Friday, May 16, 2008

New Book Roundup: March/April 2008

There was more in the way of interesting fiction this time out, and the most promising work of nonfiction is devoted to the topic. Plenty of good books to tide us over until Fall.


The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie
I suppose consensus is ultimately boring and probably encourages me to rebel anyway, but sometimes it's frustrating when the advance buzz is polarized between (to paraphrase) "best thing wot he ever wrote" and "utter tripe."

How Fiction Works by James Wood
Wood is such a celebrated critic that there's already a sizeable backlash against him (and rightly so, to some extent), but this book has received some of the best reviews of any book so far this year. It aims to keep the company of E.M. Forster on your bookshelf.

Breath by Tim Winton
Why can't Tim Winton reach an American audience? He's wonderful! I can't wait for his latest.



Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
If you haven't already heard about this book, you will. A Soviet war hero must track down a killer in gulag-era USSR (circa 1953). I smell a hit.

The Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford
Mostly good reviews for this Edgar-winner's latest. Kirkus proclaimed: "For those of you--and you know who you are--who think the indispensable element for good genre fiction is good writing, this is not to be missed."

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
Wonderful, glowing reviews. Set on a northern farm with a plot involving a fictional breed of dogs, this book has been called, unlikely as it seems, "[a] literary thriller with commercial legs,...stunning debut ...bound to be a bestseller" (Publishers Weekly).

Exiles by Ron Hansen
Novels that take famous literary figures as their subjects are fairly common, but this one focused on Gerard Manley Hopkins sounds like a cut above the usual fare.

The James Boys: A Novel Account of Four Desperate Brothers by Richard Liebmann-Smith
What if Henry and William were brothers to Frank and Jesse? What if a hook was enough to make a good novel? OK, that's rude. I should give this a chance. Does sound clever.

The Open Door by Elizabeth Maguire
Fictional memoir of the very real 19C writer Constance Fenimore Woolson (popular in her day and, yes, related to that other Fenimore) and the unusual relationship she had with writer Henry James.

Personal Days by Ed Park
In one of those oddly common instances where two writers seem to have unknowingly trysted with the same muse, Park's novel is a tale of young office workers narrating their story in the collective third person. If you don't know what book I'm comparing this to, you've been living under a rock and need serious literary help. Apparently they're quite different in execution, and this book already has its champions. (Consider: many of those who actually watched the film Infamous actually preferred it to the much-lauded Capote.)

Hotel Crystal by Olivier Rolin
Shaping up to be one of the notable books in translation this year. Inspired by Perec, compared to Calvino. OK, Dalkey, you have my attention.

The Sister by Poppy Adams
The reviews are still trickling in, but there's been a steady flow of good buzz for this debut novel. Lepidoptery and literature, hmm, seems like that could work.

The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon
This will no doubt be an especially big book here in the Windy City where the author lives.

Intercourse: Stories by Robert Olen Butler
God help me, I love a good gimmick. After a collection of very short stories imagining the final moments of people who were being beheaded (!), Butler this time out imagines several people in the middle of a much more pleasant activity. (Well, generally, one hopes.)

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Two ed. by Jonathan Strahan
"Jesus Christ, Reanimator"?? That sounds so bizarre I may have to take a peek.

Size of the World by Joan Silber
I've never read anything by Silber, but apparently this is a typical form for her short fiction: minor characters in one story become narrators in later stories. PW called this "magnificent" and the stories sound like they cover a real range of settings.

The O. Henry Prize Stories 2008 by Laura Furman
Considering how bad Stephen King's choices for last year's Best American Short Stories was, I'm a bit more likely to check out the competition this year. (I know, it's not a competition - they're both wonderful venerable series. I do love them both. I'm sorry.)

Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan
Is there a literary renaissance going on? It certainly seems like there's been an increasing audience for fiction about Africa here in the U.S. (many of these authors seem to have been born there, at least). This collection of stories received starred reviews from both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly and does not focus on one country in particular.

Word of God: Or, Holy Writ Rewritten by Thomas M. Disch
"The density of ideas packed into this short book is as impressive as Disch's mastery of his craft." (PW) - that just about accurately describes the one book I have read by Disch, Camp Concentration.

Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan
Historical fantasy portraying Elizabethan court as well as the parallel goings-on of the court of England's fae. That sounds fun to me - what are the chances this is any good?

Promise of the Wolves by Dorothy Hearst
In the vein of Watership Down comes this tale, the first of a trilogy, set in the time when wolves first became domesticated - told from the pov of a wolf character. Strong reviews.

Steampunk ed. by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer
"A superb introduction to one of the most popular and inventive subgenres in science fiction" (Publishers Weekly). I'd be particularly keen to read the Michael Chabon story. Steampunk is popping up all over - there was even a fashion article about it in the Times last week.

