When Dennis is not at work, he spends his time cooking classic recipes, making classic cocktails, listening to classical music, and studying classical languages—and reading classics, of course. (Yes, he’s involved in an array of non-classical activities as well, but we’re not interested in those right now.) He likes to read novels in which you learn things.

 

the-saga-of-gosta-berling-by-selma-lagerlofThe Saga of Gösta Berling by Selma Lagerlöf

Right away, let me also recommend that you see the silent film of this novel, starring Greta Garbo—if you have any interest at all in the silent screen, this is a must-see. This early twentieth-century novel, for which the author won a Nobel Prize in Literature, is told in episodes yet has an overarching sweep to it as well. Set in 1820s Sweden, it follows a handsome defrocked minister of singular character as he teams up with a bunch of veterans, cavaliers, eccentrics, and raffish fellows. I can’t quite put my hand on what exactly it was that made this novel so endearing. It’s melodramatic in the best sense of the word and does a good job of capturing the human heart—both in the ways it can stay true despite everything as well as the ways it can constantly shift and change.

• You will learn about rural Sweden, the price of vengeance, what it means to follow your own path.

 

moby-dick-by-herman-melvilleMoby-Dick by Herman Melville

Yes, we know, you read it in high school. But let’s be honest: You didn’t understand anything about anything back then, and if I were a betting man I’d wager that you didn’t really take this book in properly. Moby-Dick has everything: philosophy, adventure, existential dread, beautiful writing, sailors, the age-old thrill of the hunt, humor, cetacean taxonomy, obsession, the mystic bonds of friendship, peg-legs, and so much more. Just do yourself a favor and read it—and when you do, be sure to savor every line.

• You will learn about whales, human nature, existence itself.

 

 

the-red-and-the-black-by-stendhalThe Red and the Black by Stendhal

Ah, Julien Sorel—he’s one of those characters that you can’t decide if you love or hate. Despite his scheming and self-interest, there’s something about Julien that somehow pulls you in as he works his way up the rungs of post-Napoleonic Parisian society. To my eye, he is such a strange mixture of earnestness, even naïveté, and power-playing hypocrisy, someone who (thinks he) knows his own mind and stands apart from the crowd yet who is all too aware of the importance of what others think of him. Most charmingly he has the honesty to be shocked at the changes that happen within himself even as he boldly moves ahead on a new path. And one last thing: Stendhal is a master of tempo and pacing, so give yourself the pleasure of reading The Red and the Black.

• You will learn about France after Napoleon, French society in general, the mysteries of character and the human heart.

 

strange-tales-from-a-chinese-studio-by-pu-songlingStrange Tales from a Chinese Studio by Pu Songling

This collection of Chinese short tales is one of the great collections of fantastic literature in the world, bar none. Written in the late 1600s and early 1700s, and filled with fox-spirits, ghosts, otherworldly bureaucratic offices, metamorphosing family members, magical animals, erotic peccadilloes, haunted temples, enchanted musical instruments, and more, the stories ranges from the supernatural through various gradations of “the extraordinary.” Witty, funny, chilling, enlightening, bawdy, moralizing—this collection covers a lot of ground, but the effect is absolutely one of being charmed and entertained.

• You will learn about China in the early Qing dynasty, the effects of karma, and the many nuances of the human psyche.

 

 

Find more books on the Penguin Classics page!

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Danielle Dill graduated from Ramapo College and works in the publicity department at Berkley and NAL. In her spare time she enjoys camping (especially the s’mores), watching Dexter and taking her golden retriever, Tana, for walks.

 

 

 

 

eeny-meeny-by-m-j-arlidgeEeny Meeny by M.J. Arlidge

If you have a lot of things to get done don’t pick up this book. When you do, you might realize it’s 2AM and you just finished it in one sitting (yes, that was me). I typically love fast paced thrillers like this one, but what I especially liked about Eeny Meeny was the unique story line. The method of the serial killer – pinning two captured people against each other and having them choose whether to kill or be killed – was unlike anything I’ve read before. This is a good pick for anyone who enjoys questioning their own moral judgment and the shocking twist at the end is an added bonus.

