Annalisa Quinn

Annalisa Quinn is a contributing writer, reporter, and literary critic for NPR. She created NPR's Book News column and covers literature and culture for NPR.

Quinn studied English and Classics at Georgetown University and holds an M.Phil in Classical Greek from the University of Cambridge, where she was a Cambridge Trust scholar.

"Blow not your broth at Table," George Washington wrote in an early school exercise on civility. And "bedew no mans face with your Spittle." Wise man.

Other etiquette rules hold up less well over time ("to Pull off the Hat when there is no need is Affectation.") More recently, Emily Post warned young ladies against unchaperoned boating with young men, lest a sudden fog delay them and her reputation be ruined (sudden fog, as you perhaps know, is prime cover for you-know-what).

Black lives matter — not only black deaths. But you wouldn't know it from paging through major publishers' catalogs. The publishing industry, despite all those solemn, virtuous panels on diversity, has thus far shown little interest in ordinary black lives. Black lives, families and stories matter — but they don't have a commensurate place in fiction.

From the ground, flying is a wonderfully loose metaphor — for freedom and speed and ambition, for superhuman ease and laborless achievement. But Fran Wilde's Bone Universe series makes flying a fatal and real technical science. It isn't magic, but a controlled harnessing of something terrifyingly strong: the wind. The taut violence of flight — catching gusts, snapping wings, shaving the air — is the best and most real part of the novels. Not a broomstick whoosh or the effortless flutter of a superhero's cape, but groaning joints, deadly winds, an awful void below.

Eily is 18, Irish, just barely removed from the "dun school skirts" of early life. She arrives in London — alive with "traffic all gadding in the midday shine" and "pigeons at infernal coo" — to audition for drama school. She is young, but as she steps into character, the judges can see that "in her I've done my time." She gets in, and starts a new life in grimy Camden of the 1990s: "Here I am and here is for me."

Chekhov is supposed to have said that if you show a loaded gun on stage, it has to go off. Ann Patchett's new novel, Commonwealth, is full of guns that don't fire.

There are more dumb Shakespeare adaptations on heaven and earth, dear readers, than are dreamed of in your performance studies seminars.

I have seen (fatal vision!) an all-nude Macbeth, a Wild West Romeo and Juliet, a Soviet Lear, a Basquiat Hamlet and one painful "Oriental"-themed Tempest (think gongs and kimonos). I have stood in a room while Lady Macbeth dropped single marbles on the floor for minutes on end, seen another smear herself in chocolate syrup.

Count Alexander Rostov — recipient of the Order of Saint Andrew, member of the Jockey Club, Master of the Hunt — is a "Former Person." Russia's new Soviet masters have sentenced him, improbably enough, to house arrest in Moscow's luxurious Metropol hotel, where he lives out his days decorating the dining room with his bon mots and dashing around like Eloise, if Eloise were set in a twee version of Stalinist Russia.

"Every path that leads to new victories is lined with crosses of the dead," wrote one early practitioner of proto-lobotomies. Luke Dittrich's new book asks: How many lives does a medical breakthrough cost? "By the middle of the twentieth century," Dittrich writes, "the breaking of human brains was intentional, premeditated, clinical." But were "all those asylums, all those lesions, all those broken men and women," worth what we now know about the human brain?

Over time, family stories calcify into mythology: They are repeated, enshrined, made emblematic. Moments that, in retrospect, predict character. Fights that become the fights. The time you threw up, crashed the car, found mom's pot.

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