Greetings from Three Lives & Company!
After two and a half years of very, well, newsy newsletters, we have finally found ourselves in somewhat of a lull in terms of updates. To an extent, we are finally back to the classic bookshop elements that patrons of Three Lives & Company have long treasured: the slight slowing of time as you walk through the doors, a quiet browse on a weekday morning, languid jazz on the radio. Somehow it feels right that we donÕt have a lot of news for you.
There is one major exception. After five years of building her fan base among the readers and dogs of the West Village, our Nora is moving west to Colorado. Nora joined Three Lives in 2017, quickly gained a following of customers eager for her recommendations and conversation, and has been an irreplaceable co-manager of the shopÕs Book-A-Month subscription service. Her last shift will be in early September, so stop by before then to say farewell (and browse a collection of her all-time favorites on our theme table).
Our one other little piece of news is that we have expanded our notebook lineup into a proper section of its own, adjacent to the checkout counter. Unsurprisingly, your booksellers tend to be enthusiasts of fine journals, and we decided it was finally time to give them their due.
Other than that, we just have a lot of great books to look forward to – and many of us are eagerly reading ahead into the fall and beyond. See below for our recent favorites.
~ Recent Staff Favorites ~
This entry is bittersweet. After five years at Three Lives, this is my last newsletter. I cannot express how much this shop (and all of you, colleagues and customers) means to me, so itÕs best I donÕt try. IÕm trading in skyscrapers for the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Please, please come by for one last chat.
Before I go, itÕs fitting to mention Jesse BallÕs memoir Autoportrait (Catapult). Many of you know that his 2018 book Census is my favorite contemporary novel – and that IÕve been smitten ever since! Autoportrait, written in stream-of-consciousness style, is a collection of moments, memories, joys, and sorrows, presented without order. I loved this bookÕs chaotic nature and the way it mirrors real life and thought. The last page, full of BallÕs compassion and wisdom, has a permanent place in my heart.
On LucasÕs recommendation, I read Tarjei VesaasÕs Ice Palace (Peter Owen Publishers, translated by Elizabeth Rokkan), a short, beautiful novel about a defining friendship between two young girls in Norway. First published in 1963, its dissection of the far-reaching hold of grief and the force of forgiveness and healing is timeless. The writing, line by line, is some of the best IÕve ever read. And hey, if you hate summer like I do, itÕs a major bonus to escape into a frozen, dark, fjord-filled world.
Lastly, Fernanda MelchorÕs latest novel, Paradais (New Directions, translated by Sophie Hughes), is a knockout. Brutal, unrelenting, yet gorgeous, the story revolves around two teenagers in a luxury complex in Mexico. One of the boys, wealthy and entitled, lives there. The other, poor and haunted by his past, works there. Together, they hatch a plan targeting one of the resident families. Melchor is a master of characterization, exposing our darkest, most destructive undercurrents as well as humanityÕs redemptive power. – Nora
Mieko KawakamiÕs All the Lovers in the Night (Europa, translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd) is a lesson in nuance – a brief novel about a copyeditor, Fuyuko, whose quiet existence offends the people around her: she needs more friends, more interest in men, more collegiality at work. For those in her orbit, FuyukoÕs social miscues outweigh the more serious iniquities committed against her. But KawakamiÕs book isnÕt a simple morality tale: I ended the novel not quite sure what Kawakami herself thought of her characters – her ÒvillainsÓ are not necessarily such, and Fuyuko herself is no kind of hero. Their uncertain contours had me reevaluating All the Lovers long after it was back on the shelf.
I must once again extol the virtues of Lawrence Osborne, the British writer who, despite our best efforts, is still sorely underread in the States. His latest novel, On Java Road (Hogarth), plumbs the sordid balancing act of Hong KongÕs ultra-rich during ChinaÕs democracy crackdowns. Despite its omnipresent sense of menace and violence, the book is really an observation of class machinations and the insulation from consequence that wealth confers. (ItÕs also a longing portrait of a city unique in the world, as the promise of its postcolonial future crumbles under police batons and teargas.)
My backlist blitz continues, also, with two New York Review titles that have been sitting on my pile for years finally getting their due: Patrick Leigh FermorÕs elegiac and erudite pre-World War II travel narrative A Time of Gifts, and J.G. FarrellÕs Troubles, another sharp satire of the sunÕs slow setting on the British Empire. – Ryan
Boy, do I have the read to kick off your fall. Helen DeWitt, author of the revered novel The Last Samurai, is back with a never-before-published novella that New Directions is releasing as part of their new Storybook series. All of 64 pages, The English Understand Wool (on sale September 27) is a stunner. I donÕt want to give away much of the plot because half the fun is the twists and reveals, but the other half of the pleasure is the perfectly and thoroughly realized voice of the narrator: sharp, entitled, witty, extremely clever. Polish it off in a single sitting or drag out the experience of being in the book – youÕre in for a total treat either way.
