Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, November 14, 2017


From My Shelf

Clarkson Potter Publishers: Exciting Games for Readers and Word Lovers

Quirk Books: Holiday Gift Guide

The Wonder of Consciousness

Juli Berwald's Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone, out now from Riverhead Books, is an excellent addition to a growing body of literature seeking to expand readers' minds about what exactly qualifies as a mind. Exciting scientific discoveries regarding animal intelligence helped inspire books such as Frans de Waal's Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, which poses its provocative central question in its title. De Waal makes a case that animal intelligence is often devalued and underestimated by individuals biased by their belief in humanity's unusual intellectual advantages over the rest of the natural world.

Spineless joins Helen MacDonald's H Is for Hawk and Sy Montgomery's The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness, to name a few examples, in setting out to rehabilitate the reputations of often-misunderstood creatures. Frequently, this project involves helping readers comprehend intelligences that are fundamentally alien to our own. For example, Juli Berwald notes that jellyfish, long thought to be brainless organisms vacantly drifting through the sea, actually benefit from a nervous system that is "smart without being consolidated." In other words, jellyfish don't have a central brain because they don't need one, relying instead on a kind of "crowdsourced" intelligence. Sy Montgomery makes a stronger, even spiritual case for the octopus, writing: "I feel blessed by the thought of sharing with an octopus what one website (loveandabove.com) calls 'an infinite, eternal ocean of intelligent energy.' Who would know more about the infinite, eternal ocean than an octopus?" While humans may be more readily inclined to appreciate the intelligence of animals closer to us on the evolutionary chain, Berwald and Montgomery are passionate advocates for trying to stretch the limits of our understanding and our empathy in order to fully appreciate the "wonder of consciousness." --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.


Workman Publishing: Enter to Win a Library of Our Bestselling Holiday Gifts


Book Candy

The Importance of Dust Jackets

"Yes, dust jackets really are that important." Mental Floss revealed "13 secrets of rare book dealers."

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Pop quiz: "Do you know what these weird English words actually mean?" Buzzfeed challenged.

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"Every Oscar Wilde fan must visit these four places in Manhattan," Signature advised.

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Inspired by the new film version of Murder on the Orient Express, illustrator Tom Gauld considered Poirot's "distinctive facial accoutrement" for the Guardian.

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Bustle shared "the 15 best ways to organize your bookshelves, according to Reddit users."


Storey Publishing: The Naturalist's Notebook: An Observation Guide and 5-Year Calendar-Journal for Tracking Changes in the Natural World Around You by Nathaniel T. Wheelwright and Bernd Heinrich


Great Reads

Rediscover: Fahrenheit 451

"It was a pleasure to burn," begins Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury's inextinguishable work of dystopian fiction and a book that is still a pleasure to read. First published in 1953, this sci-fi classic stands among 1984 and Brave New World as foundational works not just of the genre, but of all 20th-century literature, among a pantheon of sociopolitically prophetic tales that have remained applicable across generations. In Bradbury's case, his story of a world where firemen burn books, all of which are banned, beckons questions of censorship, the power of reading and the impact of mass media on a democratic populace. If anything, these issues have grown only more contentious over the years.

As well as (ironically) being censored over the decades, Fahrenheit 451 has been adapted into multiple mediums: a 1966 film directed by François Truffaut, a '70s stage play by Bradbury, a 1982 BBC radio dramatization, a 2009 graphic novel illustrated by Tim Hamilton, and an upcoming HBO movie directed by Ramin Bahrani, starring Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon. In 2012, Simon & Schuster published a 60th anniversary edition of Fahrenheit 451 with an introduction by Neil Gaiman ($15.99, 9781451673319), which makes for safer reading than the 200 collector's editions released in 1953 that were bound in asbestos. --Tobias Mutter


Avery Publishing Group: The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Carlton Abrams


The Writer's Life

Bunk: The American Addiction

photo: Melanie Dunea

Kevin Young is director of the New York Public Library's Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture and the new poetry editor at the New Yorker. He's published nine books of poetry, edited eight others, and written The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness (Graywolf Press), a survey of African American culture that illustrates its tradition of storytelling, improvising and "jazzing." Young is a very busy man; fortunately, not too busy to research and write an outstanding history of American hoaxing: Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News (Graywolf Press, $30). Marlon James calls it a book "we greatly need, disguised as [a book] we merely want."

