Rachel is co-owner of the store with her husband, Jason.
What we have here is a little-old-lady-who-swallowed-a-fly situation, but with getting things stuck in trees. It starts with a kite. So he thows a shoe to dislodge a kite. Now the shoe is stuck. So he throws his cat. Now the cat is stuck, so he throws a...well, let's not add any unnecessary spoilers, shall we? Let's just say, it gets awesomely ridiculous, and then even more so.
"This fairy tale begins in 1968 during a garbage strike." With those words, Victor Lavalle launches into quite the fairy tale indeed--but a singularly modern one--complete with trolls of both the cave-dwelling and internet-lurking variety. Its morals, too, echo with the peculiar issues of the moment: men's rights activism, the alt-right, modern fatherhood, social media, and the technology of surveillance. As usual, Victor LaValle is able to seamlessly layer his story-telling genius with social issues to take you on an equally entertaining and thought-provoking journey.
So, I'm Totally Biased (see what I did there?) but this book is great. I'm biased because Kamau was the best man at my wedding. Seriously. The Jason that is my husband and co-owner of this bookstore is also the best friend mentioned in this book: on pages 65-69, pages 100-106, so many places.
I know, I know--enough bragging that I know the famous guy. But what I'm really bragging about is that I know this smart, funny, SWEET guy who has been a rock in my husband's life and vice versa. Two straight guys that aren't afraid to give each other big bear hugs and say "I love you" to each other. Their love for each other makes me love both of them more.
But this is a book review. And as I said--I'm biased. But really, I already know all these stories, right? So this should be the most boring book in the world to me. But it's not. I couldn't freaking put it down. I read it in a 24-hour period. It's funny. It's brutally self-aware in a no-bullshit kind of way. And it makes you want to be more self aware. It makes you want to excavate the bullshit. They're great stories, mostly stories I already know, but they're so well-told it was like hearing them for the first time. A great joke teller is a great story-teller: he has to sell you on the premise, keep you interested in the build-up, and drive you home for the punchline. Kamau is a great joke teller, and a great storyteller. And this is a great book, no bullshit.
This visceral, chilling novel is a sort of literary horror story centered around Seth and Carter, two young white audiophiles whose obsession with blues music and "authentic" black culture turns into a cautionary tale of racial appropriation and privilege. When they try to pass off a haunting recording they made of a street musician as a newly discovered 1920s masterpiece by an artist they invent, an eccentric old man hears the recording and insists that the artist was real and that he had heard the record many years before. They have little chance to dismiss his claims as delusional before their own lives begin to spiral out of control. What ensues is a terrifying journey into the deep south, the spectre of racism past and present, and the American heart of darkness. A page-turning, enthralling book, particularly for fans of Victor LaValle and Mat Johnson.
Usually when people say "literary suspense," that's "literary" with a lower case "l," shorthand for a novel that won't make you lose all your brain cells while you read about salacious subjects. That's not the case here. Dan Chaon is the master of Literary Suspense: capital L, capital S, neither element sacrificing the quality of the other. His novel Await Your Reply easily makes my top 5 list of favorite novels of all time. Ill Will isn't quite so perfect, but it's still brilliant by most metrics. Here Chaon weaves another darkly insightful tale of past and present crimes, of splintered families, and splintering selves. A novel that is worth clearing your schedule for.
I imagine most book people like me have that one book that they think of more as an old friend than a book: that wiser, creative, outgoing friend who taught you how to live life and become you. This is that book for me. Zami is a moving and intensely powerful coming of age memoir that I promise, no matter how old you are, still has plenty to teach you. Audre Lorde would come to describe herself as "black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet." The strength and beauty of this book will certainly emphasize the "warrior" and "poet" in equal measure.
If you are a woman, if you are a person of color, if you are LGBTQ, you are not complete until you have read Audre Lorde. And if you are none of the above, but you love anyone in one of those categories, or want to understand them, you need to read Audre Lorde. Start here, and when your brain is finished expanding by 1000%, take a deep breath, and then read her amazing memoir--or "biomythography" as she calls it--Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. She is my hero. She will be your hero too.
