Please Step Back

Robert Franklin, the fictional character in New Yorker editor Ben Greenman's fourth novel -- about a young man who christens himself Rock Foxx and goes on to lead a mixed-race-and-gender funk-rock band in the '60s and '70s -- was born when Greenman tried his hand at writing a biography of the leader of the race-and-gender-mixing funk-rock band Sly and the Family Stone. But fiction proved more illuminating than fact, and Greenman's treatment of a band that produces music "sweeter than the Beatles and more filling than Dylan" becomes all the more filling when he makes it his own. The young Robert leaves his chilly Boston home, with only a note for his mama, to test his moves in California. He puts a Nordic girl on bass, a black girl on vocals, and Italian guy on guitar in an era when one can still make the argument on national television that allowing members of the Negro Leagues into the baseball Hall of Fame is like putting "animals next to people." They listen to the Velvet Underground, open for the Stones and decline to play Woodstock, due to Robert's fear of flying. The verses follow a well-worn groove: His first hit comes before he's even figured out how to be a proper rock star. He achieves, then squanders fame, fortune, and the love of a good woman. But the brilliance of this novel is in its riffs: This is a writer who sees rain "coming down like there was a jailbreak in the clouds" and can write: "He had the whole world in his hands. If he dropped it, would it bounce?" One is amply rewarded for listening all the way through to the end.

April 24: "[The HST] lifted a curtain from our view of the universe, changing it so profoundly that no human can look at the stars in the same way..."

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysley Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
In the Light of What We Know

Zia Haider Rahman's mystery of a brilliant Bangladeshi mathematician's past barrels through the Ivy League, London high finance, and spy-haunted Afghanistan in a page-turning tale of exile, intrigue and the price of friendship. A Discover Great New Writers selection.

The People's Platform

Once touted as the foundation for tomorrow's digital democracy, the Internet is increasingly ruled by a few corporate giants, while millions of contributors till its fields for free. Astra Taylor looks at why the web has failed to deliver a communitarian cyberscape, and offers a compelling case for restoring its original vision.

A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.