Book Stack: 10 reads to wrap up November with

Asia's Tech News Daily

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(Clockwise from top left) The Cat Who Saved Books, Chronicles of a Cairo Bookseller, 1000 Years Of Joys And Sorrows and Renegades.

SINGAPORE – In this monthly feature, The Sunday Times picks out 10 books from around the world that have just hit shelves

Top Of The Stack

1. Silverview

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PHOTO: VIKING

By John le Carre
Fiction/Viking/Paperback/208 pages/$34.24/Major bookstores
4 out of 5

A young man gives up his trading career to sell books in a sleepy seaside town. Little does he know that his bookshop is embroiled in an espionage breach.

Such a premise would be delightful in itself. That it belongs to the last complete novel left behind by spy fiction grandmaster John le Carre, who died last year aged 89, is nothing short of a wonder.

Julian Lawndsley, 33, has escaped London’s rat race to run a bookshop in a small East Anglian town. Unfortunately, he is neither well-read nor possessed of any book-selling experience. “How’s custom, darling,” a neighbour asks mordantly, “or should I not speak ill of the dead?”

Enter Edward Avon, a charismatic, eccentric retiree who seems keen to impart literary wisdom to Julian. “Rings of Saturn is a literary sleight of hand of the first water,” he enthuses of the 1995 novel, also set in East Anglia, by the German writer W. G. Sebald, “a depressive like the best of us, now, alas, dead. Weep for Sebald”.

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2. The Cat Who Saved Books

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PHOTO: PICADOR

By Sosuke Natsukawa, translated by Louise Heal Kawai
Picador/Paperback/224 pages/$15.84/Major bookstores

In this bestseller translated from Japanese, a grieving young man worries that he will have to close the beloved second-hand bookshop his late grandfather left him.

Then, he is approached by a talking cat which asks for his help in going on magical missions to save books from people who have mistreated or abused them

3. Chronicles Of A Cairo Bookseller

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PHOTO: CORSAIR

By Nadia Wassef
Non-fiction/Corsair/Paperback/225 pages/$30.90/Major bookstores

In 2002, three young Egyptian women – sisters Nadia and Hind, along with their friend Nihal – decided to found an independent bookstore.

Diwan, which opened its flagship store in Cairo’s Zamalek district, changed the local book-selling scene. Nadia Wassef describes the bookshops of her student days as “tomb-like shops lined with books encrusted in dust”, run by men. For Diwan, she and her co-founders envisioned a bookstore with a cafe that would provide a safe space for women to browse and read.

In a narrative structured around the various areas of the shop, she recounts Diwan’s growth into a successful chain with 10 locations and takes readers through a history of Cairo book-selling.

4. 1000 Years Of Joys And Sorrows

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PHOTO: BODLEY HEAD

By Ai Weiwei, translated by Allan H. Barr
The Bodley Head/ Paperback/383 pages/$26.36/Books Kinokuniya

In his first memoir, the iconoclastic Chinese artist and dissident recounts a life of challenging the authorities through art, from his harsh childhood in exile with his father – poet Ai Qing, who was sentenced to reform labour in 1967 during the Cultural Revolution – to his own detention for 81 days in 2011 by Beijing’s secret police.

It was during his detention, Ai writes, that he decided to write this book, both for his late father and his son, who was two at the time of his arrest.

5. AI 2041

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PHOTO: W. H. ALLEN

By Kai-fu Lee and Chen Qiufan
Non-fiction/W. H. Allen/Paperback/451 pages/$24.72/Books Kinokuniya

Computer scientist Lee, former president of Google China who wrote the best-selling AI Superpowers (2018), teams up with science-fiction writer Chen in this unusual project to parse the future of artificial intelligence.

In 10 short stories supplemented by analysis, they envision how technologies and trends from autonomous vehicles to AI job displacement might unfold.

6. Crossroads

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PHOTO: 4TH ESTATE

By Jonathan Franzen
Fiction/4th Estate/Paperback/592 pages/$34.24/Major bookstores

In this first instalment of a trilogy, Franzen sets off in 1970s Chicago, where the Hildebrandt family is falling apart. Russ, an associate pastor at a suburban church, is about to leave his wife Marion – unless she leaves him first.

Eldest child Clem has returned from college, disillusioned; his sister Becky, once socially popular, has veered into counterculture; and their precocious younger brother Perry is trying to get over his drug habit to become a better person.

7. A Marvellous Light

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PHOTO: TOR

By Freya Marske
Fantasy/Tor/Paperback/372 pages/$32.95/Books Kinokuniya

In this crackling debut from Australian author Marske, set in Edwardian England, baronet Robin Blyth is accidentally appointed the liaison to a hidden magical society, which is shocking to him, since he had no idea magic existed.

Not only has his predecessor mysteriously vanished, Robin is now also being cursed by strange attackers in alleys and plagued by inexplicable visions. To solve all this, he must work together with Edwin Courcey, his standoffish counterpart in the magical bureaucracy who is also the scion of a powerful but amoral family.

8. The Love Songs Of W. E. B. Du Bois

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PHOTO: 4TH ESTATE

By Honoree Fanonne Jeffers
Fiction/4th Estate/Paperback/816 pages/$34.24/Major bookstores

Jeffers, an acclaimed American poet, goes big with her debut novel, a sweeping epic grounded in the narrative of Ailey Pearl Garfield, a young black woman in the late 20th century.

Ailey, descended from enslaved Georgians and tenant farmers, grapples with the complexities of her heritage in this novel that draws on the work of African-American scholar W. E. B. Du Bois, who pioneered the idea of the “double consciousness” that African-Americans experience by having to regard themselves through the eyes of white society.

9. Love Of My Life: The Life And Loves Of Freddie Mercury

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PHOTO: CORONET

By Lesley-Ann Jones
Non-fiction/Coronet/Paperback/294 pages/$32.95/Books Kinokuniya

The Oscar-winning film Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) depicted a compact, tidy version of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury’s colourful life. Music journalist Jones, who was Mercury’s biographer, seeks to fill in the gaps.

She explores the various relationships that Mercury – whose 30th death anniversary was last Wednesday – had.

They include those with his established partners Mary Austin and Jim Hutton as well as lesser-known lovers such as actress Barbara Valentin.

10. Renegades: Born In The USA

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PHOTO: CROWN

By Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen
Crown/Hardcover/304 pages/$63.78/Major bookstores

The former United States president and the rock star, who became friends on Mr Obama’s campaign trail in 2008, collaborated earlier this year on a podcast of the same name.

This coffee-table book expands on their conversations on racial tensions, masculinity and, of course, music.

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