Friday, November 23, 2007

15 Quick Recs from Eklund

John Eklund is a superhero/booklover who has many years experience in the book industry. He's formerly run a bookshop for Harry W. Schwartz and is currently a sales rep for Harvard UP, Yale UP, and MIT UP. To be fair, none of the following titles come from those publishers. Even if they did, if John was recommending them to me, I would pick them up.

In short: John actually reads all the books I want to read.

If any of these strike a chord, leave a comment, start a conversation.

Fifteen books I would love to give, receive, or read again in 2008
- by John Eklund

Le Ton beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language
Douglas R Hofstadter

Basic Books 1997 $29.95

Hofstadter is a charming genius and every word he writes is worth reading. Here he shows how complex and fascinating the art of translation is by rendering Clement Marot’s short poem Ma Mignonne 88 different ways!

One Day a Year
Christa Wolf

Europa Editions 2006 $16.95

East Germany’s best writer kept a unique diary for 40 years- one short essay annually, written on the same day. She’s a great stylist, it’s a quirky take on the diary format- an intimate, insider’s view of a country going through monumental political change.

Robot Dreams
Sara Varon

First Second 2007 $16.95

The heartbreaking impossible friendship between a dog and a robot. I’m a tough customer when it comes to graphic novels but this is irresistible.

The Air-Conditioned Nightmare
Henry Miller

New Directions 1945 $13.95

It may be 63 years later but we’re still living it.

The Communist Manifesto
Karl Marx & Frederick Engels,
intro by Eric Hobsbawm
Verso 1998 (orig. 1848) $16.00

In an era when the only books that seem to move millions of people are religious ones, it’s stunning to remember that this book once held sway over one third of the world. You can try reading it as a quaint, historical artifact if you want, but that won’t work for long- Marx’s descriptions of rapacious Capital are straight out of 2007 headlines.

The Indian Clerk
David Leavitt

Bloomsbury 2007 $24.95

My favorite novel of the year. Three towering intellects, an early 20th century British academic milieu, a scientific romance. I wouldn’t normally be drawn to a book about an Indian math wizard, and I’m usually put off by equations in novels, but this is so gripping, so beautifully told, that I immediately sought out the biography of the real life Ramanujan.

Independent People
Halldor Laxness

Vintage International 1997 (orig. 1946) $15.00

If the only thing that comes to mind when you think of Iceland is Bjork, mass inebriation, and bleak desolation, you need Laxness. This strange and wonderful epic is a good intro to his world. Don’t be put off by all the names like “Utirauthsmyri.” Just make up your own mental pronunciation and stick with it.

The Society of the Spectacle
Guy Debord

Zone Books 1967 $16.95

These 221 short theses by the French provocateur were written 40 years ago and describe a culture immobilized by the hypnotic power of the visual image. Sound familiar?

The Emigrants
W.G. Sebald

New Directions 1993 $10.95

The story of four German Jews in exile, told as a mock documentary complete with photographs. If you’ve not read Sebald- who tragically died in a car crash a few years ago- this is a good place to start.

Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me
Javier Marias

New Directions 1994 $15.95

Ace bookseller Joe Lisberg got me going on this guy. I’ve blown through about a dozen of his excellent novels, and this one might be my favorite. He’s brilliant, and I don’t understand why he’s not better known and read in the US.

Collected Poems
Stevie Smith

New Directions 1976 $19.95

I first got acquainted with the sassy poetry of Stevie Smith after seeing Glenda Jackson portray her in the under-appreciated seventies biopic Stevie (it’s an outrage Netflix doesn’t have it). This is a witty, charming, deceptively light collection, complete with her eccentric drawings.

The Complete Stories
Flannery O’Connor

Farrar Straus & Giroux 1972 $17.00

My friend Doug, who used to work at the Schwartz Grand Avenue store, couldn’t leave a customer alone until he talked them into reading O’Connor. He was right, there’s nobody like her. Choose any story and read the first paragraph. Then just try not to read the second.

Books on Trial: Red Scare in the Heartland

Shirley and Wayne A. Wiegand

University of Oklahoma Press 2007 $24.95

You would not believe what happened to an Oklahoma family in the forties when they had the nerve to open “The Progressive Bookstore” in that charming state. Some of the players in this gripping tale ended up in Milwaukee, and despite the ugly tactics of the thought police, there’s a somewhat hopeful climax: civil liberties actually won out over national security hysteria.

The Story of Art
E.H. Gombrich

Phaidon 2006 (orig 1950) $29.95

I have never taken an art history course so I’ve had a slight inferiority complex about the state of my art knowledge (or lack thereof). After reading Gombrich’s A Little History of the World last year, I thought I’d give this classic a try. It’s wonderful in every way- clear, no jargon, loaded with lovely images, and the sensuous design of this pocket edition really makes it fun to read and carry around.

The Book of Ebenezer LePage
G. B. Edwards

NYRB Books 2007 (orig. 1980) $16.95

If you read one book in 2008 make it this one. It’s a reminder of why books are worth reading. I have so much to say about it that I can’t really say anything. Just, read it.


Mike said...

I'm going to have to pick up Robot Dreams

StacieMichelle said...

I have One Day A Year at home, but the book I've had at the top of my to-read list that somehow keeps getting put off is The Book of Ebenezer LePage. Joe & I fell on top of it at the store one day and were both smitten. I promise I'll start it this weekend!

StacieMichelle said...

By the by, we adore John Eklund

Jay Johnson said...

Yeah, Robot Dreams sounds like something I could seriously enjoy and never shut up about. I've probably bought three copies of The Society of the Spectacle and I think my modernism seminar this semester has gotten close to reading (Jonathan Crary, who edits for Zone Books), but it's something I've always wanted to spend a few days with.

The Book of Ebenezer LePage is one of many NYRB books that need to jump into my hands.

sarah marine said...

'The Society of the Spectacle' is something I could get into. Stevie Smith has never really done it for me, even with all those ND publications. Joe and Bayard just turned me on to some Raymond Carver poetry. 'Ultra-Marine', of course...its great, mostly hopeless, making the hopeful ever more illuminating. You all had a spectacular holiday? Of course you did.

Adam G Beaver said...

I have to second the plug for Javier Marías, and particularly for Tomorrow in the Battle... ( Mañana en la batalla piensa en mi. Marías' most famous book is A Heart So White (Corazón tan blanco), which may be a slightly easier read for someone unfamiliar with Marías; but I can testify actually to sweating, heart racing, as I read the last 50 or so pages of Mañana en la batalla.

For those who read Spanish, you can follow Marías' career and read his weekly newspaper column

Lila Rajiva said...

All Flannery O'Connor's writing is worth reading, including her letters, which contain insights on everything from Aquinas to D. H. Lawrence.
What an intense, strange, original talent. You can never forget her grotesque and completely believable plots after you've read them once.
Everyone knows "The Life You Save May Be Your Own," but my own favorite is
"The Lame Shall Enter First"..... if you can stand it....

Jay Johnson said...

Ok; as a student of fiction and a writer of short fiction, I feel obligated to make the shameful admission that I have never read Flannery O'Connor...

I'm sorry. I know I should. I know I'd enjoy it. I have the Comp Stories on hold.

I'll be better. I promise.

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