Young begins Bunk with what he calls "The Age of Imposture," and ends with our current "Age of Euphemism." While he does touch on non-American hoaxing--the Cottingley fairies, for instance--his contention (amply proven) is that the hoax is "an oddly American phenomenon," one way that 19th-century America "sought to establish its bona fides after the fact" by creating tall stories and foundation myths. We are historically programmed for hoaxing, he argues, even more so today; both our doubt and our need for certainty have led to more hoaxes, not fewer.

The Age of Imposture features, appropriately, P.T. Barnum, and what Barnum called "humbug." His audience wanted a show, and was willing to be fooled as it viewed his curiosities. The dark side to Barnum and other historical hoaxes is the extent to which they relied on the exotic and the dark-skinned, and the frissons of fear this "other" produced. Barnum's popularity coincided with the rise of eugenics and racialism, and pseudo-sciences like phrenology, where "objective investigators constantly rediscovered that Negroes, Indians, and other dark races (some of them European, mind you) were indeed still inferior." Barnum stoked the idea of American exceptionalism and white superiority.

Unsurprisingly, many hoaxes employ African Americans--crack babies, inner cities, welfare queens, the war on drugs. Because of this, Young continues, we are primed to believe almost anything about African Americans, especially if it is clothed in respectable writing. Hoaxes "confirm what we suspect... guns are always smoking, buoying up our worst suspicions without evidence or eyewitness."

Fake memoirs, forgeries and plagiarism are all facets of hoaxing. James Frey, with his false memoir A Million Little Pieces, is the perfect example of Young's observation that "Almost all hoaxers, once discovered, go on to write a novel--when it turns out they were writing a novel all along." We lose something with false memoirs--Mary Karr points out that the writers are cheating themselves "out of their real stories." Not to mention cheating readers out of what could be a story all the more powerful for being real and accessible.

We are now in the Age of Euphemism. Today's hoaxes rely on our cultural amnesia, which enables "alternate facts" and "fake news." The Barnum in the Age of Euphemism is Donald Trump. "The worst of it is that Trump too exploits deep-seated social divisions, ones that, despairingly, echo the very same ones of race and difference on which the history of the hoax has long relied," Young writes. "Little has changed [since Barnum]: race and ruin, devolution and descent, dangerous city life and a noble, now-gone American past become fodder for and are fed by the huckster."

Kevin Young has written a masterful (and massive) book. At 480 pages, it's both scholarly and accessible, angry and witty--absolutely compelling reading, including his 50-plus pages of notes. His sense of humor rarely deserts him: quoting a critic about a poet's worldly advantages, Young writes, "Worldly advantages? He does realize that this is poetry, right?" His precise prose reminds the reader that he is a poet. Young had hoped, when he began, that Bunk would have a happy ending, that we might stop collaborating with the hoax. But our history and our present belie that--"There is of course no larger mass hysteria in American history than the epidemic of racism." He asks, what if truth is a skill, a muscle to be exercised--one that has grown weak? "How might we rebuild it, going from chronic to bionic?" That is a question we all have to answer, and now. --Marilyn Dahl


Trellis Publishing: Gift from the Garden by Bernie DuBois


Book Review

Fiction

As Lie Is to Grin

by Simeon Marsalis


As Lie Is to Grin, Simeon Marsalis's debut novel, is imbued with a constant sense of searching. David, an incoming freshman at the University of Vermont, struggles to know where he fits as a black man in the very white student body of his school. He reads articles, sifts through the archive of the student paper, searches online, looks up histories of buildings, recalls his own history, reads and re-reads American literature.

