Monday, July 30, 2007

New Book Roundup: May/June 2007

The review magazines in May and June were in clear-off-the-shelves-for-Fall mode, and forthcoming books by Roth, Oates and Denis Johnson are sure to get much attention, not to mention the first work by Junot Diaz since his landmark story collection a decade ago. But I have to admit I'm at least as interested in Jacques the Fatalist by Denis Diderot (a classic I only just learned about) and some other quirky fare.


The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Like everyone else, I've been waiting for years from a followup from the author of that wonderful collection of short stories, Drown, but I never expected it to be about a writer who longs to write Tolkienesque fantasy.

The Perfect Summer: England 1911, Just before the Storm by Juliet Nicolson
Nicolson's Edenic book has garnered some of the best reviews in nonfiction this year, and the topic does sound appealing.

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman
Scientifically informed, Weisman imagines what would happen to the world if humanity were to vanish. Perhaps the best-reviewed book of this batch. And it was the one title my brother plucked from the new book shelves in the Borders we recently visited. Apparently he doesn't need to read reviews but has a literary divining rod in his arm.


Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson
Johnson tackles the Vietnam War. PW says it's so grand that it wonders what serious writer will take up the subject again.

God Is Dead by Ron Currie Jr
God takes human form in Darfur and is gunned down. A bleak dystopian novel-in-stories.

Porius by John Cowper Powys
Pardon my ignorance. Another great writer I've never heard of before (though I've at least heard of William Cowper, his ancestor). Porius sounds difficult and fascinating. Powys considered it his masterpiece, but apparently because of a post-War paper shortage it was not published in its entirety originally. Back in print, thanks to the good people at The Overlook Press.

Dashing Diamond Dick and Other Classic Dime Novels ed. by J. Randolph Cox
Authorship is unknown for most of the classic dime novels included here. What a fun direction for Penguin to take.

Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England by Brock Clarke
Literary landmarks are going up in flames, and Sam Pulsifer is suspect number one.

The Maias by Jose Maria Eca de Queiros
New translation of a 19C Iberian masterpiece. (PW laments that Quieros and fellow novelists Clarin and Galdos have been neglected too long.) Saramago also hails it as a masterpiece.

The Scandal of the Season by Sophie Gee
A novel set in 18C London about the characters which inspired Alexander Pope's legendary works of satire. Sounds delicious.

Exit Ghost by Philip Roth
The early reviews are split on this one, but the consensus could change quickly. As a fairly recent Roth convert, I'm somewhat more interested in the back catalog at this point, but I may check this out.

The Night Birds by Thomas Maltman
Ambitious new novel that tackles the messiness of the 1860s and 70s in America's prairie.

The Mapmaker's Opera by
Romance, revolution, passenger pigeons…this book seems to have all the usual bases covered.

The Journal of Dora Damage by Belinda Starling
The fascination with Victorian sex lives continues.

Jacques the Fatalist by Denis Diderot
I only recently read about this old classic from 1796, and it sounds excellent and fun. Apparently Kundera is a huge fan, and it sounds like one of those early novels that invites comparison with postmodernists.

Beautiful Miscellaneous by Dominic Smith
Nathan's brilliant father pressures him to follow in the footsteps of genius with little likelihood of success, but after a car crash at 17 gives him a prodigious memory, his father's hopes are renewed.

Cheating at Canasta by William Trevor
Latest collection by one of the giants of the form.

Collected Stories of Ivan Bunin
New collection from a Nobel Prize winner.

Worshipping Small Gods by Richard Parks
Collection of magical/supernatural tales that draw on myths and folklore from around the globe.

The Complete Stories by David Malouf
Apparently another master of the literary short story whom I'd never heard of. Malouf is Australian.

The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Fourth Annual Collection ed. by Gardner Dozois
Year's Best Fantasy 7 ed. by David G. Hartwell
The O. Henry Prize Stories 2007 ed. by Laura Furman
I could spend half the year reading nothing but these "best of the year" anthologies. They're such a wonderful service. Here, the Haslett story jumps out as a rare instance of a gay subject in one of these volumes.

The Museum of Dr. Moses: Tales of Mystery and Suspense by Joyce Carol Oates
Oates writes a good creepy story, and here's a whole collection.

Logorrhea: Good Words Make Good Stories ed. by John Klima
Stories inspired by winning words from the Scripps Spelling Bee! What a neat idea.

