Michael Schaub

There aren't too many American authors for whom the publication of a new book is a bona fide literary event, but Allan Gurganus is one of them. The North Carolina author took the book world by storm in 1989 with his debut novel, Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, which became a massive bestseller and spawned an Emmy-winning television miniseries adaptation. Only four books followed after that.

Kevin Barry has never shied away from the dark side. In books like City of Bohane and Night Boat to Tangier, the Irish author has turned his eye to gangsters, drug smugglers and other assorted criminals, both petty and felonious. But he's never descended into hard-boiled cliché — while some of his characters boast a kind of tough-guy swagger, he's just as interested in the softer specimens of humanity, and you always get the feeling that there's a touch of the romantic hiding just beneath the surface of his fiction.

The narrator of Manuel Vilas' novel Ordesa wastes no time telling the reader what kind of psychological space he inhabits. "I've been a man of sorrows," he says on the book's first page. "I've failed to understand life ... It pained me to talk to others; I could see the pointlessness of every human conversation that has been and will be."

"I believe in expecting light," says the unnamed narrator of Ellen Cooney's new novel. "That's my job." More specifically, the 36-year-old woman's job is as a chaplain at a medical center, offering solace and a friendly ear to the patients in the hospital, some in grave condition, some not.

It didn't take Bryan Washington long to become a literary star. The Houston author took the book world by storm last year with his debut short story collection, Lot, a love letter (or something like it) to his hometown of Houston that received rave reviews from critics — including former President Obama, who called the book one of his favorites of the year.

In "Smartening Up," the first story in Aoko Matsuda's collection Where the Wild Ladies Are, the narrator reflects on her dissatisfaction with the way she looks. She has too much body hair, she thinks, and that's why her boyfriend left her. In her estimation, the breakup "happened because my arms, my legs, and other parts of my body were not perfectly hairless — because I was an unkempt person who went about life as if there was nothing wrong with being hairy."

Anyone who's even vaguely familiar with Jimmy Carter has heard the assessment of his career that's become something of a political cliché: His presidency was largely a failure, but he's the best ex-president the country's ever had.

Like many well-worn bromides, there's a grain of truth to it: He left the Oval Office with dismal approval ratings, but in the 40 years since, he's developed a reputation as one of the country's most beloved humanitarians.

If you're of a certain temperament, it's tempting to think that the only people who aren't going to lose hope in the world by the end of the year are the people who lost hope in the world long ago.

The pandemics of coronavirus and hate show no signs of abating, and it's becoming increasingly obvious that we'll be unable to repair the damage we've done to our environment. For many of us, 2020 is the ultimate year of despair.

When civil rights activist and U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia died last month, so did a big piece of America.

Kazu, the narrator of Tokyo Ueno Station, had hoped that his death would bring him some rest, some sense of closure. The man led a life marked with hard work and intense pain; he spent his final years homeless, living in a makeshift shelter in a Tokyo park. But when he dies, he finds the afterlife — such as it is — is nothing like he expected.

Even those with the most casual familiarity of American history know that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated just weeks after his second inauguration as U.S. president.

But not many are aware that if a group of Maryland white supremacists had their way, he would have been killed before he ever had the chance to set foot in the White House.

These are deeply weird times, and especially so for Emily St. John Mandel. The Canadian novelist is publishing her latest book just as the literary world has again become obsessed with her last one: Station Eleven, her 2014 novel about a world devastated by a deadly virus. It's a brilliant book (and one that even Mandel thinks you should wait a few months to read).

Northern Irish author Anna Burns published her first book in 2001, but she wasn't well known outside of the U.K. until 2018. That's when her third novel, Milkman, hit bookstore shelves to near universal acclaim. Critics were impressed by her unusual narrative technique and dark sense of humor, and the novel went on to win the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

There are countless books about World War II, but there's only one Erik Larson.

The author is known for his fascinating nonfiction accounts of subjects ranging from guns to hurricanes; his best-known work, The Devil in the White City, told the story of the 1893 World's Fair and notorious serial killer H.H. Holmes. Over his career, he has developed a reputation for being able to write about disparate subjects with intelligence, wit and beautiful prose.

Rachel, a librarian in Brooklyn, hasn't had the best luck with men. "I'd dated inadvisably before," she admits, "the long-distance architect, the married whiskey distiller, the homeless freegan." But when she sees a beautiful young man lingering at her bus stop, she's hopeful he might be the one to reverse her string of bad luck. Thomas, it turns out, is her perfect match — or he would be, if only he weren't dead.

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