My preview of books forthcoming in winter and spring 2017

While I was looking through publishers’ catalogs, the following titles caught my eye. This will seem to be an idiosyncratic list, if you aren’t me. I haven’t read these books yet myself (except for one or two), so my one-liners here are based only on the publishers’ descriptions—please don’t hold me to them!


Paulo Lemos Horta. Marvellous Thieves: Secret Authors of the Arabian Nights. Harvard. The 1001 nights were more collaboratively written than the jacket copy suggests.

Czeslaw Milosz. The Mountains of Parnassus. Yale. An unfinished dystopian sci-fi novel from the 1970s, about a world without hierarchy, patriarchy, or religion.

Brook Thomas. The Literature of Reconstruction: Not in Plain Black and White. Johns Hopkins University Press. W. E. B. Du Bois, Charles Chesnutt, Constance Fenimore Woolson, et al.

Andrea Carandini, ed. The Atlas of Ancient Rome: Biography and Portraits of the City. Princeton. Maps enhanced with archaeology, super-deluxe-looking.

Rachel Cusk. Transit. FSG. A sequel to Outline, in which a writer moves to London with her two sons.

Paul Ford. The Secret Lives of Web Pages. FSG. How the interwebs really work.

J. D. Daniels. The Correspondence: Essays. FSG. The n+1 contributor writes about his life as janitor and adjunct professor and what the point of civilization is.


Mark Tushnet, Alan Chen, and Joseph Blocher. Free Speech Beyond Words: The Surprising Reach of the First Amendment. NYU Press. Why does the First Amendment cover speech that isn’t composed of words?

Megan Marshall. Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Edward J. Balleisen. Fraud: An American History from Barnum to Madoff. Princeton. A comprehensive history, from Barnum to Madoff.

George Saunders. Lincoln in the Bardo. Random House. Saunders’s first novel is a historical one about the President-martyr and a dead son.

Umberto Saba. Ernesto. NYRB. An Italian novel about a 16-year-old boy whose sexuality is awakened by a liaison with a workingman.

John Rhodehamel. George Washington: The Wonder of the Age. Yale. A concise biography by the editor of the Washington Library of America volume.

Walter Scheidel. The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the 21st Century. Princeton. Only deaths in large numbers have ever brought the poor and the rich back to one another’s levels.

David Moss. Democracy: A Case Study. Harvard. Nineteen episodes when the integrity of the United States was threatened by “capture” of its democratic leaders or by tyranny of the majority.

David Armitage. Civil Wars: A History in Ideas. Knopf. A survey of the thing and the idea, which may not be well matched.

Vivek Shanbhag. Ghachar Ghochar. Penguin. Success messes up a close-knit Indian family. 

MARCH 2017

Attar. The Conference of the Birds. Norton. A new translation of the classic Persian poem, a Sufi-mystical allegory of the soul’s search for meaning.

Paul Watson. Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition. Norton. A journalist describes the 1845 disasters in pursuit of the Northwest Passage, and the 2014 (and 2016? did it go to press before the news?) rediscovery of the ships.

Kim Phillips-Fein. Fear City: The New York City Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of the Age of Austerity. Metropolitan. The story of NYC’s 1975 near-bankruptcy.

Byung-Chul Han. The Agony of Eros and In the Swarm: Digital Prospects. MIT. Philosophy by a German of Korean descent, arguing that eros is under threat from an idolization of power, and that Twitter is a democracy-threatening shitstorm.

Philippe Van Parijs and Yannick Vanderborght. Basic Income: A Radical Proposal for a Free Society and a Sane Economy. Harvard. Let the money grow on trees.

Steven P. Remy. The Malmedy Massacre: The War Crimes Trial Controversy. Harvard. How a war crimes trial of Waffen SS members who mass-killed American POWs was subverted by an anti-Semitic campaign.

Michel Leiris. The Rules of the Game, vol. 1, 2, and 3. Transl. by Lydia Davis. Yale Margellos. Three of the four volumes of a French intellectual’s autobiography.

Patricia Mainardi. Another World: Nineteenth-Century Illustrated Print Culture. Yale. Graphic novels, comics, and other images from the dawn of mass literature.