As this search unfolds, first slowly and then ferociously, David starts to unravel. He mourns the loss of his high school girlfriend, who left him because he lied about his past. He laments his unfinished, semi-autobiographical novel, excerpts of which are scattered throughout Marsalis's novel. He sees connections between things that are not connected, and starts to imagine the presence of a man in a gray suit who is not real.

This unraveling forms the crux of Marsalis's story, as David attempts to find the answer to unstated questions: What am I? Where do I belong? And how does our history explain that place?

Ultimately, As Lie Is to Grin is a story about stories: those we tell about ourselves (be they true or false), those we tell to ourselves, the ones history records (and those it chooses not to record) and the ones we read to understand ourselves. Poetic in its own way and thought provoking to its core, this slim novel from a young author marks the start of a promising career. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A debut novelist explores race, stories and identity in this slim but compelling account of a student's first year at the University of Vermont.

Catapult, $16.95, paperback, 160p., 9781936787593

Legend Press: Lose yourself in a legendary classic - Click to win a copy


Uncertain Glory

by Joan Sales, trans. by Peter Bush


Joan Sales was a Catalan writer and publisher who fought with the anarchists and communists in the Spanish Civil War before going into exile from the Franco regime. His lyrical and painfully intimate war novel, Uncertain Glory, was first published in 1956. This translation by Peter Bush brings to the English-speaking world a rare anti-war epic, one that resists lionizing its beleaguered heroes, furthermore undermining and unraveling what they believe in. The novel is narrated in turn by Lieutenant Lluís, posted to the Aragonese front; his estranged lover, Trini, left in Barcelona; and the aspiring priest Cruells, who tries to reconcile his spiritual beliefs while witnessing the defeat of anti-Fascist forces. Romantic intrigue transpires as Lluís is drawn to a mysterious widow who enlists his help in securing her estate. Trini learns of the relationship and visits the warfront herself.

Much of this romantic conflict is revealed in letters the characters write to each other. Central to the plot is an old family friend and eccentric visionary named Juli Soleràs, to whom Trini pens her concerns. Soleràs gives the novel intellectual depth in the form of ironic, philosophizing dialogues. He dissects and questions the motives of his friends and the various ideologies in conflict. "And, believe me, don't ever trust people who don't have imagination," he says in a sharp critique of Marxists. "They are terrifying!" Despite its pessimistic ethos, the novel contains quiet, impressionistic reflections that serve as a bittersweet salve to the human atrocities. With "infinite sensitivity," Lluís describes the evanescence of nature and experience: "It was dusk and the music seemed to meld into the glow, the scents and the exquisite dying fall of twilight."

Offering more than mere disillusionment, Uncertain Glory deconstructs warmongering idealism and exposes the many tragic ways humans pit themselves against each other. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: Catalan writer Joan Sales captures the complexities of the Spanish Civil War in a classic novel.

NYRB Classics, $18.95, paperback, 464p., 9781681371801

Prospect Park Books: Addicted to Americana: Celebrating Classic & Kitschy American Life & Style by Charles Phoenix


Start Without Me

by Joshua Max Feldman


As one might expect from a novel set at a family Thanksgiving, Joshua Feldman's Start Without Me captures holiday drama. Thirty-five-year-old Adam Warshaw returns to his parents' Massachusetts home after several years of self-imposed exile. A former keyboardist for his San Francisco band, he is in his ninth month of sobriety, working as an accounts manager for a bank and dreading the houseful of family. He is greeted there by his young nephews and nieces' drawings taped to walls and doors, one announcing "Happy Thanksgiving!"--a declaration that strikes Adam as "an ultimatum" rather than well wishes. Disheartened, he leaves the house at dawn for coffee at a shabby airport hotel restaurant, where he meets Marissa, a flight attendant for a discount airline, who is on her way to join her husband's family holiday in Vermont. Four months pregnant from a one-night stand with a former high school boyfriend, Marissa ambivalently contemplates abortion to avoid cratering her already rocky marriage.

