Memory Wall: Stories
by Anthony Doerr
If we're lucky, our mind occupies a lot of places at once: our present-day reality, our painfully or happily remembered past, and our hopeful future. Throughout the day, we're sent from one point in time to the other, so fast that we may occupy all at once. In Anthony Doerr's new collection of short stories, Memory Wall, the O. Henry Award-winning writer re-creates that experience, assuming the voice of a teenage American living in Lithuania in one story, and in another, a 50- or 60-year-old Chinese woman living in rural China. Making and using memories plays a significant role in each of their stories, as do Doerr's vivid descriptions of nature. "In a lot of ways, my fiction is about trying to pay homage to the grandeur of the scales of time in the natural world. And I feel like memory is a part of that. Memory is this one attempt to not be erased by time," he tells NPR's Rachel Martin.
288 pages, $14, Scribner
Day For Night
by Frederick Reiken
"We are all magicians," says one of Frederick Reiken's characters in his new novel, Day for Night. "What we see will never coincide with absolute reality. As a result, the human brain must make a narrative." The novel opens in Florida in 1984, where Beverly Rabinowitz, a Polish doctor who escaped the Holocaust, vacations with her boyfriend, David, and his son, Jordan. Her alter ego is Catherine Clay Goldman, a '60s-era radical and fugitive. The novel's many narratives and narrators from all over the U.S. and the Middle East connect back to the lives of these two women, reminding us how seemingly unrelated lives can all come together in the net of a master storyteller. "No one reality is privileged," Reiken tells NPR's Scott Simon. "It can always shift when a larger or differing perspective is introduced."
352 pages, $14.99, Reagan Arthur/Back Bay Books
Learning To Die In Miami: Confessions Of A Refugee Boy
By Carlos Eire
In 1962, 11-year-old Carlos Eire was one of thousands of children airlifted out of Cuba and sent to Florida to escape Fidel Castro's regime. Shortly after he arrived in the United States, the Cuban missile crisis shut down Cuba's borders, and his parents were unable to leave the country. For the next several years, Eire would be shuffled between foster families around the country before joining his aunt and uncle in Chicago. Eire's memoir, Learning to Die in Miami, chronicles the years he spent acclimating to a completely new country — as well as his eventual reunion with his mother. (His father died in Cuba.) Now a professor of history and religious studies at Yale, Eire tells NPR's Terry Gross how a religious book his parents gave him just before he left Cuba made a lasting impression on him. The book, Imitation of Christ, was written by a 15th-century monk and is about accepting suffering and letting go of the idea that one has control over his or her life.
336 pages, $15, Free Press
Late, Late At Night
By Rick Springfield
Reading this memoir by '80s pop-heartthrob-turned-soap-opera-star Rick Springfield is like binge drinking. It's a terrible idea, but so escapist and addictive, you can't stop. It attempts naked honesty about his roller-coaster career, marriage, depression and sex addiction and also slips in plenty of beefcake photos of the man, who is 61 and looks 38. But sadly, he writes like he's 19, with overwrought confessions, cocky asides and adolescent soul-searching, but little real wisdom. It's a shame, because there's powerful material here. At 17, Springfield attempted suicide. In 1968, he saw action in Vietnam — as an Australian entertaining the troops. This should be riveting, but his swagger makes it glib. Still, if you ever adored Springfield, you may well be tempted to take him to bed, enjoy him more than you want to admit and hating yourself in the morning. Late, Late at Night is, like its author, unsatisfying but embarrassingly seductive.
352 pages, $15.99, Touchstone
Sweetness And Blood: How Surfing Spread From Hawaii And California To The Rest Of The World, With Some Unexpected Results
By Michael Scott Moore
There's no denying that surfing is a classic American pastime, yet in tracing its spread around the world, journalist Michael Scott Moore travels to some surprising locations, including the beaches of Tel Aviv, Indonesia, Japan and the North Sea island of Sylt. He even surfs the river waves of the Eisbach in Munich, which has become something of a tourist destination. Moore says surfing has gained a loyal and sometimes unorthodox following who sometimes face harsh conditions and cultural barriers but have, in the process, created their own kind of identity. "No matter how bad the surf is or how cold it is or how bad the conditions are," Moore says, "there's that thrill of getting picked up by a wave that never goes away. That's always part of surfing, and that's what people get addicted to and it's astonishing how universal it is," Moore says.
