Wednesday, July 26, 2006

New Book Roundup: May/June 2006

Ahh, blogging. What bliss to have one's own little fiefdom. Here I get to say what books look best and there's no one to contradict me. So, after two more months of reading reviews here's what stood out for me. If I can help just one person find a good book to read, then doesn't that make it all worth while? (Especially if that person is me.) Click on the titles for more information.


America's Report Card by John McNally
Standardized testing is the unlikely inspiration in this new well-reviewed satire, partly set in Chicago and getting great reviews.

Art out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries, 1900-1969 ed. by Dan Nadel
Collection of work by overlooked comics artists from the olden days of comics--sounds fantastic. I can't wait to read this!

Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology by ed. James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel
Collection of "slipstream" (or just plain strange) fiction sounds definitely worth picking up.

The Medici Giraffe: And Other Tales of Exotic Animals and Power by Marina Belozerskaya
A history of exotic animals. You'd be surprised what strong feelings people have on the topic of animals in zoos--I'm a big fan of modern zoos, maintained with ethics and professional care, and I have a hunch modern zoos will come off pretty well by comparison with much of this history.

The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11 by Ron Suskind
Kakutani's review was jaw-droppingly good. I've been chomping at the bit to read this ever since. As others have pointed out, it's old news that we should have gotten in 2004 when it would have made more impact, but from what I've read so far, this look inside the Bush White House explains an awful lot.


The Ruins by Scott Smith
The author of A Simple Plan (which made for an excellent film) returns with a scary story of a Mexican vacation gone just slightly awry. It's one of the hottest books of the season, partly because Stephen King has been singing its praises everywhere. Say what you will about King, but the gent is a true champion for the writers he admires.

Seven Loves by Valerie Trueblood
Kirkus raved about this title and called it reminiscent of Virginia Woolf. It's a look at an ordinary woman's life through seven of her loves (including her son and her mother).

Red Lights by Georges Simenon
NYRB publishes a translation of an old Simenon novel--this was made into an excellent film a couple years ago.

Triangle by Katharine Weber
What seems like historical fiction turns out to be a more complex story with a modern storyline. Some fine reviews so far.

The Boy Detective Fails by Joe Meno
A Chicago company actually produced this story as a play months before the novel gets published, which is an interesting form of publicity for the local author. A coworker who started reading it said it reminded her of Wes Anderson.

Murder in Jerusalem: A Michael Phayon Mystery by Batya Gur
Gur (who recently died) has been strongly recommended to me for her literary skill with the mystery genre.

Every Visible Thing by Lisa Carey
A gay son plays a minor small part in this intriguing family melodrama.

Stoner by John Williams
NYRB reissue of an NBA-winning author's classic about a literature professor in the early 20C.

To the Edge of the World by Harry Thompson
Longlisted for the Booker under a slightly different title last year, this novel tells the story of the rocky friendship between Charles Darwin and H.M.S. Beagle captain Robert FitzRoy.

Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld
Historical thriller featuring none other than Dr. Sigmund Freud, drawn into a mystery during his only visit to these shores.

Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die! by Mark Binelli
I resisted listing this oddball book at first, despite the good reviews, mainly because I ddon't understand the premise: a vaudeville team with the same names as the famous Anarchists. A reimagining of the historical figures? Games played with history? It sounds more fun than political and certainly clever.

Carry Me Down by M. J. Hyland
Comparisons to Curious Incident of the Dog... got my eye, and the great reviews have got me wanting to read this psychological suspenser.

I'll Steal You Away by Niccolo Ammaniti
Italian author of I'm Not Scared (basis for a very good film) returns with a new novel also told with a boy narrator.

Tenderwire by Claire Kilroy
A young woman "risks everything" for the violin and the man she desires.

Turing's Delirium by Edmundo Paz Soldan
A dark, political thriller from Bolivia. One of the reviews mentioned the term I hadn't heard before: McOndo, a literary reaction against magic realism.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
This literary stunt of a novel is gaining of number of strong reviews.

The Dark Water: The Strange Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes by David Pirie
I haven't seen any reviews yet, but how could I fail to mention this novel about a young Sherlock Holmes working with his mentor Dr. Joseph Bell?