It may seem like cheating, calling the collected poems of Adrienne Rich--who passed away in 2012--the best book of 2016. But I would argue that you would be cheating yourself to overlook it, that in fact we need Adrienne Rich more urgently now than ever. One of the first poets to truly embody the concept that the personal is political, Rich's poetry--and essays--have always been a solace and a guidepost to me ever since I first began to develop a political consciousness. Since the election, I have found myself to be ravenous for her work like never before. Her words will console you, they will rally you, they will feed you, and they will haunt you.
I've walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don't be fooled, this isn't a Russian poem,
this is not somewhere else but here, our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.
-from "What Kind of Times Are These" (p.755)
A book about deadly poison and decorative arts? This avid mystery reader and design buff must be in heaven. The packaging of this high-concept book is pretty high-concept itself. Interspersed between full-bleed pages of wallpaper reproductions are bound-in pamphlet-sized essays on everything from historical scientific debate on the effects of arsenic to murder and madness. The wallpapers reprinted herein are high-quality reproductions of actual historical wallpaper samples that have tested positive for arsenic, including patterns by Christopher Dresser and William Morris. This book is a truly delightful oddity.
Shrill is a must read for all women, and maybe an even more urgent read for men. Lindy West's writing is the very picture of why Social Justice Warrior should be the highest compliment you can give rather than a lazy hashtagged insult. Through intensely personal anecdotes, Lindy smashes taboos as surely as beer bottles in a bar brawl. Her career started under Dan Savage's wing at The Stranger, and like Savage, her writing is funny, fierce, and utterly fearless.
If Malcolm X were to write a horror story, it might turn out something like The Ballad of Black Tom. Not the diplomatic, post-Mecca Malcolm X, but rather the "chickens coming home to roost" Malcolm X. Or, more to the point, Cthulhu coming home to roost, because in fact, Victor LaValle wrote this novella in direct response to H.P. Lovecraft: specifically the short story, "The Horror at Red Hook." LaValle was a fan of Lovecraft's work in his teens, but gradually became conscious of the overt racism and xenophobia in his work. This novella is a masterful and gratifying response to an insidious flaw in the work of horror's crowned master.
VOTED THE BEST BOOK OF 2015 BY THE STAFF OF THE BOOK TABLE! You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine is the most fun you'll ever have reading about the alienation of contemporary culture. Set in a much weirder version of our world of aggressive marketing, chemically created food, talk show freak shows, and reality TV, you'll go back and forth between thinking, "this is so weird!" and thinking, "but is it really any weirder than the way we live now?" Simultaneously creepy, hilarious, and mindblowingly brilliant, this book is the weirdest, wildest, best thing you'll read this year.
Picking up this taut novella is not unlike asking to borrow a magician's handkerchief. My expectations--which were high, frankly, given that several of my favorite authors blurbed it--were exceeded many times over. At its core, The Beautiful Bureaucrat may simply be the story of a young couple trying to build a life together against the odds, but this sometimes sobering, often charming romance has been fed through the prismatic lens of a Kafka story. It is at once a gripping mystery and an existential meditation on a dystopian future. It is funny, it is elegiac, and it is unforgettable. Though this slim volume could easily be read in one sitting, it will continue to haunt you for a long time to come.
Mat Johnson books should come with a warning label, something to the effect of: "Wickedly sharp and caustically funny. Reading this book may lead to shattering your worldview." At some point in most writers' careers, for better or worse, something known as the semi-autobiographical novel rears its head. But no one other than Mat Johnson could write one quite like this: the story of a passing-for-white, overcompensating-as-black, mixed-race man mourning the death of his white dad while learning he has a teenage daughter who has never known she might be anything other than white and Jewish. More to the point, no one other than Mat Johnson would turn a semi-autobiographical novel into a ghost story centered around a utopian mixed-race cult, ending in arson and riots. All of this, filtered through Johnson's acerbic wit and tack-sharp prose makes for a novel that tells the truth about the construct of race in ways few others dare.
Boy, Snow, Bird is a far more straightforward novel than the dazzling Mr. Fox, but that makes it no less daring. Taking the framework of the classic Snow White story--and then dismantling it piece by piece--Oyeyemi tells the story of a black family who passes for white in the middle of the 20th century, until Boy--a white woman--marries into the family and gives birth to a dark-skinned child named Bird. What follows is a constantly surprising story that examines the various ways in which we internalize race and gender in our culture.
