Recent titles of interest:
THE APPOINTMENT, by Katharina Volckmer. (Avid Reader, $22.) In a furious comic monologue to her gynecologist , the German-born narrator of this debut novel riffs on national shame, family secrets, sex and more with a disregard for propriety worthy of Alexander Portnoy.
ANGELS & SAINTS, by Eliot Weinberger. (New Directions, $26.95.) What do we believe about angels? Weinberger distills the cultural record in all its contradictions: They are immaterial, yet in the Bible they eat and drink; they are purely good, yet in the Gospels they sometimes engage in deception.
WOMEN IN THE KITCHEN: Twelve Essential Cookbook Writers Who Defined the Way We Eat, From 1661 to Today, by Anne Willan. (Scribner, $28.) A culinary historian traces the development of American cuisine via the contributions of 12 female cookbook writers, from Hannah Woolley in the 17th century to Alice Waters today.
HIGHER EXPECTATIONS: Can Colleges Teach Students What They Need to Know in the 21st Century? by Derek Bok. (Princeton University, $29.95.) Bok, a two-time president of Harvard, argues that universities overvalue research at the expense of intellectual range and curiosity.
CLUTTER: An Untidy History, by Jennifer Howard. (Belt, $26.) Spurred by the painful need to clean out her mother’s house, the author meditates on clutter as a microcosm of family and society.
What we’re reading:
A Haiti correspondent once recommended Graham Greene’s novel THE COMEDIANS to show me what it was like there pre-Aristide, and how Haitians coped with impossible circumstances. Greene himself was a correspondent of sorts, an Englishman who spent a lot of time in Haiti; and it’s easy to see the main character, Mr. Brown, as his stand-in. Brown, absurdly, wants to restore his mother’s hotel to its former glory while the country has become a no-go zone for tourists, deep in the totalitarian terror of Papa Doc and his Tontons Macoute enforcers. Dry sarcasm and subtle digs are Brown’s answer to the open bribery and goonish violence. Yet he and the rest of the characters, including a ragtag group of Castro-inspired rebels, press on with their doomed missions. The novel helped reveal the horrors of Papa Doc’s rule to the English-speaking world, but its themes are universal. When a brutal regime erases all sense of morality, even the fools and the con men become heroes.
—Ian Trontz, deputy weekend editor