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 Weekly Words about New Books in
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September 15, 2019

What Happens When People Misread Strangers - Gladwell's Collection of Cautionary Tales
 
Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know by Malcolm Gladwell. The latest from social scientist and storyteller Gladwell takes a seemingly simple subject and shows how complicated it can get. Using the tragic case of a police interaction gone wrong as a frame for the beginning and end of the book, he pulls examples from history and recent headline-grabbing scandals to illustrate his premise that understanding or just making sense of strangers is difficult. Whether it's misinterpreting signals or assuming the best of people, the average person can easily be fooled - duped into believing something that's not true or unwilling to accept deceptive behavior as such. 
 
How did Fidel Castro fool the CIA for a generation? Why did Neville Chamberlain think he could trust Adolf Hitler? Why are campus sexual assaults on the rise?  Gladwell offers his take on these subjects and revisits some of the most sensational news stories of recent years -   the deceptions of Bernie Madoff, the trial of Amanda Knox, the Jerry Sandusky pedophilia scandal at Penn State University, and the death of Sandra Bland, an African-American woman arrested in 2015 after a rather routine traffic stop in Texas escalated into a heated exchange that led to her arrest and subsequent suicide in her jail cell three days later. In all these encounters, Gladwell asserts,  "the parties involved relied on a set of strategies to translate one another's words and intentions. And in each case, something went very wrong."
 
Some reviews have opined that some of the author's explanations are a bit simplistic for the situations described. While it's clear that "a failure to communicate" and police training that teaches skepticism fueled the Sandra Bland tragedy, racism seems a likely contributor as well. But Gladwell doesn't seem to be overly concerned. In a recent interview, he said, "I've never been a writer who's looked to persuade his readers; I'm more interested in capturing their interest and curiosity." Good answer.
Mix of History and Myth in Admired Debut Novel 
 
The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar. This debut historical novel was shortlisted in 2018 for the Women's Prize for Fiction, a prestigious United Kingdom literary prizes, and has now arrived in paperback. The purposely fantastical tale of a merchant, a mermaid, and a madam was also an Indie Next pick last October. Here's a brief description:

One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. He has sold Jonah's ship for what appears to be a mermaid. As gossip spreads through the docks, coffee shops, parlours, and brothels,   
everyone wants to see Mr Hancock's marvel. Its arrival spins him out of his ordinary existence and through the doors of high society. At an opulent party, he makes the acquaintance of Angelica Neal, the most desirable woman he has ever laid eyes on - and a courtesan of great accomplishment. This meeting will steer their lives on a dangerous new course.
 
This is the Indie Next review chosen to represent booksellers' enthusiasm for Gower's transporting tale. "This book was a pure delight from beginning to end. High-class escorts, nouveau riche merchants, madams, back-stabbings, broken hearts, mended hearts, parties, an angry mob, pining, mermaids: what more could you ask from an historical novel taking place in the late 18th century? The characters are so well-rounded I found myself cringing for them in their embarrassment and cheering for them in their triumph. The writing is so atmospheric it feels absolutely authentic. I can't remember the last time I enjoyed reading a book as much as I enjoyed reading this one. The only way to describe this book is as an absolute romp." 
- Chelsea Bauer, Union Avenue Books, Knoxville, TN
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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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