Jillian Quint

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Frivolous pragmatists, rejoice! This season’s design books are all about utility and style, and it turns out the two are not mutually exclusive. Take a gander at our holiday picks to see how design takes cues from simplicity and durability to make for classic and enduring looks.

Green house effect
Terence Conran has been on the home design scene for more than 40 years, and his previous books have all been markers of his revolutionary and modern style. His latest, The Eco Housebook, brings this same aesthetic and utilitarian sensibility to the subject of eco-friendly home design and living—and the good news is that, quite often, it’s simply a matter of working with what you’ve already got. In this exquisite, full-color coffee table book, Conran shows ways to improve energy efficiency, save water and reduce waste—most of them easy on the wallet, all of them easy on the eyes. From better insulating your home to enhancing natural light to using natural plasters and paints, The Eco Housebook provides real solutions for people concerned with both beauty and sustainability.

DIY with an eye
For aspiring decorators sick of all the pricey, oversized design tomes boasting glossy pics of way-too-perfect homes, Elaine Griffin’s Design Rules: The Insider’s Guide to Becoming Your Own Decorator will prove a welcome respite.

Ranked as one of House Beautiful’s Top 100 American Designers, Griffin has always brought a sensible, budget-friendly and chic approach to her work, and now she shows readers how to do the same. Design Rules provides practical tips for do-it-yourself endeavors. For instance, did you know that the top of your coffee table should always be an inch or two lower than the height of the sofa’s seat cushion? Or that any powder room should have two light sources in order for a lady to properly check her makeup? With Griffin as your guide, you’ll learn all this and a whole lot more.

Looking back on a century
The transient and à la mode nature of design often makes it difficult to distinguish fad from classic. Fortunately, antique expert Judith Miller’s 20th Century Design: The Definitive Illustrated Sourcebook helps distinguish the major from the minor players, the lasting looks from the passing fancies.

Organized by period (Modernism, The Craft Movement, Art Deco, etc.), this full-color handbook featuring over 1,000 specially commissioned photographs shows what to look for across categories, from furniture and silverware to sculpture and industrial design. Each entry—say, Mid-Century Modern Murano Glass—includes a detailed account of the movement’s identifying features, history and important designers, as well as photos of sample and iconic pieces. This is a must-have for collectors and 20th-century art enthusiasts alike.

City living
Restoring a House in the City, by Ingrid Abramovitch, is as much for real-estate dreamers and voyeurs as it is for those looking to renovate. After all, just a peek at the pages of exposed brick and coffered ceilings will have any lover of interior design drooling with jealousy.

Taking readers inside some of America’s most exquisite antique townhouses, Abramovitch teaches the ABCs of restoration, from hiring a contractor to properly preserving a brownstone. The homeowners here include fashion designers, artists, conservationists and even a famous actress (Julianne Moore, whose luxurious Manhattan apartment will make jaws drop), and their approaches to restoration diverge: some prefer to keep design authentic to the building’s time period, while others add daring dashes of modern flair. But one thing they can all agree on is the importance of restoring these often failing or dilapidated homes to their former glory.

Full of tips for working within a budget and timeframe, Restoring a House in the City is a lush, practical guide for the urban dweller—celebrity or otherwise.

Jillian Quint is a stylish assistant editor at the Random House Publishing Group.

Frivolous pragmatists, rejoice! This season’s design books are all about utility and style, and it turns out the two are not mutually exclusive. Take a gander at our holiday picks to see how design takes cues from simplicity and durability to make for classic and enduring looks. Green house effect Terence Conran has been on the […]
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The holidays always bring a crop of sumptuous books about fashion and décor. And in a time when many are taking stock of what they have and where they’ve come from, designers too are looking back at history for grounding and inspiration.

HAMPTON GETAWAY
The daughter of design legend Mark Hampton, Alexa Hampton comes naturally to her trade, and her interior designs speak to the history that’s clearly been instilled in her. The Language of Interior Design is the younger Hampton’s first book, and it succeeds as both a window into the stunning residences she revamps and a practical guide to the elements of good design.