What makes Bellweather Rhapsody a spectacularly charming summer read? First, there are the sly nods to popular fiction, from The Shining, to The Westing Game, to a cast of characters straight out of a modern day Agatha Christie novel (all of whom have something to hide, of course.) But Racculia has written a novel with far more depth than the average mystery novel or horror story. The pleasure in this book is not just in how the pieces of the mystery come together, but in watching how this cast of colorful strangers come together in ways that are constantly surprising--to themselves as much as to the reader.
We all know that the central question to every mystery novel is, quite simply, "whodunit?" But Alex is anything but simple. In fact, this is possibly the least interesting question here. First there are the crimes: gruesome, unthinkable crimes--but each time you think that you understand the central investigation, the novel tilts the mirror ever so slightly until you realize the core is really something else entirely. These layers of funhouse mirrors subtly shift the narrative from one direction to the next, until you finally realize that the more interesting question is not "whodunit" but who is the victim? No, not even that--what makes a victim? This is a gripping, disturbing, and surprising book that constantly reinvents itself.
Before John Green, before Rainbow Rowell, there was a writer named Paul Zindel, and thank heavens for that. As a result, I survived my teenage years despite having grown up in the dark ages.
Allie Brosh's Hyperbole and a Half is full of humor and heart. Where else can you find yourself laughing yourself to tears over the trials and tribulations of traveling cross-country with dogs one moment, and the next moment nodding along at one of the most profound and accurate portrayals of clinical depression you've ever read?
Have you ever read a book where your connection to it is so deeply personal, so emotional, that to recommend it to anyone feels like oversharing? Luckily, I have little compunction when it comes to TMI. When I say a book made me cry, what I mean is: tears silently fell down my cheeks for a moment or two. When I say Eleanor & Park made me cry, I mean that I had one of the most prolonged, sobbing, full-bodied, carthartic cries of the last decade. Eleanor is a perfect composite of me and my friends at that age. She's also a perfect portrayal of what it is to be young and poor, young and different, young and afraid—afraid to feel, to love, to deserve something good.
Also, Eleanor & Park is the sweetest, most adorable love story ever, set to the soundtrack of my youth—The Smiths, The Cure, Joy Divison, and all of the rest of the wonderful-awful 80s.
Even though the answer to "whodunit" comes in the first 20 pages of The Devotion of Suspect X, what keeps you reading is what happens next. When an argument with her abusive ex-husband goes horribly wrong, Yasuko's neighbor-come-stalker embraces the chance to insert himself into her life, taking it upon himself to cover up the crime. The new questions become: How does he do it? Why? Will they be caught? Will his devotion remain steadfast, even as it becomes clear that his love is not reciprocated? The game of cat and mouse that ensues between a mathematician, a physics professor, a single mother, and a police detective is constantly witty and surprising, with a twist ending that will all but blindside you. The Devotion of Suspect X is a thoroughly modern twist on the classic puzzle mystery.
1. This is not the book that you think it is.
2. It is exactly the book you think it is.
3. You--yes you--should read it for exactly those reasons.
It's a teen novel written at a level adults will understand; it's a coming of age story about dying young; it's a laugh-out-loud funny book about cancer; it's a self-aware romance novel; it's a tragedy without voyeurism; it's quite possibly the most life-affirming book about dying ever written.
That's why you should read this book—why you should listen to this book (even if you already read it) is because of Kate Rudd's amazing performance. Her sentences turn on a dime from sarcasm to sadness with a heartbreaking ease. It is a stunning high-wire act of a performance of a stunning high-wire act of a book.
It's no secret among those who know me that if "groupie" were a viable career choice, I would drop this whole bookselling gig in a heartbeat to follow Will Oldham around for the rest of my life. Instead, this book may be the closest I'll ever get to the elusive and brilliant singer-songwriter who mostly performs under the moniker, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy. Find out why this oddball indie folk-rocker considers both Bugs Bunny and R. Kelly to be major influences to his work. Come on, you know you want to.
