Sarah McCraw Crow

For Americans who’ve traveled to Paris, the name Shakespeare and Company will ring a bell; it’s the famed English-language bookstore founded by Sylvia Beach in 1919, a bookstore that’s intimately linked to Lost Generation writers such as James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In The Paris Bookseller, novelist Kerri Maher tells the story of how Shakespeare and Company came to be.

Soon after returning to Paris, where she lived with her family as a teen, American Sylvia meets Parisian Adrienne Monnier, who runs a bookshop on the Left Bank. Sylvia is drawn to the cultured, literary Adrienne, and as their connection deepens, Sylvia decides to take on the mantle of bookseller, too: She’ll open the first English-language bookstore in Paris. And thus Shakespeare and Company is born.

The Paris Bookseller follows Sylvia from her bookshop’s first days to the end of the 1930s, as war approaches. Sprinkled throughout are Sylvia’s and Adrienne’s regular encounters, mostly at Shakespeare and Company, but also at dinners, parties and café gatherings with those literary luminaries—Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Joyce, Gertrude Stein and others.

Sylvia’s friendship with James Joyce is at the heart of the novel. James, lauded but struggling, can’t find a publisher for his latest work, Ulysses, as American and British publishers are too prudish to take on the modernist novel and its graphic passages. Out of friendship, Sylvia volunteers to publish Ulysses, a quest that turns epic as James misses deadlines, rewrites already typeset pages and demands much, sometimes too much, of Sylvia and other literary friends.

Amid Shakespeare and Company’s ups and downs—thriving in the 1920s, when American tourists begin to visit the shop in the hopes of glimpsing famous writers, and then struggling through the Depression—Sylvia and Adrienne create a loving partnership in a time when queer relationships were far less accepted, even in Paris. Background characters are occasionally placed a bit too far into the background, but this is Sylvia’s story, and Maher has stayed true to her. With its insider’s view of the literary expat world of 1920s Paris, The Paris Bookseller will appeal to fans of Paula McClain’s The Paris Wife.

With its insider’s view of the literary expat world of 1920s Paris, The Paris Bookseller will appeal to fans of Paula McClain’s The Paris Wife.

For those of us whose workplaces closed down during the COVID-19 pandemic, the past two years have meant balancing Zoom calls, remote schooling and everything else from our kitchen tables. But, Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen argue in Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working From Home, working from home is not what we’ve been doing. “You were laboring in confinement and under duress. . . . Work became life and life became work. You weren’t thriving. You were surviving,” they write.

With Out of Office, Warzel, a tech writer, and Petersen, a culture writer and the author of Can’t Even, aim to show that done right, remote work can make both workers and their communities happier and healthier. Warzel and Petersen have worked remotely since 2017, when they left New York City for Montana, and although this isn’t a memoir, their experiences inform this book.

Read our review of ‘Can’t Even’ by Anne Helen Petersen.

Out of Office first offers a brief history of American office work, touching on productivity culture, corporate cost-cutting, chronic understaffing, ever-expanding work hours, startup culture, burnout and the disconnect between a company’s stated values and the way employees are actually treated. Breaking their theme into four big concepts (flexibility, culture, office technologies and community), Warzel and Petersen offer a number of suggestions based on remote workers’ pandemic experiences, as well as on a handful of companies that tried to make flexible work culture a priority long before the pandemic. Some suggestions are simple—such as to standardize Zoom backgrounds for meetings so no one feels self-conscious about their messy kitchen. Others are complicated and far-reaching, like to create real trust throughout an organization and to make child care a national priority, with a living wage for child care workers. Near its end, the book takes a turn toward self-help, asking readers to recall what they loved to do when they were young, from riding bikes to playing cards with a grandparent to singing. These things can provide a first step toward prioritizing one’s self and life rather than work, the authors argue.

Out of Office is a well-researched, timely and mostly persuasive book that asks both workers and managers to reimagine the concept of work in a post-pandemic world.

