Book Culture Spotlight: Father’s Day Picks
From a biological perspective, we all have fathers; this is one of the prerequisites to being human. But these fathers are not just a procreative necessity, though it may seem that way when they refuse to let you see mom before you go to bed or laugh at you for thinking you saw Jesus’ face in the ocean on TV. In fact, they are often far more than that. Dads stand up for justice, save your hide, and sometimes even call on you to avenge their deaths from beyond the grave. This is all to say that dads do a lot more than provide chromosomes.
To recognize their contributions, we celebrate Father’s Day on the third Sunday of June (this coming Sunday, June 19th), and to help you pick out a great gift for your dad, Book Culture has come up with the following Spotlight.
Perennial dad-favorite Michael Lewis (of The Big Short and Moneyball fame) just came out with his newest blockbuster, Flash Boys, which explains the morally dubious practice of high frequency trading on Wall Street and follows several reformers (“flash boys”) trying to curb its advantages for insiders. In this book about a technological arms race in lower Manhattan — as firms invest heavily in new computers, aiming to capture a precious milliseconds-edge on trading data — Lewis shines a light on the continued audacity of Wall Street traders and spells out the ramifications for the average investor. Is using supercomputers to get the jump on millions of micro-investments a legitimate practice, or is this just another method by which the world’s elite leverage their capital advantage? This is the rhetorical question that Lewis poses and then skillfully dismantles.
The story of the book’s publication rivals the one in its pages: Lewis, worried that his story would get swiped before the book was released, insisted on keeping it a complete secret, to the extent that the book’s audio producer, Simon & Schuster, didn’t even know what it was about until a month before the release date. And since Flash Boys came out, the FBI, the SEC, and the New York Attorney General have all disclosed that they are investigating the practice of high frequency trading.
What better for dad than a novel about the great legends of the West: Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, the Comanche, and the battle of O.K. Corral? Larry McMurtry’s new book is a “ballad in prose,” as much an ode to the romantic figures that make up our vision of the frontier — gunslingers, womanizers, cowboys — as a call to a more cleareyed view of them — one character insists that, contrary to myth, he couldn’t even see a coyote at 400 yards away, let alone shoot one. McMurtry, author of Terms of Endearment and Lonesome Dove and the co-writer of the adapted screenplay to Brokeback Mountain, has long been known as one of America’s best storytellers, and this book is no exception.
Chelsea Cain described Joel Dicker’s debut novel in the New York Times like so: “If Norman Mailer had been accused of murder and Truman Capote had collaborated with Dominick Dunne on a tell-all about it, the result might have turned out something like this.” Already a sensation in France, its original country of publication, The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair has finally been translated into English. It tells the story of twenty-eight year old Marcus Goldman, a freshly minted literary superstar (an echo of his twenty-eight year old Swiss creator) struggling to write his second novel. In a Finding Forrester move, Marcus seeks counsel from his aging mentor, Harry Quebert, famous for his 70s magnum opus about a fraught love affair. But when a dead teenage girl, missing since the 70s, is discovered buried in Harry’s backyard, Marcus turns his attention to investigating the Harry Quebert Affair. Can he exonerate his beloved mentor or is Harry Quebert truly a murderer? Was Quebert’s first book fact or fiction?
70% of Americans either hate their jobs or are “checked out,” and yet office shows like Mad Men and The Office thrive. What is it about this peculiar institution, which first surfaced in the wake of the Industrial Revolution as clerks became a mainstay of business, that so aggravates us, and why is it also the site of so much humor and longing? These are the questions that Nikil Saval, an editor at n+1, investigates in his new sweeping history of the office, which follows trends in office architecture, culture, and gender dynamics.
America is experiencing a renewed fascination with the detective: John Banville came out with his own “Philip Marlowe novel,” The Black-Eyed Blonde,in March; Norwegian detective writer Jo Nesbo, whose book The Son came out in May, was just profiled in the New Yorker; and HBO’s True Detective became a genuine sensation this past Winter. Stephen King is clearly not immune to this trend. His new book, Mr. Mercedes, plays around with the conventions of the hard-boiled detective novel: as Megan Abbot explains in the Times, he adopts the fedora as the novel’s centerpiece and even references Raymond Chandler outright. But it’s not all fun and games: a book about a man planning killing rampages, Mr. Mercedes clearly updates the typical Marlowe story to our own era’s “cultural anxieties,” as Abbott elucidates.
With both Dallas Buyers Club and The Normal Heart coming out in the past year, it’s clear that HIV/AIDS has once again come to the forefront of the “American consciousness” — perhaps exactly because enough time has passed that its terrible consequences can be translated into art, perhaps because it parallels in certain ways the fight for marriage equality. Whatever the explanation, these works are tender and humane, and the same goes for Alysia Abbott’s new memoir “of her father.” After his wife died in an car accident, Steve Abbott relocated himself and his daughter to San Francisco, where they whirled through a world of artists and writers–until he was stricken with AIDS. Alexandra Styron describes it in the New York Times as a “compassionate, cleareyed reckoning with this truth and many others that defined her singular girlhood at the dawn of the gay liberation movement.”
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