Part slave narrative, part Gulliver's Travels, this strange book is an important new addition to the literary contextualization of race in America, not to mention a funny page-turning adventure. The novel is largely structured in the slave narrative tradition, but add to that the fact that it is also partly a fictional academic study by a scholar (footnotes and all), and what you have is a an ingeniously self-aware book that performs a high-wire act between the bounds of fiction and literary criticism. A cerebral, fantastical, and thoroughly clever book that had me nodding my head, laughing, and gasping along the way.
This is a great wear-your-pjs-and-read-all-day book. Marilyn Stasio of the New York Times Book Review sums it up best: "Here's something you don't often see in Nordic noir fiction--a novel written by two women about the criminal mistreatment of women and children, compassionately told from a feminist perspective and featuring female characters you can believe in."
Helen Oyeyemi is the jazz soloist of storytelling. Each chapter is a surprising, original new riff on the same motifs: men and women, love and violence, creativity and creation, all told through the somewhat distorted lens of the fairy tale. At turns funny, disturbing, and heartbreaking, Mr. Fox is so good that as I read it, I simultaneously wanted to race to the end, pause to savor every word, and flip back to reread from the beginning.
Turn of Mind is that rare literary gem that also happens to be a gripping, compulsive, page-turning read. Like Room by Emma Donoghue, it is a remarkable feat of point-of-view, in this case chronicling the inner workings of a once-brilliant orthopedic surgeon whose mind is slowly--and then rapidly--faltering in the grip of Alzheimer's. Central is the question of whether or not she might have murdered her best friend and neighbor, but the murder-mystery premise is housed in a thoroughly original framework, and just as compelling--and heartbreaking--are the gymnastic leaps and turns of the narrator's thought processes as she degenerates further into illness.
Though each chapter of this brilliant novel is written from a different point of view, it's impossible not to become instantly absorbed in each character's story. Indeed, this is a story about storytelling, and Reiken is clearly a master of it. Near the end of the novel, one of our narrators writes, "Perhaps the meaning of the story is that you must look deep rather than far if you want to unlock any of the secrets of the universe, that once unlocked a secret loses its power unless a part of it is withheld." So goes the storytelling in Day for Night, the secrets slowly being unveiled as each narrator contributes his or her small, inward-looking piece of it, some willfully withholding parts, others incapable of looking deep enough to see all of the parts. Eventually, most of the parts of this story about trauma, family, and rebirth do fall into place, though not without ambiguities. But according to another narrator, "You must learn to trust these ambiguities. This is perhaps the most important thing I know."
I don't often read books just because of buzz, and when I do, I generally give myself permission to stop at any time if I'm not feeling it. This book didn't sound like "my kind of book" and through about two-thirds of it, while I agreed it was a great book, I still wasn't fully converted. Then, in the final third of the book, it was like I joined a cult. And 24 hours after finishing the book, I have no desire to leave that cult. Honestly, I think I could read this book 10 times and still find something new that I missed before, and I have in fact, spent the last 24 hours going over it in my head, finding parallels in the text that I had missed. This book has one of the most powerful, complex, and bittersweet endings I have ever read. I still don't really know how to describe what it is that Téa Obreht does in this book, just that at the end, I was bursting with energy and amazement at her breathtaking creation.
The sweetest, strangest, and saddest love story ever written. Quirky, funny, and filled with brilliant observations--the sort that make you elbow your nearest neighbor every five minutes to read out loud to them. It's one of the only books I've ever read that gave me the urge to turn back to the beginning and read it again as soon as I finished it. This is quite possibly my favorite book of all time.
This book had me laughing unreasonably just minutes before making me sob, just minutes before suffocating me with the weight of grief, before slowly lifting me back on my feet again, and finally even laughing again. And that was just in the last 50 pages. Aside from the mood swings at the end, this book contains the most delightfully astute, clever, gorgeous writing I think I have ever seen. You can feel a playfulness in the language, through Moore's character's quips and linguistic foibles and gorgeously detailed descriptions. This book feels so real, its characters so accurate, you're sure you've not only met them before, but have known them all along.
Ishiguro is a rare magician of a writer, whose prose is so deceptively simple and yet haunting. This book broke me and made me sob at the end. In a good way.
Forget that this is a graphic novel if that's not your thing. This is some of the best writing period that you'll ever read.