Diane Waggoner. East of the Mississippi: 19th-Century American Landscape Photography. Yale. Photo-incunabula of the American landscape.

Michael C. Corballis. The Truth about Language: What It Is and Where It Came From. Chicago. The evolution of language was gradual rather than abrupt. Cf. Daniel Everett, How Language Began, coming in August.

Tom Nichols. The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters. Oxford.

Sarah Ruden. The Face of Water: A Translator on Beauty and Meaning in the Bible. Pantheon. How the poetry of the Bible has been lost in translation, by an acclaimed translator of Virgil and others.

Kay Redfield Jamison. Robert Lowell, Setting the River on Fire: A Study of Genius, Mania, and Character. Knopf. A psychiatrist has been given access to the poet’s medical records.

APRIL 2017

Joachim Kalka. Gaslight: An Album of the 19th Century. NYRB. Essays on the gestalt and gesundheit of the Victorian age, including Schiller, serial killers, and Laurel and Hardy.

Michael Lesy. Looking Backward. Norton. The author of Wisconsin Death Trip presents 250 turn-of-the-twentieth-century stereoviews, and argues for 3-D’s importance in American photo history.

Michael Wallis. The Way West: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny. Liveright. A new account—”demythologizing,” according to the catalog copy.

Lee Siegel. The Draw. FSG. A memoir of the literary critic’s childhood during the recessionary 1970s in New Jersey, when his parents went bankrupt and divorced.

Adam Zagajewski. Slight Exaggeration. FSG. A mosaic-like memoir from the Polish poet.

Franz Hessel. Walking in Berlin: A Flaneur in the Capital. MIT. The original flaneur, an inspiration to Walter Benjamin, in facing-page translation from German.

Robert Thorson. The Boatman: Henry D. Thoreau’s River Years. Harvard. Thoreau as a water protector. See Laura Walls, Henry David Thoreau, in July.

Laszlo Krasznahorkai. The Manhattan Project. Sylph Editions. A meditation on Melville written while on fellowship at the NYPL, by the winner of the 2015 Man Booker International.

Martin Van Creveld. More on War. Oxford. An updating of Clausewitz, by a theorist who reportedly predicted the rise of terrorism.

Pajtim Statovci. My Cat Yugoslavia. Pantheon. A Finn of Muslim descent goes to a gay bar and picks up a talking cat, who moves in.

David Callahan. The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age. Knopf. How the new economy’s new aristocrats are using their money to reshape government and society.

Ngugi Wa Thiong’o. Devil on the Cross. Penguin. A re-issue of the classic African novel, written on toilet paper while the author was in prison, about a young Kenyan woman struggling against capitalism’s alteration of her country.

MAY 2017

Leonora Carrington. Down Below. NYRB. A memoir of the Surrealist painter’s stay in an insane asylum after her lover Max Ernst was sent to a concentration camp.

Edouard Louis. The End of Eddy. FSG. A gay Frenchman survives growing up in a working-class village in northern France.

David S. Brown. Paradise Lost: A Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Harvard. New biography positions Fitzgerald as a Progressive thinker writing about America in change.

Zeynep Tufekci. Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest. Yale. The internet makes organizing protest faster than ever before, but has weaknesses that are novel and not widely understood. Analysis by a quick-witted on-the-ground reporter.

Max Frisch. From the Berlin Journal. Seagull. First publication of the diaries kept by the author of I’m Not Stiller.

Gilles Kepel. Terror in France: The Rise of Jihad in the West. Princeton. A best-seller in France, about ISIS’s dream, shared by the nativist right, of separating Muslims from Europe’s mainstream.

Bryan Wagner. The Tar Baby: A Global History. Princeton. The international roots of the Uncle Remus story, which is to be understood as “a collective work in political philosophy.”

Mary V. Dearborn. Ernest Hemingway. Knopf. First full biography in fifteen years, drawing on new sources, by the biographer of Mailer.

The Diaries of John Quincy Adams, 1779–1848. The Library of America. A new edition of the monumental record left by the depressive, crotchety antislavery President with literary ambitions.

JUNE 2017

Marianne Moore. New Collected Poems. FSG. A new presentation of Moore’s poetry, which she often drastically revised and deleted in her own collecteds.

