by Sarah Marine
I feel conflicted about labeling a book as a “summer read”. I mean, what is a “summer read”? The only thing that comes to mind is a Meg Cabot or Jennifer Weiner, which does not suit my specific literary palate. Furthermore, to someone such as myself who is moving to Duluth for the long winters and low temperatures, what do I seek in literature to accompany me through these sweltering mid-year hours. What will suffice as I sit hatefully in front of the full blast fan, in my second floor/attic flat craving just the slightest lake breeze. Well, so far, these two titles have made the grade:
Inglorious, by Joanna Kavenna
Rosa Lane is depressed. Her depression has made her static and petulant. She is unproductive. Ms. Lane is stuck. Reading this book was difficult. However, the difficulty remained not in prose or narrative structure but instead it was the important task of not becoming blinded by despair and anger right along with this bereft heroine. I remember being in the middle of the novel, sitting down to dinner with Bayard, and pondering whether I was suffering from a serious case of the blues. We discussed the certain commonplace anxieties which go along with planning a wedding, moving and graduation, but in the end, the revelation came: “Rosa Lane has pulled me into this mess of hers!” and furthermore, “She has romanced me with her calm ineffectiveness into believing that powerlessness is real, that making daily lists of philosophers to explore, of plays to read, of debts to be righted, were the apex of productivity!” I had to break from the text for a spell, I had to take time off for wholesome outdoor reading adventures. To get some clarity. That done, I was able to bear the trauma (and I really mean this) of Joanna Kavenna’s orchestration of Rosa really hitting bottom, that mighty emotional breakdown in which you realize how many times you were a fraction away from cracking along the same pattern, which makes you ever more thankful for those helpful coping mechanisms that a good, small town, Midwestern upbringing has equipped you with. I did not feel sad while reading Inglorious but was instead fascinated. The delusional Rosa Lane and her defiance were what made this book the 2007 Orange Prize winner for New Fiction.
Heavier Than Air, by Nona Caspers
I grew up in an old farmhouse, a dilapidated silo not far from the back door. To the east, the Rock River flowing lazily at the end of the long path winding through wilds of the backyard and to the north, a stand of trees the only thing separating us from St. Malachi’s cemetery. It was an exciting time in my childhood, from which I recall not the bathroom ceiling slowly caving in, the majority of the house with no working heat, but instead exhilarating rides on my Dad’s riding lawn mower, sleeping in winter coats and thinsulate mittens, and a tire swing These are the types of invaluable things that constitute the backbone Nona Casper’s stories. Set predominantly in rural Minnesota they explore the opportunity, danger and security, allowed in such environments. These stories unravel slowly, the female narrators exploring siblinghood, the delicate balances between sisters, the point at which the flowering of the field ruins the hay, sexuality, mostly the awakening and exploration of what it means to be lesbian. The women coexist in murky burgeoning identities and well learned rural vernaculars related to religion, to the land. The men in these stories, a farmer gone mad, the hapless father and jilted husband, are a fascinating subset of personalities, juxtaposed with the heavy desire and effortless metamorphoses of the women around them.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
by Sarah Marine
Thursday, June 26, 2008
So far, we've added 8 members to our network in the past week. Are you next?
Click over to the forum to share what you're reading, what you want to read and to join in the conversation.
Keep your eyes and ears open next week for a new podcast: we've got Jeanette Walls, Sister Helen Prejean and others lined up in the coming weeks. Subscribe to the feed for automatic updates through iTunes or your preferred web browser.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
After two-and-a-half years of stumbling through the wilderness, The Inside Flap brings you our first podcast.
And what better way to kick it off then with the Mighty Downer Poetry Night from 13 April 2006, featuring the brilliant and talented poems of Josh Bell, Matt Cook and Erik Beck.
To get constant updates:
And excuse me in advance if this gets messy...
Friday, June 20, 2008
Since I appreciate Megan's link lists at Bookdwarf so much, I thought that I'd do a little variation today.
- The BIG news is the new Ning site we created for you, dear reader/stumbler/subscriber/friend who is trying to up our hit count. Please, join. Ning is free social networking tool, kind of like mini-facebook/myspace, so we can customize a bit more, create groups, have a forum that doesn't get caught in post comments. Plus, every user has a blog they can use. Most importantly, we can all get to know each other. Netroots for readers, and such.
- Firefox 3 is out - and it is awesome. Ok, it looks awesome and I like the "Most Visited" links folder adn the smart location bar. I prefer Safari at hom on the Macs, but at work on the steam-powered PC (ok, it's actually a decent, somewhat-recent Dell) it's Firefox all the way after my unsuccessful two month trial of Safari for Windows. Sadly, it locked when switching between applications far too often.
