Tuesday, November 13, 2007

New Book Roundup: September/October 2007

The calm before the storm of Spring publishing, this period of reviews wasn't, I'll admit, the most exciting. Still, even though there weren't many big "event" books, there were scads of little books which deserve a moment in the spotlight. In addition, I want to mention that a novel I merely noted two installments ago, Amy Bloom's Away, has emerged as one of the better-reviewed novels of the last couple months.


Fire in the Blood by Irene Nemirovsky
Another unearthed fiction from the author of the excellent Suite Française (and the latest story sounds somewhat similar to the second part of the Suite).

Contraptions by Heath Robinson
Collection of work by an artist easiest to describe as a British equivalent of Rube Goldberg.

Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood by Mark Harris
Harris uses the five films nominated for a Best Picture Oscar as a jumping off point to explore a troubled time in Hollywood history.



The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt
I'm not sure I'm sold yet on this novel about Nikola Tesla, but one reviewer compared it to Time Traveller's Wife and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, so it has my attention.

Living by Pascale Kramer
This Swiss novella concerns a family reeling after the accidental death of two young siblings.

Homecoming by Bernhard Schlink
Story of a German man who discovers a pulp novel whose author clearly had knowledge beyond his own of his postwar youth. An odyssey results in which he tries to uncover secrets about his father, reported dead after the war. (Schlink's The Reader was an Oprah-annointed bestseller.)

Life Class by Pat Barker
Barker returns to the subject of WWI, and the reviews have been fairly favorable so far.

The Farther Shore by Matthew Eck
This story about soldiers in a desert nation who get caught in the fog of war is getting some of the best reviews of any novel right now. I expect it will make many end-of-the-year lists.

Courting Shadows by Jem Poster
This tale of a struggle over the restoration of a church in remote Victorian England has received an eye-grabbing rave from one source (PW) so far.

A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz
I really don't get what this is about, but it looks interesting. (How's that for bad commentary?)

Outcast by Sadie Jones
Set in suburban London, it's the story of a young man's difficulties in the aftermath of the great war.

The Book of Words by Jenny Erpenbeck
The young German-born Erpenbeck appears to be a rising name in fiction, definitely one to watch.

Late Hector Kipling by David Thewlis
We hate talented people, don't we? Thewlis is a stunningly good actor and now, I'm told, a decent novelist. I protest.

Swing Voter of Staten Island by Arthur Nersesian
An amnesiac navigating a reproduction of New York City somewhere In Nevada? WTF? Definitely one of the weirder titles in a while.

It Was Like My Trying to Have a Tender-Hearted Nature by Diane Williams
This collection sounds a bit weird, described as comic and sophisticated. A previous book by Williams bore the title: Some Sexual Success Stories Plus Other Stories in Which God Might Choose to Appear.

Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance by Gyles Daubeney Brandreth
Oscar Wilde as a sleuth? Could be fun…could be awful. Who would presume to capture the Witty One at his best? Crossing fingers for positive reviews.

Resistance by Owen Sheers
The story of a small Welsh village in a speculative WWII story in which the Germans invade and occupy. The two sides come to rely on each other for survival during the harsh winter, but what will happen when the weather breaks?

Understory by Pamela Erens
Novella-length story of a 40-year-old urbanite who has lost the ability to connect to others.


Wild Nights! Stories About the Last Days of Poe, Dickinson, Twain, James and Hemingway by Joyce Carol Oates
Deliberately or not, Oates is hopping on a trend of stories which take classic authors as characters--in fact, she trumps the competition in concocting an entire collection of them.

The Book of Other People ed. by Zadie Smith
An lively group of writers take up the very literary theme of character. This could be dandy, or it could be a dud.

The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps: The Best Crime Stories from the Pulps During Their Golden Age--The '20s, '30s & '40s ed. by Otto Penzler
Yes, pulps, fun. But I can't get past this editor's name, so great for a writer: an anagrammatic first name, and a last name which starts with pen and goes on with a flourish. Well done, Mrs. Penzler.

