Sunday, March 12, 2006

New Book Roundup: January/February 2006

Two more months' worth of review magazines have whetted my appetite for another cartload of books I could never finish. We're like kings with the embarassment of riches at our beck and call. These are the books that look best to me heading into Spring 2006.


Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
I've seen nothing but acclaim for this followup to the amazing Cloud Atlas. A coming of age story, the new one has been called his Catcher in the Rye, but I'm also excited because Cloud characters are said to play a small part.

Everyman by Philip Roth
Roth's slim follow-up to The Plot Against America is a heralded reworking of his familiar themes.

The Nimrod Flipout: Stories by Etgar Keret
Israeli writer crafts "brainteaser" shorts that sound bizarre and fascinating.


The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue
Clever modern take on the old changeling story, this debut is getting great reviews.

Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife by Sam Savage
I love collecting weird titles like this. There's usually one per batch. This one concerns the life of a rat born in a bookstore.

Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean
I don't usually go for the book group-ready historical novel, but this one sounds appealing.

Adverbs: A Novel by Daniel Handler
The reviews have got me interested in Mr. Lemony Snickett's book for adults, which by the sound of it has something of interest for gay adults, too. Each story has an adverbial title, like "Obviously," and "Briefly."

Which Brings Me to You by Steve Almond and Julianna Baggott
Epistolary novel co-written by the author of the addictive Candy Freak.

Whose Names Are Unknown by Sanora Babb
What a story this story has! Babb's 1930s Dustbowl novel was pulled from scheduled publication when Grapes of Wrath hit big. Many say it's better, and it recently got published.

The Mercy Room by Gilles Rozier
WWII story of a French citizen who takes in a Jew to hide from the Nazis, then has an affair with him. Interestingly, the narrator's gender is never specified.

Lambs of London by Peter Ackroyd
Ackroyd's latest is a story about Charles Lamb and his sister Mary and an unearthed document that may be a Shakespeare play.

54 by Wu Ming
"The latest joint effort (after the novel Q) from Wu Ming--a collective of five Italian intellectuals who named themselves "anonymous" in Mandarin--offers political commentary-cum-complicated escapism for the brainiac reader." -PW

Ticknor by Sheila Heti
This Canadian writer is dividing critics with her latest literary novella.

Nietzsche's Kisses by Lance Olsen
I feel protective towards little books like this, well-reviewed but pretty much off the radar. Someone's gotta give it some love.

Between the Bridge and the River by Craig Ferguson
Surprisingly great reviews for this sitcom player turned tv show host turned author.

Skin by Kellie Wells
Talking cows? Gay punks? Maybe nothing's wrong with Kansas, after all.


In Persuasion Nation by George Saunders
I've already read some of these stories and loved them.

12 Short Stories and Their Making ed. by Paul Mandelbaum
Anthology of stories with their authors' commentaries.

Maul by Tricia Sullivan
"[N]eatly threads two seemingly unrelated coming-of-age stories together--one of "girlz" rumbling in a Jersey mall, the other of a future in which males are nearly extinct...." -PW Sounds like George Saunders meets Cory Doctorow.

Mordred, Bastard Son by Douglas Clegg
Reworking of the Arthurian legend in which, among other things, Mordred is gay.

More Noteworthy Fiction:
New story collections from Joyce Carol Oates, Charles D'Ambrosio, and "postcyberpunk" author Bruce Sterling. New novels by A. M. Homes, Colson Whitehead, Anne Tyler, and Lara Vapnyar. The Edge of Pleasure by Philippa Stockley concerns a bad boy London painter facing midlife and it sounds sexy. There were also several translated novels that sounded interesting: The Bird Is a Raven by Benjamin Lebert (German novella that sounds like a more intimate Strangers on a Train), Broken Mirror by Merce Rodoreda (multigenerational story of a family in Barcelona), White Spirit by Paule Constant (overdue translation of a prize-winning French Heart of Darkness-type novella), and Sleepwalking Land by Mia Couto (called "one of the 12 best African books of the 20th century").


Exploitation Poster Art ed. by Tony Nourmand and Graham Marsh
Forward by Dave Kehr.

Conversations with the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood's Golden Age: At the American Film Institue by George Stevens
The son of a famed director shares his interviews with legendary filmmakers.

Rip It up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 by Simon Reynolds
Timely. This music's been so influential the last few years.

All Music Guide to Classical Music: The Definitive Guide to Classical Music
I love AMG, but the organization of their classical site annoys me. Sounds like they've organized a beautiful guide at last.

