Tuesday, January 10, 2006

New Book Roundup: November/December 2005

With this round-up, I've completed my first full year of reading the review magazines Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and Booklist and recording what struck me as the highlights. It's a lot of work, but I've found it to be rewarding, esp. when I need a new book to read or a friend asks for a recommendation. I've learned a lot about my taste--throw the word 'Hawaii' into a review and I perk up, and apparently I have a fondness for superhero stories with a twist. (Hmm, someone should write a graphic novel featuring superhero King Kamehameha). I've also learned a lot about what books get all the attention and which don't. (Here's a hint: translated fiction, no matter how great the reviews.) I've also learned the hard way that early reviews don't cover everything, and they often get it wrong. Still, the exercise has been well worth it for me, and I plan to keep doing these round-ups in 2006.


Intuition by Allegra Goodman
I recently read an essay and then a New Yorker short story by Goodman, the National Book Award winner, and was very impressed. The new book is off to a good start with reviews, but personally I'm even more interested in her older story collection The Family Markowitz.

99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style by Matt Madden
This book starts by relating a simple incident and then shows 98 more ways the story could be told. A work of graphic art (not exactly a "graphic novel"), the book made some 'Best of 2005' lists.

A Temple of Texts: Essays by William H. Gass
Basically another book about books, with essays considering great literature, and the reviews of the book aren't unanimous, but some are ecstatic, and it sounds worth a peak, at least. Also nice to know I'm not the only one who confuses William Gaddis and William Gass.

We All Die Alone by Mark Newgarden
From the creator of the Garbage Pail Kids!


The Memory Artists by Jeffrey Moore
Blurbed by David Mitchell.

The Suitors by Ben Ehrenreich
A novel by Barbara's son, whose journalism has impressed me. (And, wow, he's cute!)

The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig
Booklist raves about this "foray through Montana history begins in the late 1950s" from a distinguished author of the U.S. West.

Lapham Rising by Roger Rosenblatt
Inspired by William Dean Howells's The Rise of Silas Lapham.

People's Act of Love by James Meek
Mixed reviews, but some significant early buzz on this one--personally I want a little more info before I can tell if it's for me.

A Cock-Eyed Comedy by Juan Goytisolo
"Spanish literary trickster Goytisolo exhibits fine satirical form in this bawdy, fictional tale of a Catholic cleric's sexual wanderings across history and borders."-PW

U.S.!: A Novel by Chris Bachelder
Upton Sinclair rises from the grave, again and again. Anything this weird deserves note.

Amalgamation Polka by Stephen Wright
I think there's a good chance we're going to hear more about this Civil War-era Candide.

The Book about Blanche and Marie by Per Olov Enquist
From the celebrated author of The Royal Physician's Visit.

Last Witchfinder by James Morrow
It's a doorstopper, but if you like big books, the description, at least, seems to live up to the title.

Timothy: or, Notes of an Abject Reptile by Verlyn Klinkenborg
Surprisingly good reviews for a book that sounds so odd.

The Thin Place by Kathryn Davis
One of the more buzzed literary works of the moment.

Also Noteworthy:
Maile Meloy's new one is A Family Daughter. (I just found out her brother is Colin Meloy, leader of the Decembrists. Weird!) Blogger Elizabeth Merrick succeeded in gaining attention for her debut novel Girly but the reviews say the results don't quite live up to the respectable promise. Anita Brookner's new one, Leaving Home, is getting raves. Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre by Dominic Smith is also getting good early reviews but doesn't quite interest me. French critic/theorist Julia Kristeva is a novelist? I never knew. Her new book is Murder in Byzantium. The young and prolific Michelle Tea's new one is Rose of No Man's Land. Jay McInerney, so recently featured in pal Bret Easton Ellis' latest, may now reap the benefits of the publicity with The Good Life, about ordinary Manhattanites in the aftermath of 9/11. The celebrated Sarah Waters turns her attention from the Victorian era to WWII with The Night Watch. One of the most intriguing books to be reviewed in the last two months is the finally-translated The Last Jew by Yoram Kaniuk, a classic of Israeli lit from the 80s that is said to be great but a highly demanding read along the lines of Joyce. The Big Why by Michael Winter received mixed reviews, but I had to note it, because it's a historical novel based on the life of the man best remembered as the illustrator of Moby-Dick. Meanwhile, Dickens' obscure Mugby Junction is back in print, an "intriguing composite of tales ranging from horror to a realistic portrayal of life around a bustling Victorian railway station."

Platinum Pohl: The Collected Best Stories by Frederik Pohl
Collected stories of one of the biggest names in the genre.

The Best of Philip Jose Farmer
Another collection by a big name in the genre, "the most underrated science fiction writer of all time."

Plot to Save Socrates by Paul Levinson
Strange idea: Before his execution, Socrates turned down an offer of aid from a time traveler.

