Thursday, May 18, 2006

New Book Roundup: March/April 2006

Time once again for my survey of enticing new books. Since I can't read a dozen books a week, I figure I may as well share what I've learned from reading the reviews--perhaps I can help these interesting books find an audience. (It's staggering to think these picks come from a batch of probably twenty times as many, and that so many more are published.) The trends this time: Poe, Pulp, and the Pentagon. Happy reading!


Winkie by Clifford Chase
Everybody who hears about this book seems to love the idea--Winkie, a teddy bear, is suspected of being a terrorist. Sounds just zany enough for the times. I hope it's good.

Uncommon Carriers by John McPhee
I'm not sure why this sounds so interesting to me--I guess the appeal is similar for me to books like Fast Food Nation. It's a chance to understand the hidden workings of our society, and McPhee's body of work looks excellent, maybe a bit like Wendell Berry?

Reading like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose
Books about writing--some good ones--come out all the time, but this one grabbed my attention right away because Prose says something I believe profoundly: in order to write well, one must read thoughtfully.

Terrorist by John Updike
I can't help thinking of this as Updike's The Plot Against America--even more of a departure from his usual than Roth's. Will it be a success? The reviews have been wildly enthusiastic. How exciting when a longterm, well-known artist shows he still has surprises in him. And how could Mr. New Yorker not address the issue?


The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril by Paul Malmont
A pulp joyride set in the heyday of pulp and involving pulp writers (like Doc Savage and the author of The Shadow) as characters. Sounds like a blast.

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
This novel about "life under Nazi occupation - recently discovered and published 64 years after the author's death in Auschwitz" is getting some of the best reviews of the season.

The Foreign Correspondent by Alan Furst
Sounds like a smart WWII-era historical thriller--I've seen comparisons to Graham Greene.

The Whole World Over by Julia Glass
Three Junes didn't interest me, but this one sounds better (plus it seems to include gay characters in a non-sensationalistic way).

By a Slow River by Philippe Claudel
Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow by Faiza Guene
Two new French translations: a slim policier concerning a strangled village girl in 1917, and a tale of a Muslim girl in Paris' suburban projects.

Hidden by Victoria Lustbader
"Brokeback Mountain meets Rich Man, Poor Man"--BBM has become a new cliché for "gay" in reviews.

Theft: A Love Story by Peter Carey
Great reviews for the Booker winner's latest.

Conversation with Spinoza: A Cobweb Novel by Goce Smilevski
First novel by the Macedonian author to be translated into English.

The Futurist by James P. Othmer
Satire that seems to be in the vein of the recent movie Thank You for Smoking, but with a soulless ad exec instead of a soulless PR guy.

The Art of Detection (A Kate Martinelli Mystery) by Laurie R. King
King tells another Sherlock Holmes-related story but from a different angle.

The Pale Blue Eye: A Novel by Louis Bayard
The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl
Poe's Lighthouse: All New Collaborations with Edgar Allen Poe ed. by Christopher Conlon
Several new Poe-related projects. Bayard's well-reviewed novel is set during the brief time Poe was a West Point cadet. Pearl's book has the highest profile, though mixed reviews, and involves the man who apparently inspired Poe's character Dupin. Lighthouse has 23 writers taking a crack at finishing an incomplete Poe story.

The End of California by Steve Yarbrough
This sounded appealing as an exploration of the culture clash in small town America.

Song of the Crow by Layne Maheu
Looks like a fine addition to my collection of oddities: the Noah's Ark story from a crow's p.o.v.

Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine Presents Fifty Years of Crime and Suspense ed. by Linda Landrigan
Of all the story collections coming out, I think I'm most excited about this one.

Thriller: Stories to Keep You up All Night ed. by James Patterson
A who's who of the mystery-thriller world.

Retro Pulp Tales ed. by Joe R. Lansdale
A collection of tales written in pulpy style.

Learning to Kill: Stories by Ed McBain
Here are some hand-selected stories the late Ed McBain cut his teeth on.

Collected Stories of Amy Hempel
I enjoyed some of Hempel's poetry in college, but I don't know if I've ever read any of her stories. Now I have no excuse.

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: 25 Stories by Haruki Murakami
Weird stories from the author of Kafka on the Shore.

