Late Summer 2021

Greetings from Three Lives & Company!

This time last year we were still gearing up after our three-month COVID shutdown and getting ready to make our big move towards the Hudson. (Though we still don't have a date for our return to 154 West 10th, the construction there has seen great progress in the past couple of months. Things are happening!) But for now, it's all about the books – and what a season it is! Lauren Groff is back with Matrix, and Sally Rooney's latest novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You, has arrived with multiple rapturous reads at Three Lives. In the next few weeks we will have new titles from Colson Whitehead (Harlem Shuffle, on sale September 14), Joy Williams (Harrow, September 14), Vince Passaro (Crazy Sorrow, September 14), Richard Powers (Bewilderment, September 21), Ruth Ozeki (The Book of Form and Emptiness, September 21), Rabih Alameddine (The Wrong End of the Telescope, September 21), and Amor Towles (The Lincoln Highway, October 5). And that's just the first month of a singularly packed fall!

We are always happy to take preorders for these titles or any other. (Supply and delivery issues have been endemic in the COVID era for the publishing industry, and as we approach the busy fall and holiday seasons, earlier is always better for ordering your books!) We are also pleased to offer signed and personalized copies of the new novels from Amor Towles and Vince Passaro – please get in touch with us if you would like one! For The Lincoln Highway, we will need all personalization requests by September 18 to ensure that Amor has time to inscribe your copy, so please keep that in mind.

It has been a very lively summer in the Village, with New Yorkers filling up restaurants' outdoor seating and flocking back to shops they haven't visited in months. Washington Square Park has been abuzz; Little Island on the river is thronged; and tours of the neighborhood are again a common sight. Later in September, the annual Village Trip cultural festival kicks off with events celebrating the history of Greenwich Village. If you haven't been down to the neighborhood in a while, or just want to learn more about one of New York City's most storied areas, the Trip is a perfect opportunity: it runs from September 18-26 and includes music, talks and tours.

~ Recent Staff Favorites ~

Though a devout Sally Rooney fan, I was skeptical that her latest novel could compare to the bittersweetness of Normal People or the sharp honesty of Conversations with Friends. Reader, I had nothing to fear. Beautiful World, Where Are You (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) is Rooney's best yet. Following four friends on either side of thirty, the book asks how we love (ourselves, each other) in the age of climate change, technological isolation, and political upheaval. But this is not a myopic, fatalist tale of civilization's decline. Measured and mature, it is a generous portrait of humanity.

After Pew and Certain American States, I would follow Catherine Lacey anywhere. In The Answers (Picador), from 2017, a lonely woman in New York suffers from a string of odd illnesses. To pay for her exorbitant, New Age-y treatment, she takes a job as an "Emotional Support Girlfriend" to a famous actor. Most pages of my copy are covered in underlining and dog-eared with abandon. Poignant and deft, this is my favorite book on love ever written.

Shout-out to New Jersey. The beaches! The Boss! And have you heard about the Pine Barrens, a forest area covering over a million acres? John McPhee's fascinating book of the same name from 1968 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) is nature writing at its finest, an absorbing love letter to a unique landscape under threat and the rare plants, animals, and people who populate it. Finally, opening Italo Calvino's Baron in the Trees (Mariner) and diving into the adventure of Cosimo, a young 18th-century baron who gets in a fight with his noble family at the dinner table and climbs into a tree swearing never to come down, I felt like a kid again, curled up in blankets and reading past my bedtime, rooting for Cosimo and his rejection of parental tyranny. Every chapter bursts with style and charm, humor and passion, and after finishing I kept wishing for a few more pages. Proof that you can miss books like people. – Nora

Short story collections don't do much for me. But then every so often a book comes along that has me rethinking my stance on the medium. Hilma Wolitzer's Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket (Bloomsbury) is, quite simply, extraordinary. If you find the title hilarious and intriguing, this collection is definitely for you. And if you don't, read it anyway. The stories, most of which were originally published in various magazines in the 1960s and 70s, illuminate the lives of ordinary women in New York City, but this description doesn't convey Wolitzer's astute observational powers, sharp wit, and sentence-by-sentence brilliance. There is real life and laughter in these pages, and I feel so lucky to have them in my brain forevermore.

