Out with the Old, In with the New

The end of the old year and the beginning of the new tends to be a time of reflection and planning for the future. A byproduct of all this activity is the creation of many, many, book lists: the two major types are of the ‘best of 2014’ and ‘books to look out for in 2015’ variety. Now, if you are a person who sees the glass as half full, this is great since you have lots of titles to choose from. If you are a half empty type, however, you look at all those lists and wonder when you will get a chance to look through them. And if you are a half empty person with a touch of paranoia, you will convince yourself that there are great titles in there that you will miss since you will never get to read every list (Hello, Richard).

Whatever your place on the end of year list spectrum, you may be intrigued by five of the titles that I have come across. While I didn’t plan it this way, all of the titles are short story collections. Clearly I have a type. Some of the books the library currently owns and others have been ordered and should be coming in soon.

Hhoneydewoneydew by Edith Pearlman

Garnering laudatory reviews from many outlets (The New York Times, L.A. Times), Pearlman is considered a master of the short story and her previous collection, Binocular Vision, garnered a National Book Critics Circle Award. If awards don’t impress you, how about this from the Publisher’s Weekly review: ‘Pearlman offers this affecting collection that periscopes into small lives, expanding them with stunning subtlety’. Intriguing no?

Hall of Shallofsmallmammalsmall Mammals by Thomas Pierce

First of all, this book has a title and cover that is hard to resist. Secondly, the book is receiving positive press (NPR, Kirkus Reviews) and is the author’s first collection of short stories. I’ve always found debut fiction to be more daring and creative and I’m hoping that will be the case with this collection.  The Publisher’s Weekly review states that each story ‘takes a mundane experience and adds an element of the extra weird.’ Extra weird is hard to resist.

otherlanguageThe Other Language by Francesa Marciano

I found this collection of stories intriguing because it fits into my weakness for literary tourism.  Reading how other cultures view the world, especially through fiction, is always a pleasure and these stories promise to be from an Italian perspective. The book has also acquired several positive reviews (New York Times, Kirkus,) which might help to sway you.

bridgeBridge by Robert Thomas

This one admittedly does sound a bit experimental, but in a good way. This work consists of 56 brief linked stories that try to delve into the mind of a single protagonist as she goes about her life. There is a nice summary of reviews on the author’s webpage. He usually writes poetry which I think is a plus with a work trying to get into the mind of a single character. As a bonus this collection of stories takes place in San Francisco.

manMan v. Nature by Diane Cook

This was another collection with a title that demanded my attention from a debut author. As the title implies the stories promise to center around the rather antagonistic relationship between humanity and the universe. As the New York Times review tells it:

It’s a meaningful moment in the story, and it also lays bare one of the fundamental concerns of Cook’s work: We’re constantly fighting a battle against a force larger than we are, and we’re probably going to lose.

I am so there.

I hope you enjoyed my highly subjective distillation of all the ‘end of year’ and ‘titles to look out for’ lists. Have I missed anything? You bet.

Spot-Lit for January 2015

Spot-Lit

The new Spot-Lit list of notable new fiction is here.

Yes, Spot-Lit posts will appear a little differently this year.  We’ll announce here on the blog when a new list is ready and provide a link that will display all the titles directly in the library catalog. You can also find the selected titles right on the main catalog page – just scroll down to the Notable New Fiction of the Month carousel below the search box.

If last year is any indication, we’ll be featuring many of the fiction titles likely to end up on the 2015 best-of-the-year lists that will begin popping up in December – so why wait? Each month we’ll be letting you know about some of the year’s best reads often before they’ve even come off the press.

Some January highlights: Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Effect (follow-up to the popular The Rosie Project); a bunch of smashing debuts (Black River, Bonita Avenue, The Unquiet Dead, The Girl on the Train, The Bishop’s Wifeand the additive Etta and Otto and Russell and James); Pierce Brown’s highly anticipated SF/dystopia, Golden Son (after last year’s Red Rising) and Hugo-winner Jo Walton’s philosophical fantasy, The Just City. These are just a few of our selections, so take a look for more good reading to help you get through your January hibernation – enjoy!

Notable New Fiction 2014  |  Notable New Fiction 2015 (to date)

Year-end Roundup 2014

Meatloaf sandwich, fried chicken and mashed potatoes. Mmmmm. Comfort food. As I look back at 2014, I realize that I indulge in comfort books. So many books I want to read but dang it, Perry Mason is so entertaining. And comforting.

And so I overindulge in Mr. Mason.