336 pages, $16.99, Rodale
Colossus: The Turbulent, Thrilling Saga Of The Building Of Hoover Dam
By Michael Hiltzik
When construction was completed in 1936, the Hoover Dam was not only the world's largest concrete structure and the world's largest hydroelectric power-generating station; it was also the largest dam on Earth — triple the size of all existing dams. But the process to design and build the dam was not an easy one. New construction and excavation equipment had to be designed and trucked into the Black Canyon of the Colorado River. Thousands of workers suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning and poor working conditions. And flaws in the initial construction made the Hoover Dam preciously vulnerable to tipping over until repairs were made years later. In his new book, Colossus, journalist Michael Hiltzik follows the construction of the Hoover Dam, from initial political battles waged in Washington to the engineering projects designed for the project on the Colorado River.
512 pages, $17, Free Press
Charlotte Abbott edits "New in Paperback." A contributing editor for Publishers Weekly, she also leads a weekly chat on books and reading in the digital age every Friday from 4-5 p.m. ET on Twitter. Follow her at @charabbott or check out the #followreader hashtag.
As days get longer and the sun's rays get stronger, books that are lighter and brighter stand a better chance of squeezing into packed beach bags and suitcases. But that doesn't mean summer books need to be weightless. Finding the perfect balance in a single bound edition can seem impossible, but it's a challenge that's just right for independent booksellers like Rona Brinlee of The BookMark in Atlantic Beach, Fla., Daniel Goldin of Boswell Book Co. in Milwaukee, and Lucia Silva of Studio City, Calif.'s Portrait of a Bookstore. Among the three of them, they've managed to find 16 books that fit the bill. Showoffs!
This summer's rays of literary sunshine come from 15 authors whose topics range from loaves of bread to small-town life in the Texas Hill Country. There's fiction from Sarah Blake, Hilary Thayer Hamann and Brady Udall, whose 600-page novel, The Lonely Polygamist, about a man with four wives who finds himself drawn to a fifth woman, was picked by two of our booksellers. There's also poetry (and a memoir) from quadriplegic writer Paul Guest, the story behind the making of the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's, and a first-person, nonfiction book from Ander Monson that's definitely Not a Memoir. The title even says so.
"We are all magicians," says one of Frederick Reiken's characters in his new novel, Day for Night. "What we see will never coincide with absolute reality. As a result, the human brain must make a narrative."
Day for Night is full of narratives and narrators — nearly a dozen characters from all over the U.S. and the Middle East help tell this interwoven story.
"No one reality is privileged," Reiken tells NPR's Scott Simon. "It can always shift when a larger or differing perspective is introduced."
The novel opens in Florida in 1984, where Beverly Rabinowitz, a Polish doctor who escaped the Holocaust, vacations with her boyfriend, David, and his son, Jordan.
Each step of the story comes with a new narrator, as the action moves among Utah, New Jersey and Israel. It snaps up an uncommon assortment of characters, including an FBI agent and an Israeli soldier, who remind us how seemingly unrelated lives can all come together in the net of a master storyteller.
"It's a book about connection and the way people are interconnected, whether they know it or not," Reiken says.
The book is structured around "dual protagonists," he explains. There's Beverly, the Holocaust survivor, and Catherine Clay Goldman, a '60s-era radical — Beverly's alter ego. Reiken says he "maintained the traction of the novel" by connecting the many varied narratives back to the lives of these two women.
In addition to having many narrators and locations, the novel is full of details about disparate topics — from manatees to the soil of the Dead Sea to the history of the Holocaust — a research challenge for any author.
"Some of the subject matter arises from my own experience," Reiken explains, though he says the book is not autobiographical. Just after college, Reiken worked as a wildlife field technician in the southern Negev desert. (He was studying the Persian onager, a species of wild ass that was being reintroduced to the Israeli desert wilderness.)
"That was a very interesting and formative time for me," he says. "In some ways that experience ... is at the root of a lot of my motivation for having written this book."
With multiple narratives and shifting storylines, readers are left to interpret reality for themselves in Day for Night — just as they must in real life.
"We use a metaphorical version of sleight of hand all the time," Reiken says. "There's so much indirection in our lives."
Reiken says the way we interpret the world is defined by the narratives that we create to understand our lives — but he cautions against becoming too committed to one version of the story.
"It's important not to get stuck in any one narrative," Reiken says. "I think most of the biggest problems in the world come from the problem of people being stuck in a particular narrative and being unwilling to see another point of view or acknowledge another belief system."
Day for NightRead An Excerpt
By Frederick Reiken
Hardcover, 336 pages
Reagan Arthur Books
List price: $24.99
"They're around here," said our guide, as we slowly motored up the Homosassa River. It was late afternoon, a mildly sunny day in midwinter. My boyfriend David, his son Jordan, and I wore wetsuits, which we had rented along with snorkeling equipment. We'd been assured that a group of five overwintering manatees had been grazing all day in the oxbow.
