Friday, November 26, 2021

Bookseller Top 5 of 2021 - Part 1

Happy Day After Thanksgiving! To celebrate the beginning of the holidays, starting today we're going to publish a blog post each day until the end of November with our booksellers' top 5 picks for the best books of the year.

What's that all about, you ask? Well - each year all of the booksellers at Boswell choose their Top 5 favorite books of the year. For some, it's a breeze. For others, it's an arduous task - there is ranking, there are personal bracket systems, and there is even, occasionally, coin flipping.

Here's our best of the best - our tip top picks for 2021.

First up, Aleah:

Raven Leilani's Luster is a Top Book of the Year pick from like, a gazillion publications. It's also won the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize, the Kirkus Prize, the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, the Dylan Thomas Prize, and the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award. Yeesh! Edie is stumbling her way through her twenties - sharing a subpar apartment in Bushwick, clocking in and out of her admin job, making a series of inappropriate sexual choices. She is also haltingly, fitfully giving heat and air to the art that simmers inside her. And then she meets Eric, a digital archivist with a family in New Jersey, including an autopsist wife who has agreed to an open marriage - with rules.

Dolly Alderton's Ghosts is per the publisher, a smart, sexy, laugh-out-loud romantic comedy about ex-boyfriends, imperfect parents, friends with kids, and a man who disappears the moment he says "I love you." Nina Dean is not especially bothered that she's single. She owns her own apartment, she's about to publish her second book, she has a great relationship with her ex-boyfriend, and enough friends to keep her social calendar full and her hangovers plentiful. And when she downloads a dating app, she does the seemingly impossible: She meets a great guy on her first date. But when Max ghosts her, Nina is forced to deal with everything she's been trying so hard to ignore: her father's Alzheimer's is getting worse, and so is her mother's denial of it; her editor hates her new book idea; and her best friend from childhood is icing her out.

Mona Awad's All's Well has prose that Margaret Atwood has described as "no punches pulled, no hilarities dodged…genius," Mona Awad has concocted her most potent, subversive novel yet. All’s Well is a "fabulous novel" (Mary Karr) about a woman at her breaking point and a formidable, piercingly funny indictment of our collective refusal to witness and believe female pain. Miranda Fitch’s life is a waking nightmare. The accident that ended her burgeoning acting career left her with excruciating chronic back pain, a failed marriage, and a deepening dependence on painkillers. And now, she’s on the verge of losing her job as a college theater director. Determined to put on Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, the play that promised and cost her everything, she faces a mutinous cast hellbent on staging Macbeth instead. Miranda sees her chance at redemption slip through her fingers.That’s when she meets three strange benefactors who have an eerie knowledge of Miranda’s past and a tantalizing promise for her future: one where the show goes on, her rebellious students get what’s coming to them, and the invisible doubted pain that’s kept her from the spotlight is made known.

Michelle Ruiz Keil's Summer in the City of Roses is a book inspired by the Greek myth of Iphigenia and the Grimm fairy tale "Brother and Sister." Michelle Ruiz Keil's second novel follows two siblings torn apart and struggling to find each other in early 90s Portland. Told through a lens of magical realism and steeped in myth, this is a dazzling tale about the pain and beauty of growing up.

And Aleah's final pick is The Power by Naomi Alderman. Each new bookseller gets a chance to pick an older book for their top 5 in their first year. In The Power, the world is a recognizable place: there's a rich Nigerian boy who lounges around the family pool; a foster kid whose religious parents hide their true nature; an ambitious American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But then a vital new force takes root and flourishes, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power: they can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world drastically resets. The Power is speculative fiction at its most ambitious and provocative, at once taking us on a thrilling journey to an alternate reality, and exposing our own world in bold and surprising ways.

NEXT UP! From Amie (who only turned in two [great] top picks this year, so here they are):

Ruth Ozeki's The Book of Form and Emptiness is about a boy who hears the voices of objects all around him; a mother drowning in her possessions; and a Book that might hold the secret to saving them both. This brilliantly inventive new novel from the Booker Prize-finalist Ruth Ozeki is something that David Mitchell, the award-winning author of books like The Bone Clocks and Cloud Atlas, says, "If you’ve lost your way with fiction over the last year or two, let The Book of Form and Emptiness light your way home."

Amie's next pick is World Travel: An Irreverent Guide, the posthumous book by Anthony Bourdain,  with Laurie Woolever, the writer and editor who spent nearly a decade working with Bourdain and coauthored the cookbook Appetites with him. This is a guide to some of the world’s most fascinating places, as seen and experienced by writer, television host, and relentlessly curious traveler Bourdain. A life of experience is collected into an entertaining, practical, fun and frank travel guide that gives readers an introduction to some of his favorite places - in his own words. Featuring essential advice on how to get there, what to eat, where to stay and, in some cases, what to avoid, World Travel provides essential context that will help readers further appreciate the reasons why Bourdain found a place enchanting and memorable.

And the last entry for the day comes from me, Chris, your Boswellians blog-runner and (hopefully) favorite bookstore marketing dude:

My tip-top, #1 most incredible, beloved book pick of the year is the story collection Afterparties, by Anthony Veasna So. This is another posthumous book, sadly - So passed away suddenly just before its publication. Happily, though, the book leaves behind for him an incredible literary legacy. It was also just named one of The New York Times 100 Best Books of the year. Here's my staff rec: BELIEVE THE HYPE. In fact, call Afterparties the Goodbye, Columbus of Californian Cambodian-American life. So’s book is a glittering example of what the best story collections do - welcome you fully into a world and render it with diamond cut detail and deep well empathy. Sharply funny, dirty, unsparing, and full of longing, hopes, and American dreams of all kinds - dashed, wildly overachieved, hung onto by a thread, abandoned, and just discovered.

