Articles

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Not My Father's Son (Alan Cumming)

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Not My Father's Son: A Memoir Cover Image
$15.99
ISBN: 9780062225078
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Dey Street Books - May 5th, 2015

I know what you’re thinking, because I thought it, too--oh, great, another celebrity memoir, I remember thinking; I love the guy, I hope this isn’t another rambling, self-indulgent actor book. Alan Cumming has never yet disappointed me with his work, and I’m happy to say that his streak continues unbroken: this memoir is not only a suspenseful and deeply emotional unraveling of a family mystery, but a beautiful, gripping tale of survival in the face of shattering abuse. Cumming uses his appearance on British genealogy program Who Do You Think You Are? to frame his story, as he signs on to explore the mystery of his maternal grandfather Tommy Darling, a WWII courier whose disappearance and subsequent death (in a “gun accident” in Malaysia) left his family with scores of unanswered questions. His probe into the past, however, prompts a call from his estranged father Alex Cumming--a tyrannical abuser who held Alan’s family hostage to his shifting moods, and whose psychological terrorism and explosive violence made Alan’s childhood a nightmare. Alex drops an emotional bombshell of nuclear equivalent into Alan’s world, and it’s Alan’s search for the truth of his father’s words that drives this unflinchingly honest memoir.

These twin mysteries give the story a shape, keeping it from veering off-course into disconnected reminiscing, while giving Cumming plenty of opportunities for illustrative scenes of his childhood or early career, when his father’s abuse was at its worst (or when his repressed memories of the worst were wreaking their subtle, awful effect on him). Every flashback or family story serves a purpose, and all of them take a brave and clear-eyed look at the elder Cumming’s abuse and Alan’s recovery from it. Cumming’s voice is just as you’d expect: funny, straightforward, and delightfully off-color at times, and it’s that sense of humor that keeps a sense of hope and lightness, even when he’s telling you about his very worst memories. Joy abounds in Cumming’s escape from his father’s reign of terror and his finding a way forward from his past. As he untangles the threads of his family mysteries, you’ll feel the same powerful catharsis Cumming does, and like the man himself, you’ll emerge lighter and freer at the end.


The Just City (Jo Walton)

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The Just City (Thessaly #1) Cover Image
$26.99
ISBN: 9780765332660
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Tor Books - January 13th, 2015

I've never read Plato's Republic, but I certainly did send up  invocations to Pallas Athene as a child, studying Greek mythology and wanting to be like all the heroines I read about. I wonder if that would have qualified me for entrance into THE JUST CITY--an experiment, by Pallas Athene, to create the Republic. The city in these pages is populated by scholars taken from all eras of time, robot workers from the future to do the heavy lifting, and ten year-old children from Greek city-states to learn, grow, and become philosopher kings. Oh, and it's on Atlantis. This captivating novel trades viewpoints between students of the city, masters taken out of their own times, and Apollo, who's decided to be born as a mortal to see what all the fuss is about. It all runs smoothly until Sokrates turns up, and--well, I won't spoil it for you. Enjoy it.


Out of Darkness (Ashley Perez)

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Out of Darkness Cover Image
$18.99
ISBN: 9781467742023
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Carolrhoda Books - September 1st, 2015

Ashley Hope Perez is a wizard. OUT OF DARKNESS is one of the most sophisticated uses of multiple narrators I’ve ever seen. This immensely skilled novel is a love story set against the backdrop of the New London school explosion—a 1937 gas explosion that killed nearly 300 students and teachers, and the worst school disaster in American history. It’s a lot of darkness to claw its way out of, and nearly every single page of this book gave me chills—but its bright points are so incredibly bright. A love affair across racial lines in 1930s East Texas seems doomed from the start, but Naomi and Wash’s love and hope makes you want to believe everything will be okay. This book is set less than a generation ago, and Perez’s writing makes you feel how immediate and real the racism, abuse, and pain its characters experience still is. It’s an incredibly important—and timely—book.

Great for: Eager weepers who re-read THE BOOK THIEF and Romeo & Juliet for fun
The moral of the story: Love may not always be enough, but hope matters more.


Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend (Alan Cumyn)

Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend Cover Image
$17.99
ISBN: 9781481439800
Availability: Special Order - Subject to Availability
Published: Atheneum Books - March 22nd, 2016

Okay, I can see that face that you're making, but just go with me here. Shiels is a high school senior, the student body chair with the perfect life. She likes being in control and having everything perfectly together. And then a pterodactyl exchange student literally crash-lands onto campus and throws Shiels' perfect order into chaos. This surreal novel is completely compelling and utterly impossible to explain. It's about adulthood and slut-shaming and sexuality and agency, all in gorgeous language and complex metaphor and a bunch of really really weird pterodactyl dance scenes. Like I said, hard to explain. You gotta be there.


My Father's Ghost is Climbing in the Rain (Patricio Pron)

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My Fathers' Ghost Is Climbing in the Rain Cover Image
By Patricio Pron, Mara Faye Lethem (Translator)
$16.95
ISBN: 9780307745422
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Vintage - March 11th, 2014

Patricio Pron’s first novel translated into English, MY FATHER'S GHOST IS CLIMBING IN THE RAIN, is a remarkable examination of memory and a perfect introduction to an exciting new voice in Latin American literature. The memory in question is both a young man’s and a nation’s. That nation is Argentina and the young man is a struggling writer, on his way home to visit his ailing father after spending the last eight years in Germany. The story appears simple enough, but there are holes in the narrative -- chapters appear out of order or missing altogether -- and this reflects both the narrator’s numbed state of mind and the dark legacy of Argentina’s past, both of which come to light only at the end of the novel. Despite the protagonist’s disorientation, the strength of the writing and the emotions evoked are strong and clear, due in large part to Prom’s excellent prose. If you enjoy Roberto Bolaño and other Spanish-language authors who weave political and personal intrigue into their novels, you’ll love MY FATHER'S GHOST IS CLIMBING IN THE RAIN.

“I thought; my father’s generation had been different, but, once again, there was something in that difference that was also a meeting point, a thread that went through the years and brought us together in spite of everything and was horrifically Argentine: the feeling of parents and children being united in defeat.”


Stoner (John Williams)

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Stoner (New York Review Books Classics) Cover Image
By John Williams, John McGahern (Introduction by)
$14.95
ISBN: 9781590171998
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: New York Review of Books - June 20th, 2006

It's rare to hear the word 'perfect' when a novel is being described. ‘Mesmerizing’, sure. ‘A tour de force’, absolutely. But perfect? This was the word used by Morris Dickstein when he described John William’s 1965 novel STONER in the New York Times Book Review. ‘Perfect’ was also the word that daunted me as I began STONER recently. I’d read many of the glowing reviews--some written half a century after its publication--but I was dubious. Would I see what everyone else saw? Well, I needn’t have worried; by the end of the first page I was hooked and couldn't let go until I’d read the whole book. STONER tells the story of John Stoner, an unremarkable midwestern professor of English during the early 20th century. He discovers literature in college and eventually teaches at that same Missouri institution. World War II comes and goes. Time passes unremarkably. Even Stoner, as a character, isn’t remarkable. His entire life story, which is encapsulated in a mere 278 pages, is almost without plot. Yet it is Stoner's mundanity, drawn with eloquence by Williams, that makes this story feel so true. There is no decorating the lives of Stoner or his peripheral characters, and it is this that draws the reader to them. Stoner has his faults, but he's so fully fleshed out that you finish the book believing that you intimately know this man. STONER concerns itself with the universal subjects that lesser books often shy away from: compassion, love, identity, truthfulness, hard work and faith in one’s own purpose. In straightforward language, it describes the year-to-year course of an insignificant life whose very insignificance illustrates the importance of each one of us.


Asunder (Chloe Aridjis)

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Asunder Cover Image
$14.99
ISBN: 9780544003460
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Mariner Books - September 1st, 2013

Ever wonder what goes through the minds of the guards at your favorite museum? Ever consider what they think of the art that constantly surrounds them? Chloe Aridjis’ brief, strange, beautiful second novel ASUNDER does just that. Marie has been a guard at the National Gallery in London for nine eventful years, when suddenly, strange events and characters begin to appear in Marie’s life, forever altering its course. A meditation on art, society, women’s suffrage and mortality, ASUNDER will have you ruminating over its ideas long after you’ve put the book down.

