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 Weekly Words about New Books in
Independent Bookstores

March 19, 2017

New Paperback Fiction That Should Appeal to Book Groups Seeking  Good Reads, Good Talk

The Year of the Runaways
by Sunjeev Sahota. This powerful and moving immigrant saga was short listed for the 2015 Man Booker Prize and was praised by influential New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani, who wrote: "No recent novel does a more powerful job capturing the day-to-day lives of immigrants."
 
British novelist Sahota intertwines the lives of three young men, and one unforgettable woman over the course of one year after they immigrate from India to Sheffield, England. In a dilapidated shared house in Sheffield, Tarlochan, a former rickshaw driver, will say nothing about his life in Bihar. Avtar and  Randeep are middle-class boys whose families are slowly sinking into financial ruin, bound together by Avtar's secret. For his part, Randeep has a visa wife, Narinder, who lives across town and whose story is the most surprising of them all. It's a story that underscores the
punishing realities of Indian immigrant life in England through well-drawn characters struggling to find purchase and new identity.

 
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson. Readers of Simonson's popular debut novel, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, were enchanted by the romance between a retired military widower and a Pakistani shopkeeper in a disapproving small English village. In her new book, she again sets her story in a provincial town and again creates characters who find love. But this time, a looming World War I adds an edge that will impact the entire community.

When the book was published in hardcover last year, it was embraced by many independent booksellers; this review provides one example:      
"Witty, engaging, elegiac, and tragic - with this tale Simonson has once again captured our hearts. Set in an East Sussex village in the summer before the tragedy of the First World War, Simonson's latest details a battle of wills between Agatha, Lady North, and the mayor's wife over the new Latin master - a woman! Beatrice Nash arrives to her new post, charming everyone including the reader. Since readers know the horrors that lie ahead for England's young men, the story becomes more poignant as they move closer to their destinies. I loved it!"  
- Valerie Koehler , Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, TX 
  

Heat & Light
by Jennifer Haigh. Forty years ago, Bakerton coal fueled the country. Then the mines closed, and the town wore away like a bar of soap. Now Bakerton has been granted a surprise third act: it sits squarely atop the Marcellus Shale, a massive deposit of natural gas. So - to drill or not to drill? That's the question, of course. Told through a cast of characters whose lives are increasingly bound by the opposing interests that underpin the national debate, Haigh's novel depicts a community blessed and cursed by its natural resources. Here's more from an independent bookseller who loved the book:

"Haigh has been building a body of work around Bakerton, Pennsylvania, for more than a decade. In this new novel, Haigh once again unleashes the sweep of historical forces as out-of-state companies look to drill for natural gas deposits. There is hope among residents that the future will be brighter, but there is also risk that they will just end up victims of greed and further environmental ruin. This is a big, issue-oriented book, but its success is found in the brilliance with which Haigh crafts her characters and makes their lives a vehicle for looking at the moral, political, environmental, and economic questions about fracking. A timely book and perhaps one even worthy of the title 'Great American Novel'."
- Anmiryam Budner, Main Point Books, Bryn Mawr, PA 
Old Writings From Acclaimed Author Provide Timely Insights

South and West: From a Notebook
by Joan Didion. For fans of Didion, and they are legion, this slim volume will be a real treat. It contains two extended excerpts from her never-before-seen notebooks, written in the 1970s and almost eerily prescient in today's political climate. The first, longer piece traces a road trip she took with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, in June 1970, through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. She interviews prominent local figures, describes motels, diners, a deserted reptile farm, a visit with Walker Percy, a ladies' brunch at the Mississippi Broadcasters' Convention. She also writes about the stifling heat, the unhurried pace of life, and the preoccupation with race, class, and heritage she finds in small towns.

From a different notebook comes the "California Notes" that began as an assignment from Rolling Stone on the Patty Hearst trial of 1976. Though Didion never wrote the piece, watching the trial and being in San Francisco triggered thoughts about the city, its social hierarchy, the Hearsts, and her own upbringing in Sacramento. Here, too, is the beginning of her thinking about the West, its landscape, the western women who were heroic for her, and her own lineage, all of which would appear later in her 2003 book, Where I Was From.

The two essays, while obviously dated in some ways, capture essences of the cultures that define these two regions of the country at a time when their differences and outlooks are creating much of the tension in our divided country. They also serve as reminders of Didion's splendid writing talent, which is always something to be savored.  
WHERE TO FIND 
AN INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORE

Many of you already have a favorite local bookstore, but for those of you without such a relationship, you can click here to find the
nearest indie bookstore by simply entering your postal code.  

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WHY THE COLUMN?
Hi, I'm Hut Landon, and I work as a bookseller in an independent bookstore in BerkeIey, California.

My goal with this newsletter is to keep readers up to date about new books hitting the shelves, share what indie booksellers are recommending in their stores, and pass on occasional news about the book world.

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