Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Weeks of October 18 and 25, 2022

I can see it now. It was Tuesday, maybe Wednesday last week. Maybe even Thursday morning. Cup of coffee in one hand, blog reading device in the other. And you navigated your browser to the Boswellians blog only to find - nothing. No update. No new staff recs. Nada. Maybe you refreshed your browser, once, twice. Maybe you set a little alert to ding when a new blog was posted on this page. Yet, still, zip. Your hand, perhaps, quivered. Shook. Your grip loosened on the coffee mug, the handle slipped from your fingers, the porcelain shattered on the floor as the warm coffee seeped into your socks. But you didn't notice. Rather, perhaps you shook that fist in the air, in a rage, cursing at the sky. WHERE!? Where were those sweet, sweet staff recs?

They're here. And, well, sorry, faithful rec readers! We were super busy last week and goofed our posting schedule. But if it's any small consolation, it means you get twice the recs to read this week. Twice the books. Twice the fun. Let's dig in.

We've got a couple books with double recommendations. The first is Signal Fires, the new novel from Inheritance author Dani Shapiro. From Daniel Goldin: "Two families who live across the street from each other in suburban Connecticut are bound together by one tragedy, a fatal car accident involving the Wilf family, and one miracle, in which Ben Wilf facilitates the birth of Alice Shenkman’s child. The story careens back and forth across time, as the strands of connection deepen and spread. I love books like this, from Simon Van Booy’s The Illusion of Separateness to Frederick Reiken’s Day for Night, and the fact that I’m referencing novels from nine and twelve years ago calls attention to how rarely I find books that capture this feeling of awe that I found in Signal Fires. It was clear from reading Inheritance that Shapiro is adept at capturing life’s reversals; I’m so glad to see that this special skill is equally on display in this beautiful and delicate novel."

And Tim McCarthy says: "Dani Shapiro has a gift for showing us how the smallest decisions and quirks of fate change everything. Signal Fires opens with a tragic accident. Lies are told and secrets kept to stop the very bad from becoming unlivable, and the effects reverberate through the lives of two families. It’s a story of the hope and fear of being a parent, and being a child, about the fierce love and smoldering regret, the shame of guilt. The story of life. In the hands of a talented writer we look at characters and understand: Yes. That could be me. It’s also the story of a universal energy binding us all and a way forward to living. The past and the future seem alive in the present. Shapiro is a talented writer. She tells truth with uncommon clarity, and this is beautifully written truth."

The next dual-rec is The Passenger, the first novel in more than a decade from Cormac McCarthy. From Jason Kennedy: "Bobby Western is at a crossroads when we meet him, diving in the Gulf of Mexico and trying to find a sunken airplane. He is haunted by the memories of his sister, who committed suicide some time ago, and whom he harbors some unbrotherly feelings for. Cormac McCarthy introduces us to a plethora ingenious and complex characters that philosophically propel Bobby towards making a decision that he can't bear to consider. This is an amazingly original story that McCarthy weaves together, one that will have me thinking for quite a long time."

And from Conrad Silverberg: "It has been sixteen years since Cormac McCarthy's last novel was published, and for some of us, that is just a ridiculously long time to go without. Has it been worth the wait? Absolutely. This is his best book since Blood Merridian (and that is saying an awful lot!). Every page is filled with the rich, taut, and precise writing for which he is known. Gem after gem of the most exquisite sentences you could ever hope to read. The Passenger is filled with just the kind of sociopathic characters, fixated on philosophy, theology, and their astonishing moral ambiguity, that McCarthy has made his stock in trade. This is vintage McCarthy, perhaps a bit less bloody than his previous books, but shot through with the soaring, almost biblical, flights of storytelling that defines his best work. Join the legions who consider him to be America's finest living novelist."

Now on to Chris Lee for his write-up on one of his top 5 best books of 2022, which comes from poet, essayist, and The Book of Delights author Ross Gay. The book is Inciting Joy: Essays, and Chris says: "Ross Gay has got to be one of the most generous human beings alive, and his essays in this book are beautifully messy, meandering, in-progress things, building onto and into each other as he searches his life for the connective tissue from which joy is made. It’s written the only way it could be while staying an honest exploration of the messy, in-progress thing that is being human. Gay casts a wide net in his search for joy, and the book ends up being about way too much to list, the result of a fierce and roaming intellect that delights in getting down into the nitty-gritty. But, a sample: his essay on masculinity and grief (and football, and fathers, and meditation, and… you get the idea) pretty much rended me completely apart and then, mercifully, rebuilt me again. Here’s a writer at the height of his powers accounting for himself and in turn inviting us join him in this accounting, this search for a gentler, more connected, joyful way to be. I would have finished this book faster except I kept having to take breaks to cry - tears of gratitude, of grief, and yes, most definitely, of joy."

