Weekly Words About New Books in

Independent Bookstores

May 21, 2023

New Softcover Summer Reads: Poignant Time Travel Tale and Lifelong Friendship Threatened by Land Dispute

This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub. The author of bestselling novels like All Adults HereThe Vacationers, and Modern Lovers is something of a rock star in the bookstore world. In addition to being a writer, Straub is co-owner of Books Are Magic, an independent bookstore in Brooklyn, New York. With her new novel, just out in paperback, Straub delivers her own take on the increasingly popular subject of time travel in a warm and witty father-daughter story. Here's a description from the publisher:

On the eve of her 40th birthday, Alice’s life isn’t terrible. She likes her job, even if it isn’t exactly the one she expected. She’s happy with her apartment, her romantic status, her independence, and she adores her lifelong best friend. But her father is ailing, and it feels to her as if something is missing. When she wakes up the next morning she finds herself back in 1996, reliving her 16th birthday. But it isn’t just her adolescent body that shocks her, or seeing her high school crush, it’s her dad: the vital, charming, 40-something version of her father with whom she is reunited. Now armed with a new perspective on her own life and his, some past events take on new meaning. Is there anything that she would change if she could? 

In its review of the book, The New York Times wrote, "Even if the premise of This Time Tomorrow is a flight from realism, the scope of Alice's concerns is human-scale and plausible. . .although her travels through time allow her to reconsider her romantic history, the person whose past she is most eager to set right is her father, a man whose imminent mortality deepens the novel's ambient nostalgia into something pressing and poignant."

Fellowship Point by Alice Elliott Dark. This novel about a lifelong friendship between two very different women has "book club" written all over it now that it's in paperback. We meet the protagonists as octogenarians and soon realize that their relationship - never easy over the years - will be severely tested over a coveted piece of family-owned land on the coast of Maine.

Celebrated children’s book author Agnes Lee is determined to permanently protect the peninsula known as Fellowship Point. To donate the land to a trust, Agnes must convince shareholders to dissolve a generations-old partnership. And one of those shareholders is her best friend, Polly Wister. Polly has led a different kind of life than Agnes: she's a well-off married woman with children, defined by her devotion to her husband, a philosophy professor with an inflated sense of stature. Those life choices, and the disapproval it has always provoked in the feminist Agnes, make any decision about the land more difficult. Polly's loyalties are torn between the wishes of her best friend and those of her sons — the oldest of whom wants to develop the prized property. Matters come to a head when the two women finally have it out with each other, bringing to the surface long-held secrets and resentments. That leaves author Dark with the last third of the book to reconcile Agnes and Polly and resolve the land dispute, and she manages both nicely.

In a starred review last year, Publishers Weekly wrote, "Dark celebrates women's friendships and artistic mentorship in this expansive yet intimate novel. The families and their grudges and grievances fill a broad canvas, and within it Dark delves deeply into the relationships between Agnes and her work, humans and the land, mothers and children, and, most indelibly, the sustenance and joy provided by a long-held female friendship. It's a remarkable achievement."

Biting Satire Tackles Cultural Appropriation and the White World of Book Publishing

Yellowface by R.J. Kuang. Author Kuang had a really good day last week when 1) she found out her last book, Babel, was selected for a Nebula Award by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association, and 2) her new novel Yellowface was released. Her latest is a timely look at identity, cultural appropriation, and the all-too-white world of book publishing, showing that Kuang writing chops extend beyond fantasy.

We meet author friends Athena Liu and June Hayward at the outset of the book and quickly learn that the Asian American Athena is a literary star and June, who is white, is a literary nobody. When June witnesses Athena's death in a freak accident, she acts on impulse and steals her accomplished friend's just-finished masterpiece, an experimental novel about the unsung contributions of Chinese laborers during World War I. With some re-writing and editing to "whiten" the book up and with her name listed as author, June sends it off to her agent. A publisher gobbles it up, rebrands June Hayward as the more ethnically interesting Juniper Song, and a bestselling book is born.

Trouble is, June is still June and her writing remains a reflection of who she is - white and privileged. Cracks in her elaborate deception begin to appear and, thanks to social media, spread rapidly. As she scrambles to protect her secret, June is hampered by her belief that she deserves the accolades that her exploitation has brought about. Kuang has produced a biting satire that shines a light on many of our ongoing societal and cultural ills.

In a review for NPR, Keishel Williams ends with this summary of the book: "Kuang's first foray outside of fantasy is a well-executed, gripping, fast-paced novel about the nuances of the publishing world when an author is desperate enough to do anything for success. I was consistently at the edge of my seat until the very last page. This type of interrogation of the coopting of culture and stories for capital gain is well-received."

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Hi, I'm Hut Landon,and I'm a bookseller in an independent bookstore in BerkeIey, CA.

My goal here 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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