Sunday, March 29, 2009

New Book Roundup: January/February 2009

Zombies, Shakespeare, splinters of the true cross...a strange group of books, I'm as pleased as ever to report.


Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
I was impressed by Toibin's collection of stories, Mothers and Sons, but I wasn't so interested in The Master, his novel about Henry James. His new novel sounds more appealing to me, and it's getting unanimous praise so far.

The Stalin Epigram by Robert Littell
PW: "Veteran espionage novelist Littell trades cold war spies for interwar Russian poets in his wonderful new novel." Kirkus: "Firmly in the tradition of Orwell, Kafka and Koestler - and equally harrowing."

Rag and Bone: A Journey Among the World's Holy Dead by Peter Manseau
Tour the nutty world of sacred relics. I rather liked PW's take: "You have to love a book with sentences like this: 'Things got rough for the foreskins of Jesus as the Middle Ages matured.'"

Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
I'm starting to have high hopes for this graphic novel garnering an unusual amount of acclaim. PW sayd Mazzucchelli has been "a master without a masterpiece" - until now - and compares the work to Pynchon and Gaddis.


Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
OK, I was tantalized the moment I read about this - just like everybody else (it's selling like hotcakes). What isn't clear to me is exactly what's been done to the original text. Some customer reviews claim that select words have been replaced with 'zombie' or 'attack,' but I also gather that whole passages have been written and inserted. Sounds like a smart experiment at best (a remix of sorts?) or a funny, gimmicky joke at worst.

Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead
I've never warmed up to (MacArthur genius) Whitehead, whose The Intuitionist I found clever but heavy, but I've been told by a friend that the new novel is lighter and more enjoyable. Perhaps I'll give it a try.

The Collector of Worlds: A Novel of Sir Richard Francis Burton by Iliya Troyanov
Solids reviews for this triptych-approach to Burton's life.

All the World's a Grave by John Reed
How did I miss this? A clever mash-up of the Bard's characters and plots, including quotes from the originals. Came out months ago. Potentially awful, true, but also potentially fascinating. (Also potentially 10x the feat Grahame-Smith has pulled off.)

Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada
Fallada, a German writer who wrote this novel about resistance against the Nazis, died in 1947, and this is the book's first translation into English.

Devil's Garden by Ace Atkins
Crime novel involving Dashiell Hammett and the Fatty Arbuckle scandal. Compared to Ellroy - which must please the author - and set in San Francisco.

The Brothers Boswell by Philip Baruth
A "chilling literary thriller" (PW), this does sound interesting.

Breathers: A Zombie's Lament by S. G. Browne
The zombie and vampire memes are bigger than ever. Could this "rom-zom-com" fail to be a hit? Actually, yes, so far. Oh those fickle zombie readers and their Regency loving ways.

School for Love by Olivia Manning
One of the latest in the NYRB line of underappreciated classics, this story of a young man's coming of age during World War II when he finds himself in a Jerusalem boarding house presided over by a strict fundamentalist who's been compared to Dickens's Miss Havisham. Intro by Jane Smiley.

Far Bright Star by Robert Olmstead
The latest from Olmstead sounds almost Cormac McCarthyesque, though I haven't yet seen the comparison made. 1916, an expedition into Mexico to capture Pancho Villa, some brutal action, beautiful prose.

Wandering Stars by Sholem Aleichem
In anticipation of the centennial of this classic, a new edition with a foreword by Tony Kushner.

The Great Perhaps by Joe Meno
Strong reviews so far for the latest from Meno (Hairstyles of the Damned) - could be a breakthrough book for his career.

Tunneling to the Center of the Earth: Stories by Kevin Wilson
For some reason, whenever I see the phrase "Southern Gothic" in a description of a book, my pulse races a bit. Reviews make it clear that this collection has a lot more going on that - but they do emphasize the weird side of the ordinary. Oh, yes, I'll be taking a look at this.

Love and Obstacles by Aleksandar Hemon
Hemon's literary star continues to rise, and you can expect this collection to make an impact.