In the Wake by Per Petterson
Norwegian novel about the grief of a boy who lost his family in an accident much like a ferry disaster that's well-known in Europe.

Brief Encounters with Che Guevara: Stories by Ben Fountain
Sounds like an intriguing short story collection that engages several countries of the world.

Horror: The Best of the Year, 2006 ed. by John Gregory Betancourt and Sean Wallace
Anthology includes contributions from Barker, VanderMeer and Lansdale. among others.

The Littlest Hitler: Stories by Ryan Boudinot
This collection sounds weird and rather twisted, earning comparisons to Rick Moody, Daniel Handler and Donald Barthelme.

Coronado: Stories by Dennis Lehane
I've already read "Until Gwen," a strong story called the "centerpiece" of this collection which includes a play based on the story. Looking forward to reading more.

Glasshouse by Charles Stross
Strong reviews for the latest by Stross--the premise sounds quite unlike anything I've ever read.

In the Forest of Forgetting by Theodora Goss
An oddball collection of stories that sounds intriguing.

The Space Opera Renaissance ed. by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer
Another exciting new SF anthology, with classic work by Charles Stross, Samuel Delaney, Lois McMaster Bujold and many more.

Shriek: An Afterword by Jeff VanderMeer
A sequel, and a strange and "difficult" fantasy.

More Noteworthy Fiction:
Mixed reviews for Alan Deniro's Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead: Stories, an oddball story collection from Small Beer Press, which is co-run by Kelly Link (who's recent collection I pretty much hated). Shelley Jackson's Half Life is set in an imaginary world in which conjoined twins are common. I wish people would drop the prurient obsession with "freaks"--the 90s are long over, everyone has tattoos and piercings, even my conservative fundamentalist siblings. Here's a blurb you don't see every day (for Shadowed By Wings: Book Two of the Dragon Temple Saga by Janine Cross): "Warning: these are not McCaffrey dragons. Think X-rated Tolkien set in the Middle East." (PW) Ron Base's Magic Man is a strange story that involves magic and the Hollywood of 1928. Good reviews for Thomas Legendre's The Burning, a novel that mixes "bloke-lit" with the "egghead novel of ideas," which mixes a sexy adventure in Las Vegas with the academic life. Kirkus calls How to Cope with Suburban Stress by David Galef a "rough ride" (one of the major characters is a pedophile) but says it's not to be missed, while PW had much less enthusiasm. Born Again by Kelly Kerney portrays a teenage girl, raised as an evangelical Christian, who reads Darwin for herself and begins to rethink her beliefs. We are really seeing a crop of books of all kinds reacting to the "red state - blue state" divide trumpeted by the media in 2004, and this sounds like one of the more interesting. I'm going to need to see more reviews before I pick up The Uses of Enchantment by Heidi Julavits, an editor of The Believer magazine. Another huge collection (Pearls from Peoria) of Philip Jose Farmer's vintage genre fiction, including his takes on Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Oz characters and more. Kim Newman's The Man from the Diogenes Club sounds weird--a mesh of X-Files, Austin Powers and I don't know what else. Plus there are new books by Irvine Welsh (The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs), Claire Messud (The Emperor's Children, which is getting strong reviews but just doesn't grab me) plus a posthumous work from F.X. Toole, the author of Million Dollar Baby (Pound for Pound). With initials like that, how could Hollywood resist?


Piano: The Making of a Steinway Concert Grand by James Barron
An in-depth look at the making of a legendary musical instrument--this sounds fascinating.

Instant Light: Tarkovsky Polaroids ed. By Giovanni Chiaramonte and Andrey A. Tarkovsky
A collection of the great Russian filmmaker's photographs, taken from 1979-1984.

Desperate Networks: Starring Katie Couric Les Moonves Simon Cowell Dan Rather Jeff Zucker Teri Hatcher Conan O'Brian Donald Trump and a Host of Other Movers and Shakers by Bill Carter
This look at the network tv industry includes an in-depth look at the 2004-05 season, including how shows like Lost made it on the air.

This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel J. Levitin
I'm skeptical but so intrigued--I love the idea of getting a fresh perspective on something that means so much to me.

