Staff Pick

It’s been years since Bernard MacLaverty came out with a new novel, but it’s been well worth the wait. In Midwinter Break (W.W. Norton, $24.95) MacLaverty gives us an elderly Irish couple living in Scotland, who take a brief winter trip to Amsterdam. Over their forty-year marriage, Gerry and Stella have forged a deep understanding of each other, along with a mutual fondness and regard. They share habits, anecdotes, and history and have a son now living in Canada with his wife and child. But the book’s title hints at another, more serious, midwinter break: that of their marriage. Gerry is a retired architect with a serious drinking problem. Though he’s been trying to hide the full extent of it, Stella has had enough. Unbeknownst to Gerry, she’s arranged to visit a Dutch Beguinage, a house of lay religious women, where she imagines she might start a new chapter of her life, one filled with contemplation and purpose. With heartrending insight, MacLaverty explores how the intimacies in a long marriage can sometimes obscure its deep fault lines; in this case, the initial flaws go back to a personal trauma the couple experienced during the Troubles. MacLaverty’s writing is pitch perfect. He is one of Ireland’s greatest living writers and he’s at the top of his game in this novel.

Midwinter Break Cover Image
ISBN: 9780393609622
Availability: Out of Print in This Format
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - August 22nd, 2017

Staff Pick

Karl Ove Knausgaard’s six-volume epic, My Struggle, astonished us with its brutal candor and self- awareness. It primarily centered on the author’s painful relationship with his father. By contrast, Autumn (Penguin Press, $27) is a slender book with beautiful illustrations by Norwegian artist Vanessa Baird. It is the first in a projected quartet, and gives us Knausgaard as a tender father speaking to his unborn daughter about everyday objects. His descriptions run about two-and-a-half pages in length, and flow in a seemingly random cascade, on subjects as diverse as doors, porpoises, vomit, and labia; buttons, apples, and chewing gum. “It is primarily for my own sake that I am doing this,” he writes, “showing you the world, little one, makes my life worth living.” In one piece he writes of a family photograph where everything about the lives has been stripped away so that what remains is “what we ourselves don’t see… that our lives are written in our faces and our bodies, but in a language so foreign we don’t even know it is a language.”  Knausgaard’s perspective is compelling and razor sharp, and as in My Struggle, he makes the ordinary feel vivid again, and strange.

Autumn Cover Image
ISBN: 9780399563300
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Penguin Press - August 22nd, 2017

Staff Pick

The aim of Garry Wills’s powerful little book, What the Qur’an Meant (Viking, $25), is to teach readers about the real Islam as it is laid out in the Qur’an. “Living with fear is corrosive,” Wills writes. “Ignorance is the natural ally of fear.” He finds beautiful parallels between various canonical writings, as well as some poignant differences.  Many Hebrew prophets appear in the Qur’an, with Abraham figuring prominently as the rebuilder of the Kah-bah shrine in Mecca.  In the Qur’an, Adam and Eve are both tempted together. But Eve is unnamed, as are all other women, with one exception: Mary, the mother of Jesus. The Qur’an considers Moses and Jesus to be the two most important prophets prior to Muhammad, who stresses peace between the three faiths as well as obedience to one God.  It is Allah who works through all of them. Conversely, Jihad is found nowhere in the Qur’an and the word Shariah appears only once, in reference to Muhammad following Allah’s path. This is a scholarly but thoroughly absorbing book which will make an unusual gift for anyone seeking new ways to revive their faith over the holiday season.

What the Qur'an Meant: And Why It Matters Cover Image
ISBN: 9781101981023
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Viking - October 3rd, 2017