This well-researched, timely and persuasive book asks both workers and managers to reimagine the concept of work in a post-pandemic world.

As Patti Callahan’s Once Upon a Wardrobe opens, it’s December 1950 in Worcestershire, England, and 8-year-old George Devonshire knows he’s not going to get better. His congenital heart disease is worsening, and there are no treatments left.

George, an ardent fan of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, wants his adored big sister, Megs, to answer his question: Where did Narnia come from? Megs, who’s busy with her mathematics studies at Somerville College, Oxford University, tells her brother that she has no time for children’s books. But after reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Megs changes her mind. And as George reminds her, Lewis just happens to be an English literature tutor at Magdalen College, Oxford.

Megs finds a way to introduce herself to Lewis and his older brother, Warnie, who live together outside Oxford, and she begins to visit them and listen to their stories about growing up in Ireland and their roles in the two world wars. Megs brings these stories home to George, who in turn narrates them to the reader: “Hours in bed have taught George how to find the soft edges of the facts and drop himself into the worlds he hears about or reads of. He closes his eyes, sets his mind’s eye on the words, and floats on them like a raft.”

Once Upon a Wardrobe pivots between Megs’ and George’s perspectives. Megs takes in the Lewis brothers’ stories and slowly develops a friendship with Padraig, a literature student from Ireland. George listens to Megs and then spins out the tales for the reader. It’s a gentle novel with some beautifully cinematic images of snow, Lewis’ childhood and Oxford’s medieval colleges. Some readers may wish for a little more conflict (for instance, between Megs and her parents, or even between Megs and George), but the novel offers a strong sense of the defining moments in Lewis’ life, as well as the mythical sources for the Chronicles of Narnia. It also shows how a writer’s life can inform fiction, and how stories offer meaning in times of trouble.

Callahan is well-versed on the subject of C.S. Lewis; she’s the author of the bestselling Becoming Mrs. Lewis, an account of the American poet Joy Davidman’s midlife friendship and marriage to the author. Once Upon a Wardrobe would make an ideal companion for family book clubs reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe together.

Patti Callahan’s gentle novel contains beautifully cinematic images of snow, C.S. Lewis’ childhood and Oxford’s medieval colleges.

Fans of Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning historical novel, All the Light We Cannot See, have waited seven years for Cloud Cuckoo Land. But where All the Light We Cannot See focused on two characters during a single time period—the lead-up to the bombing of Saint Malo, France, in World War II—Cloud Cuckoo Land pings among different eras.

In this multiple-timeline story, the large array of mostly young characters includes 13-year-old Anna, an orphan working in an embroidery workshop in 1453 Constantinople, and Omeir, a farm boy who’s conscripted into the sultan’s army as it prepares to lay siege to Constantinople in that same year. Moving forward in time, we meet Zeno, son of a Greek immigrant living in post-World War II Lakeport, Idaho; and Seymour, a lonely boy in present-day Lakeport. And in the future, 13-year-old Konstance lives aboard the Argos, a spaceship that’s left a ravaged Earth for a better planet.

Narrators Marin Ireland and Simon Jones will transport you in the audio edition.

Threaded throughout their stories are sections of an ancient (fictional) Greek text titled “Cloud Cuckoo Land,” which tells the story of Aethon, who wishes he could fly to a city in the clouds “where no one ever suffered and everyone was wise.”

While the changes in points of view can be dizzying at first, Doerr’s writing grounds the reader in homely but often beautiful details: Anna’s daily rounds in the walled city; Omeir’s patient work with his oxen team, Moonlight and Tree; the friendship that Zeno finds with a British soldier when he’s a prisoner during the Korean War; the comfort that Seymour takes from the forest behind his trailer; and the stories told by Konstance’s dad to keep her occupied on their journey. Anna, Omeir, Zeno, Seymour and Konstance all face great loss and danger, and the reader keeps turning pages to discover not only whether each of them survive but also how they’re all linked.