On this chance encounter, Feldman (The Book of Jonah) builds a solid story of the blessings of random friendship and the nature of family. Although preoccupied with 12-step aphorisms and self-analysis, Adam is a charmingly amusing loser. The child of a tough, alcoholic single mom, Marissa is quick to anger but also quick to forgive. Together they navigate the rough terrain of their families' holiday festivities--wounded but not defeated. Start Without Me is a sometimes harsh, sometimes sweet, wholly gratifying novel. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A shared cup of coffee turns two troubled strangers into compadres dealing with their emotionally fraught family Thanksgiving holidays together.

Morrow, $26.99, hardcover, 288p., 9780062668721

Sounds True: Practice You: A Journal by Elena Brower


Mystery & Thriller

Infinite Ground

by Martin MacInnes


Infinite Ground by Scottish writer Martin MacInnes is a highly original and confounding mystery that blurs the line between certainty and illusion. One night in a Latin American city that's not identified, the young man named Carlos vanishes from a restaurant. No one sees him leave, and there are no traces of him anywhere.

The unnamed investigator hired to find Carlos becomes absorbed with the nebulous nature of his life. Vasquez and Kandinski, Carlos's coworkers, report that they witnessed increasingly strange physical and behavioral changes at the mysterious corporation where he was employed doing, they agree, nothing that was noticeable. His apartment offers few clues. "He was a segment of environment. He was almost nothing.... How are you going to find that?" asks Isabella, a scientist who suggests, startlingly, that microorganisms can slowly transform a human body into something completely different. The investigator, solitary and increasingly unmoored, moves through the city unsure of his own relationship to his surroundings and experiencing frequent dreamlike shifts in reality.

Paragraphs from an obscure book about native tribes foretell the irrevocable choice that the investigator makes to follow Carlos's trail deep into the tropical rain forest. There, alone and obsessed, he is consumed by the wilderness around him, causing his identity as an individual to be replaced with something more elemental. "How much more could there be, he thought, of him, to give, and of this?" MacInnes, in his debut novel, writes with savage precision of transformation, substitution and the question of what is true and untrue. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: Infinite Ground tells the story of one man's improbable disappearance and the effort to find him, blurring the line between reality and delusion in a hallucinatory, existential mystery.

Melville House, $25.99, hardcover, 272p., 9781612196855

Crown Publishing Group: Artemis by Andy Weir


Food & Wine

Rasika: Flavors of India

by Ashok Bajaj, Vikram Sunderam, David Hagedorn


Rasika (Sanskrit for flavor) is a well-loved Indian restaurant in Washington, D.C., popular with locals, White House denizens and global business leaders alike. It is the brainchild of renowned restaurateur Ashok Bajaj, a pioneer of small-plate Indian cuisine, brilliantly executed by the James Beard Award-winning chef Vikram Sunderam, a U.K. transplant from one of London's most outstanding Indian restaurants, the Bombay Brasserie.

Bajaj and Sunderam co-wrote Rasika: Flavors of India with Washington Post food columnist David Hagedorn, offering readers the recipes that have brought fame to their restaurant. Rasika is also a story of how Indian restaurants came to dominate the fine dining landscape in D.C. The recipes are endlessly adaptable and beautifully photographed, and each section is accompanied by detailed and easy-to-understand techniques. The dishes are likely to be a revelation to those who consider themselves familiar with Indian cooking. Meals such as avocado and banana chaat, and beet and goat cheese tikki, cleverly combine ingredients that are relatively foreign to the Indian kitchen with its traditional spices and flavors. Delicious and easy to make chutney pairings accompany each recipe.

