When Stars Align: New Constellations

Slate's Culture Blog
July 31 2009 3:36 PM

When Stars Align: New Constellations

Four trade magazines, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist, and Library Journal, offer short reviews of many thousands of books. Of particular interest to editors are those that receive a "star" for unusual merit. This regular feature highlights new titles with stars from at least three of the four publications.


Our third When Stars Align includes several debut works—a nice development given that our last list was populated entirely by old hands.


Harry Dolan's debut novel, Bad Things Happen , takes place on the "mean streets" of Ann Arbor, Mich. When the head honcho of a mystery magazine gets pushed out of a window and falls to his death, new hire David Loogan gets pinned for the crime. To prove his innocence, he has to figure out who among the editors, writers, and interns is guilty. Booklist says "rarely have suspects been so archly articulate," and Publisher's Weekly predicts that Dolan "has a bright future." Booklist, Library Journal, Publisher's Weekly.

James Lasdun's second short story collection, It's Beginning to Hurt , concerns middle-aged characters experiencing existential crises. The protagonist of the title story is a businessman who attends the funeral of his former lover and then falls back into the habit of lying to his wife. Kirkus says the collection merits comparison to William Trevor and Graham Swift. Kirkus, Library Journal, Publisher's Weekly .

Suzanne Collins' Catching Fire is the second title in the Hunger Games trilogy. In this installment, teen protagonist Katniss Everdeen sorts out her love life and avoids the evil President Snow. Booklist says Collins' "crystalline, unadorned prose provides an open window to perfect pacing and electrifying world building." Booklist, Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly .

Christ Barton and Tony Persiani's first picture book, The Day-Glo Brothers , tells the story of Bob and Joy Switzer, who invented a brand of fluorescent paint visible in daylight. Publisher's Weekly raves about the "exuberantly retro 1960s drawings," and Kirkus says "these two putty-limbed brothers shine even more brightly than the paints and dyes they created." Kirkus, School Library Journal, Publisher's Weekly.

In Ulysses & Us: The Art of the Everyday in Joyce's Masterpiece , Declan Kiberd tries to make James Joyce's notoriously difficult masterpiece accessible to those who couldn't get past the first page. He argues that although the book is now largely read by "more snobbish modernists," Joyce wanted to deliver "usable wisdom" to ordinary people. Publisher's Weekly says that this book "should be on every undergraduate syllabus" and Booklist hopes that this "daring work" might put Ulysses "in the hands of its rightful readers." Booklist, Library Journal, Publisher's Weekly.

In The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World , NPR correspondent Paul Collins explains how the first collection of Shakespeare's plays became the most sought after book collector's item in the world. Booklist says Collins' history is one of "the most enjoyable examples" of "book biography" ever. Booklist, Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly .



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