Hans Keilson. 1944 Diary. FSG. A diary, discovered after Keilson’s death at 101, of his nine months in hiding with the Dutch resistance, including a love affair and notes on the books he was reading.

Yascha Mounk. The Age of Responsibility: Luck, Choice, and the Welfare State. Harvard. The responsibility to be self-sufficient has displaced a more communitarian understanding, and it shouldn’t have.

Elizabeth Anderson. Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (And Why We Don’t Talk about It). Princeton. The rights of most employees are constrained by their employers even after hours, in ways that classically would have been understood as only appropriate for a government.

Erica Wagner. Chief Engineer: Washington Roebling: The Man Who built the Brooklyn Bridge. Bloomsbury. About the builder, who was the son of the designer.

Richard Holmes. This Long Pursuit: Reflections of a Romantic Biographer. Pantheon. A famous biographer reviews his career.

JULY 2017

Thorkild Hansen. Arabia Felix: The Danish Expedition of 1761-1767. NYRB. A nonfiction account of a scientific expedition to present-day Yemen that fell victim to murderous intellectual rivalry and left only one survivor.

Laura Dassow Walls. Henry David Thoreau: A Life. Chicago. A full-scale bio, putting HDT into social context.

Clayton Childress. Under the Cover: The Creation, Production, and Reception of a Novel. Princeton. A sociologist follows a 2009 historical novel through its life cycle, from the author’s choice of topic to the verdict of book groups who read it.


Suzy Hansen. Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World. FSG. A memoir of a young journalist’s life in Istanbul, and her experience of seeing American power from the other side. 

Akhil Sharma. A Life of Adventure and Delight. Norton. Stories about people trying to be good.

Adam Winkler. We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights. Norton. The backstory to Citizens United.

Daniel L. Everett. How Language Began: The Story of Humanity’s Greatest Invention. Norton. “We are not born with an instinct for language,” says the catalog copy, though it also says language is the result of evolution. 

Frederick Crews. Freud: From Scientist to Wizard. Metropolitan. Another takedown, with access to archives not yet public.

Reading with n+1 at the Ace Hotel

I’ll be reading from my new science fiction story at the Ace Hotel on January 24th at 7pm. Also reading will be other contributors to the winter 2017 issue of n+1, including Dayna Tortorici, Nikil Saval, A. S. Hamrah, Sam Frank, Naomi Fry, Joshua Cohen, and Thomas Bolt. The Ace Hotel is at 20 West 29th St., NYC. Subscribers to n+1 get in free (hint, hint), and tickets for others cost $10. RSVP on on Facebook to reserve a place.

Notes, 2016

“They are like that.” —Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises (“they” being homosexuals)

In thinking about revolutions, the usual mistake is to imagine that people decide which side to fight for by looking to their interests. But they don’t, at least not in any long-term way. They look to the immediate advantages or disadvantages, which mostly consist of rewards and punishments that others in their society are willing to inflict, or willing to pay to have inflicted. The few are indeed few, but they are able to buy the services, if not the allegiance, of the many in a pinch.

“But if one wants to be primarily a writer, then, in our society, one is an animal that is tolerated but not encouraged—something rather like a house sparrow—and one gets on better if one realizes one’s position from the start.” —Orwell, “The Cost of Letters,” 1946

At some point, Am I crazy to keep doing this? is no longer the right question to ask, because you have been doing it so long that you no longer have the option of doing anything else. The realization is not necessarily pleasant.

Is growing old more painful for the beautiful, or is it in fact not that hard for them to resign themselves merely to being more beautiful than others their age?

If the super leaves a mirror outside our building, in the spot reserved for furniture that strangers are welcome to take away, it gets shattered by the end of the day. A television’s screen, on the other hand, remains intact for weeks.

By an iron law, probably having something to do with my vanity, I only find men beautiful if they are my age or younger. But every year, as I age, a larger and larger proportion of the men in the world fall into this category. If I live long enough, then by the end of my life, there will scarcely be any man in the world I couldn’t fall for, which might be hardly bearable.

Teenage boys in the park, talking about the strains of marijuana they have recently acquired, are so hobbled by the low waists of their pants that they have the gait of geishas.

