From the Shelf
Fantastic Fantasy Series
Game of Thrones is on hiatus, which means there's an opportunity to explore new fantasy series while you wait (and wait, and wait, and wait) for the next volume in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series.
Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series began with The Eye of the World (1990) and concluded in 2013 with A Memory of Light, written by Brandon Sanderson based on Jordan's notes (Jordan died before completing the book). The series is the definition of epic: 14 volumes, 11,916 pages, 4,410,036 words. Jordan's world-building is grandiose, his characters distinctive, and his magic believable--if sometimes a tad convenient. Readers willing to power through to the final volumes will be rewarded by a story of good vs. evil in a land filled with spellcraft and strange creatures.
Brandon Sanderson has also proved skilled at creating worlds of his own. The Stormlight Archive series began with The Way of Kings in 2010 and continued with Words of Radiance in 2014--the first two in a planned 10-volume series about war, magical weapons, grand battles and more characters than one can possibly track. Buckle in for what promises to be an epic that could rival the worlds of the Wheel of Time and A Song of Ice and Fire.
Kameron Hurley kicked off her Worldbreaker Saga this year with The Mirror Empire, a novel that sets an imagined world on the brink of total war, rife with violence and destruction. Hurley shies away from nothing: mixing horror with fantasy, creating a world ruled by women, complicating her world-building with everything from parallel worlds to tenuous and ever-changing alliances. The Mirror Empire requires keen attention, but ultimately proves worth it, and will leave readers eagerly awaiting the next volume. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
In this Issue...
by Caitlin Doughty
A young woman's entertaining, thought-provoking memoir of her career in a crematorium and her fascination with death.
by Ann Hedreen
How one woman's experience with Alzheimer's shaped her daughter's life.
by Hervé Tullet
This follow-up from the creator of Press Here rivals the original's genius simplicity and playfulness, teaching the properties of color along the way.
Review by Subjects:
From Tattered Cover Book Store
09/16/2014 - 7:00PM
Great Books Based on Other Great Books
"Literature is a never-ending, overlapping, sometimes circular conversation--between writers, between readers, between books themselves," Flavorwire observed in highlighting "10 great books based on other great books."
Quirk Books recommended "five books that we'd love to see as Choose Your Own Adventure novels."
Conceding that "everybody knows that most dystopias are kind of contrived," io9 suggested "10 lessons from real-life revolutions that fictional dystopias ignore."
"A writer is a world trapped in a person." This bit of wisdom from Victor Hugo is just one of "15 delightfully inspirational quotes from great writers" featured by Mental Floss.
"Top dogs: 10 literary canines" were showcased in the Guardian by Mikita Brottman, author of The Great Grisby: Two Thousand Years of Exceptional Dogs.
"Let's talk bookshelves. Both practically and impractically," Buzzfeed wrote in highlighting "35 things to do with all those books."
The Writer's Life
Book Brahmin: Julia Keller
|photo: Mike Zajakowski|
Julia Keller is the author of Summer of the Dead (Minotaur), the third novel in her series featuring prosecutor Belfa Elkins, who returns to her Appalachian hometown with hopes of stemming the tide of illegal prescriptions drugs. Born and raised in Huntington, W.Va., for many years Keller was chief book critic at the Chicago Tribune, where she won a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing. She has taught writing at Princeton University, the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago.
On your nightstand now:
In Paradise by Peter Matthiessen, Tigerlily's Orchids by Ruth Rendell, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence and The Poacher's Son by Paul Doiron.
Favorite book when you were a child:
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. This spooky, mesmerizing story grabbed me back then and haunts me still. I remember being completely besotted by it; I couldn't get its rhythms out of my head.
Your top five authors:
Willa Cather, Iris Murdoch, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Gore Vidal and Virginia Woolf.
Book you've faked reading:
Why fake it? That's like picking your own pocket--the only loser is you. I'd be far more likely to claim I haven't read a book that I actually have read. Why? Because when a friend recommends a book, I don't like to snap back, "I've read it, thanks." That makes me sound like a smarty-pants.
