Beautiful Books is the theme of this month's video reviews by our passionate booksellers. To varying degrees, we are all conscious of the delight, interest, allure, and transformative impact of aesthetics on our reading experiences. Whether the sensual qualities of texture, heft, and flex; the visual dynamics of color, line, composition, and typography; or the pacing and spacing rhythms in the overall layout, reading a book is a kinaesthetic, visual, auditory, olfactory, and tactile experience. Please view the vidos here. We hope you enjoy the videos, our website's expansive offerings, and the reviews below.
John & all Dieselfolk
Sure, Shakespeare invented all those words we use today, but 'utopia' belonged to Thomas More. Since More's Utopia was published five centuries ago, the word has evolved into an umbrella term, and its scope has broadened dramatically. In his latest book, In Utopia, J.C. Hallman shows us that utopia has now come to mean many things. Utopia is a modern intentional community in Virginia originally based on B.F. Skinner's Walden Two. Utopia is New Songdo, a master-planned megacity built from scratch off the coast of South Korea. Utopia is Pleistocene Rewilding, a conservationist plan to reintroduce giant animals in order to boost ailing ecosystems. Utopia is the Slow Food Movement started in Italy Carlo Petrini. Written in Galeano-like vignettes, Hallman dissects the history of utopian thinking through thoughtful research, earnest personal willingness, and the right amount of wit. Part history book, travelogue, and social commentary, In Utopia is an accessible critique of one of the oldest and longest-surviving social concepts. -- Geo Ong
From its lost origins in prehistoric shamanistic practices and experiences to the barely historic remnants preserved in sometimes suspicious accounts in the pre-Christian period, mystery cults of the ancient Mediterranean are a vital part of our Western cultural unconscious. The Mysteries figure prominently in the development of all the arts and sciences: from poetry to painting, chemistry to psychology, sculpture to cosmology. Bowden presents a concise and accessible summary of the historical research to date, giving us an alluring glimpse of the beliefs, practices, and experiences of the initiated. As every true scientist and initiate knows, it's all in the mystery. -- John Evans
Tana French breaks just about all the rules of detective fiction: her intriguing central characters disappear without a word from one book to the next; a discerning mystery reader will spot the villain midway through the reading; and her endings are often ambiguous or only partially unresolved.
In her third novel following In the Woods and The Likeness, Cassie Maddox's boss Frank Mackey takes center stage. The setting is still Dublin, but a far grittier view of it than we've previously seen. Faithful Place is a row of tenements in the shadow of the Guinness factory and Trinity College. There reside harrowingly dysfunctional families, alcohol permeated and casually violent - the world of Angela's Ashes. This is the place Frank Mackey bolted from at 17, believing himself dumped by Rosie Daly on the eve of their running away together, and returning 20 years later to investigate her murder. Thus, he is thrust back into the family he hoped never to see again.
Faithful Place is French's finest novel to date. Her characters are complex and riveting, never glossed over or merely serving the plot. The voices she brings to her characters are brilliant, offering both poetry and inspired profanity. Readers of Roddy Doyle and Sebastian Barry would do well to make her next on their reading lists. -- Margaret Simpson
A catastrophic decision can often become the defining moment in a person's life, but David Trueba introduces his characters at their absolute worst, yet still gives you reasons to empathize with them. His cast of lovable losers includes a high profile Argentine soccer player who, after playing an awful first game for a new club, makes a terribly wrong turn while driving drunk; a father whose failed business venture sends him on a vengeful mission aimed at his former partner; a teenage girl whose daydreaming mind ends up being her worst enemy in a near fatal accident; and an elderly man who spends nearly all of his money on an affair with a Nigerian prostitute. Trueba describes each moment of reconciliation as if he were attacking the reader, making the writing as shocking as the incident itself, yet he manages to illustrate how one poorly executed act does not abstract his characters into evil people. A masterful story of lives colliding, this book is thoroughly entertaining the whole way through, and is one of my favorite books of 2010. -- Jon Stich
If the great voices of American fiction have a geographical heart, it is the South. Think about Flannery O'Connor, Wendell Berry, Eudora Welty, Walker Percy, Harper Lee, William Styron, Carson McCullers - and put Gail Godwin near the top of that list. Unfinished Desires is also one of her best novels. Family bonds, how they are broken or mended, is a central theme in all her novels, but this time she expands the sphere to an all-girls school, nestled in the mountains of North Carolina, circa 1950. What better petri dish is there to examine all that motivates female behavior than an isolated girls' boarding school? Gail Godwin is one of my most cherished fiction writers and I am thrilled her new book ranks among her best. -- Margaret Simpson
In the Venn diagram of everything tasty in the world, Turkey is the spot where all the circles overlap. In these hundreds of recipes, the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences are of course most prominent, but delving deeper, hints of Italy, Spain, Russia, North Africa, India, China and beyond become apparent. Most recipes are supplemented with personal or historical anecdotes (the most interesting of which explain some of the more strangely-named dishes), but the focus remains - rightly - on the food. The photographs are impressively set up and shot (using traditional pots, knives, and kebab spears), and pictures of cities, villages, and natural settings from around the country are generously interspersed. -- John Peck
From the genius author-illustrator team that brought you 365 Penguins comes a chaotic tale of cause-and-effect. A husband and wife and their two kids only have ninety minutes to get to the airport! As they hurry into a taxi, the husband's nearsighted sister slips on a bar of soap in the shower and it goes flying out of the apartment window, causing the family's taxi to crash. A terrible (and terribly funny) ripple effect caroms through the city, causing panic and anarchy, as the family desperately tries to reach the airport. There are so many things happening on every page, it was a good idea to include a recap of the madness at the end of the book, replete with a numeric coding system so you can go back and see what you missed. I won't give away the ending, but it involves a flying saucer and bears wearing leis. Very smart and very fun. -- Grant Outerbridge