My next pick is a Pittsburgh book. I'm always glad to get a Pittsburgher in the mix, as I went to grad school at Pitt and have a big love for the Steel City. The book is Punch Me Up to the Gods by Brian Broome. My rec: Generous, fearless, funny, and gentle, Broome chronicles his own story to understand how and where he (along with so many other Black outsiders) doesn’t fit in America. His sentences are pure style, a joy to read, and he slips between as many voices as he has existences: Black, gay, poor, masculine, abused, uncool, scared, addicted, ashamed, angry, proud, and full of joy. And on and on. Yes, that’s a lot of signifiers, but only because this is an awful lot of book. Where do you live when every space you inhabit is an intersection of tensions? How does a man who’s spent his life being choked finally learn to breathe? Broome interrogates the world with the rigor and tenacity of the greats, and Punch Me Up to the Gods is everything a great memoir should be. 

I got the chance to interview Brian for the shop - here's the video of that virtual event.

My third pick is Catch the Rabbit, a novel by Lana Bastašić, another author I had the pleasure of chatting with - check out that virtual event here. And check out my review of the book right here: Amazing, heart-wrenching, wondrous. A years-spanning story of an intense friendship and how history (you know, wars and stuff) weighs on people's bonds. More than a decade ago, Sara left Bosnia, never to return. Now, drawn back by a long-lost childhood friend, she’s on a road trip through the Western Balkans, her own past, and a landscape scarred by social and political violence. Bastašić wrestles questions of obligation and understanding into one woman’s deeply personal reckoning. What do we owe the people who’ve shaped us, who taught us how to feel alive? What we know (and un-know) of our friends, our histories, and ourselves? It’s a story of how a person can misunderstand her friend and herself and then be completely wrecked and rebuilt as she grows to a new understanding of her world. Prepare to be split in two. WOW!

How about one more book by an author I got to chat with virtually (video here) this year? Okay! Next on my list is Our Country Friends, the new novel by literary funnyman Gary Shteyngart. Here's my brief, but too the point summary of this one: Extraordinary. I love every word Shteyngart’s ever written, and this is his best novel by an upstate country mile. I said I never wanted to read a 2020 pandemic novel, but I was wrong. I needed to read one - this one. And seriously, let me double down on that last sentiment here for the blog. I know we're all really, really, really tired of talking about COVID, for better or worse, but it's quite refreshing and indeed even sort of soothing to have a writer as good as Shteyngart take our current collective woes and turn them into such an indelible piece of art. You won't regret this vacation-on-the-page from.

My last pick is one from an author I've been meaning to read for a couple of books now but just this year finally got to. I try to read at least one book every year by another Lee (one of the top 5 most widely-used surnames in the world) and this year I finally made it to the J's (first names) with Jonathan Lee's new novel, The Great Mistake. I am very glad I did. In fact, Lee is going to be one of the few authors who is so good I go back and read his other books - High Dive is near the top of my to-read stack now. My review of this fantastic novel: Wow. If you want a classic, capital N, The Novel kind of book, you couldn’t do much better than The Great Mistake. As a stylist, Lee is top shelf; he so obviously delights in the English language, and each of his sentences is a masterclass in wonder, humor, and precision - even the shapes and sounds of his lines are full of surprises. You want more than style? You got it. Lee tracks the life of Andrew Haswell Green (the mostly forgotten Father of Greater New York) through the 19th century, creating a remarkably full measure of the man’s life, public and private. In doing so, the book offers a window into the life of America’s greatest city as it came into its modern form. Honestly, the best comparison I can think of is that this is the novel Charles Dickens might write if he’d recently crawled out of the grave.

And, full disclosure? It was I who made a choice with a coin flip this year. What was the other book in competition? I'll never tell. Unless you come to the store and ask me, in which case I'll probably just blurt it out without even thinking about it. See you at the shop!

More top 5 picks coming tomorrow!



Monday, November 22, 2021

Staff Recommendations, Week of November 23, 2021

 
Another week, another round of recommendations. We think you will enjoy these books, hopefully as much as we did!

First it's Daniel Goldin for a much-anticipated release, the latest from author & independent bookshop proprietor Ann Patchett: These Precious Days: Essays. From Daniel: "At first, I thought this book was a follow-up to This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, and why not? Patchett wrote this was the case in her introduction, which laid out why, when an author writes essays, they don’t worry about dying in the middle of writing them the way many do with novels. Sure enough, there are meditations on knitting, flying (or rather her husband flying and Patchett passengering), writing (of course), and my personal favorite, a salute to Snoopy. Speaking of flying, it’s hard for Patchett to fly under the radar; what book lover hasn’t read her appreciation of Kate Di Camillo, which first appeared in The New York Times? But the more I read, the more I see two themes took root: the value of friendship and the transience of life, which come together in the also well-known title essay. And in that way, the book started reminding me more of Patchett’s first nonfiction book, Truth and Beauty, about her friendship with the poet Lucy Grealey. And that’s a good thing – the result is a powerful, heartfelt collection."

Next up, Jason Kennedy recommends The Anomaly, by Hervé Le Tellier, translated by Adriana Hunter. From Jason: "A plane appears over the sky in the Atlantic heading to New York. Nothing astonishing with that, except this same plane already landed three months ago. How is this possible? And how does this change our perception of the world? So many questions, and not a lot of answers, but The Anomaly is full of great discourse that will have you contemplating our choices and responsibilities in the world. There is a little bit of everything in this book: a love story, a thriller, a coming-out-story, a sci-fi tale, and childhood trauma. This is a book you can read and consume quickly, but I guarantee your mind will be full for quite some time, digesting all the minutia that makes up this great speculative novel."