Back to Daniel Goldin for his recommendation of Kaufmann's: The Family That Built Pittsburgh’s Famed Department Store by Marylynne Pitz and Laura Malt Schneiderman. Daniel says: "I have read a lot of books about department stores, Pittsburgh, Jewish culture, and Frank Lloyd Wright. Put them all together and you have Kaufmann’s, a well-researched and engaging history of a store whose main location was once the fourth largest in the country by area. Founded by four brothers, ownership of the store was consolidated by Edgar, the son of Morris, who married Lillian (nee Liliane), daughter of Isaac. Yes, his cousin - illegal in Pennsylvania, but allowable in New York, so that was where they married. As for the rest of the next generation, they were pushed out and helped found Kaufmann & Baer, a down-the-block competitor that eventually became the Pittsburgh branch of Gimbels. Edgar was not just a merchant prince; he was also responsible for two very significant pieces of American architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann Desert House. And as for the store, it sold to May Department Stores in 1946, ceased to function as an autonomous division in 2002, and the downtown store, the last survivor of what were once a half dozen large retailers, closed in 2015."

Let's head over to Ogi Ubiparipovic for his take on The Creative Gene: How books, movies, and music inspired the creator of Death Stranding and Metal Gear Solid by Hideo Kojima, translated by Nathan Collins. Ogi says: "I really like learning about the art that inspired the people who inspire me. Hideo Kojima, arguably one of the most important designers in the video game space, writes about some of his favorite works of art and gives us some insight into his life. Read it if you like listening to people talk about the things they love."

And now, Kay Wosewick suggests The Alpha Female Wolf: The Fierce Legacy of Yellowstone's 06 by Rick McIntyre. Kay says: "This is McIntyre’s fourth book documenting the return of wolves to Yellowstone. Female 06 is unusual from the start: she leaves her natal pack when very young, lives alone for several years, and snubs many suitors. Eventually she chooses brothers 754 and 755 to settle down with, another unusual, yet auspicious, decision. Fierce, fast, fair, and famous, 06 is the epitome of a female alpha wolf. You will fall in love. McIntyre’s series is unparalleled. Why? McIntyre went out every single day for 15 consecutive years to document the wolves. WOW. Just WOW."

Jenny Chou takes us to another section of the store - YA Land - with Strike the Zither, a new novel by Joan He, author of Descendent of the Crane and The Ones We're Meant to Find, another Jenny fave. Of this latest, Jenny says: "The 14th century Chinese classic The Three Kingdoms told stories of betrayal, greed, ambition, and plenty of scheming. Joan He reimagines this epic work as a young adult novel with a feminist bent, giving the role of hero to a girl named Zephyr. She’s a strategist with a wily, brilliant mind, who contrives ways to outsmart enemies with a small but loyal army led by a warlordess. From the beginning, Zephyr’s bold, somewhat arrogant voice drew me into her story, and I loved her verbal clashes with Crow, strategist to a rival army. The way the two also speak to each other through music played on a zither is absolutely charming and has all the makings of enemies-to-lovers romance. Not much in a Joan He novel is ever quite what it seems though. The plot twist this time takes the book in a direction I can only describe as equally humorous and heartbreaking, and the cliff-hanger ending has me longing for book two!"

And Jen Steele has two kids recs for us. The first is a graphic novel perfect for middle grade readers called Frizzy by  Claribel A Ortega, illustrated Rose Bousamra. And recommended thusly by Jen: "Every Sunday, Marlene and her mom go to the salon to get their hair straighten. Marlene wants to make her mom happy, but she hates the salon. What Marlene really wants is to embrace her natural curls, but she doesn’t know how to tell her mom. Through some trial and error, Marlene finds a way to get what she wants. Frizzy is a charming graphic novel about speaking your truth and learning that you are absolutely perfect just the way you are."

Jen also recommends the new picture book from Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, Three Billy Goats Gruff. Jen says: "Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen breathe new life into a classic tale: The Three Billy Goats Guff. Entertaining, funny, and adorned with Klassen's signature art, this is sure to be a story time favorite, so do yourself a favor and clip-clop clip-clop on over to get your hands on this delightful new picture book!"

Paperback Zone! For this post's paperback picks, we  first pick a paperback original, as recommended by Kay. Confessions of Keith is a novel by Pauline Holdstock, and of it Kay says: "Vita is a middle-aged woman whose life is falling apart at every seam. Vita’s clipped journaling is sprinkled with droll, often self-deprecating observations. I wanted to shake her, scrub away heaps of denial and make her DEAL WITH IT. Then Vita would make me laugh again, and I’d forgive her. Holdstock has an uncanny gift for matching writing style and content, as she also did with in her prior book Here I Am. I can’t wait for Holdstock’s next twist of magic."

The next paperback pick comes from Daniel Goldin, who just read a book that was released in paper in late September of this year: A Play for the End of the World by Jai Chakrabarti. Daniel says: "If you are knowledgeable about Holocaust history, you probably know the story of Janusz Korczak, the Jewish educator who ran an orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto, who despite being offered passage out of the country, chose to say with his charges and face certain death. During this time, he staged a production of Rabindranath Tagore’s The Post Office, a well-known Indian play about an orphaned and sick child. In Chakrabarti’s debut, Janyk Smith, one of the Ghetto orphans who miraculously escaped, is called to India to help with a new production in West Bengal, uprooting the precariously stable life he has created in New York. This powerful novel is a moving story about the legacy of grief and trauma, the healing force of love and connection, and the enduring power of theater."

Well, that's what we've got! Hope to see you next week, folks, and until then, read on.

No comments:

Post a Comment