Organized by four governing aesthetic principles—contrast, proportion, color and balance—this elegant tome takes readers through 18 impressive residences from Hampton’s portfolio, including a landmark New York pied-à-terre, a palatial Tudor home and a tucked-away Queen Anne summer cottage. Hampton explains that a client’s style and needs must be honored, but at the same time shows how she brings her own flair to all her projects—from her use of grouped furniture as a way to balance large spaces, to her untraditional combination of French, Moroccan and Swedish influences in one beach-side living room.

The lessons learned are applicable to even modest homesteads, and the sheer beauty of Hampton’s work is impossible to ignore.

HEAD FIRST
Anyone familiar with American film history is no doubt familiar—at least by sight—with the work of Edith Head. Known for her Dutch-boy haircut and trademark sunglasses, Head was one of Hollywood’s leading and most influential costume designers, as well as a pioneering woman in a man’s industry. She worked on more than 400 films, including Double Indemnity and The Birds, and ultimately received more Academy Awards than any woman in history.

But her story is fascinating beyond the Grace Kelly ball gowns and Dorothy Lamour sarong, as Jay Jorgensen shows in his biography-cum-coffee table book, Edith Head: The Fifty-Year Career of Hollywood’s Greatest Costume Designer. Jorgensen’s scrupulously researched and handsomely assembled work follows Head from her humble beginnings in Searchlight, Nevada, through her unparalleled success and struggles with industry politics, and up to her final years and ensuing legacy. Filled with pithy anecdotes and never-before-seen sketches, Edith Head is the book for the costume design enthusiast.

THE WAY SHE IS
Barbra Streisand is undoubtedly an entertainment icon. But who knew she was a home designer as well?

Babs’ first foray into the world of writing, My Passion for Design, is a refreshing counterpoint to the celebrity tell-alls and workout regimens that litter bookstore discount bins. Instead, Streisand treats readers to her philosophy on architecture and construction as it pertains to her most recent Malibu homes, along with 350 vibrant photographs of these modern-day refuges. Her taste is both refined and lively (glimpses of her ravishing gardens are enough to make even the most green-thumbed jealous) and her look takes its cues from American design of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

Word has it that Streisand initially set out to write a more traditional memoir, but early in the process realized that her living spaces were the true portals to her life. My Passion for Design provides access to these portals, and lets fans see a new side of the woman behind the persona.

IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD
In the past year, there’s been a crop of books related to the Emmy-winning TV series “Mad Men,” from entertaining guides to ad industry tell-alls. So it was only a matter of time before the show’s impeccable 1960s clothing got the publishing treatment.

The Fashion File: Advice, Tips, and Inspiration from the Costume Designer of Mad Men by Janie Bryant, costume designer for the acclaimed program, takes fans and costume enthusiasts inside the show’s design process, while at the same time showing every woman how to channel her inner Joan, Betty or Peggy.

As one might expect, there are plenty of examples of how Bryant styles her now-iconic women (pastels and blues for icy Betty, small patterns for naïve and hopeful Trudy). But there’s also useful advice for readers looking to bring the sophistication and femininity of “Mad Men” to a more modern look. For instance, Bryant recommends that all women get acquainted with their body type before hitting the stores. “You can conveniently forget your age, but you had better be clear on your bust size,” she warns. Likewise, she explains how to use undergarments and shapewear to one’s advantage, creating the figure that will work best with your wardrobe.

There’s even a section on how to style your man, so you can make him Don Draper-dapper—if, hopefully, a little less of a cad.

LESS IS MORE
Even runway aficionados often take Minimalist style for granted, reducing the easily recognizable looks of Balenciaga and Jil Sander to “classic” or “simple.” But the truth is, this mainstream aesthetic owes everything to the rich history of Minimalist design as it pertains to both high art and high fashion.

Parsons professor and fashion historian Elyssa Dimant’s weighty-but-approachable new volume, Minimalism and Fashion: Reduction in the Postmodern Era, traces the evolving genre—from its roots in 1960s art and architecture up through contemporary concepts of neo-minimalism and the 21st-century machine.

