One of the best things about being a book reviewer is getting to read new books before the paying public has even had a chance to look at them (there are many other pleasures too, but I won’t belabour you with those as you might get bored, or else apply for my job, and neither of those things is allowed).
On any day but Sunday, at any random time between half-past nine in the morning and five in the evening, the postman rings twice and, just as he’s about to leave, I throw open the door—I have probably been sleeping, or shaving, or listening to Pakistani rock music on my headphones—and collect the packages he has brought me.
There is a peculiar pleasure to making an acquaintance with a book like this, especially when compared to paying for it with one’s credit card at a bookstore, which is what other people will be doing in three weeks. Here, then, are some of the big releases coming up this year, which I hope to lay my hands on before you do:
Diary of a Bad Year
By J.M. Coetzee (Harvill Secker)
The late novels of J.M. Coetzee, an austere and sometimes forbidding writer even at his most relaxed, have a hermetic quality to them: They are less about telling a story than advancing a thesis, however subtle. His latest work,Diary of a Bad Year, is sure to be a challenging book from the very beginning because, unusually, each page has two or three tiers with different narratives progressing in parallel. The book will hit Indian bookstores in the last week of September.
Other Colours: Essays and a Story
By Orhan Pamuk(Faber & Faber).
With three brilliant books in a decade (My Name is Red, Istanbuland Snow), Pamuk has almost single-handedly put his country or, more accurately, his city, on the map of world literature: We think of his Istanbul now as we would of Dickens’ London or Mahfouz’s Cairo. Pamuk’s witty, light-footed style, mixing wry rumination, nostalgia and acute observation, makes him a blue-chip stock on the writers’ bourse. Here, too, his city and his own life prominently figure, but he also shares his views on the writings of other authors such as Laurence Sterne and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The book is coming to Indian bookstores in the first week of October.
Two other books by novelists with a secure reputation are Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Bad Girl (Farrar Straus & Giroux) and Ha Jin’s A Free Life(Pantheon). Also of interest may be The Book of Other People(Hamish Hamilton, coming to India in early December), edited by Zadie Smith, a collection of stories by 25 writers on the subject of fictional characterization.
By Philip Roth (Jonathan Cape)
Roth, along with John Updike, is now the senior statesman of American fiction: His first novel, Goodbye Columbus, came out nearly four decades ago, but well into his 70s, he remains as productive as ever, with three books in the last five years. His new novel, arriving in Indian bookstores in mid-October, takes its title from a stage direction from Hamlet, and it continues the meditation on ageing, fading, leave-taking—the themes of his last book, Everyman.
By Fidel Castro (Allen Lane)
The big books around politics in the first half of the year had to do with the American presidential election—Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope and Carl Bernstein’s biography of Hillary Clinton—but October brings the long-anticipated autobiography from one of the longest-serving leaders of the “unfree” world. Expect plenty of spice, self-justification and anti-American bluster from this 600-page doorstopper. The book is releasing in the US in the last week of December.
The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia
By Orlando Figes(Allen Lane)
Figes, like Simon Schama, Niall Ferguson and Ramachandra Guha, is a historian who combines erudition with a flair for narrative. Continuing from where his bookNatasha’s Dance left off, The Whisperers, releasing in the US in the first week of October, is an account of the perilous nature of family life, normally a refuge from the outside world, in one of the most repressive police states of all time.
The Paris Review Interviews: Volume 2 (Canongate)
Volume 1 of these interviews, which was by general consensus the most exhaustive and insightful record of how writers of our time have gone about their work, appeared earlier this year. Among the writers interviewed in the new volume are Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison and Graham Greene. It comes out in the US in the first week of November.
A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932
By John Richardson (Alfred A. Knopf)
The third volume of John Richardson’s definitive and widely praised life of the 20th century’s most influential artist, this book comes out in the US in the second week of November. Already more than a decade in the making, this is a great expedition of our biography-obsessed age.
The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cellphone: Reflections on India in the 21st Century
By Shashi Tharoor (Penguin Viking)
Hopefully the last and probably not the best of what has been an endless series of books this year on the emerging faces of India. Though undoubtedly perceptive, Tharoor also has a penchant for self-promotion that has made for a body of work of uneven quality. It arrives in Indian bookstores in the last week of September.
ABOVE THE SELF
Three books you’re likely to miss, but worth looking out for
The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Non-Believer
Edited by Christopher Hitchens (Da Capo Press)
Hitchens has already made one scorching attack on religious belief this year with his imperious book ‘God is Not Great’. Here, he marshals support for unbelief with selections from a host of other sources such as Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, Thomas Jefferson and Bertrand Russell.
Bears: A Brief History By Bernd Brunner (Yale University Press)
A famous stage direction in Shakespeare’s play ‘The Winter’s Tale’ goes: “Exit, pursued by a bear”. Research has suggested that this part was played not by a man in a bear suit, but a real bear sourced from one of Elizabethan London’s bear pits.
Bears have always been an object of both wonder and fear for human beings, and Bernd Brunner’s quirky book, releasing in the US in early October, is as thorough an exploration of our relationship with bears as you are likely to find.
When Asia was the World By Stewart Gordon (Da Capo Press)
India and China may be the rising superpowers of the 21st century, but there was a prior time, several hundred years ago, when Asia was the centre of the world.
Between roughly 700 and 1500 AD, before the rise of the West, it was Asia that was the centre of scientific progress, philosophy and commerce.
Stewart Gordon’s book, out in the US in December, surveys a period when the world order was almost the opposite of what it is now.
There’s still time to grab these gems that came out in 2007
The Yacoubian Building By Alaa Al Aswany
The Egyptian novelist Alaa Al Aswany’s sensational novel tells the story of both rich and poor residents of the Cairo building of the title. Moving from one character to another, beautifully paced and organized, and full of an awareness of how human beings delight in and are trapped by their bodies, this is a must-read of the year.
Missing Kissinger By Etgar Keret
The stories of the Israeli writer Etgar Keret, so short that they often end when one feels they have not even properly begun, are something of an acquired taste. But the 40-odd stories of his new collection further the reputation of one of contemporary literature’s most unusual writers.
To The Castle And Back By Vaclav Havel
This memoir of the Czech playwright-turned-president, subtitled ‘Reflections on My Strange Life as a Fairy-Tale Hero’, discusses the highs and lows of two decades in politics that began with his surprise election as president in 1989.
Unimagined: A Muslim Boy Meets the West By Imran Ahmed
Imran Ahmed’s widely praised memoir of growing up as the son of Pakistani immigrants in London, exploring his awareness of his racial identity and his shifting attitudes towards British culture, is representative of the experience of an entire generation.
Edith Wharton By Hermione Lee
With books on Virginia Woolf and Willa Cather, among others, Lee has built a reputation as an outstanding biographer. Her massive biography of Edith Wharton, for several decades the queen of American letters, received great reviews mixed with a few murmurs about too-exhaustive details.
Amerigo By Felipe Fernandez-Armesto
Fernández-Armesto has written vast histories of food, civilizations and ideas before this; here, he turns his attention to a smaller subject, the life and times of the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, a contemporary and rival of Christopher Columbus who gave America its name.
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