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Jenna Bush Hager picks new book club novel by 'A Gentleman in Moscow' author

"It’s a story about hope, friendship and companionship in a time when we need it so much."
/ Source: TODAY

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After reading the stunning memoir "Beautiful Country," by Qian Julie Wang, in September 2021, Jenna Bush Hager is switching things up with a sweeping historical fiction novel for October.

This month, the Read With Jenna book club is highlighting Amor Towles's third and most recent novel, "The Lincoln Highway."

"Not only is it one of the most beautifully written books I have ever picked up, it’s a story about hope, friendship and companionship in a time when we need it so much," said Jenna.

The novel is about three 18-year-old boys: Emmett Watson, Woolly and Duchess, and Watson’s eight-year-old brother, Billy, who travel from Nebraska to New York City in the 1950s searching for adventure and a fresh start.

After Emmett spends 15 months serving time at a juvenile work farm, he is dropped off at home in Nebraska, where he reunites with his brother, Billy. He is shocked to find out his two friends from the detention center, Woolly and Duchess, snuck a ride in the trunk of the warden's car. With big plans to travel to New York City, the three 18-year-olds and Billy embark on their fateful journey.

The whole story is told from the perspective of eight characters over the course of 10 days.

"Towles brilliantly captures the inner reality of each with profound and poetic prose. All eight of them are incredible forces in literature," said the TODAY book expert.

For Towles, this novel was a completely different challenge from his previous two books, "Rules of Civility" and "A Gentleman in Moscow."

"One of the things I like to do as I shift from one novel to another, from one project to another, is to make a major shift in what the novel demands of me as a writer. So my last novel, 'A Gentleman in Moscow,' is about an older man, who's an aristocrat in Russia and who is stuck in a hotel for 30 years," said Towles. "When I set out to write a new book, 'The Lincoln Highway,' part of the attraction of the story for me is that it's about three 18-year-old boys and an eight-year-old boy, that are on their way from Nebraska to New York City in 1954, and the whole story lasts only 10 days."

Towles says he has always been interested in the '50s because it's the time period in which his father came of age. Although his father isn't represented in the book, the character Emmett Watson does share an exact birthday with his father.

"At the end, I actually went back when the book was finished and I changed the main character's birthday to December 12, 1935, because that's the day my father was born," said Towles.

As readers dive into Towles's third novel, Jenna Bush Hager shares with TODAY that she is looking forward to discussing the novel with the author.

"Amor Towles is one of those authors that I think will become a Steinbeck of our generation and you know it's hard to say this about many books but I think 'The Lincoln Highway' will be a classic that we will read for years to come," Jenna said.

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