Staff Pick

“Readers are not supposed to notice the structure,” advises acclaimed New Yorker staff writer John McPhee in Draft No. 4 (Farrar Straus and Giroux, $25), his collection of essays on craft. “It is meant to be about as visible as someone’s bones.” Counter-intuitively, perhaps, McPhee employs a variety of elaborate diagrams, charts, and in one case a doodle involving a turtle, a weasel, and a muskrat, to take a story from conception to a polished magazine piece that might run to as many as 80,000 words. So it comes as something of a relief to learn that this author of more than thirty books doesn’t always know what he is doing when he embarks on a new project. “Sometimes in a nervous frenzy I just fling words as if I were flinging mud at a wall. Blurt out, heave out, babble out something —-anything —-as a first draft.” Or that he once found himself up against a deadline, sprawled on the floor “near tears in a catatonic swivit,” with but one sentence written. This slim, entertaining volume also offers reportage on reporting itself, including McPhee’s struggle to convince a reluctant Jackie Gleason to cooperate for a Time magazine profile in 1961, as well as “two highly germane anecdotes” involving food and the legendary New Yorker editor William Shawn. McPhee is surprisingly funny in a wonky, droll, practical, grammarian sort of way. Is the plural of attorney general “attorneys general” or “attorney generals?” And what do you do with a bunch of attorney(s) general(s) and the ensuing apostrophe(s) when they possess objects (in the plural), such as, for example, cars? Mr. McPhee will make you care about the answer, regardless of whether it will ever figure in any sentence you may one day write.

Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process Cover Image
ISBN: 9780374142742
Availability: Backordered
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - September 5th, 2017

Staff Pick

As she did with each of her previous three novels, including the best-selling The Dogs of Babel, the D.C.-based writer Carolyn Parkhurst again performs complex feats of storytelling with a deceptive ease and grace. In Harmony (Pamela Dorman, $26), Parkhurst uses the alternating voices of a mother and her eleven-year-old daughter to narrate the story of a family buckling from the strain of raising a child on the autism spectrum. Thirteen-year-old Tilly is brilliant but socially challenged. Her language is unrestrained and sometimes vulgar, and her behavior veers between terrifying and odd: during a family dinner at a Chinese restaurant, for example, Tilly launches into a sophisticated critique of regional cuisines while succumbing to a series of physical tics that have her twisting and gyrating and touching her head to the floor. After she is expelled from school, the family takes radical action. Under the sway of a charismatic child behaviorist named Scott Bean, they give up their comfortable lives in the District to move to rural New Hampshire, where Bean is establishing a community for families wrestling with similar issues. Parkhurst’s haunting prologue foreshadows the fact that this bucolic setting will not offer a panacea. There may be no easy answers, but there is love and family to fall back on, as well as palliatives like this book.

Harmony: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780399562600
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: Pamela Dorman Books - August 2nd, 2016

Harmony: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780399562617
Availability: Backordered
Published: Penguin Books - June 13th, 2017

Staff Pick

At the center of Francine Prose’s effervescent fifteenth novel is the umpteen-hundredth revival of the cheesy but mysteriously durable musical based on a fictitious classic children’s novel, Mister Monkey. It’s a hack production, in the off-off-off-off Broadway High Line Theater, with a costume budget so spare that Mister Monkey’s costume is sewn from a nubby, brown chenille bedspread that may or may not be full of dust mites, and the actors are generally over-qualified, underpaid, and in one case, ragingly, dangerously, hormonal. It’s a screwball set-up executed to brilliant effect. Told from the alternating points of views of characters both directly and peripherally involved in the play, Mister Monkey (HarperCollins $26.99) hits the sweet spot of great fiction---darkly funny and richly poignant, and full of warmth and humanity, to boot. Consider “a cosmic playwright with a weird sense of humor,” one character urges, setting up scenes full of “unlikely coincidences, improbable events, good and bad surprises.” It’s possibly a meta request from the pen of the author who brought this comic gem to life, urging us to suspend disbelief, and enjoy the ride.

Mister Monkey: A Novel Cover Image
$26.99
ISBN: 9780062397836
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Harper - October 18th, 2016

Mister Monkey: A Novel Cover Image
$15.99
ISBN: 9780062397843
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Harper Perennial - October 17th, 2017

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