I decided to do something at the end of this year that I’ve not done before, to list every book that I read over the past 12 months and to analyze my reading trends for the year. So prepare for the post that was one year in the making: Year-End Roundup 2014!

Mysteries, mysteries, mysteries
I read many mysteries. Surprisingly many. Almost exclusively.

Serious Series
Most books I read were part of larger series.

Ring in the old
Typically I try to read recently-written stuff, but this year found many pre-1960 books on my virtual nightstand.

May I have pulp with that?
I’ve long enjoyed pulp fiction, but this year I discovered heroes of old that I’d not heard of before.

Here are some of the titles I enjoyed.

Perry MasonPerry, Perry, Perry
The Case of the
Velvet Claws (1933) (#1), Sulky Girl (1933) (#2), Curious Bride (1935) (#5), Caretakers Cat (1935) (#7), Half-Wakened Wife (1945) (#27), Vagabond Virgin (1948) (#32), Cautious Coquette (1949) (#34), Fiery Fingers (1951) (#37), Moth-Eaten Mink (1952) (#39), Fugitive Nurse (1954) (#43), Long-Legged Models (1958) (#56) all by Erle Stanley Gardner

As an interesting side note, I’ve enjoyed all the Mason books tremendously except for The Case of the Fugitive Nurse. It is very poorly written, not at all the quality of the others. This leads me to wonder if Gardner farmed it out to a hack writer.

Spicy MysteryI’d like some pulp with that
These titles were previously obscure but are now being reissued as ebooks, mostly not available at the EPL yet, but we can hope…

Fast One (1933) by Paul Cain
Junkie (1952) by Jonathan Craig
Super-Detective Jim Anthony: Dealer in Death (1941) by Victor Rousseau
The Quick Red Fox (1964), and The Scarlet Ruse (1973) by John D. MacDonald
The Uncomplaining Corpses (1940) by Brett Halliday
The Dream Girl (The Hilarious Adventures of Toffee #1) (late 1940s) by Charles F. Myers
The Best of Spicy Mystery Vol. 1 (1930s) edited by Alfred Jan
Satan’s Daughter (1936) by E. Hoffman Price

Black CountryVarious mysteries
Love them mysteries. All of the titles listed are part of a series. My great author discovery of the year was Alex Grecian. Check out his books about the birth of Scotland Yard.

The Secret Adversary (1922) by Agatha Christie
Antiques Roadkill (2007), Antiques Slay Ride (2013) and Antiques Con (2014) by Barbara Allan
The Yard (2012) and The Black Country (2013) by Alex Grecian
Murder with Peacocks (1999) by Donna Andrews
The Spellman Files (2007) by Lisa Lutz
The White Magic Five and Dime (2014) by Steve Hockensmith
The Invisible Code (2013) by Christopher Fowler

One SummerNon-fiction
I’m never a big non-fiction reader, but this year was exceedingly sparse. However, One Summer was one of the best books I read this year, focusing on a few months in 1927, the important events that occurred during those months, and showing how seemingly unrelated happenings influenced each other.

American Pickers Guide to Picking (2011) by Libby Callaway
One Summer: America 1927 (2013) by Bill Bryson

RogueYA
It was a slow year for me in the YA category as well, but I predict a comeback in 2015. And Rogue was a highly satisfying conclusion to Damico’s trilogy on grim reapers.

Rogue (2013) by Gina Damico
Waistcoats and Weaponry (2014) by Gail Carriger

Garden on SunsetOther Stuff
Not too much read outside of the mystery/pulp genre this year, but The Garden on Sunset, a presumably self-published ebook, was one of my favorites. While the writing is not absolutely top-notch, the subject matter of regular folk living in early Hollywood and rubbing noses with stars of the golden age is intriguing.

Shada: The Lost Adventures of Douglas Adams (2012) by Gareth Roberts
Bombshell (2012) by Max Alan Collins
The Garden on Sunset (Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels Book 1) (2014) by Martin Turnbull

And there you have it, my reading year in a nutshell. Help! I’m in a nutshell! How did I get into this nutshell? Look at the size of this bloody great big nutshell! What sort of shell has a nut like this? This is crazy!

