Heartwood 4:5 – Hotel Andromeda by Gabriel Josipovici

Hotel Andromeda in the Everett Public Library catalogIn Hotel Andromeda, Gabriel Josipovici has written a beautiful and thoughtful tribute to eccentric 20th-century American artist Joseph Cornell, while also telling an engaging story of his own. This is one of those rare books in which, at least from my perspective, not a single false note is struck and every word belongs.

Helena is an independent scholar who lives in London and writes books about artists such as Monet and Bonnard. She is currently working on one about Cornell, and it is giving her some difficulty. In rotating fashion, the short chapters focus on Helena’s notes for her book-in-progress, her visits with fellow tenants Ruth (on the top floor) and Tom (in the basement), and her interactions with the surprise visitor, Ed, a photojournalist who has been driven out of Chechnya where Helena’s uncommunicative sister Alice lives and works at an orphanage. Helena learns that Ed has been sent by her sister who told him Helena would put him up temporarily as he looks for work. She is stunned by the appearance of this inconvenient messenger from her long-silent sister but she reluctantly agrees to let him stay.

Not a lot happens in the book – just perfectly executed conversations about art and life and contemporary Chechen/Russian politics, along with conflicted yearnings for connection, communication and solitude. The way Cornell’s life and art are woven through the story is fascinating and skillfully done, and these sections suffuse the book with an aura of dream, reminiscence, imagination, and childhood.

Heartwood normally focuses on older books, but I enjoyed Hotel Andromeda so much, with its short chapters and narrow columns of dialogue, that I wanted to give it some immediate attention. Josipovici’s book also fits here in a couple other ways: in several places it refers to Heartwood-featured author Camille Flammarion, and, as chance would have it, a photo of the Cornell box Hotel Eden appears on the cover of Felisberto Hernández’s Lands of Memory which was featured in Heartwood earlier this year.

The library owns several attractive books about Cornell, or you can read about him and sample his work online here and here and here.

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Spot-Lit for August 2014

Spot-Lit

Here’s our fiction selector’s curated list of noteworthy August releases. Click the titles below and then the Full Display button to read summaries or reviews or to place titles on hold.

General Fiction / Literary Fiction   

General Fiction

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage  by Haruki Murakami
The Fortune Hunter  by Daisy Goodwin
Lucky Us  by Amy Bloom
The Kills  by Richard House
The Madmen of Benghazi  by Gerard de Villers

First Novels

Debut

Your Face in Mine  by Jess Row
Painted Horses  by Malcolm Brooks
The Frozen Dead  by Bernard Minier
The Good Girl  by Mary Kubica
Panic in a Suitcase  by Yelena Akhtiorskaya

Crime Fiction /Suspense

Crime

A Colder War  by Charles Cumming
The Long Way Home  by Louise Penny
Strange Shores  by Arnaldur Indridasson
One Kick  by Chelsea Cain
The Furies  by Natalie Haynes

SF / Fantasy / Horror

SF-2

Fool’s Assassin  by Robin Hobb
Trial by Fire  by Charles Gannon
Lock In  by John Scalzi
We Are All Completely Fine  by Daryl Gregory
The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit  by Graham Joyce

Romance

Romance

Heroes Are My Weakness  by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
With Every Breath  by Elizabeth Camden
Virgin  by Radhika Sanghani
Since You’ve Been Gone  by Anouska Knight
His Every Need  by Terri L. Austin

More good reading

If you’re curious about titles that will be coming out later this year, take a look through The MillionsMost Anticipated Books for the Second Half of 2014. Or to see what you may have missed, revisit their preview picks for the First Half of the year. Amazon looks in the rear-view mirror in their recently posted Best of 2014 so far, where Spot-Lit followers will recognize many of our own earlier picks. And if you’re looking to discover additional new talent, check out Library Journal’s Summer Best Debuts.

To see all on-order fiction, click here.

Spot-Lit for July 2014

Spot-Lit

Here’s our list of fiction to look for in July. Click the titles below and then the Full Display button to read summaries or reviews or to place titles on hold.

