Friday, November 03, 2006

Pynchon's Big `Day,' Crichton's Future, Godfather: New Fiction

Pynchon's Big `Day,' Crichton's Future, Godfather: New Fiction

By Edward Nawotka

Nov. 3 (Bloomberg) -- A new book by Thomas Pynchon is only slightly less rare than sightings of the man himself. ``Against the Day'' (Penguin Press) is the reclusive genius's first novel in a decade and, at 1,085 pages, easily his fattest. The extravagant plot moves from the 1883 Chicago World's Fair to early Hollywood, and the prose is jammed with the funny names, silly songs, unhinged fantasy, encyclopedic learning and, not least, excruciating beauty that are his trademarks.

Pynchon has clearly been keeping up with the national news, and his hatred of the power structure hasn't abated: Part of the novel deals with the anarchist dynamiters who plagued Colorado's mining barons, and there's no question as to where his sympathies lie.

Also new this month:

``Next'' by Michael Crichton (HarperCollins). The provocateur futurist is back with a novel tackling the widely debated topic of genetic engineering. The book is embargoed until Nov. 28, but its publisher promises it will change ``everything you think you know.''

``The Godfather's Revenge'' by Mark Winegardner (Putnam). Winegardner is becoming a worthy successor to Mario Puzo, who died in 1999. This second sequel to ``The Godfather'' finds the Corleone clan embroiled in the political machinations of the early 1960s and culminates in a plot to assassinate the U.S. president.

``The Hidden Assassins'' by Robert Wilson (Harcourt) Spanish police inspector Javier Falcon investigates an explosion at a Seville mosque and tries to thwart a terrorist conspiracy in the latest brainy mystery from the author of the acclaimed ``A Small Death in Lisbon.''

``The View from Castle Rock'' by Alice Munro (Knopf). The renowned Canadian's 11th story collection comprises 12 masterful tales inspired by her ancestors' immigration from Scotland's Ettrick Valley to the shores of Lake Huron.

``The Handmaid and the Carpenter'' by Elizabeth Berg (Random House). A rewrite of the Christmas story that fleshes out the doubts and fears of the 13-year-old virgin Mary who, miraculously pregnant, marries 16-year-old Joseph and travels to Bethlehem to give birth to Jesus.

``The Aeneid'' by Virgil, translated by Robert Fagles (Viking). This new book by the heralded translator of ``The Odyssey'' and ``The Iliad'' offers a fresh interpretation of the third pinnacle of the classic epics: the story of Aeneas, the wandering Trojan who eventually founded Rome.

``The Phony Marine'' by Jim Lehrer (Random House). The PBS newsman's 16th novel may be his best yet and explains the unexpected consequences that unfold after an unremarkable clothing salesman buys a Silver Star on EBay Inc. and begins posing as a war hero.

``The Book of Samson'' by David Maine (St. Martin's). Maine's third brilliant re-imagining of a Bible story -- after ``The Preservationist'' (about Noah) and ``Fallen'' (about Adam and Eve) -- is filled with murder and mayhem, as the strongman Samson recounts how he became a blood-thirsty killer hellbent on slaughter in the name of God.

``The Book of Dave'' by Will Self (Bloomsbury). An ambitious satire from the controversial British writer portrays a post- apocalyptic society hundreds of years in the future that takes a bitter manifesto by a 21st-century cockney cab driver as its sacred text.

``The Crimson Portrait'' by Jody Shields (Little, Brown). Working from a true story, the author of the highly regarded ``The Fig Eater'' tells of a World War I widow who decides to salvage her life by refashioning a disfigured soldier into her husband's image.

``The Rising Tide'' by Jeff Shaara (Ballantine). In the first volume of a planned World War II trilogy, Shaara channels Rommel, Eisenhower and Patton while vividly describing the early days of the U.S.'s involvement in the war, especially the desert tank battles of the North African front and the Allied invasion of Italy.

``Ines of My Soul'' by Isabel Allende (HarperCollins). The latest historical saga from the Chilean bestseller depicts the life of the iron-willed 16th-century heroine Ines Suarez, who together with her lover, the conquistador Pedro de Valdivia, helped conquer Chile.

``Last Seen Leaving'' by Kelly Braffet (Houghton Mifflin). A tense thriller inspired by the Elizabeth Smart abduction in which a girl crashes her car and is picked up by an enigmatic stranger who helps her start a new life in a Virginia town beset by a serial killer.

``A Christmas Caroline'' by Kyle Smith (Morrow). Charles Dickens meets ``The Devil Wears Prada'' in this comic romp that delves into the love life of a haunted, high-maintenance editor of a women's shopping magazine who bah-humbugs her way through the holidays.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Walt's World, Paris, Andy Grove, Jimmy Carter: New Nonfiction

Walt's World, Paris, Andy Grove, Jimmy Carter: New Nonfiction

By Edward Nawotka

Nov. 2 (Bloomberg) -- ``Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination'' by Neal Gabler (Knopf) is a detailed biography of the ``imagineer'' who died of lung cancer in 1966 and, contrary to legend, was not frozen in stasis to await resurrection but was cremated. He presents Disney as a flawed genius, an obsessive micromanager and a terrible businessman, who relied on his brother Roy to manage the company's often shaky finances in the early days.

