Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
There are some writers, whose hyper-serious books and their grim subject matter, transform the sadness and hopelessness of the human condition with remarkable accuracy and frankness (Raymond Carver, J.M. Coetzee, Samuel Beckett, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Thomas Bernhard e.g.) into great literature. Then there are those authors who do ‘funny’ really well and whose stories reflect the power and role of levity and humor to shape a book’s tone and emotional heart, including the works of satirists (David Sedaris, John Irving, Tom Robbins, Tom Wolfe, Nick Hornby, Zadie Smith e.g.). There are those who wed ‘sad’ and ‘funny’ really well (Lorrie Moore, David Foster Wallace, Amy Hempel, e.g.), mixing up the two with a deft and subtle touch. These are the great books that bring the tragic and comedic together, that suture morbidity and human fallibility with hints of irony, poignancy and absurdity. You laugh and cry with equal measure as these imagined characters’ lives unfold.
Lorrie Moore is one writer whose stories bring together the humorous and the sad. Her characters are notorious for their brilliant one-liners that highlight the gallows humor in her novels and short stories, wonderful works that often plumb the complexity and ephemerality of relationships with a stylistic nod to both quirky experimentation and minimalist realism. Her first novel Anagrams is a pitch perfect and innovative book that plays with form and plot in a way that presents a series of possible lives of the primary character Beena as she’s written into different experiences and scenarios with reoccurring characters acting in different ways. The book is ultimately about a very simple fact—that we love others while falling out of love with them.
While I’m at it, read Amy Hempel’s short stories as well. She’s great!
Birds of America
I’ve always wanted to add elements of Japanese gardens into my backyard and while there may still be snow on the ground, those interested in sprucing up their yards with a new look should get a head-start with mapping out ways to add some creative composition to nature’s innate beauty. My goal for this year is to continue to battle my root-loving Maples in an area that is ripe for a Japanese-inspired shade garden but suffers from poor and shallow soil. Locate solutions to problems like root competition by browsing our fine array of gardening books. Apparently, creating a successful shade garden is as easy as laying down a coating of newspapers over the desired area and then covering them with high-quality soil. Spring will be here soon so start your planning now.
There seems to be a real spike in the number of writers who are taking an interest in blending fiction with nonfiction, memoir and essay. The best of these are often clever and inventive hybrid texts that underscore the creative possibilities and evocative power of blending a traditional, linear narrative with a more fragmentary and poetic approach to language and style. Ali Smith’s new book Artful is simply an undefinable book that like the works of W.G. Sebald (The Rings of Saturn), J.M. Coetzee (Elizabeth Costello) and Geoff Dyer (Zona), strives to dismantle the narrow rules of what literature is and can be. The book is framed as a series of academic essays about art and literature channeled through a grieving narrator who is literally haunted by their dead lover, who we discover was the author of the papers (in reality, it was Smith herself who delivered these lectures). Smith’s project is to show us that fictional storytelling can be a vehicle for expressing fresh ideas about literature without that discourse being academically prose-less and obtuse, that it can explore the complex and beautiful marriage between art and life with originality.
Yesterday, the National Book Award winners were announced. Here is a list of the Fiction and Nonfiction books that were nominated including the winners.
The Round House by Louise Erdrich (Winner)
A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers
This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956 by Anne Applebaum
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, And Hope In A Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo (Winner)
The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert A. Caro
The Boy Kings of Texas by Domingo Martinez
House of Stone: A Memoir Of Home, Family, And A Lost Middle East by Anthony Shadid
Last summer, I chose as my beach read, the hilarious Bossy Pants by Tina Fey. This year, I grabbed another funny person’s book of witty ruminations as my choice of levity and escape. Comedian, actress and writer Mindy Kaling is mostly known for her work on the hit series The Office. Her new book of short takes on “American Pastimes” such as dating, dieting, celebrity, life as a comedy writer, and growing up unpopular won’t win a Pulitzer but it will probably make you smile, maybe even provoke an internal chuckle here and there. She amusingly conjures subtle truths about contemporary life as a twenty-something with a mixture of both ego-effacing honesty and a kind of self absorption that often feels like she’s invoking her vacuous Office character Kelly Kapoor. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) is a quick read that fits the criteria of summer, nonfiction reading, i.e. buoyant and unpretentious.
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)
There are several elements that I feel, that while not required, certainly make for better reading when it comes to essays, reviews and personal reflections. They are: 1.) an energetic prose that flows well and that doesn’t become bogged down in obtuse jargon and esoteric detail 2.) an economy and focus (most pieces should not exceed 7 pages in length) when summarizing a particular subject’s value or importance to either the audience or the writer 3.) a calm passion and genuine curiosity for the subject matter and lastly 4.) an engagement with complex ideas or cultural values by mixing together an element of wit with a fierce and independent intelligence.
Geoff Dyer’s nonfiction prose really hits the spot for me and for those who love writers willing to tackle a multitude of subjects with a fresh perspective, check out his Otherwise Known As the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews. Fans of the late cultural critic John Leonard or those who enjoy the inventive observations of Greil Marcus may also enjoy Dyer’s work. Dyer tackles the books of writers like Richard Ford, Don Delillo, Lorrie Moore, and John Cheever along with personal takes on comic strips and life as an only child. He delves into the inner essence of works of art like J.M.W Turner’s painting Figures in a Building, linking its evocative power with that of Tarkovskii's masterpiece, Stalker. Along the way, you’ll learn about the impact of Richard Avedon’s mixing of high art with fashion photography and how Susan Sontag’s fiction pales in comparison to her contributions as a cultural critic. Dyer is never boring even when you may take issue with his opinions. You’ll never end up with just a straight, descriptive review with Dyer. He’s a deft craftsman with a talent for bringing out new readings on old subjects. Highly recommended.
Otherwise Known as the Human Condition
"One of those writers who possess an uncanny and seemingly otherworldly understanding of the human condition . . . Chaon [is] a remarkable chronicler of a very American kind of sadness, much in the tradition of Richard Yates, Raymond Carver, and Denis Johnson. . . . These stories are to be savored.”—San Francisco Chronicle
Dan Chaon’s newest collection of short stories Stay Awake has simply blown me away. Not since Raymond Carver has a writer with such skill and command, brought to such penetrating light, the sadness and despair of the richly drawn characters that dot his stories. His emotionally striking yet undertstated fiction will haunt and stay with you long after you’ve finished reading them. Chaon is not a particularly stylistic writer but rather one of the naturalist tradition. We see in his richly drawn characters a real desire to break free of their life’s constraints, be they social or psychic. However, there are fewer happy endings in Chaon’s world than you’ll find in other writers who steer clear of the kind of storytelling Chaon has mastered. Not to be missed, one of the best books of fiction you’ll read all year.
Changes in the way in which downloadable e-books are bought, distributed, and accessed are coming fast and furious. How will this impact your e-book reading experience at KPL? The most recent change to the way in which you access our e-book collection impacts users who own Kindle devices or Kindle apps. The following alert concerns Penguin Publishers. Starting February 10, Penguin will no longer offer additional copies of e-books and downloadable Audiobooks for library purchase. Additionally, Penguin e-books loaned for reading on Kindle devices will need to be downloaded to a computer then transferred to the device over USB. For library patrons, this means Penguin e-books will no longer be available for over-the-air delivery to Kindle devices or to Kindle apps.
It is even more important now to note who the publisher of your book is when attempting to download and transfer e-books to your computer, e-reader or mobile device. We will continue to bring attention to these kinds of industry changes when they impact library use. Stay tuned.
Moonwalking with Einstein [electronic resource] : the art and science of remembering everything