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Marie Arana
Editor, Washington Post Book World
Tuesday, September 11, 2007; 3:00 PM

Here is a finger on the pulse of our times. What does it say about our culture that three sharply differing views of American life -- TV pastor Joel Osteen's "Become a Better You," Philip Roth's rueful novel about aging and Alan Greenspan's jittery "The Age of Turbulence" -- arrive just as the presidential race heats up and we contemplate the country's future? It's instructive, and no less revealing, to see the patterns such clusters make as fresh titles rush into stores, eager to win our attention -- a kind of zeitgeist of the day.--Marie Arana, Fall Books Preview 2007 ( Post, Sept. 9)

Washington Post Book World editor Marie Arana fields questions and comments about this fall's new titles, authors and all things literary.Ron Charles's review of "Away"

Marie Arana is the author of "American Chica," a memoir, and the novel, "Cellophane."

Join Book World Live each Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET for a discussion based on a story or review in each Sunday's Book World section.

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Marie Arana: Welcome to Book World Live! And to this discussion about the Fall season's upcoming releases. The hardest thing we do at Book World is select books for review. From the 150 or so books that arrive every day -- many thousands over the course of a few months -- we cull the few that end up reviewed on our pages. A mere 20 or so per week. The choices can be excruciating, and, inevitably, we're forced to pass over perfectly good and worthy books. I felt that twinge of regret as I drew up our annual list of the 100 or so most anticipated books of the season. Every year, the number of new releases seems to grow, and every year the task of culling that Fall preview is more difficult. That said, let's talk about the books that made it onto our list, as well as the many more titles that will want our attention as we head into the book industry's biggest season. I look forward to your questions

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Baltimore, Md: Thanks for taking questions.

I loved Suite Francaise so much that it became my favorite book to give to others this year.

I remember reading some time ago that Irene Nemirovsky had another unpublished manuscript somewhere that was about to make an appearance in book form.

You did not list her in this Sunday's fall preview. Have you heard any more about this possible new book and when it might be published?

Marie Arana: Thanks for this question, Baltimore.

It's a perfect example of the many books of the season and the challenge of getting them all into a list.

Suite Francaise was a marvelous book. All the more marvelous for the horrifying knowledge that Irene Nemirovsky wrote that book even as the Nazis were pressing in. She was deported to Auschwitz, but the manuscript was saved by her daughter.

Fire in the Blood is a book on a smaller scale, and it certainly might have been on the Preview list, for many will spring to read it as a sequel to Suite Francaise. I, for one, look forward to reading it.

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Troy, Mich: I am interested in hearing your opinion about Karen Armstrong's latest book about the Bible. Thanks

Marie Arana: Karen Armstrong is always interesting. She manages to capture complicated questions in perfectly intelligible language. And she is very skilled in distilling the large questions.

Her new book, simply called "The Bible" will join a number of important new works on religion this Fall. Certainly, Robert Alter's "Book of Psalms" is one of those as is Rodney Stark's "Discovering God."

I haven't read Armstrong's new book (it's blessedly slender!) yet, but I'm looking forward to it.

Have you read Armstrong? What do you think?

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Ex-Silver Springer: I noticed there was no list of sports books in the fall preview, when there had been such a list in the past. Did you decide to cut it out, or are there no sports books coming out?

Marie Arana: Oh, gosh. There are many, many sports books in the works for fall. With only two pages on which to list books, however, something had to go.

Keep watching our pages, though, we'll be covering a load of football books this fall.

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Alexandria, VA: Let me just say that I really enjoyed the inaugural Book World podcast, and I hope you plan to do it every week. I found the interview with Edward P. Jones both illuminating and entertaining. Glad to see the WP giving Sam Tanenhaus a run for his money. Hopefully, this will lead to more WP video and audio podcasts in the future.

Marie Arana: Thanks very much for this note about our new podcast.

It's a lot of fun for us to do. This week we had Edward P. Jones and Robert Draper (Dead Certain--about the Bush White House). Next week we'll have Michael Neufeld, head of the Space division of the Air and Space Museum and author of a new book about Wehrner von Braun. Also we'll be talking about a new novel from Alexandre Dumas! Believe it or not, 200 years later, a manuscript appears . . . and it's rumored to be fabulous.

Sam Tanenhaus is a friend, and I greatly enjoy the New York Times Book Review's podcast. But it's a big world out there and never enough broadcasting about books.

