New books to read in November

Books The Arts

October 31, 2023



Notable new releases

compiled by Sally Brewster

Emperor of Rome by Mary Beard

In her international bestseller SPQR, Mary Beard told the thousand-year story of ancient Rome, from its slightly shabby Iron Age origins to its reign as the undisputed hegemon of the Mediterranean. Now, drawing on more than 30 years of teaching and writing about Roman history, Beard turns to the emperors who ruled the Roman Empire, beginning with Julius Caesar and taking us through the nearly three centuries — and some 30 emperors — that separate him from the boy king Alexander Severus. Yet Emperor of Rome is not your typical chronological account of Roman rulers, one emperor after another. Instead, Beard asks different, often larger and more probing questions: What power did emperors actually have? Was the Roman palace really so bloodstained? What kind of jokes did Augustus tell? And for that matter, what really happened, for example, between the emperor Hadrian and his beloved Antinous? Effortlessly combining the epic with the quotidian, Beard tracks the emperor down at home, at the races, on his travels, even on his way to heaven.

Distant Sons by Tim Johnston

What if Sean Courtland’s old Chevy truck had broken down somewhere else? What if he’d never met Denise Givens, a waitress at a local tavern, and gotten into a bar fight defending her honor? Or offered a ride to Dan Young, another young man burdened by secrets and just drifting through the small Wisconsin town? Instead, Sean enlists Dan’s help with a construction job in the basement of the elderly, reclusive Marion Devereaux — and gradually the two men come to realize that they’ve washed up in a place haunted by the disappearance of three young boys decades earlier. As Sean and Dan’s friendship deepens, and as Sean gets closer to Denise and her father, they come to the attention of a savvy local detective, Corrine Viegas, who has her own reasons for digging into Dan’s past — and for being unable to resist the pull of the town’s unsolved mystery. 

Blood Memory: The Tragic Decline and Improbable Resurrection of the American Buffalo by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan

The American buffalo, our nation’s official mammal, is an improbable, shaggy beast that has found itself at the center of many of our most mythic and sometimes heartbreaking tales. The largest land animals in the Western Hemisphere, they are survivors of a mass extinction that erased ancient species that were even larger. For nearly 10,000 years, they evolved alongside Native American people who weaved them into every aspect of daily life; relied on them for food, clothing and shelter; and revered them as equals. Newcomers to the continent found the buffalo fascinating at first, but in time they came to consider them a hindrance to a young nation’s expansion. And in the space of only a decade, they were slaughtered by the millions for their hides, with their carcasses left to rot on the prairies. Then, teetering on the brink of disappearing from the face of the Earth, they would be rescued by a motley collection of Americans, each of them driven by different — and sometimes competing — impulses. This is the rich and complicated story of a young republic’s heedless rush to conquer a continent, but also of the dawn of the conservation era — a story of America at its very best and worst.

The House of Doors by Tan Twan Eng

The year is 1921. Lesley Hamlyn and her husband, Robert, a lawyer and war veteran, are living at Cassowary House on the Straits Settlement of Penang. When “Willie” Somerset Maugham, a famed writer and old friend of Robert’s, arrives for an extended visit with his secretary Gerald, the pair threaten a rift that could alter more lives than one. Maugham, one of the great novelists of his day, is beleaguered: Having long hidden his homosexuality, his unhappy and expensive marriage of convenience becomes unbearable after he loses his savings — and the freedom to travel with Gerald. His career deflating, his health failing, Maugham arrives at Cassowary House in desperate need of a subject for his next book. Lesley, too, is enduring a marriage more duplicitous than it first appears. Maugham suspects an affair, and, learning of Lesley’s past connection to the Chinese revolutionary, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, decides to probe deeper. But as their friendship grows and Lesley confides in him about life in the Straits, Maugham discovers a far more surprising tale than he imagined, one that involves not only war and scandal but the trial of an Englishwoman charged with murder. It is, to Maugham, a story worthy of fiction.

Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin): A Memoir,
Sly Stone with Ben Greenman

Not many memoirs are generational events. But when Sly Stone, one of the few true musical geniuses of the last century, decides to finally tell his life story, it can’t be called anything else. As the frontman for the ’60s pop-rock-funk band Sly and the Family Stone, a songwriter who created some of the most memorable anthems of the 1960s and 1970s (“Everyday People,” “Family Affair”), and a performer who electrified audiences at Woodstock and elsewhere, Sly Stone’s influence on modern music and culture is indisputable. But as much as people know the music, the man remains a mystery. After a rapid rise to superstardom, Sly spent decades in the grips of addiction. The book moves from Sly’s early career as a radio DJ and record producer through the dizzying heights of the San Francisco music scene in the late 1960s and into the darker, denser life (and music) of 1970s and 1980s Los Angeles. Set on stages and in mansions, in the company of family and of other celebrities, it’s a story about flawed humanity and flawless artistry.  SP

Sally Brewster is the proprietor of Park Road Books. 4139 Park Rd., parkroadbooks.com.

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