Rasika takes an adventurous approach to cooking both meat and non-meat dishes with a focus on small plates, and contains far more vegetarian, fish and seafood recipes than the average Indian cookbook. Unexpected spice, vegetable and protein combinations abound: Kashmiri chilis and cinnamon with salmon; lime leaves and mustard oil with swordfish; mushroom and artichoke korma; lamb curry with pineapple--the mouthwatering list goes on. Rasika is an invitation to view Indian cooking through fresh eyes, daring home cooks to experiment with innovative ingredients in traditional Indian dishes. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: This new twist on Indian cuisine is filled with imaginative and easy-to-make vegetarian, vegan-adaptable, fish, seafood and meat recipes.

Ecco, $34.99, hardcover, 336p., 9780062435552

Portable Press: Uncle John's Old Faithful 30th Anniversary by Bathroom Readers' Institute


Biography & Memoir

Grant

by Ron Chernow


If Ulysses S. Grant had accompanied President Lincoln to Ford's Theater on April 14, 1865--as was his intent--John Wilkes Booth's plan to assassinate both men would have elevated Grant's stature in American history to one equaling Lincoln's. Instead, Grant's post-Civil War career is often regarded as an anticlimax to his heroism in battle; his postwar commitment to the rights of African Americans often goes unrecognized.

Such is the main premise that Ron Chernow (Alexander Hamilton) presents in Grant, a skillfully written and extensively researched biography encapsulating all facets of the remarkable personal and political life led by the United States' 18th president. Chernow posits that Grant's support and enforcement of the 13th, 14th and 15th Constitutional amendments (abolishing slavery, providing for due process and giving African Americans the right to vote) held as much significance and importance as Lincoln's accomplishments. It is because of Reconstruction's failure that Grant suffers unfairly.

Chernow explores in detail Grant's presidency, one unfortunately characterized by corruption and graft, while rightfully asserting that his biggest fault was internal: "The world of politics was filled with duplicitous people and Grant was poorly equipped to spot them, remaining an easy touch for crooked men."

Grant includes numerous historical anecdotes to satisfy the interest of casual history buffs, while offering new and deeper theories on Grant that will appeal to more devoted scholars of history. In doing so, Chernow more than expands upon the historiography of the post-Civil War era and comes closer than any other historian before in ranking Grant as Lincoln's deserved equal. --William H. Firman Jr., historian and writer

Discover: The author of Alexander Hamilton delivers an in-depth, new perspective on Ulysses S. Grant's presidency and commitment to post-Civil War rights for African Americans.

Penguin Press, $40, hardcover, 1104p., 9781594204876

Shelf Awareness Sign-up Giveaway: The Land Beyond by Leon McCarron


Lou Reed

by Anthony DeCurtis


Through his work in the Velvet Underground and solo career, Lou Reed helped define rock 'n' roll in the 1960s and '70s. With songs about drug use, sex work and other risqué topics (which sometimes seem quaint in comparison to modern music), Reed opened the door for songwriters looking to capture the underbelly of modernity and changed the way popular music would consider its subjects forever. Anthony DeCurtis's 500-page biography, Lou Reed, nimbly moves across the complex, genre-defining 71 years of Reed's life.

Lou Reed follows the typical route in biography, beginning with Reed's childhood in New York. DeCurtis then traces the artist's early days playing gigs at college and his eventual meeting with classically trained viola-player John Cale and the formation of the Velvet Underground. But, notably, the rise and fall of VU (as Reed himself referred to it) barely takes up a third of Lou Reed, although the band is unquestionably where Reed made his biggest impact on music. DeCurtis gives each period of Reed's life the same attention and empathy, arguing that Reed's output in the 1980s and 1990s is as worthy of discussion.

A noted rock critic, DeCurtis writes with clarity and precision, and is forthright in his criticisms of Reed's behavior (which could be quite cruel). Still, he clearly has deep respect for the man and his music, which infuses the biography with warmth. Reading Lou Reed is a bit like having a casual conversation with the rocker's biggest fan: fun, informative and poignant. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: Anthony DeCurtis's Lou Reed is a sprawling, insightful biography of the legendary songwriter.