Book you're an evangelist for:
The Sea and the Silence by Irish author Peter Cunningham. This is a spare, exquisite novel that builds to a shattering emotional climax. I found it by sheer happenstance, and now force it into the hands of everyone I meet who appreciates a masterfully told story with a sweeping lyrical intensity.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Small Crimes in an Age of Abundance, a story collection by Matthew Kneale. The cover is devilishly clever; it looks as if someone has taken a small knife and cut out a [letter] from the title, in order to swipe it. At first, I thought the cover had been vandalized--that's how realistic it is. And the stories are wicked, pungent little moral dramas.
Book that changed your life:
The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather. No other novel captures so well the yearning of youth, the sustaining joy of hard work and the ephemeral nature of love. I reread this book every few years and always find new reasons to revere its quiet, austere, restless beauty.
Favorite line from a book:
This seems to change daily, but right now, it's from Fludd by Hilary Mantel: "He heard the mournful shunting and the calls of trains, the feet of night porters on the stairs, the singing of a drunk in St. Peter's Square: he heard ragged breathing from a hundred rooms, the Morse chattering of ships at sea, the creak and scrape of the pivot as angels turned the earth."
Which character you most relate to:
Oh, the agony! Anyone who answers this question honestly is just asking for trouble, leaving herself open to instant psychoanalysis. Okay, here goes: it's a tie. The deeper I go into Sue Grafton's series of alphabet mystery novels, the closer I feel to Kinsey Millhone, her resourceful, wisecracking--and just plain wise--protagonist. But I also feel a strong kinship with Quirke, the moody, hard-drinking Dublin pathologist in John Banville's series of crime novels that he writes under the pen name Benjamin Black. The latest, Holy Orders, is suffused with gloom and fog and black webs of regret--just my cup of tea.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
I remember the sweet agony of reading The House of Stairs by Barbara Vine--really Ruth Rendell--with a swoop of feverish intensity. I was half-afraid to keep going but fully unable to stop. The novel exerts a strange hypnotic power far beyond the usual crime-novel compulsion to find out who did what to whom and why. It's almost diabolical in its appeal; time disappears, the edges of the real world dissolve as you read, read, read. To be so completely under a book's spell is rare indeed, and I'd love--or is it fear?--to be back in that place, opening the first page of this entrancing novel for the first time.
Bright Shards of Someplace Else
by Monica McFawn
Lovers of fiction will enjoy plunging headfirst into an offbeat collection of thought-provoking short stories. This tapestry of vignettes by Monica McFawn, which won the Flannery O'Connor Award for short fiction, is an alluring debut: the 11 stories are simultaneously quirky and achingly resonant.
"Out of the Mouths of Babes" packs a creepy, revelatory wallop, as a wise-beyond-his years kid manages to solve various crises via telephone for his whiskey-swilling, debt-ridden babysitter. The skillful role swap of child and adult is a reminder that children's cleverness cannot be underestimated, and the ending is equal parts startling and satisfying. In "Key Phrases," a manager struggles with his inability to fire Mol, his terrible employee who skips work and stockpiles mounds of dead flowers in her office. Another memorable story, "Line of Questioning," introduces a lonely poetry professor delighted by the attention he gets from local police when he's suspected of murdering a former student. "The Chautauqua Sessions" finds a once-great songwriter's life upended by the invasion of his drug addict son.
McFawn stitches these pieces together with the thread of human failing and our universal desire for connection. Her realistic characters face strange dilemmas (an innocent game of Scrabble doesn't usually end with a man unjustly accused of a crime), and this intriguing collection leads readers to strange places in which they'll want to linger. Occasionally, McFawn leaves the reader with more questions than answers, and there's much here to consider after the last page is turned. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend
Discover: A Flannery O'Connor Award-winning collection of short stories from an intriguing new voice in fiction.
by Dylan Landis
Set in bohemian Greenwich Village in the mid-'70s, Dylan Landis's debut novel will transport readers through time to witness young artist Rainey Royal's haunting coming-of-age. Possessing a captivating sexuality, 14-year-old Rainey hits on her teachers, torments her fellow students and attracts attention wherever she struts. Home is no refuge since her mother skipped town, leaving her with Rainey's eccentric yet charismatic father, Howard, and his lecherous best friend, Gordy, who sneaks into Rainey's bubble-gum-pink room each night. Their brownstone is a revolving door of young musicians who share Howard's love for music... and his bed. This is hardly a stable upbringing for a love-starved teen, but in Landis's deft hands it's the perfect setup for a riveting story.
