Daniel Goldin is the proprietor of Boswell Book Company. For more of his paperback recommendations, please visit the Boswell book club recommendations page.
For every Jane Fonda or Rita Moreno, famous actresses into their eighties, there is a Kim Novak, who married an equine veterinarian and lived a quiet life in the countryside. Imagine if you had an acting career and then didn’t, but someone you know (the acclaimed Peter Duke) went on to a glorious career. Your family knows the story, but they don’t exactly have it quite right. More than that, each of your children has created their own mythology of the story. With the world locked down, Lara and Joe and their daughters Emily, Maisie, and Nell, are brought together to the family farm to unpack that story, set at a season of summer stock at Tom Lake, Michigan. I love how Lara’s career jump starts with a small production of Our Town, and that Thornton Wilder resonates through the rest of the story. And I love the way Patchett can write about the complications of families, even loving ones like the Nelsons. The story may be quiet, but it will stick with me for a long time.
National Book Award and Pulitzer winner (the latter for his newspaper work) Timothy Egan takes on the second (and probably not last) coming of the Klu Klux Klan in America. In the 1920s, a combination of factors, including the migration of Confederate sympathizers and a White population scared by new waves of immigration, emboldened by the success of Prohibition, led to a resurgence of this organization that was most profound not in the South, but in the Midwest and West. Egan focuses on Indiana, a state that had perhaps the most KKK domination (though one should not exclude Ohio, Colorado, and Oregon, which have their own stories) and in particular, on D.C. Stephenson, who wound up having much of Indiana under his control. A ruthless criminal, a sexual predator, and a charlatan, Steve, as he was known, was seemingly unstoppable, until maybe he wasn’t. Egan’s meticulous research and lively storytelling combine for a powerful work with obvious contemporary parallels. I’m definitely going to be reading more Egan!
Ever since Edith Wharton, great novelists have been writing about the vagaries of life among the moneyed classes of New York. But it’s always Manhattan. Surely there’s a novel about old Brookyn money? Indeed there is, and what a delicious tale Pineapple Street is! The three Stockton siblings have more money than most of us can imagine, but that doesn’t mean they make better decisions than the rest of us. Darley? She invoked the generation skipping trust when she wouldn’t have her husband sign the prenup. Georgina? She finally meets Mr. Right, only he might be Mr. Wrong. And Cord? He might have committed the worst sin of all, marrying a middle-class woman who is mistaken for the caterer. It is she, Sasha, who guides us into the world of money, the Tom Townsend of the group, for those who obsess over the film Metropolitan. But by the end of the story, our sympathies have extended quite a bit further, with lots of laugh-out-loud moments along the way. Someone compared Jackson’s first novel to The Nest (or rather, everyone has) and I have to say, it’s about the best comparison I can come up with too. And I loved The Nest, so connect the dots.
When an Englishman moves to Paris with his girlfriend, he has no idea how hard it will be to crack the world of restaurant work, especially when she abandons him for a job back in Paris and to be clear, he doesn’t speak French. Starting as a runner in a nice but hardly Michelin-starred restaurant, Edward (or L’Anglais) is drawn into a strange world of power plays and sabotage as he struggles to climb the ladder to waiter. From the moment a tray of dishes falls over and the staff hastily puts the dirty food back on the dishes, you know you’re not getting a celebration of French cuisine. No, this is a story of a Paris you don’t read about, filled with stolen tips, cut corners, double shifts, and nap breaks in hotel bathrooms, after which the staff go home to squalid living conditions. Have you read foodie memoirs where the waitstaff get a meal before their shift? Not here - you’re lucky to sneak an uneaten roll off a customer’s plate. Despite it all, Chisholm perseveres and along the way, finds companionship with the larger-than-life crew that keeps the restaurant going. Plus he got an entertaining book out of it as well!
I am completely obsessed with Tom Breihan’s ‘Number Ones’ column in Stereogum. He’s been telling the story behind every Billboard chart-topper since the list started in 1958, and what started as capsule summaries have now turned into essays that almost always have something interesting to say about pop music and popular culture in general. But was this enough to make a book? You bet it was! Breihan looks at 20 particularly influential songs and the artists that created them and offers original-to-this-book essays that dig even deeper than his column. I’m sure there will be arguments about who made the cut, who was left out, and when it came to some of the artists, whether this was their move-the-needle #1, or was it another cut? And there’s always the problem of those groundbreakers, like Bob Dylan, who never got higher than #2 on the singles chart. The key here is that it doesn’t matter if you know the songs or not, especially now that you can listen to just about anything almost instantly. No less than enthralling!
Mariel is heir to a classic supper club with its classic fish fry and Saturday night prime rib special. Her husband Ned and his family own Jorby’s, a once charming diner that has morphed into a ubiquitous chain restaurant that, despite its mediocre food and service, has put many a family gathering spot out of business. The legacies of both family businesses run deep, and Stradal’s story is packed with love and betrayal, sacrifice and greed, joy and tragedy. If The Lager Queen of Minnesota was a story about siblings, Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club chronicles parents and children and all the baggage that entails. I love the way that the story points forward to a more inclusive world, while maintaining that though things may change, Minnesota Nice will still conquer all. If you loved Stradal’s previous novels, you will not be disappointed. And if you’re new to his work, you’re in for a treat; mix yourself a Brandy Old Fashioned and start reading.
