Autumn 2020

Greetings from Three Lives & Company!

The wild ride that is Year 2020 continues, but it has been a singular relief to be able to share the uncertainty and upheaval with our customers on the corner. The pandemic, the election, the movement for racial justice, the fires and hurricanes all have taken our attention and a toll, to be sure, but we are so grateful for the great comfort and camaraderie we find at the bookshop during these troubling and unprecedented times. You all have been tremendous: your spirited support of the bookshop since we reopened a little over three months ago, your cheerful willingness to don a mask to browse in the shop, and, as always, your passion for a beloved book sustain us. New York City is indeed strong – and resilient, and thoughtful, and diligent. Thank you.

Fall is an exciting time for books, and this year is no different. We've got some of our early fall favorites to share below, and there are still more great books to be released in the weeks ahead. Perhaps the biggest book news of recent years is the publication of Barack Obama's much-anticipated memoir, A Promised Land (Crown), on November 17, with a first print run of three million copies. We would be delighted to take your pre-order for A Promised Land: give us a call or send an email to reserve your copy. 

One challenge in the book world this fall, though, is the much-reported printing issues confronting American publishers. Because of closures and Covid-related delays, publishers are struggling to print both bestsellers and standard backlist titles. We have already seen the effects of these delays – missed publication dates, delayed reprints, releases rescheduled into the new year – and it may well get tighter as we enter the holiday season, but we will do our best to keep the books flowing into Three Lives and available to you.


~ Recent Staff Favorites ~    


A decade ago, Barbara Demick's Nothing to Envy illuminated the everyday lives of North Koreans under the brutal Kim regimes. Demick's new book, Eat the Buddha (Random House), does the same for Tibet, following the lives of several Tibetans – young, old, religious, secular – through the twentieth century and into the present. Eat the Buddha has a looser structure than Nothing to Envy, given the Tibetan diaspora and the sheer hugeness of the Tibetan homeland, but both books achieve similar goals, focusing the reader on the variety of human experiences within two unique and embattled populations. I'm also in the latter part of Lawrence Osborne's The Glass Kingdom (Hogarth), a slow-burn thriller about an American con artist who flees to Bangkok and holes up in a vast apartment complex with her ill-gotten fortune while – she imagines – the net closes around her. Osborne is brilliant at taking a plot in directions you would never expect, and that holds true here: I have no idea what will happen in the last hundred pages, but I know it will be an intense and suspenseful ride to whatever dark finish he has in mind. – Ryan

 

 

I am nearly finished with Isabel Wilkerson's Caste (Random House). It is the first book in a while that I have picked up and just could not put down. Occasionally I even take the local train home from work so that I have more reading time... Wilkerson expertly blends storytelling with powerful messages, and it's clear that she not only has researched her topic at great length but also is deeply passionate about it. I have already tucked away a copy of her previous book, The Warmth of Other Suns, for when I'm done with this one! I am looking forward to an upcoming novel as well: The River Within by Karen Powell (Europa, December 1). It is a loose retelling of Hamlet, transposed to the 1950s and narrated from the women's points of view (the novel's respective Gertrude and Ophelia take center stage). The prose is astonishing and succinct, and Powell fearlessly explores the boundaries/capabilities of femininity in the face of tragedy, societal expectations, and grief – all with the gripping feel of a well-written mystery. – Tatiana

 

 

Lawrence Osborne (author of The Forgiven) does it for me yet again with his newest bunch of amoral desperados. Brimming with secrets, lies, and deceptions, The Glass Kingdom (Hogarth) is tense, and dark, and excellent! There is much to be impressed by – the story is unsettling, the mood of Bangkok steamy and sinister. Don't you just love a read that makes the sweat run down your neck?!

 

Next up on my fall reading list is Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar (Little, Brown) because unrestrained capitalism and its poisoning of American culture is what's on my mind at the moment. Also, perhaps, Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury). The reviews call it mysterious, strange, a study in solitude. And as solitude is very much a part of life these days, perhaps I will learn something! 

 

Oh, and one more thing: Helen Macdonald's Vesper Flights (Grove) is a captivating meditation on nature (and much more), if you are so inclined. OK, I'll shut up now! – Joyce

 

 

In the past few weeks I read two wildly different memoirs that I have not stopped thinking about. In Empty (Random House), Susan Burton (a producer at This American Life) chronicles her lifelong struggle with anorexia and binge eating disorder. It is a powerful coming-of-age story and an intense exploration of disordered eating, told through elegant prose and with vulnerable candor. 

 

The second is Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton (Random House). I am not sure why it took me so long to pick up this book, but I am very glad I did. Hamilton is the founder of the restaurant Prune and her memoir details her unlikely path to becoming a chef and restaurant owner. I was absorbed in Hamilton's world from the first page. She is an evocative writer and a winning heroine, full of grit, humor, and grace. I didn't want this book to end. – Ruby

 

 

I was concerned I didn't have much to report from my late summer and early fall reading, but then I stacked the books, looked through them again, and became quite thankful to these writers for looking at the world the way they do and creating their work. Soul nourishing. What all these books have in common, much like the cat on my chest right now, is an appreciation for the present, instead of escape.