The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2007: Twentieth Annual Collection ed. by Ellen Datlow, Kelly Link and Gavin Grant
I honestly can't keep all these fantasy anthologies straight, but this still sounds like another winner. The inclusion of horror and the prestigious editors make it a standout.

Tell Borges If You See Him by Peter LaSalle
I spotted a single and intriguing review of this collection that blends with beautiful images with humor and gets wildly inventive with structure, so this could prove to be a good read.


Rewired: the Post-Cyberpunk Anthology ed. by James Patrick Patrick Kelly and John Kessel
The eds. of Feeling Very Strange assemble this anthology of an updated vision of cyberpunk. Stross, Doctorow, Sterling, Gibson...sounds like the right team for the job.

Mister B. Gone by Clive Barker
Mr. Barker's first book for adults in quite a while, and reviews so far are all over the place.

God's Demon by Wayne Barlowe
A demons decides he wants back into God's good graces and launches a rebellion in Hell, recruiting humans (led by Hannibal) to the effort. Said by at least two critics to be not for the squeamish.

Sword-Edged Blonde by Alex Bledsoe
Like Michael Chabon's latest novella, Bledsoe's sword-and-sorcery tale has been compared to Lieber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser tales.

Spiral Labyrinth: A Tale of Henghis Hapthorn by Matthew Hughes
Hughes's second tale of Hapthorn, a kind of Science Fiction/Fantasy Sherlock Holmes.

More Noteworthy Fiction:
The Fall of Troy by Peter Ackroyd
There's No Place Like Here by Cecelia Ahern
Flying to America: 48 More Stories by Donald Barthelme
Limit Point by Michael Brodsky
Deportees and Other Stories by Roddy Doyle
The Last Cavalier: Being the Adventures of Count Sainte-Hermine in the Age of Napoleon by Alexandre Dumas
Submarine by Joe Dunthorne
Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black : And Other Stories by Nadine Gordimer
Becky: The Life and Loves of Becky Thatcher by Lenore Hart
Tyrants: Stories by Marshall N. Klimasewiski
How the Dead Dream by Lydia Millet
The City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers
The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa
No Paradiso by William Wall
Crimes of Dr. Watson: An Interactive Sherlock Holmes Mystery by Dr. Watson
The Best American Mystery Stories 2007 guest edited by Carl Hiaasen
My Mistress's Sparrow Is Dead: Great Love Stories from Chekhov to Munro ed. by Jeffrey Eugenides



What Happens Next: A History of American Screenwriting by Marc Norman
This is shaping up to be a good few months for film books, and Norman's book has raced to the head of the pack so far, according to early buzz.

On Ugliness by Umberto Eco
Companion to Eco's History of Beauty in which Eco peeps at the arts anew. The first of two Eco books on this list!

American Band: Music, Dreams, and Coming of Age in the Heartland by Kristen Laine
Journalist investigates the seething underbelly of American culture to report on the gruelling, sweatshop-like conditions of high school marching bands. OK, I added the muckraking verbiage for kicks. So sue me.

Sweat: The Story of the Fleshtones, America's Garage Band by Joe Bonomo
I took a poetry class taught by Mr. Bonomo when I was at Ohio University. He was one of those magically cool guys who everyone fell in love with. A good poet, too, and a nice guy. I'll bet this book is excellent. Of course he'd turn out a book on some cool, obscure rock band. Too perfect.

The Star Machine by Jeanine Basinger
Basinger's subject is the star system of the studios in the golden era of the 30s through the 50s. Also, her classic monograph on Anthony Mann is back in print - and expanded.

Silent Movies: The Birth of Film and the Triumph of Movie Culture by Peter Kobel
Perhaps more of a coffee table book, with an intro by Martin Scorsese.

Poetics Of Cinema, Vol. 1 by David Bordwell
Bordwell's long been a big name in film studies, and now with his blog he is increasing his influence. More on the book at his web site.

