Tuesday, September 06, 2005

New Book Roundup: July/August 2005

There's an avalanche of new books headed to stores in time for Christmas, according to the July and August issues of Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. This time out I found lots of literature in translation, lots of enticing SF/Fantasy, and a surprising number of interesting Chicago-related books. If I had all the time in the world, here's another shelf of books I'd read. Or at least pick up and start. (Finishing's another thing.) But I don't have all that time, so I'll need your help reading these books.


The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage, and My Family by Dan Savage
If anyone can get me interested in the topic, it's Mr. Savage Love.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley
Excellent reviews, possibly of interest to those who enjoyed the thoughtful litcrit of Reading Lolita in Tehran. Smiley reportedly had writers block and needed inspiration, so she turned to the greats and...mojo restored, problem solved.

Vita by Melania G. Mazzucco
Unusually heartfelt testimonials for this novel about Italian-American immigrants in the early 20C, translated from the Italian, a Strega Prize winner.

The Age of Anxiety: McCarthyism to Terrorism by Haynes Johnson
Across-the-board strong reviews for this perennial political topic.

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil by George Saunders
Novella-length, this is Saunders' longest work yet. A friend once called him a one-trick pony, but that's not quite true or fair. I've seen some incredible variety in his fascinating, weird stories, and I'm glad to learn he has another collection (The Red Bow) due next year.

Fiction Picks:

Other Electricities: Stories by Ander Monson
Mixed reviews (some very positive) and significant buzz for this collection set in the Upper Peninsula.

On Beauty by Zadie Smith
Conventional wisdom has it that Smith had a sophomore slump and that she's back in top form with this book. Me, I love the short stories I've read but have yet to read White Teeth.

The Best Thing That Can Happen to a Croissant by Pablo Tusset
Respectable reviews for this translation of a novel that was a bestseller in Spain and Italy. Love the title.

Maybe a Miracle by Brian Strause
"According to 18-year-old Monroe Anderson, it's no big deal that he jumped into the family swimming pool to save the life of his little sister, floating face down. He's just grateful that he'd been heading to the pool house to get high before attending his senior prom. In a wonderfully fresh voice that is, irresistibly, both profound and profane, Monroe narrates the transformation of Annika from near-drowning victim into religious icon. Monroe is a sincerely committed atheist caught in the chaos...." -LJ As an atheist, I'd hope for the best in this story but brace for the worst. That cover isn't exactly reassuring.

PopCo by Scarlett Thomas
Hard to classify this one, from the interesting reviews. Puzzles, codes, treasure hunts, a critique of corporations, romance.

Veronica by Mary Gaitskill
Her story collection Because They Wanted To earned her my devotion. Interestingly, the plot description of this novel sounds more like a gay male author than most books by gay authors these days.

Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala
23-year-old Nigerian-American's debut about an African boy soldier. Sounds tough, but excellent.

Nothing Serious by Justine Levy
Mandrakes from the Holy Land by Aaron Megged
Two translated novels. The Levy was apparently "a sensation" in France according to Kirkus. Israeli Megged's historical fiction is set in Palestine of 1906. Not really my usual cup of tea, but the reviews were strong and interesting.

Glass Soup by Jonathan Carroll
Surreal novel (sequel to White Apples) sounds wacky and wild.

Indecision by Benjamin Kunkel
Jay McInerney wrote just a beautiful review for this debut novel in a recent New York Times Book Review.

The Year the Music Changed: The Letters of Achsa Mceachern-Isaacs and Elvis Presley
by Diane C. Thomas
A 14-year-old girl writes a letter to a young Elvis at the start of his career, and their correspondence is the basis for this novel with an ungly jacket design. (I always feel esp. sorry for an author who get past the hurdles of publishers and critics only to get a pathetic cover.)

The Great Stink by Clare Clark
Historical mystery set in Dickensian London around 1855, involving corruption and murder and the literal underworld, the sewer system (hence the title). Said to be a page turner, if you can get past that awful title.

The Turning: New Stories by Tim Winton
New collection of linked short stories from the twice Booker-shortlisted Australian.

The Tattoo Artist by Jill Ciment
Set in the early 20C, this acclaimed story relates "the vanguard life of a New York surrealist artist whose 30 years among South Pacific natives teaches her the sacred art of tattooing" (PW). Reminds me of another tattooing novel, last year's Booker nominee The Electric Michelangelo by Sarah Hall.

The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Blue Bear by Walter Moers
Zany cult hit from Germany, where the author is also celebrated as a screenwriter and author of "The Little Asshole," a comic strip.

The Man from Beyond by Gabriel Brownstein
The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Novels by Arthur Conan Doyle
A novel "[i]nspired by the complex relationship between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the celebrated author and champion of spiritualism, and Harry Houdini, the famed magician and escape artist" (PW). Decent reviews, and how could I not mention it? Meanwhile, Norton follows up last year's deluxe Complete Stories with the collected novels. Now, the 1000-voume collection of Holmes pastiches, please.