New Year, New TBR

I am waving a white flag of surrender, admitting defeat, giving up. I had an uber-ambitious list of reading resolutions in 2014 and I did not complete it. However, I did manage to cross off 8 of the 12, meaning it’s by far my most successful set of resolutions I’ve ever attempted. Here’s a last look back at what I wanted to read last year:

  1. Read something a library patron recommends
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book 
  3. Read something difficult, either due to subject matter or writing style
  4. Read an award-winning book
  5. Read something that is super-popular 
  6. Read a book that was the basis for a TV series or movie
  7. Read a classic work of literature
  8. Read an annotated classic work of literature
  9. Read something that will help me plan for the future
  10. Read something that will help me reconcile the past
  11. Read a graphic novel 
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

Not bad, right? Granted, I could have done more. But by the time the leaves started changing colors I realized I was left with the most challenging selections. I was running short on both time and desire to actually put in the work required to complete my list. And it definitely felt like work. As someone who was once forced to read a bunch of books against my will (aka required summer reading in school) I didn’t want to resent reading, and that’s what it started to feel like: resentment.

With that in mind I’d like to tell you what my plan will be this year: nothing. Don’t get me wrong. I will be reading. I’m not a monster! I just won’t be planning it out ahead of time. Instead of a list of reading resolutions, I want to show you some of the books I missed out on last year that I hope to read this year. But I’m not going to lose any sleep if I don’t read them all!

Carol’s 2015 TBR (To Be Read):

textsTexts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg
Synopsis: Hilariously imagined text conversations–the passive aggressive, the clever, and the strange–from classic and modern literary figures, from Scarlett O’Hara to Jessica Wakefield
Why I want to read it: A book that fictionalizes electronic communication between some of my most beloved literary characters, from Sherlock Holmes to Nancy Drew. How could I skip this one?


steampunkThe Steampunk User’s Manual
by Jeff VanderMeer and Desirina Boskovich
Synopsis: A conceptual how-to guide that motivates and awes both the armchair enthusiast and the committed creator.
Why I want to read it: Steampunk! I just started getting into reading steampunk fiction in 2014, and I’d like to learn more about the subculture before I attend Emerald City Comic Con (ECCC) in March.

 

jackabyJackaby by William Ritter
Synopsis: Newly arrived in 1892 New England, Abigail Rook becomes assistant to R.F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with the ability to see supernatural beings, and she helps him delve into a case of serial murder which, Jackaby is convinced, is due to a nonhuman creature.
Why I want to read it: While I hope hope hope (!) the sequel to Libba Bray’s The Diviners will be out in 2015, I’d like to read Jackaby to tide me over, since it sounds like it might be a literary kindred spirit.

 

batmanBatman ’66 Vol. 1 by Jeff Parker
Synopsis: DC Comics re-imagines the classic Batman TV series in comics form for the first time! These all-new stories portray The Caped Crusader, The Boy Wonder and their fiendish rogues gallery just the way viewers remember them.
Why I want to read it: My favorite Batman was always Adam West, and I am obsessed with that campy portrayal of the Dark Knight in all forms, including this new comic series. It’ll also help get me in the mood for ECCC, where I’m sure to encounter at least a few amateur caped crusaders from the Pacific Northwest.

dont touchDon’t Touch by Rachel M. Wilson
Synopsis: 16-year-old Caddie struggles with OCD, anxiety, and a powerful fear of touching another person’s skin, which threatens her dreams of being an actress–until the boy playing Hamlet opposite her Ophelia gives her a reason to overcome her fears.
Why I want to read it: Um, did you read that synopsis? Swoon!

Regardless of whether or not I read all or any of these appealing books in 2015 the fact remains there are some great books out there. What’s in your TBR?

2014: My Year in Short Stories

Vampires in the Lemon Grove cover imageEvery year I like to set some reading goals for myself; it’s about the closest thing I come to making New Year’s resolutions. This year I set out to read 75 books (I just barely made it!), start reading graphic novels, and start reading short story collections. I managed to do all three, and have compiled a list of my favorite short reads (graphic novel or otherwise).

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell. This haunting collection of short stories was probably my favorite surprise of 2014. I picked up the audio book because I was drawn to the cover. The stories in this collection range from science fiction to supernatural storytelling, almost always with a bittersweet, romantic undertone. I think fans of Neil Gaiman’s brand of writing would enjoy this book.

The Buddha in the Attic cover imageThe Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka. It might be a stretch to call this book a collection of short stories – it doesn’t unfold in the same way you’d expect such a collection to. Instead, it’s more of a mosaic of ‘micro stories,’ with each chapter piecing together the rapid-fire memories of countless women to create a picture of what it was like for Japanese mail-order brides to arrive in America, try to fit in, and live their lives. It was a wonderful listen as an audio book, but I’m sure it would be just as powerful if you were reading it on your own.

Saga, volume 1 cover image

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Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples. This was one of the first graphic novels I’d ever read, and I took to it very quickly. Staples’s artistic style was lush and dramatic. It added a lot of visual interest to an already action-packed story of escape and forbidden love. The plot is a satisfying mix of fantasy and science fiction for readers whose tastes happen to straddle that line, as mine tend to.

