Staff Selections

Jan

Notes From No Man's Land
Eula Biss

 

 These spare, sometimes lyric essays explore the legacy of race in America, artfully revealing in intimate detail how families, schools, and neighborhoods participate in preserving racial privilege. Faced with a disturbing past and an unsettling present, Biss still remains hopeful about the possibilities of American diversity, "not the sun-shininess of it, or the quota-making politics of it, but the real complexity of it."
 

Anthony

Ecodeviance: (Soma)Tics for the Future Wilderness
C. A. Conrad

Ecodeviance will harness you, as it harnesses hatred, for poetry. Or, for itself, which with adequate crystallization means: 'for us all.' The book's somatics (prose exercises designed to force embodiment) & the resultant poems, (spiral-staircases for bodies to trespass), yell/sing into your mouth. Because, human, the somatics believe in you, & in us, the wrong us, the wronged us.

Kathleen

High Dive
Jonathan Lee

 

Jonathan Lee reminds me of what I like so much about contemporary British writing.  This novel is full of dynamic, sympathetic characters in 1984 Northern Ireland and England and the plot is both gripping and thoughtful.  This is a deep book with just enough of that great subtle British humor I love.

Lindsay

Grant Wood: A Life
R. Tripp Evans

 Evans' fresh and forceful biography hacks through half a century of misconception and smokescreen obscuring essential truths about Iowa's most famous artist, Grant Wood. Thoroughly researched, generously illustrated and vastly readable Evans' book helps us decode not only Wood the individual's art and life (particularly the effecs of his closest homosexuality) but also the fascinating rise and fall of the American Regionalist Movement that Wood came to symbolize. Evans exposes the conflicting agendas that the art world, the media and the general public wanted this supposedly all-American home-grown art--and artist--to serve.

Liz

The Small Backs of Children
Lidia Yuknavitch

An extraordinary novel, one of the best I've read all year. The often brutal story centers around a girl orphaned in a war-torn Eastern European country, a writer suffering a deep depression after a stillbirth, and the writers' artist friends, who conspire to connect the two. The book's power resides in its stunning language, interesting formal experimentation, and daring exploration of war, art, motherhood, sex, and violence.

Mary

The Edge of the Sky
Roberto Trotta

This cosmology has a highly unique approach:  using only the 1000 most common English words, Roberto Trotta describes some of the most complex and profound discoveries about the universe which are known today.  This work is poetry and science combined, stirring a sense of wonder about the use of language as well as the cosmos.  Don’t miss the gentle delight of this little book.

Paul

The Sellout
Paul Beatty

“This may be hard to believe, coming from a black man, but I’ve never stolen anything.  Never cheated on my taxes or at cards.  Never snuck into the movies or failed to give back the extra change to a drugstore cashier indifferent to the ways of mercantilism and minimum-wage expectations.  I’ve never burgled a house.  Held up a liquor store.  Never boarded a crowded bus or subway car, sat in a seat reserved for the elderly, pulled out my gigantic penis and masturbated to satisfaction with a perverted, yet somehow crestfallen, look on my face.  But here I am, in the cavernous chambers of the Supreme Court of the United States of America, my car illegally and somewhat ironically parked on Constitution Avenue, my hands that, much like this country, isn’t quite as comfortable as it looks.”

So begins a novel I began last night, a novel at which I’m still chuckling and at which I feel I may be chuckling out the week.  Winner of this year’s New York Book Critic’s Circle award for Fiction.  Political, poetic, imaginative, satirical, and funny on every page. Just available in pb from Picador at $16.00.  You are so dumb if you don’t read this right away.  I might forgive you, but God won’t.

 

Sarah

Uprooted
Naomi Novik

While reading, I kept wanting to compare this book to some of my other favorites. To Howl's Moving Castle, except with a much more awesome Sophie and a deeper, more interesting relationship with Howl. To Sabriel, because of the magic-wielding girl protagonist and the uniqueness and clarity of the magic system. To The Hero and the Crown for its girl power and for its standing as a classic. Because I think this one will become a classic like that, a book that you read and then want to put into the hands of everyone  you know who loves a wonderful, beautifully written fantasy featuring a wild, independent girl protagonist and a fascinatingly cranky "dragon".  YA readers will love this, too, though be aware that there is some content that may make it better for 16+  

Suzanne

The Water Knife
Paolo Bacigalupi

A near-future dystopian novel by the author of The Windup Girl.

Through his compelling characters, Bacigalupi explores the disparate effects income inequality has on technology, society and personal ethics in the face of changes brought about by climate change.  It deals with water rights and water privatization on the Colorado River in an arid American Southwest, making it a particularly timely “summer read”—but one that will leave you thinking about it past summer.

Robert

The Waitress Was New
Dominique Fabre

This is a brief, but beautiful little novel made from the simplest stuff. The narrator is a bartender in late middle age. The suburban bistro he works at is falling apart and over the course of a few days he tries to patch things together. In the process he ruminates over his position and life in general. This is Fabre’s ninth novel but the first in English translation.

Terry

Haints Stay
Colin Winnette

A quirky and interesting take on the Western. It’s short (just a tad over 200 pages) but it packs an outsized wallop. It reminded me of Patrick DeWitt's excellent Sisters Brothers, but with all the fat stripped out. This is pure literary muscle. (And if you haven’t read Sisters Brothers, you now know what to read when you finish Haints Stay).