"Look!" Jordan yelled, and pointed. Across the river, a pair of seal-like heads had surfaced.
"Well, thar she blows," said the guide, and let the motor die. He tossed a small metal anchor into the blue-gray water.
We'd been in Tampa for one of David's conferences. We had heard about the Homosassa River, an hour's drive north and one of just a few places on earth where it was possible to swim with wild manatees. I had mixed feelings about the venture, but we had Jordan, who was thirteen, with us, and he had been extremely bored and brooding for the three days of the conference.
Since the proximate cause of Jordan's moodiness was not apparent, I chalked it up to the obvious, larger issue we were facing. Six months before, David had been diagnosed with leukemia. He had recently gone into remission, but the odds were that the remission would not last more than a year. Though Jordan had not been briefed yet on the prognosis, his father's bald head and skinny frame were enough to suggest that something was vastly different. This three-day trip also marked the first time either Jordan or I had gone with David to a conference. Perhaps it had not been a waste of money, though Jordan and I had spent most of the time playing backgammon in our motel room while David agonized about his presentation.
In our rented car we'd driven up to the town of Homosassa right after David finally gave his talk about the latest trends in the population dynamics of the long-spined black sea urchin. During the ride I offered David my impressions of the talk while Jordan tuned us both out with his Sony Walkman. He was thirteen, after all. Somehow he'd managed it. His mother died when he was six, but he'd come through it more or less okay. I attributed this to David's good and loving nature, and I reluctantly gave some credit to the two twentysomething budding marine biologists whose thesis committees David had more than chaired. That was during the years between his wife Deborah's death and our first meeting, on the occasion of his bringing Jordan into my office with tonsillitis. It took three years before we started discussing marriage, but then his diagnosis came, and so instead we discussed my plans to adopt Jordan, if David died.
I thought about this as Jordan jumped into the river. He liked me now but I wondered if he would still like me as his mother. I guessed the grad students were more sisterly than maternal, and that maybe this had been a safer enterprise. I also guessed I wasn't anything like Deborah. She was a dancer. David once told me she had a habit of getting extremely lost while she was driving. Sometimes she went to the store for milk and took an hour to get home. Jordan swam calmly up to the nearest manatee and dove down, as if to take a few bites of whatever species of aquatic grass was growing on the river bottom. When he resurfaced, the nearby manatee approached and seemed to nuzzle him. Within seconds, he appeared to have been approved as a new member of the herd. David followed Jordan in. With the same unlearned skill Jordan had inherited, he too was quickly welcomed by the manatees. For twenty minutes or so, I watched the two of them swim around with these floating teddy bears, one of whom seemed to be continually demanding that David tickle him. "Go on," said our guide, a tall, skinny young man who looked to be in his early twenties. He had blond hair and a very bad complexion, and I had noticed that he kept glancing at my chest.
I said, "I don't know that I want to."
He said, "Why not?"
I didn't answer. I almost told him that as a young girl I had lived in a small village in eastern Poland, that we didn't have any marine mammals, and that I'd once seen a dead man floating facedown in the river Bug. But that would have been melodramatic. The truth was I was afraid that I would not be made as welcome by these manatees. That they would sense a certain problematic energy in me — or worse, I would find that I was terrified of them. As rationalization, I was reviewing various environmentalist arguments against fostering interaction with wild animals. These ranged from ethical problems related to ecotourism to the dangers these manatees might face thanks to their willingness to tolerate human presence. Of course, it also occurred to me that they'd been tamed long ago, that their nature was genuinely docile in the first place, and finally, that I had never seen creatures more beautiful in my life. So I went in with my rented mask, fins, snorkel, and too-small wetsuit. I swam toward them with far less ease than David or Jordan, veering away, then toward, then back away, and at last choosing to swim in the general direction of a single manatee on the periphery. It was the wrong choice, I quickly realized. This manatee was the only member of the group that appeared to be the least bit skittish. I stopped swimming when it drew back from me. I prepared to face unprecedented manatee rejection, but thankfully, it did not turn its whiskered snout away. With the most placid, unearthly face, it watched me. Its tiny eyes looked to me like stars. It let its tail fluke sink until its body was almost vertical. When I looked down I saw that the tail was horribly disfigured, sliced into several leaflike segments by the blades of an outboard motor. I knew what to do, somehow. I swam away from the manatee and it followed. I took a few more gentle strokes, let myself glide, and did not look back. When the creature swam up beside me, I kept going. It stayed with me for a minute or so, once even nuzzling me, and finally I turned toward it. I saw more scars on its back, including one that was shaped like the letter Z. It moved up close and pressed the side of its long body against my shoulder. Then it drew back again, submerged, swam under me, and was gone. Our guide had told us that if you stay where you are and do not try to follow, the manatee will usually return in a few minutes. I treaded water until its head popped up near the main group. It stayed away and submerged again when Jordan swam out toward it. I didn't see its head resurface, although I waited ten more minutes. Then I swam back to the boat and felt as if my heart would burst.