 

Best of 2014: Nonfiction

We continue our daily posts from our staff picked Best of 2014 list with all things factual. Read on for great nonfiction books ranging in topic from Wall Street shenanigans, Hollywood scandals, cookbooks, humor and much more.

NF1

A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction | Joel Greenberg
The story of the passenger pigeon; how flocks of billions of birds were shot, clubbed, burned, crushed, flailed, speared, drowned, and blown up; a species’ extinction by wanton human butchery.

I’d read stories about the passenger pigeon’s fate, but couldn’t believe what I was reading. This author’s careful documentation allows no evasion of the book’s central thesis. -Cameron

Capital in the Twenty-First Century | Thomas Piketty
Economist Piketty relates in great detail why funneling money to the already rich leads to the past devouring the future.

It is a tour de force of scholarship, spanning the globe and spanning centuries. -Cameron

Flash Boys | Michael Lewis
Relates how certain Wall Street traders laid their own high speed communications line from Chicago to New York to purchase stock before anyone else. They beat the buyer to the punch and sell at a profit.

Pulls back the curtain on a whole array of tawdry Wall Street scams. The kicker is that there is no law to stop them. -Cameron

Food : a Love Story | Jim Gaffigan
Jim Gaffigan gives his listeners what they really crave, his thoughts on all things culinary(ish).

Gaffigan is one of the funniest, smartest, and cleanest comics working today. Here he adds plenty of new material to what fans will already expect. Try the audiobook, narrated by Gaffigan himself. -Alan

NF2

Huckleberry: Stories, Secrets and Recipes from our Kitchen | Nathan, Zoe
Recipes for delectable baked goods, both sweet and savory, abound. Illustrated with mouth-watering photos.

I love sampling cookbooks from the library before deciding whether to purchase for my personal collection. -Eileen

Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970s | Tom Doyle
Based on exclusive first-hand interviews, a chronicle of Paul McCartney’s struggles in the first decade after the Beatles’ breakup discusses his reclusive life, substance abuses, arrests, and efforts to launch his band Wings.

Love it or hate it, Paul was prolific in the 70’s and I happen to love his output from the period (especially Ram and Red Rose Speedway). This details everything, including depression, granting him depth the music doesn’t necessarily indicate. -Alan

One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band | Alan Paul
Told through the voices of band members, roadies, family, and friends, it is the story of an iconic–and tragic–rock band of the sixties, the Allman Brothers Band.

Really puts the Allmans in context, a fusion band with influences from blues, rock, jazz, country, and even classical. -Cameron

The Portlandia Cookbook: Cook Like a Local | Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, with Jonathan Krisel
This cookbook features the best recipes from the stimulating food mecca that is Portland.

Portlandia. Need I go on? Okay, fine. This book combines two of my favorites: cooking and the TV show Portlandia. The recipes are real, but humor runs amok in the sidebars and chapter breaks. I’m asking Santa for this one. -Carol

NF3

QR Codes Kill Kittens: How to Alienate Customers, Dishearten Employees, and Drive Your Business into the Ground | Scott Stratten
Using real-life examples from human resources, marketing, branding, networking, public relations, and customer service, this book offers tips and guidance on how to prevent in-person and online/social media slip-ups.

I’m part of a team of library staffers who run the library’s social media platforms. I am always on the lookout for ways I can improve the work I am doing, since it relfects on the library. Also, there’s a kitten on the cover! -Carol

Retro baby : Cut Back on all the Gear and Boost Your Baby’s Development with More than 100 Time-Tested Activities | Anne Zachry
New isn’t always better when it comes to the health and well-being of babies. Retro Baby is full of tips for inexpensive toys and simple activities to enhance your baby’s development without investing in all manner of high-tech baby gear.

Published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, it is full of the newest research findings about child development along with practical ways to help your baby thrive. This is a great gift for anyone with a new baby. -Theresa

Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama from the Golden Age of American Cinema | Anne Helen Petersen
A collection of shocking clashes and controversies from Hollywood’s Golden Age, featuring notorious personalities including Judy Garland, Cary Grant, Jean Harlow, and more.

This is a smart treatment backed up by solid research that debunks rather than celebrates scandal. -Alan

NF4

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory | Caitlin Doughty
Young aspiring crematory operator Caitlin Doughty takes readers behind the scene of America’s death industry. Not for the faint of heart due to some graphic descriptions, this book provides a very thought-provoking look at what happens to us after we die.

