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. 

Allana

Dark Constellations
Pola Oloixarac, trns. by Roy Kesey

Is literature about cyber-punk hackers set in the Argentine jungle your cup of tea? It sure wasn't mine until I started reading Dark Constellations and was hooked. Pola Oloixarac's mind-bending novel is a critique of tech and surveillance culture that explores the concepts of science, genius, and justice all while following an awkward hacker through his formative years. The prose style is undeniably addictive; lightning fast and written in the style of an automaton, this exhilarating  translation by Roy Kesey is out of this world. This book is strange, sexy, and surprising.

Jeffrey

Quiet Until the Thaw
Alexandra Fuller

This deeply emotional novel is the tale of two Lakota Sioux cousins growing up in the mid-twentieth century. A fable of patient endurance and violent rage. Will appeal to readers of Louise Erdrich and anyone interested in modern native life on the great plains.

Kathleen

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone
Lori Gottlieb

Former tv writer turned LA therapist Lori Gottlieb wrote Maybe You Should Talk to Someone after a bad breakup led her own friends to suggest "Maybe you should talk to someone..."    This book is about dealing with issues of life and death from both sides of the couch. Gottlieb's ability to entertain and elicit emotion kept me curious, amused, and reaching for the tissues.

 

Kelli

Severance
Ling Ma

Horror is usually an exploration of existence and inherited fears, and while Ling Ma’s novel engages this tradition, it achieves so much more. Through her dry wit, this zombie apocalypse is more a laughable condemnation of late capitalism and office bureaucracy than a keep-you-up-at-night scary story. At the end of the world, Ma holds a mirror to our trivial daily concerns to laugh with us, not at us.

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.

Lindsey

The Collected Stories of Diane Williams
Diane Williams

I'd never read Diane Williams before encountering this book, which I now keep by my bedside and flip through like an oracle. Many of these profoundly strange stories, most of which average around a page, have the read-out-loud quality of poems. You often don't know exactly where you are in a Diane Williams story, or who's there, or sometimes even what's going on--but you're always confronted with a perplexing, irreverent, delicious sense of life, life that can't be caught and pinned to a page. For fans of Lydia Davis, John Ashbery, and Renata Adler.

Mary

Climate Justice
Mary Robinson

While we are all stakeholders in the effects of global warming, discussions usually consider the needs of business investors and how policy affects their bottom line, while subsistence needs of the geographically vulnerable and impoverished populations are marginalized, if they are considered at all.  As UN Special Envoy on climate change, and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson is keenly aware that those who are bound to suffer the consequences of climate change most are not its major perpetrators. Robinson describes how marginalized stakeholders are finding ways to communicate their plight and direct policy, changing the focus of the issue to one of social justice.  We need to concentrate our efforts now before we face a rush of emergencies. This discussion gives instruction and hope.

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

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

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

The Miniaturist
Jessie Burton

Jessie Burton's debut novel tells the story of Nella Oortman, 18 years old, newly wed in an arranged marriage to an older wealthy merchant, as she arrives in Amsterdam to take up her wifely duties.  But her husband, Johannes, is distant and often away from home, and his spinster sister, cold and pious, unwilling to cede her position as mistress of the house.  When Johannes presents Nella a dollhouse-sized replica of their home as a wedding gift, she orders furnishings for it from a mysterious artist, who begins to send Nella items that she has not requested and which seem to be harbingers of things to come.  Mysterious and suspenseful, readers may recognize echoes of Du Maurier's Rebecca, although I found the book captivating in its details of life in 17th century Holland:  the wealth, the oppressiveness of religion, and society's expectations of women.   Helpful hint:  The prologue should really be an epilogue; ignore it and read it when you've finished.

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.
 

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.

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.