Greetings from Three Lives & Company!
ThereÕs lots to talk about in this issue, but we must begin by bidding farewell to another of our crew. Mia has been a Three Lives mainstay for longer than almost any of us, having become a customer at a tender young age, then jumping to the other side of the counter two years ago. She became an ace bookseller and reliable caretaker for the old shop, a steady hand that kept things from going askew at busy times. While we would like to believe that Three Lives, like MelvilleÕs whale-ship, has been MiaÕs Yale College and her Harvard, she is now off to the actual Yale to study. (And although nobody can replace her, we have recently welcomed two new booksellers to our ranks – please come by and say hello to Marlowe and Elaine!)
At the beginning of the pandemic we, like the rest of the world, put our events on hiatus. We havenÕt restarted them, exactly, but we do have one upcoming signing to which you are all invited. Zadie Smith, already the author of many Three Lives favorites, will be signing copies of her new novel The Fraud on Wednesday, September 13. Please note that this is a morning event: we will open our doors at 9 a.m. for anyone wishing to meet Zadie and get an inscribed book. (And a scone. There will be scones.) Please join us – but if you canÕt, you can call or email ahead of time to request an inscribed Fraud for pickup or shipping.
ZadieÕs latest is far from the only book weÕre looking forward to this fall – once again, the list of authors with big new books is extensive and exciting. Fans of Claire Keegan, Mary Beard, Michael Cunningham, Teju Cole, Alice McDermott, Yiyun Li, Ben Fountain, Michael Lewis, Samantha Harvey, Molly Baz, Lauren Groff, Sigrid Nunez, Benjamin Labatut, and Karl Ove Knausgaard will have plenty of reading to carry them into the cold months.
Finally, anyone in the shop these last few weeks has seen our banned books display. We donÕt wish to end this newsletter on a somber note, but the culture of censorship in America only seems to have intensified in recent months. School boards, counties, and entire states – see Texas – have increasingly cast a wide swath of literature, especially by queer authors and authors of color, as aberrant and indecent. The challenges that ensue, often promoted for political expediency, deprive readers of stories that they can relate to and learn from, and shackle books to a narrow definition of acceptability, shorn clean of complexity and difference. But those things are exactly why we read: to make sense of a complicated world and of ourselves. Banned books are books you should read – and if you wish to get involved beyond the page, the free-speech advocacy group PEN America is a good place to start.
~ Recent Staff Favorites ~
The first summer I worked at Three Lives, I fell in love with Lily KingÕs Writers & Lovers. Her prose is quick and captivating, and IÕve mentioned her at least a hundred times at the shop. Her earlier novel, Euphoria (Grove), is wildly different in plot but not in quality. King charts a love triangle between three anthropologists studying New Guinean tribes in the 1930s. Violent and shocking, this book only reaffirmed my love for KingÕs writing.
After reading both Small Things Like These and Foster (Grove), I am officially a Claire Keegan convert. Foster centers on a young girl sent to live with relatives in the Irish countryside; itÕs a painful tale of family and neglect. Small Things Like These is about a respected Irish man coming to terms with the hold the Catholic Church has on his town. KeeganÕs writing style is minimalist and powerful, and both endings pack a punch.
Dorothy BakerÕs Cassandra at the Wedding (New York Review Books) was another great read this summer. It follows twin sisters Judith and Cassandra as the former tries to follow through with her wedding and the latter spirals downward in her attempt to stop it. The book toggles between wit and grief while the twins grapple with their changing relationship.
Easily my favorite book of this year is The Postcard by Anne Berest (Europa, translated by Tina Kover). It is a heartbreaking read about BerestÕs family, four of whom died at Auschwitz. The book is half novel, half memoir, with a touch of detective story. I had to put the book down several times while reading because it was too painful to continue. BerestÕs command of her familyÕs story and her own experience with antisemitism in France is both beautiful and tragic. This is the book I canÕt stop thinking about. – Mia
IÕm always in search of a particular kind of art book, a hybrid form thatÕs rigorous on the history but elegant on the personal experience of looking at paintings. And I may have a new favorite in Mark DotyÕs Still Life with Oysters and Lemon (Beacon). Doty, a poet, wrote this extraordinary essay in response to a yearslong fascination with the titular Dutch still life. Why did this work pull him with such force? Why did the artist paint a platter of shellfish at all? These questions propel Doty into his own past – vividly and often painfully recalled – and toward a notion of painting as a field of intimacy. Drawing together unlike things, the still life preserves a moment in time and, by its artistÕs attention and skill, sanctifies it. DotyÕs book achieves this same alchemy.
