In the last few weeks, I’ve written four reviews for Shiny New Books, and neglected to mention them here until now. Click on the title below to go straight to my full Shiny review. I’m loving the colour-coordinated covers of these four books too!
- Numbers Don’t Lie by Vaclav Smil – one for fans of Tim Harford’s More or Less on Radio 4, this book contains 71 short essays on numbers and statistics grouped into seven thematic sections, including thoughts on megacities, average heights, to passenger:weight ratios in transport and why the 1880s was the decade that created our modern world, and many more. Smil uses the best figures available to explain clearly and with great enthusiasm.
- It’s the End of the World by Adam Roberts – His lively take on eschatology – ‘the part of theology concerned with death, judgement, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind,’ as seen through a cultural lens, takes in the Book of Revelations, the enduring popularity of the zombie apocalypse (a personal fave!) as well as plagues and pandemics, climate change and more. Full of quotations and references, he looks at when the end of the world might come, and why we’re afraid of it. Lively and great non-fiction fun from this SF author who’s also an English professor.
- What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez – Her new novel is sort of a companion piece to her previous one, The Friend, in which the unnamed narrator has to care for the dog of a close friend who committed suicide. What Are Going Through has a somewhat similar premise, in that the narrator this time is helping a terminally ill friend prepare to kill herself. The styles are similar in both, interspersing the ongoing story with the narrator’s musings about aspects of her life and reflections on literature, sprinklings of recounted conversations with others, including her ill friend. This blend of plot and observation reminded me of Jenny Offill’s novels The Dept of Speculation and Weather, but not written in Offill’s vignettes.
And last but not least…
- Mr Wilder & Me by Jonathan Coe – I am a huge Coe fan, and this novel is simply wonderful. Set around the filming of Billy Wilder’s penultimate film, Fedora, with a present day framing strand, we see the Hollywood machine through an innocent’s eyes in Calista, who is employed as an interpreter on location in Greece, and the ageing director’s realisation that in the late 1970s, they don’t really want his kind of cerebral dramas any more. Chock full of atmosphere, and an exploration of ageing and outgrowing the interests of youth, this is Coe’s best novel for a while. I loved it, and suspect it’ll be in my year-end best of selection.