 

 

the-other-side-of-midnight-by-simone-st-jamesThe Other Side of Midnight by Simone St. James

I love a good ghost story and no one does them better than Simone St. James. The story takes place in London, 1925 and revolves around two psychic mediums, Gloria Sutter and Ellie Winter. You find out in the beginning of the book that Gloria has been murdered at one of her own séances and leaves a message for her former friend and rival, Ellie, asking for help. Although Ellie doesn’t wish to contact the dead anymore, she finds herself tangled up in the mystery of Gloria’s death.  In the midst of it all, she cannot get rid of the handsome James Hawley who runs tests on psychics for a living.

Although I love all things relating to ghosts, psychics, the supernatural, etc., my favorite part about this book was the chilling atmosphere Simone St. James created. Even though I do most of my reading on the train in broad daylight, reading The Other Side of Midnight completely absorbed me and made me feel like I was walking alone on a dark street with a ghost breathing on my neck. If you’re really brave, I recommend trying to read this one at night.

 

the-liar-by-nora-robertsThe Liar by Nora Roberts

If you’re a fan of both mysteries and women’s fiction like I am, this romantic suspense novel is the perfect fit for you. Although Nora Roberts’ books are always a guaranteed good read, I particularly loved that this one takes place in Rendezvous Ridge, a small Smoky Mountain town in Tennessee.  Shelby Foxworth and her three-year-old daughter, Cali, move back home to the Ridge for a new beginning after Shelby loses her husband and is left with his crippling debt.  However, Shelby comes to find out that her husband wasn’t the man she thought he was. He was a liar whose secrets can put Shelby, her family, and Griff, a successful contractor Shelby meets, in danger.  I found myself laughing, smiling and holding my breath while reading The Liar and only wished it didn’t have to end.

 

the-last-dead-girl-by-harry-dolanThe Last Dead Girl by Harry Dolan

I don’t want to give too much away here, but if dark and twisted is your thing (it’s definitely mine) you’ll love The Last Dead Girl, the prequel to Bad Things Happen. Every time you think you know where the story might be going, you find out you’re wrong. Dolan’s story shocked me at least three times and I strongly recommend it to anyone looking for a fast paced and engaging crime novel. The interwoven stories are genius and each of the characters are people you are dying to find out more about, especially David Loogan.

 

 

Find more books on the Mystery & Suspense page!

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Simon MajumdarI was genuinely delighted when Penguin Random House agreed to publish my latest food and travel adventure, Fed, White, and Blue.  Not just because they are, of course, one of the finest publishers in the world, but also because it felt very much like I was coming home.

A little under thirty years ago, after the good Lord and I both decided that a life in the Episcopalian clergy was not for me, my first “proper” place of employment was as a sales associate in a small, short lived chain of bookshops owned by Penguin Books.  It began a happy ten year association with the publisher that saw me move up through the ranks until I had gained the heady title of “Special Sales Manager,” a position which earned me my own little office, with its own coveted little window, in their London headquarters.

The majority of my time during that decade, however, was spent out on the road, as a sales representative for the Penguin Paperback list. It was a period which, even given some of the extraordinary adventures I have experienced in the last few years of travel around the world, still remains one of the most enjoyable of my career, and I still retain the fondest memories of my years servicing a select group of large bookstores in central London.

It was a job which not only tested my ability to consume gallons of tea (or “English Penicillin” as we call it back in Blighty) every day as I met with the managers of the book stores, but also gave me a true insight into the sharp end of the book business, which I think has served me well in my second life as an author.

As a sales person for Penguin, the notion of “author care” was drummed into me from the very beginning. My list of new books to sell each month was sizeable, but I was always well aware that every title I offered up to my customers represented the heart and soul of the author, and often years of hard work to bring the book to fruition. It was a mindset that I never forgot, whether I was selling a new title from a blockbuster author or a niche work from a specialist that would find its home in our midlist. I can promise that I always gave every effort to sell every book, and it is a mindset that I am delighted to say seems to be very much at the heart of the Penguin Random House philosophy today.