Hollywood's Censor: Joseph I Breen and the Production Code Administration by Thomas Doherty

The Rough Guide to Film by Richard Armstrong, Tom Charity and Lloyd Hughes
Haven't seen any reviews yet, but this might be a product worth buying.


American Sonnets: An Anthology ed. by David Bromwich
Looks like another excellent addition to a sterling series. This may actually get me reading some poetry again!

Swimming in a Sea of Death: A Son's Memoir by David Rieff
Susan Sontag's son pens an account of his mother's final days.

Filthy Shakespeare : Shakespeare's Most Outrageous Sexual Puns by Pauline Kiernan
I'll never hear the title Much Ado About Nothing the same way again!

Turning Back the Clock: Hot Wars and Media Populism by Umberto Eco
It actually sounds like more of the columns collected here deal with politics and contemporary issues, but he does address literary topics as well, including The Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter. I'm curious what he has to say about the former, as everyone says Eco's work (generally held as superior) was an influence.

Bamboo: Essays and Criticism by William Boyd
Includes an essay on Vonnegut and seven (!) essays on Evelyn Waugh.

Henry James: The Mature Master by Sheldon M. Novick
Novick's second (concluding) volume of his life of James covers a "romantic friendship" with poet Arthur Benson and a literary rival with some man named Oscar Wilde.

The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen
I'd love to collect this whole series. So beautifully done.

Light Years: A Girlhood in Hawai'i by Susanna Moore
Author Moore recalls her childhood in Hawaii but also shares a collection of passages from literature about the sea, a subject she is apparently almost obsessed with.

Oakland, Jack London, and Me by Eric Miles Williamson
Described by Kirkus thusly: "As if Norman Mailer had devoured Derrida and spit out the bones." The book argues that more popular writers like London and Steinbeck should be included in the canon. Honestly, the idea that they aren't already in the canon seems debatable to me, but this still sounds like a fresh point of view.

To a Nightingale: Sonnets and Poems from Sappho to Borges ed. by Edward Hirsch
I love just the idea of themed anthologies like this. As if some nerd has labored long over some obscure collector's impulse and now offers you the fruit of his or her labor. I might actually read this.

In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus: New and Selected Poems, 1955--2007 by X. J. Kennedy

The Best of Ogden Nash ed. by Linell Nash Smith and Isabel Nash Eberstadt
I confess, I don't really know any of Nash's poems. Now I really have no excuse. Erm, am I missing anything?

Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems by John Ashbery
Collection of the best work from the poet's second phase (1987-2005) or so, which PW describes as focused on the venacular (as opposed to the first phase, which they suggest could be called his "philosophical" period).


Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations by Martin Goodman
A study of the history between ancient Roman (later Christian) and Jewish cultures, garnering excellent reviews.

Summits: Six Meetings That Shaped the Twentieth Century by David Reynolds
Not being a scholar, my eye is always grabbed by these intriguing cross-sections of history that unite around a quirky theme of some kind. This one sounds interesting.

The Disinherited: Exile and the Making of Spanish Culture, 1492-1975 by Henry Arthur Kamen
I think I was pulled in by the first sentence of a review: "Since 1492, Spain has experienced more than 14 great exoduses and expulsions, making it by far the most "departed" country in Europe."

America, 1908: The Dawn of Flight, the Race to the Pole, the Invention of the Model T and the Making of a Modern Nation by Jim Rasenberger
Nonfiction subtitles are so long and involved these days, why do I need to annotate? Except perhaps to mention that the trend of history by the annual slice continues.


The Conscience of a Liberal by Paul Krugman
The title tweaks that of a book by Goldwater (but you knew that), and reviews have been good (except for that hatchet job in the NY Times Book Review). As far as I'm concerned, Krugman is tops.

The End of America: A Letter of Warning To A Young Patriot by Naomi Wolf
Lately it's the feminists who have been giving me hope that we're nearing the end of this horrible cycle of conservativism and fear.


The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner
Weiner visited places around the globe where residents had reported to researchers being very happy and tries to determine why - the answers didn't always make him happy.