- David Weinberger's Everything is Miscellaneous has been out for two months-plus and I haven't mentioned it, yet. It's a quick and fun read on data organization and metadata and how many new possibilities are unlocked by allowing folks like us to organize information in an infinite amount of ways. It's a bit of a celebration of algorithms and consumer-provided data; thus, it lauds web sites like Google and the Evil Empire (amazon) for changing how people are able to access information and goods. It also completely ignores the negative effects on physical communities and spaces - like the beautiful bookshop in which I work. That said, Weinberger never pretends to be writing anything other than a business book. So long as you maintain the skepticism of homogeneity that can be a side effect of massively-adopted convergent modes of information organization, this book will help more independently minded folks and businesses to adopt strategies to maintain competitiveness and undermine the status quo.
- And for something completely different and un-technified: we're beginning bike delivery from our shop.It's a way to serve readers who aren't able to get out of the home for whatever reason, to readuce our carbon imprint and, perhaps most importantly, get some excercise and fresh air during the workday.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Okay. All right. Good. Nice. Cool. None of these words could adequately describe the latest book from Jack Pendarvis (could have used ‘adequate’ in that first group of words). Luckily, he’s provided us fellow typists with the perfect pull quote in the form of his title, Awesome.
That’s definitely appreciated, because although I spend a good fifty percent of my day marveling at my own writing skills*, I’ve rarely been able to describe what is good about funny books. I can say, “this book is funny”, “hilarious”, “gut-busting”, “urine-extracting (I know, eww)”. Sure, I could say those things, but how do you, the prospective reader, know if I have any sense to judge ‘funny’? You don’t, so let’s just stop thinking that way. I don’t doubt you, and this blogging*2 thing is a two-way street.
To this point, Jack Pendarvis has published two short story collections; The Mysterious Secret of the Valuable Treasure and Your Body Is Changing. While both are ridiculously funny (trust me, remember?), I’d wondered what a book-length story would look like. It’s better than I could have hoped, and Sex Devil*3 set the bar astronomically high.
Awesome is the story of Awesome, a giant man in every way. Sure, he’s a big fella, but it’s not all brawn with him. He’s also the world’s foremost expert in robot creation, time travel, whale songs, effortless seduction and Alpine bells. I could list more of his CV*4, but we’re limited to the space the internet affords us.
Okay, maybe this is a cow bell, but you get the idea.
Suffice to say, Awesome seems to have it all. But, as is so often the case with our betters, Awesome still has a, to paraphrase Extreme*5, “hole in his heart that can only be filled by you”. Actually, not ‘you’, per se, but Glorious Jones. Who’s Glorious Jones? Now I feel like I’m doing your reading for you, but okay, I’ll bite. Glorious Jones is the special lady who sends Awesome on a globe-spanning, time traveling odyssey in search of the rarest objects to prove his devotion and win her hand in marriage (in a religion created by Awesome).
"If you don't like what you see here, get the funk out."
"Verily, my helm is rad!"
The final litmus test for just how funny this book is; it had me laughing out loud on the bus. Anyone who’s taken the bus knows that laughing out loud on the bus is the surest way to being spoken to on the bus, and no sane person wants that. Still, I was willing to suffer the slings and arrows of captive audience conversation just to keep reading more of Awesome.
As I write this, Awesome is still 74 days away from publication (edit: Now it's even less, but I can't be bothered to do the math.). Don’t fret, stay calm. Well, at least stop clawing at your eyes, you’ll need them. You can preorder and keep yourself occupied with Mr. Pendarvis’s other books and his impressively updated blog in the meantime.*8
*Not really. I’m entirely accepting of my writing skills. And conceited.
*2 I believe my computer is from the 1990s as it does not recognize the term ‘blogging’. ‘Bogging’ was the suggestion, so perhaps it’s from the 1890s.
*3 The opening story from Mysterious Secret…, and the funniest thing I’ve ever read.
*4 CV: Short for curriculum vitae, a fancy way of saying resume. Wow, this is a condescending footnote. And it’s not helped by the reference to the editorial ‘we’re’ following ‘CV’.
*5 They won a Grammy………probably.
*6 Were I having a boy in ten weeks time, this name would have rocketed to the top of the list. Respect and power await a ‘Goliath Brigadoon’.
*7 Yes, Thor’s enchanted hammer, Mjolnir, is ultra-badass. No, Awesome doesn’t have an enchanted hammer. I believe I’ve made my case.