Jen Steele, who's taken over kids buying this year, has been recommending up a storm of great kids books. She suggests The Legend of the Christmas Witch, by Dan Murphy and Aubrey Plaza. Jen says: "This is not your ordinary Santa Claus story. This is the tale of two siblings separated at a young age. One will grow up to become the legendary Kris Kringle, and one will grow up to become the Christmas Witch. This is her tale. A tale of sorrow and magic, love and family, power and danger. The Legend of the Christmas Witch is a wonderfully folkloric book that should be added to your family story time during the season."

Out in paperback this week: 

Rumaan Alam's Leave the World Behind got two bookseller recs here at Boswell. First, from Chris Lee: "Leave the World Behind is the kind that asks people find out who they are when the crisis comes. When strangers knock on the door, when the technology fails, when the animals start acting weird and the whole world becomes a threat. Yet these people aren’t ex-military-loner action movie heroes, they’re not the plucky last-girl-standing from your favorite slasher flick. They’re just your average, all-American family of the dwindling middle class. Alam’s magic trick here is his ability to draw you so close to these characters with such intimate detail that within a few chapters they become as familiar as a reflection. So by the time things become, let’s say, strange, it’s not just one family’s worst fears on display. Alam is holding up a mirror so we can see some of our own. This is a book about all the ways the vast world can so quickly reduce us to the animals we’ve always been - scared, fragile, and oh so human."

Kay Wosewick adds: "Two very different families reluctantly agree to temporarily share a remote Long Island house owned by one of the families. Over the course of three days, all six individuals encounter odd phenomena, usually while alone. Eventually, they all are well-aware that something strange is happening, but no one can articulate what it is. Rumaan's portrayal of a world suddenly turned upside down, and his characters' unfolding reactions to it, are unsettlingly credible."

See you next week! Happy Thanksgiving, happy reading!

Monday, November 15, 2021

Staff Recommendations, Week of November 16, 2021


A new week brings a new batch of recommendations from the Boswellians. Excellent news for readers everywhere, right?

The first is from our adult buyer Jason Kennedy, who suggests you educate yourself about Miseducation: How Climate Change Is Taught in America by Katie Worth. Jason says: "You knew that teaching climate change in America wouldn't be a pretty picture, but I am more disturbed than ever before. Climate change deniers are working the old Big Tobacco playbook, and unfortunately we don't have time to mess around with them. Earth doesn't have the time. Katie Worth found out that the textbooks that even discuss climate change at all don't teach it as fact but as something that can be “discussed.” Science isn't real, if you haven't been paying attention to the news. Big money is masking the elephant in the room, but at some point the elephant will sit and smoosh us all. I think they are hoping to be gone before that happens and push it onto the next generation to clean up their mess. Such an eye-opening and frustrating book."

Kay Wosewick, our resident "fastest reader in the world" recommends a book this week as well - the latest from Neal Stephenson, the king of sci-fi / cyberpunk. Termination Shock is the book, and here's what Kay says: "Termination Shock is set about two decades out, when climate change is wreaking havoc in nearly all corners of the world. Someone must take action ASAP, right?! Politics are messy, technology is clever, and the characters are an eclectic lot. This is top-notch Stephenson, though he leaves us hanging. Speed it up Neal!!"

That's it! See you next week, readers.



Monday, November 8, 2021

Staff Recommendations, Week of November 9, 2021

 
A few recommendations coming your way from the Boswellians this week!

First up it's Tim McCarthy for The Sentence, the new novel by Louise Erdrich. Tim's rec: "The Sentence is both hilarious and deadly serious, sly and sincere. It's hard-edged and beautifully tender, with biting humor as a balm for life’s wounds. Erdrich is a national treasure, but you probably knew that. What I knew of her was limited to her Birchbark House children's writing. I also knew that her flowing autograph is a signed book nerd’s dream, and her beautiful jacket photos take my breath away. I'm a shameful book collector who’s picky about his crushes. Oh yes, the story. If I tell you very much, I’ll ruin good surprises. So, I’ll just say it’s a ghost story, an exploration of the spirit world inside our own. It happens in Erdrich’s very own book store, Birchbark Books, with Louise as a subtle character. And the ghost is an annoying, complex, recently dead regular customer. Above all, we get to see into the heart of a Minneapolis bookstore during the pandemic and the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. This book is priceless American truth! And it's about people who love books."

Kay Wosewick recommends The Singing Forest, the latest novel by Canadian author Judith McCormack. Kay's rec: "A brutalized boy from a dirt-poor family escapes to Minsk, Belarus in the 1930s, which is filled with Stalin’s watchdogs. Eventually, the boy gains low-level employment with them. Decades later, he is linked to mass graves that have just been uncovered outside Minsk. Lawyers build a case to end his comfortable life in Canada and send the now very old man back to Belarus. McCormack skillfully presents the story in grey moral tones that resist easy answers."

Daniel Goldin has a recommendation - the book came out last week, but the rec just came in today! So I'm sharing it with you now: You Can’t Be Serious, by Kal Penn. Daniel's rec: "I have always been intrigued by Kal Penn, not just for his acting, but for his detour into civil service, which unlike other celebrities, did not involve running for office. While You Can’t Be Serious doesn’t have a coming out chapter, its revelation that Penn is engaged to a Nascar-loving Missisippian named Josh earned headlines upon the book’s publication. I was also very interested in reading about Penn’s struggles finding good roles as a South Asian and why Harold and Kumar go to White Castle was so groundbreaking. For every celebrity memoir I read, there are five others I put down within 25 pages. I need to like the voice, I want some interesting stories, the author must have something of substance to say, and if I’m promised humor, I better be laughing out loud. You Can’t Be Serious has all of that!"