Carpe Diem: How to Become a Latin Lover by Harry Mount
Breezy guidebook to Latin phrases which, somehow, according to its copy, covers Monty Python and Angelina Jolie's tattoo?

Knowledge Book: Everything You Need To Get By in the 21st Century by National Geographic
Somewhere between Schott's and Bryson's Short History of Nearly Everything? I'm interested in knowing everything. Can it be had quickly and conveniently?

Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library by Don Borchert
Tales from the front-lines in this tell-all about working in an urban library. Interestingly, not written by a professional librarian.

Who Hates Whom: Well-Armed Fanatics, Intractable Conflicts, and Various Things Blowing up a Woefully Incomplete Guide by Bob Harris
The Jeopardy champ gives us a guide to geopolitics. Well, at least it doesn't sound stuffy.

Legends of the Chelsea Hotel: Living with the Artists and Outlaws of New York's Rebel Mecca by Ed Hamilton
Residents have included Thomas Wolfe, Ethan Hawke, Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Edie Sedgwick, Sarah Bernhardt and Patti Smith, to name a few.

The Best American Essays 2007 by David Foster Wallace
Better than average reviews for the latest edition of the venerable series.

Best American Magazine Writing 2007
An article on Christopher Hitchens, a piece by Alex Ross, and an article about the problem of plastics in the oceans caught my eye. I'm wondering if this series would be more interesting than the Best American Essays series.

The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality by Andre Comte-Sponville
That's quite an oxymoronic title you have there, professor. Please to explain.

More Noteworthy Nonfiction:
Modernism: The Lure of Heresy by Peter Gay
On God: An Uncommon Conversation by Norman Mailer with Michael Lennon
Starring Sherlock Holmes: A Century of the Master Detective on Screen by David Stuart Stuart Davies
The Wagner Clan by Jonathan Carr
Other Colors: Essays and a Story by Orhan Pamuk
Roger Ebert's Four-Star Reviews 1967-2007 by Roger Ebert
Maps: Finding Our Place in the World by (Newberry Library's) Robert W. Karrow
Capote in Kansas: A Ghost Story by Kim Powers
Music at the Limits by Edward W. Said
Five Easy Decades: How Jack Nicholson Became the Biggest Movie Star in Modern Times by Dennis McDougal
The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes: The Life and Times of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by Andrew Lycett
Disguised as Clark Kent: Jews, Comics and the Creation of the Superhero by Danny Fingeroth
The Voyage That Never Ends: Fictions, Poems, Fragments, Letters by Malcolm Lowry
Riding Toward Everywhere by William T. Vollmann
The Collected Prose of Robert Frost
Literary Genius : 25 Classic Writers Who Define English & American Literature ed. by Joseph Epstein
Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage: Valuing All Families Under the Law by Nancy D. Polikoff
Sibelius by Andrew Barnett
What Is Emotion?: History, Measures, and Meanings by Jerome Kagan
Death of Socrates by Emily R. Wilson
God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World by Walter Russell Mead
Making Records: The Scenes Behind the Music by Phil Ramone
Our Savage Neighbors: How Indian War Transformed Early America by Peter Silver
Shakespeare Unbound: Decoding a Hidden Life by Rene Weis
What We Say Goes: Conversations on U.S. Power in a Changing World by Noam Chomsky with David Barsamian
Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist by Richard Feldman
Paris Cafe: The Select Crowd by Noel Riley Fitch
It's so French!: Hollywood, Paris, and the Making of Cosmopolitan Film Culture by Vanessa R. Schwartz
Conversations with Woody Allen: His Films, the Movies, and Moviemaking by Eric Lax

Books on Fire: The Destruction of Libraries throughout History by Lucien X. Polastron
Freedom for the Thought that We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment by Anthony Lewis
No Way Home: The Decline of the World's Great Animal Migrations by David S. Wilcove

Of Gay Interest:

The Carnivorous Lamb by Agustin Gomez-Arcos
Haven't seen any reviews yet (and I'm not holding my breath that the review mags will deign to cover it), but I'm a big fan of the Little Sister's Classics series of reissues. This latest title was originally written in French, translated into English in 1984, and is a shocking gay coming-of-age story that is also an allegory of Franco's Spain. Wonder if Pedro Almodovar ever read it.

