APRIL Reading

 

April 1865: The Month That Saved America

by  Jay Winik

 

One month in 1865 witnessed the frenzied fall of Richmond, a daring last-ditch Southern plan for guerrilla warfare, Lee’s harrowing retreat, and then, Appomattox. It saw Lincoln’s assassination just five days later and a near-successful plot to decapitate the Union government, followed by chaos and coup fears in the North, collapsed negotiations and continued bloodshed in the South, and finally, the start of national reconciliation.

In the end, April 1865 emerged as not just the tale of the war’s denouement, but the story of the making of our nation.

Jay Winik offers a brilliant new look at the Civil War’s final days that will forever change the way we see the war’s end and the nation’s new beginning. Uniquely set within the larger sweep of history and filled with rich profiles of outsize figures, fresh iconoclastic scholarship, and a gripping narrative, this is a masterful account of the thirty most pivotal days in the life of the United States.

 

April Morning

by Howard Fast

 

When you read this novel about April 19, 1775, you will see the British redcoats marching in a solid column through your town. Your hands will be sweating and you will shake a little as you grip your musket because never have you shot with the aim of killing a man. But you will shoot, and shoot again and again while your shoulder aches from your musket’s kick and the tight, disciplined red column bleeds and wavers and breaks and you begin to shout at the top of your lungs because you are there, at the birth of freedom—you’re a veteran of the Battle of Lexington, and you’ve helped whip the King’s best soldiers.

 

April’s Rain  

by David Johnson

 

Eight years after losing her closest friend, Tucker struggles to keep her rebellious, self-destructive granddaughter under control. When April accidentally kills her boyfriend while defending herself from his attack, Judge Jack helps Tucker ferry her granddaughter away to Spirit Lake, a remote treatment facility in the mountains of eastern Tennessee. There, April creates a false identity, painting herself as a young socialite, and blocks Tucker’s attempts at communication.

Tucker’s grandson March, missing for eight years, is discovered half-dead, having lost both his sight and his memories. As he recovers, March’s blindness persists but fragments of his life reemerge. When he finds himself at Spirit Lake, he runs headlong into his past.

Will Tucker be able to reunite her family after their paths have splintered?

 

Broken April

by Ismail Kadare

 

 

Two destinies intersect in this novel — that of Gjorg, a young mountaineer who has just killed a man in order to avenge the death of his older brother, and who expects to be killed himself in keeping with the code of the highlands; and that of a young couple who have come to study the age-old customs, including the blood feud.

 

April Blood: Florence and the Plot Against the Medici

by Lauro Martines

 

One of the world’s leading historians of Renaissance Italy brings to life here the vibrant–and violent–society of fifteenth-century Florence. His disturbing narrative opens up an entire culture, revealing the dark side of Renaissance man and politician Lorenzo de’ Medici.
On a Sunday in April 1478, assassins attacked Lorenzo and his brother as they attended Mass in the cathedral of Florence. Lorenzo scrambled to safety as Giuliano bled to death on the cathedral floor. April Blood moves outward in time and space from that murderous event, unfolding a story of tangled passions, ambition, treachery, and revenge. The conspiracy was led by one of the city’s most noble clans, the Pazzi, financiers who feared and resented the Medici’s swaggering new role as political bosses–but the web of intrigue spread through all of Italy. Bankers, mercenaries, the Duke of Urbino, the King of Naples, and Pope Sixtus IV entered secretly into the plot. Florence was plunged into a peninsular war, and Lorenzo was soon fighting for his own and his family’s survival.
The failed assassination doomed the Pazzi. Medici revenge was swift and brutal–plotters were hanged or beheaded, innocents were hacked to pieces, and bodies were put out to dangle from the windows of the government palace. All remaining members of the larger Pazzi clan were forced to change their surname, and every public sign or symbol of the family was expunged or destroyed.
April Blood offers us a fresh portrait of Renaissance Florence, where dazzling artistic achievements went side by side with violence, craft, and bare-knuckle politics. At the center of the canvas is the figure of Lorenzo the Magnificent–poet, statesman, connoisseur, patron of the arts, and ruthless “boss of bosses.” This extraordinarily vivid account of a turning point in the Italian Renaissance is bound to become a lasting work of history.