A Cross of Centuries: Twenty-Five Imaginative Tales about the Christ ed. by Michael Bishop
This unique anthology ranges from Borges, Wilde and Dostoevsky to Fowler, Wolfe and Moorcock, and it sounds excellent.

Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman
Compared to Gaiman more than Wells by one reviewer, this sounds like fun, smart science fiction of an almost old-fashioned variety.

Thirteen by Richard K. Morgan
Welcome to a future in which subhumans have been genetically manipulated for specialized tasks. Variation 13 is said to be unusually aggressive and uncivilized.

The New Space Opera ed. by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan
Not to be confused with last year's The Space Opera Renaissance--that collection included classics but this new volume features all-original work.

Thursday Next: First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde
The latest Thursday Next novel.

The Bestiary by Nicholas Christopher
Young Xeno Atlas goes on a quest to find the legendary Caravan Bestiary, a guide to the animals left off Noah's Ark.

Wizards: Magical Tales from the Masters of Modern Fantasy ed. by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois
With contributions from Gaiman, Beagle, Wolfe, and Colfer.

Spook Country by William Gibson
A new novel from Gibson is always a big deal.

Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate by Ted Chiang
Stories within stories in a manner reminiscent of Arabian Nights with time travel, set in medieval Baghdad, no less.

More Noteworthy Fiction:
My Dreams out in the Street by Kim Addonizio
Bertram of Butter Cross by Jeffrey E. Barlough
Away by Amy Bloom
Disturbance-Loving Species: A Novella and Stories by Peter Chilson
The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland
Promises to Keep by Charles de Lint
Guantanamo: A Novel by Dorothea Dieckmann
School's Out by Christophe Dufosse
Vanilla Bright like Eminem by Michel Faber
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
Eeeee Eee Eeee by Tao Lin
Bitterwood by James Maxey
Sherlock Holmes and the American Angels by Barrie Roberts
Outrageous Fortune by Tim Scott
Living Shadows by (Blue Oyster Culter/cyberpunk pioneer) John Shirley
The Lady in Blue by Javier Sierra
Servants by Michael Marshall Smith
The Margarets by Sheri S. Tepper
How to Talk to a Widower by Jonathan Tropper
The Assistant by Robert Walser


On Kubrick by James Naremore
Naremore is one of the most respected fim writers around, and the idea of a film-by-film analysis of Kubrick's body of work sounds like a winner.

Physical Evidence: Selected Film Criticism by Kent Jones
The Film Comment editor's collection promises to hit a wide array of topics from filmmaking to film criticism.

Roman Polanski by James Morrison
Latest director study in the U. of Illinois series.

The House That George Built: With a Little Help from Irving, Cole, and a Crew of Fifty by Wilfrid Sheed
A history of the Golden Era of American song.

Actors at Work by Rosemarie Tichler and Barry Jay Kaplan
Interviews on craft with great actors including Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kevin Kline, Kevin Spacey, Dianne Wiest and John Lithgow.

Practicing: A Musician's Return to Music by Glenn Kurtz
How inspiring--the story of a musician who take up an instrument again after putting it down as a young man.

The Braindead Megaphone by George Saunders
I'm not so interested in this collection (ever since reading his awful piece on the movie Borat), but I would like to read the piece on his literary influences.

Shaggy Muses: The Dogs Who Inspired Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Emily Bronte, Emily Dickinson, Edith Wharton, and Virginia Woolf by Maureen B. Adams
This could either be laughable or interesting in a quirky way.

Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father by John Matteson
The Alcotts seem to have lived extraordinary lives right in the literary heart of America, so I can't help but be curious about this new double portrait.

Letters from Iceland by W.H.Auden
I wanted to note that this collection of poetry, because it was featured in the excellent film Away From Her. Not sure if the collection linked here includes it, but the individual collection appears to be out of print.

Beyond Belief: The Real Life of Daniel DeFoe by John Martin
James Fenimore Cooper: The Early Years by Wayne Franklin
Biographer Martin speculates that Dafoe may have been gay, an argument that sounds enjoyably provacative. The Cooper bio seems to be a more traditional approach.

The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot by Charles Baxter
Another book on writing (after Burning Down the House) from Baxter, a true writer's writer.