The Veil of Gold by Kim Wilkins
From an acclaimed Australian fantasy writer, a new series set a thousand years ago in Russia.

More Noteworthy Fiction:
The Marriage of True Minds by Stephen Evans
Enlightenment by Maureen Freely (Orhan Pamuk's translator)
What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn
The Writing Class by Jincy Willett
A Vengeful Longing by R. N. Morris
Julien Parme by Florian Zeller
My Name Is Will: A Novel of Sex, Drugs and Shakespeare by Jess Winfield
Wicked City by Ace Atkins
Evening Is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan
Implied Spaces by Walter Jon Williams
The Voyage of the Short Serpent by Bernard du Bucheron


Michelangelo Antonioni: Interviews by Bert Cardullo
On the subject of those maddeningly impenetrable films, I'd like very much to know what that brilliant man had to say for himself.

Screen Plays: How 25 Scripts Made It to a Theater Near You -- For Better or Worse by David S. Cohen
Case studies of a couple dozen films and the story of how they made it from the page to the "big" (or nowadays sometimes portable) screen.

Short History of Film by Wheeler Winston Dixon and Gwendolyn Audrey Foster
Deadly dull or an interesting browse? That is the question.

The Solitary Vice: Against Reading by Mikita Brottman
Even the reputedly virtuous pastime of reading can be taken too far, according to Brottman who refreshingly argues against some of the more ridiculous claims made about the benefits of reading. Sounds like a good companion to How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read. Honestly, if we stopped talking about reading as if it were a duty akin to recycling or donating to public radio and started remembering how dangerous and exciting it can be, there'd be no need to worry about literacy.

House of Wits: An Intimate Portrait of the James Family by Paul Fisher
What is it about those James men that keeps readers coming back for more?

The Plot Against Pepys by James D. Long
Why was Samuel Pepys once arrested and held in the Tower of London on suspicion of treason?

The Tremendous World I Have Inside My Head: Franz Kafka: A Biographical Essay by Louis Begley
Not quite your standard biography - and written by a novelist (About Schmidt).

The Magical Chorus: A History of Russian Culture from Tolstoy to Solzhenitsyn by Solomon Volkov
Sounds like a major work on a fascinating topic. Or maybe I'm still under Tom Stoppard's spell.

London Rising: The Men Who Made Modern London by Leo Hollis
On the transformation of London into a modern metropolis.

Governess: The Lives and Times of the Real Jane Eyres by Ruth Brandon
An antidote to the Mary Poppins archetype?

The Power Makers: Steam, Electricity, and the Men Who Invented Modern America by Maury Klein
Another notable book on that lively subject of the cultural history of technology.

Just How Stupid Are We?: Facing the Truth About the American Voter by Richard Shenkman
Shenkman and Susan Jacoby should really sit down and have a beer together - they seem like soul mates. And though I hate to sound elitist, I suspect they're on to something.

The Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington by David Sirota
Sirota's a good blogger and his writing usually makes sense to me.

Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics by Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais
Are we on the verge of a huge political realignment? Or is this another pseudo-profound bandying of generational thinking?

This Land Is Their Land: Reports from a Divided Nation by Barbara Ehrenreich
Latest collection from Ehrenreich, many pieces apparently derived from her blog (quite a good one, might I add).

The Political Mind: The Science Behind American Politics or, Why You Can't Understand 21st Century Politics with an 18th Century View of the Mind by George Lakoff
Sounds like a continuing elaboration of the ideas Lakoff put forth in Don't Think of an Elephant.

The Uncensored Bible: The Bawdy and Naughty Bits of the Good Book by John Kaltner, Joel Kilpatrick and Steven McKenzie
Now we're talking. I might even sit in a hard-backed pew for this author talk.

Sway: The Hidden Forces That Influence Irrational Behavior by Ori and Rom Brafman
Rogue Economics by Loretta Napoleoni
The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow
Simplexity: Why Simple Things Become Complex (and how Complex Things Can Be Made Simple) by Jeffrey Kluger
Four more books in the vein of Freakonomics and/or Malcolm Gladwell's books. A person could devote a whole blog to such books, it almost seems.

Crunch: Why Do I Feel So Squeezed? (And Other Unsolved Economic Mysteries) by Jared Bernstein
A primer on economics for us regular folks.

Moral Clarity : A Guide for Grown-Up Idealists by Susan Neiman
Neiman champions a resurrection of Enlightenment ideals, something that shouldn't sound as crazy as it does.

