Tuesday, March 11, 2008

New Book Roundup: January/February 2008

Publishers Weekly recently suggested that the presidential campaign may be affecting this year's publishing schedule. The thinking goes that politics will hog too much of the spotlight in the Fall (usually a peak publishing season). As a result, many of the big prestige books have been bumped earlier into the summer. Something to look forward to. Meanwhile, I was able to find plenty of promising titles in the January and February reviews - covering books that have been published recently and stretching all the way into June.


Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer
The Confessions of Max Tivoli got some excellent reviews but its whimsical subject never matched my mood. Greer's latest, however, sounds appealing and may even inspire me to see what I missed out on with the previous book.

Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization by Nicholson Baker
First of all, pacifist (and devil's advocate) Baker takes on the almost sacred "good" war, World War II, to argue that it would have been better to resist war and not fight. If that weren't enough to get attention, apparently the organization of the book is also rather eccentric, a chronological arrangement of discrete moments from the decade leading up to and including the war. Could be one of the more talked about books of the season.

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky
Web 2.0 phenoms such wikis are the subject at hand here. I found it difficult to put down in a bookstore the other day. Also, it's interesting (and heartening) to note that web 2.0 intellectuals continue to embrace the book as a technology for expressing their ideas.

Belchamber by Howard Sturgis
Sturgis was a good friend of James and Wharton. Edmund White wrote an excellent introduction that ran in the NYRB.


All Shall Be Well: And All Shall Be Well: And All Manner of Things Shall Be Well by Tod Wodicka
A dysfunctional family tale seen from the pov of papa, a medieval reenactor who spends most of his time (mentally, at least) in the 13C.

City of Thieves by David Benioff
New novel from the author whose The 25th Hour was adapted by Spike Lee into an excellent movie.

Harry, Revised by Mark Sarvas
Debut novel from the popular literary blogger (The Elegant Variation).

Daughters of the North by Sarah Hall
Fans of McCarthy's The Road and Atwood's Handmaid's Tale will want to try Hall's book, set in a dystopian northern U.K.

Days of Atonement: A Mystery by Michael Gregorio
Gergorio's second historical featuring a character who learned investigation from Immanuel Kant. I don't know, not many mysteries appeal to me, but these recent historicals that bring in famous real-life or literary characters come close to making me cross over.

Prince of Bagram Prison by Alex Carr
Having recently watched the documentary Taxi to the Dark Side, I find myself this catches my interest more than the typical book group-ready novel would.

Terra Incognita: A Novel of the Roman Empire by Ruth Downie
A sequel to Medicus, this mystery also features Gaius Petreius Ruso, a doctor in the time of Hadrian's reign.

The Story of Forgetting by Stefan Merrill Block
This debut multi-narrative novel about Alzheimer's is getting some rave reviews for its young author.

Zeroville by Steve Erickson
A friend thinks I'll love this crazy-sounding cult-fiction in the making. The novel obsessively alludes to countless classic films. I told my friend I'd be scared to read it because it would make me want to add about a hundred more films to be Netflix queue. But it does sound tempting. Perhaps one of Erickson's other novels?

Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson
Hard to decide from early reviews, but this post-apocalyptic story sounds intriguing. Winterson is a cult reader I've never gotten into, but I've heard good things from some good friends.

Missy by Chris Hannan
Maybe it's just the malevolent influence of Deadwood, which I've been hooked on lately, but this tale of a drugged out "flash-girl" out to fleece silver miners in the Old West sounds appealing to me.

Dictation: A Quartet by Cynthia Ozick
I'm especially curious about the title story, in which the female secretaries of Henry James and Joseph Conrad get to scheming.

The Book of Other People ed. by Zadie Smith
23 authors were engaged with a basic literary exercise in characterization: "Make someone up."

Tales Before Narnia: The Roots of Modern Fantasy and Science Fiction ed. by Douglas. A. Anderson
I adored the previous collection Anderson assembled (of stories that influenced Tolkien). I'm not a big Lewis fan, but I'm still interested in this collection.

The View from the Seventh Layer by Kevin Brockmeier
Includes a story called "The Lady with the Pet Tribble" - ha!

Before They are Hanged: The First Law: Book Two, Vol. 2 by Joe Ambercrobie
The sequel to The Blade Itself caught my eye - I hadn't realized the series was a work of fantasy.

Paper Cities: an Anthology of Urban Fantasy ed. by Ekaterina Sedia
Jeff Vandermeer praised the book, despite being uneven as a collection, for having a keen understanding the nature of urban fantasy, a subgenre I've been interested in but had little luck so far navigating.

