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7 Books You Need to Read This September

Each month, Boris Kachka offers nonfiction and fiction book recommendations. You should read as many of them as possible.

The Story of the Lost Child, by Elena Ferrante (Europa Editions, September 1)
The four books in Ferrante’s Neapolitan series, of which this is the dark and clamorous finale, are really just one thick novel, but its piecemeal translation has allowed the pseudonymous author’s American cult to swell to Knausgaardian proportions. You’d have to start from book one in order to fully appreciate the complex friendship at its core, between intellectual Elena and tempestuous Lila, two women fated to live very different lives. In part four, Elena and her cohort age from their turbulent 30s to their 60s, raise and struggle with children, and seek solace in the unlikeliest place — the vibrant, violent Naples of their birth.

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Please Adjust Your Book-Club Schedules: Gucci Mane’s Autobiography Is on the Way

Gucci Mane continues to make productive people (yes, especially including those not in jail) look like huge procrastinators, as it was announced Wednesday that the busybody rapper will release an autobiography within the next year. Gucci, who is doing time on federal gun charges, had his team (or himself talking in the third person) make the announcement via Twitter, noting, among other things, that "he has been called the most influential artist of this generation and definitely is one of the most prolific." True. Over the course of his sentence, originally slated to last till 2017, Gucci has already released numerous mixtapesappeared as a guest on a slew of tracks, and even pushed a out new movie. How? Maybe you are thinking, Gucci Mane is so productive because he doesn't have distractions! Wrong. He does. He is the Trap God. So, how? It is a true wonder why this man is not sponsored by Nike, as he has officially become the artistic epitome of "No Excuses" and "Just Do It."

Here's how the book was announced: »

Read Star Sci-Fi Novelist Jeff VanderMeer’s 9/11-Inspired Short Story, ‘The Goat Variations’

Jeff VanderMeer’s fiction has won multiple awards, including the Nebula, the World Fantasy, and the Hugo. His Southern Reach trilogy was praised by Slate as one of “the most uncompromising — yet most rewarding — genre series in quite some time,” and it made the New York Times best-sellers list.

“The Goat Variations” features George Herbert Walker Bush, isolation tanks, time travel, and psychic adepts, and is taken from the new fiction anthology In the Shadow of the Towers: Speculative Fiction in a Post-9/11 World. 

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  • Posted 9/1/15 at 7:21 AM

On Delay: Dr. Dre, Harper Lee, and the Problem of Long-Awaited Masterpieces

I’m worried that in the end I’ll never know, not really, what I think about Dr. Dre’s new album, Compton, released earlier this month as the official soundtrack to the new (and increasingly, and rightly, controversial) N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton. Here is a partial list of the things I think I do know: I know that the drums on almost every track are characteristically Dre, a study in perfected slap and kick. I know that the distention and wooziness that stretch across the album double as a subtle reminder that several of the qualities now commonly attributed to southern rap have their provenance in and around Los Angeles County. I know that the album is also a testament to the mogul’s ear for talent, ever true: Some of Compton’s most electric moments come by way of old protégés — Eminem, Kendrick, the Game — and promising unknowns like the Bilal-reminiscent Anderson .Paak. I know that Dre, sort of miraculously, can still really rap.

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  • Posted 8/31/15 at 11:24 PM

King Neptune Has Answered Your Prayers, Is Bringing You a SpongeBob SquarePants Broadway Musical

Get ready to see Bikini Bottom reimagined for a real-life stage, because a SpongeBob SquarePants musical is gunning for Broadway next summer. Appropriately dubbed The SpongeBob Musical, the production will follow the titular sponge and feature original numbers by such big-time music names as David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, The Flaming Lips, and T.I. (What's right is right.) Theater vets will lead the project, including Tina Landau, who will direct; Kyle Jarrow, who's on book duty; and Tom Kitt, who will supervise music. "I was drawn to this project not only for its wild theatrical possibility, but also because I felt SpongeBob, at its core, is a layered and hilarious ensemble comedy," Landau said in a statement released by Nickelodeon, which is producing the musical. "We will present the world of Bikini Bottom and its characters in a whole new way that can only be achieved in the live medium of the theater. We're bringing the show's fabled characters to life through actors — not prosthetics or costumes that hide them."

But will the music be better than the latest movie's soundtrack? »

  • Posted 8/31/15 at 3:59 PM

How the Tiny Graywolf Press Became a Big Player in Book Publishing

Before she won multiple awards and wrote one of the Times Book Review’s top-ten books of 2014, the young poet Eula Biss tried to sell a book of essays to major publishing houses. “They were looking to push her into a more polemical voice,” says her literary agent Matt McGowan. Biss wouldn’t change her diffident, lyrical approach, and nothing came of it. Then she won a publication prize from Graywolf Press, a nonprofit outfit in St. Paul, Minnesota. After the resulting book, Notes From No Man’s Land, won a National Book Critics Circle Award, publishers were the ones doing the courting. “I could have easily sold On Immunity for more money,” says McGowan of Biss’s follow-up. Instead, “I made Graywolf do a little song and dance to make sure they were going to make this big.” They did, and Biss’s study of vaccination merited wide acclaim, strong sales, and another call from a commercial house — this time offering six figures for the paperback. McGowan declined: “Why change a winning team?”