Transfiguration: by image, by word. Joy WilliamsÕs State of Grace (Vintage) is one of those novels thatÕs so good, and in such a peculiar way, that description and summary do not serve. She must be read to be believed! But if youÕve ever loved Flannery OÕConnorÕs slapstick morality, James SalterÕs luminous prose, or Clarice LispectorÕs harrowing metaphysics, then I urge you onward to Joy. Her aim is always true.
Finally, with summer almost behind us, I can report on a truly great literary escape, which is Sybille BedfordÕs A Legacy (New York Review Books). Bedford is a wonderful writer – her sentences gleam, and cut to the quick. This novel appears as the story of two German families: one Catholic, the other Jewish; one romantic, the other pragmatic; one charmingly aristocratic, the other ancient, urbane, and jealous of its fortunes. Really it is a picture of Europe just before the Great War, a world that existed only briefly and could never have lasted long. The coming catastrophe darkens this rich novel, like a threatening cloud above a landscape that only appeared idyllic. – Lucas
This isnÕt just armchair traveling (although it is that too!): National Dish by Anya Von Bremzen (Penguin Press) takes its readers to Paris, Naples, Tokyo, Seville, Oaxaca, Istanbul, and Queens, New York. In each city, Bremzen, with her partner Barry, lives, cooks, and explores what makes a particular food a Ōnational dish.Ķ Bremzen seeks out the cooks, historians, restaurants, farmers, experts, and friends that might bring her closer to understanding the importance of each dish – maize and mole, pot-au-feu, pizza, ramen, Turkish meze and Spanish tapas, and borsch. In a recent interview on KCRWÕs Good Food, Bremzen explains to host Evan Kleiman: ŌIt doesnÕt really matter whether itÕs authentic. What is authentic? The whole idea is nonsense. It is authentic to the people who internalize it. This was my realizationÉ WhatÕs important is what these dishes mean to people at any given time and that can changeÉ What's important is what food represents and its power.Ķ When I finished this book I knew just what to do: I walked to Veselka in the East Village and ordered borsch, with a new and deeper appreciation.
The newest cookbook by Hetty Lui McKinnon, Tenderheart (Knopf), has a commanding and comical presence on our front table. It is tall, it is hefty, and it has a large face on the cover made with broccoli hair, rosemary eyelashes, and a yellow squash smile. I hadnÕt looked inside until a trusted customer bought a second copy and told me how good it was. Soon after, I saw that British cook Diana Henry wrote about Tenderheart on her Instagram page: ŌThere are a lot of newly published vegetable books around at the minuteÉ This is one of the best and as it weighs in at over 500 pages youÕll be using it for life.Ķ ThatÕs when I took a closer look and brought a copy home! The writing is wise and generous, and the recipes are like nothing youÕll see in other cookbooks: Tingly ŌCacio e PepeĶ Snow Peas with Rice Noodles, Sweet Potato Panang Curry Pizza! Oh, and the photography is both artistic and playful. ItÕs all 100% Hetty Lui McKinnon bursting with a passion for vegetables and fueled by the love and memories of her father. Hetty is right: food is a way to stay connected to loved ones, past and present. So letÕs keep cooking! – Troy
The Guest by Emma Cline (Random House) lines up nicely with summer coming to a close: an unmoored woman wanders through a wealthy beachfront town for a week, meeting strangers, reflecting on her past, wreaking havoc, and swimming as much as she can before her bad decisions catch up to her. With sharp, fast-paced writing and a steadily unraveling protagonist, this is an anti-beach-read thriller that I couldnÕt put down.
A new novel unlike anything IÕve read before is Nana Kwame Adjei-BrenyahÕs Chain-Gang All-Stars (Pantheon), in which incarcerated people can opt into a contract of to-the-death live-action gladiator battles for the purpose of entertainment – and if they can survive for three years, they are free. Adjei-Brenyah embodies multiple voices seamlessly, capturing a complex picture of the oppressors and the oppressed, the protestors and the complacent.
