Thursday, January 17, 2008

New Book Roundup: November/December 2007

Highlights from book reviews of the last two months. I was able to find plenty of interesting and oddball books to keep me going. And what more can you ask for?


Dangerous Laughter: Thirteen Stories by Steven Millhauser
New work from the author of "Eisenheim the Illusionist," the basis of an excellent film. I've already read at least some of these stories ("Cat 'n' Mouse" is one of the best, most unique stories I've ever read) and I can't wait for more.

Logic of Life: The Rational Economics of an Irrational World by Tim Harford
Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely
Freakonomics was such a disappointing book. I'm always on the lookout for a book that gets it right. Maybe one of these will do it.

Darkmans by Nicola Barker
Shortlisted for the Booker prize, this sounds like one of the odder novels to be so recognized in recent years. I haven't quite gotten a handle on exactly what it's about (hey, you try), but it's said to revel in "high-energy verbal gymnastics" and wordplay.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill
I'm eager to see the latest adventures of Moore's band of (as PW puts it) "public domain literary figures."


Johnny One-Eye: A Tale of the American Revolution by Jerome Charyn
Reviews so far have been excellent, calling this fiction comic and "crackling good" and worthy of comparison to Doctorow.

The Soul Thief by Charles Baxter
A new book by Baxter is always reason enough to sit up and take notice. The first review I saw quibbled, but it was the kind of quibble that made the book sound interesting (the story raises metafictional questions - mainly, Who is writing the first person narrative?).

Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin
PW raved, ranking it with I, Claudius as a novel imagining a story of early Western civ.

Pinkerton's Secret by Eric Lerner
Allan Pinkerton - of detective fame - whose story begins in 1850s Chicago. With its romance, this sounds like a fun and fresh historical novel.

Nazi Literature in the Americas by Roberto Bolano
I was completely surprised by the success here of The Savage Detectives. With the upcoming 2666 being hyped as Bolano's other great work, it'll be interesting to see what kind of market there is for reputedly secondary novels like this - one that sounds very interesting, by the way.

The White King by Gyorgy Dragomin
An eastern bloc totalitarian state as seen through a child's point of view (translated from Hungarian), sounds excellent.

David Golder, The Ball, Snow in Autumn, The Courilof Affair by Irene Nemirovsky
Reissues of early work by the recently rediscovered Suite Francaise.

Troubled Waters by Dewey Lambdin
Latest in a beloved naval adventure series.

Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes
Any book that begins "Be warned. This book has no literary merit whatsoever" and still gets great reviews certainly gets my attention. At Library Thing, they had 20 advance copies to give away and got 200 requests in an hour.

All the Sad Young Literary Men by Keith Gessen
Maybe this is an interesting book, but the title just makes me cringe. Oh, brother!

His Illegal Self by Peter Carey
My Revolutions by Hari Kunzru
Both novels deal with the radical underground of the 60s/70s and its legacy, so I expect to see these books being reviewed together in the newspapers.

The New Weird ed. Anna and Jeff Vandermeer
Guess this isn't your father's brand of weird fiction. Weird is one thing, good is another - here's hoping this work is both.

Our Story Begins: New and Selected Stories by Tobias Wolff
10 new stories (about 100 pages worth) in this collection.

Venus on the Half: Shell and Others by Philip Jose Farmer
Farmer's collection includes the titular piece, "written by" Kurt Vonnegut's Kilgore Trout, a story in which we see Tarzan as written by the other Burroughs (Edgar Rice), and another (The Adventure of the Peerless Peer) in which Watson introduces Tarzan to Holmes.

Singularity's Ring by Paul Melko
This novel jumped out of the pack as I was reading reviews.

World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler
To me this is SF, even if it won't be on SF shelves in bookstores. More apocalyptica, this time from the author of the nonfiction The Long Emergency.

More Noteworthy Fiction:
The Black Dove: A Holmes on the Range Mystery by Steve Hockensmith
The Tain trans. by Ciaran Carson
The Laborador Pact by Matt Haig (Dead Father's Club)
A Father's Law by Richard Wright
The Reserve by Russell Banks
We Disappear by Scott Heim
You: Or the Invention of Memory by Jonathan Baumbach
Sex for America: Politically Inspired Erotica ed. by Stephen Elliott
The Diving Pool: Three Novellas by Yoko Ogawa


The World and Its Double: The Life and Work of Otto Preminger by Chris Fujiwara
Defining Moments in Movies: The Greatest Films, Stars, Scenes and Events That Made Movie Magic ed. by Chris Fujiwara
All of a sudden, Preminger is being talked about a lot. There was a recent bio, recently a retrospective here in Chicago, then NYC, and now a top film writer takes on Otto's world. Fujiwara also has edited what sounds like a fun coffee table book about film which I'm eager to see for myself.