 

The wise, humorous novel What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez (Riverhead) is precisely as billed: a moving and provocative portrait of the way we live now. Helen Macdonald's essays about the natural world, collected in Vesper Flights (Grove), offer lessons on how to see, each one its own adventure. On spending time in the Wicken Fen Nature Reserve, Macdonald writes, "I learned to stop needing to see. I learned to listen, to tune in to noises and let them guide my eyes. I'd hear the faintest creak or splash or call, and fix on that spot." In Patti Smith's new paperback edition of Year of the Monkey (Vintage), Smith has added an epilogue to her original epilogue and in it, writes, "Where is brightness? Where is prudent justice? we ask, standing our ground with mental plow, burdened with the task to stay balanced in these unbalanced times." Nigel Slater ever attuned to the change of the seasons has published Greenfeast: Autumn, Winter (Ten Speed): "Dinner is different in winter. For many, this is the end of their year. For me, this is when it starts, when warmth and bonhomie come to the fore. Energy returns." In this small, chock-full, and beautifully designed book, Slater's ingredients (beet, lentils, garam masala) and dishes surprise, and he devotes a chapter to dishes served with a ladle, an instrument he calls "the spirit of generosity."

 

But it took Box Hill by Adam Mars-Jones (New Directions) to remind me of something so simple yet profound: "people can care about anything.?  Just 120 pages long, provocative and tender, set in the gay biker community of 1970s London, Box Hill is about a young gay man named Colin who awakens to his gay self while navigating life, love, and family.  The point is to care – and care deeply. Lest I forget, the two books I am most excited to devour and read next: Ottolenghi Flavor by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage (Ten Speed) and The Caretaker by Doon Arbus (New Directions). – Troy

 

 

I feel lucky to have been submerged recently in classics, both old and soon-to-be. I finally read Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye (Vintage) and James Baldwin's Another Country (Vintage), both for the first time, and each of them reminded me just how amazing it is to be enveloped in the writing of a master, from Morrison's cunning structure to Baldwin's flowing prose. I'll always remember those reading experiences. And in the soon-to-be classics category, I am certain we'll be reading Brit Bennett's The Vanishing Half (Riverhead) and Isabel Wilkerson's Caste (Random House) for years to come. Bennett's story of light-skinned Black sisters whose lives diverge as one decides to pass as white is so easy to read, with a plot that pulls you in instantly, yet also challenges your assumptions on every page. And even though Wilkerson's new book can get a bit repetitive, its core mission – to expose the evils of our racist American culture through the lens of caste in India and Nazi Germany – is one that every reader, no matter how well-versed in the topic, can learn something from. I've found myself mentioning her framework in conversations left and right. – Emily

 

 

My reading has been shattered recently: seemingly countless books opened, first paragraphs or first hundred pages read before being quietly set aside for the next book in the stack. I don't blame the books (dear author, it's not you, it's me). I seem to be unable to release my brain enough to give reading the space and commitment it needs. I did manage to read a small gem from Adam Mars-Jones, Box Hill (New Directions), that was just wonderful. Reflecting back from his quiet mid-life, Colin recounts his visit to Box Hill, the cruising area for London's gay leather bikers in the '70s, on his eighteenth birthday and the dominant/submissive relationship he stumbled into with the handsome and glamorous Ray (dressed in full-leather jumpsuit with a clever zipper design). Mars-Jones writes with loving care and compassion, and not a little humor and sex, in this slim nugget. Despite my broken reading, there are still so many books I am fervently looking forward to from this rich season: Elena Ferrante's latest (The Lying Life of Adults, Europa); Bryan Washington's first novel, Memorial (Riverhead); Beneficence by Meredith Hall (David Godine); short stories from Nicole Krauss (To Be a Man, Harper); the latest English translation from Vigdis Hjorth (Long Live the Post Horn!, Verso); and on and on and on. Onward! – Toby

 

2020 has been a challenging year for so many. My focus has been erratic, to say the least. But I am thankful for books, specifically a few great reads that kept me company at just the right time. I devoured Ali Smith's Summer (Pantheon), the last novel of her seasonal quartet. It's a worthy, touching conclusion, fun and restorative in equal measure, and, in this uncertain time, serves as an especially moving tribute to art and the way it saves us. Memorial Drive (Ecco), Natasha Tretheway's memoir, is my nonfiction read of the year, at once an exploration of Tretheway's childhood in Georgia and a stunning confrontation with her mother's murder in 1985 by her ex-husband and Tretheway's former stepfather. Lastly, Kate Zambreno's moody and meditative Drifts (Riverhead) is a fantastic, gripping read, a novel in small vignettes about the life of a New York writer struggling to finish her latest book. Looking ahead, I'm anxiously awaiting Don DeLillo's newest novel, Silence (Scribner, October 20), and Cynan Jones's upcoming novel Stillicide (Catapult, November 17) is a haunting, fragmented imagining of a near-future Britain in the throes of an escalating climate crisis, where the people feel so vulnerable, so complete and desperate for survival, I was sad to leave them. – Nora

 

~ Staff Favorites Now in Paperback ~

Fiction

The Topeka School by Ben Lerner (Picador)

Homeland by Fernando Aramburu, translated by Alfred J. MacAdam (Vintage)

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson (Ecco)

The Travelers by Regina Porter (Hogarth)

The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy (Bloomsbury)

Dominicana by Angie Cruz (Flatiron)

Find Me by Andre Aciman (Picador)

The Order of the Day by √Čric Vuillard, translated by Mark Polizzotti (Other Press)

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder (Vintage)

 

Nonfiction

Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith (Vintage)

Know My Name by Chanel Miller (Penguin)

This Land is Our Land by Suketu Mehta (Picador)

 

~ Signed Editions ~

 

Fiction

Missionaries by Phil Klay (Penguin Press)

The Searcher by Tana French (Viking)

The Caretaker by Doon Arbus (New Directions)

What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez (Riverhead)

Why I Don't Write by Susan Minot (Knopf)

 

Nonfiction

Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith (Vintage)

How We Live Now by Bill Hayes (Bloomsbury)

Dinner in French by Melissa Clark (Clarkson Potter)

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas Illustrated by Gertrude Stein, illustrated by Maira Kalman (Penguin Press)