 

April Witch

by Majgull Axelsson

 

“No excuses will do anymore. Time to put my sisters in motion.”
Desiree lies in a hospital bed thinking, dreaming. One of the children born severely disabled in 1950s Sweden and then routinely institutionalized for life– and one of a very few to survive nearly to the century’s end– she cannot walk or talk, but she has other capabilities. Desire e is an April witch, clairvoyant and omniscient, leaving her own body and traveling into the world denied her.
The working-class woman who gave Desire e up at birth took in three foster daughters several years later, and even as adults they know nothing of the existence of their fourth ” sister.” Christina, abused by her psychotic birth mother and burdened by a sense of inferiority, is now a physician; Margareta, the onetime foundling, an astrophysicist who can never manage to complete her dissertation, is as restless and sensual as she was in her youth; and Birgitta, in her day the fastest, sexiest teen queen in town, is now a derelict alcoholic and substance abuser.
In spite of her physical disabilities, Desire e possesses tremendous intelligence, and she observes the world around her with great acumen. She has developed a very special relationship with her primary care physician, Dr. Hubertsson, who realizes that she could and should know something about her own background. Unbeknownst to him, she goes on to make supernatural use of this information.
Sensing that her own time is drawing to a close, Desire e also feels that one of the others has lived the life that should have been hers. One day, each of the three women– Christina, Margareta, Birgitta– receives a mysterious letter that inspires her to examine her past and her present, setting into motion a complex fugue of memory, regret, and confrontation that builds to a shattering climax.
April Witch created a furor upon its original publication in Sweden, where it was an immense bestseller. Addressing themes of mother-daughter relationships, competition between women, and the failures of Sweden’s postwar welfare state, it is foremost a thrillingly written and fascinating story.

 

Maine’s Most Wanted

What do Mainer’s want in August (aside from a quiet place away from the crowds to enjoy the fleeting beauty that is summer in Maine?) From libraries they want books and DVDs, music CDs and graphic novels. Below is a list of the top holds in a variety of categories, so get your name on the list soon!

Books
1)      Widowmaker (Doiron)
2)      A Great Reckoning (Penny) *
3)      The Black Widow (Silva)
4)      Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Thorne/Rowling)
5)      Truly Madly Guiltly (Moriarty)
6)      A Man Called Ove (Koch)
7)      Before the Fall (Hawley)
8)      Here’s to Us (Hilderbrand)
9)      Barkskins (Proulx)
10)   Bullseye (Patterson)
11)   Crisis of Character (Byrne)
12)   Sweet Tomorrows (Macomber)
13)   Insidious (Coulter) *
14)   Smoother Operator (Woods)
15)   Heroes of the Frontier (Eggers)
16)   White Trash (Isenberg)
17)   Belgravia (Fellowes)
18)   Wired (Garwood) *
19)   Apprentice in Death (Robb) *
20)   Curious Minds (Evanovich) *

 

Audiobook
1)      Before the Fall (Hawley)
2)      Barkskins (Proulx)
3)      Lilac Girls (Kelly)
4)      The Black Widow (Silva)
5)      Truly Madly Guiltily (Moriarty)
6)      Alexander Hamilton (Chernow)
7)      Among the Wicked (Castillo)
8)      A Great Reckoning (Penny)
9)      Sapiens (Harari)
10)   Alexander Hamilton (Chernow)

 

Graphic Novels
1)      Monstress Volume 1
2)      The Vision 1
3)      Deadpool  Collection 1
4)      Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur 1
5)      Black Panther Collection 1
6)      Bombshells vol 2
7)      Marvel Zombies Dead Days
8)      My Little Pony Friends Forever
9)      Preacher 7
10)   LEGO Ninjago, masters of Spinjitzu

DVD
1)      Zootopia
2)      My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2
3)      Hello, My Name is Doris
4)      Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
5)      Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
6)      London Has Fallen
7)      Miracles from Heaven
8)      Allegiant
9)      Gods of Egypt
10)   Triple 9

 

TV Series
1)      House of Cards: Season 4
2)      Vera: Set 6
3)      Rizzoli & Isles: Season 6
4)      Shameless: Season 5
5)      DCI Banks: Season 4
6)      Lost Girls: The Final Chapters
7)      The Magicians: Season 1
8)      Father Brown: Season 3, Part 2
9)      Janet King: Series 1
10)   Haven: The Final Season

 

Music CDs
1)      The Getaway (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
2)      Johannesburg (Mumford & Sons)
3)      I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It (The 1975)
4)      A Moon Shaped Pool (Radiohoead)
5)      Muscle Shoals soundtrack

