Saturday, January 13, 2007

New Book Roundup: November/December 2006

The 2006 reviews wound down quietly, normal for this time of year just before the reviews for the big Spring season, but there were still several books that grabbed my eye. Seems like as good a time as any to note that 2006 was an exceptional year for books. As I worked on my top ten for the year and polished up my reading list for 2007, I counted at least 40 books left over from 2006 which I'd still love to read if I had the time (whereas in 2005 I could barely find one book to please me). Since stopping time so I can catch up isn't an option, here's hoping 2007 will be just as good. Here's what looks good to me so far:


The Dead Fathers Club by Matt Haig
This clever, loose reimagining of Hamlet sounds intriguing, even if I can't quite put my finger on why.

The Curtain: An Essay in Seven Parts by Milan Kundera
A study of the novel by a major novelist.

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris
Helleresque novel about life in a Chicago ad agency has gotten a rave from Kirkus, and I'm waiting to see further reaction. So far, I'm excited.


Goldberg: Variations by Gabriel Josipovici
Inspired by Bach's piece, this philosophical puzzle is told in 30 variations and has put critics in mind of Borges and Calvino so far.

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano
Bolano's major work translated at last.

House of Meetings by Martin Amis
This story of a former gulag prisoner is said to be one of Amis' best works, encompassing hefty Russian themes in a compact, un-Russian-sized novel.

Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcon
Acclaimed short story writer's first novel is garnering accolades.

Mr. Thundermug by Cornelius Medvei
File it under "weird." A talking baboon tries to integrate into human society. Bureaucracy impedes.

Roma by Steven Saylor
The epic story of the rise of Rome as seen through many generations of a single family.

Rogue's Life by Wilkie Collins
A "neglected gem" from a writer who seems to be back in vogue, or was he ever out of fashion?

Surveillance by Jonathan Raban
Near-future portrait of life in the wired, post-9/11 era.

Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay
The celebrated fantasy novelist's latest connects France's ancient and violent history to the present day in a story that sounds exciting and romantic.

Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden, Vol. 1 by Catherynne M. Valente
Reviews describe it as a work of magical interlinked fairy tales.

The Best of the Best: 20 Years of the Best Short Science Fiction Novels, Volume 2 ed. by Gardner Dozois
Anthologies like this are perfect for casual SF fans.

Valentines: Stories by Olaf Olafsson
"Flat" but "fascinating," these 12 stories from an Icelandic-American author are named after months of the year.

More Noteworthy Fiction:
Booker-winner John Banville's Christine Falls (written under the pseudonym of Benjamin Black), Norman Mailer Hitler novel The Castle in the Forest, Jane Smiley's Ten Days in the Hills, Louis (About Schmidt) Begley's Matters of Honor, and Adam Haberberg by playwright Yasmina Reza (Art).

Plus: Filmmaker/performance artist Miranda July's first story collection, No One Belongs Here More Than You: Stories; Stephen King's son Joe Hill is getting strong reviews for his horror novel Heart-Shaped Box; first novel from celebrated short story writer Peter Ho Davies, The Welsh Girl; Zoli by Colum McCann, a well-reviewed novel of gypsy life with one of the prettiest covers of the young year so far; Grave Tattoo by Val McDermid, a historical mystery involving Wordsworth; Measuring Time by Helon Habila, which relates a Nigerian tale of strife that sounds similar to one of the many new books about the "lost boys of Sudan"; Godless Gideon Mack becomes a minister and befriends the devil in James Robertson's Testament of Gideon Mack; a dark story about Huck Finn's father in Finn by Jon Clinch; Valentine: A Love Story by Chet Raymo; a warped retelling of the history of the founding of Jamestown by Matthew Sharpe; Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present by Cory Doctorow (mixed reviews--not uncommon for a collection--but I loved "Anda's Game"). In Sherlock Holmes news, More Twisted: The Collected Stories of Jeffery Deaver, Volume II includes "The Westphalian Ring," a Holmes pastiche pitting the master detective against a crafty jewel thief, and Verdict of Us All: Stories by the Detection Club for H. R. F. Keating ed. by Peter Lovesey includes Len Deighton's "Sherlock Holmes and the Titanic Swindle."


Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints: Essays by Joan Acocella
Collection of profiles from a New Yorker writer about artists from many disciplines plus two saints, Mary Magdalene and Joan of Arc. (Many of her subjects are gay or bisexual.)

The Power of Art by Simon Schama
Profiles of eight artists focusing on the struggles they faced with their great creations.

Include Me out: My Life from Goldwyn to Broadway by Farley Granger with Robert Calhoun
Out bisexual actor Granger, star of Strangers on a Train, writes about his life and career. I never knew he worked with Visconti!

Television without Pity: 752 Things We Love to Hate (and Hate to Love) about TV by Tara Ariano and Sarah Bunting
A popular encyclopedia of biting wit dedicated to the boob tube.

Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America's Media by Eric Klinenberg
Something in the Air: Radio, Rock, and the Revolution That Shaped a Generation by Marc Fisher
The "Fast Food Nation of corporate media" and a history of radio.

Dark Horses: Poets on Overlooked Poems ed. by Joy Katz and Kevin Prufer
I love anthologies like this, a chance to expand your horizons with poets old and new along with some thoughtful, appreciative writing.

The Very Telling: Conversations with American Writers by Sarah Anne Johnson
Interviews with the likes of Gaitskill, Moody, Lethem, Cunningham and Tartt.

Mishima's Sword: In Search of a Samurai Legend by Christopher Ross
Thomas Hardy by Claire Tomalin
The Original Knickerbocker: The Life of Washington Irving by Andrew Burstein
Three new biographies of major literary figures. Irving, one of the founders of American literature, sounds particularly elusive and interesting.

Reading Life: Books for the Ages by Sven Birkerts
Literary critic revisits books he read long ago and writes about the books, including what changed between readings: Bellow, Woolf, Salinger, Nabokov, Percy, Lawrence, James and many more.

How Novels Work by John Mullan
Guardian columnist dismantles beloved novels to try to understand their magic, focusing on fiction that's garnering large contemporary audiences, like The Corrections and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time.

Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts by
A collection of over 100 essays by a renowned critic--I'd love to read the pieces on Benjamin, Freud, Borges and Dick Cavett, for starters.

The Complete Poetry (bilingual ed.) by Cesar Vallejo
The first translation of the complete poetry of Peruvian Cesar Vallejo.

Sack of Panama: Captain Morgan and the Battle for the Caribbean by Peter Earle
Reviewers call it a ripping good read. (Ok, maybe they don't use the word "ripping,' but it seems to fit.)

Cry Havoc!: The Crooked Road to Civil War, 1861 by Nelson D. Lankford
The Civil War could have been averted, theorizes Lankford.

1920: The Year of the Six Presidents by David Pietrusza
Six past and future presidents were involved in that year's race for the highest office in the land, but apparently the author paints a broader portrait of the nation at the time.

The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History Since 1900 by David Edgerton
A fresh look at technology that emphasizes ideas that had the broadest impact of ordinary life.

Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of a Universe by Michael Frayn
A great playwright takes on physics--what would C.P. Snow say?

The Fellowship: Gilbert, Bacon, Harvey, Wren, Newton, and the Story of a Scentific Revolution by John Gribbin
When Newton said he peered into the stars by "standing on the shoulders of giants," he meant this lot.

Poor People by William T. Vollmann
I've always been put off by Vollmann's work, but this meditation on the experience of poverty sounds intriguing.

Villains' Paradise: A History of Britain's Post-War Underworld by Donald Thomas
Souds like a fun read for Anglophiles with a taste for noir.

Darwin's Origin of the Species: A Biography by Janet Browne
The Qur'an: Books That Changed the World by Bruce Lawrence
Two "biographies" of massively influential books.

The Buried Book: The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh by David Damrosch
Another history of a great cultural work, the epic poem Gilgamesh.

Biography: A Brief History by Nigel Hamilton
And a history of the biography as a form--not every day you see one of those.

What Every American Should Know About Europe: The Hot Spots, Hotshots, Political Muck-ups, Cross-Border Sniping, and Cultural Chaos of Our Transatlantic Cousins by Melissa Rossi
Sounds interesting enough even for armchair travelers.