Organized chronologically and featuring 150 breathtaking images, Minimalism and Fashion examines the work of many fashion greats—Coco Chanel, Issey Miyake, Alexander McQueen, Miuccia Prada—as both products of their time and ambassadors for the style that has been at the design forefront for more than half a decade. And at every turn, Dimant compares trends in the world of clothing with those in the world of art—Sol LeWitt’s sculptural cube opposite Helmut Lang’s 2003 Spring/Summer collection, Calvin Klein’s streamlined, androgynous wardrobe in dialogue with 1980s and ’90s postminimalist feminist work.

“Minimalism is about moving forward without nostalgia,” boasts Francisco Costa’s appropriately restrained foreword. True though that may be, we’re glad that Dimant took the time to look back.

The holidays always bring a crop of sumptuous books about fashion and décor. And in a time when many are taking stock of what they have and where they’ve come from, designers too are looking back at history for grounding and inspiration. HAMPTON GETAWAY The daughter of design legend Mark Hampton, Alexa Hampton comes naturally […]
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Fashionable friends are the toughest to shop for. You wouldn’t dare buy them clothing and, anyway, their closets are already jam-packed. Luckily several chic new style books by both big-name connoisseurs and under-the-radar experts have recently hit the bookshelves—all great for gifting to the fashionistas in your life. From the glossy and gorgeous to the text-driven and probing, here are six of the best.

THE TRENDSETTERS

Katharine Hepburn. Jackie Kennedy. Madonna. You know a style maven when you see one. And yet, their particular breed of je ne sais quoi is often difficult to pin down. Luckily, fashion historian and Parsons professor Elyssa Dimant has done the work for us in The Style Mentors: Women Who Define the Art of Dressing Today.

Breaking down these trend­setters into eight signature looks, Dimant explains how the most stylish women approach their wardrobes and how burgeoning fashionistas can achieve similar success. From the icons (Coco Chanel, Cate Blanchett) to the mavericks (Isabella Blow, Daphne Guinness), bohemians (Veruschka, the Olsen twins), gamines (Audrey Hepburn, Twiggy), sirens (Marilyn Monroe, Beyoncé), minimalists (Donna Karan, Sofia Coppola), rockers (Debbie Harry, Gwen Stefani) and classicists (Wallis Simpson, Michelle Obama), The Style Mentors outlines the world’s greatest fashion role models, alongside lovely, illustrative photographs.

In addition to the eye candy, Dimant’s book proves exceedingly useful. Learn why a bohemian never wears flats and how Dita Von Teese tailors vintage clothing to fit her famous curves.

AGE-OLD TRENDS

As anyone who has ever worn a cloche or coveted a bustle knows, fashion is as much about looking backward as it is about envisioning the future. Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume and Style acknowledges this centuries-old journey, tracing some 3,000 years of high couture and humble duds—from the draped fabrics of ancient times through contemporary street style.

Moving both chronologically and geographically through the ages, this stunning coffee table book —penned by Smithsonian consultant and Cooper-Hewitt curator Susan Brown—looks in on such clothing moments as Etruscan dancing garb, Flemish squirrel-skin kirtles and 17th-century baroque doublets.

Somewhere between history lesson and fashion spread, Fashion is particularly adept at capturing the ways in which Western style was greatly influenced by design from around the world.

VOGUE'S HEAVY HITTERS

This fall marks the 120th anniversary of Vogue. In appropriately lavish celebration, the world’s most iconic couture magazine is releasing a glamorous new volume chronicling the publication’s history as seen through the eyes of eight of its most memorable editors.

Told via in-depth interviews with each of these visionaries, Vogue: The Editor’s Eye gives a glimpse into the process, proving that the magazine’s cutting-edge fashion spreads are as much about editorial point of view as they are about model-photographer-designer collaboration.