*8 I’ll be rereading my galley, complete with Mr. Mxyzptlk sketch. Stang!*9
*9’Stang’ is universal slang meant to express happiness or refer to money. Read the blog.
Monday, June 16, 2008
by Bayard Godsave
The setting, the dense mist that had settled on
Well, I thought, this is all very dramatic. But the real drama was unfolding elsewhere.
Above our heads, the British author sat in his coach seat, patiently waiting as once again the voice of the captain came over the 727’s PA system. This time, there were no more assurances that they would be landing “just as soon as this fog lifts.” This time he told them that he had bad news, that the plane could no longer circle the skies above
As he thought about this, the captain’s voice came over the PA once more. The plane was running low on fuel, and would have to land in
But once on the ground, there was a genuine revolt. Angry passengers—men and women who lived in Madison, and only wanted to be allowed home—got up from their seats and insisted they be let off the plane. The crew resisted for a while, but finally they had to relent, and Jim Crace slipped in with the stream of Americans making their exodus from the plane.
“But how am I to get to
He stood on the side of the road, just outside the airport, put out his thumb, and waited. And it wasn’t long before a car stopped, one of his fellow passengers, stranded, like Jim, in
Jim’s reading that night (which was on time and as scheduled) was amazing. As he spoke about the genesis of his latest novel, he spoke of the importance of letting the story take its own directions. “Narrative has been around for as long as human beings have, it’s learned a few things,” he said. “Narrative is wise.” And I thought of all he’d been through to get here. It was as if the story he’d told, the story of his trip, had always been waiting to happen, and it was by trusting in that story, and letting unfold as it would, that Jim was able to get here safely, and on time.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
More on City of Thieves
by Jay Johnson
David Benioff, author of The 25th Hour, which was made into a movie by Spike Lee, visited our Downer Ave. bookshop on Wednesday, May 21 in support of City of Thieves. Our good friend (and customer) Tim was there to record it. Check out the audio on his blog.
City of Thieves is an impossible to put down story partly based on David's grandfather's real experiences during World War II, but bleak as the story can be it's also funny at times, moving, and honest. Our booksellers have really enjoyed reading City of Thieves, and this is what some of them are saying:
"A riveting rush of a journey of finding compassion, humanity and intimacy in the bleak, cold winter days of a dark time in history."- Stacie Williams, Downer Ave.
"Be careful. Once you read the preface to this novel plan on spending the rest of the evening with this book. A Russian immigrant, Lev Beniov, finally tells his American grandson, a writer, his incredible story of a week in January 1942 just prior to the siege of Leningrad (Piter). Only Seventeen-years-old, Lev and a new friend avoid immediate execution when they agree to perform a preposterous task, which leads to traveling behind German lines. City of Thieves delivers a difficult and chilling look at the hardships of war, yet friendship, love and even humor are intertwined. The suspense is unrelenting."-Shawn Quinn, Accounting
"During the siege of Leningrad, 17-year-old Lev Beniov is arrested for looting the corpse of a German soldier. Rather than being executed, he and an Army deserter are spared by a colonel who sends them on a ridiculous mission: to find and bring back a dozen eggs for his daughter's wedding cake. A terrific coming of age story, a harrowing tale of war and survival, a funny and endearing story of an unlikely friendship; City of Thieves is all of this and more. What a wonderful book!"-Dave Mallmann, Brookfield
Thursday, June 5, 2008
The Invention of Marias
by Jay Johnson
(* Certainly, Margaret Jull Costa, Marias' tranlsator for all of his English editions, besides Dark Back of Time, deserves a note of admiration. Though, when you read Dark Back of Time, it becomes clear that Marias' talent is true.)
All Souls begins with the following disclaimer:
Given that both the author and narrator of this novel spent two years in the same post at the University of Oxford, some statement may be in order on the part of the former, before he finally yields the floor to the latter, to the effect that any resemblance between any character in the novel (including the narrator, but excluding “John Gawsworth”) and any other person living or dead (including the author, but excluding Terrence Ian Fytton Armstrong) is purely coincidental as is any resemblance between any event in the story and any historical event past or present. –J. M.
The novel All Souls presents an interesting problematic to the traditional notions of the realist novel. Boundaries of fiction and nonfiction, truth and lies, memory and representation are being crossed—and, more importantly, confused. The specific interest I have in this novel, since many other “novels” or “memoirs” achieve this confusion, is the role the author plays in the destabilization of the text.
Good friend Rebecca over at our sibling company, the hippest and most-knowledgeable business booksellers in the entire world, 800 - CEO - READ (or 8CR for those in the know), passed me this fine link to an interview with Jonah Lehrer, author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist, from kottke.org.