To say what you know, without reference to what the powers that be would like to hear, is always a claim to sovereignty.

“I am not with you” is what a writer is always saying.

falcate (adjective): bent or curved like a sickle

In my mind I saw the rainbands of the storm, the falcate concentric arms, reach out across a thousand miles to embrace the coast.

—Greg Jackson, Prodigals

“Unintended baggage may be removed or destroyed.” —public service announcement on the loudspeaker in the Newark Airport

Hypervigilance is not intelligence, though my history has conditioned me to confuse them. Real intelligence would involve a more prudent and thoughtful management of one’s attention.

“It seems in America you can have pederasts in books as long as they are fearfully gloomy and end by committing suicide.” —Jessica Mitford, quoted in Gregory Woods, Homintern

“A revolutionary with taste in wine has come already half the distance from Marx to Burke.” —Norman Mailer, Miami and the Siege of Chicago

“To know how it feels to be a seaweed you have to get in the water.” —Saul Bellow, Seize the Day

“Otters are extremely bad at doing nothing.” —Gavin Maxwell, Ring of Bright Water

Just put your phone over your face is a weird sales pitch.

“I might write of it and subsequent events with a wry dishonesty, a negation of my feeling for that creature, which might disarm criticism, might forestall the accusation of sentimentality and slushiness to which I now lay myself open. There is, however, a certain obligation of honesty upon a writer, without which his words are worthless.” —Maxwell, Ring

spraint (noun): the excrement of an otter

I remember seeing, in that year when the cubs were on Otter Island, a tiny caterpillar of spraint whose deposition must have been an acrobatic feat for the tottering cub.

—Maxwell, Ring

Love is the fart
Of every heart:
It pains a man when ’tis kept close,
And others doth offend when ’tis let loose.

—John Suckling, “Love’s Offense”

Remember, kids: By the end of Miami and the Siege of Chicago, Mailer has come to believe that the republic would be safer with Nixon.

Heard through the window while brushing my teeth: the reassuring gray hyperventilating of the USPS van’s engine, and its even more reassuring sudden death.

I’m worried that you’ve been tone-policing my concern-trolling.

O hateful error, melancholy’s child,
Why dost thou show to the apt thoughts of men
The things that are not?

—Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

When I was young, I thought that Copperfield, in wedding Agnes, was at last marrying someone who was suitably adult, and that Dora had been a mistake, caused by a childish fantasy of what love is. But now I think that Dora, however disappointing, was a real love, and that in wedding Agnes, David wedded only his anima, a fiction of his own feminine nature.

“The deliberate manipulation of anachronisms to produce an appearance of eternity.” —Borges, pronouncing judgment on T. S. Eliot, quoted in James Gleick, Time Travel

“She liked Victorian novels. They were the only kind of novel you could read while you were eating an apple.” —Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm

“One of the disadvantages of almost universal education was the fact that all kinds of persons acquired a familiarity with one’s favorite writers. It gave one a curious feeling; it was like seeing a drunken stranger wrapped in one’s dressing-gown.” —Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm

“They always say, she says, that my writing is appalling but they always quote it and what is more, they quote it correctly, and those they say they admire they do not quote.” —Gertrude Stein, Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

“. . . translating heartache into delicate, even piercing observation . . .” —Saul Bellow, Mr. Sammler’s Planet

But then Mr. Arthur Sammler took a picture of it with his cell phone and by the time he got upstairs it had gone viral on gay porn Tumblrs.

“In explaining his unhappiness he told Gertrude Stein, they talk about the sorrows of great artists, the tragic unhappiness of great artists but after all they are great artists. A little artist has all the tragic unhappiness and the sorrows of a great artist and he is not a great artist.” —Stein, Toklas

“In the lecture, Martha Nussbaum described how the Roman philosopher Seneca, at the end of each day, reflected on his misdeeds before saying to himself, ‘This time I pardon you.'” —Rachel Aviv, “The Philosopher of Feelings”

“One person with a belief is equal to ninety-nine who have only interests.” —J. S. Mill, Representative Government

The downside of reading G. H. Hardy is that if you’re not a mathematician you end up fairly well convinced that you’ve wasted your life.

The process of memory is abrasive and skins a little of the nap off of what is remembered.