"Do you say, ‘For our size, we get more attention, so that’s it,’ or do you say, ‘Where can we go?’” »

Lena Dunham Is Now a Short-Story Author, Too

Writer-director-actress-memoirist Lena Dunham is now writer-director-actress-memoirist–short story author Lena Dunham: The "Summer Fiction" preview issue of Dunham's new newsletter Lenny features the story "Six Sausages," which is not the tale of a half-dozen anthropomorphic chorizos, but instead an account of a young New York native introducing her maybe-boyfriend to the city she loves. Here are the first two paragraphs:

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Mark Strong on A View From the Bridge and the British Bad-Guy Tradition

Olivier Award–winning British actor Mark Strong — square of jaw, piercing of gaze — is known Stateside for playing elegant, slightly sinister supporting characters, but he’ll be center stage in his Broadway debut this November, as Red Hook longshoreman Eddie Carbone in the Young Vic’s production of Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge. He spoke about finding Eddie, working with suddenly-everywhere director Ivo van Hove, and the British tradition of being a bad guy.

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The Making of Brian Selznick’s Book-As-Artifact, The Marvels

At once a grand adventure story and a self-reflexive mystery, The Marvels, the upcoming, lusciously designed book from The Invention of Hugo Cabret author Brian Selznick, is made up of two tales. The first is told solely through Selznick’s illustrations and focuses on the survivor of a 1766 shipwreck, Billy Marvel, and the five generations of legendary thespians descended from him. The second, told in prose and set 90 years after the final events of the first, presents the story of Joseph, a London runaway. If Selznick’s prior work is any indication, the sum total promises to be a feat of both narrative and bookmaking design, gorgeously rendered in gilded pages and a stunning gold-foil cover.  

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The Twists and Turns of Whorl Inside a Loop

If you fished Whorl Inside a Loop out of a slush pile and read only its précis, you’d probably cringe: A Broadway actress, described as the whitest person at her own Whitey McWhite party, teaches a class called Theatricalizing the Personal Narrative to a group of black men incarcerated for homicide at a maximum-security prison. You’d easily guess what’s next: Whitey McWhite will impart important lessons about taking responsibility through art, shed a tear for her own emotional imprisonment, and make the audience feel good about itself by proxy. But this is totally not how the drama develops in Dick Scanlan and Sherie Rene Scott’s new play, based to some extent on their experiences leading a similar group at Woodburn Correctional Facility in upstate New York. Or, rather, these things happen, but they are part of a story so much larger and more complicated that its liberal-orgasm outline can’t come close to doing it justice. And justice is the point.

Scott is a narcissist so wrapped up in her own story that even her attempts to satirize her narcissism come off as narcissistic. »

Mary Gaitskill on Her First Novel in a Decade and Ambivalence Towards Motherhood

Mary Gaitskill’s first collection of short stories, 1988’s Bad Behaviorcemented a reputation for sexy depravity. November’s The Marethough, has a premise that’s practically, and deceptively, book-club-ready: A childless, rural couple hosts a Fresh Air Fund girl from Brooklyn, and horseback riding brings them all together. But in classic Gaitskill fashion, alienation, mutual misunderstanding, and pain ensue.  

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What Our Critics Are Really Looking Forward to This Fall

Movies
The films David Edelstein can’t wait to see.

Experimenter
Oct. 9
Peter Sarsgaard as Stanley Milgram, the Yale researcher who ordered test subjects to deliver shocks to a stranger, their semi-blind obedience suggesting the worst in human nature — as depicted by indie stalwart Michael Almereyda (Hamlet).

Our Brand Is Crisis
Oct. 30
David Gordon Green directs a fictionalized version of one of the most penetrating docs of the aughts, Rachel Boynton’s tragicomedy of a South American election warped by newfangled Yankee image manipulation.

Brooklyn
Nov. 6
Saoirse Ronan as an Irish immigrant in what’s rumored to be an emotionally transporting portrait of a time and place — the Brooklyn of the ’50s.

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How Jonathan Franzen Became America’s Leading Public Moralist

Love may not be the first word that comes to mind when you hear the name Jonathan Franzen, but it’s a word that’s become more and more important to him over the years. “You have to love before you can be relentless.” That, whatever it means, is the last of Franzen’s rules for writing fiction, published in the Guardian in 2010. In 2011, Franzen told the graduating seniors of Kenyon College that “trying to be perfectly likable is incompatible with loving relationships.” His point was that it’s better to love, say, a spouse or birds than to spend too much time on Facebook. Franzen has also lamented “the near-perfect absence” in the fiction of his late friend David Foster Wallace “of ordinary love.” The paradox was that Wallace’s readers felt loved when they read his books, and in turn came to fiercely love their author. 

