BY NICO VREELAND
[This feature is a brief monthly summary of interesting books coming out this month. Click the pictures or the title links to find these books at Powell’s.]
The title of Stephenson’s new novel makes zero sense until you see the cover, and then it becomes slyly intriguing. Reamde centers around an online game called T’Rain, and a contagious virus that gets released through the game. As a longtime fan of Stephenson’s other information-disease epic, Snow Crash, I’m really looking forward to this one, even though I recused myself from the entirety of Stephenson’s massive Baroque Cycle. Comparisons to Ready Player One, a virtual-reality novel that was fun but entirely hollow, have me slightly worried, but at the very least Reamde, weighing in at over a thousand pages, will be significantly longer than Player.
In the black and white striped tents of Le Cirque de Rêves, or “the Circus of Dreams,” waits a menagerie of “breathtaking amazements,” along with a pair of magicians who’ve been dueling for years, and will continue to do so until one of them wins. How? They do not know. This is the kind of book that can’t be fairly summarized, it seems, and it’s probably one that will live or die on the quality of its writing, which is too subjective to fairly predict. But it could be entertaining, or even great, and I’m willing to give it a sizable chance.
“A fast-paced literary thriller” … I should know better than to trust words like these, but I can’t help myself. Mullen’s premise seems to fall neatly into a modern archetype: a time-traveling agent from a future society comes back to the present day in order to ensure that history turns out properly. It’s not an original idea, but the promise of a ripping good story from a writer whose prose won’t make me wince is enough to draw me in, even if I know it’s probably a ruse.
The Art of Fielding follows five people loosely involved with Westish College, especially the baseball team’s star shortstop. The pre-publication summaries I’ve read all mention “a routine throw that goes awry” but each fails to explain exactly how it happens, or what effect it has. So it seems this is a high-literary novel, whose pleasures don’t lie in plot encapsulations. That can be excellent, or it can be maddening. All the lock-step raving reviews make me nervous—usually the hive-mind is woefully wrong—but The Art of Fielding is definitely a title to keep an eye on.
Roger Ebert is a critic after my own heart. Just read the back cover of a collection of his most scathing reviews, Your Movie Sucks, and you’ll see his unique blend of fearless criticism and mannered civility. He also has a lot to write about, including a recent bout with cancer that left him without a jawbone. So: a memoir of an epic life, written with rare insight and intelligence? Yes, please.
Last Man in Tower, by Aravind Adiga (out 9/20)
Adiga won the Booker Prize for his debut novel, The White Tiger. His new novel chronicles the battle between a greedy real estate developer and a retired schoolteacher who refuses to make way for a new building project.
The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin, by Joe McGinnis (out 9/20)
Remember that guy who moved next door to Sarah Palin because he was writing a book about her? This is that book.
Aleph, by Paulo Coelho (out 9/27)
The latest novel by the popular author of The Alchemist.
Plugged, by Eoin Colfer (out now)
A comic crime caper novel by the author of the Arteis Fowl books. Not one I’m rushing out to buy, but a decent hole card.
The Leftovers, by Tom Perotta (out now)
Haven’t heard anything good about this one, despite the fact that it’s absolutely everywhere. I liked Perotta’s past novels, especially Little Children, but will probably give this one a miss.