More Noteworthy Nonfiction:
Several more literary books: just in time for the biopic, Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature by Linda J. Lear; a study of the genre that dominates book bestseller lists in the U.S., Triumph of the Thriller: How Cops, Crooks, and Cannibals Captured Popular Fiction by Patrick Anderson; Dirt for Art’s Sake: Books on Trial from Madame Bovary to Lolita by Elisabeth Ladenson; Songs of Ourselves: The Uses of Poetry in America by Joan Shelley Rubin; and Friendship: Wordsworth and Coleridge by Adam Sisman. In film, there's Joan Crawford: Hollywood Martyr by David Bret; The Village Voice Film Guide: 50 Years of Movies from Classics to Cult Hits ed. by Dennis Lim; and Bambi V. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business by David Mamet. In music, Dirty Little Secrets of the Record Business: Why So Much Music You Hear Sucks by Hank Bordowitz and The Night Casey Was Born: The True Story Behind the Great American Ballad "Casey at the Bat" by John Evangelist Walsh.

In politics, there's Jeb! America's Next Bush by S. V. Date; Bush's Fringe Government by Garry Wills; American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America by Chris Hedges; and Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole by Benjamin R. Barber. Lastly, several miscellaneous titles: The White Cascade: The Great Northern Railway Disaster and America's Deadliest Avalanche by Gary Krist; Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century ed. by Alex Steffen; Happiness Myth: Why Smarter, Healthier, and Faster Doesn't Work by Jennifer Michael Hecht from the author of Doubt: A History; Sigmund Freud: Inventor of the Modern Mind by Peter D. Kramer; Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge: A View from Europe by Jean-Noel Jeanneney; and The Physics of the Buffyverse by Jennifer Ouellette.

Of Gay Interest:

Bohemian Los Angeles by Daniel Hurewitz
Not just limited to the gay scene, but it's a big part of the book.

Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England by Sharon Marcus
"Queen Victoria would not be amused." Oh, I don't know. Give the old girl a chance.

La Dolce Musto: Writings by the World's Most Outrageous Columnist by Michael Musto
A collection of Musto's popculture columns.

Also Noteworthy:
Adultery, murder and...heterosexuality!...figure in Sheri Joseph's Stray. Also, Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics by Jennifer Baumgardner sounds promising. Kevin Sessums' Mississippi Sissy, a memoir about growing up gay in the south and looking to Broadway and Hollywood stars for inspiration, reminds me of the young character in Inge's "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs." Also: Walt Whitman and the Culture of American Celebrity by David Blake, and Baby Remember My Name: An Anthology of New Queer Girl Writing by the naughty Michelle Tea.

Of Chicago Interest:

Richard Nickel's Chicago: Photographs of a Lost City by Richard Cahan and Michael Williams
Collection of photographs by the celebrated preservationist.

Murder City: The Bloody History of Chicago in the Twenties by Michael Lesy
People eat this stuff up, don't they? Or is that only when Kander and Ebb score it?

The Moments Lost: A Midwest Pilgrim's Progress by Bruce Olds
A "more-or-less self-educated Wisconsin farm boy who has his Chicago journalistic breakout covering the Iroquois Theater fire of 1900"--that's part of the story here, at any rate.

Graphic Work:

Terr'ble Thompson by Gene Deitch
Short-lived 50s strip from the creator of Tom Terrific.

Graphic Classics: H. P. Lovecraft
Various aritists' adaptations of Lovecraft stories. (Boy is Lovecraft popular. Just today I found an HPL reference in the new Gothic Archies album.)

The Salon by Nick Bertozzi
Paris, 1907: a salon of modernists (Stein, Satie, Picasso, etc.) find a blue absinthe that allows its drinkers to travel into paintings, which may allow them to discover who's been slashing avant-gardists.

Hero Heel, Volume 1 by Makoto Tateno
Another-silly sounding yaoi.

Also Noteworthy:
Zippy: Connect the Polka Dots by Bill Griffith, the strage countercultural strip The New Adventures of Jesus: The Second Coming by Frank Stack and Walt and Skeezix: 1923 and 1924, Vol. 2 by Frank O. King (ed. Chris Ware).



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