That's it! We'll have more recommendations next week, and until then, happy reading from all the Boswellians.



Monday, November 1, 2021

Staff Recs, Week of November 2, 2021

 
Welcome to a new month, full of new staff recommendations. Let's dive into November.

First we've got Chris Lee for the latest novel by Gary Shteyngart: Our Country Friends. Here's Chris's rec, which was chosen as the bookseller recommendation for this month's Indie Next List (click here for more on that): "Extraordinary. I love every word Shteyngart’s ever written, and this is his best novel by an upstate country mile. I said I never wanted to read a 2020 pandemic novel, but I was wrong. I needed to read one - this one."

Kay Wosewick also recommends Shteyngart's novel. She says: "An aging Russian writer facing the collapse of his career gathers a few friends to ride-out COVID in his Hudson Valley estate, complete with cabins for his guests. The story is generously sprinkled with farce and self-absorption, heady, funny, and occasionally cruel mealtime conversations, both self-inflicted and other-inflicted pain, and yes, joy. Gorgeous writing will leave images of Our Country Friends dancing in your head for days."

We've got an event coming up later this month featuring Shteyngart in conversation with Chris Lee - Wednesday, 11/17 - click right here for more information about that.

Chris also recommends the latest crime novel from William Boyle: Shoot The Moonlight Out. You'll want to note that while this is the Boyle's fifth novel, it's not a book in a series - seems like he mostly writes stand alones - so you can jump right into this one. Chris says: "Boyle’s penned one humdinger of a crime novel. You get a twisty, “when will their paths cross and how bad will it get?” sort of plot, characters full of big-time dreams and even bigger feelings, and local color out the wazoo. I certainly won’t be the only person to compare Boyle’s style, story, and milieu to Scorsese. And here’s something I like – Boyle runs far away from the corny, ‘man’s gotta do..,’ moralistic posturing that so many contemporary thrillers are full of. Let’s be honest – every season of books comes with a bundle of them about thieving, cheating, and killing. Shoot the Moonlight Out deserves a spot all of this fall’s most wanted lists."

Jenny Chou and Daniel Goldin both have a recommendation for another upcoming event book: New York, My Village, by Uwem Akpan. First up, Jenny says: "It is the rare work of literary fiction that leaves readers wondering if the war against those stealthy little insects known as bed bugs can ever really be won. After finishing Uwem Akpan’s shrewd, heartfelt, and ultimately delightful novel New York, My Village, I turned that question over in my mind for a while before shifting my thoughts to war in general and the scars left behind even if the battles end and a victor is declared. Ekong Udousoro, a Nigerian editor and publisher, receives a fellowship to work alongside an American publisher in Manhattan while he edits a collection of stories about the Biafran War, also known as the Nigerian Civil War. The novel weaves seamlessly between Ekong’s life in the present day to accounts of the war from his collection of stories and from his friends and family. These sections are painful to read but eye-opening about the ramifications of colonialism, especially for those of us who were only vaguely aware that the war even took place. Between his work colleagues, the other renters in his building, and the congregation at a New Jersey church he visits, both micro and macro aggressions abound. The biggest insults are the racist attacks on the Nigerian food he loves, particularly since Ekong finds so much joy in trying all the American and ethnic food to be found around New York. Ekong is a keen observer of everything, from New Yorkers to bed bugs, and his observations are often filled with humor. And it’s those bed bugs who journey with him throughout his time in New York, always a step ahead, causing misery that reaches out to touch every part of his life, a small but mighty symbol for the war that his country may never recover from."

Daniel says: "Ekong Udousoro is a Nigerian editor is sent to New York on a program where he’ll guest edit a collection on the Biafran Civil War for Andrew & Thompson, an independent but still significant publisher. His troubles begin at the border, where they won’t let him in, and continue most notably at the editorial pitch meetings, where seemingly friendly faces betray racism and ignorance. That said, some of Ekong’s negative assumptions about others wind up being off base, leading to happier outcomes, albeit after heated discussions. I particularly loved the New York observations, making this a satisfyingly place-y novel."

The event is on Monday, 11/ 8 - more information about that right here.

Jenny also recommends Blue-Skinned Gods, by SJ Sindu. Of this she says: "There are two reasons why a person might be born with blue skin. They might be the tenth and final reincarnation of the Hindu God Vishnu or, possibly, within their DNA is a rare recessive gene that has a chance of popping up when even distantly related people conceive a child together. Ten-year-old Kalki’s blue skin, his parents insist, comes from being a living god, one who can heal and perform miracles. His father creates a religious retreat in India called an ashram, and he welcomes Westerners interested in meditation and yoga and locals who yearn to be cured of back pain, bad luck, and more. Many simply want a blessing from a god. Secretly, doubts flicker through Kalki’s mind. Is he a healer? What if he is simply casting an illusion over people desperate to believe? Kalki’s journey from a living god in India to the mascot of his American cousin’s rock band, the Blue-Skinned Gods, is full of loss and much soul-searching. Blue-Skinned Gods is such a compelling take on identity written from the vantage of an adult recalling glimpses of his childhood and twenty-something years. This is absolutely the right choice, because this is a book that asks a question that I think needs an adult’s perspective to answer: Does having faith mean believing in a lie? And faith could mean belief in a god or gods, in our parents, or even in our political leaders. Blue-Skinned Gods is a great story, but it’s also a book that I’m still turning over in my mind days after the last page."

