Have I mentioned that for many years, I saved the annual Spring Announcements and Fall Announcements issues of Publishers Weekly? Back then, in the 1980s and early ’90s, those issues were deliciously fat. When one arrived, I spent a long time with it, looking to see what was coming, marking titles of special interest, glorying in their gratuitous abundance. And now and then, I would take one of these down from the stout shelf where I stored them and look back (five years, say), recalling titles once forthcoming, now long out in the world, many already forgotten: titles that fulfilled their seeming promise and those that didn’t, not to mention ones I hadn’t even noticed at the time.
Alas, when we moved from Pasadena, California, to Wheaton, Illinois, in the summer of 1994, with so many boxes of books, publishers’ catalogues, and stacks of magazines and journals that the movers tried to go back on the price they’d set, Wendy said (quite sensibly, of course) that a line had to be drawn somewhere. So those special issues of PW were consigned to the trash.
Even now, at seventy-two, a lot of my brain cells are devoted to seeking out intelligence about forthcoming books, some of which I see in proofs but many more that I don’t see until the book is actually out. I could easily fill ten columns talking about ones that seem promising at this moment, others that I can’t wait to see, and so on. It seems arbitrary to select a mere handful, but something is better than nothing.
Late in October, Princeton University Press will publish T. M. Luhrmann’s How God Becomes Real: Kindling the Presence of Invisible Others. In some ways this could be described as a logical progression from Luhrmann’s widely noted 2012 book When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God, extending her study to a much wider range of religious believers, including “pagans, magicians, Zoroastrians, Black Catholics, Santeria initiates, and newly orthodox Jews.” As an anthropologist, Luhrmann has cultivated to an unusual degree the ability to pay attention to the words and actions of her subjects, and I have found her work valuable even as I often disagree. (Here’s one example of disagreement, re “Men, Women, and Imagination.”)
Patrick Modiano’s novel Invisible Ink, which shares the same pub date with Luhrmann’s book, was published in France in 2019 and appears now from Yale University Press in Mark Polizzotti’s translation. “Some very good novelists,” I wrote in 2016, “are explainers. They seem to command an exceptional clarity of mind and a preternatural self-assurance. I would put Muriel Spark and Philip Roth in this category. Others—Eudora Welty, for instance—work more by suggestion, by indirection. Neither way is inherently superior to the other.”
Modiano is a master of suggestion and indirection, yet there is nothing muddy, murky, or imprecise in his fiction, sentence by sentence. In many of his novels—including Invisible Ink—“there are abrupt shifts of time in the narrative, then a return to the remembered setting. By the time the book is done—most of his novels are quite short—you may be feeling almost as if the memories are your own.” Even though I’ve read all of his novels translated into English, I still don’t entirely understand how he does it. There’s none of the machinery of the “fantastic” in his fiction, but there is always a sense of the uncanny.
And speaking of Eudora Welty: In any given publishing season, some of the best books will be old ones reissued, often with a bonus. At the start of November, Simon & Schuster is scheduled to publish a new edition of Welty’s classic memoir, One Writer’s Beginnings. Welty’s book was first published in 1984 by Harvard University Press, and even her greatest admirers (I’m in that company) were surprised and delighted by its long run on best-seller lists. In the e-galley I received for the Simon & Schuster edition, there is a beautiful new introduction by the former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey (whose book Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir appeared earlier this year). I don’t see that specifically mentioned on the S&S site now (just a generic reference to a “new introduction”); I hope it will be included in the finished book. In any case, think about getting a copy for yourself and one for some young person, a serious reader, who may never have encountered Welty.
Also scheduled for publication in November, from the University of Nebraska Press, is Richard W. Pointer’s Pacifist Prophet: Papunhank and the Quest for Peace in Early America. Pointer, author of Encounters of the Spirit: Native Americans and European Colonial Religion, among other books, “recounts the untold history of peaceable Native Americans . . . as explored through Papunhank (ca. 1705-75), a Munsee and Moravian prophet, preacher, reformer, and diplomat.” Papunhank ran up against fellow Native prophets who, quite understandably, were not disposed to pacifism in the face of relentless Euro-American encroachment and violence, and yet from both indigenous sources and his deeply adopted Christian faith he drew an unswerving commitment to nonviolence.
And then . . . but I can’t let myself go on and on. Suffice it to say that we’re not likely, anytime soon, to run out of books (new and old alike) worth reading and sharing with others.
John Wilson is a contributing editor for The Englewood Review of Books.
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