Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of June 7, 2022

Welcome to June! Now how about some books?

Proprietor Daniel Goldin has three new books out this week to recommend. First, The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym by literary biographer Paula Byrne: "Finally, after hearing about this biography for almost a year, it’s available in the United States, and I couldn’t be happier. Byrne chronicles the life of one of my favorite writers, whose work was acclaimed in the 1950s, couldn’t get published in the 1960s, and then was rediscovered in the late 1970s. The text flows in short, punchy chapters - you’ll discover that many of the excellent women (and not quite so excellent men) came from Pym’s own life - one that had more than its share of bad romances and a penchant for stalking people who captured her interest. I don’t think ‘spinster’ quite captures her! And even if you’ve read A Lot to Ask or A Very Private Eye, you don’t know the whole story - her longtime friend Hazel Holt offered readers an expurgated life (minus the Nazi boyfriend, for example). If you don’t know Pym’s work but you’re a Jane Austen fan, you’ll understand by the end why there are so many cross-over fans."

We'll host Paula Byrne for a virtual conversation with Bill Goldstein on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, 7 pm. Click here to register.

You've surely noticed that often Daniel's recommendations are featuring event books (that's shorthand for books whose authors we're hosting for events, fyi), and here's another: City of Refugees: The Story of Three Newcomers Who Breathed Life into a Dying American Town by Susan Hartman. Daniel says: "Like many cities in America’s heartland, Utica, New York struggled as manufacturing headed abroad and corporate headquarters and technology innovators (it once had strong players in General Electric and UNIVAC) headed to tech hubs. The city struggled with its future, leading to years of arson-related building destruction. In the nineties, refugee families started settling there, continuing Utica’s tradition of welcoming immigrants, and breathing new life into the communities. Hartman, who teaches at Columbia’s MFA writing program, follows three individuals who offer different perspectives on new lives in America - a Bosnian entrepreneur who dreams of a cafĂ© and event space, a young Somali Bantu woman whose strong family ties force her to balance her American dreams with her cultural obligations, and an Iraqi refugee who struggles to get enough work because the new communities generally do not speak Arabic. Will he leave his found family for economic gain? Like the best of community journalism, City of Refugees offers understanding through engaging stories, as well as roadmaps to success for cities and their inhabitants."

Susan Hartman will be in virtual conversation with Mitch Teich (formerly of WUWM Lake Effect) on Monday, June 20, 2022, 7 pm. Click here to register.

And now, a non-event book recommendation from Daniel: Tom Perrotta's Tracy Flick Can't Win. Daniel says: "Thirty-something years after Tracy Flick’s run at student council president, Tracy is assistant principal at her high school, once again in the running to move up with the pending retirement of Principal Jack Weede. In her court is Kyle Dorfman, a graduate who’s returned to town after making a bundle in tech, with a modernist mansion-ette squeezed in among the suburban houses to show for it. What’s up with that? Tracy just has to do Kyle one little favor – serve in the committee for the new Green Meadow High School Hall of Fame and throw her weight behind former football star (and reminder of Green Meadow’s glory days) Vito Falcone, Kyle’s preferred candidate. But between all the secrets and scandals, it’s hard to imagine everything’s going to turn out alright for anybody. Told from multiple perspectives, including two students on the committee with drama of their own, it isn’t the heebie jeebie-est of Perrotta’s reads (if you read him, you’ll know what I mean), but it’s funny, smart, and provocative, and fitting of Tracy’s Election legacy."

And now we jump to Jen Steele. First, she recommends The Lost Ryū, a debut YA novel by Emi Watanabe Cohen: "Set 20 years after the bombs fell over Japan, Kohei, a young boy is determined to make his Ojiisan, his grandfather, happy again. With the help of new friends, he just may accomplish it. The Lost Ryu is a gentle novel in a world of dragons and loss, pain and healing, love and understanding. I was captivated by the story and rooting for Kohei the entire time."

And how about a great middle grade chapter book recommendation from Jen? Okay! That'd be Leave it to Plum by Matt Phelan. Jen says: "Plum is the most cheerful peacock you'll ever meet! Along with his fellow peacocks, Plum is an ambassador for the Athensville Zoo. All day long, Plum roams the zoo freely gets to delight and entertain the guests. It's another bright sunny day at the zoo for Plum until a certain small creature, who would not make a very good pet, thank you very much, hatches a plan to get rid of the peacocks once and for all and become the new ambassador for Zoo. Matt Phelan brings to a life a new loveable character. Short chapters and delightful illustrations make this a perfect pick for early middle grade readers."