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45 Plays Premiering This Fall

Hopefully, you’ve had a few minutes to play around with our Fall Entertainment Generator. But if you’re looking for straight and simple lists of things to look out for by medium, we’ll be breaking them out separately. Here’s a look at fall theater.

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32 Must-See Art Exhibits Opening This Fall

Hopefully, you’ve had a few minutes to play around with our Fall Entertainment Generator. But if you’re looking for straight and simple lists of things to look out for by medium, we’ll be breaking them out separately. Here’s a look at fall art exhibitions and installations.

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46 Books to Read This Fall

Hopefully, you’ve had a few minutes to play around with our Fall Entertainment Generator. But if you’re looking for straight and simple lists of things to look out for by medium, we’ll be breaking them out separately. Here’s a look at this season’s books.

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This Kid Accidentally Tripped and Punched a Hole in a $1.5 Million Dollar Painting

This is what happens when you make kids go look at art. They destroy it! This 12-year-old Taiwanese child was visiting the exhibition "Faces of Leonardo: Images of Genius" in Taipei when he accidentally tripped — drink in hand — and punched a hole into a $1.5 million dollar Italian still-life painting. The painting, Flowers, by Paolo Porpora, was painted in about 1660 and is apparently the only one the artist actually signed. Fortunately, the exhibition curator said that the painting was insured and the child won't be expected to pay for restoration costs, but that he's definitely grounded for at least the rest of the summer.

  • Posted 8/24/15 at 4:06 PM

Way Off Broadway, But Maybe Not for Long: What’s Playing (and What’s Working) in the Berkshires

What used to be called the straw-hat circuit is long gone, as is the customary summer haberdashery that gave it its name. Stars no longer caravan their Broadway hits, in stripped-down versions, from barn to tent to “music fair” for weeklong engagements from June through August. But out-of-town summer theater still thrives, in new formats that have turned some venues in Western Massachusetts and the Hudson Valley from consumers of New York City product to providers of it. At the Williamstown Theatre Festival and Barrington Stage Company, for instance, you’re less likely to see a musical that recently played on Broadway than a musical on its way there. (In the past few seasons, Williamstown has premiered Far From Heaven and The Bridges of Madison County; Barrington, the revival of On the Town.) Non-musicals, too. Partnerships with major New York institutional theaters have turned Williamstown, Shakespeare & Company, Bard SummerScape, and New York Stage and Film into incubators for drama: Off Broadway’s Off Broadway.

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  • Posted 8/24/15 at 10:32 AM

Morrissey Will Next Try His Hand at a Novel, List of the Lost

Two years after the success of his acclaimed Autobiography, Morrissey has decided to make his way over to the fiction shelves. The former Smiths singer has written a debut novel, List of the Lost, set for publication via Penguin Books at the end of September. The book will be released as a paperback, according to the Morrissey zine True to You (which, as The Guardian notes, is the closest thing this guy has to a Twitter or an Instagram for making announcements). A release date is expected later this week, and the book will reportedly be available in Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, and the U.K. (no word yet on a Stateside release). Plot details were unavailable, but if the story hopes to be anything like its cryptic title (and author), get ready for some somber, melodramatic fun. Maybe in a convertible, or a desert, or both. Who knows, but we're excited, Moz. 

The 13 Best Parts of the New Joan Didion Biography, The Last Love Song

Here’s the first thing you should know about The Last Love Song, Tracy Daugherty’s cradle-to-very-old-age account of the life of Joan Didion, which is out August 25 and is already ushering in a new season of Didion think-pieces and Didion reckonings and general Didion mania: Joan didn’t participate. Neither (obviously) did her deceased husband and screenwriting partner (and journalist and novelist in his own right), John Gregory Dunne; nor did her deceased daughter, Quintana Roo; nor did Quintana’s husband; nor many of her close friends. Instead, Daugherty pieced together Didion and Dunne’s lives (it really is almost a dual biography) using old interviews, some personal letters, archived materials, public records, and new interviews with the peripheral characters in the couple’s lives. His main source seems to be Didion and Dunne’s own writing about themselves. This strategy at times makes for odd reading, since one gets the distinct impression that Real-Life Joan Didion was often selectively truthful with the presentation of On-the-Page Joan Didion.

Still, if you want a taste for what it was like to be a high-flying journalist at the apex of New Journalism and a lauded screenwriter during a Hollywood golden age, or if you just want to know the gossip behind all the troubled marriage innuendos haunting The White Album, then this is your book. Here, a handful of the most interesting tidbits I learned while reading The Last Love Song.

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