Also Noteworthy: Very strong reviews for E.L. Doctorow's The March, excellent reviews for Neil Gaiman's sort-of sequel to American Gods, Anansi Boys, mostly positive buzz for Gabriel Garcia Márquez's Memories of My Melancholy Whores. Surprisingly strong reviews for Myla Goldberg's new one, Wickett's Remedy. Gregory Maguire has a sequel to Wicked coming, Son of a Witch. (His books put me off for some reason, but I know they're immensely popular.) Jungle Law by Victoria Vinton features Rudyard Kipling as a character. Walter Kirn's new one, Mission to America, might be helped by the upcoming release of the movie adaptation of his last book, Thumbsucker. Nadine Gordimer's new Get a Life is getting strong reviews, but there've been terrible reviews across the board for J.M. Coetzee's new Slow Man, and mixed reviews for Rick Moody's The Diviners (Booklist raved, the other mags disliked it). Other books coming include Marge Piercy's Sex Wars: A Novel of the Turbulent Post-Civil War Period, Connie Willis' Inside Job (sounds like a good companion to A Man From Beyond, above), and John Barth's Where Three Roads Meet: Novellas.

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Looking for Jake: Stories by China Mieville
Those of us intrigued by the reputation now have an easy way to sample this guy's work.

Accelerando by Charles Stross
"Joining the ranks of William Gibson (Neuromancer), Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash), and Bruce Sterling (Schismatrix), Stross fuses ideas and characters with cheerful abandon and creates a high-tech galactic adventure." -LJ

Melusine by Sarah Monette
Unusually consistent praise for this debut fantasy novel.

Lint by Steve Aylett
Said-to-be hilarious mock bio of a fictional, Philip K. Dick-like author named Jeff Lint.

Troy: Lord of the Silver Bow by David Gemmell
First book of a trilogy inspired by the Trojan war, it's been described as historical fiction with only minor elements of fantasy that will please genre fans and general readers alike.

Orphans of Chaos by John C. Wright
"Start of a complex mythology-based series from the author of the astonishing far-future Golden Age trilogy....Fascinatingly, dazzlingly, almost pointlessly erudite fantasy that trends inexorably toward science fiction; addicts will pounce." -KR

Woken Furies: A Takeshi Kovacs Novel by Richard K. Morgan
Action-packed novel in a cyberpunk noir series with a dark futuristic setting where people can download their personalities into new bodies and Kovacs is a special agent fighting, among others, what seems to be a younger version of himself.

Non-Fiction Picks:

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach
Already on its way to selling well, this book sounds even more interesting than her previous success, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.

La Belle France: A Short History
by Alistair Horne
A Little History of the World by Ernst Gombrich
A pair of well-reviewed general histories. The Gombrich is a translated minor classic from the 30s, the kind appropriate for young students as well as adults.

Coffee: A Dark History by Antony Wild
Infinite Ascent: A Short History of Mathematics by David Berlinski
A pair of topical histories, the first by an expert coffee buyer. The second is likely only to interest a complete nerd like me.

Objects of Our Desire: Why We Surround Ourselves with the Things We Love
by Salman Akhtar
I know at least one compulsive collector and have wrestled with the urge myself, so this work of psychology sounded intriguing.

Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture
by Ariel Levy
Nice to know I'm not alone in thinking it sad and puzzling to see girls wearing playboy bunny t-shirts.

Melville: His World and Work by Andrew Delbanco
The Melville expert and author of the excellent Required Reading sums up the man and his times.

The World in a Phrase: A Brief History of the Aphorism by James Geary
Jacques Barzun got me interested in this topic in his amazing From Dawn to Decadence, one of the best books I've ever read.

The American Songbook: The Singers, Songwriters & The Songs by Ken Bloom
I haven't found any reviews yet, but I can always make space on my shelves for a good book on the subject.

The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology by Ray Kurzweil
A wildly optimistic, and rather scary, conjecture on technology of the next few decades.

No Applause--Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous by Trav S.D.
OK, I'm entertained by the title and author already. Kinda sets the mood for this fascinating era, the predecessor to Broadway, television and Hollywood in American pop culture.

Smartbomb: The Quest for Art, Entertainment, and Big Bucks in the Global Videogame Industry by Heather Chaplin & Aaron Ruby
Don't know if I'm interested enough to read a whole book on the topic, but it was fun learning from a review that a Japanese master named Shigeru Miyamoto came up with all those really fun video games like Donkey Kong, Mario Bros., Zelda, etc.

Dogs of God: Columbus, the Inquisition, and the Defeat of the Moors by James Reston
A fascinating time, as well as a key chapter in the history of the West's relationship with Islam.

New York Night: The Mystique and Its History by Mark Caldwell
A history of New York City nightlife. How romantic!

Heroes: Saviors, Traitors, and Supermen: A History of Hero Worship by Lucy Hughes-Hallett
Books that look at a group of famous people always catch my eye. There aren't many people I'd want to read an entire book about, but the idea of a smart essay or chapter per person appeals. And what a fresh group: Alcibiades, Cato the Younger, El Cid, pirate Francis Drake, war plunderer Albrecht von Wallenstein, Achilles and Garibaldi.