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Troy, Mich: I have read both her memoirs-very dark and rather depressing, but gripping. I do like her style-I felt in both books as if I were standing right next to her-not a detached observer. I have begun The Great Transformation-heavy going but enjoyable. I believe she is one of the great theologians of our time-though she might disagree.

Marie Arana: More on Karen Armstrong.

Thanks very much. And take heart re: The Great Transformation. The most rewarding books are often hard going.

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Ashburn, VA: I'm interested in the new Peter Hoeg novel. I was really blown away (in a good way) when I first read "Smila's Sense of Snow" back in the '90s. But I haven't read much of his work since. What can I expect from this new novel?

Thanks.

Marie Arana: Oh, I'm interested in this one, too.

It's called The Quiet Girl, and the premise is so interesting: a clown who has been hired by nuns in a remote school gets sent out to find a missing girl, a runaway . . .

I read Smila's Sense of Snow, but nothing else by Hoeg, I must admit. I'm looking forward to this.

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College Park, MD: One thing that stood out in the Fall Books Preview was the absence of literary biography; Bliss Broyard's book, and Janet Malcolm's, are about writers, but neither is a biography as such. In the last three or four years I can think of fewer than a dozen such titles issued by major trade publishers here, and almost half of those originated in the UK; such is the case with both literary biographies I know of being published this fall, Andrew Wilson's book about Harold Robbins and Philip Davis' about Bernard Malamud. Last year Charles Shields' book about Harper Lee, "Mockingbird," went into several printings and was on the bestseller list for a few weeks, but the only writer who was commissioned to write a literary biography as a result of that book's success seems to have been Shields himself. Besides his upcoming book about Kurt Vonnegut; Marion Meade's about Nathanael West; Blake Bailey's about John Cheever; and Joan Schenkar's about Patricia Highsmith, I know of no other literary biographies in the works from trade imprints. Could the lack of interest in the lives of writers at major American publishers portend a lack of interest in what they write?

Marie Arana: Well, there's a major biography due about Arthur Conan Doyle, not to mention the publication of his letters. But I think you're right. There seem to be fewer large-scale, generous literary biographies. Perhaps it's a lull in the genre, perhaps there is skittishness among publishers.

But here I should mention: There's a biography of Henry James coming from Sheldon Novick in November. That should be interesting what with all the recent interest (novels by Colm Toibin, Ed Yoder, etc.) in James.

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Burke, Va: I have been reading "Book World" since the 1960's and remember it at is best when Susan Davis's illustrations were found there and Michael Dirda's essays were filled with textured and thoughtful paragraphs. Today "Book World" looks like the "Weekly Reader", a newspaper I read as a third grade student in the 1950's. Why has "Book World's layout become so visual? This is the section of the Washington Post one comes to as a lover of the printed word and not for visual displays.

Marie Arana: Well, Michael Dirda's essays continue to have all their paragraphs, so I'm not sure what you mean there. And dear departed Susan Davis's illustrations are, alas, no longer available.

Our layout may be easier on the eye, but the words have not suffered one bit. We are a reader's publication. And words come first with us.

And besides, what's wrong with looking good when you're being smart?! These are not mutually exclusive attributes.

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Washington, D.C.: Ms. Arana,

What are you reading these days?

Marie Arana: Thanks for asking.

I'm in the middle of Nancy Horan's Loving Frank, a novel about the Frank Lloyd Wright's scandalous love affair, and his marriage. I must admit that I'm not loving it as much as others have.

I've read a slew of fiction lately: Roberto Bolano's Savage Detectives, Mario Vargas Llosa's new novel, The Bad Girl (not released yet), The Maytrees by Annie Dillard. And I've reread Styron's Sophie's Choice.

Just a few days ago, however, I picked up Robert Draper's Dead Certain, and read that straight through. There's fascinating color in that book . . .

And Alan Greenspan's book "The Age of Turbulence" is next on my list. It publishes in a few days.

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Sue Grafton...: I was glad to see that Sue Grafton has another book coming out (T is for...) (I just started rereading her stuff). True its pure escapism, but I thought the way its going to shift perspective will make this book the best one yet...

Marie Arana: Our regular thriller reviewer, Patrick Anderson (he reviews for Book World in the Style section), says Grafton continues to be the best in the business.

And, you know, I find it interesting that some of the best, most fluid writing is being done in genre fiction. Our critic Jonathan Yardley made that point in a long essay about the state of American fiction, which we published some years ago.

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washingtonpost.com: Book World podcast

Marie Arana: Thanks to our clever producer, Kim O'Donnel, for putting up this link to our Book World Podcast.

