Critic, Book World

Universally Acknowledged. Emma Thompson narrating Jane Austen’s “Emma” sounds like a match made in heaven. This new audiobook production from Audible also features “Downton Abbey’s” Joanne Froggatt with Isabella Inchbald as the clever heroine.

Austen herself once wrote, “There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort,” and apparently more and more people are doing that with audiobooks. For several years, they’ve been the hottest segment for the industry, and publishers are starting to release recordings that sound more like fully produced radio plays than mere “readings.” Consider, for instance, last year’s audiobook version of George Saunders’s “Lincoln in the Bardo,” which featured a cast of more than 160 people! And because it’s Friday, here’s a funny clip of Thompson doing “Emma” in an Australian accent:

Illustration by Anna and Elena Balbusso for the Folio Society’s edition of Ayn Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged.’ (Anna and Elena Balbusso)

Paper weight. You’d have to be Atlas to carry around the three-volume “Atlas Shrugged” just published by the Folio Society in London. This $185 edition of Ayn Rand’s controversial novel, originally published in 1957, features retro illustrations by the twin sisters Anna and Elena Balbusso and an introduction by our own Michael Dirda. He provides an encouraging summary of the novel’s sprawling plot and begs potential readers to set aside whatever prejudices they may harbor about Rand. “Atlas Shrugged can be viewed as a modern American analog to the Victorian ‘condition of England’ novel,” Dirda writes. “Rand dramatizes the highly charged issues of class, industrial development, gender, bureaucratic power and civic unrest. Having surveyed ‘the way we live now,’ she projects her era’s social and political trends to their limits.” Spoiler alert: If you’re a friend of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, you might be getting a copy for Christmas.

(Little, Brown and Co.)

Phonies. The centennial of J.D. Salinger’s birth is still several months away (on Jan. 1, 2019), but the rumblings have already begun. Little, Brown announced plans to reissue four books by Salinger this November in a boxed set: “The Catcher in the Rye,” “Nine Stories,” “Franny and Zooey” and “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters” and “Seymour: An Introduction.” The notoriously reclusive author, who died in 2010, would never have allowed these redesigned editions, but the publisher has Salinger’s son, Matt, on board. “My father hated birthdays, holidays and pretty much any planned or culturally mandated celebrations,” he said in a statement from Little, Brown, “and he’d certainly hate this centennial — but he loved writing and he loved his readers, and I hope his readers will be glad for an excuse to remember him in this way.” That memory sounds very different in an essay published in the New York Times this week by Joyce Maynard. She famously dropped out of college and lived with Salinger for almost a year in the early 1970s. Now, Maynard challenges her critics to reconsider her experience in light of the #MeToo movement. “It does not appear,” she writes, “that enlightenment concerning the abuses of men in power extends retroactively to women who chose to speak long ago, and were shamed and humiliated for doing so.” No word yet on whether Salinger’s letters to Maynard will be included in the special Salinger exhibit at the New York Public Library in October. Maynard auctioned off her letters in 1999; the buyer, software developer Peter Norton, said he planned to return them to Salinger.

(Harper Perennial)

Bel Cover. Ann Patchett’s celebrated novel “Bel Canto” (2001) got a redesigned cover this week to highlight the movie adaptation starring Julianne Moore and Ken Watanabe. “Bel Canto,” a perennial book club favorite that’s sold more than 1 million copies, tells the story of an opera star taken hostage in a South American country. The film, directed by Paul Weitz, will be released Sept. 14. As is often the case with movie adaptations, the novelist was not involved with this one, and she has not seen it yet. “I did get them to take the bullet hole and machine gun off the cover of the movie tie-in edition,” Patchett says. “It is my single contribution to the project.”


Great Start. The Center for Fiction in New York announced the shortlist of its annual First Novel Prize, worth $10,000:

“Asymmetry,” by Lisa Halliday (Simon & Schuster).

“Confessions of the Fox,” by Jordy Rosenberg (One World).

“Freshwater,” by Akwaeke Emezi (Grove).

“The Parking Lot Attendant,” by Nafkote Tamirat (Henry Holt).

“Pretend I’m Dead,” by Jen Beagin (Scribner).

“There There,” by Tommy Orange (Knopf).

“Trenton Makes,” by Tadzio Koelb (Doubleday).

Orange’s “There There,” about modern-day Indians living around Oakland, Calif., is the breakout hit on this list. Since it was published in June, it’s sold more than 70,000 copies in hardback. (And I thought it was terrific.) The winner will be announced Dec. 11. Each of the other shortlisted authors will receive $1,000.


Small But Not Quiet. Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington has started a program to highlight the work of small and independent presses. Starting this month at its new Union Market branch, P&P will feature authors from publishing houses that have trouble attracting public attention. In a statement, P&P Director of Events and Marketing Liz Hottel said, “The dynamic, brave voices of independent presses are more crucial now than ever before, and as an independent bookstore we wanted to show our continuing support for their innovative work and draw more attention to them in DC. We felt a series highlighting their new works perfectly aligned with the DIY, artisan spirit of our new Union Market neighborhood.” Upcoming events include:

● Sept. 16 at 1 p.m.: Lo Dagerman and Linda Zachrison will discuss “Wedding Worries,” by the Swedish writer Stig Dagerman, who died in 1954. This book is published by David R. Godine, whom I got to know years ago when our daughters — both named Madeline — carpooled to Boston Ballet.

● Oct. 13 at 6 p.m.: Joyce Abell will talk with longtime “All Things Considered” commentator Marion Winik, author of “The Baltimore Book of the Dead,” published by Counterpoint in Berkeley, Calif.

● Oct. 14 at 5 p.m.: Bonnie Chau will talk with Cristina Rivera Garza. Chau is the author of the story collection “All Roads Lead to Blood,” published by the Santa Fe Writer’s Project. Garza is the author of the Spanish novel “The Taiga Syndrome,” published by Dorothy. a publishing project that is “dedicated to works of fiction or near fiction or about fiction, mostly by women.” Dorothy, based in St. Louis, publishes two books a year, which is a limit that I wish more big New York publishing houses would consider.

Tweet o’ the Week. My colleague Dan Zak tried to assure President Donald Trump that the author of “Fear” is not a fiction writer:

Ron Charles writes about books for The Washington Post and hosts