Gabler credits Disney with a massive cultural legacy akin to that of Picasso. Unlike Pablo, of course, Walt was no friend of the left and supported the red-baiting Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, an organization also perceived as anti-Semitic.

Also new this month:

``Andy Grove: The Life and Times of an American'' by Richard Tedlow (Portfolio). A sunny biography of the Hungarian immigrant and former Intel chief executive officer who is credited with helping Intel dominate the computer-processor industry just as PCs were becoming ubiquitous.

``Point to Point Navigation: A Memoir'' by Gore Vidal (Doubleday). The suavely combative octogenarian, in a sequel to 1995's ``Palimpsest,'' portrays himself as the star of his own life's movie, a recurring motif in this free-flowing, celebrity- studded chronicle of his later years.

``Palestine Peace Not Apartheid'' by Jimmy Carter (Simon & Schuster). The prolific ex-president outlines a peace plan for Israel and Palestine that hinges on Israel's removing itself from occupied Arab lands and the Palestinians' respecting Israel's pre-1967 borders.

``The Writing on the Wall: Why We Must Embrace China as a Partner or Face It as an Enemy'' by Will Hutton (Free Press). The British Hutton counters the prevailing theory that China's apotheosis as the world's greatest economic power is all but guaranteed and argues that its dysfunctional internal politics and policies may derail its progress, leading to an inevitable global economic meltdown. In his view, it is in our own self- interest to help them, rather than treat them as a rival.

``The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American Power'' by James Traub (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). A balanced portrait of the United Nations, focusing on Annan's leadership, starting in 1992 when he served as assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping operations and through his two terms as secretary-general, a period that includes the oil-for- food scandal, the Iraq War and stalled efforts at reforming the beleaguered institution.

``House of Hilton: From Conrad to Paris: A Drama of Wealth, Power, and Privilege'' by Jerry Oppenheimer (Crown). Oppenheimer's gossipy family biography portrays the Hiltons as a clan of vulgar and spoiled ignoramuses -- starting with Conrad, the larger-than-life founder of the hotel chain who married Zsa Zsa Gabor, and ending with the advent of his omnipresent great granddaughter, the sub-socialite, singer and inadvertent Web- video star Paris.

``The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God'' by Carl Sagan (Penguin Press). The 10th anniversary of the scientist's death is being marked with the publication of these 1985 lectures on the relationship between religion and science, which describes Sagan's own concept of ``informed worship'' and the potential for chemically induced transcendence.

``Pathfinders: A Global History of Exploration'' by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto (Norton). A history buff's ultimate armchair- travel companion, this book depicts everything from the moment homo erectus migrated out of East Africa to the mythic 19th- century explorations of the polar ice caps, the Americas and other remote corners of the world.

``The Girl With the Gallery: Edith Gregor Halpert and the Making of the Modern Art Market'' by Lindsay Pollock (PublicAffairs). A forgotten pioneer of the New York art scene, Halpert opened her Greenwich Village gallery in 1926 and proceeded to sell, sell, sell, establishing the reputations of Stuart Davis and Georgia O'Keeffe, among others. The author writes on the art market for Bloomberg News.

``Time Traveler: A Scientist's Personal Mission to Make Time Travel a Reality'' by Ronald Mallett (Thunder's Mouth). The University of Connecticut physics professor explains his ideas for how space and time can be manipulated and his personal effort to build a time machine so he can visit his dead father.

``Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR's Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of Her Survivors'' by naval historian James D. Hornfischer (Bantam). An account of the Houston's sinking by the Japanese in the Java Sea in 1942 that includes an unvarnished depiction of the building of the infamous Burma-Thailand Death Railway, romanticized by the movie ``Bridge on the River Kwai.''

``The End of the Line: How Overfishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat'' by Charles Clover (New Press). The London Telegraph editor offers a disturbing report on how modern, technologically advanced industrial fishing has radically depleted wild fish stocks, leaving certain species on the brink of extinction.

``William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism'' by Robert D. Richardson (Houghton Mifflin). Richardson, the award- winning biographer of Emerson and Thoreau, delivers an engaging account of the life of the Harvard psychologist and philosopher who gave us the classic ``The Varieties of Religious Experience.''

``Lone Wolf: Eric Rudolph: Murder, Myth, and the Pursuit of an American Outlaw'' by Maryanne Vollers (HarperCollins). Vollers, the only reporter in communication with Rudolph, draws an insightful portrait of the homegrown terrorist who bombed the Olympic Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, fled into the woods and eluded capture for five years.

(Edward Nawotka is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)