fellow Scot, Conan Doyle, Mina relishes combining elements of the uncanny with crisp insights into the various diseases of the human psyche," observes Corrigan. "The End of the Wasp Season is a tale that lingers long after you might wish it could be exorcised."
When David Maraniss' biography of the president was first released, it sparked headlines about Barack Obama's relationships with his college girlfriends and his marijuana use as a young man. But there's much more to Barack Obama: The Story, writes NPR book critic Michael Schaub. "Maraniss does a fine job chronicling the early years of the first African-American to become leader of the free world ... The book is a story of a young man looking for his identity, for his place in the world, 'moving not only from culture to culture but also from political group to political group ... never staking a home, never grabbing hold of something and making it his.'"
Some believe America is in decline, but author Robert Kagan disagrees. In The World America Made, the neoconservative writer and former adviser to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney argues that what people think of as decline is based on a faulty memory of how things used to be. "People have a sense that America used to call the shots, used to be able to dominate the world, get everyone to do what we wanted them to do. And of course that's ludicrous," he tells NPR's Steve Inskeep. Further, Kagan argues, "on the economic side, the United States produces 25 percent of the world's GDP, and has for the past 40 years ... People note the rise of China and Asia, which is true, but most of that has come at the expense of Europe's declining GDP. In terms of military power, even with defense budget cuts that I think are unfortunate, the United States is still by far the most powerful nation in the world."
From Gandhi to Joe DiMaggio to Mother Teresa to Bill Gates, introverts have done a lot of good work in the world. But being quiet, introverted or shy was sometimes looked at as a problem to overcome. In the 1940s and '50s the message to most Americans was: Don't be shy. And in today's era of reality television, Twitter and widespread self-promotion, it seems that cultural mandate is in overdrive. In Quiet, Susan Cain — who tells NPR's Audie Cornish that she considers herself to be an introvert — explains how introversion fell out of style, and how introverts can best capitalize on their strengths and gifts.
Charlotte Abbott edits "New in Paperback." A contributing editor forPublishers 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.