Jen Steele recommends the graphic novel Ballad for Sophie, by Filipe Melo, illustrated by Juan Cavia, and translated by Gabriela Soares. This one was originally slated for a September release but got pushed back to this month. Seeing a lot of that this year! Here's Jen's take: "When a young woman arrives to interview reclusive pianist Julien Dubois, she is treated to not only Julien’s story but the story of a true genius, Francois Samson, as well – Julien’s rival for accolades in the classical world as well as a rival for a beautiful woman. Spanning decades in the life of a famous pianist, Ballad for Sophie is an operatic triumph with sensational illustrations."

Finally, in new hardcover releases, it's a legacy recommendation from our recently-moved-on-to-greener-pastures former Boswellian Julio Garcia, who left us with his recommendation of Wild Tongues Can't Be Tamed: 15 Voices from the Latinx Diaspora, edited by Saraciea J Fennell. Here's his rec: "Growing up, I struggled to read books - I never felt like I could relate to that of Royalty or even middle-class blues. It wasn't until middle school that I realized characters could be Latinx. That is why a book like this is so important. This is an oral history of 15 distinct voices in the Latinx community that speak of the struggles they had growing up. This book takes a look at the problems with colorism, alcoholism, belonging, and immigration in the Latinx community and in the United States as a whole. This reads like a heartfelt conversation with a friend over a cup of coffee. Both poignant and powerful, I would not be surprised to see this book in classrooms in the near future."

Kay has three more recommendations of her own for us this week. Whoa! First up is 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows, the memoir from world-famous artist Ai Weiwei. Kay says: "Ai Weiwei’s only known artistic influences as a young child living in labor camps were hearing bits of his father’s poetry and pouring over his father’s art books while his father worked nearby. Ai Qing was released from labor camps after Mao died, just as Ai Weiwei was old enough to attend junior high school. He enrolled in numerous art schools and art programs abroad throughout his young adult years, only to drop out soon after starting. His early artistic output thus appears to be mostly self-directed, often evolving dramatically with little apparent reason. When he returned to China, ancient, odd artifacts captured his attention, but it wasn’t long before his art became almost completely politically driven. Since he and his father rarely spoke, Ai Weiwei’s fierce morality seems largely based on observation of his father. Ai Weiwei’s autonomy, brilliance and passion shine throughout his memoir, with minimal presence of ego. Beloved worldwide, this book convincingly depicts how he earned this lofty status."

Next, Kay recommends The Interim, by Wolfgang Hilbig. Kay says: "Beware, Hilbig’s gut-wrenching prose may haunt you for days. C. and fellow countrymen living in the German Democratic Republic after WW2 are expected to agreeably do their assigned jobs; after all, only those who experienced the Holocaust have legitimate reason to complain. Assigned to a prestigious factory job requiring almost no real work, C. fails, spectacularly. Demoted to lowly jobs, he finds time to write and publish poetry. C.’s poetry gains international recognition, and he is allowed to spend several years in Berlin and elsewhere doing poetry readings. He often returns the GDR to visit his girlfriend and mother, but whether he’s there or in Germany, he relentlessly tells himself he is worthless. Frequent heavy drinking exacerbates C.’s self-denigration. Eventually facing the choice of life in Berlin with one woman or life in the GDR with another, C. is paralyzed and confused, taking trains from one city to another, and finally in circles. The Interim is a dark novel by a famous German author, perfectly befitting dark times."

Finally, a paperback original from Graywolf, a publisher doing fantastic work in translation these days. Kay recommends Brickmakers, by Selva Almada, translated by Annie McDermott. Kay says: "Almada’s novels set a quick hook that keeps you reading until the story is finished, and her books’ brevity make that achievable in a day. Set in a small town in Argentina, two families’ lives are irrevocably at odds. Clever storytelling slowly reveals the paths of two generations and their inevitable outcomes. A classic theme presented in lovely prose."

Madi Hill also has a paperback original recommendation to make: Tacky, by Rax King. Madi says: "I first picked up Tacky by Rax King because I have a tattoo of a green olive on my ankle, and it matched the cover so well it seemed kismet. Then I started reading through each nostalgia-rich essay, and it was like I time traveled back to the ‘00s in all of their cringing glory. King is unapologetically open about her connection and enjoyment about the things that even in their prime were considered "tacky." Her use of culture that we now recall with groans like Jersey Shore and places as Hot Topic are jumping off points for deeply personal stories about how such sneered-at things had a lasting impact in shaping her life. King's snaking journey to discovering and embracing her sexuality and past mistakes is courageous and admirable. A feminist, sex positive, at times philosophical collection of essays, Tacky lets readers reclaim those interests that are brushed aside as guilty pleasures and embrace them in all their gaudy delight."

That's it! See you next week with more great books the Boswellians love.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Staff Recs, Week of October 26, 2021

 
Just a few recs for you this week - don't worry, lots more are coming before the year is out!

All three of the recommendations this week come from the one and only Daniel Goldin. His first is for a brand new middle grade novel that's come out this month: Playing the Cards You're Dealt, by Varian Johnson. Daniel says: "Anthony Johnson has a lot on his plate. The big Spades tournament is coming up at the city park, but his partner Jamal might not be able to play because one of their classmates goaded him into a fight. His new classmate Shirley is pretty good at cards, but how’s Jamal going to feel about Shirley taking his place? I really enjoyed this book – it has a lot to say about making assumptions and the fine line between teasing and bullying. I really appreciated the community Johnson built for the book, where connections run strong (his mom seems to know everybody), or should I say in spades?"