Our Inner Ape: Power, Sex, Violence, Kindness, and the Evolution of Human Nature by Frans de Waal
A student of our closest relations explains "why we are who we are,' or at least draws some fascinating parallels.

Francis Bacon: Film, Photography, and the Practice of Painting by Martin Harrison
Once upon a Time in Italy: The Westerns of Sergio Leone by Christopher Frayling
Standout biographies of the famous artist and popular director.

Hungry Planet by Faith D'Aluisio and Peter Menzel
New coffee table wonder from the team that gave us the amazingly thought-provoking Material World. Eric Schlosser approved!

The Grizzly Maze: Timothy Treadwell's Fatal Obsession with Alaskan Bears by Nick Jans
A timely supplement to the excellent new documentary The Grizzly Man.

Also Noteworthy: New books from Jonathan Kozol (The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America) and nonfiction bestsellers Simon Winchester (A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906) and Dava Sobel (The Planets), plus a bunch of literary bios: Peter Ackroyd's Shakespeare, Julia Briggs' Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life, and Ron Powers' Mark Twain: A Life being just the best-reviewed of the bunch. Celebrated music journalist Peter Guralnick also offers a biography, Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke. There's also a collection of essays by some guy named Kurt Vonnegut (A Man without a Country). Lastly, if Mark Leyner and his doctor co-author of their hit book, Why Do Men Have Nipples?: Hundreds of Questions You'd Only Ask a Doctor after Your Third Martini, really don't know, I can tell them.

Of Gay Interest:

The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer by David Leavitt
I recently realized that Turing was the inspiration for the film Enigma, which I loved, and that the filmmakers heterosexualized the man, which annoys me. True, they changed the character significantly and gave him a different name--they didn't present a whitewashed Turing--but I can't help feeling that the filmmakers lost the chance to do something even more interesting there. Too bad. Turns out that Andrew Hodges, the author of an older book on Turing, Alan Turning: The Enigma, got his say in a review, and, understandably, he was even more peeved than I. All of this does whet my appetite for the real story, though, which sounds fascinating.

Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Start by Tab Hunter with Eddie Muller
The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson by Robert Hofler
Two books about closeted Hollywood stars of the 50s, as relevant as ever.

Women's Barracks: The Original 1950 Tale of Life and Love in the Free French Army (Femmes Fatales: Women Write Pulp Series) by Tereska Torres
Supposedly the first lesbian pulp book, back in print.

Zanesville by Kris Saknussemm
Don't exactly know where to file this truly peculiar sounding novel. Sounds a bit like SF, with lots of interesting gay and lesbian characters.

Of Chicago Interest:

Fortissimo: Backstage at the Opera with Sacred Monsters and Young Singers by William Murray
"Murray went to [Chicago's Lyric Opera Center] for the school's 2003-2004 season and sat in on everything-master classes, rehearsals, auditions and opening nights-talking with students, coaches and directors." -PW

And They All Sang: Adventures of an Eclectic Disc Jockey by Studs Terkel
Another new book from a Chicago icon, the amazing 93 year old who just recovered from heart surgery.

Neo-Bohemia: Culture and Capital in Postindustrial Chicago by Richard D. Lloyd
A "sparkling ethnographic study of Chicago's hipster enclave Wicker Park," which sounds a lot more readable than the title might imply.

The Story of Chicago May by Nuala O'Faolain
Biography of an 1890s Irish immigrant who became an infamous thief and prostitute.

Song in the Dark by P. N. Elrod
News to me. 10th entry in the long-running Vampire Files series, set in the 1930s gangster-era Windy City.

The Heist by Michael A. Black
A Chicago setting in this well-reviewed thriller.

The Gods Drink Whiskey: Stumbling Toward Enlightenment in the Land of the Tattered Buddha by Stephen T. Asma
"Asma...is a philosophy professor in Chicago with a sharp pen, a sharper sense of humor, and a deep interest in Buddhism. The latter led to his invitation to teach Buddhism to Cambodians in Phnom Penh, where years of Khmer Rouge rule had outlawed the practice. Thus, in the mysterious ways of today's globalization, he was bringing Buddhism back to its source by way of America." -LJ

Graphic Work:

The Complete Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
Cool idea, but are you really going to pay that much for something so unwieldy? You should be able to sprawl out and relax with comics, and not worry about, you know, letting kids touch it?

Tom Strong's Terrific Tales, Volume 2 by Alan Moore et al.
Top 10: The Forty-Niners by Alan Moore et al.
Two collections of Alan Moore's work. Both sound like witty, goofy superhero tales.

Until the Full Moon by Sanami Matoh
I was reading a fascinating article about Japanse manga for girls, and fan-fic, and the prevalence of love between male characters in these genres. This example struck me as particularly interesting: one of the characters, a half-werewolf / half-vampire, turns into a girl at the full moon! I know, I know, where have I been?



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