And art made tongue-tied by authority
And folly (doctor-like) controlling skill,
And simple truth miscalled simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill

—Shakespeare, sonnet 66

One’s memories fading before one has written one’s novels from them—like a photograph fading in a box before it can be rediscovered and reproduced.

One almost gets the sense this year that there are people who don’t care whether they’ll turn out to be on the wrong side of history, morally speaking.

Dude, I’m part of the mainstream media. I’m not likely to believe your conspiracy theories about it.

“It fareth with sentences as with coins: In coins, they that in smallest compass contain greatest value, are best esteemed: and, in sentences, those that in fewest words comprise most matter, are most praised.” —Lancelot Andrewes, quoted in Drury, Music at Midnight

“As an historian he had the fatal inhibition that he would not begin to write until he had read all the sources.” —footnote about Lord Acton, in One Hundred Letters from Hugh Trevor-Roper

“Perhaps the mere effort to convert any one to a theory involves some form of renunciation of the power of credence.” —Oscar Wilde, “Portrait of Mr. W. H.”

“He only seemed to have most pre-eminence that was most rageful.” —Phlip Sidney, The Old Arcadia

“But let me tell you that the delight of political life is altogether in opposition. Why, it is freedom against slavery, fire against clay, movement against stagnation! The very inaccuracy which is permitted to opposition is in itself a charm worth more than all the patronage and all the prestige of ministerial power.” —Trollope, Phineas Finn

In Shane Carruth’s movies, the problem of incarnation takes the form of a discovery that you’re involved in an almost mechanical process that’s much larger and more powerful than you are.

Winning doesn’t seem to be enough for the comments. It looks like they won’t be content until they’ve exterminated the articles.

Trollope on the worth of street protest

In Anthony Trollope’s Phineas Finn, a novel set in the 1860s about a somewhat hapless member of Parliament, one of the crucial political issues of the day is “the ballot,” i.e., whether votes should be public or secret. Though Finn is a liberal, he thinks votes should be public, at least at the start of the novel (which I haven’t finished yet); he believes transparency deters voters from choosing a narrow self-interest. Electoral reform, however, is on the march. Even though MPs like Finn aren’t yet ready for a secret ballot, many citizens are, and at the end of volume one (it’s a three-decker), a large group of protesters is scheduled to meet outside the Houses of Parliament, in hopes of influenceing a debate inside about adding the secret ballot to a larger measure for electoral reform. Finn’s landlord, Mr. Bunce, supports the secret ballot and plans to attend the protest. Finn tries to dissuade him, not because he wants the protest to be smaller but because he doesn’t think a respectable man like Bunce ought to protest and he’s worried that Bunce could be arrested. The two have an argument, remarkably civil and considerate given that they hold opposing views, and the way they talk about the worth of street protest, or lack thereof, and how to balance freedom of expression with concern for law and order, makes the passage seem awfully relevant to America today:

“What good do you expect to do, Mr. Bunce?” Phineas said, with perhaps some little tone of authority in his voice.

“To carry my point,” said Bunce.

“And what is your point?”

“My present point is the ballot, as a part of the Government measure.”

“And you expect to carry that by going out into the streets with all the roughs of London, and putting yourself in direct opposition to the authority of the magistrates? Do you really believe that the ballot will become the law of the land any sooner because you incur this danger and inconvenience?”

“Look here, Mr. Finn; I don’t believe the sea will become any fuller because the Piddle runs into it out of the Dorsetshire fields; but I do believe that the waters from all the countries is what makes the ocean. I shall help; and it’s my duty to help.”

“It’s your duty, as a respectable citizen, with a wife and family, to stay at home.”

“If everybody with a wife and family was to say so, there’d be none but roughs, and then where should we be? What would the Government people say to us then? If every man with a wife and family was to show hisself in the streets to-night, we should have the ballot before Parliament breaks up, and if none of ’em don’t do it, we shall never have the ballot. Ain’t that so?” Phineas, who intended to be honest, was not prepared to dispute the assertion on the spur of the moment. “If that’s so,” said Bunce, triumphantly, “a man’s duty’s clear enough. He ought to go, though he’d two wives and families.” And he went.