Rainey takes comfort in a passion for art and two female friendships that are no more functional than her home life. Her best friend, Tina, may or may not be sleeping with Howard, and the controlling Leah is desperate to rescue the troubled Rainey from herself. Still the three navigate (and sometimes flounder in) the murky water of their adolescence and young adulthood with surprising results.
This stark and fascinating book traces nearly a decade of the unforgettable Rainey's life--as a struggling young artist whose magnetism is both her greatest asset and most terrible curse. The hundreds of little tragedies painted across the page will leave readers deeply affected as Landis perfectly captures a time period of mad exploration during which lines blurred for young people trying to find themselves. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend
Discover: An intriguing debut novel about a complexly rebellious artist coming of age in 1970s Greenwich Village.
Mystery & Thriller
by James Ellroy
James Ellroy's Perfidia is a re-creation of Los Angeles during the weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack, when racial tensions were at a high boil and chaos raged in the streets. The novel begins with the grotesque crime scene of a dead Japanese family on December 6, 1941, the result of either actual or staged seppuku. A number of cops converge on the scene: Captain William H. Parker, a sin-obsessed Catholic and rank careerist; Sergeant Dudley Smith, a homicidal Irish tough guy (known to fans of L.A. Confidential); and brilliant police chemist Hideo Ashida, who is held in low regard by the others because of his race and the hidden nature of his sexuality. They all try to solve the crime while simultaneously fighting each other as Los Angeles explodes around them in an incendiary mix of racial loathing, war fever and the lurid vice that Ellroy excels at portraying.
The World War II backdrop gives Ellroy a vast canvas on which to showcase his gifts. He demonstrates in raw prose and precise scene-setting the moral wrongs and mistreatment imposed on the Japanese of that era, while also demonstrating compassionate understanding of both the personal demons that drive men and women and the vast chasm between our private selves and what we must present in our daily lives. With Perfidia, Ellroy proves he's a fine novelist at the top of his game, demonstrating his own capacity for growth and ambition even at this advanced stage of his career. --Donald Powell, freelance writer
Discover: An ambitious, page-turning novel of Los Angeles during the weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack.
Food & Wine
Tacolicious: Festive Recipes for Tacos, Snacks, Cocktails, and More
by Sara Deseran , with Joe Hargrave , Antelmo Faria , Mike Barrow
Fans of Mexican fare may want to dive right in to the nearly 100 recipes in Tacolicious, but they should savor the introduction by San Francisco food writer Sara Deseran, who nervously opened a taco stand with her husband, Joe Hargrave, in 2009. Four Bay Area restaurants, one tequila bar, and a still-thriving food truck later, she celebrates their success with Tacolicious, transporting the unusual flavors of their restaurants beyond California. With Deseran's clear instructions, it's fiesta time in any kitchen.
Divided into four sections of salsas, snacks, tacos and drinks, this cookbook will inspire even those new to homemade Mexican food. Conversational lessons on basic techniques and insights into Mexican food traditions give the sense that the successful restaurateurs really want to help the reader.