I was craving a slow-paced, emotional character study, and Colm TibnÕs Nora Webster (Scribner) was just that. In a small village in 1960s Ireland, a recent widow grapples with raising a family on her own and rediscovering herself. The prose is simple and refreshing, and the story unwinds itself so subtly that it makes the quietly heart-wrenching moments all the more powerful. – Elaine
After stumbling about a bit in the first part of the year, I got my reading groove back in late spring and found some wonderful books in recent months. I really enjoy a book that crosses subjects and styles, pulls up interesting bits of history, science, and personal reflection in the midst of a wonderfully written narrative. Elizabeth Rush has done a first-rate job in The Quickening (Milkweed), an account of her time as writer-in-residence aboard a research ship studying the effects of climate collapse in Antarctica, offering a rich, seamless blend of scientific study, seagoing adventure (and boredom), memoir, and environmental concern and urgency.
The New York Review Books classic series never seems to fail – how often have these newsletters included a title or two from that esteemed line? After noticing Simone Schwarz-BartÕs The Bridge of Beyond (translated by Barbara Bray) on the shopÕs own Staff Favorites display a year or so ago – thanks, Lucas! – I picked up a copy and found this multi-generational novel of life on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe fascinating: a piercing, compassionate look at the historical trauma of slavery and its effects cascading down the generations.
What could well be my book of the year: The Wall (New Directions, translated by Shaun Whiteside), a novel by Austrian writer Marlen Haushofer, is a stunning tale of a womanÕs complete isolation from the world when a wall appears overnight, severing her mountain lodge from a world frozen in place. So much to contemplate as our narrator goes about finding sustenance, growing crops, tending the cow that lumbers into her garden. To think this was originally published in 1963 is staggering – it feels so contemporary and of the moment.
And what may well be one of my favorite books of all time: I finally slipped The Transit of Venus off the shelf at home and was just knocked sideways by Shirley HazzardÕs novel – the writing, the story, the sheer power of her art. Sentences unlike any others. A story quietly revealing and surprising. It was a singular reading experience, and upon finishing it, I immediately returned to page one and reread it. And, as Lauren Groff notes in her introduction to the Penguin Classics edition, I may well have to reread it every year. – Toby
James McBride has become about the most reliable contemporary fiction writer in my reading life, and his new novel The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store (Riverhead) is another big-hearted story about how people antagonize each other and press every advantage – but also occasionally sacrifice everything for each other in moments of grace. The new book starts with an old skeleton at the bottom of a well in a Black and Jewish neighborhood in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. The skeleton is important, but the book is really about the living, and the dignity of even damaged lives.
Aside from some advance reading into the fall season – more on that in the next issue – my other strong read this quarter was Peter FrankopanÕs sweeping and scary survey of anthropogenic climate change and catastrophe, The Earth Transformed (Knopf). This isnÕt your dime-store climate reading – it tops out at around 700 dense pages, and that doesnÕt include the copious endnotes – but youÕll emerge from this one with a much better understanding of how humans have always fought their natural environment, and usually lost. – Ryan
My most recent read was K. PatrickÕs Mrs. S (Europa), a postmodern novel about the young matron at an elite English boarding school. Over the course of a long, restless summer, unspoken yearning for the headmasterÕs wife blooms into an illicit affair. ThereÕs an intimacy about the writing, a desperate specificity about details and desires despite its withholding of names and omission of dialogue tags. IÕve never read a book so explicit and unsparing about lesbian masculinity, the forms of connection and alienation it engenders. ItÕs going down as my favorite book of the year. – Marlowe
It gives me no small measure of delight to recommend a book that IÕm convinced very few people will have heard of, much less read. A debut novel published by Astra House in January, Lydia SandgrenÕs Collected Works (translated from the Swedish by Agnes Broom) is utterly compelling but for reasons IÕm hard-pressed to articulate. Its 600 pages fly by as Sandgren narrates the stalled lives of book publisher Martin Berg and his two grown children in present-day Gothenburg (in the wake of his wife CeciliaÕs disappearance fifteen years earlier) and flashes back to how Martin, Cecilia, and their best friend Gustav grew inseparable in their youth. The characters are all still grappling with CeciliaÕs unexplained absence, especially as a late-in-the-novel development brings her back into focus. But please, donÕt mistake this for a plot-driven read: Collected Works is an epic of ordinary peopleÕs lives, with all the struggles and silences that implies. Knausgaard devotees, this oneÕs for you.