Dan Chaon is pure evil genius. Await Your Reply is an intense, gorgeously written novel about becoming unmoored from one's identity in the modern age--but as if that weren't enough--it has possibly the most mind-bending and twisty plotline I have ever encountered. I dare you not to be consumed, and ultimately bowled over by this book.
In just over 300 pages, Joshua Ferris manages to write a story both epic in scope and microscopic in detail. A marvelously executed, heartbreaking love story.
To preface this review, I'll just say that I'm not good with the supernatural. I never read fantasy, sci-fi or horror novels, and I'm also an atheist. However, the fact that I still wanted to pick up this book after reading the description, and the fact that I can't stop thinking about it now that I've read it says a lot in my book. LaValle is doing a lot of different things here, from urban realism to allegory, from philosophical novel to mystical fantasy, and I would say that LaValle is about 95% successful. And those parts he's successful at?--he's 200% successful. I've mostly broken my college habit of marking up my books, but it was very hard to resist the urge with this one. There's so much to chew on here, and if I were a college English professor, I would go out of my way to build a course around this book. I particularly love the way the book looks at faith and doubt, not as opposites, but as a system of checks and balances to keep religious fanaticism at bay.
You know that feeling when, in the middle of the day, you remember something that recently happened, only to realize that it was just a dream you had the night before? That's how reading this book feels. It's rife with moments when you are overcome with deja vu, like going in and out of a dream state. I was blown away by the subtle, clever craftsmanship of this novel and its raw emotional impact. By a mile the best book I've read so far this year.
The narrator of these two novellas is by turns funny, vulnerable, frustrating, charming, haughty, brilliant, and pathetic. In other words, he may be the most lovable, authentic character ever to appear in American literature. This book continues to jangle around in your head for weeks after reading it, much the way a particularly catchy metered stanza might.
Berryman occupies a special place in my brain. He is quite simply one of the most startlingly original poets of the 20th century, and the fact that he isn't taught right up front in literature classes alongside T. S. Eliot and Sylvia Plath makes me terribly sad.
Rarely is a book so entertaining and hilarious, and yet dense and sprawling enough that you could write your dissertation on it. This book is simply brilliant.
I hate to say it, but Inspector Van Veeteren kind of leaves my beloved Kurt Wallander in the dust. This book is plotted to within an inch of its life, dense with clues to puzzle over. And Nesser doesn't sacrifice character development or good writing to move the plot forward. The characters are vividly painted without adding too many overwrought side plots the way so many mystery writers do. Nesser puts the mystery front and center, but manages with very little padding to develop a cast of funny, likeable, and wholly believable characters. Hakan Nesser has, with this book, put himself front and center in my lineup of favorite mystery writers.
Ostensibly, this is a police procedural, but it's unlike any other procedural or mystery novel that you will ever read. For one thing, the writing. The writing is incredible. This book has all of the depth and breadth that you would demand of a literary novel--indeed, Walter has gone on to write many critically acclaimed works of literary fiction since. This just so happens to also be a mystery novel. He avoids all of the trappings of the genre while still writing a fully absorbing and suspenseful story. I am completely stunned. This is the second of a series, but it doesn't feel like a series book. I read them out of order, and the first one, Over Tumbled Graves, is a more traditionally structured mystery, but also excellent.
Peter Lovesey is my favorite living British mystery writer. The series featuring Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond of the Bath Police Department has the wit and style of the great Golden Age writers, and they are also perfectly crafted puzzle mysteries. Though they are set in contemporary Bath, England, Lovesey uses to great effect elements from the city's deep historical roots. One book (The Last Detective, which is the first in the series) involves missing Jane Austen letters; another (The Vault) centers around skeletal remains found in what was once Mary Shelley's cellar. My personal favorite, and a particular treat for avid mystery readers, is The Bloodhounds, which centers around an oddball group of crime fiction aficionados who, while caught in the middle of a real locked room mystery, are busy arguing over who wrote the best locked room mystery.
Though I do like a good traditional English mystery in the vein of Agatha Christie, I don't really consider myself a reader of the "cozy" subset of the genre. This series, however, really stands out from the rest. They take place in a tiny village in Quebec, and the eccentric characters and local color are exceptionally well-drawn. The mysteries themselves are perfectly plotted with plenty of texture and nuance. Louise Penny has swept up numerous awards for this series, and it becomes clear pretty quickly why. My only complaint would be that she gets a bit too sentimental for me at times, but the writing is good enough that I give her a pass.