Little, Brown, $32, hardcover, 528p., 9780316376556

History

Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine

by Anne Applebaum


Anne Applebaum has made a career out of expertly documenting the crimes of the former Soviet Union in books such as Iron Curtain and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gulag. In Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine, she turns her attention to the Holodomor--a term derived from the Ukrainian words for "hunger" and "extermination"--the 1932-1933 famine that resulted in the deaths of more than 3.9 million Ukrainians. Applebaum aims to put to bed any remaining controversy over how to think about the famine: "It was a political famine, created for the express purpose of weakening peasant resistance, and thus national identity. And in this, it succeeded."

Applebaum traces the Holodomor's roots back to imperial Russia's paternalistic relationship to Ukraine, which Russians sometimes referred to as "southern Russia" or "little Russia." That sense of ownership persisted through the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and combined with a sense of threat after Ukraine became the site of bloody civil war and peasant uprisings. Applebaum sets out to prove that the Holodomor was an artificial famine produced by brutal Soviet social engineering policies alongside ceaseless repression and requisitions.

She is thorough in her recording of the horror of the famine years, but not dispassionate. She never loses sight of the human costs, or shrinks from condemning the grotesque immorality of decisions made at the very top of the Soviet hierarchy. Applebaum is also not blind to the continuing threats to Ukraine's national sovereignty. Red Famine is both a terrible reminder and a warning. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Discover: Red Famine investigates the events and policies that created the Holodomor, the famine that killed at least 3.9 million Ukrainians in 1932-1933.

Doubleday, $35, hardcover, 496p., 9780385538855

Children's & Young Adult

A Line in the Dark

by Malinda Lo


Even though Angie Redmond seems oblivious, high school junior Jess Wong is very interested in the two of them sharing a romantic "happy ending." But no matter what happens, Jess needs to first make sure her longtime best friend is "okay." When a girl from the exclusive Pearson Brooke boarding school, exuding the usual "we-are-the-sh*t aura," walks into the Creamery where Angie works, Jess immediately senses trouble. And this is before she watches "the Peeb" steal a bag of candy. Afterward, Angie admits she thinks the Peeb (whose name is Margot) is cute, and she and Margot quickly begin dating.

Jess knows she should be happy for her best friend, but watching Angie and Margot together is like "a punch in [the] face." The girls clash repeatedly over Jess's jealousy and dislike of Margot (Jess is sure Angie is "not seeing the real Margot") and the two don't speak for weeks. When they finally make up, Angie convinces Jess to go with her to a small Christmas party at Margot's summer house. The party includes Margot's best friend Ryan, Ryan's boyfriend and four other entitled Peebs. Tensions mount--helped by a healthy dose of alcohol--and secrets, lies and a gun turn into a recipe for disaster.

Jess is a talented comic book artist who draws what she can't say out loud. Her well-thought-out, alternate magical world helps her make sense of her own life, which in turn feeds her art. Her characters Kestrel, Raven and Laney form a familiar love triangle, with passions building out of control. Malinda Lo (Ash) delivers an enthralling mystery full of twists, turns, dark heroics... and high school. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: When Jess Wong's longtime best friend and crush Angie begins dating another girl, buried secrets come to light with disastrous results.

Dutton, $17.99, hardcover, 288p., ages 14-up, 9780735227422

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

by Karina Yan Glaser


If the Penderwicks (The Penderwicks on Gardam Street; The Penderwicks in Spring) were somehow to marry the Melendys (The Saturdays; The Four-Story Mistake), their babies would look a lot like The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street. This endearing and precocious biracial family includes 12-year-old twins Jessie (a wild-haired scientist) and sweet, introverted, violinist Isa; nine-year-old Oliver, the lone boy of the family and a fan of treehouses and Treasure Island; six-year-old Hyacinth, who "always had her best ideas when surrounded by her favorite things: scraps of odd-shaped fabric... [and] fat spools of thread in a rainbow of colors"; and four-and-three-quarter-year-old Laney, or her alter-ego, Panda-Laney.