“Painters create order from disorder, but the moment that order has been created, the slow march towards disorder begins again.”


Martin Eden (Jack London)

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Martin Eden (Penguin American Library) Cover Image
By Jack London, Andrew Sinclair (Introduction by)
$17.99
ISBN: 9780140187724
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Published: Penguin Books - February 1st, 1994

MARTIN EDEN is one of Jack London’s lesser-known novels, but it’s also one of his finest. The title character is based on London himself, who grew up on the rough-and-tumble waterfronts of Oakland and San Francisco toward the end of the 19th century. At the time, San Francisco’s ports were notoriously seedy, populated more by pirates than by the seals and tourists of today. The colorful events of London’s life--joining a seal cruiser to Japan, participating in the Gold Rush to the Klondike, being an oyster pirate--mirror Martin Eden’s, especially his determination to become a writer. Despite his impoverished upbringing, Martin wants a life of the mind, to improve himself through literature. MARTIN EDEN is a surprising novel for those who associate London purely with his adventure stories such as THE CALL OF THE WILD. It’s the story of a man who strives to better himself, a classic underdog story that grapples with issues of individualism, literary fame and the culture of early 20th-century America.


10:04 (Ben Lerner)

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10:04: A Novel Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9781250081339
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Picador USA - October 13th, 2015

The first page of Ben Lerner’s 10:04 begins, “In what would become the opening scene...” It leads you to ask: is this the opening scene? Or is the opening scene coming later, after the explanation of the opening scene? Don’t be alarmed. This is merely Ben Lerner’s second novel 10:04, a fantastic, semi-autobiographical story based in the here-and-now, yet strangely other. 10:04 is knowingly meta-fictional, astute at playing with the different levels of reality, while still remaining a thoughtful and moving story.

10:04’s main thread takes place in New York City, following the narrator as he wrestles with writing his next novel after securing a six-figure advance for his second. He has been diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening heart condition, and his best friend has just asked him to help her conceive a child. This is the skeleton of the plot--but there is so much more: discussions about art, tropical storms heading toward Manhattan, and a passage at a writer’s colony in Marfa, Texas, where the narrator (contemplating Walt Whitman nursing the wounded of the Civil War) consoles a young man who accidentally overdosed on ketamine. Lerner blends all of these disparate strands together seamlessly.

10:04 is a book of large ideas, of the unspeakable fears we all carry, of the notion that this world is fast becoming something too tragic to comprehend. Toward the end of the novel, the narrator writes: “I didn’t say that our society could not, in its present form, go on, or that I believed the storms were in part man-made, or that poison was coming at us from a million points, although all of that was to my mind plainly true. And that my mood was regulated by drugs. And that sometimes the language was a jumble of marks.”

In Ben Lerner’s hands this jumble of words makes for a compelling and startling novel. I’m already anticipating his third.


You Feel So Mortal (Peggy Shiner)

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You Feel So Mortal: Essays on the Body Cover Image
$22.00
ISBN: 9780226105277
Availability: Special Order - Subject to Availability
Published: University of Chicago Press - March 19th, 2014

Peggy Shinner’s book of essays, YOU FEEL SO MORTAL, is a brilliant and engaging examination of the relationships we have with our bodies. Filled with sharp wit and good-natured wisdom, these essays consider such myriad subjects as feet, hair, bras, posture, plastic surgery and even shoplifting. Mixing the personal with the historical, Shinner investigates autopsies, athleticism, even her ‘Jewish feet’. 

What makes this collection so powerful is that all of us can relate; we all have bodies which are intricately tied to our identities. Haven’t we all at some time studied our own noses and feet--and eventual crow’s feet? Haven’t we sometimes desired different noses or eyes, straighter or thicker hair? When debating the notion of good posture as a reflection to our own morals, she writes, “We have a whole vocabulary built around posture; that to slouch belies, indeed violates, a moral imperative in our culture. Slumping isn’t just ugly or bad for your health; it diminishes your entire being.” She wonders if Obama’s infamous bow to Emperor Akihito of Japan in 2009--at nearly ninety degrees--was going too far.

Shinner’s essays stay with you long after reading them. By investigating the mechanics of her own anatomy, by peeling away the strata of her own physical form, she shows us ours.


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