Daniel also offers two recommendations of books getting their paperback releases this week.

The first is Memorial, the debut novel from Bryan Washington. Daniel says: "Benson is a Black, gay, part-time day care instructor alienated from his parents, who are also alienated from each other. Mike is a Japanese cook whose parents are also no longer together. Mike invites his mother Mitsuko to Houston, only to leave for Osaka when he learns his estranged father has cancer. Not only does Ben not know what to do with Mitsuko except eat her food, he’s not even sure what he’s doing with Mike, who’s looking to open up the relationship. And while Ben’s mom has drifted away and can do fine on her own, his dad isn’t exactly healthy. The story moves from Benson to Mike and back again as each navigates the push/pull of family, responsibility, and commitment. Memorial is a sex positive, HIV positive, sort of comedy-love story with a magnetic emotional resonance that exerts its pull just when you least expect it."

He also recommends Elizabeth Berg's memoir I'll Be Seeing You. Daniel says: "As a bookseller, I see a lot of memoirs about caregiving, from established authors to folks who have chosen contract publishing. And why not? Caregiving is an almost universal experience and one that generates a lot of memories and moments. It is hard not to see ourselves in the folks we care for, leading to more than one bout of philosophical musing. But not every writer can get at those small moments like Elizabeth Berg. Her father was a military man, while her mother seemed to accept her role to serve him, as long as she got time for little pleasures, like shopping with her sisters at Herberger’s. But with Art in decline, Jeanne chafes at his constant presence and rebels at leaving her longtime house in St. Paul for assisted living. The story has a diary structure, offering immediacy to the story, and showing Berg’s skill at quickly bringing to life family, friends, and even incidental characters. But most importantly, I’ll Be Seeing You succeeds at what it set out to do, sharing that story that so many of us must face, with all the drama and insight of one of her novels."

Extra! Extra! Late addition! Tim just sent me this rec after I'd gotten the blog edited, but we haven't hit our usual number of reads on this post yet, so for those just tuning in, how about a late addition bonus rec? Okay!

Tim McCarthy is all about Hero of Two Worlds: The Marquis de Lafayette in the Age of Revolution, by Fall of Rome and Revolutions podcaster and now author Mike Duncan. Tim says: "I’ve read a lot of history, but rarely have I seen a story as dramatic as Lafayette’s. I knew a little about him from other books - the Frenchman who helped George Washington finally win the American Revolution. I also assumed that Lafayette Hill in Milwaukee is one of the many tributes to him across the United States. But the twists and turns of this man’s life took me by surprise. Raised at the highest levels of aristocracy, he left as a young man to fight for glory and American liberty. Returning to France as a hero, he went from a pivotal role in Paris as the Bastille was stormed to a man hated by both extremes during the French Revolution. He spent years in European prisons, and later returned for a grand parade of love on a tour of every US state. Along the way he saw the hypocrisy of freedom fighters who continued to own slaves and worked to end it. He even tried to convince his father figure Washington to do the right thing. Duncan tells the story with suspense, riveting details, and bold conclusions. This is history at its entertaining finest!"

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Staff Recs, Week of October 19, 2021


And now we're back to our regularly scheduled weekly blogging. Staff recommendations for the week!

New In Hardcover

First up, Chris Lee recommends Go Home, Ricky!, by Gene Kwak. Chris says: "When his heart and his neck both get broken, semi-pro circuit wrestler Ricky sets off on a journey to find his absentee father upon whose Native American heritage Ricky’s identity (not to mention his semi-offensive wrestling persona) is based. This book rules. Ricky’s voice is unforgettable – an internet bro full of swagger, jokes, and pain. And his story, like him, is messy, flawed, and wandering, from the top of the ropes to Omaha’s dive bars, halfway across the country twice then back home again. A wholly original, of-the-moment take on the ways a young man in middle America searches for answers to those eternal questions: who the hell am I, and how am I going to live with it? This is a heck of a good book."

Kay Wosewick recommends Redemption of Wolf 302: From Renegade to Yellowstone Alpha Male, by Rick McIntyre. Kay says: "A couple generations into the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone, could there be anything new to learn after thousands of hours of study? Yes, indeed! Most surprisingly, significant behavioral and personality changes occur over the life of Wolf 302. Happy tears."

Tim McCarthy recommends The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times, by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams. Tim says: "Hope can be tough to come by these days, but Jane Goodall certainly has it. She is truly "a beacon of hope." People from all over the world look to her for it, and it's not wishful thinking. She has very specific and detailed reasons to be hopeful, and she thinks what people see in her is an unflinching honesty about the nightmare scenarios we face on Earth combined with a sincere belief that we can still overcome them. She freely admits there are times when she feels down, but at 87 years old, long after her revolutionary studies of African chimpanzees, she still travels the world working with people and nature, collecting the most amazing stories! She believes that hope is a survival trait which humans have developed, but that it must also be nurtured and reinforced. Her travels give her a fierce belief in "the amazing human intellect, the resilience of nature, the power of young people, and the indomitable human spirit." She discusses each of these reasons for hope in profound dialogues with Douglas Abrams, who wrote The Book of Joy with the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. This is a book I've badly needed, a renewal of my sense of purpose and possibility from one of our wisest elders!"

Kids & YA

Chris Lee gets a late recommendation in for The Littlest Yak, by Lu Fraser. Chris says: "Gertie the littlest yak is up for big adventure, though it might not come in the shape or size she expects, and she might just learn a huge lesson about her small stature along the way. The perfect read-along picture book this winter."