More Noteworthy Fiction:
Armageddon in Retrospect by Kurt Vonnegut
God of War by Marisa Silver
How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone by Sasa Stanisic
Lush Life by Richard Price
Renegade's Magic (Soldier Son Trilogy Series #3) by Robin Hobb
Richer Dust by Amy Boaz
Sepulchre by Kate Mosse
Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk
Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson
The Baum Plan for Financial Independence: and Other Stories by John Kessel
The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
The Forgery of Venus by Michael Gruber
The Girl on the Fridge by Etgar Keret
The House on Fortune Street by Margot Livesey
Truth about Sascha Knisch by Aris Fioretos


Film on Paper: The Inner Life of Movies by Richard Schickel
This collection of some of Schickel's reviews of books about films sounds, according to reviews, like it transcends the usual limitations of such collections to become a mini film course in itself.

Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard by Richard Brody
With a recent spate (including a box set) of Godard films out on dvd, I'm more interested in him than ever, but I find his work alternately off-putting and interesting. Perhaps this critical biography will help.

Note By Note: A Celebration of the Piano Lesson by Tricia Tunstall
Piano lessons used to be a common extracurricular activity for the children, and this memoir aims to capture the appeal of the enduring cultural mainstay. PW raved about it, and it's brief enough it definitely sounds worth giving it a try.

501 Movie Directors ed. by Steven Jay Schneider
501 Movie Stars ed. by Steven Jay Schneider
Cineastes love lists. It usually just comes with the (obsessive) territory.

Tintin and the Secret of Literature by Tom McCarthy
The Remainder author returns with a pleasantly left-field topic. I'm impressed.

What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction by Toni Morrison
30 years' worth of essays collected, mostly literary it seems, though one review mentioned a piece on life post-9/11.

Sixty Poems by Charles Simic
An expansive retrospective collection from the poet laureate - sounds like a perfect introduction to his work.

A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Martin Johnson Heade by Christopher Benfey
I don't know what to make of this study that Kirkus dubs an "ambitious, eccentric synthesis of late 19th-century artistic currents." I mean, connecting these figures through their interest in hummingbirds? Are we talking about a fad? Is this book-length worthy material?

The Delighted States: A Book of Novels, Romances, & Their Unknown Translators, Containing Ten Languages, Set on Four Continents, & Accompanied by Maps, Portraits, Squiggles, Illustrations, & a Variety of Helpful Indexes by Adam Thirlwell
A "labyrinthine and surprisingly engrossing epic of literary influence and translation" (PW) from novelist Thirlwell. Sounds like it could be one of the more important literary works of the year.

Wellsprings by Mario Vargas Llosa
Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon
The Vargas Llosa collection sounds valuable overall, but I'm personally mostly interested in the pieces on Borges. Apparently Chabon continues exploring his ongoing fascination with the perceived barrier between genre and literary fiction in these essays. I'm especially curious about the pieces on Arthur Conan Doyle, Philip Pullman and Cormac McCarthy.

Editions & Impressions: My Twenty Years on the Book Beat by Nicholas A. Basbanes
Latest collection from one of the world's most high-profile bibliophiles.

Vienna 1814: How the Conquerors of Napoleon Made Love, War, and Peace at the Congress of Vienna by David King
Sounds like it was also quite the party.

Throes of Democracy: The American Civil War Era 1829-1877 by Walter A. McDougall
Mostly excellent reviews for this overview of Civil War era American history.

History of Histories: Epics, Chronicles, Romances and Inquiries from Herodotus and Thucydides to the Twentieth Century by John Burrow
Talk about your historiography.

How to Rig an Election: Confessions of a Republican Operative by Allen Raymond with Ian Spiegelman
Republican dirty tricks as remembered by a GOP operative who excelled at them. It's good to hear one of them admit it, but I also hate to see him make money off the confession.

Why We're Liberals: A Political Handbook for Post-Bush America by Eric Alterman
I find Alterman to be one of the sharpest columnists around, an excellent blogger as well.

The Strange Death of Republican America by Sidney Blumenthal
Laura Bush dislikes Rove and dubbed him "Pigpen"? That's amusing.

Head Cases: Stories of Brain Injury and Its Aftermath by Michael Paul Mason
For the record, anything remotely similar to the work of Oliver Sacks gets mentioned on this blog. I mean, of course.

Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year-History of the Human Body by Neil Shubin
One of the more outstandingly reviewed science titles of the last few months.

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach
Roach's latest, continuing her unique popular approach to science.

The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby
Jacoby brings her wit and historical perspective to the time-dishonored topic of American anti-intellectualism. In its own way, this seems like one of the most important battle cries of the election year. I've been meaning to read Jacoby's Freethinkers, but her latest just may jump the queue. (Her excellent recent lecture should be available online soon.)

The Hitler Salute: On the Meaning of a Gesture by Tilman Allert
How can you get a whole book out of this topic? How bizarre.

Have You Found Her: A Memoir by Janice Erlbaum
Memoir of a woman who got bound up in the troubled life of a runaway and the mess that ensued. I don't like memoirs generally, but a review I saw of this really grabbed me.