General Fiction / Literary Fiction  

Last Stories    Toledo    One Plus One    Tigerman    Care and Management of Lies

Last Stories and Other Stories  by William T. Vollman
How To Tell Toledo from the Night Sky  by Lydia Netzer
One Plus One  by Jojo Moyes
Tigerman  by Nick Harkaway
The Care and Management of Lies  by Jacqueline Winspear

Archival Revivals / New Translations

Echo's Bones    Conversations    Mr Gwyn    Professor    Agostino

Echo’s Bones  by Samuel Beckett
The Conversations  by César Aira
Mr. Gwyn  by Alessandro Baricco
The Professor and the Siren  by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
Agostino  by Alberto Moravia

First Novels

Last Night    Sleepwalker's    Dry Bones in the Valley    Man Called Ove    Girls from Corona Del Mar

Last Night at the Blue Angel  by Rebecca Rotert
The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing  by Mira Jacob
Dry Bones in the Valley  by Tom Bouman
A Man Called Ove  by Frederik Backman
The Girls from Corona del Mar  by Rufi Thorpe

Crime Fiction /Suspense

Peter Pan Must Die    Everyone Lies    That Night    Dead Will Tell    Night Searchers

Peter Pan Must Die  by John Verdon
Everyone Lies  by A.D. Garrett
That Night  by Chevy Stevens
The Dead Will Tell  by Linda Castillo
The Night Searchers  by Marcia Muller

SF / Fantasy / Horror

Queen of the Tearling    Half a King    Full Fathom Five    All Those Vanished Engines    House of Small Shadows

The Queen of the Tearling  by Erika Johansen
Half a King  by Joe Abercrombie
Full Fathom Five  by Max Gladstone
All Those Vanished Engines  by Paul Park
The House of Small Shadows  by Adam Nevill

To see all on-order fiction, click here.

Heartwood 4:4 – The Birds by Tarjei Vesaas

The Birds with citationThe Birds is the story of Mattis, a man with learning disabilities in his late 30s, and his sister Hege who takes care of him. They live near the shore of a lake somewhere in rural Norway. Hege knits sweaters almost constantly to bring in the little money that supports the two of them. Due to his general ineptitude, Mattis is unable to secure much in the way of work  – he’s even worn out his welcome as a day laborer, though his neighbors could always use the help at harvest time.

Mattis is afraid of thunderstorms, is spellbound by the habitual flight-path of a woodcock, and sees omens in the two dead aspen that everyone refers to as Hege and Mattis. The story is told from Mattis’s point of view and we quickly discover his enthusiasms and desires as well as his worries and fears. We also come to understand with great intimacy the complex personality that lies beneath his “simple,” slow, and clumsy behavior. Every detail is significant in Mattis’s life and the natural world is especially filled with meanings, both awe-inspiring and frightening.

In one of my favorite scenes, a couple of bikini-clad girls rescue Mattis and his sinking rowboat from an island in the lake. He manages to take charge of the situation, rowing the girls in their boat and towing his empty boat behind as the girls indulge his vanity and chat with him along the way. This success helps convince him that he should offer a ferry service to take people across the lake. But everything changes for Mattis when he brings a lumberjack across who then takes lodging at the house with him and his sister.

I don’t know if I would have ever heard about this tremendous book if I hadn’t been reading My Struggle, the remarkable, multi-volume autobiographical novel by Karl Ove Knausgaard that’s been getting all kinds of coverage in the literary world in recent months. There is quite a bit in Knausgaard about art and music and literature, and somewhere in Book Two he complains about Norwegian fiction of the past fifty years, contentiously claiming The Birds (from 1957) is one of that country’s last successful novels. I love to follow leads like this, what Alan Jacobs calls reading upstream –  that is, finding out who has influenced the writers you admire and then reading the books they have read or enjoyed. Since reading so often shapes a writer, it’s frequently worth taking the bait when an author you like starts dropping names. It definitely worked for me in this case. So, who influenced Tarjei Vesaas? I don’t know yet, but after reading The Birds I’m beginning to think I should find out.

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Spot-Lit for June 2014

Spot-Lit

These June novels are getting a lot of praise in advance reviews. Click the titles below and then the Full Display button to read summaries or reviews or to place titles on hold.

General Fiction / Literary Fiction  

summer house    Arsonist    Vacationers    Bellweather Rhapsody    Hundred-Year House

Summer House with Swimming Pool  by Herman Koch
The Arsonist  by Sue Miller
The Vacationers  by Emma Straub
Bellweather Rhapsody  by Kate Racculia
The Hundred-Year House  by Rebecca Makkai

First Novels

Antiquarian    Everything    Quick    Fourth of July    People in the Photo

The Antiquarian  by Gustavo Faveron Patriau
Everything I Never Told You  by Celeste Ng
The Quick  by Lauren Owen
Fourth of July Creek  by Smith Henderson
The People in the Photo  by Helene Gestern

Crime Fiction /Suspense

Good Suicides    Better World    Coldsleep Lullaby    Silkworm    Truth About

The Good Suicides  by Antonio Hill
A Better World  by Marcus Sakey
Coldsleep Lullaby  by Andrew Brown
The Silkworm  by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair  by Joel Dicker

SF & Fantasy

Memory of Water    Hard to Be a God    Koko    Madonna    Cibola Burn

Memory of Water  by Emmi Itäranta
Hard to Be a God  by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
Koko Takes a Holiday  by Kieran Shea
The Madonna and the Starship  by James Morrow
Cibola Burn  by James S.A. Corey

To see all on-order fiction, click here.