NoveList’s Best of 2015

The Library’s new display featuring some of NoveList’s best books of 2015. Titles include:

Fantasy:The Mechanical” “The Watchmaker of Filigree Street
Thriller/Suspense: “Little Black Lies” “The Killing Lessons
Science Fiction:Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits“, “The Water Knife
Fiction:Black River” “Undermajordomo Minor
Historical Fiction:Saint Mazie” “Cleopatra’s Shadows
Horror:The Damned” “A Head Full of Ghosts
Mystery:Badlands” “The Nature of the Beast

Bestof15

2015 Summer Reads

Looking for an engrossing, entertaining or fluffy summer read? Check out some of the titles our patrons have recommended below. Some new, some old, some poignant, others pure entertainment, all noteworthy.

 

“The Meaning of Human Existence”  E.O. Wilson

How did humanity originate and why does a species like ours exist on this planet? Do we have a special place, even a destiny in the universe? Where are we going, and perhaps, the most difficult question of all, “Why?”

In The Meaning of Human Existence, his most philosophical work to date, Pulitzer Prize–winning biologist Edward O. Wilson grapples with these and other existential questions, examining what makes human beings supremely different from all other species. Searching for meaning in what Nietzsche once called “the rainbow colors” around the outer edges of knowledge and imagination, Wilson takes his readers on a journey, in the process bridging science and philosophy to create a twenty-first-century treatise on human existence—from our earliest inception to a provocative look at what the future of mankind portends.

Continuing his groundbreaking examination of our “Anthropocene Epoch,” which he began with The Social Conquest of Earth, described by the New York Times as “a sweeping account of the human rise to domination of the biosphere,” here Wilson posits that we, as a species, now know enough about the universe and ourselves that we can begin to approach questions about our place in the cosmos and the meaning of intelligent life in a systematic, indeed, in a testable way.

Once criticized for a purely mechanistic view of human life and an overreliance on genetic predetermination, Wilson presents in The Meaning of Human Existence his most expansive and advanced theories on the sovereignty of human life, recognizing that, even though the human and the spider evolved similarly, the poet’s sonnet is wholly different from the spider’s web. Whether attempting to explicate “The Riddle of the Human Species,” “Free Will,” or “Religion”; warning of “The Collapse of Biodiversity”; or even creating a plausible “Portrait of E.T.,” Wilson does indeed believe that humanity holds a special position in the known universe.

The human epoch that began in biological evolution and passed into pre-, then recorded, history is now more than ever before in our hands. Yet alarmed that we are about to abandon natural selection by redesigning biology and human nature as we wish them, Wilson soberly concludes that advances in science and technology bring us our greatest moral dilemma since God stayed the hand of Abraham. ~Goodreads

 

“The Birth of Rock and Roll”  Jim Linderman

In “The Birth of Rock and Roll,” Americana collector Jim Linderman has arranged a storyboard of sorts that dramatizes the spirit of rock and roll in its early days-when “a juke-joint with fifty patrons was a big show,” as Linderman writes in his introduction. “A church with fifty congregants was a full house. The annual square dance at the town hall, a rent party, a fish-fry, the honky-tonk piano in the whore house, the union meeting There was no real money in it. A performer was lucky to be fed, get drunk and get laid.” The photographs have little to do with the conventional iconography of the birth of rock and roll: conspicuously absent are pictures of young white men in Memphis, poodle skirts, Alan Freed and Bill Haley’s Brylcream. These photographs instead document and celebrate the pure but indefinable essence of rocking. Ordinary, anonymous men, women and children-some white, some black-are holding guitars and strumming while looking relaxed or frantic, but nearly always blissful. Some of the action takes place in rural fields, some in dance halls, some at civic events, some in living rooms and basements. Wherever there was an urge to make acoustic or electric music-whether to help at a rent party, busk in front of a crowd or testify in the name of Jesus-there was an uncredited photographer there to snap an image, and these are the photographs that comprise Linderman’s fascinating narrative. ~Goodreads

Mistress of the Art of Death (Mistress of the Art of Death, #1)“Mistress of the Art of Death Series”  Ariana Franklin