Here, readers learn about Babs Simpson (fashion editor, 1947-1972), who traveled to Cuba to shoot Ernest Hemingway; Jade Hobson (1971-1988), an advocate for flattering power suits and the liberated career woman; and Phyllis Posnick (1987-present) who took a conceptual, provocative approach to the fashion narrative.

Alongside these stories are iconic photos from Vogue’s own pages (from heavy hitters like Richard Avedon and Annie Leibovitz) as well as wonderfully telling behind-the-scenes shots. An introduction by Anna Wintour adds an extra air of backstage insight.

WARDROBE MAKEOVERS

As the co-host of TLC’s “What Not to Wear,” stylist Stacy London is a pro at helping regular women ditch frumpy sweaters and dated jeans to dress properly for their lifestyles and body types. Her new book, The Truth About Style, follows in this empowering makeover tradition (or what London calls “a startover”) while also incorporating the writer’s own history of self-doubt and renewal.

London’s struggle is all too familiar: When she graduated from Vassar at the age of 22, she weighed only 90 pounds, having devoted her senior year to both academics and anorexia. This battle with her weight stretched into adulthood, and it was only through her work helping women look their best that she learned to love herself.

In The Truth About Style, London interweaves her own story with those of nine women desperately in need of a style startover—from a post-mastectomy cancer survivor to a busy mom who hasn’t bought new clothes in seven years. Working with each to construct a new wardrobe (and life) outlook, London deftly shows that the way we present ourselves influences the way we feel.

TIM GUNN'S TUTORIAL

What Stacy London is to the style-impaired, Tim Gunn is to aspiring designers, having served for 12 seasons as the ultimate mentor on the hit reality show “Project Runway.” In Tim Gunn’s Fashion Bible: The Fascinating History of Everything in Your Closet, the coolly collected clothing authority goes beyond styling advice (or pleas to “make it work”) to tell the quirky and often downright strange histories of just about every article of clothing or accessory ever worn.

Readers are treated to factoids like how a man’s politics used to inform his necktie choice, why there was once historical concern with making pants difficult to remove and what the connection was between World War II prudence and the rise of the bikini (hint: It involves fabric rationing).

With the same dry humor and anecdotal joy Gunn fans have long admired, his Fashion Bible proves both a useful reference book and a fun read.

20TH-CENTURY STYLE

Cameron Silver began his career in the theater, and it’s easy to see how this flair for drama informed his work at Decades, the L.A. vintage boutique he opened in 1997.

Decades: A Century of Fashion is Silver’s gorgeous, oversized love letter to the style eras that comprise his collection. Beginning with the Edwardian hats and John Singer Sargent silhouettes of the turn of the 20th century, and moving through 1990s Kate Moss cool and deconstructed minimalism, Decades explores the designers, models and overarching looks that defined each period.

At every point in history, Silver is careful to detail conflicting aesthetics, concluding that fashion is always about dichotomy. Take, for instance, the 1970s’ simultaneous attention to sporty all-Americanism (Cheryl Tiegs) and disco danger (Bianca Jagger), or the complicated crossover between Grace Kelly’s and Bettie Page’s mid-century appeal.

Silver attributes a different “it designer” to every decade, but perhaps more emblematic of the times are the photo plates he inserts between chapters—pictures of gowns taken at extreme close-up, such that the material, stitching and color come into vibrant, telling view.

Fashionable friends are the toughest to shop for. You wouldn’t dare buy them clothing and, anyway, their closets are already jam-packed. Luckily several chic new style books by both big-name connoisseurs and under-the-radar experts have recently hit the bookshelves—all great for gifting to the fashionistas in your life. From the glossy and gorgeous to the […]
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At the start of Monica Ali’s third novel, In the Kitchen, executive chef Gabriel Lightfoot fears he has bitten off more than he can chew. His multi-ethnic staff is unruly, his girlfriend wants more from their relationship, his father is ill, his secret plans to open his own dining establishment threaten to unravel, and one of his porters has just turned up dead in the basement of his London restaurant. For a while, Gabe keeps things under control, erring on the side of both caution and obligation. But, after he agrees to help his former employee Lena, a young Belarusian woman with a dark past, his life takes a series of twists that lead him away from his sense of duty and, in turn, from the things he thinks he wants.

