Monday, November 02, 2009

New Book Roundup: July/August 2009

The latest and greatest, highlights from the July and August reviews, and most of these books are on the new arrivals shelves, both physical and virtual.


Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
His latest has been tagged as 'Pynchon-lite' by several reviews, but perhaps partly for that very reason it's proven to be a hit. Interestingly, it's yet another example of an esteemed literary writer (like Chabon and Denis Johnson) to take up Chandleresque noir.

Love and Summer by William Trevor
Trevor is an unusually consistent writer, with a reputation as strong as Alice Munro's, and his latest novel has some of the best reviews of any book this year.

Stitches: A Memoir by David Small
A stunning graphic memoir, easily read in an hour or two and pretty much deserving of all of the hype it's getting.


The Coral Thief by Rebecca Stott
A page-turning historical set in post-Revolutionary France that weaves in some philosophy and science - Stott's already exhausted me with her brilliance and I haven't even picked up the book yet.

The Children's Book by A. S. Byatt
If you've seen this giant book in stores, you don't exactly need a critic to tell you it was probably overwritten. Still, Byatt's family saga set during the transition from Victorian to modern times (WWI) shouldn't be dismissed. She's an amazing writer.

Homer & Langley by E.L. Doctorow
Doctorow take up the story of the Collyer Brothers in his slim latest. In a way, this sounds like a natural companion to the several recent attempts to reimagine the lives of the women of Grey Gardens.

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore
She's not my cup of tea, but Moore is one of the most popular and respected literary authors in the U.S., and it's been quite a while since she's published.

The Cry of the Sloth by Sam Savage
Savage is building a great reputation rather low on the radar.

As God Commands by Niccolo Ammaniti
Ammaniti is that rarest of the writing species - a European writer with an American following. He penned I'm Not Scared, which was turned into a gripping movie. The latest sounds excellent.

Invisible by Paul Auster
Auster's getting some of the best reviews he's received in a long time for his latest.

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
Set in the same universe as Oryx and Crake (I've got some catching up to do) but not exactly a sequel. So feel free to dive right in. My impression, however, is that the consensus so far is that the previous book is a bit better.

No Tomorrow by Vivant Denon
Sometimes I just want to turn all of my reading decisions over to the people at NYRB. They could probably get me a better batting average of good reads than I could achieve myself.

Oscar Wilde and the Dead Man's Smile by Gyles Brandreth
All these classic writers doubled as detectives, it seems, but Wilde was no doubt the most stylish. (This is his third adventure in the series.)

The Skating Rink by Roberto Bolano
Strangely, the latest Bolano translation to be published has gotten very little media attention, but the few critics writing about it are giving it an unequivocal thumbs-up.

Devil's Trill by Gerald Elias
This mystery with a classical music backdrop has gotten nothing but good reviews so far - sounds like a diverting light read.

Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro
I've yet to be disappointed by Munro, whose work miraculously always lives up to the praise it receives.

Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro
I was frustrated yet impressed by Never Let Me Go, and I'm curious to see what he can do with the short form.

Call Me Ahab by Anne Finger
I'd like to see some more reviews for this story collection. Any takers?

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
Steampunk? Zombies? An alternative 1880s America? It's really not right to get me this excited - I could have coronary or something.

Under the Dome by Stephen King
Has King been reading Borges or something?

More Noteworthy Fiction:
Dracula: The Un-Dead by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt
Western by Christine Montalbetti
Brecht at Night by Mati Unt
Hell by Robert Olen Butler
For Grace Received by Valeria Parrella
Where I Must Go by Angela Jackson
Poisonville by Massimo Carlotto


Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression by Morris Dickstein
The excellent Dickstein's new book could not be more timely - it seems all I've read about this year was the Great Depression. But even if our economy wasn't tattered, I'd still be interested in this for the discussion of 30s film and literature.

Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong by Terry Teachout
Teachout is one of the most insightful, generous critics working today, so I'd be interested in anything he chose to write a book about. But Louis Armstrong? Doubly interested.

Jazz by Scott DeVeaux and Gary Giddins
This new history of jazz is said to be informative enough to serve as a textbook but also interesting enough to fascinate serious fans.

Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, the Indie Label That Got Big and Stayed Small by John Cook with Laura Ballance & Mac McCaughan
Merge! Home of so much good music! I read somewhere that those are Laura's boots on the cover.

Nina Simone: The Biography by David Brun-Lambert
Seems like Simone's story would be an interesting one; she's certainly a fascinating musician.

A New Literary History of America ed. by Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors
This sounds a little weird but interesting.

The Adderall Diaries: A Memoir of Moods, Masochism, and Murder by Stephen Elliott
Elliott sure can write, but his work is probably way too dark for the mainstream. Kirkus takes a brave stab at summarizing this memoir/meditation: "His themes-seemingly crime, murder, drugs and sadomasochistic sex-actually encapsulate the nature of truth, self, love and memory, and the limits of art to get at them all."

Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer by Jeff VanderMeer
Sounds like a fresh and original resource for writers, one that addresses a wide array of needs.

Lucifer at the Starlite: Poems by Kim Addonizio
Usually when reviews single out highlights from books of poetry I think, oh boy, that's supposed to make me want to read this? But Library Journal's quotes actually made me want to check this book out. "I have been one acquainted with the spatula," for example.

Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation by Mitch Horowitz
I read an absolutely fascinating interview with this author, and it made me feel as if I finally understood so many things I never understood before - like what the big deal was about The Secret (promoted by Oprah) or the Dan Brown books. Not that I'm planning to read those books.

Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 by Gordon S. Wood
You don't hear much in popular culture about the early years of our nation, but what an important and interesting time it must have been. There is such an abundant wealth of historical writing every year, and I read so little of it. I should hang my head in shame, verily.

The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins
There's been a bumper crop of books on evolution this year due to the Darwin Bicentennial and the continuing arguments about God and Creationism, but this book would seem to claim a place near the top of the heap.

A Year on the Wing: Four Seasons in a Life with Birds by Tim Dee
Publishers Weekly: "Distilled from one year of introspective observation, 40 years of attentive bird watching and a pantheon of literary references, this fiercely poetic memoir expresses a magical love of nature's migratory feathered marvels."

Nature's Ghosts: Confronting Extinction from the Age of Jefferson to the Age of Ecology by Mark V. Barrow, Jr.
I guess I was surprised to hear that there's been concern about extinctions for much longer than I had realized. Sounds like the book's real draw are the stories of the individual naturalists and conservationists who fought to raise our awareness of the issue.

The Invisible Kingdom: From the Tips of Our Fingers to the Tops of Our Trash, Inside the Curious World of Microbes by Idan Ben-Barak
A "wonderfully informative and entertaining" look at microbes, those asexual freaks of nature that help us all digest our food and clean up our waste. Still, I'm glad they are invisible. Blech.


The Tyranny of E-mail: The Four-Thousand-Year Journey to Your Inbox by John Freeman
You've heard of the slow food movement, right? Freeman would like to inspire a slow communication movement. Good. Idea.

Heidegger and a Hippo Walk Through Those Pearly Gates: Using Philosophy (And Jokes!) to Explore Life, Death, the Afterlife, and Everything in Between by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein
I keep meaning to read a book by these guys. They sound fun.

The Good Soldiers by David Finkel
Said to be the best account from the ground of the war in Iraq.

Cranioklepty by Colin Dickey
Skull collecting? Wow, and I thought Gawker was disresepctful towards the famous.

Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich
Ehrenreich's most controversial book in a while, as probably could have been predicted. It's one thing to argue that the working poor get the shaft; but Americans will put up much more resistance to the idea that positive thinking isn't the solution to every problem. Good luck, Barbara. You are one brave soul!

More Noteworthy Nonfiction:
Paul McCartney: A Life by Peter A. Carlin
All Hopped Up and Ready to Go : Music from the Streets of New York 1927-77 by Tony Fletcher
Free for All: Joe Papp, The Public, and the Greatest Theater Story Ever Told by Kenneth Turan, Joseph Papp
Empire of Illusion : The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle by Chris Hedges
Book Shopper: A Life in Review by Murray Browne
The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment by A. J. Jacobs
American Rebel: The Life of Clint Eastwood by Marc Eliot
Thelonious Monk : The Life and Times of an American Original by Robin D. G. Kelley
Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization by Lars Brownworth
How to Live Like an Italian: A User's Guide to La Dolce Vita by Annalisa Coppolaro
The Death of Conservatism by Sam Tanenhaus
Obamanos!: The Rise of a New Political Era by Hendrik Hertzberg
Listen Up, Mr. President : Everything You Always Wanted Your President to Know and Do by Helen Thomas, Craig Crawford
My River Chronicles: Rediscovering America on the Hudson by Jessica DuLong
The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2009 ed. by Elizabeth Kolbert, Tim Folger
In Praise of Doubt: How to Have Convictions Without Becoming a Fanatic by Peter Berger and Anton Zijderveld
Why Evolution Works (and Creationism Fails) by Matt Young and Paul K. Strode
Parallel Play: Life as an Outsider by Tim Page

Of Gay Interest:

The Gigolo Murder (Turkish Delight Series) by Mehmet Murat Somer
I don't remember hearing about the 1st in this mystery series, but the second sounds worth reading for the novelty of the Istanbul setting alone, let alone the story: "A Turkish drag queen turns sleuth to win the heart of a dreamy lawyer."

Sugarless by James Magruder
In the 70s, in a Chicago suburb, a high school sophomore struggling with his sexuality discovers possible salvation in his rival forensics team's coach.

Also Noteworthy:
City Boy: My Life in New York During the 1960s and '70s by Edmund White
I Shudder: And Other Reactions to Life, Death, and New Jersey by Paul Rudnick

Of Chicago Interest:

Chicago: A Biography by Dominic A. Pacyga
One of the more exciting books about Chicago to come along in a while. It feels in the hand a bit too much like a textbook, but it looks fascinating nonetheless.

Graphic Work:

Masterpiece Comics by R. Sikoryak
Sikoryak uses classic comics characters like Blondie & Dagwood, Batman and Little Lulu to rework classic stories from the Bible to Hawthorne. Does that not make you want to abandon your computer and rush to the nearest comics shop now?

Also Noteworthy:
Moomin Book Four: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip by Tove Jansson
Prince Valiant: 1937-1938, Vol. 1 by Hal Foster



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