I saw an advance screening recently of the documentary “Turn Every Page,” about the long and fruitful collaboration between the biographer Robert Caro and his editor, Robert Gottlieb, who have worked together for five decades — starting with “The Power Broker,” Caro’s 1974 book about Robert Moses, and continuing through each installment of his unfinished, multivolume Lyndon Johnson biography. The film (which was directed by Gottlieb’s daughter, Lizzie Gottlieb, and will open in New York and Los Angeles on Dec. 30) is candy for bookish types, in its ability to dramatize the hard but humble work of wrestling with words and story: These are timeless matters, the documentary suggests, and they make a difference in the world.
But I mention it now mainly because of an aside that Bob Gottlieb offers at one point, elucidating the difference between editing and publishing. If editing is all about engaging with another mind through the words on the page, he says, publishing comes down to “sharing your enthusiasms with the public.” (Or words to that effect: I’m quoting from memory.) I love how simple this is, and how clarifying. It cuts through the industry’s valid but distracting concerns about branding and market share and media saturation to remind us that publishing, at its core, involves a primal transaction: enthusiastic readers pushing books into their friends’ hands and saying, “Here, read this.”
This week, we recommend two books about Hollywood — an oral history and a sort of memoir through film appreciation, by Quentin Tarantino — as well as a history of World War II refugees in Britain who managed to overcome profoundly trying circumstances. In fiction, we recommend this year’s Booker Prize winner and formally innovative new novels from Japan and Romania, along with a Swedish crime novel, a rediscovered collection of detective stories from 1912 and an optimistic take on the coming apocalypse. Happy reading.
BLAZE ME A SUN
This novel by a decorated Swedish crime writer — translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles, and centering on the murder of a young woman in a small town mere hours after the assassination of the prime minister — twines together national and personal traumas to devastating effect, offering readers deep pleasures and thrilling surprises.
“Carlsson plumbs what can and cannot be known about human lives and criminal investigations. He understands how familial love can blind people to difficult truths, and how ‘closure’ often never happens.”
From Sarah Weinman’s crime column
Hogarth | $28
THE MASTER OF MYSTERIES
In the early 20th century, Burgess wrote a series of stories about Astro the Seer — a Sherlock Holmes knockoff in the guise of a mystic, clad in a turban and red silk robes — and his comely assistant, Valeska. This reissued 1912 collection highlights Burgess’ infectious sense of the ridiculous: He hardly hides from the reader that Astro the Seer is a charlatan, his public proclamations of clairvoyance a subterfuge for milking the rich of their money.
“Astro and Valeska are also superior detectives, uncovering mysteries major and minor among the moneyed classes. What’s hidden from them — but not the reader — is their growing attraction. The resolution is equal parts dated and sweet, but also earned.”
From Sarah Weinman’s crime column
Poisoned Pen Press | Paperback, $14.99
THE ISLAND OF EXTRAORDINARY CAPTIVES:
A Painter, a Poet, an Heiress, and a Spy in a World War II British Internment Camp
Parkin’s account of a shameful chapter in British history — the imprisonment of thousands of mostly Jewish refugees in the Channel Islands between 1940 and 1945 — turns into an unexpected tale of resilience. At Hutchinson, an internment complex on the Isle of Man, fate, timing and the compassion of one commanding officer allowed an incredible range of people to create something of an intellectual oasis in a truly hopeless place. Following a teenage orphan named Peter Fleischmann, the historian brings a little-known story to vivid life.
“Parkin skillfully draws the reader into the serendipitously rich environment in which Fleischmann, along with a constellation of some of the most brilliant artistic, philosophical and scientific minds of the day, suddenly found themselves.”
From Juliet Nicolson’s review
Scribner | $30
THE SEVEN MOONS OF MAALI ALMEIDA
The winner of the 2022 Booker Prize, Karunatilaka’s novel is set in Sri Lanka and narrated by the ghost of a murdered photojournalist, who is trying to figure out who killed him and why. His quest gives readers a sweeping tour of a nation torn apart by civil war.
“Readers everywhere will find … what we all seek from great books: the exciting if overwhelming fullness of an otherwise unknown world told on its own terms.”
From Randy Boyagoda’s review
Norton | Paperback, $18.95
The Oral History
Jeanine Basinger and Sam Wasson
Using material from the deep resources of the American Film Institute, which since 1969 has brought in more than 3,000 industry professionals to talk about their work to AFI conservatory students, Basinger and Wasson offer a trove of candid, un-self-conscious insider observations from directors like George Cukor and Jordan Peele as well as from hundreds of actors, producers, cinematographers, makeup artists, camera operators, editors, screenwriters, casting directors and costume designers.
“Basinger and Wasson have done a snazzy job of folding topics into a timeline that begins in the era of silent movies and calls it a wrap with up-to-the-minute show folk throwing out words like ‘digital.’”
From Lisa Schwarzbaum’s review
Harper/HarperCollins | $37.50
Tarantino’s book is as much a filmgoing memoir as a work of criticism, beginning with an account of his youthful moviegoing in Southern California. An unabashed celebrant of cinema’s dirtier pleasures, he writes about them “liquid ballet” of Sam Peckinpah and the “consequences-be-damned moxie” of Cybill Shepherd in Peter Bogdanovich’s “Daisy Miller” with a precision and gusto that cannot help recalling the mixture of violence and tenderness in his own films.
“Tarantino’s critical intelligence both refracts and reflects: He reveals himself in his opinion of others, just as surely as he illuminates their influence in his own work. What unites the various threads and themes of this book is the broad autobiographical truth that he was a filmgoer before he was a filmmaker.”
From Tom Shone’s review
Harper/HarperCollins | $35
THE TATAMI GALAXY
In this novel, translated by Emily Balistrieri, a chance encounter with a minor god opens up a time loop for the nameless narrator, a junior at Kyoto University. Granted four precious opportunities to redo his squandered youth, he fails every time.
“Morimi’s trick is to wrong-foot his reader, denying us the pleasure of branching fates, and instead using each iteration to poke at the narrator’s unreliability — the ways he shunts blame, ignores his own damage, blinds himself.”
From Giri Nathan’s review
HarperVia | $26.99
THE LIGHT PIRATE
This novel — in which the federal government announces that Florida, after years of hurricanes and flooding, is being abandoned, “released back into the wild” — centers on Wanda, who becomes a conductor of light when she touches bodies of water, and Phyllis, a survivalist. For these reluctant friends, life after the collapse of civilization is not desolate but “quiet and rich and straightforward.”
“Brooks-Dalton has a different sort of vision for the post-apocalypse, one that’s not so dystopian. … Nagging questions about exactly how these two women have stocked enough food, water, propane and batteries are quieted by the cumulative power of watching an entire life unfold in a place returning to a state of nature.”
From Amy Rowland’s review
Grand Central | $28
In this Romanian novel, translated by Sean Cotter, a teacher in Communist-era Bucharest reflects on his disturbing dreams and his lifelong search for meaning. Equally grotesque and mundane, the book is an engrossing study of a cerebral antihero, who longs to escape his earthly existence.
“A surrealist detective novel, albeit one of vast, existential dimension. … Only a novel so sprawling, so unexpected, so incongruous could house such a sublime neurosis.”
From Dustin iIlingworth’s review
Deep Vellum | Paperback, $24.95