I can also say that my time on the road has definitely helped me become a more involved author.  Each new book I write is like my new baby, and I, of course, want everybody to admire it and for it to reach the widest audience possible. However, having spent so much time on the front line of book sales, I am also aware what a tough battleground it can be and that there are thousands of new books each month are fighting for the attention of customers.

fed-white-and-blue-by-simon-majumdar 2I also know, after spending nearly twenty years of my life in the business, just how much the publishing landscape has changed. Now, more than ever, making a book a success depends on a joint effort between the authors, editorial, marketing, publicity and the sales teams. It takes, as they say “a village” to produce a good book, and I am thrilled that, with the publication of Fed, White, and Blue I am allowed to be a resident of one of the best villages in the business.

Like I said, it feels like coming home.

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Jessica works with romance titles from Berkley and NAL and is also a YA enthusiast. She lives in Brooklyn and is a huge fan of Supernatural, all things Joss Whedon, and live music.

 

 

 

 

 

the-shadows-by-jr-wardThe Shadows by J. R. Ward

As a long time Black Dagger Brotherhood series fan, needless to say I was SO excited to start reading The Shadows. Little did I know this would be one of the most emotional installments in the series so far, but that’s a good thing! With her now infamous blend of multiple plot lines, hilarious pop culture references and intricate world-building, Ward gives an unstoppable emotional ride with Trez and iAm’s story.

 

 

 

 

silver-bastard-by-joanna-wyldeSilver Bastard by Joanna Wylde

Joanna Wylde first hooked me into her world with Reaper’s Legacy, and now as a fan for life I was giddy when I found out there was going to be spinoff series set in a mining community with close ties another motorcycle club. Wylde’s writing remains gritty and raw but still very much emotional. These characters don’t have an easy life and they don’t really rise above it either – they actually plow right through it to get to their happy ever after. This one is dark, twisted, and definitely not for the faint of heart, but absolutely worth it. Sons of Anarchy fans, Silver Bastard is a must read along with all of her Reapers MC books!

 

 

still-the-one-by-jill-shalvisStill The One by Jill Shalvis

I’m sure I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to repeat myself, but no one mixes humor and steam quite like Jill Shalvis. The sassy ladies, bromances, humor, sexy times, and adorable animals make the Animal Magnetism series, set in small-town Idaho, stand out for me as far as contemporary romances go and Still The One is no exception. Plus, I can’t get enough of a good hero/heroine pair who can give each other a hard time and still be so completely in love.

 

 

 

 

captive-prince-by-c-s-pacatCaptive Prince by C. S. Pacat

So #DiverseBooks isn’t just a YA thing – we LOVE them in romance too! Captive Prince is not only a superbly written fantasy, but it features a male/male couple! Their relationship is so layered and complicated that it’s impossible not to be completely enthralled with this book. Did I mention it’s a master/slave story line surrounded by impending warring countries and nefarious enemies? One word – EPIC. Okay, one more hyphenated word, must-read!

 

 

 

too-dangerous-for-a-lady-by-jo-beverleyToo Dangerous For A Lady by Jo Beverley

It is so much fun getting swept up in a historical romance and New York Times bestselling author Jo Beverley’s Too Dangerous for A Lady has everything I’m looking for. A strong heroine, a rogue-type man with a hero complex, a pinch of danger, and the world of corsets and stays…I’m so in! There’s something about the dialogue between our hero and leading lady (and most historicals for that matter) that just gives you the sense that our modern day flirty banter is just utterly lacking in comparison. I always end up thinking “it would so be so much more fun if we still talked like that” so when I read TDFAL, at least I got to live in that mindset for a while…

 

Find more books on the Romance page.

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Bria Sandford with Do Over by Jon AcoffWhen I first heard that Portfolio was signing Jon Acuff, I was thrilled. I grew up in an evangelical Christian home, and Jon’s early book Stuff Christians Like had delighted me with its good-humored skewering of the quirks in Christian culture. My little sister was obsessed with another of his earlier books, and I knew she’d be over the moon to hear that Jon’s next book would be published by my imprint. It didn’t look like I’d be the editor, but I’d still get some bragging rights. Little did I know that I’d have the good luck of “inheriting” the book when Jon’s original editor left.

