ARCs – Summer and Fall
June 27, 2016
These titles were highlights of BEA and have good prospects for this summer and fall. Comment to claim. Candice Millard’s Destiny of the Republic circulated 400 times in our collection and was also a successful book discussion kit title. Now she’s out in September with Hero of the Empire, focusing on Winston Churchill’s daring youthful career as a war correspondent in the Boer War between Britain and what is now South Africa. Not only is Churchill’s escape from a prisoner of war camp a riveting read, but the analysis of changes in modern warfare (the Boer War was the first to feature concentration camps, snipers, and khaki military uniforms to substitute the famously traditional redcoats) and the depressing aftermath of the Boer War for South Africa’s future is also thoughtful and revealing.
Colson Whitehead has written an alternative history of slavery where the underground railroad is literally that – and the course slavery and its resistance have taken a very different turn in different states. While the brutality of slavery and its fugitive hunters is a dominant theme, the violence is alluded to more than depicted and throughout the book the main character Cora is suspended between certain dread of capture and hope for true deliverance.
The Nix is a debut by Nathan Hill due this August that mixes darkly comic dialog, insightful depictions of time and place, and biting satire of societal conflicts and trends both old and new. His ability to get into the head of Walter Conkite while he covers the 1968 Democratic Convention is keen.
Finally, John Aubrey My Own Life is a re-worked “autobiography,” critically acclaimed in Britain last year, of the notebooks of antiquarian and biography John Aubrey, who knew everyone who was anyone in the 1600’s scientific and political revolutions. The strung together observations touch on every aspect of Aubrey’s boundless curiosity and make for insightful reading.
Hero…and John Aubrey…are also titles under consideration in the PDA pilot, so please do encourage interested readers to reserve them.
Millard, Candice. Hero of the Empire. Doubleday, September 2016.
Summary: At age twenty-four, Winston Churchill was utterly convinced it was his destiny to become prime minister of England one day, despite the fact he had just lost his first election campaign for Parliament. He believed that to achieve his goal he must do something spectacular on the battlefield. Despite deliberately putting himself in extreme danger as a British Army officer in colonial wars in India and Sudan, and as a journalist covering a Cuban uprising against the Spanish, glory and fame had eluded him. Churchill arrived in South Africa in 1899, valet and crates of vintage wine in tow, there to cover the brutal colonial war the British were fighting with Boer rebels. But just two weeks after his arrival, the soldiers he was accompanying on an armored train were ambushed, and Churchill was taken prisoner. Remarkably, he pulled off a daring escape–but then had to traverse hundreds of miles of enemy territory, alone, with nothing but a crumpled wad of cash, four slabs of chocolate, and his wits to guide him.
Whitehead, Colson. The Underground Railroad. Doubleday, September 2016.
Summary: From prize-winning, bestselling author Colson Whitehead, a magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave’s adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood–where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned–Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted. In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor–engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom. Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey–hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.
Hill, Nathan. The Nix. Knopf, August 2016.
Summary: “The Nix is a mother-son psychodrama with ghosts and politics, but it’s also a tragicomedy about anger and sanctimony in America. . . . Nathan Hill is a maestro.” –John Irving A Nix can take many forms. In Norwegian folklore, it is a spirit who sometimes appears as a white horse that steals children away. In Nathan Hill’s remarkable first novel, a Nix is anything you love that one day disappears, taking with it a piece of your heart. It’s 2011, and Samuel Andresen-Anderson–college professor, stalled writer–has a Nix of his own: his mother, Faye. He hasn’t seen her in decades, not since she abandoned the family when he was a boy. Now she’s re-appeared, having committed an absurd crime that electrifies the nightly news, beguiles the internet, and inflames a politically divided country. The media paints Faye as a radical hippie with a sordid past, but as far as Samuel knows, his mother was an ordinary girl who married her high-school sweetheart. Which version of his mother is true? Two facts are certain: she’s facing some serious charges, and she needs Samuel’s help. To save her, Samuel will have to embark on his own journey, uncovering long-buried secrets about the woman he thought he knew, secrets that stretch across generations and have their origin all the way back in Norway, home of the mysterious Nix. As he does so, Samuel will confront not only Faye’s losses but also his own lost love, and will relearn everything he thought he knew about his mother, and himself. From the suburban Midwest to New York City to the 1968 riots that rocked Chicago and beyond, The Nix explores–with sharp humor and a fierce tenderness–the resilience of love and home, even in times of radical change.
Scurr, Ruth. John Aubrey: My Own Life. The New York Review of Books, September 2016.
Summary: John Aubrey, My Own Life is an extraordinary book about the first modern biographer that reimagines what biography can be. This intimate diary of Aubrey’s days is composed of his own words, collected, collated, and enlarged upon by Ruth Scurr in an act of meticulous scholarship and daring imagination. Aubrey was born in Wiltshire, England, in 1626, and is best known as the author of Brief Lives , a book that redefined the art of biography through its informal and memorable sketches of the lives of his contemporaries, both men and women. The reign of Queen Elizabeth and the dissolution of the monasteries were not too far distant in memory during Aubrey’s boyhood. He lived through some of England’s most interesting times: the Civil War, the execution of Charles I, the brief rule of Oliver Cromwell and his son, and the restoration of Charles II. Scurr’s biography honors and echoes Aubrey’s own innovations in the art of biography. Rather than subject his life to a conventional narrative, Scurr has collected the evidence–remnants of a life, from manuscripts, letters, and books–and arranged it chronologically, modernizing words and spellings, and adding explanations when necessary. All sources are given in the extensive endnotes. The result is an immediate, vibrant account of a life, “rescued . . . from the teeth of time,” as Aubrey said of his own strivings.