For other notable new fiction lists, try the Indie Next List and Library Reads

Spot-Lit for May 2014

Spot-Lit

In May, this reader is particularly looking forward to the next installment of My Struggle and the books, largely grounded in the written word, History of the Rain, and The Word Exchange. But your tastes may point you toward new books by Michael Cunningham (transcendent emotional inner worlds), Anthony Doerr (intertwined voices in WWII France), or Peter Heller (his second novel, following his popular The Dog Stars). Mystery readers pining for Spenser might try Wolverine Bros. Freight & Storage; and for those of you who like western-themed mysteries, definitely take a look at Any Other Name. Thriller fans may want to grab I Am Pilgrim, Natchez Burning, or Prayer. If you go in for the paranormal, check out the zombie thriller Omega Days, or Charlaine Harris’s (of Sookie Stackhouse fame) new series opener Midnight Crossroad. For steampunk fans there’s Highfell Grimoires. And in romance, you’ll find a range from contemporary to chick-lit to urban fantasy to inspirational.

Read more about May’s Spot-Lit picks by clicking on the titles and reading the summaries or reviews.

General Fiction / Literary Fiction 

All the Light  Snow Queen  History of the Rain  Painter  My Struggle

All the Light We Cannot See  by Anthony Doerr
The Snow Queen  by Michael Cunningham
History of the Rain  by Niall Williams
The Painter  by Peter Heller
My Struggle: Book Three  by Karl Ove Knausgaard

First Novels

I Am Pilgirm Book of You  All That Is Solid  Remember Me Like This  Word Exchanbe

I Am Pilgrim  by Terry Hayes
The Book of You  by Claire Kendal
All That Is Solid Melts Into Air  by Darragh McKeon
Remember Me Like This  by Bret Johnston
The Word Exchange  by Alena Graedon

Crime Fiction /Suspense

Natchez Burning  Prayer  Any Other Name  Bred in the Bone Wolverine Bros

Natchez Burning  by Greg Iles
Prayer  by Philip Kerr
Any Other Name  by Craig Johnson
Bred in the Bone  by Christopher Brookmyre
Wolverine Bros. Freight & Storage  by Steve Ulfelder

SF / Fantasy / Horror

Midnight Crossroad  My Real Children  Queen of the Dark Things  Highfell Grimoires  Omega Days

Midnight Crossroad  by Charlaine Harris
My Real Children  by Jo Walton
Queen of the Dark Things  by C. Robert Cargill
Highfell Grimoires  by Langley Hyde
Omega Days  by John L. Campbell

Romance

Collide  Somebody Like You Skinny Bitch Gets HitchedBeautiful Distraction  Sparrow Hill Road

Collide  by Gail McHugh
Somebody Like You  by Beth Vogt
Skinny Bitch Gets Hitched  by Kim Barnouin
A Beautiful Distraction  by Kelsie Leverich
Sparrow Hill Road  by Seanan McGuire

To see all on-order fiction, click here.

Heartwood 4:3 – Colonel Chabert by Balzac

Colonel ChabertThe Colonel at the center of this novella by Balzac was left for dead and buried in a mass grave during the Napoleonic battle at Eylau. After miraculously digging himself out and being ever-so-slowly nursed back to health by a farmer couple, he returns to Paris where he discovers that his wife has remarried, and that she treats the news of his survival as the scheme of an imposter and would-be usurper of her (his) fortune. Chabert is penniless, physically disfigured, and ridiculed by those who hear him tell of his battlefield experience. He convinces a lawyer to take his case in the fight to restore his name and fortune, but his dignity and honor are no match for human avarice and callous disregard.

This powerful moral tale, told in Balzac’s capable yarn-spinning style, contains some of the darkest views of humanity to be found anywhere in his multivolume The Human Comedy. That the human condition has not improved since then can be readily confirmed by a casual glance at the daily newspaper. The book ends with the last encounter between the destitute and raving Chabert and his lawyer, Derville, who gives Chabert some alms and afterward tells an associate that he is leaving the practice of law and bitterly condemns the egregious behavior he has seen throughout his career, the multitude of “crimes that justice is powerless to rectify.”

I picked up Colonel Chabert after reading about it at length in Javier Marías’s recently translated book The Infatuations – a novel that opens with a shocking murder and is deeply concerned with questions of desire, moral erosion and the slippery slope of rationalized self-interest. The Infatuations also features some beautiful writing about grief. I encourage you to read both.

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