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new novel by colson whitehead “Harlem Shuffle,” revolves around Ray Carney, a furniture retailer in 1960s Harlem with a sideline in crime. It is a relatively light-hearted novel, certainly compared to “The Underground Railroad” and “The Nickel Boys”, Whitehead’s two previous novels, each of which won a Pulitzer Prize.
“I usually do a light book, then a heavy book, but I was forced to write ‘The Nickel Boys’ at the time,” Whitehead says on this week’s podcast. “I knew there was more room for jokes in the crime genre. There’s still plenty of room to play. So I could exercise my sense of humor again. And then immediately, Carney… I wanted him to win as soon as he got on the page. He was someone who wasn’t determined by circumstances—slavery, Jim Crow—as the characters in those last two novels. And he pulls out some capers. And I think we — or at least I was on his side. So immediately the tone was different, and I dedicated myself to it.”
Colm Toibin visits the podcast to talk about his new novel, “Magician,” Based on the life of the great German writer Thomas Mann. Toybin states that the book is not an attempt to “inhabit” Mann or fully understand him, which is impossible for such a complex individual.
“It’s not an attempt to put him down so that by the end of the book you really get to know him,” Tobin says. “I’m as interested in his agnosticism as I am in attempting to paint a much clearer picture of him. I think it’s an important question. I often hear novelists say, ‘I thought I was really my I know the character. And I often feel the opposite. I often feel that my character has become even more clear that I have made more efforts to penetrate his soul.”
Also in this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks at the history of Book Review as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; And Gregory Cowles and John Williams talk about what they’re reading. Pamela Paul is the host.
Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We Are Reading”:
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