Jimmy Stewart: A Biography by Marc Eliot
How familiar are you with Stewart's work beyond Capra and Hitchcock? The more I see, the more I think he's one of the century's greatest.

Pedro Almodovar by Marvin D'Lugo
Chris Marker by Nora M. Alter
Two books about two adored European directors. I hadn't heard that Almodovar pissed off the authorities in Spain with his remarks about the Madrid train bombings. Aside from the gadfly career, he's a great filmmaker. Marker is an incredible filmmaker, even if the old man's latest isn't getting the best reviews. Sans Soleil amazed me--when will it be available on DVD!?

Citizen Spielberg by Lester D. Friedman
Orson Welles: Vol. 2, Hello Americans by Simon Callow
Two of the most famous American directors ever? Friedman offers a film by film analysis of the ever-controversial Speielberg's work. Actor Simon Callow takes up
Welles' bio with the premiere of Citizen Kane.

Fast, Cheap and Under Control: Lessons from the Greatest Low-Budget Movies of All Time by John Gaspard
The indie film movement may be slowing down at the theaters, but here’s the latest book telling you how to make a movie on no budget.

I Could Have Sung All Night by Marni Nixon with Stephen Cole
Nixon has a unique place in film history, providing the singing voice for the stars of West Side Story and My Fair Lady, and apparently there's quite a bit more to her story.

A Star Is Found: Our Adventures Casting Some of Hollywood's Biggest Movies by Jane Jenkins and Janet Hirshenson
They've discovered talent from Leo DiCaprio to Scarlet Johansson.

The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History by Jonathan Franzen
Franzen's memoir has gotten excellent reviews so far, if The Corrections left you wanting more.

James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips
Writing as Tiptree, Sheldon was a very successful SF writer. Sounds like a fascinating story.

The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within by Stephen Fry
The British actor and novelist writes a book about poetry, its writing and appreciation.

Creationists: Selected Essays 1993-2006 by E. L. Doctorow
Collection of essays, mostly about writers. I'd like to see what he has to say about Melville, Poe and Sebald, among others.

Shakespeare Wars: Clashing Scholars, Public Fiascos, and Palace Coups by Ron Rosenbaum
Excellent reviews for this look at the debates over how the Bard should be performed and printed. Kirkus calls it "cultural journalism of the highest order."

Selected Poems by James Fenton
Collection compared to the delicious Larkin.

Grave of Light: New and Selected Poems, 1970-2005 by Alice Notley
Some Notes on My Programming by Anselm Berrigan
New collections by the wife and son of Ted Berrigan.

The Form of a City Changes Faster, Alas, Than the Human Heart: One Hundred Fifty Poems (1991-1998) by Jacques Roubaud
Saint Ghetto of the Loans: Grimoire by Gabriel Pomerand
Two Paris-centered works: the first by a member of Oulipo, the second a collection from the 50s mentioned in Greil Marcus' Lipstick Traces.

The Detonators: The Secret Plot against America and an Epic Hunt for Justice by Chad Millman
Deals with a plot by Germans during WWI to wreak havoc in the U.S.

Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War by Nicholas Lemann
Reconstruction-era story that focuses on Union general Adelbert Ames and his failed battle to protect the freedmen.

Sailing from Byzantium: How a Lost Empire Shaped the World by Colin Wells
A look at how learning and culture travelled from the days of Byzantium into the East and West.

I Wish I Had Been There: Twenty Historians Bring to Life the Dramatic Events That Changed America by Byron Hollinshead
Sometimes history is easier (and more fun) to read this way. Big juicy questions pondered for single chapters--skip around, read what interests you.

A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918 by G. J. Meyer
Well-reviewed new overview of WWI, aimed at general readers like me (not the tenured set).

Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen? by Steven F. Freeman and Joel Bleifuss
One of the most important questions being asked right now. Have you read RFK Jr.'s provocative article on the topic? (Bleifuss works for the Chicago-based magazine In These Times.)

Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation by Michael Zielenziger
A look at Japanese society's more disturbing social trends.

The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina by Frank Rich
Rich has done an amazing job covering Bush-era politics and culture for the NY Times. I hope this isn't a collection of columns but something newer and more organic. I don't know how he'd have the time to do that even with the leave of absence he took, but he's certainly got the smarts.