In Europe: Travels through the Twentieth Century by
Part memoir, history, travelogue, journalist Mak set out to assess the state of Europe at the turn of the millenium. Reviews paint is as exceptionally thoughtful and rich.

What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 by Daniel Walker Howe
I'm personally fascinated by this period, so this book really calls out to me. I think most people think there's nothing of interest between the Revolution and the Civil War.

Debunking 9/11 Debunking: An Answer to Popular Mechanics and Other Defenders of the Official Conspiracy Theory by David Ray Griffin
The truth of what happened that day is still being debated, and it would appear that on at least some issues there are questions that deserve some attention.

No Simple Victory: Europe at War: 1939-1945 by Norman Davies
Do we have a Western-biased view of that awful war? Davies posits that the Anglo-American campaigns were a sideshow to the real action between the Germans and the Russians.

American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic by Joseph J. Ellis
I enjoyed Founding Brothers in a book group discussion and will consider reading this one. I prefer the group portraits to the individual biographies.

Toward the Light of Liberty: The Struggles for Freedom and Rights That Made the Modern Western World by A. C. Grayling
In this moment of endangered liberties, seems like a good time to look back on the long history of progress and try to appreciate everything we have to lose.

Cochrane: The Real Master and Commander by David Cordingly
A major inspiration to author Patrick O'Brian, Cochrane sounds like a classic case of truth rivalling fiction.

Motherland: A Philosophical History of Russia by Lesley Chamberlain
After seeing Tom Stoppard's Coast of Utopia, this strikes me as more interesting than it probably would ordinarily.

War for All the Oceans: From Nelson at the Nile to Napoleon at Waterloo by Roy Adkins and Lesley Adkins
Widely-praised maritime history of the Napoleonic era.

Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America's First Presidential Campaign by Edward J. Larson
The birth of the two-party system post-Washington, our expulsion from political Eden? Well, I'm pushing it just a tad. Still, this sounds interesting.

Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions That Changed the World, 1940-1941 by Ian Kershaw
An interesting approach to an already perhaps overfamiliar period.

From Eden to Exile: Unraveling Mysteries of the Bible by Eric H. Cline
Takes up the kind of questions that blaze in the imaginations of youth (like young Indiana Jones!): was there a garden of Eden? What happened to Noah's ark? What of the ten lost tribes of Israel?

Seizing Destiny: How America Grew from Sea to Shining Sea by Richard Kluger
A probing look into "Manifest Destiny."

The Age of Lincoln by Orville Vernon Burton

The Best American Science Writing 2007 by Gina Kolata
So this edition is edited by Kolata, so what. It's still a great series.

Father Knows Less Or: "Can I Cook My Sister?": One Dad's Quest to Answer His Son's Most Baffling Questions by Wendell Jamieson
Why Don't Penguins' Feet Freeze?: And 114 Other Questions
In the first, Times editor Jamieson consults a variety of experts to answer his kid's typically crazy questions (from "Why is the Sky Blue?," of course, to "What would hurt more: getting run over by a car or getting stung by a jellyfish?"). About time these questions got taken seriously. The second is a more standard example of your weird questions answered genre (one I enjoyed immensely as a kid).

Foreskin's Lament by Shalom Auslander
Memoir from the comic genius Auslander (compared by some to a young Philip Roth), whose short stories are well worth reading.

Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy through Jokes by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein
Well, this sounds a bit off the wall, yet it also sounds like an intriguing browse.

The Elder Wisdom Circle Guide for a Meaningful Life: Seniors Across America Offer Advice to the Next Generation by Doug Meckelson Diane Haithman
Comes from a rather cool web site. It's an intruiging idea to be able to seek advice from someone older and wiser...yet anonymously.

Novels in Three Lines by Felix Feneon
If I understand correctly, this is a collection of clever and artful news blurbs written in 1906 for a Paris newspaper by writer/anarchist Feneon. Sounds like it may be an interesting browse.

The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture by Andrew Keen
One of the most controversial books of the year. Personally, I think these arguments need badly to be raised, but it sounds as if Keen at least partly botches the job.

Jim Goad's Gigantic Book of Sex by Jim Goad
Funny cover design for this Portland sex columnist's collection.

Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster by Dana Thomas
The history of luxury in fashion from its tony beginnings to its mass-marketed present.

