Spring Books Preview: Martin Amis, Plane Speaking

Flying himself into the world of geopolitics

On Empire: America, War, & Global Supremacy
by Eric Hobsbawm, March

Probably the most knowledgeable, authoritative, and well-known living historian, at age 91 Eric Hobsbawm has turned his attention to the chaotic and ominous times in which we currently live, a world shaped "by the decision of the U.S. government in 2001 to assert a single-handed world hegemony, denouncing hitherto accepted international conventions, reserving its right to launch wars of aggression or other military operations whenever it wanted to, and actually doing so." The outlook, in a word, is bleak. Pantheon, 128 pp., $19.95

The Silver Swan
by Benjamin Black, March

Muslims, 9/11, dashing cigarettes: Amis
Paulo Fridman/Corbis
Muslims, 9/11, dashing cigarettes: Amis

The Irish writer John Banville, whose masterpieces Shroud, The Untouchable, and The Book of Evidence constitute the foremost examples of what might be called large-sweaty-man lit, has been taking a break from the verbal luxuriance and explorations into the abyss of the human ego that have characterized his work to date by writing crime fiction under the moniker Benjamin Black. Last year's Christine Falls introduced us to the amicable Dublin pathologist and boozehound Quirke, who comes to discover that his adopted family is masterminding a transatlantic baby-smuggling operation. In The Silver Swan, what looks like the suicide of an old friend starts the now sober Quirke on another journey of similarly hideous and improbable proportions. Henry Holt, 290 pp., $25

The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America
by David Hajdu, March

Before Internet porn, gangsta rap, and even rock 'n' roll, the task of threatening the moral fabric of American society belonged to the comic book. Responding to the appearance of this lurid and affordable new form in the mid-1940s, the National Institute of Municipal Law Officers proclaimed, "The criminal and sexual theme of these tales have [sic] been the direct contributing cause of many incidents of juvenile delinquency and to [sic] the imbedding of immoral and unhealthy ideas in the minds of our youngsters [...] The police power can and must be exercised so as to eliminate the vice of objectionable comic books." In this wry piece of cultural history, David Hajdu, the author of Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Fariña, and Richard Fariña, has written an acute satire on the twin vices of sanctimoniousness and hysteria, which are, after all, as old as America itself. FSG, 435 pp., $26

Night Wraps the Sky: Writings by and About Mayakovsky
Edited by Michael Almereyda, April

When he shot himself in the heart on April 14, 1930, Vladimir Mayakovsky was a few weeks shy of his 38th birthday and one of the most renowned poets in Soviet Russia. Though he was embraced by the likes of Allen Ginsberg and John O'Hara (as well the Man of Steel himself, Joseph Stalin), current readers and writers have been less receptive to Mayakovsky's tumultuous and scathing Futurist verse: "Comrade life,/let us/march faster,/March/faster through what's left/of the five-year plan." This is the first fresh English translation of his work to appear in over a generation, and it comes complete with various reminiscences by those who knew him and the chaotic, disintegrating world he wrote about. FSG, 304 pp., $27

Sea Change
by Jorie Graham, April

Jorie Graham's intricate, sophisticated, and mercurial poems have long been one of the splendors of contemporary American literature. In her latest book, she turns her attention to death, and the result is perhaps her finest collection yet. Ecco, 80 pp., $23.95

Posthumous Keats
by Stanley Plumly, May

At an age when most people would be happy to have secured a college degree and a full-time job, John Keats had already written some of the greatest poems in the English language. Keats died at 25 from tuberculosis, and Shelley's words in "Adonais," his elegy for him, have so far proved accurate: "till the Future dares/Forget the Past, his fate and fame shall be/An echo and a light unto eternity!" Writing against the grain of contemporary wisdom on the subject, poet and academic Stanley Plumly has produced a moving and insightful book on the supposedly outmoded idea of literary immortality. Norton, 400 pp., $25.95

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