I'm very interested in hearing from listeners. We want to know whether you like it. And we'd like to hear which authors particularly worked in this format. And which ones didn't

My colleague (Book World's fiction editor)Ron Charles and I will also try to get some good bits of gossip and news readers might not see covered elsewhere. Interesting news is always being generated by the book business. We'd like to capture some of it for you.

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Dallas, Tex: I've read that Joan Didion will be given an honorary National Book Award this fall. As a native Californian and admirer of Didion's long before "Magical Thinking," do you know if she has anything in the works?

Marie Arana: Her most recent coup seems to have been the magnificent reworking of "The Year of Magical Thinking" for the stage.

Joan is enormously talented and will have something to occupy her before long, I'm sure.

But she wrote Magical Thinking in the white hot afterburn of the tragic loss of her husband. I doubt her next work will be anything like it.

Perhaps a novel?

Although I prefer her nonfiction by far.

Which of her works do you love?

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Baltimore, MD: Any idea what prompted Russell Banks to jump into the mystery genre? I count Cloudsplitter as one of my alltime favorites.

Marie Arana: Oh, what a good question. But, who knows? I don't have a very good answer.

And what, for that matter, prompted Stephen Carter to follow his Emperor of Ocean Park, an epic drama, with a mystery/thriller (of sorts), New England White?

A longing for a change of scenery, perhaps?

(John Grisham is about to publish--of all things--a sports novel!)

Cloudsplitter is a fine book. I agree with you. But Banks's new book, The Reserve, may blend his solid fan base with a very large population of thriller lovers. And maybe that's reason enough.

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Fairfax, VA: I am really looking forward to Geraldine Brooks' new novel, People of the Book. When in January will it be released, and has Ms. Brooks planned a reading/signing tour?

Also, what's the buzz on The Almost Moon? I'm drawn to books with compelling first lines.

Marie Arana: Geraldine Brooks is always good. What marvelous control she has of the language! And she always manages to bring freshness to history. Her book about Little Women's father, March, was a marvelous story. Stirringly told.

This new one about Jews in Spain promises to be fascinating.

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North Potomac, Md: about your book Cellophane.just magnificent my point page 50 Dn. Victor having conversation with padre Bernardo mention La Virgen de Copacabana the origin ,according the history was carved by Tito Yupanqui and you mention the origin of Yupanqui was real Inca blood "the nephew of thelast undiputed Inca Emperor Huyna Kapac,aftert the man had opened his heart to Jesus" amazing for mi and for thousands of FIELES like myself in Bolivia rigth now proposing saithood for YUPANQUI so is going to be the first saint Bolivian con muchorespeto y admiracion a Ud. Y will expect your comments,about it sorry for my poor English and mixed with Espanish

Marie Arana: Muchas gracias!

Thanks for this mention of my novel. It was a lot of fun to write.

And it's based on a great deal of historical fact.

You mention one of them. The replica of the statue of the Virgin, which my hero reveres, is of an original that sits in a little church in Lake Titicaca. It's sculptor was the son of the last Inca emperor, a full-blooded Inca who was baptized Christian at the very end of his life.

Cellophane is about many things, not least the clash of cultures.

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Indianapolis, Ind: I'm almost done reading "Away" by Amy Bloom right now, inspired by a positive review I read (not sure where). I've enjoyed most of it, but I'm ready for the end at this point....the situations she finds herself in are becoming more and more implausible and I'm losing patience. Did you read this one?

Marie Arana: I did read this! And forgot to mention it as one of the ones I've just finished.

I will admit it tried my patience at times, and I wished our peripatetic heroine would just sit and rest a while. But the real appreciation for the novel comes afterward, in contemplation . . .

Read Ron Charles's very good review of it, published not long ago in Book World.

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Dallas, Tex: I most admire Didion's non-fiction, as well. Her early essays from "The White Album" and "Slouching Towards Bethelem" are classic examples of the form, but the detail and texture are Didion's alone. Since I'm from a California pioneer family, as well, I loved reading "Where I Was From" -- although I'm not yet ready to write the state off. Her sense of a certain period of history, though, is unmatched.

Marie Arana: Thanks for this.

A good prod for those of us who have always wanted to go back and read Didion's earlier gems.

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Marie Arana: Thanks to all for joining me on this most enjoyable afternoon chat.

Keep reading! And do keep telling us what you think of books and Book World. By all means, reach us anytime at bwletters@washpost.com

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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