Voodoo Heart by Scott Snyder
Last Evenings on Earth by Roberto Bolano
Two literary collections. Snyder received a rave review in PW from the celebrated Francine Prose. Last Evenings is the first short-story collection in English by the prominent Chilean author.

Touchy Subjects by Emma Donoghue
The Irish writer sounds particularly versatile. I'm esp. interested in the stories "Team Men," "Speaking in Tongues," "The Welcome" and "WritOr."

Widdershins by Charles de Lint
Clearly influenced by Gaiman's American Gods, this novel is getting reviews that suggest it may even be better.

Bloodstained Oz by Christopher Golden and James A. Moore
Oz reimagined as horror. Wicked, indeed.

Black Pockets and Other Dark Thoughts by George Zebrowski
SF writer's collection of horror stories.

Shuteye for the Timebroker by Paul Di Filippo
Clever and interesting short story ideas.

The Engineer ReConditioned by Neal Asher
Short story collection from an acclaimed British SF writer.

More Noteworthy Fiction:
Jeff Povey's Serial Killers Club is a spoof of the serial killer subgenre, which can't be criticized and joked about enough, as far as I'm concerned. Carlos Fuentes imagines a not-too-distant conflict between Mexico and a U.S. headed by Condoleeza Rice in The Eagle's Throne. Gary Shteyngart's new one is Absurdistan. T. C. Boyle's latest, Talk Talk, is a suspense novel dealing with identity theft. Yevgeny Zamyatin's We has gotten a spiffy new translation. Jennifer Egan's The Keep sounds strange. Grab On to Me Tightly as if I Knew the Way, a debut novel by Bryan Charles, is receiving mixed though encouraging reviews. And hard SF author Vernor Vinge's latest is Rainbows End.


Basilica: The Splendor and the Scandal: Building St. Peter's by Rita A. Scotti
Readers who enjoyed Brunelleschi's Dome may be drawn to the grand story of this legendary work of architecture, which touched 30 popes and took over 100 years to build.

Sundance Kids: How the Mavericks Took Back Hollywood by James Mottram
Sharon Waxman's got competition with this book covering the younger generation of exceptional filmmakers.

Cinema Macabre ed. by Mark Morris
This UK import is an anthology of writing about the Horror movie genre. Contributers include the awesome Simon Pegg and China Mieville.

Female Brando: The Legend of Kim Stanley by Jon Krampner
Biography of an influential actress (who, I might complain, isn't helped much by the slightly offensive title--Stanley and Brando were their own people).

How Nashville Became Music City, U. S. A.: 50 Years of Music Row by Michael Kosser

Body Piercing Saved My Life by Andrew Beaujon
Don't know that I could read a whole book on either topic (I'm not a big of country--not at all of Christian music), but these seemed worth noting. The title of the Christian music book apparently comes from a popular t-shirt, and it sort of cracks me up.

The Din in the Head: Essays by Cynthia Ozick
I read some of these essays in The New Yorker, and I look forward to reading more (esp. "Highbrow Blues").

Rules of Thumb: 71 Authors Reveal Their Fiction Writing Fixations ed. by Michael Martone
Collections like this are interesting even for readers who merely appreciate but don't practice the craft.

Book of Sketches by Jack Kerouac
Insightful collection of Kerouac's notebook writings.

Quarantine by Brian Henry
The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village under the Sea: Poems by Mark Haddon
These two volumes of poetry jumped out at me (though because of April being poetry month there were a ton of reviews that sounded good). Haddon, of course, is the author of the excellent The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.

The Real McCoy: The True Stories Behind Our Everyday Phrases ed. by Georgia Hole and Sara Hawker
Do you ever stop to think about some of the strange commonplaces we utter everyday? Here are stories (or at least explanations) behind some of them.

Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830 by John Huxtable Elliott
Comparison of the British and Spanish models of empire.

Bitter Ocean: The Battle of the Atlantic, 1939-1945 by David Fairbank White
History of one of the less chronicled theaters of WWII.

American Home Front: 1941-1942 by Alistair Cooke
Cooke (Mr. Masterpiece Theatre traversed the U.S. to study the country in the midst of change, but this book was shelved for almost 60 years because a publisher at the time felt there wouldn't be interest books about WWII. (Times have certainly changed!)

