Nicholson Baker’s zany new novel, The Anthologist (Simon & Schuster, $25), is a beguiling love story about poets that everyone who writes or reads lyrical verse will savor. Narrator Paul Chowder, a published poet, struggles against his writer’s block to compose a preface to a poetry anthology. In the process, he obsesses over poetry and life with humor and pathos: “Poetry is a controlled refinement of sobbing….The rhyming of rhymes is a powerful form of self-medication.…Rhyming is the avoidance of mental pain by addicting yourself to what will happen next.” Chowder instructs his readers to write down and recite aloud every poem they encounter. I found in my reading that I was so enchanted with some of Chowder’s aphorisms that I was writing those down as well.
Stieg Larsson, the Swedish crime novelist whose The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo hit the bestseller lists last year, follows up that edgy and terrifying whodunit with The Girl Who Played With Fire (Knopf, $25.95), a new saw-tooth-edged story involving sex trafficking. The two investigators from the initial book, Lisbeth Salander and Mikail Blomkvist, return, and they’re even more complex than before. Lisbeth, especially, is a bundle of contradictions; a punk rocker with a phenomenal photographic memory and advanced world-class hacker skills; a bikini-clad Popular Science reader who has benefited from breast enhancement surgery; a former welfare child obsessed with avenging the horror of “when all the evil happened.” She smokes, she drinks, and she travels, but she can’t sleep, an affliction that will be shared by the reader of this mesmerizing tale.
Jane Stanton Hitchcock’s reputation as a mystery writer grows with each book, and Mortal Friends (HarperCollins, $25.99) is sure to win her many new fans. Most of the action takes place in Georgetown and on Embassy Row—Politics and Prose is in there, too. Many denizens of the Washington social scene appear in disguise along the way. I recognized Katharine Graham, Vernon and Ann Jordan, and Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn under completely different names, and you’ll have fun trying to spot others in this ultimate inside-the-Beltway mystery, or “killer read,” as People magazine describes it.