And just back from the Northern Highlands, I can heartily recommend two Scotland-related reads: The Crofter and the Laird by John McPhee (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and Maggie OÕFarrellÕs first novel After YouÕd Gone, recently reissued by Knopf. Both were perfect companions as we wandered through the heather and dodged errant sheep. – Miriam
When I finished Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (Harper), I struggled for months to find another book that matched that compulsive reading experience. I thought all hope was lost – I picked up countless novels, memoirs, and short story collections. I finished some, I abandoned a lot. It was looking pretty bleak. I was afraid I had fallen into a deep and dark reading slump and would never emerge.
However, last month, I finally had a reprieve: The Leaving Season by Kelly McMasters (W.W. Norton), a new memoir I had come across while organizing our hardcover nonfiction. Based on the inside flap, it ticked all my boxes: a complex, blunt look at motherhood and marriage, oneÕs evolving relationship to their art, New York City, never knowing when to stay and when, as the title suggests, to finally leave. (And when to return.) The book is told in a series of essays, mapping out McMastersÕ many ends and many beginnings throughout her mid-twenties and thirties. It was a beautiful reminder that we canÕt prevent the destruction of something that needs to be destroyed, just as we canÕt prevent the growth of something new in its place.
This past week, I tore through another memoir/essay hybrid, So Sad Today by Melissa Broder (Grand Central). I am very late to the party with this one, but I am so glad I finally arrived. Much like The Leaving Season, it is also a very ŌSarah book,Ķ about a woman on the verge who is not afraid to overshare and overindulge. This book is filthy and hilarious and deeply personal. Broder shies away from absolutely nothing. I canÕt help but have the utmost respect for that kind of honesty. I loved it so much that I immediately picked up an advanced copy of her new novel, Death Valley, which will be out this September. – Sarah
~ Staff Favorites Now in Paperback ~
Lessons by Ian McEwan (Vintage)
The Marriage Portrait by Maggie OÕFarrell (Vintage)
A WomanÕs Battles and Transformations by douard Louis (Picador, translated by Tash Aw)
The Slow Road to Tehran by Rebecca Lowe (September)
~ Signed Editions ~
Family Lore by Elizabeth Acevedo (Ecco)
Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (Pantheon)
Cult Classic by Sloane Crosley (Picador)
The Librarianist by Patrick DeWitt (Ecco)
Six Days in Rome by Francesca Giacco (Grand Central)
The Last Ranger by Peter Heller (Knopf)
The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride (Riverhead)
Speech Team by Tim Murphy (Viking)
Take What You Need by Idra Novey (Viking)
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (Penguin)
The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles (Penguin)
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (Penguin)
Crook Manifesto by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday)
The Everlasting Meal Cookbook by Tamar Adler (Scribner)
Dinner in One by Melissa Clark (Clarkson Potter)
Delectable by Claudia Fleming (Random House)
Women Holding Things by Maira Kalman (Harper Design)
Walk with Me: New York by Susan Kaufman (Harry N. Abrams)
Dining In by Alison Roman (Clarkson Potter)
Nothing Fancy by Alison Roman (Clarkson Potter)
Sweet Enough by Alison Roman (Clarkson Potter)
The Quickening by Elizabeth Rush (Milkweed)
Thin Skin by Jenn Shapland (Pantheon)
Veg Forward by Susan Spungen (Harper Celebrate)
~ The Three Lives & Company Bestseller List ~
1. Tom Lake by Ann Patchett (Harper)
2. The Guest by Emma Cline (Random House)
3. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (Knopf)
4. Trust by Hernan Diaz (Riverhead)
5. The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride (Riverhead)
6. Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (Harper)
7. Big Swiss by Jen Beagin (Scribner)
8. Walk with Me: New York by Susan Kaufman (Harry N. Abrams)
9. Crook Manifesto by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday)
10.The Creative Act by Rick Rubin (Penguin Press)
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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 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