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.

July 24: On this day in 1725 John Newton, the slave trader-preacher who wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace," was born.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.

Pastoral

When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).