Hero by Perry Moore
The latest gay young adult novel to cross over to adult readership (quite a trend) concerns a young gay superhero. So-so reviews.

So Fey: Queer Fairy Fictions ed. by Steve Berman
The PW emphasizes that the stories are generally light and gentle, despite the "provocative" title.

After the Fall: Poems Old and New by Edward Field
The poet, who writes about urban gay life, among other topics, has become known to me recently in another context: he supplied a biographical article about the novelist/memoirist Fritz Peters, whose fantastic Finistère I recently read. The collection includes a poem entitled, "Sorry, I never slept with Allen Ginsburg."

Memoirs of Montparnasse by John Glassco
1920s Paris and a nineteen year-old American runs wild in this re-issued memoir.

First Person Plural by Andrew W. Beierle
Ack! I have a pet peeve about freak fiction, and this one sounds notably stupid: conjoined twins, and one of them realizes he's gay. PW calls it "fascinating if implausible." Um, yeah.

A Push and a Shove by Christopher Kelly
The consequences in later life of having experienced homophobic bullying in high school are the focus of this novel. Sounds promising.

Code of Conduct by Rich Merritt
Crime novel that tackles the issue of being gay in the military, from the memoirist who wrote Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star.

Also Noteworthy:
Stolen Heart by Maki Kanamaru and Yukine Honami
Drifting Toward Love: Black, Brown, Gay, and Coming of Age on the Streets of New York by Kai Wright
About My Life and The Kept Woman by John Rechy
The Wentworths by Katie Arnoldi
When You Don't See Me by Timothy James Beck
Light Fell by Evan Fallenberg

Of Chicago Interest:

You Must Be This Happy to Enter by Elizabeth Crane
Local author Crane's latest, a short story collection. I got to hear her read one recently, and it was a hoot - about a married woman who becomes a zombie and goes on a reality tv show in which a bunch of women with different "issues" are made to live together in a single house. Light and entertaining. It had the knitting club at the back of the coffee house I was in riveted. (Or maybe I should have said, "in stitches.")

Conception by Kalisha Buckhanon
New novel about a South Side girl who becomes pregnant.

Also Noteworthy:
The Konkans by Tony D'Souza is partly set in Chicago
Deadly Beloved by Max Allan Collins

Graphic Work:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Long Way Home by Joss Whedon et al.
I've actually read the first few issues collected here, and they're good. Whedon had the possibly unprecedented idea of picking up the story of his deceased tv show right where it left off and writing another "season" in comic book form. Several other tv shows are going to be following suit, esp. encouraged by the record-breaking sales of this series. This compilation collects the issues of the first story arc of the season. Many more to follow.

Graphic Witness: Four Wordless Graphic Novels selectd by George A. Walker
This collection of wordless comics stories by various authors were published in the first half of the 20C. I wonder if a parallel could be drawn with silent film?

Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine
Latest from the much-revered graphic novelist sounds well worth checking out.

Perry Bible Fellowship: The Trial of Colonel Sweeto and Other Stories by Nicholas Gurewitch
First collection of my favorite new comic strip of this decade.

I Killed Adolf Hitler by Jason
Populated by a cast of anthopomorphic animals, this story features a weird world in which being a hit man is an ordinary job, and the hero is unhappy because his job is to kill people who are merely annoying.

Comics Gone Ape!: The Missing Link to Primates in Comics by Michael Eury
An important look at the history of apes, gorillas, monkeys, etc. as villains in comics.

Also Noteworthy:
Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History by Harvey Pekar and Gary Dumm
Krazy & Ignatz: The Kat Who Walked in Beauty by George Herriman
A collection of large and ornate daily strips from Herriman's 1920 run, reproduced at close to their original size. Sounds like a standout Krazy Kat anthology.



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