Sherlock Holmes and the King's Evil: And Other New Tales Featuring the World's Greatest Detective by Donald Thomas
Pastiches of the Holmes stories by Sir Arthur. (More Holmes pastiches by Faye and King and an anthology ed. by Greenberg et al. listed under 'More Noteworthy Fiction')

Dear Husband by Joyce Carol Oates
A friend recently praised Oates as one of his favorite authors, and the stories I've read have, indeed, been strong.

The Taker and Other Stories by Rubem Fonseca
I'm not sure what to make of this from what I've read online, but I had to add it to the list. PW: "fans of South American literature and the macabre should be pleased."

More Noteworthy Fiction:
Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz
Age of Orphans by Laleh Khadivi
All Other Nights by Dara Horn
Buffalo Lockjaw by Greg Ames
Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson by Lyndsay Faye
Midwinter by Matthew Sturges
New Valley by Josh Weil
News from the Empire by Fernando del Paso (Dalkey)
Sherlock Holmes in America ed. by Martin Greenberg, Daniel Stashower, Jon Lellenberg
Side Effects by Harvey Jacobs
The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell
The Language of Bees by Laurie R. King
The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith
The Unincorporated Man by Dani and Eytan Kollin
A Visible Darkness by Michael Gregorio
The Witching Voice: A Novel from the Life of Robert Burns by Arnold Johnston
We Never Talk About My Brother by Peter S. Beagle


Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music by Greg Kot
Kot is a helluva smart guy - I've seen him speak at an author event as well as on his radio show, not to mention read his work in the Tribune - and if there's one person whose take I'd like to hear on this topic, he's my man.

Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa by R. A. Scotti
Account of the 1911 theft of the world's most famous painting, and an exploration of the painting's enigmatic appeal.

Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare by Jonathan Bate
Shakespeare books are common, but it's rare that one should receive such praise: "exceptional...Lucid, rich and erudite...essential" (Kirkus); "not only an outstanding scholarly accomplishment but also a pleasure to read" (Library Journal).

Mercury Dressing: Poems by J. D. McClatchy
Publishers Weekly praises McClatchy's sixth collection for being his most various to date, and Library Journal praises his ability to combine the "classical with the contemporary." Me, I'm curious about the poem that weaves poetry from the gossip of gay men at the opera.

The Selected Letters of Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder, 1956-1991
I'm not usually interested in collections of letters by literary stars, but this sounds exceptionally interesting.

La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language by Dianne R. Hales
This sounds irresistible to me.

The Renegade: Writings on Poetry and a Few Other Things by Charles Simic
If only the great poets would publish prose more often, I'm sure I'd read them more. Ha! Kidding.

Beaumarchais by Maurice Lever
Extra! Extra! The writer of The Barber of Seville had quite a life. Read all about it!

Installations by Joe Bonomo
Prose poems that have to do with art installations? Scanty info about this at BN, but I once took a class from this poet, and he was a great talent (not that he'd know me from Adam - this was years ago). Absolutely had the entire class entranced. Most definitely worth checking out, and part of the "National Poetry Series."

1789: The Threshold of the Modern Age by David Andress
Andress charts the health of Enlightenment ideals in France, Britain and the U.S.

1969: The Year Everything Changed by Rob Kirkpatrick
Because '68 was getting just too much of the limelight.

Red Orchestra: The Story of the Berlin Underground and the Circle of Friends Who Resisted Hitler by
And just in time to accompany the Fallada novel, a new history of the domestic resistance to the Nazi agenda.

The Third Reich at War by Richard J. Evans
Sensational reviews for this last of a trilogy of books on the history of Nazi Germany.

Columbine by Dave Cullen
10 years on, this account sets the record straight on what went down in Columbine. It claims to dispel myths, and from reviews I've read, it does just that. I do wonder why this particular act of horrific violence touched such a cultural nerve when so many other have failed to. A fascinating subject - a new Leopold and Loeb?

Come Home, America: The Rise and Fall (And Redeeming Promise) of Our Country by William Greider
Timely look at the state of our democracy and economy from this legendary reporter.

