Thursday, January 28, 2010

New Book Roundup: September/October 2009

I'm running this quite late, but I've found some fun, intriguing titles that escaped the notice of the hype machine, which operates pretty haphazardly - the spotlight flashes on a book or two per week and then moves on, leaving plenty of excellent books behind. So have a skim, see if anything strikes your fancy. These books were generally reviewed in September and October, many published in November and December.


Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
The Booker winner, a revisionist historical fiction about Thomas Cromwell, has quickly developed a reputation for being a difficult, demanding, but absorbing and excellent read.

You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto by Jaron Lanier
A cautionary look at where technology is taking us, and for once the tech critic can't be dismissed as a Luddite. The critical knives are out online for this author, of course.

In the Valley of the Kings by Terrence Holt
Publishers Weekly says the collection "demands intelligence and rewards the reader with Borgesian riches"; Library Journal compares the writer to Conrad, Hawthorne, and Melville and points out that this is the life's work of a writer who's work has mostly been spotted only in the literary journals.


The Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell
Can it be true? Has Powell truly written a novel composed only of questions? Is it any wonder it become a minor sensation among the lit bloggers?

Hummingbirds by Joshua Gaylord
Another prep school novel? I know, I know. But this sounds excellent, and the reviews have been excellent.

How to Paint a Dead Man by Sarah Hall
The story of four intertwined characters, all touched by art, in the Booker finalist's latest.

Family Album by Penelope Lively
Another set of strong reviews for Lively - no surprise there.

Running: A Novel by Jean Echenoz
New novel from the author of the excellent (and recommended) minimalist novel Ravel.

Summertime by J. M. Coetzee
Spectacular reviews for this postmodern autobiographical novel, yet I have the impression you'll get more from it if you're familiar with the Nobel-winner's earlier work.

La's Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith
I've never read Smith, but reading about this one made me think I'd enjoy this series. (I'm sure the Ladies No. 1 Detective series is also charming.)

Dexter by Design by Jeff Lindsay
I'm become completely addicted to the darkly brilliant Showtime series based on and inspired by Lindsay's first Dexter novel, and I'm interested to see where he took the character versus where the tv show takes him.

The Humbling by Philip Roth
Sounds interesting, but I'm hoping Roth sets aside these novella-length projects and tries something longer and more daring next.

Running Away by Jean-Philippe Toussaint
Tsk, tsk. Very few reviews outside of some high-lit blogs for this novel by an important French writer.

The Chill by Romano Bilenchi
Translation of a dark, stylish coming of age story from the rarely translated Italian writer Romano Bilenchi.

Your Face Tomorrow: Poison, Shadow, and Farewell, Vol. 3 by Javier Marias
Latest from the popular Spanish author, one of the true stars of the international literary scene.

The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason
A postmodern re-imagining of The Odyssey by a clever young writer. Sounds fun.

Selected Prose of Heinrich von Kleist
Don't know anything about this translation, but if you haven't read Kleist, you really must.

There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
Apparently Russian author Petrushevskaya is a celebrated modern-day Grimm, and reviewers caution that these are very dark tales.

Apparition & Late Fictions: A Novella and Stories by Thomas Lynch
Reviews are mixed-to-positive so far for Lynch's (The Undertaking), though Library Journal's critic called the title story a masterpiece.

Fun with Problems by Robert Stone
I'm not really familiar with Stone, but Kirkus calls him a 'great American novelist' and reviews have been strong for this 'grim' collection.

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
One of the most acclaimed SF novels of the year, Bacigalupi's novel has logically been compared to Ian McDonald's work because its dystopian vision is set in territory fresher than the overworked America and Europe - in this case, Thailand.

Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts
I read this incredible testimonial back in September and have so far been unable to get my hands on the book.

Real Unreal: Best American Fantasy 3 ed. by Kevin Brockmeier and Matthew Cheney
Coverage of this collection has been sparse but enthusiastic. Includes work by Stephen King, Peter S. Beagle and other, including, John Kessel's "'Pride and Prometheus,' a mash-up uniting Pride and Prejudice's plain sister, Mary Bennet, and Victor Frankenstein."

American Fantastic Tales ed. by Peter Straub
The new two-volume anthology from the Library of America seems like an instant classic, covering Poe to the Pulps, and the 1940s to the present. It seems to be heavy on the literary side of American genre fiction, but the choices are intriguing.

In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield
One of the best things about J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, something she doesn't get enough credit for, is the way the series renewed popular interest in so many mythologies. Whitfield's story of an alternate Earth in which merpeople rule the world jointly with 'landsmen,' and royal power struggles are affected, seems less likely to have been created or published without Rowling.

The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer
A 'dazzling' alternate history / steam-punk novel with a sense of humor. Characters named Miranda and Prospero figure into the plot, incidentally.

Mercury Station: A Transit by Mark von Schlegell
Avant-garde sci-fi, strange plot twists, word-play - this sounds really weird. Cool!