"Feel liberated to adapt the recipes to your own taste," the author advises, which should encourage any vegetarians wandering into Tacolicious territory. Recipes are generally meat heavy--lamb, goat and beef tongue are among the suggested taco fillings--though the squash tacos with kale and pumpkin seeds, the "Spring booty" tacos and the potato empanadas are all meatless yet zesty. Any roasted vegetable would welcome a topping of the pickled jalapenos and carrots, or one of the salsas: chunky, smoky, spicy and always made with fresh ingredients. A feature on heirloom beans, a primer on tortillas, and a step-by-step guide to "La Tequiza"--the ultimate DIY taco party--guarantee Tacolicious a place in the creative cook's kitchen. Recipes for hibiscus tea, a range of juices (including kid-friendly beverages) and "Tequila: The Cliffs Notes" assure ample drinks are on hand to wash down those tasty tacos. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: This cookbook brings Tacolicious cuisine to any kitchen, by the founders of the San Francisco Mexican restaurants.
Biography & Memoir
Her Beautiful Brain: A Memoir
by Ann Hedreen
Unflinching, tragic and compassionate, Her Beautiful Brain is a memoir about how Ann Hedreen's life changed when her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. She opens in 1969 with the image of the typing class she took at age 12--the mandatory "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" exercise burned into the mind and fingers of anyone who's ever taken a typing course. This flashback transforms into an extended metaphor for gender, class and identity as Hedreen muses about the secretarial path she and her mother shared at the start of their lives before they found their own vocations: "For all the generations of women who typed to feed their children, to get through college, to survive, the words Quick Brown Fox said struggle and survival. They said that this life does not deserve to end in the jammed keys and black ink of Alzheimer's disease."
Hedreen then flashes forward to 1987, when she and her sister, as well as her mother, begin to realize during a trip to Haiti that her mother's brain may not be working as well as it should. Haiti becomes another metaphor of the "fourth world" Alzheimer's forces her mother--and the entire family--to inhabit. As Hedreen guides the reader through her mother's illness, her use of metaphor and imagery is heartbreaking and powerful. Hedreen primarily tells her own story, but includes many vignettes from her mother's early life, so the reader ends with a lasting and intimate portrait of her mother as well as a poignant look at the injustice of this devastating disease. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics
Discover: How one woman's experience with Alzheimer's shaped her daughter's life.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory
by Caitlin Doughty
At 23, Caitlin Doughty had an undergraduate degree in medieval history and a lifelong fascination with death. Interested in turning her preoccupation into a profession, she eventually secured a position as crematory operator at Westwind Cremation & Burial in Oakland, Calif. In just a few months, she learned how to cremate bodies (do the larger people early in the day, babies at the end), what exactly happens after the oven (bones have to be ground down in a special blender to create the uniform ashes the family expects) and how to pick up a recently deceased body from a family at home (mostly, keep your mouth shut). She learned that dead people aren't really scary, once you get used to them, and came to believe that wired jaws and copious makeup are less attractive and less respectful than simply letting the dead look--and be--well, dead.
In her debut memoir of "lessons from the crematory," Doughty also shares her research into the death rituals and mythologies of other cultures throughout history, and points out how they differ from contemporary Western practices: while other practices conform to a system of beliefs, our so-called modern death-disposal techniques arise from a fear of mortality and a need to hide dead things away. By contrast, Doughty believes in having a more accepting attitude toward mortality. Her earnest, playful coming-of-age tale encompasses love and life (and death), and her appeal for a new cultural approach to the end of life is refreshingly frank and simple at the same time that it is profound. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: A young woman's entertaining, thought-provoking memoir of her career in a crematorium and her fascination with death.
The Demon's Brood: A History of the Plantagenet Dynasty
by Desmond Seward
The Plantagenet family ruled England for more than three centuries, and its historical legacy continues to mark English history, literature and the popular imagination. William Shakespeare immortalized six Plantagenet kings in his history plays, and the recent discovery of the remains of the last Plantagenet monarch, Richard III, has rekindled interest in the redoubtable family and its history.
In The Demon's Brood, Desmond Seward (The Last White Rose: The Secret Wars of the Tudors) provides an introduction to the Plantagenet line--and he does so with a vengeance. The "wolfish, half-crazy" King John is "arguably the worst king in our entire history." Henry III is "amiable but disastrously inept," Richard II "effete" and "narcissistic," and Edward II summed up in a single word: "abysmal." Seward mingles his own evaluations of each monarch with equally colorful reports from their contemporaries, injecting humor and verve into a past that is anything but dusty in his hands. At the same time, Seward never loses sight of historical context. Included in the "colorful" accounts are careful evaluations of both contemporary and secondary sources. Seward notes, for example, that historical opinion on King John has varied widely over the centuries, from "worst king ever" to "not so bad, actually" and back again.