I feel a particular combination of joy and unease when I hear one of my favorite authors has a new book coming out. Can they really replicate the magic of the previous work(s)? With The Marriage Portrait (Knopf, September 6), her third consecutive marvel after Hamnet and I Am, I Am, I Am, Maggie OÕFarrell has banished that doubt evermore. Here she weaves the story of Lucrezia deÕ Medici, who, in 1560 at the age of fifteen, left her fatherÕs court to marry Alfonso II, Duke of Ferrara, a man she knew not at all and whose first appearances proved quite deceiving indeed. Less than a year later, Lucrezia was dead, and OÕFarrell uses this historical record (and the existence of one surviving painting) to imagine her way into the life of an extraordinary woman faced with the loss of her freedom, independence, and known universe. Brava to OÕFarrell for making my heart soar once again.
The powers that be wonÕt let me squeeze in much more, so just a brief shout-out for Shrines of Gaiety (Doubleday, September 27), Kate Atkinson's latest, set in the nightlife underbelly of 1920s London. Such fun! – Miriam
I had just finished Trust by Hernan Diaz (Riverhead) when I started working at Three Lives, and two months later itÕs still one of the books I think about most. Employing an intricate structure and a dispassionate, almost clinical prose style, Diaz uses the conflicting voices of multiple narrators to get at the heart of who gets to tell stories and what makes us listen to them. Elegantly written and ingeniously crafted, itÕs a rewarding dissection of financial structures and Gilded Age power dynamics that I look forward to returning to.
On a friendÕs recommendation, I spent several weeks of July tackling Ken KeseyÕs Sometimes a Great Notion (Penguin), a dense, hypnotic, stream-of-consciousness epic following the trials of a clan of loggers in rural Oregon working in defiance of a union strike. KeseyÕs world-weary and complex characters are all unforgettable, and his prose paints foreboding images of thrashing rivers and misty, verdant forests. The point of view, which jumps from character to character without warning, occasionally verges on overstimulating, but it allows for an unmatched depth of perspective as the plot surges towards its breathtaking climax. ItÕs a novel brimming with vitality and atmosphere, a shaggy, towering creation unlike anything IÕve ever read. – Nick
My early morning Rockaway adventures continue with more frequency in the summer months (luxurious to be in the warmer water!) and, with the additional trips, I have a lot more uninterrupted reading time on the A train. IÕve been reading ahead on these trips, early copies of fall titles, and enjoying so much of it. Andrea Barrett, a longtime favorite of mine, returns mid-September with another masterful short story collection, Natural History (W.W. Norton, September 13). One of my most pleasurable reading experiences of the year so far is Ian McEwanÕs new novel Lessons (Knopf, September 13), a deeply engaging and entertaining portrayal of one Roland Baines, encompassing the full arc of his life, from the onset of the Cold War through to Covid (and those piano lessons that changed him forever).
Published just last week, the latest novel from the recent Nobel laureate Abdulrazak Gurnah, Afterlives (Riverhead), is an insightful look at the effects of colonialism during the rarely portrayed German conquest in East Africa. And, lastly, I went back and finally read a favorite of one of the Three Lives founders, Jenny: the spectacular The All of It by Jeanette Haien (Harper), a portrait of a rural Irish community rendered through a womanÕs stunning confession to the local priest. I will long remember EndaÕs powerful tale and iron will. – Toby
At last an end in sight to this sultry, sweaty August – and you know what that means for all you book-lovers! Yep, the Fall List is arriving, big time! And itÕs pretty satisfying. For me, a new book by Lawrence Osborne is an event, and IÕm just pages away from finishing his newest, On Java Road. Which, of course, because it is Mr. Osborne, is a stylish masterclass of human nature, worldly corruptions, and the complexities of cultures and societies and beliefs. This is posh, extravagant Hong Kong simmering with pro-democracy demonstrations and the shifting sands of regime change narrated through the world-weary eye of one expat Englishman. There is so much to think about on every page that, well, it hurts my head a little – but IÕm deep in and loving it.
Also pretty thrilling to hold in my hand is Properties of Thirst by Marianne Wiggins (Simon & Schuster). What a terrific writer and storyteller she is, and IÕm so ready to indulge myself in this big, sweeping California novel! – Joyce
This summer, I gravitated toward books that I should have read years ago. I finally picked up two that, although I had promised to read them when they were initially recommended to me, I ended up neglecting until now.