More Noteworthy Fiction:
The Early Work of Philip K. Dick, Volume 1: The Variable Man and Other Stories
Hespira: A Tale of Henghis Hapthorn by Matthew Hughes
Total Oblivion, More or Less by Alan DeNiro
Liver: A Fictional Organ with a Surface Anatomy of Four Lobes by Will Self
The Book of Fathers by Miklos Vamos
The Golden Calf by Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov
Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler


Heroes and Villains: Essays on Music, Movies, Comics, and Culture by David Hajdu
Hajdu (The Ten-Cent Plague) takes on musicians as varied as Harry Partch, the White Stripes and Billy Eckstein, as well as artists like Marjane Satrapi and Will Eisner. Sounds interesting.

Talking about Detective Fiction by
A writing guide by a master of the mystery genre, a truly exciting publishing event.

Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays by Zadie Smith
Smith's essays on literature that I've come across in magazines have been unusually fine, and reviews indicate she expounds on diverse subjects just as well, including some thoughtful film commentary. I'm looking forward to this one.

Concerning E. M. Forster by Frank Kermode
Kermode takes on Forster's Aspects of the Novel for starters in this series of essays. Read Edmund White's review at the NYTBR.

Young Nelsons: Boy sailors during the Napoleonic Wars by Douglas Ronald
Seems like a pretty strange little topic for a book, and yet it does sound interesting, bringing to mind old black and white pirate movies and the sneaking suspicion in the audience that the reality was probably a lot uglier.

The Left at War by Michael Berube
The author's writings about the "Manichean" left (Chomsky, etc.) sound particularly interesting.

When You Were a Tadpole and I Was a Fish: And Other Speculations about This and That by Martin Gardner
Gardner sounds extremely cool. Apparently he's known for his "Mathematical Games" column in Scientific American, and this book (he's written many many books) is a hodgepodge of pieces. PW: "Gardner at his best."

The Whatchamacallit: Those Everyday Objects You Just Can't Name by Danny Danziger, Mark Mccrum
Promises to teach us the names for the odds and ends that surround is in humble obscurity.

Dear Undercover Economist: Priceless Advice on Money, Work, Sex, Kids, and Life's Other Challenges by Tim Harford
New book from the popular economist who writes for the educated layman.

Shake the Devil Off: A True Story of the Murder That Rocked New Orleans by Ethan Brown
Perhaps a good companion to Dave Eggers's Zeitoun?

How Philosophy Can Save Your Life: 10 Ideas That Matter Most by Marietta McCarty
A kind of applied, even self-help approach to philosophy that might appeal to fans of Alain de Botton.

More Noteworthy Nonfiction:
A Short History of Cahiers du Cinema by Emilie Bickerton
The Education of a British-Protected Child by Chinua Achebe
Louisa May Alcott : The Woman Behind Little Women by Harriet Reisen
Samuel Johnson: A Life by David Nokes
Living Oprah: My One-Year Experiment to Walk the Walk of the Queen of Talk by Robyn Okrant
1688: The First Modern Revolution by Steve Pincus
How They See Us: Meditations on America ed. by James Atlas
Neverland: J. M. Barrie, the Du Mauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter Pan by Piers Dudgeon
Legacy of Susan Sontag by Barbara Ching
China : A History by John Keay
Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right by Jennifer Burns

Of Gay Interest:

The Sower by Kemble Scott
In what sounds like a clever variation on the AIDS novel, Scott's hero Bill Soileau discovers he's contracted "a manmade supervirus that appears to be a cure for all diseases...., and the only way to pass the miracle cure onto others is through sex."

Impossible Princess by Kevin Killian
The publisher blurb identifies Killian as "[a] member of the 'new narrative' circle including Dennis Cooper and Kathy Acker," which means little to me except that he's in interesting company. The stories in the collection sound interesting.

The Brutal Telling: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel by Penny Louise
Some gay supporting characters in this well-reviewed mainstream mystery novel.
Also Noteworthy:
Edwin and John : A Southern Gay Couple's Half Century Journey Together by James T. Sears
Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity by Jose Munoz
The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You by S. Bear Bergman
Trash by Jon Davies
Law of Desire by Jose Quiroga
Gods & Monsters by Noah Tsika

Of Chicago Interest:

Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker by James McManus
Poker is as hot as ever, apparently, and Evanston author McManus is back to deepen everyone's love of the game.

A Cadger's Curse: A D. D. McGil Literati Mystery by Diane Gilbert Madsen
The start of a new cozy mystery series set in Chicago

Graphic Work:

The TOON Treasury of Classic Children's Comics by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly
A treasure-trove of goodies for the kiddies from comics of the 30s through the 60s. This sounds fantastic.

Prison Pit by Johnny Ryan
Ryan's work is twisted, juvenile and obscene - and I always enjoy it. Check it out.

The Recently Deflowered Girl: The Right Thing to Say on Every Dubious Occasion by Hyacinthe Phypps, with illustrations by Edward Gorey
Not sure where I heard about this silly, demented little novelty.

Also Noteworthy:
Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis, Christos H. Papadimitriou, Alecos Papadatos, and Annie Di Donna
All and Sundry : Uncollected Work 2004-2009 by Paul Hornschemeier
The Best of Punch Cartoons: 2,000 Humour Classics by Helen Walasek



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