End of Iraq: How the United States Unintentionally Broke Up Iraq and Changed the Middle East by Peter W. Galbraith
All the King's horses and all the King's men, couldn't put Iraq together again.

Devil's Highway: A True Story by Luis Alberto Urrea
I only just learned about this 2004 book, written by a local writer. It could not be more pertinent to this year's immigration debate.

Ghost Hunters: William James and the Hunt for Scientific Proof of Life After Death by Deborah Blum
Increasing interest in that post-Darwinian era in which serious thinkers were exploring the limits of reason and spirituality.

Naked Brain: How the Emerging Neurosociety Is Changing how We Live, Work, and Love by Richard Restak
A Mind of its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives by Cordelia Fine
Don't Believe Everything You Think: The Six Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking by Thomas Kida
Restak examines the physical brain and its relationship to our social lives. Fine looks at psychological weaknesses in our thinking. No reviews for the Kida yet, but it sounds really interesting, basically a look at common fallacies in our thinking.

Hollow Earth: The Long and Curious History of Imagining Strange Lands, Fantastical Creatures, Advanced Civilizations, and Marvelous Machines below the Earth's Surface by David Standish
This sounds like a treat, but then, one of my favorite movies seen in childhood was Journey to the Center of the Earth.

The Revenge of Gaia: Earth's Climate Crisis and the Fate of Humanity by James Lovelock
I heard Al Gore mention this book in an interview with Charlie Rose. Gore gave this as an example of a much more pessimistic view of our situation than is expressed in An Inconvenient Truth.

Sensuous Seas: Tales of a Marine Biologist by Eugene Kaplan
For someone like me who's terrified by ocean life, this look at marine biology (including Amazonian fish that can enter the human body and tear up your innards) sounds like a work of horror only to be read far from even the kitchen sink.

And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails by Wayne Curtis
If Tom Standage's A History of the World in 6 Glasses wasn't quite raucus enough for you, this might be just the answer.

The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten: 100 Experiments for the Armchair Philosopher by Julian Baggini
Might be an interesting book to browse.

Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance by Ian Buruma
Focuses on one of the ugliest chapters of the so-called "clash of civilizations."

Cross Country: Fifteen Years and 90,000 Miles on the Roads and Interstates of America with Lewis and Clark, a Lot of Bad Motels, a Moving Van, Emily Post, Jack Kerouac, My Wife, My Mother-in-Law, Two Kids, and Enough Coffee to Kill an Elephant by Robert Sullivan
The guy who wrote a recent history of Rats is back with a quirky travel memoir about a classic American pasttime: driving across our country.

A Pickpocket's Tale: The Underworld of Nineteenth-Century New York by Timothy J. Gilfoyle
Portrait of a colorful criminal and his Victorian New York milieu.

Cross-X: A Turbulent, Triumphant Season with an Inner-City Debate Squad by Joe Miller
In-depth look at a bright urban high school debate team. Hey, if you like documentaries on speeling bees, maybe you'd like this.

Survival Imperative: Using Space to Protect Earth by William E. Burrows
Burrows argues that we need to start colonizing space as a way to ensure our species' survival--and although it's kind of crazy, it also has a kind of logic to it.

More Noteworthy Nonfiction:
The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More by Chris Anderson has caused a lot of discussion among businesses, educational and cultural institutions. Good reviews for two histories, English Civil War: Papists, Gentlewomen, Soldiers and Witchfinders in the Birth of Modern Britain by Diane Purkiss and There Goes My Everything: White Southerners in the Age of Civil Rights, 1945-1975 by Jason Sokol. The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder by Daniel Stashower is the latest recent book involving Poe. It's the story of a murder that inspired one of his short stories. Latest from the venerable science writer Edward O. Wilson, The Creation: A Meeting of Science and Religion, tries to find common ground in a fractious political and cultural environment. Curious Scotland: Tales from a Hidden History by George Rosie sounds like a very quirky history, indeed. Generation: The 17th Century Scientists Who Unraveled the Secrets of Human Reproduction by Matthew Cobb has been favored with admiring reviews. Several 9/11 themed books are coming out in time for the fifth anniversary, and these looked like the best: Without Precedent: The inside Story of the 9/11 Commission by Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright, and Wake-Up Call: The Political Education of a 9/11 Widow by Kristen Breitweiser. More reactions to the (arguably media-created) "values divide": Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris and Sinner's Guide to the Evangelical Right by Robert Lanham. Saint Patrick's Battalion by James Alexander Thom relates an interesting (and dark) chapter from the Mexican-American War. In Forgive Us Our Spins: Michael Moore and the Future of the Left, author Jesse Larner argues what I've been saying for a while now: Michael Moore is in many ways just as bad as Ann Coulter.

