Tiger, Tiger: A Memoir
By Margaux Fragoso
Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 336 pages
It's fashionable to suggest that memoir writers begin by making sure the events of their lives merit examination. No one could lob this accusation at Fragoso, whose Tiger, Tiger details the years she spent at the mercy of a pedophile, Peter Curran, with whom she had a "relationship" from the time she was 7 until she was 22. But is it as dangerous to lyricize trauma as it is to lack it? Fragoso's Curran is less monster than pied piper, an eye-crinkling playmate who makes her world "ecstatic." His suicide leaves Fragoso "chasing the ghost of how it felt ... like the earth is scorched and the grass won't grow back." This prose, overly worked, keeps Curran at a pretty distance. His ugliness remains as unfathomable to us as it would to any child.
At the Fights
Edited by George Kimball and John Schulian
Library of America; 560 pages
A.J. Liebling once wrote that boxing was attached to its past "like a man's arm to his shoulder." That's one thing writers share with pugilists. Since 1910, when Jack London was lured to Reno, Nev., to cover a mythic Jack Johnson bout for the New York Herald, only the baseball diamond has been as continuously hospitable as the boxing ring for American prose. The Library of America's At the Fights gathers the most stylish dispatches from the past century, with literary heavyweights (Norman Mailer, James Baldwin) sharing space with past champs like W.C. Heinz and Jimmy Cannon. For a nimble sample of prizefight prose, Don King couldn't have put together a better card.
Blood, Bones & Butter
By Gabrielle Hamilton
Random House; 304 pages
Hamilton's tough-minded memoir, hyped as the best chef book since Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential, delivers. Unlike Bourdain, Hamilton, the chef of New York City's Prune, doesn't provide a kitchen exposé; BB&B is too personal for that. From a beautifully rendered rural girlhood that ends with a catastrophic divorce to the pains of corrupt waitresshood and the joys of chefhood, the book makes Hamilton as real to us as someone we've known all our lives and captures the essence of contemporary cool on the plate.
The Tiger's Wife
By Téa Obreht
Random House; 352 pages
This astounding debut novel about the former Yugoslavia in wartime is so rich with themes of love, legends and mortality that every novel that comes after it this year is in peril of falling short in comparison with its uncanny beauty. Obreht, 25, expertly weaves together the tales of a wayward zoo tiger blasted from his cage by German bombs in 1941, the man whose life's path was formed by the tragic beast and the man's granddaughter, a young doctor trying simultaneously to make peace with his death and amends to those who were once her countrymen. Not since Zadie Smith has a young writer arrived with such power and grace.
By James Gleick
Pantheon; 544 pages
Unless you're a computer scientist, you've probably never heard of Claude Shannon, the Bell Labs researcher who in 1948 coined the term bit to refer to the smallest possible unit of information. Gleick rescues Shannon from obscurity in his entertaining, erudite, not-for-the-math-averse history The Information and does lots more besides. Gleick presses rousing tales from the history of human communication (French semaphore telegraphs, African talking drums) into the service of one Very Big Idea that in probing nature's deepest mysteries, inventors, scientists and philosophers have all been talking about the same thing: information. Gleick shows how Shannon's humble bit the on-off switch at the center of binary computing is now used in theories of everything from genetics to quantum physics. Physicist John Wheeler called it the "ultimate unsplittable particle." Had Gleick stuck to history, The Information would have been a perfectly serviceable survey of information technology, fascinating but not transformative. Instead, he does what only the best science writers can: take a subject of which most of us are only peripherally aware and put it at the center of our universe.
BEST FIRST LINE
"In my earliest memory, my grandfather is bald as a stone and he takes me to see the tigers." (The Tiger's Wife)