Ali’s highly acclaimed debut, Brick Lane, centered on Bengali immigrants in London, and it’s easy to see how her interest in multiculturalism and nationality extends to the new novel. However, where the first book was focused and contained, In the Kitchen is surprisingly far-reaching and delightfully nuanced—messy even, in the best way possible. After all, much of Gabe’s neurosis and guilt stems from his Englishness, his ho-hum middle-class worries about tea and football and cancer in the face of Lena’s concerns about human trafficking, poverty and horrific violence. As a way to assuage this guilt, he takes her on as his cause worth fighting for. But this charity is misguided. The more he tries to help Lena, the more he hurts himself; and the more he seeks to understand the inner workings of his kitchen, the more muddled his life becomes.

Ali doesn’t provide easy answers for either her characters or readers. Gabe is endearingly flawed from page one, making choices that are somehow both admirable and cringe-worthy. But it is precisely this duality that wins readers over as Ali employs her immensely vibrant and critical voice to address yet another side of the complicated intersection between where one comes from and who one is.

Jillian Quint is an Assistant Editor at the Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.

At the start of Monica Ali’s third novel, In the Kitchen, executive chef Gabriel Lightfoot fears he has bitten off more than he can chew. His multi-ethnic staff is unruly, his girlfriend wants more from their relationship, his father is ill, his secret plans to open his own dining establishment threaten to unravel, and one […]
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At the start of The Swan Gondola, Timothy Schaffert’s enchanting new historical novel, two elderly spinster sisters discover a man in their front yard who has fallen from the sky (or from a hot air balloon, at least). The man in question is Ferret Skerritt, a ventriloquist turned star-crossed lover with an incredible tale to tell. 

The story-within-a-story begins several months earlier, in the spring of 1898, at the opening of the Omaha World’s Fair. Ferret, who rolls with a Fellini-like crew of freaks and circus performers, becomes enchanted by Cecily, a beautiful member of a traveling horror troupe. (She plays Marie Antoinette and nightly has her head chopped off.) Despite a rocky start, the two quickly fall in love, and their relationship blossoms amid the magic and mysteries of the fair.But as with all too-good-to-be-true romances, a threat looms. Here, it’s in the form of William Wakefield, an older Fair investor who has an eye on Ferret’s dummy, Oscar—not to mention Cecily herself. 

Schaffert clearly did a tremendous amount of research for this book, and he’s at his best when cleaving to historical detail and quirky fact. The uncanny automatons cackle with life; the late-night séances are chill-inducing; and the sinking of the USS Maine is on everyone’s mind. But Schaffert’s period authenticity is also literary in nature. He’s clearly a fan of L. Frank Baum, and Wizard of Oz references are plentiful, though at times heavy-handed.

The Swan Gondola will no doubt garner comparisons to Water for Elephants and The Night Circus, and fans of such historical romances will not be disappointed. There’s plenty of magic to go around in this good, old-fashioned love story.

 

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Read our Q&A with Timothy Schaffert about The Swan Gondola.

At the start of The Swan Gondola, Timothy Schaffert’s enchanting new historical novel, two elderly spinster sisters discover a man in their front yard who has fallen from the sky (or from a hot air balloon, at least). The man in question is Ferret Skerritt, a ventriloquist turned star-crossed lover with an incredible tale to tell. 

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Inadvertent culpability. Suburban insanity. Personal and familial redemption. Such are the subjects of A.M. Homes’ ambitious, sprawling and nearly Dickensian new novel that follows one middle-aged, middle-class man from bad to worse to renewed, and everywhere in between.

May We Be Forgiven opens with a series of unfortunate events. George Silver, a widely loathed television executive, flies off the handle after a deadly car accident. Harry Silver, a Nixon scholar with less money and success than his brother, finds himself not only embroiled in the drama, but also entwined emotionally and sexually with George’s gorgeous wife, Jane—that is, until George comes home and bludgeons her to death with a table lamp.