More Noteworthy Nonfiction:
Rembrandt's Nose: Of Flesh and Spirit in the Master's Portraits by Michael Taylor
Anarchy and Alchemy: The Films of Alejandro Jodorowsky by Ben Cobb
Robert Schumann: Life and Death of a Musician by John Worthen
Coltrane: The Story of a Sound by Ben Ratliff
Oscar Micheaux: The Great and Only: The Life of America's First Great Black Filmmaker by Patrick McGilligan
Kill All Your Darlings: Pieces, 1990-2005 by Luc Sante
Boone: A Biography by Robert Morgan
Peeling the Onion by Gunter Grass
The Half-Life of an American Essayist by Arthur Krystal
The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself by Susan Bell
Being Shelley: The Poet's Search for Himself by Ann Wroe
River of Dreams: Imagining the Mississippi before Mark Twain by Thomas Ruys Smith
Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America by Gail Pool (timely!)
Irish Writers on Writing (Writer's World Series) ed. by Eavan Boland
Mexican Writers on Writing (Writer's World Series) ed. by Margaret Sayers Peden
Polish Writers on Writing (Writer's World Series) ed. by Adam Zagajewski
The Supreme Court: An Essential History by Peter Charles Hoffer, N. E. Hull and Williamjames Hull Hoffer
Evil Paradises: Dreamworlds of NeoLiberalism ed. by Mike Davis and Daniel Bertrand Monk
The Fabric of America: How Our Borders and Boundaries Shaped the Country... by Andro Linklater
Sisterhood, Interrupted: From Radical Women to Grrls Gone Wild by Deborah Siegel
Pushed: The Painful Truth about Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care by Jennifer A. Block
Fair and Balanced, My Ass! by Joseph Minton Amman and Tom Breuer
Lenin's Private War: The Voyage of the Philosophy Steamer and the Exile of the Intelligentsia by Lesley Chamberlain
Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War by David Halberstam
Murder of Regilla: A Case of Domestic Violence in Antiquity by Sarah B. Pomeroy
Poincare's Prize: The Hundred-Year Quest to Solve One of Math's Greatest Puzzles by George Szpiro
Richistan: A Journey through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich by Robert L. Frank
Devices of the Soul: Battling for Our Selves in an Age of Machines by Steve Talbott
Letters to a Young Teacher by Jonathan Kozol
Out of the Woods: A Bird Watcher's Year by Ora E. Anderson
Money Shot: Wild Nights and Lonely Days inside the Black Porn Industry by Lawrence C. Ross
The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A. J. Jacobs

Of Gay Interest:

Santa Monica Canyon by Gregory Hinton
An iUniverse publication (and therefore self-published?), this got an encouraging review from Booklist who may be off their rockers. Still, I wonder whether more notable titles will emerge from the so-called vanity presses as conglomeration in publishing squeezes out "midlist" or new gay authors.

Hotel de Dream by Edmund White
White takes a historical fiction concept around Stephen Crane and makes a rent boy novel out of it. I'm beginning to worry about Mr. White.

Also Noteworthy:
Letter from Point Clear by Dennis McFarland
Day In Day Out by Terezia Mora
Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary by Monica Nolan
The Dust of Wonderland by Lee Thomas
Fox Bunny Funny by Andy Hartzell
Quiver of Arrows: Selected Poems, 1986-2006 by Carl Phillips
Art and Sex in Greenwich Village: A Memoir of Gay Literary Life After Stonewall by Felice Picano
Confessions of a Prep School Mommy Handler by Wade Rouse
Naked: The Life and Pornography of Michael Lucas by Corey Taylor

Of Chicago Interest:

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
This new novel about Frank Lloyd Wright's love life is getting some strong early interest in Chicago and beyond.

The Chicago Way by Michael Harvey
A thrill ride through Chicago's seedy underbelly.

Also Noteworthy:
Where the River Ends: The Lifestory of Mama Hawk by Alexis J. Pride

Graphic Work:

Misery Loves Comedy by Ivan Brunetti
Brunetti, probably my favorite Chicago comics writer, draws like Charles Schulz but writes like a potty-mouthed Woody Allen.

Also Noteworthy:

The Three Paradoxes by Paul Hornschemeier
Flight 4, Vol. 4 ed. by Kazu Kibuishi
Little Nemo in Slumberland, Volume 1 by Winsor McCay
All Star Superman: Volume 1 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely



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