More Noteworthy Nonfiction:
100 Essential Modern Poems by Women ed. by Joseph Parisi and Kathleen Welton
The Adventures of Herge: Creator of Tintin by Michael Farr
Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are by Rob Walker
Credit and Blame by Charles Tilly
From Betamax to Blockbuster: Video Stores and the Invention of Movies on Video by Joshua M. Greenberg
Goodbye 20th Century: A Biography of Sonic Youth by David Browne
Historical Dictionary of Polish Cinema by Marek Haltof
Hubert's Freaks : The Rare-Book Dealer, the Times Square Talker, and the Lost Photos of Diane Arbus by Gregory Gibson
Human Goodness by Yi-Fu Tuan
Just Do It: How One Couple Turned Off the TV and Turned on Their Sex Lives for 101 Days (No Excuses!) by Douglas Brown
The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It by Gigi Durham (Miley Cyrus, anyone?)
The Making of a Sonnet: A Norton Anthology ed. by Edward Hirsch and Eavan Boland
The Man Who Pushed America to War: The Extraordinary Life, Adventures, and Obsessions of Ahmad Chalabi by Aram Roston
Melville: The Making of the Poet by Hershel Parker
Metro Stop Paris: An Underground History of the City of Light by Gregor Dallas
Napoleon: The Path to Power by Philip Dwyer
Official Filthy Rich Handbook by Christopher Tennant
Dreaming Up America by Russell Banks
Painter and the Savages: The Strange Saga of the First European Artist in North America by Miles Harvey
Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate a Cappella Glory by Mickey Rapkin
Right Is Wrong: How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution, and Made Us All Less Safe by Arianna Huffington
Romance on Three Legs: Glenn Gould's Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Piano by Katie Hafner
The Several Lives of Joseph Conrad by John Stape
The Story of Yiddish: How a Mish-Mosh of Languages Saved the Jews by Neal Karlen
Strange Bedfellows: How Late-Night Comedy Turns Democracy into a Joke by Russell Peterson
Sundays in America: A Yearlong Road Trip in Search of Christian Faith by Suzanne Strempek Shea
What's Wrong with Obamamania?: Black America, Black Leadership, and the Death of Political Imagination by Ricky L. Jones
When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

Of Gay Interest:

The Answer Is Always Yes by Monica Ferrell
Mixed reviews, but it looks as though this author is one to watch, at least. And ok, I love the cover. And the title.

Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever by Joel Derfner
OK, sometimes a title comes along and just makes me smile.

King of Shadows by Aaron Shurin
Collection of 20 essays by a poet but the phrase that got my attention in the PW review was "meditations on how the difference between Shakespeare's Oberon and Puck shaped his identity as a gay man." Say what? OK, I'm curious.

Mahu Fire: A Hawai'ian Mystery by Neil S. Plakcy
An openly gay detective stars in this recent series (which began with last year's Mahu Surfer).

Sex Variant Woman: The Life of Jeanette Howard Foster by Joanne Passet
I have to confess I'd never heard of Jeanette Howard Foster before, but her story sounds important.

Assisted Loving: True Tales of Double Dating with My Dad by Bob Morris
You've gotta love that cover - and the premise.

Also Noteworthy:
Chronicle of a Plague, Revisited: AIDS and Its Aftermath by Andrew Holleran
The Fisher Boy by Stephen Anable
Thinking Straight by Robin Reardon
Our Caribbean: A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writing from the Antilles by Thomas Glave (Michelle Cliff's story singled out by PW)
Actress by Elizabeth Sims
Bringing Home the Birkin: My Life in Hot Pursuit of the World's Most Coveted Handbag by Michael Tonello
Tranny: Boys Will Be Girls by Fiona Mallratte

Of Chicago Interest:

Mr. Gatling's Terrible Marvel: The Gun That Changed Everything and the Misunderstood Genius Who Invented It by Julia Keller
Not at all what I would have expected from the Tribune's prized cultural critic.
Also Noteworthy:
In the Wind by Barbara Fister
Never Been a Time: The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked the Civil Rights Movement by Harper Barnes
Jim Crow Nostalgia: Reconstructing Race in Bronzeville by Michelle R. Boyd

Graphic Work:

Clean Cartoonists' Dirty Drawings by Craig Yoe
Yes, many of those venerable Sunday comic strip artists occasionally dabbled in naughtier fare to entertain themselves.

Chocolate Cheeks: A Yikes! Collection by Steven Weissman
Weissman's characters are hilarious, his sensibility is perverse. Can't wait for this new collection.

Also Noteworthy:
Popeye Vol. 2: ''Well Blow Me Down!'' by E. C. Segar
Krazy and Ignatz 1941-1942: ''A Ragout of Raspberries'' by George Herriman
Y: The Last Man: VOL 10 Whys and Wherefores by Brian K. Vaughan



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