The Lake Shore Limited: A Novel
by Sue Miller
In this elegiac and emotionally sophisticated novel, a quartet of vividly realized characters sort out the aftermath of one man's death on Sept. 11. Leslie's beloved younger brother, Gus, was in one of the planes that hit the towers on that day. Some years after the tragedy, Gus' girlfriend, Billy, writes a play about a terrorist attack on a train (the Lake Shore Limited) running through Chicago. The play, being staged in Boston, stars Rafe, whose beloved wife is dying from ALS. Leslie has had a fling with an architect named Sam, whose first wife died of breast cancer, leaving him with three young sons to raise. The action begins when Leslie invites Sam to see Billy's play. Moving fluidly back and forth in time, Miller weaves the lives of her four protagonists, and her themes of memory, regrets and the transformative power of art, into her most engrossing and best novel in years.
336 pages, $15, Vintage Books
by Alexander McCall Smith
For Scottish writer Alexander McCall Smith, staying on top of all of his running series — The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Isabel Dalhousie, Portuguese Irregular Verbs, 44 Scotland — must be daunting. But clearly, some people thrive on overstimulation. Corduroy Mansions is a comic serial novel about the inhabitants of a genteel, comfortably worn apartment block in London's Pimlico neighborhood. Originally published and podcast in 100 daily Web episodes by the UK's Daily Telegraph in 2008, it shows its slightly disjointed, episodic provenance in book form. But there's considerable charm in the quirky characters and high-spirited tone of this rambling tale, including a Pimlico terrier named Freddie de la Hay, "who had been employed as a sniffer dog at Heathrow airport ... but had been dismissed as part of an affirmative action program when it had been discovered that all the dogs at the airport were male."
384 pages, $15, Anchor Books
Hitch-22: A Memoir
by Christopher Hitchens
For all the ideological enemies that political writer Christopher Hitchens has attracted from across the spectrum, it's hard to find many people who don't respect his talent. His new memoir, Hitch-22, is smart, funny and unexpectedly touching, and the perfect place for the uninitiated to start. While it's almost three memoirs in one — literary, political and personal — it's smooth, cohesive and relentlessly readable. Hitchens proves especially good at chronicling his education as a writer, and his ideological evolution, as well as his friendships with fellow authors like James Fenton, Edward Said, Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie. But it's really the chapters about his family and his childhood that make this such an accomplished memoir — they are remarkably sensitive and emotionally real.
448 pages, $14.99, Twelve
Sports From Hell: My Search For The World's Most Outrageous Competition
by Rick Reilly
In his long career as a sports columnist, Rick Reilly has covered the biggest games, including the Super Bowl, the World Series and the Masters. But for his new book, Sports from Hell, Reilly sought out the championships of decidedly less conventional sports, such as chess boxing and rock, paper, scissors. One of Reilly's criteria for choosing a sport from hell was that it had to be dumb to everyone except the competitors. He took part in just about every sport, save for bull poker. "That's done only in American prisons," he explains to NPR's Guy Raz. At the Angola Prison Rodeo in Louisiana, inmates sit down at a poker table and put $250 in the middle. Then they release a 2,000-pound bull that comes charging at the table, and the last guy to leave his chair gets the money.
224 pages, $14.95, Anchor
Four Fish: The Future Of The Last Wild Food
by Paul Greenberg
Paul Greenberg delivers a powerful indictment of the rampant overfishing that has led to the collapse of wild fish populations, and a defense of farmed fishing when done right. He says people need to understand that the oceans simply can't compete with our growing appetite for fish — which has doubled around the world on a per capita basis in the past 50 years, according to the World Health Organization, leading to the harvest of 90 million tons of wild fish and shellfish from the ocean every year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Like it or not, says Greenberg, the future lies in fish farming, or aquaculture — but the trick is figuring how to do it with a small environmental footprint, and keeping farmed fish away from wild populations so they don't spread disease.
304 pages, $16, Penguin
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 .
Alexander McCall Smith, the prolific Scots writer constantly expanding his fictional empire with new series and stand-alone novels, is beginning to seem like the kilted literary equivalent of a celebrity chef maniacally darting between restaurants in his culinary kingdom. Staying on top of all of his running series — The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Isabel Dalhousie, Portuguese Irregular Verbs, 44 Scotland — must be daunting. But clearly, some people thrive on overstimulation.
In late 2008, McCall Smith channeled his spillover imagination into a comic serial novel about the inhabitants of a genteel, comfortably worn apartment block in London's Pimlico neighborhood. Originally published and podcast by the Daily Telegraph in 100 daily Web episodes, Corduroy Mansions is part of a grand old tradition of serialized novels. Two prominent practitioners were Charles Dickens and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who often dashed off installments to keep creditors at bay. For McCall Smith, one assumes the pressures are internally imposed.
In book form, Corduroy Mansions shows its slightly disjointed, episodic provenance. Considerable charm, however, lies in the quirky collection of characters and high-spirited tone of this rambling tale. Among his protagonists is a Pimlico terrier named Freddie de la Hay, "who had been employed as a sniffer dog at Heathrow airport ... but had been dismissed as part of an affirmative action programme when it had been discovered that all the dogs at the airport were male." This led to "a policy of equal opportunity for female sniffer dogs." Sublimely ridiculous, of course, but for McCall Smith, a professor of legal ethics, it's yet another opportunity to ponder moral issues: "Should one treat animals fairly?" In other words, Corduroy Mansions is filled with McCall Smith's irrepressible, occasionally pedantic observations and prescriptions about how one ought and ought not to live and behave, though he leavens the earnestness with more silliness than usual.
On the top floor of Corduroy Mansions, William French is a prematurely stodgy, widowed wine dealer eager to push his rude 23-year-old son, Eddie, out of the nest. He finds help in this endeavor from his friend Marcia, a caterer who is equally eager to push her way into William's nest. Several young, unmarried women share the third floor flat directly beneath William's. Caroline is studying toward a master's degree in Fine Art and barking up the wrong tree with a classmate who may be gay. Jenny works as an assistant to an awful politician, Oedipus Snark; the running joke about him is that he is so dreadful, even his mother, who gave him that ridiculous name, can't stand him.
McCall Smith allows his imagination free rein, wandering from residents of Corduroy Mansions to characters only tangentially related to the building. There's some funny business with Snark's mother, a therapist, and her daft brother, who nearly electrocutes himself trying to recharge his car battery with direct current. McCall Smith wraps up his 100 installments with a celebratory party, but he leaves plenty of room to run off in new directions should he decide to take these characters out for another spin.