Tuesday, July 26, 2005

New Book Roundup: May/June 2005

Another two months, another stack of review magazines. These were the books that sounded enticing to me. Last time I couldn't find much fiction that sounded good. This time there's a whole truckload of new novels and stories by major writers, plus many interesting titles by writers who don't happen to be superstars.


Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie
Sounds like one of his best. Rushdie recently called for an end to the 'culture' of rape that oppresses women in India and Pakistan. After what he's been through, I admire him for taking such an important (if morally obvious) stand.

Magic for Beginners: Stories by Kelly Link
Mothers and Other Monsters: Stories by Maureen McHugh
Apparently Link turned down big bucks from a major publishing house so she could stay with Small Beer Press, which she co-owns and runs with her husband (and which also published the McHugh book). Sounds smart. (Both titles recommended by Bookslut, though I'm still evaluating Ms. Crispin's taste.)

Song of the Loon by Richard Amory
The legendary gay classic has been republished, and cheesy as it sounds, I'm looking forward to reading it.

Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash by Elizabeth Royte
Fairly strong reviews, and is it just me, or doesn't everyone wonder where there trash ends up? Might make an interesting companion to the recent bestseller Stiff, another book for the darkly curious.

Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Seamy and Quirky Stories Behind Favorite Nursery Rhymes by Chris Roberts
"A librarian by night and a London tour guide by day, Roberts deploys an informal style of scholarship to dazzling effect, transforming a catalogue of familiar nursery rhymes into a treasure trove of tantalizingly slippery archaisms, hidden etymological layers, arcane associations and buried meanings." -PW


So...many...major writers with new work. In addition to those listed here, there are new books from Elie Wiesel, Dennis Cooper, Sarah Paratesky, Janet Evanovich, and T.C. Boyle. (Now that'd be a strange get together.)

Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham
Three linked novella-length stories once again, but with a SF twist this time. One of the most talked about books of the moment, though consensus seems to be that it doesn't quite work. Sounds fascinating and adventurous to me, though.

Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis
Mixed reviews, but this sounds potentially excellent.

Until I Find You by John Irving
I think someone mentioned it's long. Really really really long.

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

Ghost Town: Tales of Manhattan Then and Now by Patrick McGrath
Three linked novellas moving forward in time from era to era. Hey, Cunningham doesn't have a patent on it. Why not?

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
With so much hype, will this doorstopping vampire epic be a crossover? Somehow, I haven't quite been bitten. Oh, hey, I made a pun. Sorry.

Dancing in the Dark by Caryl Phillips
A novel about Bert Williams, early 20C entertaining sensation, a black man who performed black face. (There was a fascinating chapter about him--and blackface in general--in last year's 6-hour PBS history of American musicals.)

The Captain of the Sleepers by Mayra Montero
Kirkus says: "She's one of Latin America's finest writers, and this is her best novel yet."

Enchanted, Inc. by Shanna Swendson
Cute idea.

The Painted Kiss by Elizabeth Hickey
A novel about Klimt and a female protege, the comparison to another book being obvious.

Widow of the South by Robert Hicks
Sons of Liberty by Marie Jakober
Two well-reviewed historical novels of the Civil War.

Exposure by Talitha Stevenson
"Stevenson...depicts her characters' thoughts and insights with an acuity reminiscent of Ian McEwan's recent triumph, Saturday." - PW

The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia
Weird and surreal.

Olympos by Dan Simmons
Sequel to the much-lauded Ilium.

Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas: Stories by Davy Rothbart
Willful Creatures: Stories by Aimee Bender
The first collection is from the creator of Found magazine, and the second is another well reviewed collection of surreal shorts. Seems to be a trend. Dare I call it a 'hot trend,' or is that something only Entertainment Weekly could say?

A Mankind Witch by Dave Freer
"In Freer's superior heroic fantasy novel, set in 16th-century Scandinavia, allies of a demon try to thwart Christian missionary-magicians from the Holy Roman Empire."

98 Reasons for Being by Clare Dudman
Booklist: "A beautifully written, emotionally powerful biographical novel" about "progressive nineteenth-century psychiatrist Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann...author of Struwwelpeter, a set of cautionary tales for children published 160 years ago" and a patient of his.

