Saturday, September 23, 2006

New Book Roundup: July/August 2006

As the Fall publishing season approaches, the review magazines were stuffed with new work. Reviews only get you so far, but they are a good start. I'll follow some of these leads, and I hope the effort brings me some enjoyable and informative books, but some will disappoint and others will pop up out of left field, and I consider it all part of the thrill of the hunt. Here's what looked good to me so far.


The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke
I just finished Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which I adored, so I am very excited that she has something new coming out (and some of the stories deal with characters from Strange).

The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Deadliest Epidemic - and How It Changed the Way We Think about Disease, Cities, Science, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson
1850s London, a cholera epidemic, and a scientist trying to solve the mystery of how the disease spreads. Johnson (Everything Bad is Good For You) is a strong writer--this could be very good.

Gay L.A.: A History of Social Vagrants, Hollywood Rejects, and Lipstick Lesbians by Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons
It would be unfair of me to hope this book is as good as George Chauncey's Gay New York, but I do.


The Echo Maker by Richard Powers
Brain damage and a neurologist writer reminiscent of Oliver Sacks feature in this novel that's part-mystery from the acclaimed writer.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
McCarthy takes on life after...the apocalypse? This looks intense, to say the least.

Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen
Historical novel set in a Washington town during the deadly flu epidemic of 1918.

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson
I don't usually go for young adult books (aside from Harry Potter), but this book grabbed me in the bookstore. Plus, I've heard good things about the author's work from friends.

The Zero by Jess Walter
A dark, post-9/11 satire/thriller that's getting some very intriguing reviews.

The Ghost at the Table by Suzanne Berne
Orange Prize winner's take on family dysfunction is garnering excellent reviews.

Rising Tide: A Novel of the Second World War by Jeff Shaara
First volume of a trilogy which brings WWII to life.

Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann
With a Nov. publication date, this hasn't been thoroughly reviewed yet, but the Guardian and Kirkus have raved so far. The story concerns two 18C German scientists (Gauss and von Humboldt) who meet and attempt to measure the world. (Sounds a bit like the set-up for Mason & Dixon.) They say it's delightful and entertaining, unlikely as that may seem.

The Meaning of Night: A Confession by Michael Cox
A long Victorian story in the vein of Wilkie Collins and Dickens.

Millersburg by Harry Cauley
Haweswater by Sarah Hall
A couple well-reviewed books that are flying under the radar. Millersburg is about a murder in a sleepy NJ town in 1939, and Haweswater is the debut novel by the author who was Booker-nominated for The Electric Michelangelo--this one is set in the UK's Lakeland.

The Children's Hospital by Chris Adrian
I'm not a huge McSweeney's fan, but this imaginative novel sounds good. Excellent blurb from Marilynne Robinson (of all people) on the jacket.

Mona Lisa Awakening by Sunny
Don't know that I'd read this, but I have to list oddities like this when I find them: about a humanoid Lunar race on Earth who are ruled by Queens who live for hundreds of years (the moonlight, of course) and are protected and served (yes, sexually, too) by shape-changing males and, well, do I need to continue?

Rescue Missions: Stories by Frederick Busch
Posthumous collection from the acclaimed author.

Paraspheres: An Anthology of Fabulist and New Wave Fabulist Fictioned. by Ken Keegan (and others)
Includes contributions from Le Guin, and VanderMeer. The Kim Stanley Robinson story sounds interesting

The Best American Short Stories 2006 ed. by Ann Patchett
Latest in the venerable series.

Fictional History of the United States (with Huge Chunks Missing) ed. by by T. Cooper and Adam Mansbach
An anthology of short stories that seek to challenge our complacent view of U.S. history by telling stories from the margins--this could be really cool or really awful. It's probably a mix, but I'm interested in what Alarcon, Schulman, Pollack, Chee and Bornstein do.

Severance by Robert Olen Butler
What an odd book: a collection of shorts, all exactly 240 words (why that number?), concerning historical and mythical figures--and even animals--who were beheaded.

St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves: And Other Stories by Karen Russell Young writer compared to (now MacArthur "Genius") Saunders and Foer seems worth checking out.

