Monday, November 07, 2005

New Book Roundup: September/October 2005

It's a slow time for publishing, but there are still plenty of interesting books being reviewed. As always, I scoured reviews in Booklist, Kirkus, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly, looking for titles that sound interesting. Some of these books won't hit the stores until early next year.


Arthur and George by Julian Barnes
I simply can't wait to read this Booker nominee about Arthur Conan Doyle.

The Sea by John Banville
The controversial Booker winner's publication date got pushed up to reap the benefits of the award.

Think!: Why Crucial Decisions Can't Be Made in the Blink of an Eye by Michael R. Legault
I'm so glad someone is finally challenging bestseller Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell's a terrific magazine writer, smart and interesting, but his books have gained way too much influence. In my opinion, he's overdue to hit the Dipping Point.

The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien
Nothing new about this book except that it was recently glimpsed on an episode of hit tv show Lost, whose producers tease that fans might gain from reading the book. Count me in.

The Trouble with Tom: The Strange Afterlife and Times of Thomas Paine by Paul Collins
The strange story of what happened to Thomas Paine's body after he died. This sounds great.


Holy Skirts: A Novel of a Flamboyant Woman Who Risked All for Art by Rene Steinke
One of the nominees for National Book Award for Fiction, this books didn't win, but it sounds good. It's the fictionalized account of the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, an arts figure in turn-of-the-century Germany. In a recent column, PW editor Sara Nelson said she's been championing Stenke's work for years.

Mozart's Journey to Prague and a Selection of Poems (Penguin Classics) by Eduard Friedrich Morike
I'd never heard of this before but recently came across it in a display of the new line of Penguin classics. Sounds like an interesting novella.

A Child Again by Robert Coover
Another collection of Coover's warped, reimagined fairy tales.

House of Many Gods by Kiana Davenport
East Wind, Rain by Caroline Paul
School for Hawaiian Girls by Georgia Ka'apuni McMillen
Three Hawaiian novels: a family drama, a WWII story set in the wake of Pearl Harbor, and another family drama involving the 1922 murder of a sister.

Sea of Gray: The Around-the-World Odyssey of the Confederate Raider Shenandoah by Tom Chaffin
Based on historical records, this is the story of a ship commissioned to target New England's whaling fleet that spent 13 months at sea during the Civil War.

Paul and Virginia by Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre
Translation of a sentimental 1788 novel which Flaubert used as "the exemplum of the pulp fiction that cheapened Madame Bovary's young mind." It also inspired Blue Lagoon. Sounds good for a laugh.

John Crow's Devil by Marlon James
"Dueling preachers, black magic, and speaking in tongues; animal sorcery and retribution from natural forces; an old violation sparking a series of new tragedies; alleged and actual bestiality, rape, pedophilia, and incest; violence and thuggery in the name of the Lord-these elements coalesce in a Jamaican stew spicier than jerk chicken" (LJ). Oh, that old plot again.

Skinner's Drift by Lisa Fugard
Daughter of playwright Athol Fugard, Lisa Fugard is getting excellent reviews for her tale of contemporary South Africa.

Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Laila Lalami
"The four main characters of this linked series of fictional profiles are connected by a single goal: the desire to emigrate from Morocco to Spain, where there are jobs." From the blogger behind

In Lucia's Eyes by Arthur Japin
Story of Casnaova's first conquest begins in her youth. "Years later, having reinvented herself as Galathee, a well-heeled madam in Amsterdam, she finds a mysterious liberation in the use of a veil to attract her clients and meets Casanova again, now the practiced seducer le Chevalier de Seingalt." - Publishers Weekly

Koula by Menis Koumandareas
This passionate Greek novella about a younger man and older woman got some raves.

Sluts by Dennis Cooper
Cooper's second new work of fiction this year sounds a lot more like you'd expect from him.

Best People in the World by Justin Tussing
A 17-year-old student and his 25-year-old teacher Alice run away to live "off the grid" and befriend an Anarchist named Shiloh.

