Spring approaches and horizons widen and extend. Whether armchair travel, real world journeys, or explorations of the imagination, books provide the best guides. We have been passionately traversing the pages of novels, narrative nonfiction, histories, mysteries, art books and poetry from throughout the world and across the dimensions. We'd like to talk with you about them, share them with you, and exchange travel tales. Here are a few reviewed, along with an events schedule composed of valiant literary adventurers coming to our store over the next couple months.
Road trip anyone?
John & all DIESELfolk
At the simplest level this is the story of a Norwegian performance-art troupe whose speciality is exhibitions in war zones. The simplicity ends there, though, as the narrative flies around the world, from New Jersey to Cambodia and onward to Congo. Nor are the performances themselves simple for their audiences to grasp, utilizing cutting-edge technology and scientific theory. The performers, too, are presented in rich psychological and genealogical detail, each with a heart-rending specificity. The result is extraordinary, not just for the novel's subject matter or the fact that it is a clever literary experiment, but also because it is passionate, sweet and oddly funny. -- Clare D.
West of Sunset by Stewart O'Nan is a stunning biographical novel about F. Scott Fitzgerald. It opens with Scott visiting Zelda in an asylum, and leads into his years writing for studios in Hollywood. I knew nothing of Fitzgerald's life, aside from his brief time in Paris, and was fascinated by the company he kept in 1930s Los Angeles: Dorothy Parker, Bogart and Mayo, Hemingway and Sheilah Graham. Fitzgerald was unsuccessful as a screenwriter in Hollywood -- shuttled from picture to picture, laid off, fired. He struggled not only with the booze but at earning a living; famous, but broke, utterly human and vulnerable. This would make a wonderful book club selection. -- Mia W.
Words like "exquisite," "perfect," and "masterpiece" have already been heaped on Helen MacDonald's debut blend of memoir, nature-writing, and biography. While I'm usually resistant to such descriptions, I find myself regularly using them when talking about H is For Hawk.
By her account, MacDonald lost more than a father when he died suddenly of a heart attack. She lost her tether -- to her world as a whole, as an aspiring academic at Cambridge; but more frighteningly still, to herself. With life in something of a free-fall MacDonald sought solace from a perhaps unlikely source, a bird of prey like none other: the English goshawk. Though no novice to falconry, the sheer violence and size of the goshawk is new to MacDonald . . . and, we find, appropriate to the enormity of her deepening depression.
There is a talismanic quality to this sort of writing that makes it as difficult to forget (or stop talking about!) as it is to put down. Her prose mimicking the manner of Mabel, her hawk -- expansive like a set of wings (soaring unexpectedly into a biography of T. H. White, the famed author of The Once and Future King, but known best to MacDonald for his earlier book, The Goshawk), its talons holding the reader in place, instinctively wary of everything it cannot consume -- MacDonald has crafted something truly special. H is For Hawk will appeal specifically to readers seeking a dose of depth and poetry to their reading; but more generally, too, to we who have lost someone, or who have felt ourselves at a loss for something unspeakably and identifiably ours, and are perhaps looking above and below still. -- Brad J.
A Korean-American journalist goes deeply undercover as a Christian missionary (though not herself a Christian) working as an English teacher at the most exclusive university in North Korea. The resulting memoir injects humanity and intimacy into the most unknowable country on the planet, and provides a rare glimpse at the students who will soon become the political elites of their country. -- Maria J.
As a vehicle for a slowly unfolding, creeping sense of horror, Rombes' choice of a multi-day interview with an unreliable narrator recalling a series of underground films destroyed by an eccentric film critic is nearly unbeatable. This story is a metaphysical layer cake, and all the ingredients are dark, bloody, and unsettling. And though the unease grows viscerally, there is little outright horror. The supernatural elements are implied, hinted at, seen only peripherally before disappearing when confronted head on; but the sense lingers that something was there, something that persists still.
It's hard to explain the pure delight I feel thinking about a man reading his notes from a voiceover that he recorded of a movie he had watched (alone) and had subsequently destroyed, eradicating the terrible 'undiluted truth' it presented -- a thing too horrible to allow to exist. With each level of removal, the distance is increased, and thus, one would think, the potency diminished. It's a testament to Rombes' writing that just the opposite is true. The films lose none of their power through description, and as the book unfolds, one has the sense of being caught in a nightmare.
Though he makes no claims to it, Rombes strikes me as a spiritual successor to Roberto Bolaño, finding the intersection of art and life, and enfolding it in a gradually increasing sense of paranoia and doom. -- Chris P.
Dorothy and Otis: Designing the American Dream tells the story of Dorothy and Otis Shepard, two graphic designers who are little known, yet whose work is widely recognized. Dorothy and Otis lived the American dream their work came to represent in the middle of the twentieth century, the "Ozzie and Harriet" era. Working for Wrigley Chewing Gum, Catalina Island, the Chicago Cubs and others, they embody the best of modernist design. The lavish illustrations show us their work and the text describes the lives of this fascinating couple who created them. -- Alan D.
This book broke my heart and then put it back together again. Twelve year old GiGi lives with her much older sister DiDi. DiDi pushes her to work hard in school and never lets her forget the memory of her beautiful, positive and resourceful mother. But when the sisters move to a nicer town, with money that DiDi won in a baking contest, and GiGi starts a new private school, her life begins to unravel until she's no longer sure who she is or who to trust. This is a story about poverty, social mobility and identity, and is told with a believable voice by a fiercely likable character. For ages 10-12. -- Clare D.