And that’s when things really get crazy. Homes—never one to shy from unpleasant situations—takes these brothers’ bad deeds as her starting point, and Harry’s circuitous quest for forgiveness as the book’s core. Abandoned by his shrewish wife and saddled with the care of George’s two precocious children, Harry moves into his brother’s Westchester home and begins to build a brand new life. This process, it turns out, is as hilarious as it is wrenching. Think kleptomaniac great aunts, Internet sexcapades with lonely housewives and a covert mission to recover Richard Nixon’s lost short-story collection.

In many ways, Nixon and the failed American dream form the cheeky subtext of this novel: The house, the wife, the kids are an outmoded myth, and even when good men try, they come up short. This said, Homes is also up to something sneakier and more redemptive with her madcap antics. By seeking to do good in the lives of others, she seems to say, and by cobbling together a different version of the nuclear family, we can heal ourselves.

Such issues might seem weighty, but Homes is never didactic—a balance she achieves with the sheer strangeness and deadpan nature of her tale. Indeed, one never can predict what’s going to happen next. In a less capable writer’s hands, this spiraling and volatility might feel disorienting. But with Homes at the helm, you can’t help but be delighted by the ride.

RELATED CONTENT: Our Q&A with Homes about May We Be Forgiven.

Inadvertent culpability. Suburban insanity. Personal and familial redemption. Such are the subjects of A.M. Homes’ ambitious, sprawling and nearly Dickensian new novel that follows one middle-aged, middle-class man from bad to worse to renewed, and everywhere in between. May We Be Forgiven opens with a series of unfortunate events. George Silver, a widely loathed television […]
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In the wake of the 150th anniversary of Edith Wharton’s birth, there has been much discussion of the writer, from Jonathan Franzen’s polarizing New Yorker piece to the inevitable “Downton Abbey” comparisons.

But in many ways, Francesca Segal’s The Innocents is the most ambitious commentary of them all. In this impressive debut novel, Wharton’s masterpiece The Age of Innocence is imagined as a contemporary tale, set in the insular Jewish suburb of North West London.

In Segal’s update, “gentleman lawyer” Newland Archer is recast as Adam Newman, a good Jewish boy set to marry his high school sweetheart, Rachel Gilbert, whom he met on a trip to Israel in high school. All is going according to plan when Rachel’s long-estranged cousin Ellie re-enters the community after being kicked out of Columbia University for making a pornographic video. Tall, sexy and irreverent, Ellie is like nobody Adam has ever met—certainly the exact opposite of his bubbly, carb-counting and achingly familiar fiancée. As the wedding approaches, Adam’s desire for Ellie increases and, much like Wharton’s cowardly hero, he struggles with how much rebellion he is willing to embrace.

Rachel and Ellie are more self-assured than their Age of Innocence counterparts. Ellie recognizes Adam’s feelings from the onset and is both discouraging and complicit in his pseudo-conquest. Likewise, Rachel emerges as more intelligent than she initially lets on, finding ways to re-engage her precious “Ads” at the very moments he seems closest to abandoning her.

This three-person power play is interesting enough already, but what makes The Innocents so smart and compelling is the way in which Segal renders the story entirely her own. Via her expert knowledge of her characters’ milieu, readers are granted intimate access to a wonderfully specific world. Yet the Gilberts’ upper-middle class preoccupation with Purim plays and Friday night dinners and holidays on the Red Sea will ring true not only to those familiar with such traditions, but also to anyone who comes from a similarly cloistered community.

In the wake of the 150th anniversary of Edith Wharton’s birth, there has been much discussion of the writer, from Jonathan Franzen’s polarizing New Yorker piece to the inevitable “Downton Abbey” comparisons. But in many ways, Francesca Segal’s The Innocents is the most ambitious commentary of them all. In this impressive debut novel, Wharton’s masterpiece […]
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The family vacation has been the subject of many a comedic essay and Chevy Chase film, but in Mark Haddon’s new book, it gets both the literary and psychological treatment.