The Vanderbeekers have lived for many years in their beloved Harlem brownstone in a warm and culturally rich community. When their cantankerous landlord, a man they call "the Beiderman," announces a week before Christmas that he is not renewing their lease, panic and despair ensue. The parents are resigned, and begin looking for new rentals, but the children launch Operation Beiderman, a secret campaign to convince Mr. Beiderman to let them stay. Tactics include croissants and a kitten delivered to his door (not at the same time); a neighborhood petition; sabotaging the Beiderman's efforts to rent the apartment; and torturing him with sewing needles and Laney's hugs (that one was vetoed).

Karina Yan Glaser weaves all the wonderful elements of old-fashioned family novels into this contemporary, diversely populated story. The kids have wi-fi, but they also play music and read books and conduct elaborate scientific experiments. A heartwarming holiday story for any time of the year. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Members of a large, lively Harlem family combine their best assets to try to prevent their landlord from terminating their lease, resulting in delightful, touching chaos.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 8-12, 9780544876392

Performing Arts

The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums

by Will Friedwald


Few music critics are as persuasive, knowledgeable and passionate as Will Friedwald. He's also supremely ambitious: after writing more than 200 biographies for his essential 2010 book, A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers, he has chosen another Herculean task. In The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums, Friedwald showcases 53 of the best of the 20th century.

Friedwald offers fascinating stories about how each album was made. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong recorded all 11 tracks of Ella and Louis in one day. Doris Day and Robert Goulet never met while recording Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun--Day recorded her vocals in California and Goulet did his in New York. Friedwald succinctly appraises each album track by track. Readers also learn about the evolution of the long-playing record and the careers and lives of each artist.

Some artists earn recognition several times over. Louis Armstrong, Doris Day and Jo Stafford each have three albums on the list. Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughan, Bing Crosby and Peggy Lee show up twice. Other artists include Chet Baker, June Christie, Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Dinah Washington, Bobby Short and Tiny Tim, who receives a spirited defense. Friedwald is an irresistible mixture of enthusiastic fan and erudite historian. He describes Judy Garland's Judy at Carnegie Hall as "That rare moment in the cultural firmament when pop music became something like Henry V's victory on St. Crispin's Day." This outstanding reference guide will be a boon to music retailers: Friedwald's intoxicating descriptions will create new music fans and invigorate older ones. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Will Friedwald's passionate, persuasive and irresistible guide to the best jazz and pop vocal albums is essential reading for music lovers.

Pantheon, $40, hardcover, 432p., 9780307379078

Poetry

Maps

by John Freeman


Editor John Freeman's first collection of poetry, Maps, is both global and deeply personal. Pieces like "Sarejevo (Summer 2016)" are examples in miniature, where Freeman and a nameless companion walk down a street in Bosnia that he doesn't know but she knows all too well, since it was the site of a near-death experience. The poem's title suggests a certain exoticism, especially for an American like Freeman, but the piece is really about how geography stays in human memory, even as the actual physical landscape shifts and alters. "You're here; you survived;/ and you're there," he notes in the poem's climax, an idea that runs throughout most of the collection.

Nearly every poem in Maps is a threnody, either to a person or a place. But they also follow attempts at reclaiming that loss. "I went back to the city we visited" begins "Return," while "Oslo" starts with: "I've been here/ before." Freeman's characters are always circling back, trying to make sense of the spaces they once inhabited, as if in the hope they will make sense of the people missing. The two major tragedies in Maps are a divorce and the death of a parent, both of which appear in many of the poems. It's never clear whether these events are autobiographical, and they are universal enough that he may simply be taking different angles at the two most important aspects of life: love and death. Either way, Maps beautifully captures the geography of both. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: John Freeman's Maps combines global concerns with images of trauma, loss and memory.

Copper Canyon Press, $17, paperback, 144p., 9781556595233

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