Maureen Corrigan

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

The 18-year-old Jane Jacobs picked a lousy time to leave her hometown of Scranton, Pa., and move to New York City.

It was the fall of 1934 and New York was dragging itself through The Great Depression. During that first year in the city, Jacobs, who'd gone to secretarial school, scrounged for work, riding the subway from the Brooklyn apartment she shared with her older sister, Betty, into Manhattan.

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Copyright 2017 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Beatrix Potter, one of the most enduring and cherished children's authors of all time. To commemorate the anniversary, a new, never-before-published story by Potter, called The Tale of Kitty in Boots, has been released.

Readers, we've been down this road before, not too long ago, and it didn't end well.

What first grabs a reader about Mary Mann Hamilton's memoir, Trials of the Earth, is its backstory. Hamilton was born in Arkansas around 1866; her family ran a boarding house and at 18 she married one of the guests, an older Englishman named Frank Hamilton who claimed to have an aristocratic past.

Copyright 2016 American Public Media. To see more, visit American Public Media.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

The middle of summer is when the surprises in publishing turn up. I'm talking about those quietly commanding books that publishers tend to put out now, because fall and winter are focused on big books by established authors. Which brings us to The Dream Life of Astronauts, by Patrick Ryan, a very funny and touching collection of nine short stories that take place in the 1960s and '70s around Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

In 2004, Susan Faludi stepped off a plane in Budapest, Hungary, to visit her father, a sometimes violent man with whom she'd barely spoken in over 25 years.

The reunion was prompted by an email she'd received from her then 76-year-old father announcing that "after years of impersonating a macho man" he, or rather, she, had undergone sex reassignment surgery. Faludi's father, "Steven," was now "Stefanie." Here's how Faludi describes their airport reunion:

After two half sisters are separated, we follow their family lines over the course of two centuries through a series of short stories. Some of their descendants are in Africa, some are in America; some are free, some are enslaved. In the end, the two separate family sagas merge into one, back in the place where it all began.

Henry James famously said that "summer afternoon" were the two most beautiful words in the English language. With apologies to The Master, I'd tweak that sentiment to suggest that maybe "summer suspense" are two even more beautiful words. Surely, on a sunny summer day, few pleasures can be greater than reading outside in the shade cast by a first-rate thriller.

Pamela Erens' new novel, Eleven Hours, is what traditionally would be called a "small story." It's less than 200 pages, features only two main characters and focuses primarily on events that take place over the span of, well, 11 hours. It's also a novel about the ultimate female adventure of childbirth.

The book is fierce and vivid in its depiction of the exhaustion of the spirit and the rending of the flesh during childbirth. So much so, that it makes that boy adventure aboard Herman Melville's Pequod almost seem like a Carnival cruise.

"More than most places, Pennsylvania is what lies beneath." That's a line Jennifer Haigh places at the beginning and the end of her latest novel, Heat & Light.

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