This is an ambitious, genre-busting novel, with climate change as a major undercurrent. And while sorrow and violence play large roles, so does tenderness. Like All the Light We Cannot See, Cloud Cuckoo Land resolves into a well-connected plot, with threaded connections that are unexpected yet inevitable, offering hope and some surprising acts of redemption.

Sorrow and violence play large roles in the latest novel from Anthony Doerr, but so does tenderness.

Early in her debut memoir, Seeing Ghosts, journalist Kat Chow recalls one of the times her mom made a goofy Dracula face, an exaggerated grin with teeth bared. “When I die,” Chow’s mother told then 9-year-old Chow, “I want you to get me stuffed so I can sit in your apartment and watch you all the time.” This strange request haunted Chow in the years after her mother, Florence, born Bo Moi in 1950s China, died from liver cancer when Chow was 14. Florence’s too-early death informs this memoir, which delves into the quiet devastation of Chow, her two older sisters and their father, and how the family’s grief has shifted over the years. Along the way, Chow carries on a running conversation with Florence, addressing her and asking unanswerable questions.

Chow recounts both her own youth and episodes from the lives of her parents, immigrants who met and married in Connecticut and whom Chow portrays with love and candor. Florence’s playful but odd sense of humor served as an anchor for her three daughters. (She enjoyed hiding around corners, jumping out to scare her kids and then hugging them.) Wing Shek, Chow’s dad, became unable to throw anything away in the years after his wife’s death, and Chow portrays this reality with compassion, as well.

Late in the book, Chow recalls recent family trips to China and Cuba, which she spent searching for truer, more complete versions of the family stories she heard as a young person. For example, in Cuba, Chow looks for traces of her grandfather’s expat life as a restaurant worker in the 1950s. As Chow’s dad likewise searches for his father’s history, he begins to face his own long-lived but unspoken grief, and we see how far the family has come in their years without Florence.

Like the experience of grief itself, Seeing Ghosts is meditative, fragmentary, sometimes funny and occasionally hopeful.

Like the experience of grief itself, Kat Chow’s memoir is meditative, fragmentary, sometimes funny and occasionally hopeful.

As The Living and the Lost opens, Millie Mosbach has just returned to her hometown, Allied-occupied Berlin. Millie is German and Jewish, and she escaped Berlin as a teen before the war with her brother, David. She attended high school and college in the U.S. with the help of an American family friend, all the while not knowing whether her parents and younger sister survived.

Postwar Berlin is almost unrecognizable. It’s a mess of rubble and half-standing buildings, its inhabitants starving, the city divided into Allied and Soviet sections that are not yet completely sundered by the Berlin Wall. Millie has joined the U.S. Army, helping to sort out which Berliners can continue to work as editors, publishers and translators in this new denazified Germany. Meanwhile, David, who served with the Army in Europe during the war, is in Berlin, too, and he’s not telling Millie what he’s up to. 

As the novel moves between Millie’s and David’s points of view, we get vivid glimpses of life in this unsettled landscape, with uncanny scenes of American military officers enjoying beers in former Nazi halls, German Fräuleins by their sides, and the abundance in military black markets contrasting with the extreme lack faced by Berliners. Millie is haunted by the probable loss of her parents and sister and by the choices she made earlier in life. 

As Millie tries to tamp down her trauma, guilt and anger, the novel flashes back in time, filling in the siblings’ pasts. While she was a scholarship student at the tony Bryn Mawr College, Millie experienced both the joys of college life and a genteel but insidious antisemitism.

The Living and the Lost moves along quickly, and its descriptions and dialogue feel true to the era. While the novel would have benefited from more interiority from both Millie and David, it’s still an illuminating historical drama with plenty of action and even some romance, evoking a lesser-known historical period—the immediate postwar era and Berlin before the wall—and the complications and compromises that come with the end of war.

Ellen Feldman offers an illuminating historical drama with plenty of action and even some romance, evoking the rarely explored setting of postwar Europe.

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