The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart by Bill Bishop
The title alone grabs the attention, doesn't it? Has the ring of truth about it already.

American Nerd: The Story of My People by Benjamin Nugent
A history of the "nerd" in pop culture and history, with a bit of personal biography thrown in. Sounds good!

Who's Been Sleeping in Your Head: The Secret World of Sexual Fantasies by Brett Kahr
An analysis of the function of sexual fantasy in our modern world, including findings of a large survey.

Treehouse Living: 50 Innovative Designs by Alain Laurens et al.
Useless to me, but I'd love to just leaf through this. How fun. (Excuse the unintended pun.)

More Noteworthy Nonfiction:
I Wish I'd Been There, Book Two: European History, Vol. 2 ed. by Byron Hollinshead and Theodore K. Rabb
The Kingdom of Ordinary Time: Poems by Marie Howe
Last Day: Wrath, Ruin, and Reason in the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 by Nicholas Shrady
Sixties Unplugged: A Kaleidoscopic History of a Disorderly Decade by Gerard J. DeGroot
Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century by Tony Judt
Theodor W. Adorno: One Last Genius by Detlev Claussen
True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society by Farhad Manjoo
Shakespeare's Wife by Germaine Greer
The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music by Steve Lopez
Earth: The Sequel: The Race to Reinvent Energy and Stop Global Warming by Fred Krupp and Miriam Horn
Alfred Kazin: A Biography by Richard Cook
Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World by Samantha Power
The Slaves' War: The Civil War in the Words of Former Slaves by Andrew Ward
Ida: A Sword Among Lions by Paula J. Giddings
The Adventures of Herge: Creator of Tintin by Michael Farr
Beyond the Frame: Dialogues with World Filmmakers by Liza Bear
The Glorious Revolution: 1688-Britain's Fight for Liberty by Edward Vallance
Who's Been Sleeping in Your Head: The Secret World of Sexual Fantasies by Brett Kahr
I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History by Walter Mirisch
No Man's Lands: One Man's Odyssey Through the Odyssey by Scott Huler
Magical Chorus: A History of Russian Culture in the Twentieth Century from Tolstoy to Solzhenitsyn by Solomon Volkov
Mortal Syntax: 101 Language Choices that Will Get You Clobbered by the Grammar Snobs--Even If You're Right by June Casagrande
Special Orders: Poems by Edward Hirsch
Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-First Century by Philip Bobbitt
The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad by Fareed Zakaria
Original Sin: A Cultural History by Alan Jacobs
Blood on the Table: The Greatest Cases of New York City's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner by Colin Evans

Of Gay Interest:

Attack of the Theater People by Marc Acito
New novel from the author of How I Paid for College - the cover alone is hilarious.

Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander: a Bisexual Regency Romance by Ann Herendeen
Oh, another one of those. Really, authors need to start thinking up original ideas.

Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems by Mark Doty
The PW review I read mentioned poems from the (out of print?) collection Vault which sounds particularly interesting. I mean, I had no idea Doty wrote any poems about bathhouses.

The End of the World Book: A Novel by Alistair McCartney
Debut novel from McCartney sounds quite unusual, fairly postmodern. I'm interested in getting a look at this. (Also interesting: his partner is Tim Miller, I read somewhere.)

Also Noteworthy:
The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy by Robert Leleux
Sparkling Rain: Fiction from Japan of Women Who Love Women by Barbara Summerhawk
Queering the Underworld: Slumming, Literature, and the Undoing of Lesbian and Gay History by Scott Herring
The Book of Getting Even by Benjamin TaylorThe Conversion by Joseph Olshan
Dishonorable Passions: Sodomy Laws in America, 1861-2003 by William N. Eskridge, Jr.
Insane Passions: Lesbianism and Psychosis in Literature and Film by Christine Coffman (I went to grade school with this author, believe it or not. She was always a real sweetheart, and her dad was pretty cool, too. Congrats, Christine.)

Of Chicago Interest:

Great Houses of Chicago: 1871-1921 by Susan S. Benjamin and Stuart Earl Cohen

The People Are the News: Grant Pick's Chicago Stories by Grant Pick
Collection of Pick's distinguished literary journalism.

Also Noteworthy:
Small Favor by Jim Butcher
Chicago Cooks: 25 Years of Food History with Menus, Recipes, and Tips from Les Dames D'escoffier Chicago ed. by Carol Mighton Haddix
Funniest One in the Room: The Lives and Legends of Del Close by Kim "Howard" Johnson

Graphic Work:

Last Musketeer by Jason
Latest from the quirky rising star of what used to be called underground comix.

Also Noteworthy:
Escapists by Brian K. Vaughan et al.
The Rabbi's Cat 2, Vol. 2 by Joann Sfar
Little Nemo In Slumberland Volume 2 by Winsor McCay


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