Ever wonder what Penguin Random House employees are reading? We’re a bunch of professionally bookish people, so you can always count on us to have a book on hand… or thirty piled on our desks. Our Bookspotting feature shows off the range of readers behind the scenes at Penguin Random House. Amy in online consumer marketing is reading My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. Show us what you’re reading by using the #bookspotting hashtag!
Editors get very passionate about books they work on – the Editor’s Desk series is his or her place to write in-depth about what makes a certain title special. Get the real inside-scoop on how books are shaped by the people who know them best. I fell in love with Naomi Jackson’s debut novel about a matriarchal family in Barbados, The Star Side of Bird Hill, from the opening page. In short order, Jackson indelibly captures Barbados’ Bird Hill neighborhood and the two young Braithwaite sisters who have left Brooklyn to come and live there with their grandmother. From its very first line, Star Side plunges us in this very specific, very beautiful community: The people on the hill liked to say that God’s smile was the sun shining down on them. Jackson’s first descriptions of the girls at the heart of this novel are also stunning. Dionne, the elder sister, is “sixteen going on a bitter, if beautiful, forty-five.” Phaedra, age ten, saw “her skin had darkened to a deep cacao from running in the sun all day in spite of her grandmother’s protests… Glimpses of Phaedra’s future beauty peeked out from behind her pink heart-shaped glasses, which were held together with scotch tape.” Before I turned to the second page, I was fully immersed in this place, and I felt I had known these girls for years. Author Naomi Jackson grew up in a predominantly West Indian neighborhood in Brooklyn and spent summers in Barbados with her family. There is a strong autobiographical element to Star Side, which explores themes of immigration and identity, motherhood and family, sexual awakening and coming of age, and mental illness and belonging. After their mother’s breakdown in New York forces them into exile in Barbados, Dionne spends the summer in search of love, while Phaedra explores Bird Hill, where her family has lived for generations. The girls’ grandmother, Hyacinth, is a midwife and practitioner of the local spiritual practice of obeah. Hyacinth is a magical character, and the novel beautifully explores parenthood through her loves and losses. Her daughter Avril left Barbados for good when she fell for the girls’ father Errol. When Errol arrives to reclaim the sisters, the girls must choose between two worlds, as their mother once did. It has been so gratifying to see in-house readers, booksellers, and reviewers connect with this lyrical narrative. Jackson’s Barbados captured our imagination, and her characters are unforgettable, especially the heartbreaking young Phaedra.The Star Side of Bird Hill is an Indies Introduce selection, and many of our independent bookselling partners told me at BEA how excited they were to get this novel into the hands of their more advanced YA readers, as well as their adult readers who love transporting, literary fiction. I look forward to seeing many more readers fall for Star Side and the very talented Naomi Jackson. Read more about The Star Side of Bird Hill here.
Editors get very passionate about books they work on – the Editor’s Desk series is his or her place to write in-depth about what makes a certain title special. Get the real inside-scoop on how books are shaped by the people who know them best. Ottessa Moshfegh’s fiction is like a new species of wild animal. First there’s that stunned delight: I’ve never met this species before! Whoa, it feels kind of dangerous. Then there’s the inevitable effort to categorize it, to place it within a larger taxonomy. It’s been delightful to watch some of our smartest, most fearless writers come to grips with what makes Ottessa Moshfegh’s work so special, so hard to shake. Take Jeffrey Eugenides: “Moshfegh is a writer of significant control and range…. What distinguishes her writing is that unnamable quality that makes a new writer’s voice, against all odds and the deadening surround of lyrical postures, sound unique.” Or Rivka Galchen: “A scion of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Raymond Carver at once, Moshfegh transforms a poison into an intoxicant.” Those stories I read in the Paris Review stuck with me for keeps: these are very different psyches each to each, and the voices are utterly distinct, but each is an exploration of a mind that’s unsteady on its feet in a most arresting way, a triumph of unreliability, you could say – unreliable on just about every level imaginable. The world is a lot weirder than is commonly understood; Ottessa as an artist has a purchase on that weirdness and brings us into contact with it, in a way that is wildly electric. But those are the stories; like many I was very eager to see what this writer would do with a longer form. McGlue, her bravura novella, gave a tantalizing hint, but nothing quite prepared me for the narrative tricksiness, the storytelling cunning, of Eileen. My God, can this writer play the long game. I want to quote, if you’ll forgive me, from the starred Kirkus review, because it makes the point better, I think, than I can: “A woman recalls her mysterious escape from home in this taut, controlled noir about broken families and their proximity to violence…. The narrative masterfully taunts…. The release, when it comes, registers a genuine shock. And Moshfegh has such a fine command of language and her character that you can miss just how inside out Eileen’s life becomes in the course of the novel, the way the “loud, rabid inner circuitry of my mind” overtakes her. Is she inhumane or self-empowered? Deeply unreliable or justifiably jaded? Moshfegh keeps all options on the table…. A shadowy and superbly told story of how inner turmoil morphs into outer chaos.” Set in the 7 days leading up to Christmas in 1964 in a small town outside Boston, Eileen is the story of how a deeply unhappy young woman imprisoned by her circumstances finds a most unexpected accomplice who busts her out of her confinement, though arguably, as Bob Dylan sang, she uses a little too much force… While stylistically this reminds me of nothing so much as Shirley Jackson of The Birdcage and Vladimir Nabokov of King, Queen, Knave, in another sense this reminds me of the wonderful Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You, in that there’s a political valence to this novel all the more powerful for being so beautifully sublimated in a powerful suspense novel. It’s a hell of a thing for a young woman to feel as unattractive as Eileen Dunlop is made to feel by the world around her; the wound is real. And so, though she makes choices you or I might perhaps not make – though perhaps you would! – I think few will say that in the end they’re not rooting for her to go all the way. Read more about Eileen here.
Read It Forward has teamed up with literary clothing company, Litographs, for a special giveaway! Enter to win 1 of 5 prize packs that each include a gorgeous new edition of a classic. Thanks to our friends at Litographs, the winners will each take home a clothing item (tote bag or t-shirt) made entirely from the words of the book it depicts. Deadline for entry is 11:59 P.M. (Eastern Time) on June 29, 2015, so enter now!