Unknown Soldiers: The Story of the Missing of the First World War by Neil Hanson
"Follows three ordinary warriors--British, German and American--through the logic-defying charnel house that was WWI."

Sicily: Three Thousand Years of Human History by Sandra Benjamin
Sounds like the set-up for a Golden Girls joke! Seriously, though, the place has had an interesting history.

When the Astors Owned New York: Blue Bloods and Grand Hotels in a Gilded Age by Justin Kaplan
A look at one of the more famous dynasties in American history.

Mr. Lincoln Goes to War by William Marvel
A devil's advocate considers the question, Was President Lincoln right not to let the South secede?

Voyage of the Vizcaina: The Mystery of Christopher Columbus's Last Ship by Klaus Brinkbaumer and Clemens Hoges
Investigation into the troubles of Columbus' later voyages.

With Amusement for All: A History of American Popular Culture Since 1830 by LeRoy Ashby
Perhaps a bit academic, but with such a fun topic it sounds worth a look.

Hostile Takeover: How Big Business Bought Our Government and How We Can Take It Back by David Sirota
The impressive Sirota (his writing is one of the best things in the magazine In These Times) apparently offers solutions to the problems he sees. Imagine! He's becoming a favorite writer of mine.

Unspeak: How Words Become Weapons, How Weapons Become a Message, and How That Message Becomes Reality by Steven Poole
An Orwellian look at language in today's politics.

House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power by James Carroll
Just because it's easy to mistrust the Pentagon doesn't make it wrong to do so.

Look Homeward America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals by Bill Kauffmann
A look at some of the important cranks and rabble-rousers in American history, including Dorothy Day, Wendell Berry, Millard Fillmore (?) and Mother Jones.

The Cloudspotters Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney
What a cool idea--a cloudwatcher's guide to understanding weather.

Underwater to Get out of the Rain: A Love Affair with the Sea by Trevor Norton
Celebration of the briny deep by the guy known as "Bill Bryson Underwater."

Calculus Wars: Newton, Leibniz, and the Greatest Mathematical Clash of All Time by Jason Socrates Bardi
His middle name is Socrates?! A history that seems to be in the vein of Wittgenstein's Poker.

The DNA Detectives: How the Double Helix is Solving Puzzles of the Past by Anna Meyer
It does seem fairly common to read in the news about digging up the remains of notable historical figures to run DNA tests--an interesting blend of science and history.

Imaginary Weapons: A Journey Through the Pentagon's Scientific Underworld by Sharon Weinberger
The Jasons: The Secret History of Science's Postwar Elite by Ann K. Finkbeiner
Whenever you see two similar titles released near the same time, you might think the competition will hurt them, but book reviewers love to pounce on anything resembling a "trend," so I'm betting these books (with very similar covers--not unlike Carroll's) will be reviewed together.

Real Food: What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck
What to Eat: An Aisle-by-Aisle Guide to Savvy Food Choices and Good Eating by Marion Nestle
Michael Pollan's book is getting plenty of attention, and now we have these two books. Food. People never tire of talking about it!

Challenging Nature: The Clash of Science and Spirituality at the New Frontiers of Life by Lee M. Silver
The ethical problems of technologies such as cloning won't go away because the president pulls funding or because people mutter, "Musn't play god." So we should face up to the issue in an informed way--this books seems as good a place as any to start.

Heat: An Amateur Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford
A New Yorker writer immerses himself in the art of cooking.

Rumspringa: To Be or Not to Be Amish by Tom Shachtman
During this coming-of-age ritual, Amish youth are allowed to sample the wilds of mainstream culture before deciding whether to commit to the Amish life. Wouldn't this make an amazing reality show or documentary?

Why?: What Happens when People Give Reasons...and Why by Charles Tilly
I'm not sure I understand exactly what this is about, and that's part of the appeal.

Pedaling to Hawaii: A Human-Powered Odyssey by Stevie Smith
A sort of hip, contemporary Kon-Tiki.

Friendship: An Exposé by Joseph Epstein
Meditation on a subject important to everyone yet rarely examined seriously.