Sun of Suns (Virga Series #1) by Karl Schroeder
You'll have to read the (rave) reviews to understand the premise, but this sounds as tempting as any SF I've come across in a while. We all know better than to fall for hype, but it's nonetheless eyebrow-raising when Kirkus gushes: "Outrageously brilliant and absolutely not to be missed."

Blindsight by Peter Watts
PW: "Led by an enigmatic AI and a genetically engineered vampire, the crew includes a biologist who's more machine than human, a linguist with surgically induced multiple personality disorder, a professional soldier who's a pacifist, and Siri Keeton, a man with only half a brain." Oh, that old story again?

The Line Between by Peter S. Beagle
Collection of fantasy stories by the author of The Last Unicorn, including a sequel to that beloved work, fables, and a Sherlock Holmes pastiche.

Crossover: A Cassandra Kresnov Novel by Joel Shepherd
An android assassin begins to wonder about the ethics of her assignment.

Against Gravity by Gary Gibson
Sounds like this story grapples with a very timely issue: the curtailment of civil liberties in a time of terrorist attack.

Fantasy: The Very Best Of 2005 by Jonathan Strahan
Both of these books have the same ed. and both sounded good. (So did Year's Best Fantasy 6.)

Science Fiction: The Very Best of 2005 ed. By Jonathan Strahan
This description of a story in the collection grabbed me: "James Morrow's The Second Coming of Charles Darwin, in which evangelicals send an AI disguised as a tortoise back in time to destroy all evidence of evolution on the Galapagos Islands."

Stamping Butterflies by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Mostly praise for this author, who critics seem to agree has a sophisticated narrative style.

More Noteworthy Fiction:
New books from several high profile authors: Rick Bass' The Lives of Rocks: Stories, Kate Atkinson's One Good Turn, Neil Gaiman's Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders (disappointing reviews), Mark Haddon's A Spot of Bother (I loved Curious Incident but this one doesn't grab me), Margaret Atwood's Moral Disorder, a short story collection from Edward P. Jones (author of The Known World), All Aunt Hagar's Children, Isabel Allende's Ines of My Soul, Charles Frazier's Thirteen Moons (Was the book Cold Mountain as dull as the movie? I'm not exactly leaping at his new book, but it's a major publishing event), and Mark Z. Danielewski's Only Revolutions (Ooh--He's got 'Z' as a middle initial and his books are super-postmodern and impossible to read--phooey, gimmicky). Other books that sounded somewhat interesting are worth keeping an eye on reviews for include David Maine's The Book of Samson, Leslie Epstein's The Eighth Wonder of the World (a massive epic about Mussolini, architecture and the Jews which has garnered excellent reviews but hasn't bitten me yet), Angel's Rest by Charles Davis (a historical mystery set in 1967 in the Allegheny Mountains), The Virtu by Sarah Monette (sequel to Melusine), Roman Dusk: A Novel of the Count Saint-Germain by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (a heroic vampire in 3rd Century Rome?), Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome by Robert Harris, Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures by Walter Moers, Benighted by Kit Whitfield (clever twist on the werewolf story), Unconfessed by Yvette Christianse (a debut novel about South African slavery), Magic Toybox ed. by Denise Little (includes Mel Odom's Sherlock Holmes pastiche, "The Affair of the Wooden Boy," in which a puppet saves a boy from a sorceress), and American Genius: A Comedy by Lynne Tillman (I was in a book group once where someone chose Tillman's No Lease on Life and I was the only one who liked it. I should have gotten out then and there.) Also, Paulo Lins' City of God, the basis for the impressive 2002 film, has finally been translated. More highlights: Eileen Chang's Love in a Fallen City, Lewis Carroll's The Annotated Hunting of the Snark (a special edition of a less famous work by Carroll), Markus Orths' Catalina, a German novel which tells the tale of Catalina D'Erauso, a 17th-century Basque nun who fled a convent and feld to the New World, taking on the identity of a man; and John Connolly's Book of Lost Things (a fantasy novel with mixed reviews). Dan Savage plugged Stephen Elliott's My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up in a recent column. The author penned the excellent Happy Baby, but the title of this one's a turn-off for me. Maybe I'll get over it. Wasn't sure what to make of Brooks Hansen's Chess Garden: Or, the Twilight Letters of Gustav Uyterhoeven. Then, it's highbrow versus lowbrow (or something) as a pair of new anthologies face off, and both have garned some good reviews: This is Chick-Lit ed. by Lauren Baratz-Logsted and This Is Not Chick Lit: Original Stories by America's Best Women Writers ed. by Elizabeth Merrick.

