Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Staff Recommendations for the Week of March 9, 2021

Daniel Goldin begins this week of recommending with the latest from Nobel Laureate Kazuo Ishiguro: Klara and the Sun. Daniel says, "Klara is an AF (artificial friend) waiting at the store with her friend Rosa for someone to take her home. Her odds have decreased since a new model has been released. Josie, a young girl, has been browsing the store and has set her eye on Klara, but hasn’t been able to commit. And when she does, Klara will find itself (herself?) plopped into a family drama of an ill girl and divorced parents who disagree on the best course of action. Ishiguro hints at an eerie future of genetically modified elites, professions replaced by robots, and worsening civil breakdowns. If there’s an author where the more you read, the greater the appreciation for the entire body of work, Ishiguro is it. I began Klara and the Sun imagining a connection to Never Let Me Go, noting later that Klara was also the obvious descendent of Stevens, the butler of Remains of the Day, dedicated to service and unmoored by a change. I love how Ishiguro’s heroes are both keenly observant and hobbled by blind spots. For Klara, it could be mistaking the sun for a deity, which makes sense, being solar powered. I’m almost disturbed to say this – Klara is perhaps the most empathetic hero I’ve read about in a long time. So what does this say about me?"

And you'll definitely want to snag a ticket for our upcoming event featuring Kazuo Ishiguro in conversation with Ron Charles, book critic extraordinaire for the Washington Post on Tuesday, March 16, 6 pm- tickets and more info at

Next up we've got Tim McCarthy's recommendation for Brood, the debut novel by Jackie Polzin. Tim says, "Give it some time. That’s my advice about Brood. Let the book peck at you for a while and you’ll be rewarded. I didn’t know that I completely loved it until the last three pages. Then I suddenly knew. Completely. This book is all of life told in the story of four backyard chickens. Our narrator’s voice comes straight at us - a bit sassy, sly, mostly sure-minded - even as she maintains a subtle neighborhood diplomacy. The contrast is wonderful. Chickens help her tell us boldly about loss and the inescapable hardships of living, but she’s not bitter. She sees the beautiful workings of her simple birds, and of people: her chicken-hesitant friend Helen, her staunchly independent mother, her very reasonable husband Percy, the awkward neighbors, and how all of life creates dust. Mix in Minnesota’s climate extremes and a changing neighborhood. You’ll get a growing sense that you’re reading something very special, richly human. Let Brood peck at you. There’s nothing quite like it."

Another event reminder here: The March installment of the Ink/Well virtual event series, featuring authors in conversation with Wisconsin’s own Jane Hamilton and cohosted by InkLink Books of East Troy, features Jackie Polzin on Thursday, March 18, 7 pm. Register right here for that event now!

How about a book that's just gotten its paperback release? Okay! Conrad Silverberg is a big fan of Tyll, the latest novel from German author (and literary shape-shifter) Daniel Kehlmann, and one of Conrad's top 5 books of 2020. Conrad says, "A trickster works his magic through 17th century Germany, fleeing the Thirty Years War and wreaking all sorts of havoc along the way. Is he the Devil? A charlatan? How can you know?! One thing he and this book are for sure: delightful!"

Speaking of Kehlmann, he's one of those authors for whom we might just have to do (in the future, this is just a maybe, no promises) a "Boswell reads" blog post about his work - he's such a wide-ranging author who has toyed with different ideas and styles that he appeals from book to book to so many different readers. In fact, I myself (Chris here) am a HUGE fan of his slim novel that preceded Tyll - You Should Have Left. Here's my rec for that, just for funsies - you get to include these when you're the one who writes the blog post: "Terrifying. Reading Kehlmann's latest novel is like watching a horror movie from the inside. A writer takes his family for a mountain retreat, hoping to escape the city, finish his newest screenplay, and maybe find a bit of serenity. But something in the rented house isn't right. Rooms shift, hallways expand, reflections fade. Brisk and gripping, you'll read this slim novel in one sitting, consumed, disappearing into the book as the writer disappears into the house, stunned as you turn the last page, compelled to check in a mirror to be sure you still exist, then turning back to the first page to immediately begin rereading."

Finally, how about our dual-recommended book by Milwaukee author who just had a wonderful debut celebration event with us Anuradha D Rajurkar? Okay! American Betiya comes with staff recs from Parker Jensen and Jenny Chou. Jenny says, "I would think that being the perfect betiya (daughter), here in America or anywhere else, would be exhausting. But try being perfect while carrying the weight of expectations from one culture when you live surrounded by the temptations of another. And to Rani, an Indian American high school senior, that temptation is a tattooed artist named Oliver who becomes her secret boyfriend. He’s a nuanced character, the true definition of bitter and sweet, and at first, their relationship practically sparkles with heart emojis. But soon his chaotic home life leaves him without empathy for Rani’s uncompromising need to please her parents, while at the same time, he’s just way too focused on traditional Indian culture. I gasped out loud at one incident, a shocking but realistic twist. And l definitely looked inward, as the best books insist that we do, and reworked my own understanding of cultural appropriation. At the same time, the strength of the writing forces readers to acknowledge that Rani hasn’t exactly been the perfect girlfriend either. But the messy lack of perfection from anyone in the novel gives the book its depth and provides for an emotionally charged read that I guarantee you won’t soon forget."

And from Parker: "Rani Kelkar never intended to fall in love. In fact, she was forbidden from doing so by her parents and her best friend. But then she met Oliver at their senior art show, and one thing led to another, and before she knew it, Rani had fallen in love and was doing everything in her power to keep it a secret! But her first relationship might turn out to not exactly be all that she expected or hoped for. American Betiya is a stunning and complex story that kept me hooked and invested. I was astounded by the ways in which Anuradha Rajurkar was able to layer so much so seamlessly into this story. But the shining star of this book is our protagonist Rani. Torn between expectations and desires, Rani is a character I will not soon forget, nor will I forget the lessons she learned on her journey into young adulthood. This book is significant for its portrayal of a young girl trying to figure out where to center herself in the world, and I cannot wait to thrust it into the hands of everyone and anyone looking for their next favorite thing."

Check out the video of our event that took place, as of this writing, just last night! I rushed an edit-and-post job of this one so we could share it with you here today, so I hope you enjoy it. I also hope I didn't leave in any whoopsies in my quick editing.

And that's it! Tune in next week when more books arrive and you find out what we've been reading and loving. Until then, happy reading.

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