Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I'm sorry. Maybe next time.

How to decide what to read? The big question for any of us. As a reader by profession and persuasion this is a daily battle. I pick things up, skim a few pages, and move onto something else. As a rule I try to only read two novels at one time or my brain scrambles the characters and plots into one bizarre mess. Generally I am reading 2-4 non-fiction titles at a time. Lately, however, everything has gone haywire. In the past few weeks I have finished novels by Peter Geye, Joshua Henkin, Lou Berney, Esi Edugyan(for the second time) and Michel Houellebecq. There are dozens of others I have stared at and thought, "I really should read that soon. Maybe when I'm done with the next one." Karl Taro Greenfeld's "Triburbia" is the novel I currently read 10-15 pages a day of. Piles and stacks of books consume my life--and I'm happy with that fact.

There are several novels from Clarice Lispector that I just got in the mail from my friends at New Directions. I want to read Jesmyn Ward's amazing "Salvage The Bones" again because it throttled me the first time. Re-reading, depressing as it is, seems like three steps back for me. I promise myself no more new books until I finish the current group. But that promise is empty as the 'current' pile never really gets to an end. In the non-fiction world I am currently reading David Halberstam's NBA classic "The Breaks of the Game" despite the current woes of the Minnesota Timberwolves. I am also very, very, close to finishing Douglas Brinkley's "The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast" which is a beast of 768 pages of pure sorrow. I love it and it terrifies me. I've just begun to stick my toes into Benjamin Busch's "Dust To Dust" which was recommended by several customers and I loved many of his father's, Frederick's, books. Maureen Stanton and Cheryl Strayed are two writers I keep taking glances at despite the fact that I've read their most recent work. Every single day a customer says something along the lines of, "I really don't need to buy this because I have a stack at home." I get this sentiment and feel it myself.

But the waves of things we(or I) must/should/could read always keeps moving. All of this goes without mentioning the collections of poems I've been perusing for National Poetry Month. It's, I've been told, a fairly good problem to have. Too many good books and ideas. Too many pretty pictures. Sometimes, I must admit, it drives me a little crazy. What to read next? How to decide? I am, in the end, just like every other reader out there--choosing randomly and hoping the pile goes in the right direction. Which way that is I'm not entirely sure of. I really try not to discuss books that aren't available to the public yet but I do need to post one blurb regarding Peter Geye's "The Lighthouse Road" which comes out 10/16/2012. "THE LIGHTHOUSE ROAD is a small marvel of a book. The story is set in northern Minnesota in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and Geye's expert rendering of a time long past -- the brutality of backwoods logging camps, the heartbreak of an era when immigration meant never going home again, the logistics of whiskey-running -- is matched by the complexity and depth of his characters. A beautifully written, elegantly constructed novel." - Emily St. John Mandel I've got one free copy to the first person who responds to this post.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mutually Exclusive(but both A+)

I'm a big fan of pairing books together--even books that, on the face of it, have very little to do with one another.

My newest duo is Kirby Gann's "Ghosting" and Kevin Barry's "City of Bohane".

Gann is the managing editor of Sarabande Books. Sarabande is a place that discovers new talent and works with them to develop their skills. Very frequently when I look at major award winners it turns out that one of their first books was published with Sarabande. So he knows talent. Apparently, he can also write it. "Ghosting" is a thriller with a literary bent. The characters are compelling and real and a list of other words might come up with to appeal to readers. It's about drugs, sure, but also about choices and the lives we end up with.

Kevin Barry is a new, refreshing, voice in the world of Irish fiction. Graywolf Press, my dear friend, has again hit the jackpot. This review gives it better praise than I can. Set in the future, yet dealing with the currently real, this novel is a crash through it type of work.

Both of these books reminded me of why I enjoy fiction. They create new worlds--old, current, future--that take me away from my life and make me consider it in new ways.

God Bless those folks who continue to toil in the shadows--the editors and writers--who make us feel life in new ways.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

When I Was a Child I Read Books

Marilynne Robinson is considered to be one our finest living novelists. I'm not trying to make this a back-handed compliment, but I think she is a better essayist. Her new book is a look at art and books in an uncertain artistic time. She is all over the map in her interests and she's not the kind of person whose opinions are predictable. She challenges the reader to think and re-think. She dazzles in a very quiet manner.

In the preface alone she uses canard, magnanimity and shibboleth. She's cool like that.

does a good job summing it up.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Kawamata Chiaki and some nice additions

The name Kawamata Chiaki, right now, doesn't mean much to many American readers. The University of Minnesota Press, having just published "Death Sentences," is trying to change that. The book comes with a William Gibson blurb, "A hardboiled, sharply surreal fable about the power of the written word." This is sci-fi meets police detective meets horror in a traditionally unorthadox Japanese manner.

Chiaki was kind enough to personalize some bookplates for the American audience. In the photos above you can see one of these far from pedestrian items with his script down in fine, black, ink. The note he sent to the press included the modern and ancient characters which mean 'dream' and 'nightmare.' They are very cool.

Thanks go to Erik Anderson at the University of MN Press for sharing this backstory with me and getting us bookplates. We have one inserted in all of our copies and have a few extra if anyone would like one.

Score another win for physical objects and handmade art.