The Sack of Rome: How a Beautiful European Country with a Fabled History and a Storied Culture Was Taken over by a Man Named Silvio Berlusconi by Alexander Stille
Berlusconi is to Italy like what Bush and Rupert Murdoch combined in one person would be to us. What a nightmare.

Cockeyed: A Memoir by Ryan Knighton
A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History's Greatest Traveler by Jason Roberts
The first is a memoir that discusses what it was like going blind (it began in his teens). The second concerns the travels of a man during the age of Napoleon (when you'd think it'd be even more difficult and challenging to travel).

Insatiable: Tales from a Life of Delicious Excess by Gael Greene
Memoir of food and sex from a former New York Magazine restaurant critic who slept with some pretty famous guys (like Elvis).

Swooning Beauty: A Memoir of Pleasure by Joanna Frueh
Another memoir of sex. The reviews make it sound awful, but this odd remark from a review caught my eye: "She writes of her imaginary male self, 'Mel,' based on actor Mel Gibson, a male symbol for her strength and bravery even though she is happy in her female body." It's kind of an interesting idea, but she picked Mel? And bragged about it?

Hope Diamond: The Cultural History of a Legendary and Cursed Gem by Richard Kurin
The Heartless Stone: A Journey Throught the World of Diamonds, Deceit and Desire by Tom Zoellner
The first is a "'biography' of a rock more interesting than most people" -- Kirkus. The second one complements the first nicely, looking at the entire diamond institution.

More Noteworthy Nonfiction:
Several new political books: George Lakoff's Whose Freedom? The Battle Over America's Most Important Idea, Peter Beinart's The Good Fight: Why Liberals---and Only Liberals---Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again, and Greg Palast's Armed Madhouse. I noted several new books about slavery/abolitionism: Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution by Simon Schama; Sons of Providence: The Brown Brothers, the Slave Trade, and the American Revolution by Charles Rappleye, a look at two wealthy brothers (think Brown University) and how they grew apart in their views on slavery; Prophets of Protest: Reconsidering the History of American Abolitionism ed. by Timothy Patrick McCarthy and John Stauffer gathers various revisionist essays on the history of abolitionists; and People's Movements, People's Press: The Journalism of Social Justice Movements by Bob Ostertag, which includes material on abolitionist and early black presses. Michelle Goldberg's Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism sounds a bit combative in tone but potentially important.

Of Gay Interest:

Grief: A Novel by Andrew Holleran
Sounds like a sad but landmark post-AIDS novel/novella.

Confessions of the Other Mother: Non-Biological Lesbian Mothers Tell All! by Harlyn Aizley (Editor)
Collection of essays on a neglected social role.

The Mercy Seat: A Joe Donovan Thriller by Martyn Waites
An investigative reporter hero gets thrown together with a queer street kid who's on the run.

Now is the Hour by Tom Spanbauer
An Idaho teen finds sex, drugs and rock-'n-'roll in the 60s.

What I Did Wrong by John Weir
Latest novel by the author of The Irreversible Decline of Eddie Socket--a classic I'd never heard of.

Also Noteworthy:
Philip Gulley's Almost Friends is a Keilloresque story concerning a controversy in a small-town church involving a (possibly?) gay pastor. Mixed reviews for Wayne Hoffman's Hard, a story involving public sex crackdowns in the mid-90s and gay journalists. William Carter writes about Proust in Love, and Deborah Davis covers the Party of the Century: The Fabulous Story of Truman Capote and His Black-and-White Ball.

Of Chicago Interest:

Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher
Latest in the series about Harry Dresden, a Chicago wizard who solves supernatural crimes.

Standing Eight: The Inspiring Story of Jesus "El Matador" Chavez - Lightweight Champion of the World by Adam Pitluk
Story of a boxer who came up on Chicago's West Side.

Graphic Work:

He Done Her Wrong by Milt Gross
Wordless graphic novel from 1930.

Jimbo's Inferno by Gary Panter
Warped reimagining of Dante's Inferno from the "father of punk comics."

We Are on Our Own by Miriam Katin

Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda by J. P. Stassen
A serious pair: a WWII memoir and a story of the Tutsi genocide.

Also Noteworthy:
Jaime Hernandez's latest Love & Rockets book, Ghost of Hoppers and Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person: A Memoir in Comics by Miriam Engelberg.



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