Of Gay Interest:

The History of Swimming by Kim Powers
A gay memoir that sounds refreshingly unlike Augusten Burroughs territory.

Lifeguarding: A Memoir of Secrets, Swimming, and the South by Catherine McCall
Memoir about growing up southern (and lesbian) in a house haunted by the ghosts of her grandparents.

Exiles in America by Christopher Bram
Mixed reviews so far for Bram's new one.

To Cherish the Life of the World: The Selected Letters of Margaret Mead ed. by Margaret M. Caffrey and Patricia Francis
I'd no idea Margaret Mead had such a glamorous love life.

Suspension by Robert Westfield
Kirkus said: "Gay-bashing, 9/11, free-floating paranoia and fanaticism make pretty grim ingredients for a comedy, however dark, but this ambitious debut ably wrests smart laughs from terror."

Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws by Kate Bornstein
The title says it all in what sounds like an important new book.

Also Noteworthy:
Kevin Jennings, a founder of GLSEN, tells his life story in Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son: A Memoir of Becoming a Man. The Homoerotic Photography of Carl Van Vechten: Public Face, Private Thoughts by James Smalls sounds interesting--more unearthing of pre-Stonewall, underground activity. PW calls Abby Denson's Tough Love: High School Confidential "The first book to combine the cute guys of yaoi manga with the American sensibility of gay pride." Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa by Rigoberto Gonzalez has been well-reviewed, but sounds a bit depressing.

Of Chicago Interest:

Fort Dearborn by Jerry Crimmins
Historical novel set in early Chicago history--a snoozer or a winner?

The Candle of Distant Earth (The Taken Trilogy #3) by Alan Dean Foster
"In the quietly amusing last installment of bestseller Foster's Taken trilogy (after 2005's The Light-years Beneath My Feet), Marcus Walker, a Chicago commodities trader kidnapped by aliens in 2004's Lost and Found, and his companion, George, a sardonic talking dog, land on the planet Hyff."

Also Noteworthy:
Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Secretly Infiltrated America by Gus Russo tells the life story of a mafioso/fixer from Chicago's Jewish West Side. Also, Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories by David G. Whiteis.

Graphic Work:

Flight, Vol. 3 ed. Kazu Kibuishi
Latest in the beautiful series of anthologies of work inspired by the theme of flight.

The Fate of the Artist by Eddie Campbell
I'm having a hard time getting interested in this one, but it's getting some raves.

Lost Girls by Alan Moore
Barnes & Noble's web site lists the format as "Hardcover - Not appropriate for children." True. Alice (Wonderland), Dorothy (Oz) and Wendy (Neverland) meet in this blatantly pornographic story. I wonder if Moore's fame and notoriety will make this a bestseller. I wouldn't be surprised, but I am getting tired of seeing the overrated Moore called a "genius."

Abadazad: The Road to Inconceivable by J.M. Dematteis
Story that alternates between fantasy world and grimmer reality (in the vein of Wizard of Oz).

Hotwire Comix and Capers ed. by Glenn Head
An underground spirited anthology.

Also Noteworthy:
Latest entry in the series: A Treasury of Victorian Murder, Volume 8: The Case of Madeleine Smith by Rick Geary. Latest installments of two series by Brian Vaughan: Ex Machina Volume 3: Fact vs Fiction and Y: The Last Man, Volume7: Paper Dolls. The Squirrel Mother by Megan Kelso looks cute and has been earning praise. Joann Sfar (whose previous book just won an Eisner award) has a new book in translation, Klezmer: Book One: Tales of the Wild East.



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