It's Superman by Tom De Haven
Good reviews for this novel about Clark Kent's early years--quite favorably compared to the disappointingly bad tv show, Smallville.

The Shroud of the Thwacker by Chris Elliot
This spoof of The Da Vinci Code by the well-known comedian has gotten some surprisingly good reviews. And it just sounds funny.

The King in the Window by Adam Gopnik
"Harry Potter for the Mensa set"? (PW) Other reviews praised the book for having a hero who has to think, not just use instinct. Could be interesting.

Utterly Monkey by Nick Laird
Hey, I didn't know Zadie Smith was married to another writer. This book has been favorably compared to Nick Hornby's work, as in compared and favored, not compared and found nearly as good.

Crippled Angel, Vol. 3 by Sara Douglass
I hadn't heard of this series before, but it sounds like an interesting historical fantasy.

Lobster by Guillaume Lecasble
This has got to be one of the truly weirdest fictions I've read about in a while.

Total Chaos by Jean-Claude Izzo
A French noir policier, first entry in a trilogy completed before the author's death, set in an Arab ghetto and said to explore French racism. Timely, non?

Passion: A Novel of the Romantic Poets by Jude Morgan
These seems like a fun way to read about Byron, Shelley, Keats and co.

Also Noteworthy:
Scott Turow's well-reviewed new novel Ordinary Heroes is a departure, being a WWII book, not a legal thriller. 1965 Nobel winner Witold Gombrowicz's Cosmos gets a translation. Paul Auster's unevenly reviewed new novel The Brooklyn Follies includes an interesting gay character. The latest by Ismail Kadare, winner of the first Man Booker International Prize, is The Successor. Also, for what it's worth, a reviewer expressed the opinion that Cecilia Holland is one of the greatest historical novelists.

To Charles Fort, with Love by Caitlin R. Kiernan
"Now largely forgotten, except as inspiration for the title of the glossy monthly, Fortean Times, Charles Fort (1874-1932) was an ardent skeptic who devoted himself to studying paranormal phenomena and eventually publishing his findings as The Book of the Damned (1919). In homage to him, Kiernan's third story collection presents 13 explorations of the less-reputable fringes of science." - Booklist

Seeker by Jack McDevitt
"In 2688, interstellar transports Seeker and Bremerhaven left a theocratic Orwellian Earth to found a dictator-free society, Margolia-and vanished. Nine thousand years later, with a flawed humanity spread over 100-odd worlds, Margolia and its ships have become Atlantis-type myths." - PW

The Protector's War by S. M. Stirling
This SF sequel set a decade after civilization has lost power and modern technology sounds a bit on the hippie/anarchist/libertarian side.

Atomik Aztex by Sesshu Foster
Separation by Christopher Priest
Alternate histories: the first of WWII involving two twin brothers, one pursuing war, one pursuing peace; the second a story in which the Aztecs brutally conquerd Europe.

Ghosts of Albion: Accursed by Amber Benson, Christopher Golden
Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Tara, Amber Benson, co-wrote this supernatural thriller, first developed as a flash animation for the BBC Web site.

Flaming London by Joe R. Lansdale
Illustrated story of a Victorian-era Martian invasion (as in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen v.2), featuring Samuel Clemens, Jules Verne, and H.G. Wells as characters.

Making It Up by Penelope Lively
The author asks herself a series of "What ifs?" about her own life and explores each alternate reality in a story. A fascinating idea, calling to mind some of Philip Roth's novels. Then she ends with a tale reimagining her mythical namesake--which calls to mind Atwood's latest novel.

The Prisoner Pear: Stories from the Lake by Elissa Minor Rust
Series of stories inspired by the Lake Oswego, Ore., police blotter.

Language of the Geckos and Other Stories by Gary Pak
Hawaiian magic realism.

Best American Short Stories 2005 ed. by Michael Chabon
Chabon is said to have shaken up the venerable series, choosing stories he likes (i.e., fun stories) instead of the supposedly best.