Wolf Star (Tour of the Merrimack, No. 2) by R.M. Meluch
What grabbed me is the idea that in this alternate reality, there are two competing Earth civilizations, the Roman and the American Empires.

20th Century Ghosts (A Collection) by Joe Hill
Twilight of the Superheroes: Stories by Deborah Eisenberg
Two unusual collections that were reviewed well.

NOTEWORTHY Nonfiction:

Great Pretenders: My Strange Love Affair with '50s Pop Music by Karen Schoemer
A fresh look at the teeny-bopper music of the 50s, perhaps more relevant to our pop music scene than ever.

Composers Voices from Ives to Ellington: An Oral History of American Music by Vivian Perlis and Libby Van Cleve Music
Virtuoso Conductors: The European Tradition From Wagner to Karajan by Raymond Holden
A pair of books on classical music.

Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences by Lawrence Weschler
Already dividing critics, this McSweeney's title deals with visual art, basically forging connections between seemingly unrelated photos and paintings.

The Mind of the Modern Moviemaker: Twenty Conversations with the New Generation of Filmmakers by Joshua Horowitz
Accidental Genius: How John Cassavetes Invented the Independent Film by Marshall Fine
Two prominent books about film.

Why Buffy Matters: The Art of Buffy the Vampire Slayer by Rhonda Wilcox
From an editor of Slayage.

The Terror: The Merciless War for Freedom in Revolutionary France by David Andress
"[T]he best book on the French Revolution to be published in years." - LJ

Decade of Nightmares: The End of the Sixties and the Making of Eighties America by Philip Jenkins History

Lighting the Way: Nine Women Who Changed Modern America by Karenna Gore Schiff
I'm a sucker for biographical anthologies even when they're not written by the daughters of former Vice Presidents.

Mussolini's Italy: Life under the Dictatorship, 1915-1945 by R. J. B. Bosworth

Ultimate Sacrifice: John and Robert Kennedy, the Plan for a Coup in Cuba, and the Murder of JFK by Lamar Waldron
Rounding up the latest evidence on the JFK assassination.

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan
A timely look at Americans suffering at the hands of Nature underestimated. Very well-reviewed.

The Race for Timbuktu: In Search of Africa's City of Gold by Frank T. Kryza

Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson
Supposedly Harrison Ford will be playing the hero chasing down Booth, which makes me laugh, but I won't hold it against the book.

Explorers: The Most Exciting Voyages of Discovery by Andrea de Porti
Sounds like a coffee table book.

American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville by Bernard-Henri Levy
My, someone made good use of time on his previous book tour.

The Global Class War: How America's Bipartisan Elite Lost Our Future - and What It Will Take to Win it Back by Jeff Faux

Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights by Kenji Yoshino
A thoughtful look at the state of American civil rights from a gay Asian-American law professor.

Elephant's Edge: The Republicans as a Ruling Party by Andrew J. Taylor

Global Values 101: A Short Course by ed. By Kate Holbrook
LJ: "For...the exceedingly popular and controversial Harvard undergraduate religion course that spawned this book, lecturer Palmer and graduate student Kate Holbrook invited about a dozen people-'from janitors to billionaires, from professors to corporate CEOs to nuns'-to their class each semester to answer tough, well-informed questions posed by their students."

Decoding the Universe: How the New Science of Information Is Explaining Everythingin the Cosmos, from Our Brains to Black Holes by Charles Seife

On Seeing: Things Seen, Unseen, and Obscene by F. Gonzalez-Crussi
Ranges beyond the scientific into the more philosophical and has been compared to Oliver Sacks, which is always a good thing.

Rousseau's Dog: Two Great Thinkers at War in the Age of Enlightenment by David Edmonds, John Eidinow
Another philosophical encounter explored in depth, from the authors of Wittgenstein's Poker.

The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World by Matthew Stewart

The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne
"His is called the Simple Way, located in a destitute neighborhood of Philadelphia. It is a house of young believers, some single, some married, who live among the poor and homeless. They call themselves 'ordinary radicals' because they attempt to live like Christ and the earliest converts to Christianity, ignoring social status and unencumbered by material comforts." - PW

Small Giants: Companies That Choose to be Great Instead of Big by Bo Burlingham

Self-Made Man: One Woman's Journey into Manhood and Back Again by Norah Vincent
A lesbian woman poses as a man and reports back on what she learned.

Building Jerusalem: The Rise and Fall of the Victorian City by Tristram Hunt
His name is Tristram? Someone named him Tristram? Uh, anyway, my interest in Dickens makes me interested in this look at the Victorian era city.

More Noteworthy Nonfiction:
Taylor Branch has published the last volume in his much-lauded bio of MLK, At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68. Two recent literary bios of note: Lillian Hellman: A Life with Foxes and Scoundrels by Deborah Martinson and John Worthen's D. H. Lawrence: The Life of an Outsider. In time for this year's Mozart merriment, Jane Glover has written Mozart's Women: His Family, His Friends, His Music. And, a timely new edition of The Storm by Daniel Defoe "offers a detailed report on a massive hurricane that hit Britain [in 1703], leaving thousands dead and homes and businesses destroyed for miles in every direction."