Tim

Dear Mr. You
Mary-Louise Parker

In this stunning debut, award-winning stage and screen actress Mary-Louise Parker reveals her talent as a writer of incredible skill and sensitivity.  One part memoir, one part poetry and one part storytelling, Dear Mr. You is a series of letters written to the men (both real and imagined, both known and unknown) who have influenced and impacted her life.  Readers will find themselves struck by Ms. Parker's unforgettable imagery and way with words.  A very good read.

Ben

An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace
Tamar Adler

Reviving the message of M.F.K. Fisher's How to Cook a Wolf, Tamar Adler writes about summoning mouth-watering meals from the humblest of ingredients.  Part cookbook, part cooking philosophy, Adler simplifies the cooking process while at the same time elevating something as basic as an egg, stale bread, or even the rinds of cheese.  One of the best food-related books I've ever read.

Deb

We Are Not Ourselves
Matthew Thomas

This is a novel set in Queens about an Irish American family of three generations.  Eileen is the main force of incredible strength.  She marries Ed Leary and he is basically a scientific genius with a personality that only a few people could deal with.  Eileen and Ed have a dysfunctional but a very devoted bond to one another.

Things change.  Ed becomes more eccentric.  To read this, you don’t know what could possibly happen next.  One of the finest books to read about passion and perseverance.

Emily J.

My Brilliant Friend
Elena Ferrante

The hype is real.  Drop everything and start reading this series, and then wonder what you’re going to do until September, when the final book comes out.  My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay form a long coming-of-age tale centered around Elena and Lila, two best friends growing up poor, female, and intelligent in post-war Naples.  This painful and wonderful female friendship forms a thread that carries us through the entire series.  Ferrante’s writing is rare: precise, painfully honest, visceral, propulsive.  She creates a world that is perfectly rendered, down to the smallest detail.  The characters are real enough to hurt us terribly.  And, rare for a multi-novel Bildungsroman, there is a real plot that keeps us turning the page.  This is a perfect series for the long hot slightly suffocating days of summer.

Evan

BEFORE I BURN
Gaute Heivoll

Warm up February with this semiauthobiographical novel about a string of arsons in a small town in Norway in the 1970s.  A unique, absorbing book based n true events, Before I Burn delivers the shadowy intrigues and psychological suspense of a Scandinavian crime novel on the one hand, and highly personal ruminations on family, place, and the author’s life as a writer on the other.  The result is a “whydunit” that’s both an artful investigation into the psyche of an arsonist and a profound, poetic memoir.

 

Ingrid

Left Coast Roast
Hanna Neuschwander

 

Well over half of Left Coast Roast is a coffee enthusiast’s travel-guide to West Coast coffee. Author Hanna Neuschwander includes 55 nerdy roaster dossiers that chart the coast’s current and historic coffee cultures. The book is also a coffee primer. It explains coffee jargon, the seemingly mysterious seed-to-bean processes, and how one can roast and brew coffee at home. For anyone interested in coffee or wanting to be, Left Coast Roast is a bookshelf essential.

 

Nancy

Elect H. Mouse State Judge
Nelly Reifler

Like a twisted x-rated adventure with your kids’ toys…   H. Mouse is running for office but will not call the cops when his daughters are kidnapped on election day.  What’s he got to hide?  Barbie and Ken drag themselves from poolside (oh, what they do there!) leaving Skipper to wonder if her body will ever change.  They suit up in camo and head for the woods to rescue the girls from the strange robot-like fundamentalist family unit hiding out in a van, waiting for the next phase of Ordination fulfillment.   Crazy, a hoot, read in one sitting!

Ottavia

Elsewhere: A memoir
Richard Russo

Richard Russo blew me away with this memoir about his relationship with his mother, a self-proclaimed independent woman from a run-down upstate New York town.  Russo writes with a poignant simplicity, making us care about his relationship with a more than difficult woman. We follow them from Gloversville, NY, to Arizona, to Illinois, to Maine, all the while watching Russo struggle with doubts about how he cares for her.  It is so easy to be inside of the author's head, to see through his eyes, and yet see much more than he does. We want to help him, help her, shake their shoulders. A very thoughtful, funny, heartbreaking book, for anyone who's ever had a relationship with anyone. So, everyone.
 

Robb

Three Novels
Samuel Beckett

 In Beckett's trilogy, he almost writes without characters, scenes or plots, relying instead on each sentence to propel these novels forward into the oblivion of the writer's imagination. Perfect for a serious yet sensitive laugh, as readers might expect from a writer who was stabbed in the heart by a pimp in his younger years.

Sheri

The Eighty-Dollar Champion
Elizabeth Letts

A true-life tale of man and horse literally leaping over inconceivable hurdles to fulfill their dreams. This is the story of immigrant Harry de Leyer and his rescued plow horse Snowman and their quest to win the jumping championship in the prestigious National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden. This is one of the most heart-felt stories of the bond between a man and his horse that I have ever read  and I've read them all. Great reading for anyone in search of that rush you get watching anyone succeed against impossible odds.