Keeping the prodigious Plantagenet line straight can be a challenge, and the Wars of the Roses--which Seward also addresses--complicate the task. Seward eliminates the hardship for those new to English history, placing each king in the context of his time, his contemporaries and his family. The result is a delightfully incisive introduction to early English history. --Dani Alexis Ryskamp, blogger at The Book Cricket
Discover: A short, clear, clever overview of the Plantagenet family, England's longest-ruling dynasty.
An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States
by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
The thousands of years of traditions, culture and history of the indigenous peoples in what is now the United States are not widely told. Even in his bestselling attempt to tell the history of the U.S. through the eyes of the common man, Howard Zinn failed to give the same weight to the experiences of the Native people as he did to those of the settlers. Drawing on historic documentation in addition to years of research and interviews, An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States reframes textbook U.S. history--written by European settlers and their descendants--and gives a voice to those who lived here first.
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (Blood on the Border), a Native American activist, scholar and historian, presents a revised treatment that is frank, accessible and much needed. She presents a balanced perspective, noting that while there is no one history for all indigenous groups, what has been shared among them is the history of settler colonialism. Most histories present the colonizers in a positive light, as in the story of Thanksgiving, and obscure the realities of land theft and genocide. Dunbar-Ortiz identifies the implicitly biased way in which the nation's history has been told and deconstructs the concept of multiculturalism, explaining how it disempowers indigenous peoples through its inherent assumptions of settler superiority while hiding any implicit racism behind a screen of cultural tolerance. This valuable work will push some readers outside their comfort zones to help them consider a broader perspective. --Justus Joseph, bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle
Discover: A history of the U.S. that gives a voice to indigenous peoples.
Current Events & Issues
Renegade Amish: Beard Cutting, Hate Crimes, and the Trial of the Bergholz Barbers
by Donald B. Kraybill
Pacifism and the "plain" lifestyle are hallmarks of the Amish for most Americans, but in 2011, violent Amish-on-Amish terror shook one corner of Ohio, leading to a 2012 federal criminal trial and convictions based on the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
Ohio is home to the lion's share of the U.S.'s 2,100 Amish congregations. Levels of conservatism vary, but beard-wearing (for men) and concealed long hair (for women) are standard, based on biblical principles. Convincing a handful of followers to join him, Bishop Samuel Mullet founded the ultra-conservative Bergholz community about 100 miles southeast of Cleveland in 1997. After church elders decried his stern, controlling behavior in 2006, Mullet became increasingly vengeful. He was convicted by the federal courts in 2012 for fomenting hate crimes: directing followers to cut the beards and hair of those who rejected his leadership.
Scholar Donald B. Kraybill (The Riddle of Amish Culture) provides the background of Amish history and tradition and national legal precedent that led to the convictions of the autocratic leader and 15 of his followers. His thorough research details the splintering of the Amish community that led to the attacks, the investigations and ultimately the trial.
Kraybill, who served as an expert witness, clearly describes the anguish of the Amish, known for their peaceful philosophy, and draws parallels between Bergholz and cult leaders. Renegade Amish encourages readers to consider the dangers of religious intolerance. [On August 27, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit overturned the hate-crime convictions. The 16 could receive new trials.] --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: Detailed coverage of a bizarre hate crime in an Amish community and the landmark federal trial that followed.
Children's & Young Adult
Mix It Up!
by Hervé Tullet , trans. by Christopher Franceschelli
Can the man behind Press Here match the pure genius of that book's simplicity? Yes! "Right again!" as the returning narrator-coach might say.
