Notable new releases
Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty, by Anderson Cooper and Katherine Howe
Journalist Anderson Cooper joins historian Katherine Howe in exploring the story of his legendary family and their outsized influence. Cooper and Howe breathe life into the ancestors who built the family’s empire, basked in “the Commodore’s” wealth, hosted lavish galas and became synonymous with unfettered American capitalism and high society. Moving from the hardscrabble wharves of old Manhattan to the drawing rooms of Gilded Age Fifth Avenue, from the ornate summer palaces of Newport to the courts of Europe, and all the way to modern-day New York, Cooper and Howe wryly recount the triumphs and tragedies of an American dynasty unlike any other.
Matrix, by Lauren Groff
Another masterpiece by the two-time National Book Award finalist Groff. Cast out of the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine, seeming too coarse and rough-hewn for marriage or courtly life, 17-year-old Marie de France is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey, its nuns on the brink of starvation and beset by disease. At first taken aback by the severity of her new life, Marie finds focus and love in collective life with her singular and mercurial sisters. Marie steadily supplants her desire for family, her homeland and the passions of her youth with something new to her: devotion to her sisters and a conviction in her own divine visions. Born the last in a long line of women warriors and crusaders, Marie is determined to chart a bold new course for the women she now leads and protects.
Harlem Shuffle, by Colson Whitehead
To his customers and neighbors on 125th street, Ray Carney is an upstanding salesman of reasonably priced furniture, making a life for himself and his family. Few people know he descends from a line of uptown hoods and crooks, and that his façade of normalcy has more than a few cracks in it — cracks that are getting bigger and bigger all the time. Cash is tight, so if his cousin Freddie occasionally drops off the odd ring or necklace at the furniture store, Ray doesn’t see the need to ask where it comes from. He knows a discreet jeweler downtown who also doesn’t ask questions. Then Freddie falls in with a crew who plan to rob the Hotel Theresa — the “Waldorf of Harlem” — and volunteers Ray’s services as the fence. The heist doesn’t go as planned; now Ray has to cater to a new clientele, one made up of shady cops, vicious minions of the local crime lord and numerous other Harlem lowlifes. Harlem Shuffle is driven by an ingeniously intricate plot that plays out in a beautifully recreated Harlem of the early 1960s. Another dazzling novel from the Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning Colson Whitehead.
The Book of Form and Emptiness, by Ruth Ozeki
One year after the death of his beloved musician father, 13-year-old Benny Oh begins to hear voices. The voices belong to the things in his house — a sneaker, a broken Christmas ornament, a piece of wilted lettuce. Although Benny doesn’t understand what these things are saying, he can sense their emotional tone; some are pleasant, a gentle hum or coo, but others are snide, angry and full of pain. When his mother, Annabelle, develops a hoarding problem, the voices grow more clamorous. At first, Benny tries to ignore them, but soon the voices follow him outside the house, onto the street and at school, driving him to seek refuge in the silence of a large public library, where objects are well-behaved and know to speak in whispers. There, Benny discovers a strange new world. He falls in love with a mesmerizing street artist with a smug pet ferret who uses the library as her performance space. He meets a homeless philosopher-poet who encourages him to ask important questions and find his own voice among the many. And he meets his very own Book — a talking thing — that narrates Benny’s life and teaches him to listen to the things that truly matter. The Book of Form and Emptiness is classic Ruth Ozeki — bold, wise, poignant, playful, humane and heartbreaking. SP
Compiled by Sally Brewster, proprietor of Park Road Books at 4139 Park Road. parkroadbooks.com