This month’s selections, chosen as always by Mitch Kaplan of Books & Books, include both beach reads and deep dives, poignant interspecies connections and bite-sized explorations from an eminent literary voice. Read on, and buy local!
In his first novel, the great screenwriter mines a hoary old cash cow in literature: the novelization of a big-budget movie. In most cases, this is an artless affair engineered to squeeze a few more shekels out of fans, but Tarantino expands and expounds upon, revels in and digresses from, winks at and subverts his 2019 modern classic of the same name. The characters from the film—washed-up actor Rick Dalton, his infamous stunt double Cliff Booth, star-crossed starlet Sharon Tate and cult leader Charles Manson—return in the novel, but don’t expect a beat-by-beat retread. The book is meant as a companion and a complement. And, since it’s published as a throwback mass-market paperback, it’s only $10!
The Vixen is the 16th novel from the prolific, award-winning and aptly surnamed Francine Prose, and it is a piece of writing about writing: specifically the haute, three-martini-lunch world of New York publishing in the 1950s. This is the viper’s nest where Simon Putnam, fresh from his middle-class Jewish upbringing on Long Island, arrives as an editor, and his first assignment will upend his life and those around him: It’s called The Vixen, the Patriot and the Fanatic, an unlikely bodice-ripper and jingoistic riff on the trial and execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. Prose deftly weaves in passages from this horrible novel-within-the-novel, allowing her to exhaust such phrases as “ample, shapely breasts”—but it’s the real-life implications for Putnam, who shares a family connection with the Rosenbergs, that will pit his conscience against his ambition.
Like the Oscar-winning documentary “My Octopus Teacher,” Fox and I reveals revelatory rendezvous between a human and a beast. In this case, the protagonists are Catherine Raven, a biologist with degrees and zoology and botany who has held ranger posts in five national parks; and the mangy fox she meets on her remote property in a cottage in the Montana woods. Careful not to anthropomorphize animals, Raven soon realizes that her vulpine companion is visiting her every day around 4:15, and when she begins to read to it from her copy of The Little Prince, it seems to be listening. This begins a foundation-shaking friendship that comments beautifully on animal cognition, common bonds, habitat loss and, perhaps most prominently, the beauty and challenge of living solitary lives.
As a “canceled” author before there was a term for it, Salman Rushdie has a different take on censorship than many of his woke colleagues—you know, those colleagues who have not survived fatwas. This subject is one of many in this latest Rushdie work, an essay collection gathering 17 years’ worth of material. Fans of Rushdie’s erudite and unsparing wit and insight will find much of it as he waxes about the role of storytelling and literature in our lives, migration, multiculturalism, his relationships, both in person and on the pages, with authors ranging from Shakespeare to Toni Morrison, and plenty more.