Also, there are a couple older books I just learned about through a web site for Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, a book I adored. Clarke is a big fan of a fantasy writer I'd never heard of, Alan Garner. The site also interesting me in a book I'd forgotten about, Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks.


Museum of the Missing: A History of Art Theft by Simon Houpt
A tour through the underworld of art theft, with illustrations of stolen works that could make up a virtual museum of extraordinary quality.

The Private Lives of the Impressionists by Sue Roe
The story of Monet, Manet and co.--probably the most popular painters of all.

The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles by Martin Gayford
An account of several months during which Gauguin and Van Gogh shared a studio.

Beethoven: His Life & Music and Mozart: His Life & Music by Jeremy Siepmann
A new series of classical biographies ("Life and Music") from Naxos and Sourcebooks Mediafusion includes CDs with examples of music discussed in the texts.

Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn by William J. Mann
Mae West: It Ain't No Sin by Simon Louvish
Probably the most significant Hepburn bio so far, one with much interest for film lovers and for gays and lesbians. The Mae West bio sounds quite interesting, as well.

Frank Borzage: The Life and Films of a Hollywood Romantic by Herve Dumont
A recent restrospective of Borzage's romantic Hollywood films here in Chicago got my attention.

A Killer Life: How an Independent Film Producer Survives Deals and Disasters in Hollywood and Beyond by Christine Vachon
One of my favorite film producers writes a followup to her excellent Shooting to Kill.

Natural Selection: Gary Giddins on Comedy, Film, Music, and Books by Gary Giddins
The Voice critic writes about more than jazz.

Violin Dreams by Arnold Steinhardt
Strong reviews for this memoir of the musical life from the Guarneri String Quartet' first violinist.

Impounded: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment ed. by Linda Gordon and Gary Okihiro
A book of photos by legendary photographer Lange taken during the WWII internment of Japanese-Americans--most of these were suppressed and have never been published before.

Awake in the Dark: The Best of Roger Ebert Ebert has a fame out of proportion to his skills as a critic because of the tv show, so it's easy to forget just what a strong critic he can be. I doubt he'll ever be back to his tv show now, given his health, but I hope he will make it back to some part-time print reviews, where he shines brightest.

The Concord Quartet: Alcott, Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau and the Friendship That Freed the American Mind by Samuel A. Schreiner
Group portrait of the Transcendentalists sounds like a good book for those (like me) who loved Menand's The Metaphysical Club.

The Things That Matter: What Seven Classic Novels Have to Say About the Stages of Life by Edward Mendelson
And those seven novels are: Frankenstein, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Middlemarch, Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and Between the Acts. Mendelson is obviously unafraid of Virginia Woolf.

The Clean House and Other Plays by Sarah Ruhl
Ruhl (along with short story writer George Saunders) just got a MacArthur "genius" grant, and these plays sound good.

Mi Revalueshanary Fren by Linton Kwesi Johnson
A dub poet? Interesting.

The End of the Poem: Oxford Lectures by Paul Muldoon
Muldoon takes several poems by major poets and, basically, spends time with them. The results could be magical or deadly dull, and I'm obviously hoping for the former.

Up Is up, but so Is Down: New York's Downtown Literary Scene, 1974-1992 ed. by Brandon Stosuy
Anthology of the downtown literary scene that included Gaitskill, Janowitz, Bogosian and Spalding Gray. Dennis Cooper and Eileen Myles contribute afterwords.