The Tender Bar: A Memoir by J. R. Moehringer
One of the most well-reviewed and -publicized memoirs of the year, about the author's experience growing up around a bar.

Us and Them: Understanding Your Tribal Mind by David Berreby
This book seems to get at my number one aggravation about human society--the constant instinct we seem to have to split up, take sides, and oppose one another.

Consider the Lobster: And Other Essays by David Foster Wallace
Wallace's mostly praised new collections of dazzling essays on various quirky topics.

Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era by Ken Emerson
Wouldn't you love to go back in time and visit?

Da Capo Best Music Writing 2005: The Year's Finest Writing on Rock, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Pop, Country, & More guest ed. by J. T. Leroy
Sixth entry in the series, always a good read.

The Generous Man: How Helping Others Is the Sexiest Thing You Can Do by Tor Norretranders
But of course generosity is sexy! We shouldn't need a book to tell us that.

Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage by Heather Rogers
Said to complement the other garbage book I recently included, Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte.

Death's Door: Modern Dying and the Ways We Grieve, A Cultural Study by Sandra M. Gilbert
This book sounds a bit like Joan Didion's award-winning latest: after her husband died in 1991, she threw herself into a somewhat scholarly study of death.

The Clumsiest People in Europe: Or, Mrs. Mortimer's Bad-Tempered Guide to the Victorian World ed. by Todd Pruzan
Pretty hilarious in concept, though I don't know if you'd read this straight through. As the publisher writes, "No matter who your ancestors were, and where they had the misfortune of living, Victorian children's book writer Mrs. Favell Lee Mortimer had something nasty to say about them." Even though she hardly ever travelled.

Don't Know Much about Mythology: Everything You Need to Know about the Greatest Stories in Human History but Never Learned by Kenneth C. Davis
I can always learn more about mythology.

The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth by Tim Flannery
The title says it all.

Daughter of Boston: The Extraordinary Diary of a Nineteenth Century Woman by Caroline Wells Dall, ed. by Helen Deese
This Day in the Life: Diaries from American Women edited by Joni B. Cole, Rebecca Joffrey, and B. K. Rakhra
The first book is the extraordinary real diary of a remarkable woman. In the second, hundreds of unremarkable women kept diaries of June 29, 2004, and the editors selected the most compelling. Sounds like a Virginia Woolf dream come true.

Indecent Secrets: The Infamous Murri Murder Affair by Christina Vella
True story of the 1902 stabbing of an Italian aristocrat and its aftermath.

69 AD: The Year of the Four Emperors by Gwyn Morgan
Euro royalty books bore me, but I'm interested in Roman emperors.

Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction by Eric Foner
Crusader Nation: Reform and War in America, 1898-1920 by David Traxel
Two new American histories.

Nell Gwyn: Mistress to a King by Charles Beauclark
She was an "orange girl" in the theater district when she caught the eye of Charles II. I love that.

Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday
Alexander the Great: Journey to the End of the Earth by Norman F. Cantor
Excellent reviews for this Mao bio which reportedly pulls no punches; plus a brief bio of the man who could conquer the world but not the box office.

People's History of the Civil War: Struggles for the Meaning of Freedom by David Williams
A People's History of Science: Miners, Midwives, and Low Mechaniks by Clifford D. Conner
These two otherwise unrelated books (different publishers) both take the ground-up pov.

White Savage: William Johnson and the Invention of America by Fintan O'Toole
An Irish immigrant to colonial America who befriended the Mohawks.

Dwelling Place: A Plantation Epic by Erksine Clarke
This history looks in depth at four generations of patriarch Charles Colcock Jones' plantations, both white and black inhabitants.

Fakes and Forgeries: The True Crime Stories of History's Greatest Deceptions: The Criminals, the Scams, and the Victims by Brian Innes

Nothing but Victory: The Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865 by Steven E. Woodworth
Another interesting Civil War history.