A chilling, mesmerizing novel that combines the best of modern forensic thrillers with the detail and drama of historical fiction. In medieval Cambridge, England, four children have been murdered. The crimes are immediately blamed on the town’s Jewish community, taken as evidence that Jews sacrifice Christian children in blasphemous ceremonies. To save them from the rioting mob, the king places the Cambridge Jews under his protection and hides them in a castle fortress. King Henry II is no friend of the Jews-or anyone, really-but he is invested in their fate. Without the taxes received from Jewish merchants, his treasuries would go bankrupt. Hoping scientific investigation will exonerate the Jews, Henry calls on his cousin the King of Sicily-whose subjects include the best medical experts in Europe-and asks for his finest “master of the art of death,” an early version of the medical examiner. The Italian doctor chosen for the task is a young prodigy from the University of Salerno. But her name is Adelia-the king has been sent a “mistress” of the art of death. Adelia and her companions-Simon, a Jew, and Mansur, a Moor-travel to England to unravel the mystery of the Cambridge murders, which turn out to be the work of a serial killer, most likely one who has been on Crusade with the king. In a backward and superstitious country like England, Adelia must conceal her true identity as a doctor in order to avoid accusations of witchcraft. Along the way, she is assisted by Sir Rowley Picot, one of the king’s tax collectors, a man with a personal stake in the investigation. Rowley may be a needed friend, or the fiend for whom they are searching. As Adelia’s investigation takes her into Cambridge’s shadowy river paths and behind the closed doors of its churches and nunneries, the hunt intensifies and the killer prepares to strike again.~Goodreads

 

Black River“Black River”  S.M. Hulse

“Reminiscent of Wiley Cash. Her first novel and one of the best things I’ve read in a long time. I got up early this morning just to read this!”
A tense Western and an assured debut, Black River tells the story of a man marked by a prison riot as he returns to the town-and the convict-who shaped him. When Wes Carver returns to Black River, he carries two things in the cab of his truck: his wife’s ashes and a letter from the prison parole board. The convict who held him hostage during a riot, twenty years ago, is being considered for release. Wes has been away from Black River ever since the riot. He grew up in this small Montana town, encircled by mountains, and, like his father before him and most of the men there, he made his living as a Corrections Officer. A talented, natural fiddler, he found solace and joy in his music. But during that riot Bobby Williams changed everything for Wes–undermining his faith and taking away his ability to play.How can a man who once embodied evil ever come to good? How can he pay for such crimes with anything but his life? As Wes considers his own choices and grieves for all he’s lost, he must decide what he believes and whether he can let Williams walk away. ~Goodreads

 

The Nightingale“The Nightingale”  Kristin Hannah

“Awesome!!! WWII in France. The best book I have read in a long time!”

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real–and deadly–consequences.With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah takes her talented pen to the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France–a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime. ~Goodreads

 

A Three Dog Life“A Three Dog Life”  Abigail Thomas
“Highly recommended! A great book for people who are caregivers.”
When Abigail Thomas’s husband, Rich, was hit by a car, his brain shattered. Subject to rages, terrors, and hallucinations, he must live the rest of his life in an institu­tion. He has no memory of what he did the hour, the day, the year before. This tragedy is the ground on which Abigail had to build a new life. How she built that life is a story of great courage and great change, of moving to a small country town, of a new family composed of three dogs, knitting, and friendship, of facing down guilt and discovering gratitude. It is also about her relationship with Rich, a man who lives in the eternal present, and the eerie poetry of his often uncanny perceptions. This wise, plainspoken, beautiful book enacts the truth Abigail discovered in the five years since the acci­dent: You might not find meaning in disaster, but you might, with effort, make something useful of it. ~Goodreads