(Note: I am normally not a stickler for this, but here I must insist that you read these books in order. There are continuing story lines that are just as suspenseful as the primary mystery, and you do not want to ruin them for yourself.)
This magnificent Norwegian series is full of dark atmospherics, vivid characters, and complex mysteries that develop at just the right pace. I tend to gobble Fossum's books up in a day or two. They leave you guessing right up to the last page . . . sometimes even beyond.
If you're a fan of Alfred Hitchcock or Patricia Highsmith, you must read this book. The dark, twisty storyline and cynical depiction of a marriage gone very, very wrong, is guaranteed to send a chill or two down your spine.
This is, by far, the most beautifully written suspense novel I have ever read. Generation Loss is less genre fiction that it is a novel about artistic vision, creative block, and redemption. The references to the 70s punk scene are pitch-perfect; the descriptions of photography--both real-world and fictionalized--are vivid and haunting. A chilling, page-turning book.
If you like mysteries with nice and tidy solutions, skip these. But if you like great writing, and books populated with characters and mysteries as messy as real life, these are the books for you. This is stay-up-all-night reading, and the people and places of these books will stick with you.
The most difficult, rewarding, and funny book I have ever read. A surreal history of the birth of modern India.
This is a dazzling little puzzle of a book. Wonderfully written, clever, and intellectually stimulating. Emotionally, this book keeps you somewhat at arm's length, but the concept is intriguing, the characters beguiling, and the philosophical puzzle kept me completely enthralled.
This deeply absorbing novel alternates between several fascinating premises: a woman on a corporate-funded expedition to Antarctica finds herself stranded; a holding-city for the dead where they reside as long as they are remembered by someone on earth; and a global pandemic that threatens to wipe out the earth's population. Brockmeier artfully pieces these stories together through alternating points of view. This is a book of big ideas, but Brockmeier doesn't let that get in the way of telling a good story, and telling it well. If this all sounds to sci-fi to you, I urge you to reconsider, as I am not at all a science fiction reader. This is a bit of a literary genre-bender, and it is exceptionally well done.
The Commissaire Adamsberg series by Fred Vargas is delightfully odd. The characters are magnificent and quirky by their own rights, but the plots are where things truly get weird. Vargas is an academic and an archaeologist by trade, and despite the contemporary Paris setting, she manages to apply medieval elements to most of her books -- town criers, the Black Plague, headless horsemen -- to offbeat and almost surreal results. One of the few mystery series that I will drop everything to read each time a new one is translated from the French.
This is the moving memoir of a man and the dogs he has rescued, how he has looked after them, and how they in turn looked out for him. Starting with his first dog who got him through 9/11 in Lower Manhattan, to the various strays that one at a time wandered into his life, all the way through to how he and his three dogs survived Katrina in New Orleans in 2005. Some of the dogs were his to keep, some he just helped along the way to new homes, but all of the dogs' stories will make you laugh, cry, or both.
Frank O'Hara's poems have a sort of an urgent easiness to them. Is that a contradiction? Perfect. O'Hara's poetry is full of contradictions: it's a constant collision of comedy and tragedy in every absurd and earnest (earnestly absurd? absurdly earnest?) stanza.
Never have office supplies been so melancholy, so lyrical. "I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils..." Roethke is one of those magical poets that makes you see everything as if for the first time, that makes you hear every word as if you never knew what it meant until that moment.
Denis Johnson is like a mad scientist of metaphor. He creates the most incredible, absurd, surreal metaphors that jolt you like an electric shock. He may be more known for his fiction, but his poetry has all of that power in concentrated form.
A good ghost story haunts you, chills you with its dark atmospherics, fills you with the dread and horror of the unknown. In real life, our choices are what haunt us: past mistakes, fear of the unknown consequence. Failed relationships. Failed careers. In The Ghost Notebooks, Ben Golnick seamlessly weaves between the two to create a tale of horror of both the psychological and supernatural variety. The writing is gorgeous and perceptive, and the twists are gutting. It's the most riveting ghost story I have read since David Mitchell's Slade House.