I pulled myself up the rope ladder that our guide had hung down the boat's side.
"That one, she likes you," he said.
"She swam away from me."
"She's just a shy one. See any markings?"
"What kind of markings?"
"Propeller scars," he said, and glanced down at my chest again.
Fixed action pattern, David would say. All part of preprogrammed neurophysiology. He'd claimed his attraction to the second of the two grad students, a top-heavy girl named Stacy Bennett, could be blamed on the phenomenon of "supernormal stimuli." Just like the oversized claw of the fiddler crab or the inflatable red neck of the magnificent frigatebird. David conveniently ignored the fact that these and other supernormally stimulating appendages typically cited in college textbooks were, almost exclusively, traits that occurred in males.
"Oh, those markings," I said. "Yeah, her tail was mangled. She also had a scar shaped like a big Z along her back."
"That's what I figured," he said. "Zelda. She's a real shy one, like I said."
"Do you have names for all the manatees?"
He nodded and said, "We get to know them."
"And this is all you do? Take people out to see manatees?"
"No, ma'am," he said.
"I work on boats."
"You're a mechanic?"
He said, "Yes, ma'am."
"What's all this ma'am stuff?" I asked.
"Did you grow up around here?"
"Born and raised in Homosassa." With a twinkly smile he added, "Ma'am."
"That's very nice," I said, and stared at his vaguely Germanic features.
"I also play the guitar," he said. "We have a band. We're called Dee Luxe. That's because Dee, she's the lead singer and she started the band with her boyfriend. He plays the drums."
"Is his name Luxe?" I asked.
He smiled again and said, "It's Jerry."
Jordan and David were swimming up. By then they'd been in the water close to an hour.
"Hey, Beverly, did you see us?" Jordan said, as he climbed up the rope ladder.
I said, "Yes. You turned into a manatee."
"Maybe I did," he said, and appeared to be assessing the possibility. He reached behind himself to unzip his wetsuit. I helped him peel it down off his shoulders and draped a towel around his neck. Jordan was wearing a little necklace he'd won last summer playing Skee-Ball at an arcade in Cape May, New Jersey. He and Rocky, my younger daughter, had each cashed in their win tickets for a pendant of polished light green stone that hung from a thin black cord. They called them "wonder stones," which, apparently, was how they had been marketed.
"We saw you swimming," Jordan said. "With that one manatee who wouldn't go near me and Dad. It had a messed-up tail, from all the boats."
I said, "Our guide said her name's Zelda. She has a Z-shaped scar across her back."
"What about that one with three scars on its head? What's his name?"
"That must be June," said the guide. "The others were Lana, Kate, and Francie."
"How do you know?" Jordan asked.
He said, "I came here with another group this morning. They swam right up to the boat, so I got a good look at their scars."
"Can you tell who they are without the scars?" I asked.
Jordan said, "Dad," and looked at David, who had just climbed up the ladder. "We were with Lana, Kate, and Francie."
"That's good to know," David said softly, and pushed his mask up to his forehead. He'd started growing a new mustache, which made him look like a big, wet seal.
On the ride back, I sat with David, pulling him close with my arm around his shoulder. For the first time in a long while, he seemed relaxed, even serene. I recognized his mood. He'd been this way after a whale-watching trip we'd taken during the past fall. For all his scientific deconstruction of wild habitats, for all the academic bureaucracy and political maneuvering he had weathered, David had somehow preserved his fundamental love of nature. For me it was long gone, beaten out of me in my twenties, during med school, when I was taught to recognize the many horrors that nature can bestow. This was a problem, I later realized, and maybe one I'd hoped to remedy by falling in love with David. But in the three years since we'd met, I hadn't healed much or gotten any softer. And in the months since David's diagnosis, I'd often felt — more than he — that I wanted to give up trying.
Excerpted from Day for Night by Frederick Reiken. Copyright 2010 by Frederick Reiken. Reprinted by permission of Reagan Arthur Books.