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)

Heartwood 5:1 – Tristram Shandy

celibacyTristram Shandy
by Laurence Sterne  (1713-1768)
749 pgs.  Everyman’s Library, 1991.
Originally published, 1759-1767

Many a reader and literary critic has commented on Laurence Sterne’s 18th Century novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. So, I’ll defer to these many others, saying only that I had good fun reading this, especially the first two parts, in which the reader shares time with Tristram’s father and uncle Toby and their various hobby-horses.

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OK, it hardly seems fair to such a delightful and unconventional book to leave it at that. Unlike Tristram, I wanted to make short work of this, but I guess I should at least outline the story and highlight some of the book’s most noted traits.

The main characters are Tristram’s father (Walter) and his uncle Toby, accompanied by an assortment of characters at Shandy hall. The main events in the story surround Tristram’s conception, his physician-bungled delivery, botched Christening, and further botched circumcision – all relayed with comic brio. Walter expounds with great flair on various and sundry subjects, and battle-wounded uncle Toby, along with his sidekick Corporal Trim, reenact the sieges they read about in the newspaper. The latter part of the book includes Tristram’s Grand Tour through Europe and ends with uncle Toby wooing his neighbor, the widow Wadman.

But these bare plot details in no way prepare you for the what awaits in Tristram’s telling of the story. So, let me say a little about that.

The story unfolds as a mashup of narrative styles, told out of chronological sequence, and filled with digressions and interruptions along with various appeals to the reader and other acts of authorial self-consciousness. The influence of Cervantes is notable as are Locke’s notions about the irrational association of ideas. Sterne leaves a variety of gaps in the text: using asterisks to replace words, blank spaces and even blank pages, and in one place he’s actually excised a chapter along with its associated page numbering. There are occasional drawings, and at one point Tristram diagrams the digressive paths taken in earlier parts of his book and promises (falsely) to be a more linear storyteller henceforward. The author’s Preface appears toward the end of volume I, and the Dedication to volume III comes mysteriously after Chapter XIX. It should be mentioned that Sterne’s narrative style was important to the development of psychological fiction, modernism, and even postmodernism.

storytelling graphic

Now you must be thinking this sounds like a book mostly interested in showboating and trickery, but it’s much more than that – this is deeply enjoyable reading, with warm and eccentric characters, interesting ideas and situations, and short chapters that most often propel the reader humorously along. Readers who have enjoyed Don Quixote should have fun with this as well. You could surely do worse than to while away some time in the company of Tristram and the brothers Shandy.

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.

 

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

 

 

Heartwood | About Heartwood

Heartwood 4:6 – Pushkin Hills by Sergei Dovlatov

Pushkin HIllsIn Sergei Dovlatov’s entertaining Pushkin Hills, Boris Alikhanov is a struggling writer who takes a job as a tour guide at Pushkin’s estate. The book begins with his journey there and his interactions with the other guides and cultural functionaries. He gets settled into a squalid room with a raging alcoholic known as Misha for a landlord (whose drunken babblings include some great non sequiturs and neologisms). Boris learns what he has to in order to give tours and he seems to enjoy it, despite having to put up with ignorant tourists. He stays away from offers to go out for a drink, remarking that it’s easy for him to say no to the first one but once he starts he’s like a train without brakes.

Boris has a wife, he’s semi-separated from, who wants to emigrate to America with their daughter, but he doesn’t want to leave Russia, saying it would be a disaster for an author to be removed from speakers of his native tongue. You get the idea that Boris doesn’t write much but he has managed to publish a number of pieces in literary magazines and they have caught the eyes of Soviet censors. The news of his wife’s emigration plan causes Boris to fall off the wagon in a big way, and his spontaneous candor in a phone conversation with her after she has left the country raises the question of whether or not they will ever be getting together as a family again (yet he seems like a guy whose various transgressions are frequently forgiven).

This is a stylish and snappy piece of writing that surprises the reader with unexpected turns and an episodic storyline. Dovlatov is fond of witty dialogue and of aphorisms, such as “You want justice? Relax, that fruit doesn’t grow here.” There’s something both straightforward and enigmatic in his concise sentences. He leaves you wanting more – in a good way – and he tempts you to reread him for the pleasure of his prose, in this case, capably translated by his daughter Katherine. This is a short, comic, satisfying novel that should appeal to most readers.

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Masha Gessen, writing in the New York Review of Books, says in Russia Dovlatov “went from being a writer known to very few to a household name and, finally, to the status of a classic. Dovlatov is to Russian vernacular what Casablanca and Mark Twain are to American speech.”