In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette

“In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette”  Hampton Sides
New York Times bestselling author Hampton Sides returns with a white-knuckle tale of polar exploration and survival in the Gilded AgeIn the late nineteenth century, people were obsessed by one of the last unmapped areas of the globe: the North Pole. No one knew what existed beyond the fortress of ice rimming the northern oceans, although theories abounded. The foremost cartographer in the world, a German named August Petermann, believed that warm currents sustained a verdant island at the top of the world. National glory would fall to whoever could plant his flag upon its shores.James Gordon Bennett, the eccentric and stupendously wealthy owner of The New York Herald, had recently captured the world’s attention by dispatching Stanley to Africa to find Dr. Livingstone. Now he was keen to re-create that sensation on an even more epic scale. So he funded an official U.S. naval expedition to reach the Pole, choosing as its captain a young officer named George Washington De Long, who had gained fame for a rescue operation off the coast of Greenland. De Long led a team of 32 men deep into uncharted Arctic waters, carrying the aspirations of a young country burning to become a world power. On July 8, 1879, the USS Jeannette set sail from San Francisco to cheering crowds in the grip of “Arctic Fever.”The ship sailed into uncharted seas, but soon was trapped in pack ice. Two years into the harrowing voyage, the hull was breached. Amid the rush of water and the shrieks of breaking wooden boards, the crew abandoned the ship. Less than an hour later, the Jeannette sank to the bottom,and the men found themselves marooned a thousand miles north of Siberia with only the barest supplies. Thus began their long march across the endless ice-a frozen hell in the most lonesome corner of the world. Facing everything from snow blindness and polar bears to ferocious storms and frosty labyrinths, the expedition battled madness and starvation as they desperately strove for survival.With twists and turns worthy of a thriller, In The Kingdom of Ice is a spellbinding tale of heroism and determination in the most unforgiving territory on Earth. ~Goodreads

The Whites“The Whites”  Harry Brandt

The electrifying tale of a New York City police detective under siege-by an unsolved murder, by his own dark past, and by a violent stalker seeking revenge.Back in the run-and-gun days of the mid-1990s, when a young Billy Graves worked in the South Bronx as part of an aggressive anti-crime unit known as the Wild Geese, he made headlines by accidentally shooting a ten-year-old boy while struggling with an angel-dusted berserker on a crowded street. Branded as a loose cannon by his higher-ups, Billy spent years enduring one dead-end posting after another. Now in his early forties, he has somehow survived and become a sergeant in Manhattan Night Watch, a small team of detectives charged with responding to all post-midnight felonies from Wall Street to Harlem. Mostly, his unit acts as little more than a set-up crew for the incoming shift, but after years in police purgatory, Billy is content simply to do his job.
Then comes a call that changes everything: Night Watch is summoned to the four a.m. fatal slashing of a man in Penn Station, and this time Billy’s investigation moves beyond the usual handoff to the day tour. And when he discovers that the victim was once a suspect in the unsolved murder of a twelve-year-old boy-a savage case with connections to the former members of the Wild Geese-the bad old days are back in Billy’s life with a vengeance, tearing apart enduring friendships forged in the urban trenches and even threatening the safety of his family. Razor-sharp and propulsively written, The Whites introduces Harry Brandt-a new master of American crime fiction.~Goodreads

Uttermost Part of the Earth“Uttermost Part of the Earth”  E. Lucas Bridges

Rapturous praise met the publication of Lucas Bridges’ marvelous chronicle of Tierra del Fuego when it first came out in 1947, and that praise has hardly abated these past sixty years, nor has a book been written which supplants Uttermost Part of the Earth as the classic work on Tierra del Fuego and the little-known culture of the now-extinct Fuegian Indians.When the author was born in Tierra del Fuego in 1874, it was truly an unknown land. On the southern coast was the small settlement established by his missionary parents; the rest of it, over 18,000 square miles of mountain, forest, marsh, and lake, was the hunting ground of fierce and hostile tribes. Bridges grew up amongst the coastal Yaghans, learning their language and their ways. In young manhood he made contact with the wild inland Ona tribe, became their friend and hunting companion, and was initiated into the men’s lodge.Surely the New York Times’ critics’s prediction for this book on its first publication has come true: “I have no doubt that Uttermost Part of the Earth will achieve a permanent place in the literature of several subjects: adventure, anthropology, and frontier history.” Indeed it is still the essential work and indispensable introduction for anyone yearning to experience the breathtaking remoteness and stunning landscapes of this far-flung wilderness at the “uttermost part of the earth.” ~Goodreads

Lisa’s Hot Summer Literary Reads for page immersion, not page turning

As an avid literary fiction reader, I am so thrilled with my options available already in 2015, and very excited about a future publication by one of my favorite authors. I warn you, my taste isn’t for everyone. I love deeply philosophical, often experimental, literary writing. These aren’t books one can read in a weekend. They are meant to be savored. They may make an appearance on the NYT Best Seller list, but don’t stay on long. This isn’t all I read.

I love short stories and a good old fashioned character driven novel.

I am also a fan of graphic novels for adults (and some YA), especially graphic adaptations of very dense nonfiction topics such as History or Biography.

