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More sex, more Lincoln

A hefty reading season, from Jayne Anne Phillips and T.C. Boyle to Pablo Neruda
By BARBARA HOFFERT  |  December 30, 2008

BIRTHDAY BOYS: In a new book about Darwin and Lincoln, Adam Gopnik explores seismic shifts in late 19th-century thought.

The subject of Lincoln is like catnip to publishers (and readers), but the only things missing from our winter list are actual cat books.

The year's still new, but when it comes to fiction, you can start with the tried and true — outstanding authors who are back with more. In Lark and Termite (Knopf, January 9), JAYNE ANNE PHILLIPS's first novel after nine long years, a girl finds herself balanced delicately between love of a disabled but joyous little brother and concern for a father shipped off to Korea. In ZOË HELLER's The Believers (HarperCollins, March 3), self-satisfied unregenerate leftists the Litvinoffs watch their lives and their children spin out of control after Joel Litvinoff's stroke. Meanwhile, T. C. BOYLE revisits The Women (Viking, February 10) — Olgivanna Milanoff, Maud Miriam Noel, Mamah Cheney, and Kitty Tobin — who were the loves of Frank Lloyd Wright's life.

If you liked Fiddler on the Roof, you're bound to love the first full translation of Wandering Stars (Viking, February 5), SHOLEM ALEICHEM's tale of a cantor's daughter and a rich man's son who run off to join the Yiddish theater. Elsewhere, ELIE WIESEL's A Mad Desire To Dance (Knopf, February 19) looks at the orphaned son of a World War II Resistance leader who has fled to New York but must still wrestle with his demons — and the dybbuk he thinks possesses him.

It's not all long fiction, of course. Following up National Book Award nominee Veronica with Don't Cry (Pantheon, March 24), her first collection of stories in more than a decade, MARY GAITSKILL offers four pieces that move from Reagan-era anomie to fallout from the Iraq War. In her collection Nothing Right (Bloomsbury, February 3), ANTONYA NELSON demonstrates her sure hand with a half-dozen off-kilter characters.

Finally, what's a new year without some new authors? JONATHAN LITTELL has already made noises with The Kindly Ones (HarperCollins, March 3), a bruiser of a novel dealing with moral ambiguity during World War II that was originally written in French and won both the Prix Goncourt and the Acadûmie Française's Prix de Littûrature. Yale Law School grad DANIYAL MUEENUDDIN now manages a farm in Pakistan, his source of inspiration for In Other Rooms, Other Wonders: Connected Stories (Norton, February 9). And though ABRAHAM VERGHESE is a familiar voice — his My Own Country was a National Book Critics Circle finalist — he's new in the fiction category. In his Cutting for Stone (Knopf, February 6), a man who flees Addis Ababa for a medical career in New York must reconcile with the father he never knew and the twin brother he left behind.

With 2009 marking the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth and the inauguration of our first African-American president, it's no surprise that nonfiction makes an especially big showing in the coming months. Especially promising biographies of the 16th president include RONALD C. WHITE JR.'s A. Lincoln (Random House, January 20) and JAMES M. MCPHERSON's Abraham Lincoln: A Presidential Life (Oxford University Press, February 2). ADAM GOPNIK tries for something different in Angels and Ages: A Short Book About Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life (Knopf, January 30), using a surprising fact — Lincoln and Darwin share a birthday — to explore seismic shifts in late 19th-century thought.

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