Irene Woodward and Dorothy Dunford bond in training when both join the Red Cross to support the troops by running a coffee wagon. They are supposed to work in teams of three, but they just can’t seem to keep a third – maybe it’s because their friendship is so strong that there just isn’t room for one more in the truck. Outside the truck, their lives are filled with vibrant characters, some romance, and of course, the horrors of war. Urrea’s new novel is classic historical fiction, a change of style, but it shouldn’t be a surprise to fans – his prose has veered from journalism to magical realism to domestic dramedy. And I don’t really want to give anything away here, but I kept thinking it will all be worthwhile if Urrea stuck the landing, and I’m happy to say he sure did!
When uber-rich Yalie Farrell Covington spots middle-class New Jersey freshman Nate Reminger across a crowded theater club, it’s the beginning of a crazy relationship that spans decades and continents. No one can keep them apart, only many try, from Covington’s villainous Wichita family, to Hollywood, and AIDS. I really enjoyed how Rudnick included elements of his own life into the story, reflected through a funhouse mirror. Sister Act becomes Habit Forming; see if you can spot them all! Farrell Covington and the Limits of Style veers into madcap and perhaps far-fetchedness, but it is always entertaining, ultimately moving, and much like Rudnick’s play Jeffrey (translates to I Dare You in this novel), uncompromising.
Maud is a garden historian who has taken a job helping renovate a Hudson Valley estate, a continent away from her husband. She’s leaving him; he just doesn’t know that yet. A friendship with an archeologist on the property soon turns into something more, only when her daughters arrive for the summer, it makes things initially more complicated, and soon enough, impossible. Can a novel be both serene and turbulent at the same time? In the case of Hedge, yes, as it counterpoints a woman and family in crisis with the serene tranquility of nature. Can Maud come out of this without destroying herself? That is the question in this provocative, passionate, and philosophical novel.
For once, Cosby’s hero is neither a current nor reformed outlaw, but a sheriff. Not just a sheriff, but the first Black sheriff of Charon County, an area where the troubled past is still simmering. Concerned that his biggest problem is a march by Christian Nationalists, Sheriff Titus Crown is blindsided by a school shooting, where the victim is a beloved teacher, and in addition, the shooter, killed by a trigger-fingered officer. This does nothing to ingratiate Crown with the formerly supportive Black community, led by an activist minister. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg; before this story is fully told, there will be plenty of secrets revealed and, as promised in the title, shed blood. Edge of your seat thrills, masterful storytelling, and what a voice – another winner from SA Cosby!
In this engrossing memoir, long-time journalist Kissinger chronicles life in an old-school Catholic family in the Chicago and Milwaukee suburbs. Kissinger grew up with seven siblings, about four or five more than her mom could handle. With both parents self-medicating, it’s no wonder mental illness manifested in many of the next generation, to sometimes heartbreaking effect. If you loved Hidden Valley Road but wondered what it would have been like to hear the story from one of the children, While You Were Out is the book for you.
This heartbreaking tale chronicles the struggles of a woman whose father committed suicide, and the crushing depression that drives her older sister to follow in his footsteps. Miriam Toews is probably the world’s foremost Mennonite novelist, and while her background once again gives the story a unique perspective, the tale of Yolandi and Elfrieda is a struggle that transcends culture. All My Puny Sorrows is a contemplation of what binds people together, and what it means to be alive, beautifully told, spiced with laugh-out-loud humor, a gem of a novel.
If you’re stuck on what to read next and are choosing between a medical narrative, behavioral psychology, and economics, you're in luck because this book is all three subjects in one! Doctors Jena and Worsham (the former is also an economist!) look at the decisions that drive doctors and patients using natural experiments, culling existing data to duplicate conditions for comparison. Are you better off with an older doctor or younger one? Should you worry if you have a heart attack during a cardiology convention? You’ll also learn why it might not be so good to have a hospital on a marathon route or sing happy birthday to your surgeon. Whether the results reinforce your beliefs or confound them, I expect you’ll find Random Acts of Medicine as fascinating as I did.
If you read Moneyball, and were wondering what happened afterward, Game of Edges has the answer – the data revolution is here. It has overtaken baseball, where home runs, walks, and strikeouts now dominate the game. It’s hit the NBA, where the three-pointer is the shot of choice. And as Schoenfeld shows, it’s making inroads in other sports too, where data analysists are stats obsessed. Much of his book chronicles the American takeover of undervalued English soccer teams It’s not just the rise of technology that is driving this, but also the greater valuation of sports teams, and the rise of venture capitalists and tech billionaires as owners. And there’s no question that these changes have also led to the explosion of sports gambling too. And there are downside too – these teams may win more, but alternate leadership styles are marginalized, even if they are successful. And more than that, it's made the games more boring. In just one example, the stats suggest pulling pitchers after two times through the lineup. Who’s going to pitch a no-hitter with that philosophy? So teams may win more, but fans are watching less. The thing is, trends turn on a dime – I’ve been told that the NBA is moving away from safe stat-based shots back to superstar ball at the net. The story isn’t over yet! Hey, nobody’s going to take sports advice from me, but I do know a good story, and take my word, Schoenfeld knows how to tell one.