Little Money Street: In Search of Gypsies and Their Music in the South of France by Fernanda Eberstadt
This topic always makes me think of the amazing film, Latcho Drom.

Little White Shadow by Mary Ruefle
"Ruefle... crafts what she calls 'erasures,' found texts from which she has crossed out almost all the words, leaving only a tiny poem's worth per page...." - PW Sounds interesting--I look forward to having a look.

Deviant Propulsions by C. A. Conrad
Sexy, queer collection of poems. One poem has a "transvestite boxer... willing to wear pink gloves with drawings of Judy Garland's face" punching out Mike Tyson.

The Poem That Changed America: "Howl" Fifty Years Later by Jason Shinder
Tribute to Ginsburg.

Riding Westward: Poems by Carl Phillips
I'm not sure I'll like this, but the review made me curious enough to check out this award-winning poet.

Parallel Play by Stephen Burt
I'm esp. curious about the poem entitled, "Scenes from Next Week's Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

Poet's Choice by Edward Hirsch
Collection of reviews/essays by the poet and high-profile (Washington Post) poetry reviewer.

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick
Normally this would sound dull to me, but it's written by the guy who wrote In the Heart of the Sea.

A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan by Michael Kazin
This man's life seems so incredibly pertinent to all of today's most unsettled issues in America.

The Awful End of Prince William the Silent: The First Assassination of a Head of State with a Hand-Gun by Lisa Jardine
I couldn't decide: is this an interesting topic or not?

Fire in the City: Savonarola and the Struggle for the Soul of Renaissance Florence by Lauro Martines
Sounds like a fascinating bio.

Miracles on the Water: The Heroic Survivors of a World War II U-Boat Attack by Tom Nagorski
True story of the sinking of a British passenger liner by a German submarine during WWII.

Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq by Stephen Kinzer
A history to put "regime change" into context.

Being Right Is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn from Conservative Success by Paul Waldman

Fast Boat to China: Corporate Flight and the Consequences of Free Trade - Lessons from Shanghai by Andrew Ross
Nice to see someone taking up the opposition against Thomas Friedman's "free trade" cheerleading.

Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire by Morris Berman
Well, this sounds depressing, but depressing is our political reality. May as well face up to it.

The Devil's Doctor: Paracelsus and the World of Renaissance Magic and Science by Philip Ball
Fascinating figure at the intersections of alchemy, science and religion in the 16th century.

Songbird Journeys: Four Seasons in the Lives of Migratory Birds by Miyoko Chu
Outstanding reviews.

Adventures from the Technology Underground: Catapults, Pulsejets, Rail Guns, Flamethrowers, Tesla Coils, Air Cannons, and the Garage Warriors Who Love Them by William Gurstelle
Pulse: The Coming Age of Systems and Machines Inspired by Living Things by Robert Frenay
A look at today's technology underground and tomorrow's technology wonderland.

The Science of Sherlock Holmes: From Baskerville Hall to the Valley of Fear, The Real Forensics Behind the Great Detective's Greatest Cases by E. J. Wagner
There's a place for all things Holmes on my list.

Before the Dawn: Recovering The Lost History of Our Ancestors by Nicholas Wade
The First Human: The Race to Discover Our Earliest Ancestors by Ann Gibbons
Two well-reviewed titles on similar topics.

The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries by Marilyn Johnson
Strange, macabre topic that sounds fascinating. Had an excellent interview with PW.

The Book of Lost Books: An Incomplete History of All the Great Books You Will Never Read by Stuart Kelly
Not the best reviews, but I love books like this. Cool idea.

Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life by Michael Dirda
Latest from bibliophile Dirda.

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan
Follow-up from the author of the successful The Botony of Desire sounds intriguing.

Double Eagle: The Epic Story of the World's Most Valuable Coin by Alison Frankel
About as miscellaneous as they come. Could be fascinating or deadly dull.

Enrique's Journey: The Story of a Boy's Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His Mother by Sonia Nazario
Pulitzer Prize-winning story of a Honduran boy's efforts to find his mother in the United States.

The Butterfly Hunter: Adventures of People Who Found Their True Calling Way Off the Beaten Path by Chris Ballard
People in unusual jobs and their journeys to reach them, including that annoying guy who voices movie trailers.