Weike WangÕs debut novel Chemistry (Vintage) is captivating from the first page. Wang hides insight and beautiful prose in what seems like a beach read. ÒQuirkyÓ is an understatement for this book, which follows a burnt-out Ph.D. student who meets her boyfriendÕs marriage proposal with ambivalence. The plot moves quickly, through countless therapy sessions and many flashbacks to the narratorÕs Chinese immigrant upbringing. Sprinkled with humor and chemical analogies, Chemistry surprised me in the best way possible.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Anchor) was published almost ten years ago and became an immediate hit. Right after starting, I regretted not reading it sooner. Ifemelu and Obinze begin as high school sweethearts in Nigeria, but they quickly develop separate narratives as the former emigrates to the United States and the latter to England. IfemeluÕs chapters are a gift; they seamlessly transition through a modern-day interaction in a hair salon, IfemeluÕs immigration story, and entries from her blog on race. Adichie hits just the right balance between telling a riveting story and presenting a nuanced analysis of how the U.S. deals with race. – Mia
Every reader has their perfect book, or books, just as surely as every book has its perfect reader. Those books can be elusive: maybe theyÕre rare or out of print, or only available in sketchy translations. But mostly, I think, theyÕre hiding in plain sight, somewhere you didnÕt expect to find your next great read. ThatÕs how I felt about Your Face Tomorrow (New Directions, translated by Margaret Jull Costa), a genre-bending masterpiece from the Spanish writer Javier Mar’as. Written as one mammoth novel and published in three volumes (Fever and Spear, Dance and Dream, and Poison, Shadow, and Farewell), itÕs a book I didnÕt know I needed until I was halfway through the first installment.
Your Face Tomorrow is a spy novel, at least on its face. Our protagonist is a man with many names. Middle-aged and recently separated from his wife, he floats between the BBC in London and linguistic work at Oxford, where he stumbles, almost by accident, into a dinner party that will change the course of his life. Soon enough heÕs working for a shadowy organization that may well be MI6, falling under the spell of a charismatic older agent who is never quite the man he claims to be. From the simple seductions of the espionage thriller, Mar’as weaves a tale of hypnotic complexity, a metafiction thatÕs thrilling, frustrating, and completely original. Ranging over the Spanish Civil War, the British governmentÕs Òblack propagandaÓ campaigns in WWII, ShakespeareÕs history plays, and much more, Mar’as asks what the past should mean to the present, and what the living owe the dead. A literary thriller for those who are thrilled by literature, Your Face Tomorrow is demanding and extremely rewarding. – Lucas
~ Signed Editions ~
Human Blues by Elisa Albert (Avid Reader)
Cult Classic by Sloane Crosley (MCD)
Upgrade by Blake Crouch (Ballantine)
Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine (One World)
Intimacies by Katie Kitamura (Riverhead)
A Separation by Katie Kitamura (Riverhead)
Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra (Hogarth)
Total by Rebecca Miller (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Carrie Soto Is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Ballantine)
The Rule of Three by E.G. Scott (Dutton)
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (Penguin)
The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles (Viking)
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (Penguin)
Mean Baby by Selma Blair (Knopf)
Left on Tenth by Delia Ephron (Little, Brown)
Last Call by Elon Green (Celadon)
Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe (Doubleday)
Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe (Anchor)
The Snakehead by Patrick Radden Keefe (Anchor)
Good & Sweet by Brian Levy (Avery)
Marvelous Manhattan by Reggie Nadelson (Artisan)
~ The Three Lives & Company Bestseller List ~
1. Shy by Mary Rodgers and Jesse Green (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
2. Last Summer in the City by Gianfranco Calligarich, translated by Howard Curtis (Picador)
(tie) 3. Funny You Should Ask by Elissa Sussman (Dell)
(tie) 3. Every Summer After by Carley Fortune (Berkley)
5. Happy-Go-Lucky by David Sedaris (Little, Brown)
6. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Washington Square)
7. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (Knopf)
8. When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamin Labatut, translated by Adrian Nathan West (New York Review Books)
(tie) 9. Secrets of Happiness by Joan Silber (Counterpoint)
(tie) 9. Intimacies by Katie Kitamura (Riverhead)
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A reminder that we specialize in special orders. In our small shop itÕs always a challenge to find room for all the new, notable, and exciting books; if youÕd like a book that we donÕt have on hand, we are always happy to order it for you. We place orders almost daily and the usual turnaround time for a special order is one or two business days. For some books it may take longer, but weÕll be sure to discuss the particulars with you before we place an order. Additionally, we can ship books to you anywhere within the United States. Give us a call, send us an email, or stop in any time.
We are happy to take preorders for forthcoming titles, and we will let you know as soon as the book arrives. We are all too familiar with the fervid desire to possess a new book at the first possible moment, and we will do everything in our power to make sure the book lands in your hands hot off the presses.
We offer gift certificates, which you may purchase in any amount.
Three Lives & Company, Booksellers
154 W. 10th St.
New York NY 10014