Sherlock Holmes: The Man and His World by H. R. F. Keating
Reprint of a classic guide to Holmes and his world that sounds like great fun--and it's cheap.

Where I Lived, and What I Lived For by Henry David Thoreau
Recent entry in the Penguin Great Idea series--I'd never heard of this title before, but I've been getting interested in Thoreau, so I'd like to check this out.

A Commonwealth of Thieves: The Improbable Birth of Australia by Thomas Keneally
A major Australian author covers the fascinating founding of that nation.

The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian by Robin Lane Fox
It's always good to note these general audience-friendly surveys.

Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe by Thomas Cahill
The latest in Cahill's Hingest of History series. That title's a tough sell, but he's a good writer.

The Wanderer: The Last American Slave Ship and the Conspiracy That Set Its Sails by Erik Calonius
Story of the death throes of the slave trade in the U.S.--one review mentions a particularly fitting ending for the ship.

Alliance of Enemies: The Untold Story of the Secret American and German Collaboration to End World War II by Agostino Von Hassel and Sigrid MacRae
A look at the Nazis' German opposition.

The Great Escape: Nine Hungarians Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World by Kati Marton
Pathfinders: A Global History of Exploration by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto
I prefer group protraits to biographies--the first book concerns a pretty big group, including Robert Capa, Andre Kertesz, Alexander Korda, Michael Curtiz and Arthur Koestler. The second is a comprehensive account of world exploration.

Stealing the General: The Andrews Raid and the First Medal of Honor by Russell S. Bonds
The real life story behind the classic Buster Keaton film.

Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers by Brooke Allen
A study of the founding fathers' true beliefs about religion and the role it should play in our nation. A much-needed contribution right now. I hope it gets Allen an invitation onto the talk shows to express an important point of view.

Dangerous Knowledge: Orientalism and Its Discontents by Robert Irwin
A refutation of Edward Said's controversial Orientalism.

God's War: A New History of the Crusades by Christopher Tyerman
PW goes so far as to say it'll become the new standard work on the subject.

Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality by Walter Benn Michaels
Our obsession with diversity blinds us to the real problem of financial inequality, avers Michaels. Duh.

Typecasting: On the Arts & Sciences of Human Inequality by Ewen and Ewen
An ambitious look at the rise of stereotyping in society, a subject that could use some analysis and background.

Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South by Thomas F. Schaller
Yes! Forget wooing the South--run against them. Paint them as the theocrats they are and let hunters have their guns. I think the author's got a winning formula.

The Myth of Judicial Activism: Making Sense of Supreme Court Decisions by Kermit Roosevelt
Certainly a hot topic.

Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World's Most Revered and Reviled Bird by Andrew Blechman
I'd love to have my current perception ("rats of the sky") challenged.

Tree: A Natural History of What Trees Are, how They Live, and why They Matter by Colin Tudge
I think that I shall never see...

Family That Couldn't Sleep: A Social and Scientific History of Prion Disease by Daniel T. Max
Imagine being unable to sleep for over a year. Imagine that disease running in your family? It happened.

Dark Side of the Moon: The Magnificent Madness of the American Lunar Quest by Gerald J. DeGroot
A NASA muckraker gives some serious ammunition to those who argue the space program's a big waste of resources.

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson
Devil in the White City follow-up has a familiar pattern: dual stories of a real life murderer (H.H. Crippen) and Marconi, inventor of wireless communication (as in the radio).

God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
Well, the title pretty much sums up the sentiments there. Rock on, Mr. Dawkins.

Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton
I've read one book by Botton (The Consolations of Philosophy) and loved it, and I'd love to read more.

The White Masai: An Exotic Tale of Love and Adventure by Corinne Hofmann
Memoir of a Swiss Businesswoman who fell in love with a Masai warrior--this international bestseller sounds juicy, maybe too much to be 100% believed.

The Mystery Guest: An Account by Gregoire Bouillier
I'm not precisely sure what this slim little French memoir is about--I only know I'm intrigued. Check out the excellent reviews.

La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind by Beppe Severgnini
A surprise besteller (at least, I was surprised!), this is an insider's look at Italian culture.