1945: The War That Never Ended by Gregor Dallas
The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln by Sean Wilentz
An in-depth history of the end of WWII and a history of early U.S. history.

The Longest Night: The Bombing of London on May 10, 1941 by Gavin Mortimer
Intense history of the infamous blitz.

Deliver the Vote: A History of Election Fraud, an American Political Tradition-1742-2004 by Tracy Campbell
Steal This Vote: Dirty Elections and the Rotton History of Democracy in America by Andrew Gumbel
With all the concern about election fraud lately, these are timely books.

Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson
Paul Krugman lavished high praise on this book in a recent column.

Siegfried Sassoon: A Life by Max Egremont
His affair with Stephen Tennant is said to be a major part of this story of the WWI vet and poet.

Wit in the Dungeon: The Remarkable Life of Leigh Hunt--Poet, Revolutionary, and the Last of the Romantics by Anthony Holden
Turns out Leigh Hunt was Dickens' inspiration for Skimpole in Bleak House. That alone makes me want to skim the book!

Tete-a-Tete: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre by Hazel Rowley
A widely reviewed book, something of an event, lively and gossipy.

The Letters of Lytton Strachey by Lytton Strachey
Collection from the openly homosexual enemy of Eminent Victorians. (Ever seen Carrington? I quite liked it.)

Romantic Readers: The Evidence of Marginalia by H. J. Jackson
A look at the marginalia of readers in the Romantic era, 1790 to 1830, when more people were able to afford their own books. A follow-up to Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books.

Defining the World: The Extraordinary Story of Dr. Johnson's Dictionary by Henry Hitchings
Another well-reviewed history of a major reference book. This one looks very readable.

Writers on the Air: Conversations about Books by Donna Seaman
Collection of author interviews from a Chicago radio program

A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599 by James Shapiro
Another well-reviewed Shakespeare bio, though the very idea of Shakespeare bio is controversial to some, given how little we know for sure.

The Stewardess Is Flying the Plane!: American Films of the 1970s by Ron Hogan
Another book from a book-blogger, this seems to be a fuller, more entertaining look at 70s Hollywood than the usual "maverick" focus.

The X List: The Movies that Turn Us On ed. by Jami Bernard
Members of the National Society of Film Critics write about movies (think Hollywood, not porn) that got them hot and bothered.

Katharine Hepburn: The Untold Story by James Robert Parish
This bio from The Advocate claims Hepburn was queer, though of course it has no proof.

Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause by Lawrence Frascella and Al Weisel
I could have sworn there was another book about the making of this movie recently, but in any case this one sounds good. I saw the movie for the first time this year and was blown away.

Now Playing at the Valencia: Pulitzer Prize-Winning Essays on the Movies by Stephen Hunter
The Valencia was a seedy movie theater in Evanston, IL, where Hunter spent much of his 50s youth, though most of these pieces seem to cover recent Hollywood.

Hollywood Hoofbeats: Trails Blazed across the Silver Screen by Petrine Day Mitchum and Audrey Pavia
The Equine stars of Hollywood history get their due.

Real Photo Postcards: Unbelievable Images from the Collection of Harvey Tulcensky by Laetitia Wolff (Editor)
Around 1907, due to changes in Postal Service regulations, there was a boom in the sending of homemade postcards, and Tulcensky apparently collected many examples.

Disfarmer: The Vintage Prints ed. by Edwynn Houk et al.
This sounds fascinating: "The eccentric Mike Disfarmer...worked as the local studio portrait photographer in the small town of Heber Springs, Ark., from 1915 until his death in 1959. During that time, he photographed almost all of the town's residents, becoming, without contact with an artistic community, a master of his medium." - PW

Louis I Kahn by Robert McCarter
A visual survey of the work of the man who was the subject of the excellent documentary My Architect (see it now if you haven't).

Chip Kidd: Book One: Work: 1986-2006
Retrospective of the out designer's graphic design work, which has graced the covers of some of the best and most popular books of the last two decade. (His partner is poet JD McClatchy.)

