by Jocelyn McClurg)
What should you read this weekend? USA TODAY's picks for book lovers include a funny Shakespearean "mash-up" from Christopher Moore, and a new bio of the late novelist John Updike.
The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore; William Morrow, 326 pp.; fiction
During the reign of Queen Elizabeth, an Englishman set down the stories of characters so memorable that their names endure to this day: Macbeth, King Lear, Richard the Third. No, not William Shakespeare – Raphael Holinshed, a minor historian who is chiefly remembered now for providing the source material for Shakespeare's plays.
So in a sense the playwright himself inaugurated the literary tradition of appropriating and reimagining his characters.
Four centuries later, the most recent offering in this tradition is The Serpent of Venice, a mash-up of Othello and The Merchant of Venice. The hero is Pocket, an acrobatic and acerbic jester who was also the hero of Christopher Moore's Fool, a similar retelling of King Lear. Pocket finds himself now not in England but in Venice; there, two sets of adversaries are facing off simultaneously, the merchant Antonio against the Jewish moneylender Shylock, and the general Othello against his malevolent subordinate, Iago.
USA TODAY says *** out of four stars. "Serpent is a bright, quick novel… Readers of a certain Monty Python nerdiness will rejoice in its hundreds of insults."
Updike by Adam Begley; Harper, 558 pp.; non-fiction
Five years after John Updike's death comes a biography that roots for a surge in the novelist's "posthumous reputation."
USA TODAY says ***. A "sympathetic yet thorough biography."
Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir by Frances Mayes; Crown, 336 pp; non-fiction
The author of Under the Tuscan Sun remembers coming of age in small-town Georgia.
USA TODAY says ***½ out of four. "With perfect-pitch language, Mayes unblinkingly describes her growing-up years."
Frog Music by Emma Donoghue; Little, Brown, 403 pp.; fiction
The author of Room returns with historical fiction set in 19th-century San Francisco, about the friendship of two young women, one of whom is murdered.
USA TODAY says ***. "With rich, well-researched details, Donoghue evokes a multicultural, rough-and-tumble San Francisco."
Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism by Ron Suskind; Kingswell, 368 pp.; non-fiction
Suskind tells the touching story of how his autistic son learned to communicate with his family through Disney movies.
USA TODAY says ****. "An amazing memoir …Eyes will tear. Hearts will cheer."
Contributing reviewers: Charles Finch, Bob Minzesheimer, Sharon Peters, Martha T. Moore, Don Oldenburg