Summer World: A Season of Bounty by Bernd Heinrich
Another season, another tour from acclaimed nature writer Heinrich.

Decoding the Heavens: A 2,000-Year-Old Computer--and the Century-Long Search to Discover Its Secrets by Jo Marchant

Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way above Average by Joseph T. Hallinan
Does the success of this book depend on people admitting to themselves that they make mistakes, forget things and think too much of themselves?

The Book of Dead Philosophers by Simon Critchley
Excellent reviews for this book aimed at a general audience; Booklist: "A work that makes philosophy matter again."

And Then There's This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture by Bill Wasik
Draws on Levitt and Gladwell and the author's own experiments with flash-mobs to explore online "viral" phenomena.

Judas: A Biography by Susan Gubar
Not a religious effort, a history of Judas as a cultural figure. After reading Master and Margarita and being absolutely mesmerized by the Pontius Pilate storyline, this sounds intriguing to me.

What Not to Say: Philosophy for Life's Tricky Moments by Mark Vernon
Maybe I should pick this up. I never know what to say in awkward situations. Oh, and this review in LJ sucked me in: "its most thought-provoking aspect is the analysis of modern-day trials and tribulations in the context of Greek myths, ancient philosophies, and great literature."

More Noteworthy Nonfiction:
Cat Power: A Good Woman by Elizabeth Goodman
City Kid: A Writer's Memoir of Ghetto Life and Post-Soul Success by Nelson George
False Economy by Alan Beattie
Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion ed. by Ronald L. Numbers
How to Build a Dinosaur: Extinction Doesn't Have to Be Forever by Jack Horner and James Gorman
I Love It When You Talk Retro: Hoochie Coochie, Double Whammy, Drop a Dime, and the Forgotten Origins of American Speech by Ralph Keyes
Inquisition by Toby Green
Japrocksampler: How the Post-War Japanese Blew Their Minds on Rock 'n' Roll by Julian Cope
Loch Ness Monster and Raining Frogs by Albert Jack
Puttin' on the Ritz: Fred Astaire and the Fine Art of Panache by Peter Levinson
She Always Knew How: Mae West, a Personal Biography by Charlotte Chandler
The Bard: Robert Burns, A Biography by Robert Crawford
The Man Who Sold the World: Ronald Reagan and the Betrayal of Main Street America by William Kleinknecht
The Shanghai Gesture by Gary Indiana
The Spartacus War by Barry Strauss
The Thoreau You Don't Know: What the Prophet of Environmentalism Really Meant by Robert Sullivan
Welcome to the Aquarium: A Year in the Lives of Children by Julie Diamond
West of the West: Dreamers, Believers, Builders, and Killers in the Golden State by Mark Arax

Of Gay Interest:

Ugly Man: Stories by Dennis Cooper
New work from Cooper is always worth attention, especially when it includes titles like "The Fifteen Worst Russian Gay Porn Web Sites" and "The Anal-Retentive Line Editor."

Deflowered: My Life in Pansy Division by Jon Ginoli
New City Chicago, reviewing the book for the author tour, said the book was humorous and extremely entertaining. Haven't seen any other reviews so far.

Inferno Heights by Mitzel
I love the Calamus Bookstore (Boston) newsletter, and I'm very curious about Mitzel's new book.

Also Noteworthy:
Chronic: Poems by D. A. Powell

Metropolitan Lovers: The Homosexuality of Cities by Julie Abraham

Of Chicago Interest:

Ruins by Achy Obejas
New novel from a prominent Chicago novelist - certainly worth some attention beyond the Windy City as well.

The Cradle by Patrick Somerville
This debut novel is creating some excitement, at least here in Chicago.

Also Noteworthy:
Turn Coat (Dresden Files Series #11) by Jim Butcher

Graphic Work:

Miss Don't Touch Me by Hubert and Kerascoet
Looks like a juicy murder mystery set in Twenties Paris - the young woman on the cover sports a Louise Brooks-ish bob. Sex, violence, comics - you can't go far wrong, clearly.

Be a Nose! by Art Spiegelman
"Warts and all" presentation of Spieglman's private sketchbooks.



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