I had the distinct pleasure recently of picking up a 2018 Pulitzer finalist: In the Distance by Hernan Diaz (Coffee House Press) is a thought-provoking, vividly rendered, deeply moving account of a Swedish immigrant who, arriving in mid-19th century San Francisco without his brother, must journey east, by foot, horse, and burro, to find him. A novel that turns the traditional Western on its head and enacts Homer's Odyssey in its trials and setbacks, In the Distance makes it hard to turn away from suffering, yearning Hakan or the complicated reality of this country's early days. – Miriam

I have the bad habit of finishing every book that I start, no matter how ill-fitting for my mood or routine the first few chapters. Usually this results in a slog to the finish, but occasionally, as with Katie Kitamura's Intimacies (Riverhead), the persistence pays off. Its tone is muted, its plot loosely sketched: a translator at The Hague's International Criminal Court, dealing with her own personal dramas of love and friendship, begins to interpret for a high-profile war criminal. Thirty pages in, I was doubting that this was a book for me – but around halfway through, I realized that Kitamura had, almost invisibly, persuaded me to feel invested in her narrator's affairs. Her writing is subtle, sometimes disquietingly so, and in exploring the consequences of various forms of intimacy she dangles without fanfare a refreshing thing: the prospect of happiness, presented without cynicism.

My other great read of the summer is, naturally, almost the opposite: a funny, biting little travel narrative by Chaney Kwak called The Passenger (Godine). In less than two hundred pages Kwak dissects his experience aboard the ill-fated Norwegian cruise ship Viking Sky, which nearly ran aground in 2019. Kwak's voice is sharp, insightful and self-deprecating, folding in opinions on his writing career and poignant reflections on familial and romantic relationships as he stares into the chilly void. – Ryan

After a rocky beginning my summer reading has picked up again. I blew through The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel (Vintage), a fascinating true story about Christopher Knight, a man who left society and lived alone in the Maine woods for twenty-seven years. Part thriller, part survival guide, and part meditation on solitude, it is a perfect summer read. I also loved Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi (Harry N. Abrams), a sophisticated exploration of a tense mother-daughter relationship set in an ashram in India. Lastly, Somebody's Daughter by Ashley C. Ford (Flatiron) is a thoughtful memoir of the author's childhood in Fort Wayne, Indiana and her family life, fractured by her father's incarceration.

Looking forward, I'm excited for The Uninnocent by Katharine Blake (FSG Originals), a beautiful meditation on heartbreak and the criminal justice system. On Freedom (Graywolf), Maggie Nelson's latest, is due in just a few weeks! And two of my favorite writers, Ann Patchett and Sally Rooney, both have new books out this fall. – Ruby

So, here's my question: can a writer be staggeringly intelligent, mordantly funny, and achingly humane, and give comfort (though not joy) all at the same time? The late Jenny Diski's last essay collection, Why Didn't You Just Do What You Were Told? (Bloomsbury), cracks me up, lifts me up, and then drops me on my head! I run out the front door for a long walk to clear my mind of her, but an hour later, I'm right back in her totally eccentric world! You can sometimes find an earlier collection of her short stories, The Vanishing Princess, on our staff favorites table. She is completely subversive!

If I were an Instagrammer (sorry, no), I would post images for you of my small, green, metal bedside table, which, of course, would be artfully arranged with want-to-reads: currently there is Evie Wyld's Bass Rock (because Nora recommends); Real Estate by Deborah Levy, which according to its publisher asks us "to consider the value of a woman's intellectual and personal life"; Anthony Doerr's coming fiction Cloud Cuckoo Land (on sale September 28), which I feel certain will tug at my heartstrings; Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket by Hilma Wolitzer (because the title gives me a laugh and Miriam recommends it); and a reread of For the Time Being simply because it's Annie Dillard and it's time.

Summer 2021 is winding down and here we all are – imagine that! Time to buy some new autumn masks! – Joyce

First, the best book I've read recently. Good Behaviour by Molly Keane (New York Review Books) is one of very few novels to begin with a matricide and the only one I know of to use rabbit mousse and quenelles as the murder weapon. From this fantastical opening, Keane manages to outdo herself on nearly every page. Perspective is everything for Keane and for her antiheroine, Aroon, the only daughter of an Anglo-Irish clan in steep decline. Aroon shows us her family's crack-up – a nightmare of hidden desire and overt cruelty – as a series of distortions, false revelations, and she tells the truth in spite of herself. Amy Gentry calls the narrator a "monster of repression," but this sells Keane's brilliant character a bit short. Good Behaviour is not merely about the lies we tell ourselves to avoid trauma but also the truths so painful that we see them without understanding them – know them without believing in them. 