Almonds to Zhoof: Collected Stories by Richard Stern
"*Starred Review* Chicago writer Stern has a number of potent novels to his credit, but his name would be etched indelibly in American letters for his short stories alone" - Booklist.

Mammoth by John Varley
What Michael Crichton might be writing if he weren't busy with insane right-wing propaganda?


The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
"The author of Slouching Towards Bethlehem and 11 other works chronicles the year following the death of her husband, fellow writer John Gregory Dunne, from a massive heart attack on December 30, 2003, while the couple's only daughter, Quintana, lay unconscious in a nearby hospital suffering from pneumonia and septic shock."

The Republican War on Science by Chris Mooney
Grrr. Republicans.

Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music by Blair Tindall
A book like this one must at least take note of.

Nelson's Trafalgar: The Battle That Changed the World by Roy Adkins
Another month, another well-reviewed Naval history.

The American Revelation: Ten Ideals That Shaped Our Country from the Puritans to the Cold War by Neil Baldwin
Will readers ever tire of the same old dozen or so founding fathers? If so, this book sounds like a great alternative, giving profiles of non-presidential figures in our history, such as Winthrop, Jane Addams, Woodson, and Marshall.

Judge Sewall's Apology by Richard Francis
"The life and turbulent times of the only judge fully to recant the actions of a court that sent 19 accused witches to the gallows in colonial Massachusetts." - Kirkus

Don't Get Too Comfortable: The Indignities of Coach Class, the Torments of Low Thread Count, the Never-Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems by David Rakoff
Humorous essays. He's been favorably compared to Sedaris, another gay humorist. Includes a piece about the Log Cabinites.

A Woman in Berlin: Six Weeks in the Conquered City by Anonymous
"For six weeks in 1945, as Berlin fell to the Russian army, a young woman, alone in the city, kept a daily record of her and her neighbors' degradations, determined to describe the common experience of millions." I try to avoid the endless glut of WWII related books and films, but, really, it seems an inexhaustible source of interesting material. Women's experiences during the war are still relatively under-represented.

Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless by Steven Salerno
Fool's Paradise: The Strange World of Pop Psychology by Stewart Justman
I've been expecting to see these two reviewed together, but so far I haven't. The second one is getting very strong reviews. And, come on, you're already haveway sold on this book just from the title, right?

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann
Seems like there are new claims all the time about early American life. Sounds like a useful way to catch up on how wrong our textbooks got it.

Coincidences, Chaos, and All That Math Jazz: Making Light of Weighty Ideas by Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird
"The average American has one testicle and one ovary, state the authors of this text for the math-phobic." Sounds cool.

The Rosary by Garry Wills
Growing up, I was always fascinated by my grandmothers' rosaries. They seemed so mysterious, so old-world, even.

Doctors from Hell: The Horrific Account of Nazi Experiments on Humans by Vivien Spitz
Nazis. I hate these guys.

Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream by Barbara Ehrenreich
Ehrenreich's followup to Nickel and Dimed is out in September. This time she investigates the middle class corporate sector. Needless to say, she is one of the greatest writers and thinkers of our era.

Truth: A Guide by Simon Blackburn
Full title in the review I read was Truth: A Guide for the Perplexed. A discussion of current philosophical debate about the idea of truth. On the one hand, who reads stuff like this? On the other, could it be any more relevant and timely?

The Fate of Africa: From the Hopes of Freedom to the Heart of Despair by Martin Meredith
Mammoth history of the nations of Africa. Sounds like a great primer and handy reference for the bookshelf, though I doubt I'd read it cover to cover.

New Dictionary of the History of Ideas by Maryanne Cline Horowitz
I don't usually get excited about reference books, but this one sounds cool. Now that the new edition is out, they made the first edition available online: www.historyofideas.org.

Enlightening the World: Encyclopedie, The Book That Changed the Course of History by Philipp Blom
Another in a spate of books about great early dictionaries and enclopedias. They do, oddly, make for fascinating subjects, don't they?

Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World by Nicholas Ostler
Such an interesting topic, though I'm not sure if this will be the one to commit me to a long book on it.

Lavoisier in the Year One: The Birth of a New Science in an Age of Revolution by Madison Smartt Bell
From the Great Discoveries Series.

A Matter of Opinion by Victor S. Navasky
A widely-reviewed new book by the publisher of The Nation.

New York Burning: Liberty and Slavery in an Eighteenth-Century City by Jill Lepore
If people can get interested in gangs of 19C NYC, maybe this book has a chance of being a hit. Um, Mr. Scorsese?


David Hilliard: Photographs by David Hilliard
It's hard to get interested in art books by reading unillustrated reviews, but this one sounded good. A gay artist, apparently.

Earthly Joys by Philippa Gregory
Includes hot Renaissance man-on-man action?

Godlike by Richard Hell
"I'm not really a faggot. I just have a queer streak"

When I Knew edited by Robert Trachtenberg and Tom Bachtell
Collection of true stories by the like of B.D.Wong and Stephen Fry.

Harvard's Secret Court: The Savage 1920 Purge of Campus Homosexuals by William Wright
First The Crimson Letter, now this.

The Empress of Ireland: A Chronicle of an Unusual Friendship by Christopher Robbins
"'Brian Desmond Hurst had made some thirty films in his long career (including A Christmas Carol, Tom Brown's Schooldays, Simba, and Playboy of the Western World)....' When the eighty-year-old, gay Irishman Hurst hired the young, straight Englishman Robbins as a screenwriter, an unlikely but profound friendship formed."

Wounded by Percival Everett
Literary Western with clear references to the Matthew Shepard murder in Laramie, WY.

Diary of a Drag Queen by Daniel Harris
The bitch is back.

The Brothers Bishop by Bart Yates
A good gay brother and a bad gay brother, whose lives intersect. Glowing review from Booklist, one of the few magazines that deigned to review it.


The Washington Story by Adam Langer
Sequel to the popular Crossing California. Critics seem to like this one a bit more. Say, I just realized this guy has done some local books, including The Madness of Art: A Guide to Living and Working in Chicago, which a friend gave me as a gift not long after I moved here.

Three Strikes You're Dead by Robert Goldsborough
"Steve Malek is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune in 1938." Mayor Kelly, Al Capone, the Cubs, in "a prewar Chicago that is at once sinister and appealing."

For Edgar by Sheldon Rusch
Novel "pits an Illinois State Police officer against a madman who seems to be channeling Edgar Allan Poe."

The Logic of a Rose: Chicago Stories by Billy Lombardo
Donna Seaman, of the always Chicago-friendly Booklist, said: "Every male writer writing about growing up in Chicago, from John McNally to Adam Langer, does so in the shadow of Stuart Dybek, the celebrated author of I Sailed with Magellan (2003). Happily, first-time author Lombardo manages to be inspired by Dybek while refining his own voice in this sweetly soulful coming-of-age short story collection."


Walt and Skeezix Book One by Frank O. King (Chris Ware, editor)
Gasoline Alley gets the Peanuts treatment.

Ice Haven by Daniel Clowes
The beloved Mr. Clowes, whose every publication is now an event.

Flight Volume 2
Anthology including many big names in the field writing on the theme of flight. Great reviews.

A Treasury of Victorian Murder: The Murder of Abraham Lincoln, Vol. 7 by Rick Geary
I hadn't heard of this series.

The Maximortal by Rick Veitch
Sounds a bit like Kavalier and Clay.

Also, some news tidbits gleaned from the magazines:

  • Progressive Book Club to be launched in the Fall. Sounds like it could create some ripples.

  • Is it true that the Evangelical Christian Publishing Association has some kind of Code of Purity?

  • Following in the tracks of the successful book Book Lust, Publishers Group West plans to publish Music Lust in the Fall.

  • Alan Moore broke with DC Comics, and there will be a Volume 3 of LXG!

  • Argh. First Anne Rice's son is a writer, now Stephen King's son Owen King is getting into the act, with We're All in This Together.



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