The spectacular Maria Gagliano started out working with Jon, and I followed the progress of the book with interest as the two of them produced a really stellar book. Based on his own hard-earned experience, Jon explains how to launch or prepare for a career Do Over by depositing in a “Career Savings Account,” made up of investments in relationships, skills, character, and hustle. He comes alongside the reader with kindness and humor (This guy is hilarious!), but he doesn’t pull punches—when I first read an early version, I winced a little at some of the real talk and began taking notes for my own career.

do-over-by-jon-acuff 2When Maria left, I began working with Jon. Most of the editorial work on Do Over was complete, but I get to be his editorial liaison and will get to work on his next book with us (He’s so nice, we signed him twice!). I couldn’t be more pleased, since he’s the real deal. He’s as pleasant as he sounds in the book, and everyone at Portfolio who has worked with him adores him. What’s more, his book is that elusive career book that is truly helpful to people of all ages and stages in their careers. I can’t wait to see how Do Over changes lives.

 

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Brooke Parsons photo

 

Brooke Parsons is a Senior Publicist at Penguin Press. She enjoys documentary films, Lydia Davis stories, Broad City, and aimless walks around Manhattan.

 

 

 

 

words-will-break-cement-by-masha-gessen

Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot by Masha Gessen

The story of the Russian feminist political punk group Pussy Riot was unbelievable to the West. What’s so exceptional is not the group’s existence but rather the fact that three young women were on trial for an act of artistic political outrage: a performance piece staged inside the Russian Orthodox Church that vilified the newly reinstated President Putin. The arrest and trial of Nadya Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich became an international story full of questions demanding answers. Journalist Masha Gessen was on the front lines in Moscow and brings us the entire story in Words Will Break Cement. Published after the documentary release of Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, which focuses on the trial but ends before time served, this book takes readers deep inside the story of Pussy Riot: their origination, the personal lives of the women involved, and their thoughts on Russian feminism and Putin’s dark reach. For bonus points, check out the documentary Ukraine is Not a Brothel, a profile of Femen (the feminist protest group founded in Ukraine).

 

journey-without-maps-by-graham-greeneJourney without Maps by Graham Greene

Graham Greene is perhaps best known for his novels The Quiet American and The End of the Affair. However, his travel writing is not to be missed—particularly Journey without Maps. This is the story of Greene’s first visit to Africa in 1935 when he walked some 350 miles from Sierra Leone to Liberia. At the time, Liberia was a new country intended to be settled by freed slaves from America. Greene’s sense of discovery and self-discovery is thrilling. And, as the reader, I like learning more about a place I know little about—especially when news concerning Liberia seems to be negative. In recent years, Liberia has suffered civil war, extreme poverty, and a recent Ebola outbreak. (To learn more about this West African country, check out VICE’s Guide to Liberia).

 

galileos-middle-finger-by-alice-dregerGalileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science by Alice Dreger

No, this is not a biography on Galileo Galilei; the title refers to his encased digit, mounted on display in Italy. It was too ironic: the man condemned by the Catholic Church for teaching that the Earth revolves around the Sun was now flipping everyone the bird. Author Alice Dreger, a medical historian and patient rights activist, discusses modern instances where scientists, like Galileo, revealed inconvenient truths about the world, truths met with outrage and personal attacks from political activists. She travels the country to interview people like anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon, who was falsely accused of committing genocide against a South American tribe; the psychologist Michael Bailey, whose research into sex and gender identity led to accusations of abuse by transgender women; and the famous evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson, whose theories about sociobiology resulted in accusations of racism. Dreger herself was at the forefront of advocating for intersex rights in the late 1990s. But through the course of research for this book, she unexpectedly finds herself in the midst of her own controversy. Dreger’s argument? We must be more open-minded and not deny the scientific facts, even when they challenge our identity. (This might sound like heavy stuff, but Dreger has a wicked sense of humor that makes this book quite the page-turner!)