Poetry and Drama:

Love-Lies-Bleeding: A Play by Don DeLillo
DeLillo's latest play is getting very strong reviews.

Petroleum Hat by Drew Gardner
"The most salient form of 'Google poetry'...has come to be called "Flarf".... None of the Flarf poets...is exclusively such, as is true for Gardner...." - PW

Thorn by David Larsen
"Larsen is one the two most important practitioners of an emerging form that might be called the "graphic poem"--basically, verse comics. (The other is Gary Sullivan, also published by poet Jack Kimball's Faux Press in Boston.) Larsen's graphic piece "Bucket of Blood" (www.temple.edu/chain/larsen.pdf) and other works have already brought him a blogospheric following; this much-awaited debut, however, showcases Larsen's conventional verse, which is unique and accomplished in and of itself." - PW

Averno: Poems by Louise Gluck

Of Gay Interest:

The Romanian: An Erotic Obsession by Bruce Benderson
"Benderson was wandering Budapest researching sex clubs for Nerve. com when he fell in love. Romulus, a Romanian street hustler, was a sleekly attractive, uneducated (though clever) 24-year old (significantly younger than Benderson), into soccer, TV and swapping dirty stories with his buddies. Living in a largely homophobic culture, Romulus didn't consider himself anything but heterosexual, even as he spent months having sex with Benderson." - PW

My Lucky Star by Joe Keenan
New novel by the Frasier writer has been compared to Wodehouse's work.

I Am Not Myself These Days: A Memoir by Josh Kilmer-Purcell
Memoir of a 90s drag queen. PW: "In the go-go '90s, Kilmer-Purcell spent his days as an advertising grunt and his nights hopping around Manhattan's gay clubs as 'Aquadisiac,' over seven feet tall in a wig and heels with goldfish swimming in transparent bubbles covering 'her' breasts." Then there's his male escort boyfriend.

Queer Images: A History of Gay and Lesbian Film in America by Harry M. Benshoff and Sean Griffin
Seemingly something of a standout in the endless stream of books about lgbt film.

Man Who Would Marry Susan Sontag: And Other Intimate Portraits of the Bohemian Era by Edward Field
Gossip about post-WWII Greenich Village scene.

Of Chicago Interest:

Barney Ross by Douglas Century
PW: "A powerful account of the career of 'one of the two greatest Jewish boxers of the twentieth century,'...delivers a short but fascinating account of life in Chicago's Maxwell Street ghetto in the 1920s and '30s: 'a riotous dream of Jewish gunmen and bookmakers, fighting furriers and smashed-nose boxers.'"

Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement, and the Bombing That Divided Gilded Age America by James Green
So soon after Martin Duberman's Haymarket novel, a major nonfiction treatment.

Philosophy Made Simple: A Novel by Robert Hellenga
In a light work of humor, widower and empty-nester Rudy Harrington decides "the time is ripe to sell his Chicago home of 30 years and buy an avocado grove in Texas," but he also becomes engrossed in a philosophy book that has him obsessing over life's big questions.

Terror Town by Stuart M. Kaminsky
"Edgar-winner Kaminsky writes four ongoing mystery series, but his books about close-to-retirement Chicago police detective Abe Lieberman are the ones that get the least attention. With luck, this terrific ninth book (after 2004's The Last Dark Place) will change all that." - PW

Physical: An American Checkup by James McManus
Poor reviews for the Evanstonian's latest, but I had to mention it.

Graphic Work:

Superman in the Forties by Jerry Siegel
A collection of the mighty caped one's early adventures, when his powers were more modest.

Light Brigade by Peter Tomasi
"In the cold, dark days of December 1944, as World War Two rages, Chris Stavros - an Amercian soldier - has but one goal: getting home safely to care for his son after learning his wife has died. But in the midst of battle and trying to stay alive, he finds the stakes raised as heavenly warriors emerge from the skies - resulting in an impossible task given to Stavros and his platoon: recover the lost Sword of God before a troop of arcane, unkillable German soldiers locate it and storm Heavens Gate!"

Earthian by Yun Kouga
Astronauts, dragons, and 'bickering homoerotic angels.' OK, that's at least different. Another boylove manga.

Chiaroscuro: The Private Lives of Leonardo da Vinci by Pat McGreal
"Plucked from abusive, semicriminal parents by Leonardo because of his beauty, Salai is depicted as fully deserving Leonardo's only characterization of him: 'obstinate, thief, liar and glutton.' Add to that egoist, manipulator, backbiter, slut, athlete, risk taker, surprisingly loyal assistant, and, of course, first-class stunner, and you have the perfect antihero for believably picaresque historical fiction." - BL



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