Kay Wosewick recommends middle grade novel Across the Desert, by Dusti Bowling. Kay says: "Jolene always logs in to watch Addie live-stream her adventures flying an ultralight airplane a few hours from Jolene’s home in Phoenix. One day, Addie crashes. Jolene calls officials near where Addie flies, but no one believes her. Jolene is determined to find Addie, who lives in a difficult-to-reach area that’s experiencing a severe heat wave. This exciting adventure for preteen girls has the added plus of dealing plausibly with family narcotic abuse."

New Paperback Releases

Tim McCarthy recommends The Brief and True Report of Temperance Flowerdew, by Denise Heinze. Tim says: "Temperance Flowerdew came to Jamestown Colony in 1609 and married Virginia's first two Governors, but her life was not recorded. Denise Heinze imagines her world, from surviving the hurricane that nearly wrecked her transatlantic fleet to living a warm family life in harsh conditions. It's a convincing portrait of a strong and optimistic person determined to report for posterity what a woman of her time could not actually write or say. The novel is dedicated to "all the women gone missing from history." Heinze uses period language and well researched details to get the right tone and character voices, making me feel the gravity of a new colony holding off disaster. Temperance may well have been this extraordinary woman of faith who fought to establish a king’s colonial foothold and must hope her children will make amends for her purchase and profitable use of Africans. Still, I can believe that she may also have seen the Powhatan people as more than savage and that she perhaps even stood toe-to-toe with a man like John Smith!"

Kay Wosewick recommends At the Edge of the Haight, by Katherine Seligman. "Some teens have such aversion to their untenable living situation, whether it is with parents, foster homes, other relatives, etc., that running away becomes their only achievable option. With no place of safety to turn to, they become homeless. This book is about a small come-and-go group of runaway teens that sleep in Golden Gate Park and spend most days in the Haight/Ashbury neighborhood, panhandling, goofing around, avoiding the police, getting high or drunk. Seligman paints a vivid picture of the teens’ living conditions (utterly horrible); the incredible range of people they regularly encounter (including police, local businesses and tourists, ranging from very helpful to very nasty – gangs, hopeful saviors, and the like); plus the always-present possibility of an unexpected event that turns their life upside down in mere moments. The kids’ vulnerability resides on nearly every page. Although At the Edge of the Haight is fiction, much of it feels like a series of live reports compiled over time about a tiny group of invisible people. Thank you, Katherine Seligman, for giving this (probably growing) group of kids a voice."

Monday, October 11, 2021

The Great Big Boswellian Blog Staff Recommendation Catch-Up, Part 2: Weeks of October 5 and 12, 2021


Looks like we've got just a little more catch-up to play. Here are this and last week's staff reviews.

Two recommendations for Tales from the Café, by Toshikazu Kawaguchi. First, from Jason Kennedy: "Tales from the Café takes us back to the time traveling of Before the Coffee Gets Cold. Familiar faces bustle about the café, and one in particular still haunts the time traveling chair. Four stories again weave together to further the myth of the café, and so many questions I had at the end of the first one are answered here. There's a bit of calm and patience that permeates the stories, which unfold through various characters’ empathy towards others that they can't connect with in the here and now. Such an amazing story - I really hope the last book will be translated as well."

Kay Wosewick supports this one as well: "This book returns to a small coffee house in Japan where a special chair can take a person back or forward in time for as long as it takes a freshly poured cup of coffee to get cold. While the future cannot be changed, the author crafts very clever stories, all with inspired closure."

Daniel Goldin has a couple adult books to recommend. First is We Are Not Like Them, by Christine Pride and Jo Piazza. Daniel says: "An aspiring television reporter and the wife of a policeman, friends since childhood, find their relationship frayed by the shooting of a young Black man. This powerful story is sure to start a lot of important conversations. The authors do a great job creating sympathetic characters in Riley and Jen (though to my thinking, Riley is the true protagonist), with lots of interesting family dynamics and revelations both past (a lynching in Riley’s family) and present (Jen’s pregnancy complications) move the plot along. There’s some humor too, and even a little romance. I’m not giving anything away by saying there’s no way to have a completely happy ending, but maybe, just maybe, there’ll be at least understanding."

Daniel also recommends Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood, by Mark Oppenheimer. Of this he says: "Director of the Yale Journalism Initiative Mark Oppenheimer goes behind the headlines of the tragic Tree of Life shooting to explore the fascinating community of Squirrel Hill, a walkable Pittsburgh neighborhood that has retained both religious and secular Jews when so many others have scattered to suburbs. Even the Tree of Life building itself was home to three congregations of different denominations. In Oppenheimer’s exhaustive interviews, he found a pathway to healing that doesn’t always happen after other mass shootings – there wasn’t a single post-event suicide connected to the incident, and there were no controversies over how money flowed to victims and their families. But there was a cost too, at least for some, as activism was played down in favor of unity. I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed Squirrel Hill, which is much more of an exploration of a community, rather than the crime drama or issue book you might have thought it was. There are so many interesting players in the story, not just the victims and their families, but folks like the Iranian student and his hugely successful fundraising efforts, and the young Christian woman who painted images in the Starbucks windows that became a symbolic center of the neighborhood. My top Hanukkah pick!"

Kay rounds us out with two more picks. In the grown folks section, she's backing Gastro Obscura: A Food Adventurers Guide, by Cecily Wong and Dylan Thuras. Kay says: "Drooling, dumbfounded, queasy, hungry, amazed, and many other feelings and thoughts flowed through me as I read this book - taking a couple of kitchen breaks along the way, of course. If Gastro Obscura doesn’t make you want to hop on a plane tomorrow to eat something amazing, well, I guess I'm dumbfounded again."

