BEST LAID PLANS
In the middle of the 20th century, urban planner Edward J. Logue oversaw big-time public works projects in New York, New Haven, and Boston, including Government Center and Faneuil Hall. The ambitious, big-thinking, and controversial Logue is the subject of a new book by Lizabeth Cohen, the Howard Mumford Jones Professor of American Studies at Harvard; “Saving America’s Cities: Ed Logue and the Struggle to Renew Urban America in the Suburban Age” (FSG) not only shines light on the largely forgotten Logue — a complicated, hard-headed man — but explores urban planning and renewal. Cohen’s savvy book makes a nuanced portrait; Logue’s ideas for renewal often involved the dislocation of residents and the demolishing of neighborhoods, and not everyone thinks that the Brutalist behemoth of Boston City Hall, for example, ranks as a success. The book is also a readable exploration of the complications involved with changing the ways cities work and how we work in them, and the relationships involved among money, politics, social problems, infrastructure, and architecture.
Mathea Morais’s lively, arresting debut novel, “There You Are” (Amberjack), which arrived earlier this fall, holds four primary characters: Mina (a white lawyer’s daughter who longs not to be white); Octavian (a black son of a poet with a troubled brother); the city of St. Louis in the ’80s and ’90s; and music. Morais, who’s the director of the Noepe Center for Literary Arts on Martha’s Vineyard, grew up in St. Louis, and her book follows Octavian and Mina from their meeting in pre-middle school to their reconnection years later at Rahsaan’s Records. Though Mina’s family life is more volatile and unsteady than Octavian’s, she’s advantaged by her white skin in the racially divided city. Morais creates a powerful, sensitive look at the way systematic racial inequities shape the lives of her characters in different ways, and also tells an attentive, appealing story of love between Octavian and Mina. The book is deeply grounded in time and place — her St. Louis has a beating heart, one that thumps in part to the power and rhythm of the music born in the city, playing from its car speakers, on the records in the record store that’s on its way to close. Big themes — race, love, music — are carefully braided by Morais’s capable, promising hands.
At a holiday party at the Cambridge Public Library hosted by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, there’ll be 12 authors talking and a partridge in a pear tree. The Massachusetts Book Awards Holiday Dozen brings together authors recently honored with the award. Each author will give a mini-talk, followed by mingling and book signing. Fiction and nonfiction authors include Jabari Asim (“We Can’t Breathe”); Jill Lepore (“These Truths”); Allegra Goodman (“The Chalk Artist”); Stephen McCauley (“My Ex-Life”); Mira T. Lee (“Everything Here Is Beautiful”). The poets include Richard Hoffman (“Noon Until Night”); Kevin McLellan (“Ornitheology”); and Fred Marchant (“Said Not Said”). And YA writers include Katie Bayerl (“A Psalm for Lost Girls”); Nancy Werlin (“And Then There Were Four”); Cynthia Levinson (“Fault Lines in the Constitution”); and Julia Denos (“Windows”). The free party takes place on Dec. 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Cambridge Public Library, 449 Broadway, in Cambridge.
“Africaville” by Jeffrey Colvin (Amistad)
“The Story of a Goat” by Perumal Murugan (Black Cat/Grove)
“Criminal Child: And Other Essays” by Jean Genet, translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman and Charlotte Mandell (NYRB)
Pick of the Week
Kitty Darkness at Papercuts J.P. in Jamaica Plain recommends “Fever Dream” by Samanta Schweblin, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell (Riverhead): “Opening this book is like slipping into a sweaty pool in the middle of a volcanic forest and sinking to the bottom. Sultry and mysterious, the characters lead you on a journey to figure out why they are here, at a hospital, simultaneously at and beyond death’s door. And all you can do is submit to the erratic but compelling pulse of the story and find out.”