And now, book fans, for the paperback releases

First, a construction site thriller from Nickolas Butler, as recommended by Tim McCarthy: Godspeed. Tim says: "True Triangle Construction is just three guys who've managed the modest step of starting their own company with three matching trucks. They don't even have a website. So why would a wealthy, worldly, beautiful San Francisco lawyer pick them to build the majestic house she plans to tuck perfectly into the Wyoming Tetons, next to hot springs and a cold, pure river? How did Gretchen Connors even find them? These are the questions they ask as they start to dream of all the ways a project like this will change their business, and their individual lives. There’s all that money and a shiny new reputation, but can they do it, and at what price? Gretchen’s expectations are so high, and the timeline! Why? Butler has given us a study in desire, where it comes from and the damage it can cause. It’s a fascinating and very intense ride, and the best part is that we see both sides of the story in the detailed lives of characters, the rich woman and the men struggling with a transformation that’s making regular guys like them feel less at home in their own town. I felt compelled to stay with them, and I felt rewarded for seeing them through to the end."

Next up is Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons by John Paul Brammer, a book that comes with three staff write ups from us! First, Parker Jensen says: "John Paul Brammer's voice is everything I've been looking for in the many essay collections I've picked up in the last couple of years. Simply put, Brammer's voice is fantastic. He is self-aware in a rare way that allows for the wittiest and most truthful of observations on life, relationships, one's own history, and the world, without crossing into the self-indulgent or self-deprecating. Although, I think he'd say I was giving him too much credit (but I'd wholeheartedly disagree). The essays in ¡Hola Papi! come together to compose a glimpse into the many different phases of Brammer's life, stitching together his coming of age as a gay Mexican boy growing up in rural Oklahoma to the many triumphs and tribulations of life as a gay man across the country and world. As a reader I felt like I was growing up alongside Brammer as he came to reckon with his self, his identities, his past, and his own actions. His own acceptance of the many parts of himself, the many experiences that culminate to make him who he is today, gives me hope and faith. I had to keep sticky notes next to me while I was reading, something I rarely do, to make sure I was saving passages to come back to. Passages that so concisely put into words things I've felt and thought, but so much more beautifully than I could have imagined saying myself. And passages that will stick with me and encourage me to grow. And what marks a better read that something that fundamentally changes the way you think, makes you want to grow, and excites you to see how you too will change and develop in the years to come?"

And from Kay Wosewick: "Each chapter of ¡Hola Papi! begins with John Paul (JP) asking an important question, followed by a story that describes his personal path to an answer. This is fitting given that JP stumbled into writing an advice column, and quickly surprised himself by giving solid advice drawn from years of irrepressible self-examination. Growing up in small-town Oklahoma at the bottom of the pecking order gave him empathy for outsiders. High school in a larger town proved he could build his identity from inside-out instead, instead of having it defined from outside-in. In college he stumbled through awkward and uncomfortable gay experiences before finding successful ways to move easily through the gay world. JP found a large, needy audience ready to gobble up his advice on such issues. Alas, PJ’s memoir also depicts a society that still contains a staunchly anti-LGBTQ faction. While there is progress, the US sadly has a long way to go to achieve full acceptance and integration of LGBTQ individuals."

Finally, from Jen Steele: "LGBTQ advice columnist John Paul Brammer delivers an earnest and quick-witted memoir with stories about his life, from growing up in rural Oklahoma and being bullied in middle school to moving to New York City and finding his voice. ¡Hola Papi! has that fresh memoir experience where each chapter is a response to a reader's question. Reading this was like being invited in and staying a while; there was a connectedness I felt while reading about JP’s experiences, whether it was being able to relate to growing up mixed race and not speaking Spanish or commiserating with him as meets “the one.” Do yourself a favor and luxuriate in the warmth of each chapter."

And now back to Daniel for Joan Silber's Secrets of Happiness: "What I love about Joan Silber’s books is how her novel-stories rocket me through space and time without any fear of crashing. In my opinion, the connecting thread of Secrets of Happiness is Gil, a contractor in the garment business whose work takes him to wherever the costs are cheapest – Indonesia, China, Bangladesh, and most notably Thailand, where he brings back more than just the beautiful scarves he buys as souvenirs for his wife. From there, the story spins out to two of his sons (who don’t know each other), and from there to a documentary filmmaker, a librarian turned cancer patient, a labor organizer in Asia, and more than one soul who are not quite sure what they are doing. They are all searching for the happiness of the title – is it money, vocation, love, spirit, or something else? And how do moral transgressions figure into this equation, large and small, some punished, others excused or even rewarded? Coincidences abound, but it is best to think of them more like connections, vital to both fiction and life. Comparisons to the greats like Alice Munro and Grace Paley abound, and I’d like to add Ann Patchett (also a fan) to the mix. Beautiful!"

Was this an event book, too? It was! Check out the video of Silber's insightful conversation with CJ Hribal here: 

That's it for this week, so we'll see you in 7 days dear readers.

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