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Five Good Reads

1. Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan
Read this not so much for its action but for its character development. It’s always tricky to say that a book is character-driven rather than plot-driven. There is, of course, a plot in Jennifer Egan’s novel. But the reader sticks with the narrative largely because of the developing character of the protagonist.
2. Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
Hell if I know what happens here, but it’s fascinating stuff anyway. What to think about for a writer: How to break rules, and when to break them. If this had been the author’s first story ever submitted, who would have published it? I can just imagine the rejection letter. “Thank you for letting me read this fascinating but unpublishable novel.”
3. Leonardo, by Walter Isaacson. The author is once again thorough in his work, and proves that as with his other biographies, one needn’t hold a Phd in the subject at hand, but commit to total immersion. As with his other books, this one takes a good deal of concentration, as Isaacson’s storytelling skills are not up to his reporting mastery. Yet, it’s Leonardo. Who else is more important? Trump?
4. The Other New Girl, by LB Gschwandtner. Here, in what seems to be a coming-of-age novel set in a private school, are storytelling twists and surprises you’ll long treasure. As I say on the book’s jacket,
5. The Pentagon Papers. If you’ve seen The Post, or if you’ve had the faintest interest in the origins and lies of the Vietnam War — why wouldn’t I, a veteran? — this is for you. As our country edges toward another war orchestrated by yet another chicken hawk, this is enlightening stuff.

Writing in Future Tense

In 2027, Donald Trump is planning a fourth term as president (he has declared the Constitution illegal) and the Supreme Court can’t do anything about it because it is reduced to one doddering justice who, at more than 100 years old, has forgotten everything she knows. Read about final case to come before the courtContinue Reading

You Go Girl, Title-Wise

Anyone who read Gone Girl, or Girl on the Train, or Girl in the Dark or Girls on Fire, or the Stieg Larsson’s trilogy that began with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo that started the girly title trend must know the irony. These are no girls, at least in the sense that, in responsibleContinue Reading

Michael Lewis and the Roundabout Reward

Today Michael Lewis’s new book, “The Undoing Project,” will be published to great fanfare, and for good reason. For writers, this event holds many lessons. One is that the old saw, “Write what you know,” now requires an expanded definition, maybe something like, “What you know is more than you think you know, and lessContinue Reading

Afraid to Live

The patrons of memoir and the players of politics seldom hang out at the same urban street corner, but they certainly do in the cases of a stunning new book by Cindy Brown Austin and the election of Donald Trump. To fully appreciate this intersection, and the potential power of eloquent words in a timeContinue Reading

In a Nutshell, Keep it a Secret

If you become a fan of Ian McEwan’s new novel, Nutshell, and I can’t see why you wouldn’t once you’ve read the very first page, you must do your best to hide your enthusiasm from certain people. As you probably know by now, this narrative is in the voice of a fetus who demonstrates aContinue Reading

All The Light We Can Research

In the back of his blockbuster novel, All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr provides an extensive acknowledgment list. It is not uncommon, of course, for authors to publicly thank those who provided support, but in the novel world it is an element seldom carried out to this extent. Anyone reading the book wondersContinue Reading

William Zinsser, Teacher

The last time I saw William Zinsser was the summer of 2013 at the house in Niantic, CT., where he lived with his wife Caroline during the summer months. He was completely blind by then, a result of severe glaucoma. But, as he sat with the writer Cindy Brown Austin, whom I brought to theContinue Reading

Philip Levine

When I heard of the death of the poet Philip Levine, I thought of his brother, Ed, who wasn’t mentioned in the New York Times front-page obit. I’d never met Ed, but I remember the way Philip talked about him. It was with love, of course, and with respect for the way Ed made aContinue Reading

Remembering P.D. James

I am late in weighing in on the death of P.D. James, whom I knew in two ways — as a devoted reader of her Adam Dalgleish novels and as a colleague in a writers conference in Key West many years ago. I remember that, walking to a panel discussion, she took my arm andContinue Reading