 

I also love Irish fiction (Ireland has a rich modern literary scene that rarely makes it over to the US, aside from the classics.

 

 

 

and literary nonfiction and biography (and nonfiction in general)

I am most passionate about philosophical and experimental literary fiction and 2015 has some wonderful offerings. I thought I’d share a few selections from my “Books I Want To Read” list as well as a link to my Pinterest board of the same name.

 

“The Familiar, One Rainy Day in May” by Mark Z. Danielewski

I can’t seem to read a magazine or paper or turn on the radio without hearing something about Mark Danielewski or “The Familiar.” Fans of his “House of Leaves” and “Only Revolutions” understand what they will be getting into with this 880 page, first volume in an anticipated 27-book series.

From Kirkus Reviews:

“Fabulist and avant-gardist Danielewski (House of Leaves, 2000, etc.) embarks upon a long-promised 27-volume fantasia with this sprawling, continent-hopping potpourri.

On its face, this first installment is the story of a girl. And rain. And a “ridiculous dog bed.” And a cat. And then the whole of human civilization and of the human propensity to do wrong while struggling to do right. The storyline is scarcely describable. Think of it this way: what if a prepubescent Leopold Bloom had fallen down a rabbit hole and wound up in Southeast Asia with a Pomona street gang in tow? Young Xanther, bespectacled, mouth full of metal braces, acne-spattered and left-handed, epileptic, self-doubting and sometimes self-hating, is a mess, just as every 12-year-old is a mess. She is also, her doctor assures her, something more: “If I could grant you one certainty, Xanther, one which you could hold on to without dissolving under all your scrutiny, let it just be how remarkable a young girl you are.” So she is: there’s scarcely a thing in this world she’s not interested in and has theories about, spurred on by a brilliantly eccentric dad who’s always talking about engines and the thought of Hermagoras of Temnos, “whoever he was, a rhetor, whatever a rhetor is.” So what does she have to do with an Armenian cabbie, a pidgin-speaking Singaporean, and a Chicano street gang? Ah, that’s the question, one that the reader will be asking hundreds of pages on, tantalized by the glimmerings of answers that peek through rainy calligrams and sentences endlessly nested like so much computer code. Danielewski’s efforts at street-tough dialect verge into parody (“Like this be plastic shit. All scratched up and chipped”), but most everything about this vast, elusive, sometimes even illusory narrative shouts tour de force. Strangely, it works, though not without studied effort on the reader’s part.

And as for all the loose ends? No worries—there are 26 volumes to come in which to tie them up.”

 

Milan Kundera’s “Festival of Insignificance”

His first novel published in English in 13 years, Kundera infuses his latest novel with  the absurd. Some have called this book the culmination of his life’s work, but its strangeness and unseriousness seem to comment on the lack of humor and joy in our modern times. Lovers of “The Joke” will recognize this twist and irony in this tremendous author’s latest work.

From Publisher’s Weekly:

“After over a decade away from writing novels, Kundera (Ignorance) returns with this slight lark about four laissez-faire Parisians. In the tradition of existential comedies, the drama is in the dialogue. The four characters—Alain, Ramon, Charles, and Caliban—spend their days in Paris’s gardens, museums, and cafes, chatting and philosophizing. During a daytime stroll in Luxembourg Garden, Ramon bumps into a former colleague who, lying about having cancer, asks for Ramon’s help planning his birthday/death party. Similar to Kundera’s previous novels, the book uses levity and humor to comprehend the lasting effects of horrors perpetrated during World War II, though it’s set in the present. Much time is spent debating disparate, seemingly random issues: Stalin’s decision to rename a German town Kaliningrad, a marionette play that Charles imagines, a fake language Caliban invents for dinner parties. Although events converge at the party, nothing much actually happens. The four friends’ conversations are frivolous yet weighty, leaping from idle musings to grandiose declarations—from the sexual worth of a woman’s navel to the nature of motherhood, from Schopenhauer’s relationship to Kant to Stalin’s conquest of Eastern Europe. This novel is a fitting bookend to Kundera’s long career intersecting the absurd and the moral. It is also an argument for more books like it: “We’ve known for a long time that it was no longer possible to overturn this world, nor reshape it, nor head off its dangerous headlong rush. There’s been only one possible resistance: to not take it seriously.”