More Noteworthy Nonfiction:
The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2006 includes a memoir of Francis Crick by the wondeful Oliver Sacks, who also contributes to The Best American Essays 2006. I was also interested in Mirrors of the Unseen: Journeys in Iran by Jason Elliot, What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?: Classroom Politics and "Bias" in Higher Education by Michael Berube, The Human Voice by Anne Karpf, Heist: Superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, His Republican Allies, and the Buying of Washington by Peter H. Stone, Refuge Denied: The St. Louis Passengers and the Holocaust by Sarah A. Ogilvie and Scott Miller (tragic story of a ship of Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis), and Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran (a Post bureau chief who's spent a lot of time in Iraq). A couple of film titles: a biography of Nicole Kidman by the film guru David Thomson and The Kill Bill Diary: The Making of a Tarantino Classic as Seen through the Eyes of a Screen Legend by David Carradine. More, much more as always: French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America by Walter R. Borneman (very well-reviewed popular history of a war that set the stage for the American Revolution), Reason-Driven Life: What Am I Here on Earth For? by Robert M. Price (a Biblically-based rejoinder to Rick Warren's cheap, bestselling fundamentalism; A friend of mine who attended Carnegie Mellon will be amused when I tell her of two new bios: Andrew Carnegie by David Nasaw, and Mellon: An American Life by David Cannadine; Sex and the Eighteenth-Century Man: Massachusetts and the History of Sexuality in America by Thomas A. Foster, Internal Combustion: How Corporations and Governments Addicted the World to Oil and Derailed the Alternatives by Edwin Black (new work from the author of IBM and the Holocaust) and How Language Works: How Babies Babble, Words Change Meaning, and Languages Live or Die by David Crystal.

Of Gay Interest:

I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg by Bill Morgan
Hart Crane Complete Poems and Selected Letters
I saw Allen Ginsburg once--a packed University auditorium. He was sensational and unapologetically frank about his desires in his work. Crane is a poet whose work I'd like to know better.

Also Noteworthy:
In gay nonfiction, there's also The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, how to Get It Back by Andrew Sullivan and Religion Gone Bad: The Hidden Dangers of the Christian Right by Mel White. In fiction, Clouds and Eclipses: The Collected Short Stories by Gore Vidal, When the Stars Come Out by Rob Byrnes (story of Hollywood and the closet), and Soul Kitchen by Poppy Z. Brite (New Orleans-set story which addresses homophobia and racism).

Of Chicago Interest:

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
The EW staffer's debut thriller has a character working for a Chicago newspaper.

There Goes the Neighborhood: Racial, Ethnic, and Class Tensions in Four Chicago Neighborhoods and Their Meaning for America by William Julius Wilson and Richard P. Taub
Strong reviews for the latest by Wilson.

Graphic Work:

Moomin Book One: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip by Tove Jansson
I just learned about Jansson's books and learned from an enthusiast that there used to be a kids' tv show at some point.

Curses by Kevin Huizenga
This anthology of the artist's work sounded intriguing.

Arf Museum ed. by Craig Yoe
Collection of cartoon art, including work by Charles Addams, Stan Lee and others.

An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories by Ivan Brunetti
An anthology of work that struck Brunetti's fancy, and I generally enjoy his work quite a bit.

Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan
Story of a group of lions who escape the Baghdad zoo during the Iraq war.

Dear Myself by Eiki Eiki
A strange twist to the yaoi manga genre, the story here is about a teen boy who is recovering from amnesia and discovers from his own diary that he had a boyfriend, that he is gay. That makes no sense, but it sounds interesting enough to mention.

Abandon the Old in Tokyo by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Second acclaimed collection of a Japanese master's work.

Also Noteworthy:
Cancer Vixen: A True Story by Marisa Acocella Marchetto, Tarzan: The Joe Kubert Years, Volume 3 by Joe Kubert, Will Eisner's New York: Life in the Big City: New York, The Building, City People Notebook, Invisible People , Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi, and I Love Led Zeppelin by Ellen Forney (her collection includes collaborations with Dan Savage and Margaret Cho).



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