On the other side of the world, Hiromi Kawakami's Strange Weather in Tokyo (Counterpoint, translated by Allison Markin Powell) suggests a difficult question: Can two people fall in love with each other's loneliness? The answer reveals itself in a sequence of memories – oblique, heartfelt, and savory – of a friendship between a woman and her former teacher. A novel of the changing seasons, it's also built around allusions to classical Japanese poetry, especially the hokku of Matsuo Bashō, though there's no previous reading experience required. That said, if you're interested in haiku, I just read Hiroaki Sato's On Haiku (New Directions), and I recommend it as a companion piece. You'll come away from these loosely connected talks about the history and function of haiku with a rough historical framework – if you can remember all the names and dates – but mostly with a renewed sense of poetry as a living thing: responsive to politics, to changing notions of the self, to hunger and to thirst. Lucas

I am about to finish my second month working at the shop (wow!) and, in that time, have cultivated an amazing need-to-read list from my new colleagues. As I've been slowly working through them, a few have stood out. Writers & Lovers by Lily King (Grove) takes my number one spot for favorite summer read. Touching and lively, it kept me up late into the night, as I couldn't stop thinking about Casey's story. I also experienced a robust Sally Rooney phase, starting with her new book Beautiful World, Where Are You and moving to Conversations with Friends (Hogarth). The former was superbly written and felt like a peek into Rooney's brain. Its chapters alternate between meditations on the world in the form of emails between friends and two beautifully depicted, modern love stories. The latter sparked an intense debate between my friend and me (involving two copies of the book filled with sticky notes) about whether Frances, the main character, is terrible or amazing. Still, we both agreed that it takes a great writer to make us love a book with such a complicated (and in my opinion, aggravating) lead character. All three books transported me into the lives of insightful, layered young women and made me very grateful for the authors. Mia

What times! After a tough reading spell in the first months of the new year, I finally, finally! found my groove again as spring turned to summer. It was kicked off by Mayflies (see our previous newsletter) and just kept right up, thankfully, with a wide range of books. The Passenger presents Chaney Kwak's frightening, funny, and heartfelt travel narrative of his experiences and ruminations on a foundering passenger ship off the coast of Norway in 2019. My early morning Rockaway subway trips continue, and I was greatly entertained, enlightened and encouraged on the way by Thad Ziolkowski's The Drop (Harper Wave), an examination of the author's passion for surfing and its meaning in a life of addiction and recovery. In Ravenous (Liveright), Sam Apple weaves a fascinating biography of Otto Warburg, a gay, Jewish biochemist living in Nazi Germany throughout the war, with a narrative of science's battle against cancer and a chilling account of the Nazi regime seen through the life of this indomitable scientist. Finally, a candidate for my book of the year: Vince Passaro's spectacular new novel Crazy Sorrow (Simon & Schuster) is the dazzling story of George and Anna, two Columbia students who meet at the Bicentennial fireworks along the Hudson. Backgrounding their lives and all the shifts and changes and turns across the decades and into the 21st century, New York City itself becomes a character, a force in and a reflection of their lives. A great reading pleasure: smart, sharp, wise, full of verve and vibrancy, filled with fascinating historic bits of the city's culture and spirit. – Toby

~ Staff Favorites Now in Paperback ~

Pew by Catherine Lacey (Picador)

Vesper Flights by Helen MacDonald (Grove)

An Onion in My Pocket by Deborah Madison (Vintage)

What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez (Riverhead)

The Best of Me by David Sedaris (Back Bay)

Want by Lynn Steger Strong (Picador)

The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld (Vintage)

~ Signed Editions ~


Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar (Back Bay)

Yes & No by Elisha Cooper (Roaring Brook)

Kings County by David Goodwillie (Avid Reader)

Matrix by Lauren Groff (Riverhead)

Immediate Family by Ashley Nelson Levy (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

American Estrangement by Said Sayrafiezadeh (W.W. Norton)

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (Penguin)


How We Live Now by Bill Hayes (Bloomsbury)

What's Good by Peter Hoffman (Abrams)

All In by Billie Jean King (Knopf)

Marvelous Manhattan by Reggie Nadelson (Artisan)

On Freedom by Maggie Nelson (Graywolf)

Madhouse at the End of the Earth by Julian Sancton (Crown)

Let the Record Show by Sarah Schulman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)


~ The Three Lives & Company Bestseller List ~ 

1. People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry (Berkley)

2. Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So (Ecco)

3. In Five Years by Rebecca Serle (Atria)

4. Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Ballantine)

5. Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner (Knopf)

6. On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (Penguin)

7. Writers & Lovers by Lily King (Grove)

8. Mayflies by Andrew O'Hagan (McClelland & Stewart)

9. Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell (Vintage)

10. American Estrangement by Said Sayrafiezadeh (W.W. Norton)