Kay also suggests What Storm, What Thunder, by Myriam JA Chancy: "The 2010 Haiti earthquake claimed a quarter-million-plus lives and forever changed millions of others. Chancy paints vivid images of chaos, devastation, horror, confusion, brutality, and regret, but also compassion, tenderness, and hope. Chancy distills extensive interviews into ten captivating, entwined stories that portray how seemingly similar traumatic experiences can have vastly different effects on individuals."

We've also good some books for young readers to suggest this week.

Kathy Herbst recommends The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy, by Anne Urso. From Kathy: "A thought-provoking feminist fantasy that drew me in from the first page to the last. 12-year-old Marya has always been told she has no meaningful place in the world - unlike her brother, who is being groomed to become a respected sorcerer. An intended mistake lands Marya in the Dragomir Academy. The bonds she forms with other students, some teachers and eventually her brother lead her to question all she's been told and to ask 'Who does this story serve?'"

Kay and Jenny Chou both recommend Any Sign of Life, by Rae Carson, author of YA hits like Walk on Earth a Stranger. To begin, Kay says: "Quite possibly the only people alive in their hometown, three teens drive toward Sandusky, OH, where a single radio station is still broadcasting. The broadcaster urges everyone to make their way to the station immediately. Great end-of-world construction tossed with touches of horror and humor. The first book in a new series, this will be a chart-topper."

And from Jenny: "Any Sign of Life by one of my long-time favorite YA writers, Rae Carson, is a must-read dystopian-sci-fi mash up that has so many twists and turns that I could not have stopped reading late into the night even if you’d paid me a million dollars. Carson taps into our deepest pandemic fear, not the one where we die but the one where we wake up alone. It’s almost a relief to slowly realize the virus in question wasn’t created here on earth. The sci-fi action kicks in and a battle to save our planet from invaders ensues. Main character Paige is a high school senior with a basketball scholarship to UConn when everything she knows crumbles away, and she’s suddenly stuck in a new reality. She’s a leader, and no doubt she’s brave, but it’s her loyalty and fierce determination not to lose her humanity that will make readers want to take this treacherous journey along with her. The supporting characters are a diverse group, and best of all is Paige’s seriously sweet romance in the midst of chaos. Fans of Neal Shusterman’s Dry will definitely want to move this to the top of their TBR list in October."

Finally, we return to Daniel in this section for Clarice the Brave, by Lisa McMann (the author behind The Unwanted series). Daniel says: "Ship mouse Clarice has already lost her mother and siblings when a crew mutiny sends her over the side of the ship with provisions, leaving her brother Charles Sebastian behind. What’s worse, in this small boat is not just the Captain and his loyalists but also Special Lady, the very ship cat who ate Clarice’s sister Olivia. This is just the beginning of an epic tale of adventure and friendship that already feels like a classic! Clarice must learn to trust Special Lady as she tries to figure out how she can ever get reunited with her baby brother. Almost driving the narrative are the words that Clarice’s mother said to her: ‘It only takes one mouse to believe in you. And that one mouse is me.’ So exciting, so emotional, so many lines I want to quote – Clarice the Brave is a triumph!"

Paper-paper-paperback picks! We got 'em.

First we've got two recommendations for the National Jewish Book Award Winner The Lost Shtetlby Max Gross. From Chris Lee: "It’s a myth, it’s a fable, it’s something like a newly discovered religious text. In a world with a seemingly endless supply of novels about the ends-of-the-earth reaching consequences of WWII and the Holocaust, The Lost Shtetl is a wondrous left turn – the story of one tiny Jewish village in Poland that the Nazis missed and time forgot. Learn along with the villagers of the past horrors they escaped and the present horrors (television, tourists, inflation, and postal codes, yech!) of the world that’s discovered them. With the village itself as a sly, sighing narrator, Gross has written a clever, affecting parable of the ways history, sooner or later, reaches us all."

And from Daniel Goldin: "In The Lost Shtetl, Kreskol, a Jewish settlement in present-day Poland, is discovered when, after a matrimonial fallout, the wife leaves town, the husband follows suit, and the town sends out a search party of one, a mamzer baker’s apprentice whom nobody will miss. When Yankel (the baker) is admitted to a hospital in nearby Smolskie, the cat’s out of the bag, or at least it will be if the medical staff don’t decide he’s either delusional or scamming them. On top of the circuitous paths of Yankel, Pesha, and Ishmael (the estranged couple), the newly discovered town must contend with greed, a tourism boom, an ideological rabbinical battle, and a good dollop of antisemitism. Meanwhile, the runaways must contend with what kind of people (and Jews) they are going to be, now that their reality rug has been pulled out from beneath them. When the copy for a novel name checks Gary Shteyngart, Michael Chabon, and Nathan Englander, what jazzy comparison is left for me? Would it be too much for me to call this philosophical and often hilarious novel the bastard child of Isaac Bashevis Singer and Cynthia Ozick?"

Chris Lee also recommends The Silence by Don Delillo. From Chris: "The American bard of the great collapse has done it again. The Silence is a piercing novella that asks: what will we grasp for when we lose that which anchors us to modernity? As always, Delillo crafts uniquely jarring sentences to capture the quotidian ways in which language alienates us from our animal selves. Moreover, his genius really goes on display as he finds new ideas (and desires and fears!) in themes he’s been exploring for decades - football as war as annihilation, the obsession with the savior figure - even as he deconstructs them. An educated guess says this book was rushed to publication to meet the moment – and, in a rare case, rightly so. Who else could so humanely soothe us during crisis with a balm made from our terrors?"