 

the-journey-of-crazy-horse-by-joseph-m-marshallThe Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History by Joseph M. Marshall III

Crazy Horse is a legend. The world remembers him as the Lakota warrior who, along with Sitting Bull, aided in the defeat of the U.S. Army under Colonel George Armstrong Custer, or what we now refer to as Custer’s Last Stand. Marshall’s book is the definitive biography of Crazy Horse. His portrait of the man behind the myth is unforgettable. What makes this biography even more compelling is Marshall; Lakota himself, he preserves his people’s rich history of oral tradition. This book is a celebration of Crazy Horse, the man who helped save his people—their culture, community, and way of life.

 

Find more books on the Current Events & History page!

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Katherine_Stewart

 

Katherine Stewart is the Marketing Coordinator for Penguin Press. Being from Maine, she loves the outdoors and stays healthy by walking her dog and riding her horse!

 

 

 

moody-bitches-by-julie-holland

 

Moody Bitches by Julie Holland, M.D.

Women are meant to be moody—embrace it! In this book Julie Holland explains why moodiness can be a strength, not a weakness, which is so refreshing to hear. Her tips about hormones, medication, diet, exercise, and mood are helpful for women of ALL ages and will show you why you need to embrace your inner bitch. This can be an awkward topic but the frank/funny style of this book makes it so approachable.

 

 

 

the-good-gut-by-justin-sonnenburg-erica-sonnenburg

 

The Good Gut by Justin and Erica Sonnenburg

Gut bacteria sound disgusting, and while that may be true, they’re also very important! I didn’t realize how much they affect our health until I read Michael Pollan’s article “Some of My Best Friends Are Germs.” The article discusses the Sonnenburg’s work and how the microbes that reside in our gut affect everything from our immune response to our weight, allergic reactions, aging, and emotions. Who knew? While you may not be hungry after reading that, The Good Gut has delicious recipes that will encourage microbial health.

 

 

moonwalking-with-einstein-by-joshua-foer

 

Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer

My grandfather used to play a memory game with us. He would put 30 random objects on a tray and would give us one minute to look them over. Then he would cover them up and whoever could remember the most objects would win (I never did). My sister has a great memory and won every time. Moonwalking with Einstein will not only help you improve your memory, it also makes for a fascinating read. I’m betting that I’ll win next time we play!

 

 

superbetter-by-jane-mcgonigal

 

SuperBetter by Jane McGonigal

Don’t hate me but this title isn’t coming out until September. Make sure it’s on your to-read list though because it’s amazing. You may remember Jane from her first book Reality is Broken but if not, she’s a game designer. In 2009, she suffered a severe concussion and had trouble healing.  Afraid of never recovering, she decided to turn healing into a game. I’m not a big fan of gaming (other than Mario Kart), but I’ll play SuperBetter any day. So far 400,000 people have played SuperBetter, including Oprah. Look out for this one in the Fall!

 

To find Health & Self-Improvement books, click here

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Ulyett

 

 

Alex Ulyett is an assistant editor at Viking Children’s Books. Even though he’s lived most of his life within a small radius, growing up in New Jersey and living in New York, traveling is one of his favorite things. Along with books and choral music.

 

 

 

mosquitoland-by-david-arnold

Mosquitoland by David Arnold

This is smart, sophisticated, and wholly original YA that both teens and adults will love. Sixteen-year-old Mim Malone is a protagonist who has stayed with me long past her runaway Greyhound journey from swampy Mosquitoland to visit her mother (who has for some reason stopped communicating with her). The book is a road trip. It’s a mystery. It’s a coming-of-age.  It’s a love story. It’s heartbreaking. It’s hilarious. I don’t want to give too much away, but I envy anyone who still has this quirky ride to look forward to.

 

 

dory-fantasmagory-by-abby-hanlon

 

Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon

A hilarious and adorable chapter book, this is the story of an imagination gone wild. It brings me back to a time when a pile of pillows could become a fortress, a bouncy ball would explode lava if it touched the ceiling, and a monster lived at the top of the stairs. Dory’s a character kids will adore, so there’s good news—more Dory books to come!