The Red House, Haddon’s first adult novel since 2006’s A Spot of Bother, is undoubtedly the writer’s most ambitious undertaking to date. And yet, it also pays homage to his most acclaimed book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: In both stories, Haddon taps into the brains of children while at the same time making the quotidian feel larger than life.

His latest offering follows one family—husband Dominic, wife Angela, children Alex, Daisy and Benjy—on a trip to Wales to visit Angela’s brother Richard and new wife and stepdaughter. From the onset, nobody is particularly excited about this sojourn (Angela and Richard haven’t been close since the death of their mother) and the laborious way in which the clan goes through the motions of “quality time” is one of the book’s many uncomfortable delights.

Still, more interesting is Haddon’s creative approach to interiority. In lieu of typical authorial omniscience, he jumps from character to character’s brain—often multiple times within a single page—in a way that is both frenetic and delightful. In other words, don’t get put off if you’re initially confused; you’ll eventually get used to the device and come to appreciate Haddon’s ability to illuminate an incident from multiple points of view.

Indeed, one of the book’s many great truths is that each person is too wrapped up in his own tiny dramas to appreciate anyone else’s: Angela in the loss of a stillborn child, Alex in his nascent need to assert his masculinity, Daisy in her conflicted (if fervent) relationship with God, and so on. This can lead—as in the case of several failed kisses—to miscommunications only comprehensible from the outside in. And yet, as the trip’s small incidents play out, the characters do change and do learn to understand one another—particularly the teenagers, for whom Haddon clearly has great compassion.

It’s also worth mentioning that Haddon is a supremely talented and perceptive writer with a great love of language and poetics. If The Curious Incident relied on simple diction and vocabulary, this book is the opposite—lyrically flowing from thought to thought, brain to brain, potential connection to potential connection.

The family vacation has been the subject of many a comedic essay and Chevy Chase film, but in Mark Haddon’s new book, it gets both the literary and psychological treatment. The Red House, Haddon’s first adult novel since 2006’s A Spot of Bother, is undoubtedly the writer’s most ambitious undertaking to date. And yet, it […]
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The challenges of historical fiction are plentiful—how to freely imagine a person who really lived, how to impart modern sensibility to a bygone era, how to do your research without exactly showing your research. And yet, when this feat is achieved artfully (we’re talking Loving Frank or Arthur and George artfully), it can transport a reader to another time and place. Laura Moriarty’s new novel, The Chaperone, falls into this category.

The story of silent film actress Louise Brooks’ first trip to New York, The Chaperone has the trappings of a typical fictionalized biography. But what makes this book so interesting is that Brooks is not the star. Rather, we are drawn into the world of Cora Carlisle, the middle-aged, midwestern woman who chaperones the wild and irreverent Brooks on her 1922 Manhattan adventure.

At the novel’s start, Cora is living a remarkably vanilla life in Wichita, Kansas—land of sexual prudishness, Prohibition fervor and Klan enthusiasts. What we quickly learn, however, is that Cora’s past is much more colorful: She was born in New York and raised in the Catholic-run “Home for Friendless Girls.” She has no idea who her birth parents are and no claim to “moral legitimacy.”

Thus, when she agrees to chaperone the 15-year-old Brooks during her summer training with a prestigious New York dance company, it is as much to investigate her own history as it is to play babysitter. As one might expect, the flirtatious and black-bobbed future starlet gives Cora a run for her money, and when the “adult” attempts to tame the “child,” she finds herself at the center of her own moral and romantic awakening.

It is, of course, impossible to discuss The Chaperone without mentioning The Artist, this year’s cinematic tribute to the silent film era. Much like the Academy Award-winning film, Moriarty’s book explores the challenges of a changing world. Progress cannot be stopped, she seems to say, and the survivors are the ones who agree to move along with it.

Read a Q&A with Laura Moriarty about The Chaperone.