More Noteworthy Nonfiction:
Feted bio of Flaubert by Frederick Brown, a new Djuna Barnes collection, plus new books by Erica Jong, Sebastian Junger (takes up the topic of the Boston Strangler), Samuel R. Delany and local rock critic Jim DeRogatis (a Flaming Lips bio). Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock-and-Roll's Legendary Neighborhood by Michael Walker grabbed my eye, but then so did the more nerdy-sounding Unknown Quantity: A Real and Imaginary History of Algebra by John Derbyshire. A pair of histories sounded interesting: The Birth of America: From Before Columbus to the Revolution by William R. Polk ("a dazzling social history of early America") and Epic Journeys of Freedom: Runaway Slaves of the American Revolution and Their Global Quest for Liberty by Cassandra Pybus, concerning Revolutionary era slaves who joined the British in the hopes of attaining their freedom. And a trio of religious books jumped out: What Jesus Meant by Garry Wills (in which the celebrated thinker concludes that Christianity has been warped beyond recognition--what the hell took him so long?), The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions by Karen Armstrong (does she sleep?), and A Brief Guide to Islam: Faith, Religion, Politics by Paul Grieve ("If you read only one book about Islam this year, this should be it" said PW).

Of Gay Interest:

My Lives: An Autobiography by Edmund White
An autobiography written in topical chapters. I'm particularly interested in reading "My Master" and "My Hustlers," in which White dishes some of the sordid details of his love life.

What Love Means to You People by Nancy Kay Shapiro
Dramatic love story about 42-year-old NYC ad exec Jim and 23-year-old pretty-boy Seth.

The Most Beautiful Man in the World: Paul Swan, from Wilde to Warhol by Janis and Richard Londraville
Bio of an interesting gay artist/dancer/actor.

The Boys and the Bees by Joe Babcock
Gay young adult novel.

Surviving James Dean by William Bast
Bast, a friend of the late Dean, owns up to a brief fling and shares more on the legend's sex life.

Alternatives to Sex by Stephen McCauley
Boston-set novel sounds funny yet topical: "a gay 40-something Boston realtor who struggles to give up trolling the Internet for impersonal sexual liaisons. Taking stock of the year following 9/11, William attributes his promiscuity to "posttraumatic self-indulgence" and unsuccessfully attempts to trade one addiction for another: cleaning house (not always his own)." -PW

My Father's Keeper: A Gay Son's Story by Jonathan G. Silin
Silin writes about taking care of aging parents from a gay perspective.

Also Noteworthy:
Performance artist Tim Miller's latest, 1001 Beds: Performances, Essays, and Travels, a revision of the classic history Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present by Neil Miller, Idol Worship: A Shameless Celebration of Male Beauty in the Movies by Michael Ferguson (sounds fun), a new one by Augusten Burroughs, and the latest by the author of The Irreversible Decline of Eddie Socket, John Weir's What I Did Wrong.

Of Chicago Interest:

Sister Chicas by Lisa Alvarado, Ann Hagman Cardinal, and Jane Alberdeston Coralin
Chicago-set novel that looks esp. appealing to Latina teens.

Days of Rage: A Smokey Dalton Novel by Kris Nelscott
Hardboiled PI novel set during the turmoil of 1969 Chicago.

Graphic Work:

La Perdida by Jessica Abel
"Carla Olivares, a young [Chicagoan] Mexican-American woman, goes to Mexico City to try to get in touch with her Mexican side." -PW

The Making of a Graphic Novel: Featuring the First Time Publication of the Original Science Fiction Graphic Novel THE RESONATOR, Vol. 3 by Prentis Rollins
Neat idea--one side of the book is how to, and the other is an actual graphic novel.

Zippy: Type "Z" Personality by Bill Griffith
Why'd they take this strip out of the Chicago Reader? I loved it.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
Bechdel's (Dykes to Watch Out For) autobiography tells of her gay father, who ran a funeral parlor. It sounds like there's material enough for at least two hit tv shows here.

Dragon Head, Volume 1 by Minetaro Mochizuki
"Imagine waking up in a pitch-black train wreck filled with broken glass and bodies. No one answers when you call for help-and as you begin to orient yourself, you realize that this might be because everyone around you is dead." -PW

The Fountain by Darren Aronofsky When Aronfsky's latest film project was derailed, he created this graphic novel. Then the film was revived (due later this year) and the stories are apparently somewhat different.

Also Noteworthy:
New books from Alan Moore (DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore), Tony Millionaire (Billy Hazelnuts), Harvey Pekar (Ego and Hubris: The Michael Malice Story) and the late Will Eisner (Best of the Spirit).



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