 

 

 

sparkers-by-eleanor-glewwe

 

Sparkers by Eleanor Glewwe

I wish this book had come out when I was ten years old. It’s the sort of book I would have read on loop, like I did with the Harry Potter books. In a richly constructed world where some people have magic and some don’t, a mysterious and deadly plague starts claiming victims with no visible pattern. Non-magic  Marah flouts convention and teams up with magic Azariah, discovering ancient secrets that point to a cure. . . and to something much more sinister.

 

 

my-no-no-no-day-by-rebecca-patterson

My No, No, No Day! by Rebecca Patterson

This is one of the funniest picture books I’ve read. Bella is having a bad day. A really bad day. Her cookie breaks during lunch. Her bath is too cold. And “ballet is tooo itchy!” The story so wonderfully captures how little problems can seem so huge when you’re pre-school age with amazingly comic illustrations—I mean, look at her expression on the cover!

 

 

 

blind-by-rachel-dewoskin

 

Blind by Rachel DeWoskin

This is a beautiful, humane book about a girl who was blinded in a freak accident and is trying to integrate herself back into her original high school, determined not to be a PBK (or, “poor blind kid”). In preparation for this book, author Rachel DeWoskin learned braille and interviewed many blind teens. Her hard work and compassion shine through her protagonist’s wholly realistic voice, and I can’t wait to see what she writes next!

 

 

ill-give-you-the-sun-by-jandy-nelson

 

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Okay, I know. It’s not very original to pick the winner of this year’s Printz Award, but this couldn’t not be on my list. It’s the story of Noah and Jude, twins who were super close until something ruined their relationship. The characters are so lifelike, their problems nuanced and realistic. And there’s a dollop of magical realism to spice everything up! This is YA that will appeal to both teens and adults.

 

 

Find more books on the Young Readers page.

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Sarah Jean Grimm is an Associate Publicist at Putnam, where she has worked for two years. She also edits on an online poetry quarterly, Powder Keg Magazine. Originally from New Jersey, she now lives in Brooklyn with her orange cat, Theodore.

 

 

 

 

we-are-all-completely-beside-ourselves-by-karen-joy-fowler

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

This is one of the most emotionally intelligent novels I’ve ever encountered. It had me crying in public as I read it on my commute, and I still find myself thinking about its deeply captivating characters. It’s hard to articulate the particular appeal of this novel without giving away some major plot twists, but suffice it to say that Karen Joy Fowler is a master at exploring nuance, collapsing boundaries, and exposing nerves. This book takes an unblinking look at families, forgiveness, science, and language—ultimately uncovering the ways in which they overlap as part of the human (and nonhuman) experience. Devastating and necessary, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves will change you.

on-such-a-full-sea-by-chang-rae-lee

On Such A Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee

Chang-rae Lee’s dystopian future is that rare imaginative feat that strikes readers as simultaneously alien and impossible—if only it weren’t so likely. Set in the stratified society of a colonized America where urbanites labor for an unseen elite, a young diver named Fan ventures out of her settlement in search of her boyfriend, who has mysteriously disappeared. Lee’s writing is mesmerizing, and the world he creates is so realized and unnervingly familiar. It’s a haunting and absorbing pleasure to discover the details of this future alongside “our Fan,” whose story quickly becomes the stuff of legend.

 

 

the-peripheral-by-william-gibson

The Peripheral by William Gibson

William Gibson’s most recent novel completely colonized my brain. Much of The Peripheral is an exercise in cognitive dissonance: the lexicon, technology, and setting are so fresh as to be almost disorienting. But Gibson’s knack for world building is a marvel; his ability to transform recognizable elements into something uncanny is unsurpassed. Add to that a gripping plot, a mystery spanning two timelines, and a cast of compelling characters. The result is hyper literary science fiction that reads like a dangerous blueprint for our own era.