The challenges of historical fiction are plentiful—how to freely imagine a person who really lived, how to impart modern sensibility to a bygone era, how to do your research without exactly showing your research. And yet, when this feat is achieved artfully (we’re talking Loving Frank or Arthur and George artfully), it can transport a […]
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If you went near a British tabloid in the fall of 2000, chances are you followed the disappearance of Lucie Blackman with curiosity. Richard Lloyd Parry, Tokyo bureau chief for The Times (London), covered the mystery as it unfolded, following each scrap of hope, disappointment and depravity with bated breath. His new book, People Who Eat Darkness, is the fascinating culmination of a decade of research, as well as a probing look into the depths of evil.

Parry begins with a cursory explanation of the case: Insecure, blonde 21-year-old Lucie Blackman disappears from the streets of Tokyo in the summer of 2000. Her dismembered remains are found buried in a seaside cave the following winter. Other writers might have opted to leave her survival a mystery, and in refusing to do so, Parry makes it clear that his book is not your typical true-crime thriller.

It’s immediately clear that Lucie’s fate was in some way tied to her job as a Roppongi district “hostess,” chatting up lonely businessmen in dark bars. Lucie’s father and sister arrive on the scene, organizing news conferences and soliciting support from Tony Blair. But the Japanese investigation is frustratingly inept.

Parry masterfully guides readers through a maze of red herrings and sinister subplots (think charlatan PIs and hidden sex dungeons). Eventually, the police find the probable killer—a man with a history of abducting and raping hostesses. But even this revelation yields little resolution, as the killer staunchly refuses to confess his crime.

It would be wrong to call this book “enjoyable.” But it is both utterly engrossing and brilliantly crafted—a glimpse into the heart of darkness we hope never to know first-hand.

If you went near a British tabloid in the fall of 2000, chances are you followed the disappearance of Lucie Blackman with curiosity. Richard Lloyd Parry, Tokyo bureau chief for The Times (London), covered the mystery as it unfolded, following each scrap of hope, disappointment and depravity with bated breath. His new book, People Who […]
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Peter Orner is the type of novelist creative writing students aspire to be: contemplative, astute, equally interested in comedy and pain, governed by a dedication to characterization and description over archetypical plot. He is the kind of writer who creates a world not by describing it from the onset, but by carefully laying down pieces, then stepping back and letting his reader deduce the rest.

His newest novel, Love and Shame and Love, is no exception, detailing 50 years in the life of one Chicago family through moments both small and large.

Alexander Popper is the book’s smart, shy and remarkably likeable main character, and when we first meet him it’s via a “portrait of the artist as creative writing major” (good to see Orner can poke fun at himself) as he courts a classmate amidst the Bush/Dukakis election. But no sooner has our hero secured his prize, than Orner jumps back in time, detailing the marriages of three generations of Poppers, all earnest, Jewish Democrats navigating class, desire, love and shame.

We follow Popper’s grandparents as they brush shoulders with Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Junior (they happen to be friends with Chicago’s preeminent gossip columnist) and Popper’s parents as they move to the suburbs while trying to retain their Lincoln Park intellectualism. The most compelling story might be that of Hollis Osgood, the Poppers’ beloved—if woefully misunderstood—“houseman.”

Interspersed are Popper’s grandfather’s 1940s wartime letters (the theme is desperation; turns out his wife Bernice is barely writing him back) and lovely, folksy line drawings, courtesy of the author’s brother, comic-book writer Eric Orner.

But as much as this honest and understated novel is about family dynamics, it’s also about Chicago itself—the corruption, the hope and the constant change that only such an authentically American city could endure. Orner playfully intersects his characters’ lives with those of real political figures (Walter Mondale plays an important role, for instance). But the affect is not some smug, Forrest Gump-type knowingness. Rather, it’s a reminder that the personal is political, that the plight of families is the plight of an entire nation.

Peter Orner is the type of novelist creative writing students aspire to be: contemplative, astute, equally interested in comedy and pain, governed by a dedication to characterization and description over archetypical plot. He is the kind of writer who creates a world not by describing it from the onset, but by carefully laying down pieces, […]

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