Thursday, October 26, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of October 24, 2023

A couple days late, but no less great. These are the recommendations for the week from your friendly(ish) local Boswellians. Let 'er rip!

First up, a double recommendation for the latest novel from two-time National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward. The book is Let Us Descend and the recommenders are Daniel Goldin and Tim McCarthy. First, from Daniel: "It’s hard to put into words how I felt while reading Jesmyn Ward’s fourth novel. The outer life of Annis, an enslaved teenage woman, is one of constant struggle. Starting at the plantation where her White father separates her first from her mother and then her closest ally, she is marched from the Carolinas to New Orleans, where she is put up for sale at a slave market, only to land at an equally dire sugar plantation in Louisiana. Along the way, she communicates with Aza, a spirit who has taken the name of Annis’s warrior grandmother. Let Us Descend might be more of a historical than its predecessors, but it shares the exquisite poetic language, a setting that is alternatingly bleak and ethereal, and memorable characters, centered by the unforgettable Annis."

And now, from the ever-unreserved Tim (that's a compliment, Tim): "Maybe you're like me and see the word inhumanity as a misnomer because vicious brutality seems to define human history. Perhaps inhumanity would be good. Ward’s new novel throws down the gauntlet—just try to find altruism in this American history. Show me where it is! Follow this enslaved woman on a torturous, bound, seemingly endless march to the Deep South, during which the new owners take everything they want. Find your precious humanity! Colson Whitehead did this to me with The Underground Railroad, searing permanent images of human terror into my thoughts. Now Ward adds her own depth and perspective to the terrorism of slavery. Her main character’s true name is Arese, meaning she came in at a good time, but good does not equate to being bought, sold, and herded like livestock to New Orleans, where the stolen people are gathered for movement to the next places of captivity. Still… there’s help from the elemental spirits; there’s beauty in the loving touch of family, guidance in the humming of bees, and surely beauty in the hands of a truly gifted writer. So much spirit and beauty in the writing. It’s about a relentless desire to live in the face of trauma and the possibility of deliverance. It’s a declaration: Time to redefine being human. Time to make it right!"

Now, from Chris Lee, a short story collection entitled The Neorealist in Winter from Twin Cities based author Salvatore Pane. Chris says: "Sal Pane gleefully bounds back and forth across two continents over the course of a century to portray a breadth of Italian American experiences in stories that are funny, triumphant, and beautifully sad. This book is a showcase for his ability to bend form to his will in service of complex, mature emotions. And Pane’s characters are searchers; in these stories he captures that powerful mix of grief and exhilaration that comes in the moment of leaving home and all the moments afterwards when someone chooses to stay gone. It’s also a book about that oh so classically American theme: failure. The failure to connect, the failure to clearly know ourselves and our world, the failure to hold onto family and the past and the guilt that attends it. This is a fabulous story collection that taps deeply into the joy and pain, the triumph and tragedy, of anyone who is really alive."

Sal Pane visits Boswell for a conversation with Chris this month! Join us at the store on Friday, November 17, 6:30 pm - click here to visit for registration and more.

Kay Wosewick recommends another event book for us this week - The Comfort of Crows: A Backyard Year by Margaret Renkl. Kay says: "This book is perfect for anyone who likes to observe wildlife in their own backyard. Renkl writes 52 brief muses, one for each week of the year, inspired by the activity in her yard. Her short essays are accompanied by charming collages composed by her brother; the siblings clearly share the same love of nature. And Renkl knows how to compose a spectacular backyard ecosystem for attracting a wide range of migrant and resident animals, and she shares many clever tricks."

Margaret Renkl joins us on the computer for a virtual event, cohosted by our pals over at the Urban Ecology Center. The event is on Monday, November 20, 7 pm. Click this sentence to register to tune into this virtual event.

Jen Steele takes us to the world (the universe, even!) of middle grade books with her recommendation of Briana McDonald's out of this world new book, Galaxy Jones and the Space Pirates. Okay, that sentence got a little strained. Jen takes over and says: "Galaxy Jones loves her little corner of deep space, and helping her dads run their inn and hearing fantastical stories from the guests used to keep Galaxy busy all day. Lately, the universe has been expanding, so much so that they don't see many travelers at the inn - that is, until the Royals stop by, followed by space pirates. It's up to Galaxy Jones and an annoying Prince to save the day. Galaxy Jones and the Space Pirates is a fun, heartwarming, adventure-filled space opera for middle grade readers."

Over in paperback picks, we've got another Tim-Daniel team-up recommendation. That'd be Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro. Let's hear from Tim first this time: "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."

And now from Daniel: "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 those are the recs! We'll see you back here next week with a new (and spooky because it'll be Halloween!) batch of recommendations. Until then, read on.

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