 

 

black-glass-by-karen-joy-fowler

Black Glass: Short Fictions by Karen Joy Fowler

In fifteen short stories, Karen Joy Fowler stretches her wit and showcases her characteristic humor. Originally published in 1998, this book will be reissued in hardcover this summer. It’s a romp through the mind of one of today’s most talented and enchanting writers. Blending the generic conventions of satire, magical realism, science fiction, myth, and more, this diverse collection investigates complex themes with profound acuity. This is immersive storytelling at its finest—a tour de force of intricate plotting, elegant prose, and humor that gives way to unexpected depth.

 

 

the-life-and-death-of-sophie-stark-by-anna-north

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North

Told from the alternating perspectives of those closest to the title character, The Life and Death of Sophie Stark is a portrait of a visionary filmmaker whose uncompromising pursuit of her art puts her relationships at risk. Sophie Stark uses the lives of those around her as material for her films, and as her career grows, so does the cost of translating life into art. Through a medley of voices, each one vivid and distinct, Anna North examines the nature of ambition and asks to what extent it is possible to truly know someone. You’ll race through this darkly engrossing novel.

 

Find more books on the Literary Fiction page.

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Christine DonougherLes Misérables is a novel whose themes have a universal and very topical resonance, but they are themes that emerge from a narrative that is very specifically related to a particular time and place –post Revolutionary France. My translation attempts to preserve that specificity of time and place, so I was anxious not to contaminate the text, as it were, with a vocabulary or with expressions freighted with connotations from a later era or a radically different environment that would sound inappropriate or jarring.

I was also anxious not to adopt a style that was unduly mannered or artificial, not to create any sense of the ‘costume drama’. I wanted the text to read as if it was written in a living language, but not in an aggressively twenty-first-century idiom.

My approach was to view Les Misérables not from the perspective of the present, as a nineteenth-century classic, but rather to see it as the modern phenomenon that it once was, reflecting, as it did when it was published in 1862, a modern view of recent history, written by an author who was regarded–in literary terms, in his political views, in his own private life–as something of an iconoclast, a radical, a rule-breaker, a trail-blazer, but who also respected more conservative views and values, and who had contrived by the end of his life to become an establishment figure par excellence.

Hugo had a seemingly effortless mastery of French versification and had published a huge body of poetic work by the time that he was revising and completing Les Misérables in the early 1860s. He was steeped in the classics, and he knew his La Fontaine inside out. He lived in a world of political upheaval, of scientific inquiry and technological innovation, and his writing reflects all these elements.

To bring out these aspects of his writing I relied not only on translation but also on footnotes to illuminate textual features of a linguistic nature–puns, quotations in foreign languages, literary allusions etc–and endnotes to explain factual and historical references, and my hope is that this editorial apparatus is not intrusive but supportive. (While I was working on the translation I became aware of the internet community of fans of Les Misérables whose detailed knowledge of Hugo’s text and their readiness to exchange information about it are remarkable.)

I was intrigued, for instance, by Marius’s tribute to Monsieur Maboeuf, to whom he is indebted for telling him about his father: “He removed my cataracts.” The more clichéd expression would be, “He opened my eyes,” but in 1752 the French surgeon Jacques Deviel published an account of his revolutionary procedure of cataract removal, which laid the foundations for the method used right up until modern times.

I was also struck by how Les Misérables seems to have anticipated so many of the now familiar elements of later novels, thrillers and films, from the literary–there are strong echoes of Jean Valjean’s dream in the South American writer Juan Rulfo’s ghost town in his short novel Pedro Paramo, which Garcia Marquez and Borges revered as a masterpiece–to the mass market bestseller–the long, so-called digressions being not very far removed from the detailed background research incorporated into the modern techno-thriller. The chase through the sewers is memorably reprised in Carol Reed’s film noir The Third Man, based on Graham Greene’s screenplay, and the Champmathieu Affair is a forerunner of many later court room dramas.

les-miserables-by-victor-hugoSo, bearing all these considerations in mind, this translation aims to convey as directly and as unobtrusively as possibly the enduring and timeless appeal of Hugo’s great novel.

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