This was a very honest and surprisingly humorous discussion of a topic most of us would like to ignore. Doughty provides some fascinating information about death rituals around the world, as well as a history of how we’ve responded to death in the US. -Lisa

What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions | Randall Munroe
The creator of the popular webcomic xkcd receives a lot of odd queries from his fans. This book answers these (sometimes literally) burning questions such as: What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent the speed of light?

The author’s dry wit and impressive scientific knowledge make this book not only hilarious but also amazingly informative. Impossible to put down once started. -Richard

Heartwood Favorites – 14 from ’14

Below you’ll find the list of books published this year that I most enjoyed.

Heartwood readers know that my main reading interest is older international literary fiction, but I also read new releases, as well as some non-fiction and poetry. Additionally, the old and the new come together when foreign books that were published years ago finally get their first (or a new) English translation.

What I most admire about the books below is what makes them so difficult to write about – their dexterous and creative way with words; their narrative idiosyncrasies, interiority, and perspicacity; the frequent interweaving of other cultural material (especially literature and art); a sense of place uniquely realized and expressed. These books offer fascinating, richly satisfying pleasures to the reader, but consternation to the list-maker who wishes to convey the essence of these reading experiences.

So rather than write my own capsule summaries, I’m simply listing the titles. But you can read summaries or brief reviews in the library catalog by clicking on the titles. For most of the books I’ve also linked to longer reviews from a variety of sources, and for two of them I’ve linked to reviews I did manage to write earlier this year.

I liked most everything I read that was published this year – a rare and happy situation –but these were the cream of the crop. If you like good writing I think you’ll find something here to enjoy.

Fiction

BridgeBridge
by Robert Thomas
BOA Editions   156 pgs.
read more: Bookslut, Kirkus, author website

 


Hotel AndromedaHotel Andromeda
by Gabriel Josipovici
Carcanet   139 pgs.
Heartwood review

 

 

HarlequinsHarlequin’s Millions   (orig. pub. 1981)
by Bohumil Hrabal
trans. Stacey Knecht
Archipelago Books   312 pgs.
read more: Tweed’s, WaPo, Words without Borders
see also: Heartwood on Hrabal’s I Served the King of England

Pushkin HillsPushkin Hills   (orig. pub. 1983)
by Sergei Dovlatov
trans. Katherine Dovlatov
Counterpoint Press   161 pgs.
Heartwood review

 

ProfessorThe Professor and the Siren   (orig. pub. 1986)
by Guiseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
trans. Stephen Twilley
New York Review Books   69 pgs.
read more: Complete ReviewParis Review
see also: Heartwood review of Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard

ConversationsConversations   (orig. pub. 2007)
by César Aira
trans. Katherine Silver
New Directions   88 pgs.
read more: Three Percent, Entropy, Public Books

 

Unnecessary WomanAn Unnecessary Woman
by Rabih Alameddine
Grove Press   291 pgs.
read more: LA TimesBoston Globe, WaPo, SFGate 

 

 

Unclassifiable Comic Book / Fiction / Non-Fiction Hybrid

FantomasFantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires   (orig. pub. 1975)
by Julio Cortázar
trans. David Kurnick
Semiotext(e)   87 pgs.
read more: Complete Review, MIT Press, Three Percent
see also: Heartwood review of Cortázar’s Hopscotch

 

Non-Fiction

Place in the CountryA Place in the Country: On Gottfried Keller, Johann Peter Hebel, Robert Walser, and Others   (orig. pub. 1998)
by W.G. Sebald
trans. Jo Catling
Random House   208 pgs.
read more: NY Times, The Spectator, LA Review of Books, Slate             

Collection of SandCollection of Sand   (orig. pub. 1984)
by Italo Calvino
trans. Martin McLaughlin
Mariner Books   209 pgs.
read more: The Guardian, The Independent, Bookanista 

 

SidewalksSidewalks
by Valeria Luiselli
trans. Christina MacSweeney
Coffee House Press   110 pgs.
read more: Asymptote, LA Review of Books, Music & Literature

 

Geek SublimeGeek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty
by Vikram Chandra
Graywolf Press   236 pgs.
read more: NY Times, New Republic, Complete Review

 

 

Poetry

CaribouCaribou
by Charles Wright
Farrar, Strauss, Giroux   82 pgs.
read more: World Literature Today, NPR, TweetSpeak

 

 

Moon Before MorningThe Moon Before Morning
by W.S. Merwin
Copper Canyon Press   121 pgs.
read more: The Rumpus, Poets@Work, The Wichita Eagle

 

 

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