I’ll Drink To That: A Life In Style, With A Twist by Betty Halbreich with Rebecca Paley. (Penguin) As a long-reigning personal shopper at Bergdorf Goodman, Halbreich has counseled clientele on matters far more than the sartorial. Writing with Midwestern pragmatism about her work and a therapist’s empathy for her clients, she details her privileged childhood in Chicago; marriage into a wealthy East Coast family; and professional passion found later in life. As reviewer Alexandra Jacobs put it: “She might be a bird in a gilded cage, but her view of the flowers outside is unobstructed.”
Above The East China Sea by Sarah Bird. (Vintage) Set on Okinawa, this novel examines the island’s history through the eyes of two grieving teenagers. In 1945, Tamiko worked in service of the Japanese Imperial Army and witnessed the devastating impact of violence. In later years, her story is interwoven with that of Luz, a modern-day U.S. Air Force brat forced to adjust to life after her sister dies fighting in Afghanistan.
The Language Of Food: A Linguist Reads The Menu by Dan Jurafsky. (Norton) Mining sources like menus, recipes and restaurant reviews for insight, Jurafsky decodes the way food is described. He also uncovers surprising details of culinary history, including ketchup’s Chinese origins; the Persian roots of fish and chips; and how the turkey was named.
Funny Once: Stories by Antonya Nelson. (Bloomsbury, $16.) Transporting readers into homes and lives in the open stretches of Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas, Nelson chronicles domestic upsets and ruptures. In the opening story, a recently widowed father, his children and the family’s longtime housekeeper struggle to rearrange their lives in the wake of a wife’s death.
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Fields Of Blood: Religion And The History Of Violence by Karen Armstrong. (Anchor) Maintaining that “modern society has made a scapegoat of faith,” Armstrong offers a rejoinder to the idea that religions are inherently violent. Spanning civilizations, conflicts and creeds from ancient Mesopotamia through to the current day, her book argues that very little bloodshed can be ascribed to religious disputes; instead, violent impulses often trace their origins to the state.
10:04 by Ben Lerner. (Picador/Farrar, Straus & Giroux) The narrator of Lerner’s brilliant second novel contemplates his next literary project and the possibility of having a child with his best friend. Framed by two hurricanes, story lines intersect as the narrator considers his identity and external persona.
Kafka: The Years Of Insight by Reiner Stach. Translated by Shelley Frisch. (Princeton University) The second installment of an exhaustive, if piecemeal, biographical project, this volume covers the writer’s final eight years (1916-24), including his work as a bureaucrat during World War I, turbulent relationships and a diagnosis of tuberculosis, which would eventually prove fatal.
New York Times