Staff Selections

Jan

Corvus: A Life with Birds
Esther Woolfson

Ever since her daughter rescued a fledgling rook, Esther Woolfson has been fascinated with corvids, the bird group that includes crows, rooks, magpies, and ravens. Today, the rook, named Chicken, is a member of the Woolfson family along with other winged creatures. From their elaborate bathing rituals to their springtime broodiness and tendency to cache food in the most unlikely places, these corvids each share a bond with Woolfson that would have been considered rare if not impossible before this collection of essays. 

Letting her experience speak for itself, Woolfson takes into account the science of bird intelligence, evolution, song, and flight. It is through this intimate lens that Woolfson invites us to reconsider the kind of creature capable of being man's best friend. 

Jeffrey

The Ocean of Life
Callum Roberts

If you like nature, swimming, going to the beach or eating fish, this is for you.  It consists of three sections: a fascinating history of human exploration and exploitation of the oceans, a clear-eyed account of the damages and dangers their ecosystems currently face, and a hopeful call to action to protect and heal the intricate, beautiful web of life under the sea.  An important book on ecology, but even more a great piece of natural history writing.

Kathleen

Theft By Finding
David Sedaris

Theft by Finding is a curated collection of Sedaris diary entries written between 1977 and 2002.  I've read all his books, and this material still felt fresh for me. I love Sedaris' curiosity about people as well as his outright cattiness and surprisingly chosen moments of compassion.  The diary format makes this particulary fun to read in short bits and the David Sedaris dark humor is all over it.

Lindsay

Raymond Carver: A Writer's Life
Carol Sklenicka

 Guided by Carol Sklenica's compelling and clear voice, we visit the key places, meet the crucial personalities, and overhear the domestic drama that informed and inflamed Raymond Carver's short fiction and short life. The exhaustive research and countless interviews that Sklenicka conducted for this book are what make is so superb and give it such rare authority.

Liz

My Heart Hemmed In
Marie Ndiaye, trns. by Jordan Stump

Surreal, mesmerizing, and one of the most subtly terrifying books I've ever read. There is a character with a festering wound, but the real horror here is psychological: private things becoming public, a slow, painful shift in self-image. I couldn't stop turning the pages of this brilliant novel, except when I got so nervous I had to put it down for fear of passing out.

Mary

The Purple Swamp Hen & Other Stories
Penelope Lively

For variety and range in the topics, this story collection is a good choice. Lively, known for prize-winning novels, seems to have bundled together odds and ends of ideas from her stores.  The historic volcanic eruption is told from the viewpoint of an ornamental bird in a Pompeii garden.  A biographer interviews old friends of a deceased academic celebrity, producing a life portrait between the lines.  Lively sketches a history of marriage between classes with the lightest touch, which seems to perform the very problem she describes. The book’s variety worked well for itinerant reading: a story can be read during a twenty minute wait, then contemplated during the flight or dental procedure… Lively’s masterful story crafting provides thoughtful company.

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.

 

Robert

My Darling Detective
Howard Norman

In “My Darling Detective” Norman successfully blends several genres into an entertaining, warm-hearted whole. It is at once a family drama, cold case detective story and  WWII historical fiction  deftly bound together with just enough humor. The characters are charming and vivid and the setting (Halifax, 1977) is atmospheric.

Pages

Suzanne

America's War for the Greater Middle East
Andrew J. Bacevich

This is the saddest and most maddening critical history I have read since Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.  If you want to understand why, and how, we are still mired in the Middle East, this is the book to read.

Terry

The Paper Menagerie & Other Stories
Ken Liu

 An outstanding collection of thought provoking speculative fiction. The stories cover a variety of genres including SF, Magical Realism, Detective fiction and Fantasy. What unites them is exquisite prose and original ideas.

Tim

Tales of Accidental Genius
Simon Van Booy

A new book by Simon Van Booy is always a cause to celebrate, and Tales of Accidental Genius is indeed celebratory.  With just a handful of short stories (and one long story to close the book blossoming out of the previous tale), Mr. Van Booy reminds the reader that no matter one's age, race, habitat or habits, we are all human, and are all attempting to connect -- or re-connect, I should say -- with the world around us and our place in it.  These stories are like beacons in the darkness, and Mr. Van Booy's incredible ability to deliver the most profound observances by way of the simplest of sentences is breathtaking.  Like any master of their craft, he makes it appear effortless.  You'll want to read these again and again -- Simon Van Booy's genius is no accident.

Ben

Vacation
Deb Olin Unferth

In Deb Olin Unferth's debut novel, a man with a dented head named Meyers embarks on an impulsive quest, full of misadventures, through Central America in search of an old college acquaintance with a brain tumor named Gray, the man he blames for the disillusionment of his marriage. In the meantime, a young woman seeks out her biological father, a man who steals dolphins and releases them back to the wild. Unferth's writing is first-rate, strange, exciting, haunting and structurally imaginative. This book draws you in with its characters, and surprises you sentence after sentence. Worth checking out.

Deb

The Snow Child
Eowyn Ivey

This novel takes place in the beautiful wilderness of Alaska in the 1920s.  Jack and Mabel have built their home with grit and labor.  They are determined to succeed.  Things become very difficult and they feel almost defeated until a little girl with her red fox appear from the woods. 

A fairy tale come to reality.

 

Evan

City of Bohane
Kevin Barry

A rip-roaring romp through the “retro-future” city of Bohane, set in the West of Ireland in the 2050s. Scheming factions vie for control of the city as a ganglord’s reign comes to an end. Spurred on by machinating underlings and a fraught love triangle, rival gangs go to war in the streets, and the angina-stricken editor of the city’s only newspaper, the Bohane Vindicator, sends his hunchback photographer to snap shots for a photo spread. All of this unfolds in loud, lively language sprung from the voices of Limerick and Cork, where Barry grew up. A 90-year-old crime matron who has dreams about Yul Brynner, an ambitious young ganglady and local fashion icon (“white vinyl zip-ups tighter than sin”) whose star is on the rise, and a sacrifical goat paraded through town on the eve of a dissolute August Fair fill out the crazed Bohane atmosphere. Entertaining, lurid, and, to quote Barry, “perhaps most importantly, a comedy.”

Ingrid

The Dark Is Here
Kiki Petrosino

“The Dark is Here” is a short collection of poems from the young poet, Kiki Petrosino, and is illustrated by Philip Miller. The pieces are sound-disciplined and driven by a layering of simple images that simultaneously make a face smile and heart ache. This beautiful little blue book is a must read.
 

Robb

The Instructions
Adam Levin

Nine years in the making, Adam Levin's first novel is a treat for ambitious readers. Fear not its weight, for the sentences are compulsively readable, making this 1,000+ page book a surprise page-turner that feels good to hold and even better to read.

Sheri

The Orchard
Theresa Weir

This story will stay with me for years to come.  Theresa Weir has written a memoir of her life on an apple farm that reads like a thriller.  It's beautifully written and haunting.  Bravo to this author on being a new clear voice for the organic farming movement and perhaps saving future lives.