 

“Landmarks” by Robert Macfarlane

 From The Irish Times

“In his 1883 study Nature Near London Richard Jefferies has a vibrant passage enumerating all the wild flowers he encounters on a single roadside verge. Conspicuous among them are buttercups, cowslips and dandelions. The Jefferies passage is quoted late on by Robert Macfarlane in this compelling new study, Landmarks, and it ties in poignantly with a turn of events he has cited earlier.

These words, he tells us, along with others, such as ash, acorn, bluebell, otter, kingfisher and heron, were deliberately excised from the 2007 edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary as being no longer relevant to children’s experience. It’s out with willow and heather and in with blog, broadband and chatroom. It isn’t, Macfarlane says, a case of either/or: both sets of nouns and what they signify have a place in the world of today. But life is unquestionably impoverished if you do away with bluebells, conkers, larks and other common words denoting nature and natural forces.

Landmarks is a book about words, among other things, words for features of the landscape, for ice and snow, for dusk, dawn, night and light. Each of its 11 chapters, with one exception, comes with a glossary containing words peculiar to regions of these islands, from Connemara to Carloway, on the Isle of Lewis: intriguing, expressive and eccentric words. (The exception is the final chapter, whose glossary is left blank to accommodate future coinages.)”

 

Thomas Pierce’s Hall of Small Mammals

I don’t know much about this author but his blend of the absurd and the absurdly mundane sounds just up by alley!

From Publisher’s Weekly:

“Pierce’s first short story collection is full of compulsively addictive and delightfully strange fare. Some of the 12 offerings are new, others are culled from the New Yorker, the Oxford American, and elsewhere; each takes a mundane experience and adds an element of the extra weird. In “Shirley Temple Three,” the opening, a mother begrudgingly agrees to hide a cloned prehistoric miniature woolly mammoth in her laundry room as a favor to her son, who is a reality show host. The protagonist of “The Real Alan Gass” becomes jealous when his girlfriend reveals that she’s happily married to another man in her dreams. “Videos of People Falling Down,” which is about just that, is a funny, yet quietly poignant interconnected series of vignettes that showcase characters at their most vulnerable. Echoing an old ghost story, the wicked “Saint Possy” shuttles a couple to their wits end as the skull of a dead possum (maybe) simultaneously haunts and taunts them. In “More Soon,” a dead man, quarantined and shipped around the world on a barge following a highly contagious infection, prompts his brother to contemplate where the soul resides. Pierce’s menagerie of colorful characters equally inspires and amuses. The book is expertly paced (there isn’t a dud in this eclectic bunch) and many of the stories’ endings—some sinister, some melancholic, others heartfelt—prompt momentary reflection, though thankfully not always in ways that are expected.”

 

“Get in Trouble” by Kelly Link

From Publisher’s Weekly

“These nine stories may begin in familiar territory—a birthday party, a theme park, a bar, a spaceship—but they quickly draw readers into an imaginative, disturbingly ominous world of realistic fantasy and unreal reality. Like Kafka hosting Saturday Night Live, Link mixes humor with existential dread. The first story, entitled “The Summer People,” in homage to Shirley Jackson, follows an Appalachian schoolgirl, abandoned by her moonshiner father, as she looks after a summer house occupied by mysterious beings. “I Can See Right Through You” features friends who, in their youth, were movie stars; now in middle age, she is the hostess and he is the guest star of a television show about hunting ghosts at a Florida nudist colony. “Origin Story” takes place in a deserted Land of Oz theme park; “Secret Identity” is set at a hotel where dentists and superheroes attend simultaneous conferences. Only in a Link story would you encounter Mann Man, a superhero with the powers of Thomas Mann, or visit a world with pools overrun by Disney mermaids. Details—a bruise-green sky, a Beretta dotted with Hello Kitty stickers—bring the unimaginable to unnerving life. Each carefully crafted tale forms its own pocket universe, at once ordinary (a teenage girl adores and resents her BFF) and bizarre (…therefore she tries to steal the BFF’s robot vampire boyfriend doll). Link’s characters, driven by yearning and obsession, not only get in trouble but seek trouble out—to spectacular effect.”

 

 

 

NPR’s Guide to Science Fiction & Fantasy

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I came across this Readers’ Advisory gem the other day and found it quite helpful, as I am not very familiar with either of these genres and have trouble recommending books to patrons looking for scifi or fantasy titles. Check it out and let us know what you think.

An interactive version of this chart can be found here: http://www.sfsignal.com/interactive/npr100.htm