My First Movie: Take Two: Ten Celebrated Directors Talk about Their First Film by Stephen Lowenstein
I'd like to hear Richard Kelly justify his director's cut of Donnie Darko. Linklater, Gilliam, Kitano and others make the collection worth seeking out.

The Film Club: A Memoir by David Gilmour
Gilmour agreed to let his son leave school in the 10th grade if he agreed to watch 3 movies a week with him - wait, what? That sounds awful. But maybe it's more forgivable on the page?

Asian Cinema: A Field Guide by Tom Vick
Sounds like a lot to tackle in one book, but reviews promise it gives helpful overviews of the burgeoning scenes in Taiwan and (yes!) Korea. I don't see why Iran is included, but I won't complain.

Black Postcards: A Rock & Roll Romance by Dean Wareham
I loved Luna but was never a fan of Galaxie 500, so I'm not sure I'm quite the ideal audience for this memoir, but I am curious to see what he has to say about the breakup of both bands.

Rock on: An Office Power Ballad by Dan Kennedy
"McSweeney's contributor Kennedy chronicles his misadventures at a major record label." Sounds like a great documentary I saw years ago called The Target Shoots First.

Artists in Exile: How Refugees from Twentieth-Century War and Revolution Transformed the American Performing Arts by Joseph I. Horowitz
Dietrich, Garbo, Murnau, Lang, Balanchine, Nazimova, Reinhardt, Mamoulian, Stravinsky, Weill, Varese, Serkin, Stokowski - some of the great artists discussed here.

The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two: The Hidden Lives and Strange Origins of Common and Not-So-Common Words by Anu Garg
Looking again at this title and author's name, I briefly wondered if something had gone ka-blooey in my brain and I could no longer read.

Elizabeth Bishop: Poems, Prose and Letters
PW singled out the selection of Bishop's "enthralling letters."

The Emergence of Memory: Conversations with W.G. Sebald ed. by Lynne Sharon Schwartz
Before the deceased Bolano's work arrived to excite the U.S. literati, the work of the deceased Sebald was all the rage.

Best American Erotic Poems: From 1800 to the Present ed. by David Lehman
Is that a Mapplethorpian cover, or is this book just happy to see you?

The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America by David Hajdu
It would be interesting to read a book on this legendary early battle in our American culture wars.

The Big Switch: Our New Digital Destiny by Nicholas Carr
Compares today's technological changes to the beginning of the era of electrification, among other observations about how the old order is changing because of the internet.

Teapot Dome Scandal: How Big Oil Bought the Harding White House and Tried to Steal the Country by Laton McCartney
Upton Sinclair's Oil! has been adapted (loosely) for the big screen to acclaim, so this book seems to have come along at the right moment.

The Brotherhood of Disappearing Pants: A Field Guide to Conservative Sex Scandals by Joseph Minton Amann and Tom Breuer
I love the title (a play on the beloved YA novel by Ann Brashares?!) and, after all, there have been so many scandals - a field guide isn't a bad idea.

What Orwell Didn't Know: Propaganda and the New Face of American Politics ed. by Andras Szanto
An anthology conceived by five deans of journalism schools concerned about the increasing gulf between fact and rhetoric in the reporting of American politics.

Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang
Someone was saying the world is flat?

Jinn from Hyperspace by Martin Gardner
Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don't Add Up by John Allen Paulos
Jinn has a boring cover, but this compilation of the columnist/mathematician's writings sound very interesting - including sections on L. Frank Baum and Lewis Carroll. PW emphasizes the collection's humor and liveliness. As for Paulos, what math has to do with God, I have no idea.

Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them by David Anderegg
"Beginning with a 'Field Guide to Nerds' ('or Why Nerds are So Gay')" - um, what?

Jumbo: This Being the True Story of the Greatest Elephant in the World by Paul Chambers
It's a big Miscellaneous batch, hooray! Who could resist the story of the world's greatest elephant?

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan
I really enjoyed Botany of Desire.

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food by Jennifer 8. Lee
Promises to be less another boring microhistory and more of an entertaining series of thoughts and anecdotes using the fortune cookie as a springboard.

Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob by Lee Siegel
They're inevitably curmudgeonly, but I think we need as many of these books looking critically at our increasingly virtual lives as we can get.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale
Interesting story about "one of England's first detectives."

Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy by Eric G. Wilson
Unless you really follow the book reviews, you may have had no idea that there has been a sizable trend of books concerning themselves with happiness - not just stupid advice books but more philosophical works like Stumbling on Happiness. So for perversity's sake alone, I had to highlight this latest title.

100 Young Americans by Michael Franzini
I wonder if this is completely superficial or if it might be worth browsing through. It's supposed to be a collection of portraits of a representative sample of teenage life in the U.S.

America Unzipped: In Search of Sex and Satisfaction by Brian Alexander
Another I'm-just-a-normal-guy tour of the fringes of sex in America.

A Practical Guide to Racism by C. H. Dalton
A work of humor - I repeat, HUMOR.

Go Fug Yourself: The Fug Awards by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
I hear this is a funny blog.

More Noteworthy Nonfiction:
Making Waves: New Cinemas of the 1960s by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith
It's so French!: Hollywood, Paris, and the Making of Cosmopolitan Film Culture by Vanessa R. Schwartz
Not the Girl Next Door: Joan Crawford, a Personal Biography by Charlotte Chandler
Films of Sergio Leone by Robert C. Cumbow
Superman VS. Hollywood: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors, and Warring Writers Grounded an American Icon by Jake Rossen
Akira Kurosawa: Interviews ed. by Bert Cardullo
Grand Obsession: A Piano Odyssey by Perri Knize
Anti-Matter Anthology: A 1990s Post-Punk and Hardcore Reader by Norman Brannon
Rostropovich: The Musical Life of the Great Cellist, Teacher, and Legend by Elizabeth Wilson
Between Panic and Desire by Dinty W. Moore
The Man Who Made Lists by Josh Kendall
The Death of the Critic by Ronan McDonald
Baldwin's Harlem: A Biography of James Baldwin by Herb Boyd
Ezra Pound: Poet I: The Young Genius 1885-1920, Vol. 1 by A. David Moody
Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth: Poems 2004-2006 by Adrienne Rich
Taking on the Trust : The Epic Battle of Ida Tarbell and John D. Rockefeller by Steve Weinberg
Lion in the White House: A Life of Theodore Roosevelt by Aida D. Donald
The World on Fire : 1919 and the Battle with Bolshevism by Anthony Read
Constantinople: Capital of Byzantium by Jonathan Harris
The Great Arab Conquests: How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We Live In by Hugh Kennedy
Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill) by David Cay Johnston
Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human by Elizabeth Hess
Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet by Mark Lynas
When Science Goes Wrong: Tales from the Dark Side of Discovery by Simon LeVay
The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris and New York by Chandler Burr
I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley (for fans of Sedaris or Vowell)
Ant Farm: And Other Desperate Situations by Simon Rich
Revolution in Mind: The Creation of Psychoanalysis by George Makari
Top Secret: The Truth Behind Today's Pop Mysticisms by Robert Price
My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals/Portraits, Interviews, and Recipes by Melanie Dunea
Aristotle and an Aardvark Go to Washington: Understanding Political Doublespeak through Philosophy and Jokes by T. Cathcart and Daniel Klein
Dawn Dusk or Night: My Year with Nicolas Sarkozy by Yasmina Reza

Of Gay Interest:

What I Was by Meg Rosoff
"Great Expectations meets Death in Venice" in this prep-school story.

The Jewish Messiah by Arnon Grunberg
Somewhat in the weird category, a young man from a family with a Nazi past sets out to devote himself to helping the Jewish cause.

Also Noteworthy:
A Poet in New York by Federico Garcia Lorca
Juicy Mother 2: How They Met ed. by Jennifer Camper
Gentleman Jigger: A Novel of the Harlem Renaissance by Richard Bruce Nugent
Gone to Ground by John Harvey
First Person Queer: Who We Are (So Far) by Lawrence Schimel and Richard Labonte
Sexcapades by Honey B
Welcome to the world of urban fiction. This plot sounds like a hoot.

Of Chicago Interest:

Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets by Sudhir Venkatesh
An important study of Chicago gang life from an academic who's willing to get out of his armchair and go pound the pavement.

Behind My Eyes: Poems by Li-Young Lee
One of the city's most prominent poems presents a new collection of work.

Also Noteworthy:
Ida: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching by Paula J. Giddings
A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win by Shelby Steele

Graphic Work:

Rodolphe Topffer: The Complete Comic Strips
Collection of strips from the early 1800s from the man often cited as the inventor of the comic strip.

Also Noteworthy:
Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History by Harvey Pekar



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