Spot-Lit for November 2014

Spot-Lit

Here are some of November’s fiction releases you may want to have on your radar. 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  

Book of STrangeMermaids in ParadiseUsMap of BetrayalLet Me Be Frank with You

The Book of Strange New Things  by Michel Faber
Mermaids in Paradise  by Lydia Millet
Us  by David Nicholls
A Map of Betrayal  by Ha Jin
Let Me Be Frank with You  by Richard Ford

First Novels / Fiction

Bed of NailsPetite MortBad CountryForty DaysPreparation

Bed of Nails  by Antonin Varenne
Petite Mort  by Beatrice Hitchman
Bad Country  by C.B. McKenzie
Forty Days without Shadow  by Olivier Truc
Preparation for the Next Life  by Atticus Lish

Crime Fiction /Suspense

Burning RoomWink of an EyeKiller Next DoorMidnight PlanMurder of Harriet Krohn

The Burning Room  by Michael Connelly
Wink of an Eye  by Lynn Chandler-Willis
The Killer Next Door  by Alex Marwood
The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man  by W. Bruce Cameron
The Murder of Harriet Krohn  by Karin Fossum

SF / Fantasy / Horror

Three-BodyPeripheralDreamer's PoolRevival

The Three-Body Problem  by Cixin Liu
The Peripheral  by William Gibson
Dreamer’s Pool  by Juliet Marillier
Revival  by Stephen King

Romance

Before We FallAll Broke DownBlood MagickKraken King

Before We Fall  by Courtney Cole
All Broke Down  by Cora Carmack
Blood Magick  by Nora Roberts
The Kraken King  by Meljean Brook

 To see all on-order fiction, click here.

You Just Need a Good Book!

Recently Christin Rude from the University of Washington Bookstore came to the Everett Public Library and presented some reading recommendations to the Everett Woman’s Book Club. I have been attacking this list with fervor and have found the books to be not just good, but excellent.

index (19)The first book I picked up was non-fiction. I think we all know what we would learn if we read the book The Shallows: What the internet is Doing to Our Brains. We would find what author Nicholas Carr presents: that books and reading help to focus our minds and promote deep thoughts while the internet, with its rapid, distracted sampling of small bits and pieces, is making us good at scanning and skimming. What we are losing is our capacity for concentration, contemplation, and reflection. We don’t have time to read and even if we did, we’d be too distracted to concentrate.

That is exactly what we’d learn if we had time to read The Shallows. I know I don’t.  I’m too busy with Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and my other online obsessions. Until I find a good book. And, you guys, I have! I have found two from Rude’s list that I’ve read more quickly than any in recent memory because they grabbed me and I was consumed with their worlds. In the interest of fighting Internet distraction, I’d like to share them with you.

index (20)Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin is fabulous. This literary murder mystery won the Gold Dagger Award in 2011 because of wonderfully drawn characters and a setting which sucks you into the world of rural Mississippi of the 1970’s. Silas was the son of a poor, single black mother, and Larry was the child of lower middle-class white parents. Despite the racial tensions of the era, they become friends until a girl goes missing after a date with Larry. She is never found and Larry lives with the suspicion of her murder for years, spending his days as a lonely mechanic and becoming known as ‘Scary Larry’ to the folks in the town. He’s a compelling character as he visits his mother daily and keeps her chickens (named after the first ladies) and home up, all the while just hoping for a friend. His boyhood friend Silas returns after many years to become the town ‘constable’ who must investigate a new murder. It turns out that Silas does know something of the long ago murder and what he has left unsaid impacts his life and that of many others. Read this book if you want an engrossing novel which you will contemplate and reflect upon for many days.

index (1)The second book I read from Rude’s list has been a runaway number one best-seller in France and is the first work translated into English by author Gregoire Delacourt. My Wish List  is the story of Jocelyne, a wife and mother living in a small French town. She runs a haberdashery and writes a successful crafting blog. Her best friends work at the hairdressers next door and dream of winning big on the Euromillions. Convinced that Jocelyne will get a taste for their lottery habit, they encourage her to buy a ticket and, amazingly, Jocelyne wins 18 million euros. Before cashing her winnings, Jocelyne begins to list her ‘desires’ which are mostly simple, everyday objects.  She ponders whether money can truly bring happiness. Should she cash the check? Or will having such a large sum of money cause more problems than it solves?

My Wish List made me contemplate just how much influence money has over our lives, not just the opportunities it can afford but also affecting how you are perceived by others and whether it is healthy to be able to afford everything you wish for. From the opening sentence to the closing message, it was a literary, yet very accessible book. Touching and heart-wrenching, My Wish List lives up to the hype surrounding it. It is a well crafted and all-consuming novel.

I am looking forward to reading more books on Rude’s list and perhaps sharing them with you. But right now, I gotta go check my Facebook page. Squirrel!