"Tap that gray spot. Just a little, to see what happens," the book begins. With a turn of the page, readers see that tapping has released a flurry of dots, moving so rapidly that the blue, red and yellow spots leave tails behind them. Yet the gray dot remains placidly in the center of the right-hand page. "There they are!" exclaims the enthusiastic unseen narrator. "But don't they seem a bit shy? Tap it again." A turn of the page reveals a fireworks display of dashing dots in an array of colors. Hervé Tullet always knows when to alter the conversation. He asks children to place a hand on that densely populated page and "count to five," eyes closed. A child-size handprint appears, like a tree, with the colors emanating from it like rainbow-colored leaves: "Yes! You've got the magic touch! Let's mix it up!" Tullet turns orderly as he teaches children that blue touched with yellow and rubbed "gently" makes (with a turn of the page) green, and follows with other secondary colors, and the effects of adding white and black. The hand print ("count to five") serves as a farewell refrain.
With a narrator as playful and uplifting as the cause-and-effect of the colors on these pages, this book is sure to be as popular as Press Here. It's clear that Tullet believes everyone has what it takes to be an artist. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: This follow-up from the creator of Press Here rivals the original's genius simplicity and playfulness, teaching the properties of color along the way.
Louise Loves Art
by Kelly Light
In Kelly Light's energetic first picture book, she introduces a young artist who's driven to draw.
Louise notices everything and wants to capture it on paper. Sprawled on the floor, she uses her trusty pencil to create her masterpieces, while her younger brother, Art, takes up a red crayon as well. Sometimes he gets carried away (initially, only the cat notices his changes to Louise's "pièce de résistance"). This frustrates his big sister at first, but, eventually, Louise encourages her brother’s artistic endeavors alongside her own. The color palette (mostly black, white and red) and clever use of white space direct readers' focus to the important details and move the story along quickly. Readers will enjoy the playful visual references to a cat posing like Rodin's The Thinker, which appears in a two-page spread as Louise explains to readers the importance of noticing every detail. (Adults may note that Louise is named after the sculptor Louise Nevelson.) Light manages to create a character that seems a product of an older time (check out the kitchen images) but also freshly contemporary with her layered shirts, leggings and mod red glasses.
This tribute to the artist in all of us will motivate readers to go forth and draw. It will be well loved by teachers (especially art teachers), parents and kids who love the The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds. It is about doing what you love and letting your imagination show, as Louise says, "on the outside." --Susannah Richards, associate professor, Eastern Connecticut State University
Discover: A portrait-of-the-artist-in-all-of-us tale that will spark the imagination, from a debut talent to watch.
Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life
by William Deresiewicz
Former Yale professor William Deresiewicz's Excellent Sheep is a cutting and timely critique of post-secondary education in the United States. His argument: universities are broken. The breadth of attendees' socioeconomic backgrounds is narrowing, leading to an elite class of cookie-cutter graduates, scrambling to please others instead of developing the ability to think independently. Deresiewicz (A Jane Austen Education) believes universities produce people who have academic degrees but lack a sense of self and a foundation for learning later in life. This book provides a thorough overview of how the modern use of scores and grades to find qualified students is related to (and as harmful as) historical exclusionary admissions practices. Furthermore, Deresiewicz maintains that the current focus on high test scores and correct answers not only damages an individual's ability to live a meaningful life but also perpetuates a class-based meritocracy that is detrimental to society as a whole.
Coupling research with illuminating anecdotes, Deresiewicz shows how students are taught to move through school projecting façades of confidence and control, an illusion that can result in mental-health concerns. Graduates often pursue jobs that require neither creativity nor innovation but feel safe. The future Deresiewicz paints is bleak, and the solutions he offers--ranging from mitigating current socioeconomic disparities to funding education fully--are not easily accomplished. This book is both a plea to educators and administrators as well as a collection of the advice he wishes he'd received as a student. Change is needed, revolution may be necessary, but in Deresiewicz's mind, the onus is on students themselves to start demanding a system that adequately develops their minds. --Justus Joseph, bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company
Discover: A scathing critique of American higher education that asks what type of people we want post-secondary institutions to produce.