The World on Sunday: Graphic Art in Joseph Pulitzer's Newspaper (1898 to 1911) by Margaret Brentano and Nicholson Baker
The crusader for newspaper preservation presents color artwork from old papers. It's a beautiful, enjoyable book, though a bit cumbersome in size.

Still Looking: Essays on American Art by John Updike
A second collection of Updike's essays on paintings.

More Noteworthy Nonfiction:
Dan Savage fans take note: he contributes a piece to an anthology written by parents who've adopted, A Love Like No Other. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin has a new book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. John Berendt's follow-up to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is The City of Falling Angels. Bibliophile Nicholas A. Basbanes's latest is Every Book Its Reader: The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the World. Two more literary bios: Voltaire Almighty: A Life in Pursuit of Freedom by Roger Pearson and Kafka: The Decisive Years (first of three volumes) by Reiner Stach. ("It's very Kafkaesque." "Well, it's about Kafka." - Sorry, you gotta see The Squid and the Whale to get that joke.) Want to be depressed? Look up History, Fiction or Science?: Chronology No. 1. I saw a huge ad in PW for the translation of this Russian runaway bestseller, a purportedly nonfiction expose of the lies of history that makes Americans look well-educated for making a bestseller of Dan Brown. In other news, Christopher Hitchens has signed to write a critique of religion called God is Not Great, to be published in 2007.


Portable Famine: Poems by Rane Arroyo
Puerto Rican and gay, Arroyo writes poems about subjects such as Chicago and Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas.

Pieces of Air in the Epic by Brenda Hillman
Excellent reviews for this author's 7th book of poetry.

Funny by Jennifer Michael Hecht
Riffs on jokes-become-aphorisms, like "What did the sadist do to the masochist?/ Nothing."

The Collected Poems of Ted Berrigan
20 years in the making--the poet died in 1983.

New and Selected Poems: Volume Two by Mary Oliver
The popular poet's best of the last 27 years, as well as some new work.

Of Chicago Interest:

My Love Affair with Modern Art by Katharine Kuh, ed. by Avis Berman
Kuh was a major figure in the art world and spent most of her professional life in Chicago, including as curator at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Road to Paradise by Max A. Collins
Conclusion to the series that included The Road to Perdition.

A Venture into Murder by Henry Kisor
The Sun-Times' book editor's latest mystery is set into motion when a Chicago mobster's body washes up on the shores of the Upper Peninsula..

Bluebirds Used to Croon in the Choir: Stories by Joe Meno
Short story collection by the local punk prof.

White Tiger by Michael Dymmoch
Chicago detective John Thinnes, a Vietnam vet, and his gay fellow vet Jack Caleb, are drawn into a mystery surrounding a mysterious murder in Chicago's Little Saigon.

Graphic Work:

Hank Ketcham's Complete Dennis the Menace 1951-1952 by Hank Ketcham
When I picked this up in a bookstore recently, I was stunned at how good, how funny this collection is. Nothing like the awful strips and cartoons I remember from the 70s and 80s.

Complete Peanuts, Volume 4: 1957-1958 by Charles M. Schulz
The complete series continues to come out twice a year, a cause for celebration and purchase.

Night Fisher by R. Kikuo Johnson
Coming of age story set in Hawaii.

Black Hole by Charles Burns
The best reviewed graphic work of the last couple months.

Justice League Elite: Volume 1 by Joe Kelly
A twist on the JLA, perennial favorite of kids of all ages.

Tarzan: The Joe Kubert Years Volume 1
Original Tarzan comics from the 70s--this just sounds cool.

Ex Machina, Volume 2: Tag by Brian K. Vaughan, ill. by Tony Harris
Author of Y: The Last Man brings us the story of a modern-day superhero who used his powers (the ability to control machines) to become mayor of NYC and then to fight on Sep. 11--and, hey, this pol also supports gay marriage. PW: "half X-Files, half West Wing and 100% genius."



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