Friday, January 24, 2014

Meg Is Recommending:
Fifteen-year-old Jess is on a road trip to the end of the world. Her evangelical father has packed up the family and left their Montgomery, Alabama, home behind to drive west in anticipation of the rapture, hoping to save as many souls as possible before the imminent Second Coming. With her long-suffering mother and her rebellious sister Elise, Jess hands out tracts to nonbelievers at every rest stop, Waffle House, and gas station along the way. Through sticky diners and in crowded motel pools, beneath bleached bedspreads and in the backseat of the family car, Jess and Elise whisper and squabble their way across the country. But as doomsday approaches, Jess can't seem to work up any real fear about the apocalypse when her sister's secret pregnancy and their increasingly frayed parents loom so much larger.

In this fresh and razor-sharp debut novel, teenage angst and evangelical ardor make a pilgrimage across an endlessly interchangeable American landscape of highways, motels, and strip malls. Sporting a "King Jesus Returns " t-shirt and well stocked with end-times pamphlets, Jess makes semi-earnest efforts to believe but is thwarted at every turn by a string of familiar and yet freshly rendered teenage obsessions. From "Will the world end?" to "Will I ever fall in love?" each tender worry, big and small, is brilliantly rendered with emotional weight. Mary Miller reinvents the classic American literary road-trip story, reviving its august traditions with the yearning and spiritual ennui of twenty-first-century adolescence. As the last day approaches, Jess's teenage myopia gradually gives way to a growing awareness of the painful undercurrents of her fractured family.

With a deadpan humor and a savage charm that belie a deep sympathy for her characters, Miller captures the gnawing uneasiness, sexual rivalry, and escalating self-doubt of teenage life in America, where the end always seems nigh and our illusions are necessary protections against that which we can't control.
"If Powers were an American writer of the nineteenth century...he'd probably be the Herman Melville of Moby-Dick. His picture is that big," wrote Margaret Atwood (New York Review of Books). Indeed, since his debut in 1985 with Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, Richard Powers has been astonishing readers with novels that are sweeping in range, dazzling in technique, and rich in their explorations of music, art, literature, and technology.

In Orfeo, Powers tells the story of a man journeying into his past as he desperately flees the present. Composer Peter Els opens the door one evening to find the police on his doorstep. His home microbiology lab--the latest experiment in his lifelong attempt to find music in surprising patterns--has aroused the suspicions of Homeland Security. Panicked by the raid, Els turns fugitive. As an Internet-fueled hysteria erupts, Els--the "Bioterrorist Bach"--pays a final visit to the people he loves, those who shaped his musical journey. Through the help of his ex-wife, his daughter, and his longtime collaborator, Els hatches a plan to turn this disastrous collision with the security state into a work of art that will reawaken its audience to the sounds all around them. The result is a novel that soars in spirit and language by a writer who "may be America's most ambitious novelist" (Kevin Berger, San Francisco Chronicle).
One of the masters of American short fiction—author of The Light in the Piazza—returns with a new collection of stories.

On the release of her first novel in 1948, Elizabeth Spencer was immediately championed by Robert Penn Warren and Eudora Welty, setting off a remarkable career as one of the great literary voices of the American South. Her career, now spanning seven decades, continues here with nine new stories. In Starting Over, Spencer returns to the deep emotional fault lines and unseen fractures that lie just beneath the veneer of happy family life. In “Sightings,” a troubled daughter suddenly returns to the home of the father she accidently blinded during her parents’ bitter separation; in “Blackie,” the reappearance of a son from a divorcee’s first marriage triggers a harrowing confrontation with her new family; while in “The Wedding Visitor,” a cousin travels home only to find himself entwined in the events leading up to a family wedding. In these nine stories, Spencer excels at revealing the flawed fabric of human relations.
At the age of three, Eileen Cronin first realized that only she did not have legs. Her boisterous Catholic family accepted her situation as "God's will," treating her no differently than her ten siblings, as she "squiddled" through their 1960s Cincinnati home. But starting school, even wearing prosthetics, Cronin had to brave bullying and embarrassing questions. Thanks to her older brother's coaching, she handled a classmate's playground taunts with a smack from her lunchbox. As a teen, thrilled when boys asked her out, she was confused about what sexuality meant for her. She felt most comfortable and happiest relaxing and skinny dipping with her girlfriends, imagining herself "an elusive mermaid." The cause of her disability remained taboo, however, even as she looked toward the future and the possibility of her own family.

In later years, as her mother battled mental illness and denied having taken the drug thalidomide--known to cause birth defects--Cronin felt apart from her family. After the death of a close brother, she turned to alcohol. Eventually, however, she found the strength to set out on her own, volunteering at hospitals and earning a PhD in clinical psychology.

Reflecting with humor and grace on her youth, search for love, and quest for answers, Cronin spins a shimmering story of self-discovery and transformation.
The story of a feast two years in the making, from the farmer who harvested the vegetables, raised the animals, and prepared the meal.
In Growing a Farmer, Kurt Timmermeister recounted the toil and joy of wrestling an empty plot of land on Vashon Island, Washington, into a dairy farm. Now he tells the story of a feast made from only what the farm provides. But the story of the meal begins two years earlier with the birth of a calf, Alice. When she is grown, Alice will produce the cream to be churned into butter, made into sauce BĂ©arnaise, and served alongside poached eggs and kale gathered the morning of the feast. Along the way we meet Leda, who trades onion seedlings for Kurt’s cheese; Michiko, who forages the white chanterelles for the antipasti course; and Bill, whose large, thin-skinned tomatoes will form the basis of the tomato upside-down cake. Rich in detail, resonant in story, Growing a Feast depicts the effort behind every meal, the farm that comes before every table.
In recent years, Google's autonomous cars have logged thousands of miles on American highways and IBM's Watson trounced the best human Jeopardy players. Digital technologies--with hardware, software, and networks at their core--will in the near future diagnose diseases more accurately than doctors can, apply enormous data sets to transform retailing, and accomplish many tasks once considered uniquely human.

In The Second Machine Age MIT's Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee--two thinkers at the forefront of their field--reveal the forces driving the reinvention of our lives and our economy. As the full impact of digital technologies is felt, we will realize immense bounty in the form of dazzling personal technology, advanced infrastructure, and near-boundless access to the cultural items that enrich our lives.

Amid this bounty will also be wrenching change. Professions of all kinds--from lawyers to truck drivers--will be forever upended. Companies will be forced to transform or die. Recent economic indicators reflect this shift: fewer people are working, and wages are falling even as productivity and profits soar.

Drawing on years of research and up-to-the-minute trends, Brynjolfsson and McAfee identify the best strategies for survival and offer a new path to prosperity. These include revamping education so that it prepares people for the next economy instead of the last one, designing new collaborations that pair brute processing power with human ingenuity, and embracing policies that make sense in a radically transformed landscape.

A fundamentally optimistic book, The Second Machine Age will alter how we think about issues of technological, societal, and economic progress.

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