Saturday, January 18, 2014

Weekend Picks For Book Lovers


What should you read this weekend? USA TODAY's picks for book lovers include the new novel by E.L. Doctorow, and a memoir from married pundits Mary Matalin and James Carville.

Andrew's Brain by E.L. Doctorow; Random House, 224 pp.; fiction

When one of America's most acclaimed historical-fiction writers abandons conventional elements such as time, place and even plot to create a deftly original story, pay attention.

E.L. Doctorow lets readers eavesdrop on a series of conversations between a troubled cognitive neuroscientist named Andrew and an unidentified man, whose non-judgmental probing suggests that he's Andrew's shrink. When, where and why this ongoing dialogue is happening remains as unclear as the questioner's identity.

All that readers really know comes solely from Andrew, as he recounts memories of his bizarre and ill-fated life, and from his fascinating, sometimes-funny, often-profound insights into life in general, the workings of the human mind, the meaning of happiness, and the loss of everything. Oh, and Mark Twain.

But since Andrew is the model unreliable narrator, readers really don't know anything for sure.

USA TODAY says: * * * ½ (out of four). "Daring and strange … seamlessly combines Doctorow's remarkable prowess as a literary stylist with deep psychological storytelling."

Love & War: Twenty Years, Three Presidents, Two Daughters and One Louisiana Home by Mary Matalin and James Carville; Blue Rider Press, 332 pp.; non-fiction

A co-memoir by the married pundits on opposite sides of the political fence — she's on the right; he's on the left.

USA TODAY says: * * *. "Compelling … confirmation that their love is true and their marriage stands a good chance of lasting until death do them part."

The Invention of Wingsby Sue Monk Kidd; Viking, 359 pp.; fiction

The new pick of Oprah's Book Club 2.0 tells a searing and soaring story of two women bound together as mistress and slave.

USA TODAY says: * * * *. "A beautifully written book about the awe-inspiring resilience of America's enslaved people … unforgettable."

The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinkingby Olivia Laing; Picador, 352 pp.; non-fiction

British writer Olivia Laing shows that literary greatness and alcoholism have often gone hand in hand, particularly among some of the best-known male writers of the 20th century.

USA TODAY says: * * * ½. "A thoughtful meditation on the boozy springs of creativity … gimlet-eyed yet warmly sympathetic."

The Wind Is Not a River by Brian Payton; Ecco, 309 pp.; fiction

The novel, set during World War II on Alaska's Aleutian Islands seized by the Japanese, follows the love story of an American reporter and his wife, who begs him not to go.

USA TODAY says: * * *. "A haunting love story wrapped in an engaging and unsettling history lesson."

Contributing reviewers: Don Oldenburg, Roberta Bernstein, Patty Rhule, Kevin Nance, Bob Minzesheimer