A Serious Vocational Error

One of the great things about reading fiction is the way you can visit a person’s, admittedly fictional, life and experience the world from a different angle. I’ve always found stories to be much more helpful in dealing with the trials and tribulations of everyday existence than the numerous self-help and motivation works out there. Perhaps this is delusional and a tad unhealthy (you don’t want to pattern your life too closely on Mr. Kurtz after all ) but hey, it is the way I roll. I recently read three novels that let me examine different career paths and made me feel good about my own career choice. Ah the power of negative reinforcement.

The job: Middle school teacher
The book: Confessions by Kanae Minato

confessionsThis novel opens with Yuko Moriguchi’s farewell address to her middle school science class upon her early retirement. The reason she is leaving is the recent accidental death of her 4-year-old daughter on school grounds. As the address continues, however, it becomes clear that Yuko believes some of her students are responsible.  She also doesn’t believe the criminal justice system is up to the job of punishing them due to their young age. This is no simple tale of revenge, however.  The narrative shifts, with each chapter being from a different character’s point of view. This keeps you guessing as to what actually happened and who is really to blame until the very end. Even then, what is right and what is wrong isn’t entirely clear. A good book for testing your moral compass. It will also make you happy not to have chosen a career in secondary education.

The job: Office drone
The book: The Room by Jonas Karlsson

theroomBjorn, yes this book is a Swedish translation, shares a desk in an open office plan in a government ministry simply titled ‘the Authority.’ One day, while looking for the bathroom, he stumbles upon a room which is spacious and well appointed. To get away from the office hubbub and concentrate on his work, he frequently visits this room. The problem? No one else can see it. Even worse, when he enters the room, all that his fellow officer workers see is Bjorn staring at the wall and mumbling. It doesn’t take very long for objections to be raised, meetings to be held, and threats of termination to be bandied about. The entire novel is from Bjorn’s perspective, so there are definitely surreal elements that will have you questioning what exactly is going on. Primarily though, it is a funny and biting office satire that will leave you chuckling as well as scratching your head.

The job: Estate agent
The book: A Pleasure and a Calling by Phil Hogan

apleasureandacallingWilliam Hemming does not suffer from job dissatisfaction. He loves showing people new homes to buy or rent in the small English town where he owns an estate agency. His job allows him to indulge in a rather odd hobby. Mr. Hemming keeps a key from every property he sells and likes to make return visits, unbeknownst to the owners. He is obsessed with viewing the minutiae of his clients’ everyday activities (making breakfast, doing laundry) but as a detached observer who never gets involved in their lives. The novel is entirely from Mr. Hemming’s point of view and you find yourself chuckling at his observations of small town life. When his darker side is slowly revealed, and his detachment turns into involvement with deadly consequences, you may feel guilty for laughing along. At the very least, it will make you consider having your locks changed at home.

So is using fiction to choose a career a sound policy? Perhaps not, but it sure beats going to a guidance counselor.

Spot-Lit for April 2015

Spot-Lit

Every month our fiction buyer scours the new fiction landscape and presents here a curated list of some of the most anticipated new releases based on advance review praise, publisher enthusiasm, library- and lit-crowd social media, and other sources (some well below the radar).

Click the book cover montage below to read summaries or reviews or to place titles on hold.

montage

 Notable New Fiction 2015 (to date)  |  All On-Order Fiction.

 

 

Heartwood 5:2 – The Green Child

JacketHerbert Read’s three-part novel, The Green Child, starts out with a bang. In the first paragraph, a South American dictator’s assassination is revealed to have been faked as he, our protagonist Olivero, is on his way now by ship to Europe.

You know, it really might be best to start reading this book without knowing anything more (I’d save the book’s Introduction as well until after you’re done). But if you’re going to disregard this advice, I’ll let you know that this book explores such wide-ranging things as the structure of society and political systems (especially of a Utopian sort), the value of surrendering to wherever your personal destiny will lead you, and the possibility of alternative worlds with their own integrally complex cultural beliefs and practices.

The three sections of the book are distinctly different. The first part of the novel, concerns Olivero’s return home, after thirty years away, only to discover the stream where he once spent so much time is now flowing in the opposite direction. His moonlit investigation into this conundrum is quickly compounded and sidetracked (in ways you will simply have to discover for yourself) before the chapter ends in a most dramatic fashion.

The middle section deals with the protagonist’s stumbling into the role of benevolent autocrat for a small community in inland Argentina. My only quibble with the book is just how smoothly things go for Olivero once he gets to Argentina, but it’s fascinating and fun to watch as he and a few others work to overturn the existing government and institute the ideals of revolutionary Europe which have come down to us from Voltaire, Rousseau, and Volney.

The third part of the book picks up – in a through-the-looking-glass way – where the first left off and shows Read as an effective world-builder. This section places Olivero and the green girl in reversed roles from what we found in the first chapter, only this time the individual’s attempt to adjust and assimilate into an utterly foreign culture is brought to full maturity in a calmly beautiful conclusion.

But stop, I’ve already said too much. Step away from whatever screen you’re reading this on and go treat yourself to a most unusual and thought-provoking reading experience. The Green Child awaits.

Heartwood | About Heartwood

Spot-Lit for March 2015

Spot-Lit

Get the jump on these highly anticipated new releases coming out in March.
Click the book cover montage below to read more or to place titles on hold.

Gallery View

 Notable New Fiction 2015 (to date)  |  All On-Order Fiction

Spot-Lit for February 2015

Spot-Lit

The Notable New Fiction list for February is here.

Lots of advance praise for the new offerings by Anne Tyler, Kate Alcott, and Laura Lippman. And February is the month for short stories with stellar new collections by Charles Baxter, Katherine Heiny, Jonathan Lethem, Kelly Link, Neil Gaiman, and Rose Tremain.

Among new authors, Tom Cooper presents a noir-ish post-Katrina comic thriller, and there’s a lot of enthusiasm for the first books by Jonas Karlsson, M.O. Walsh, Laura van den Berg and Lucy Atkins.

In addition to Lippman’s new standout, crime readers will want to check out the titles by Frances Brody, Colette McBeth, Helene Tursten, Michael Kardos, and Gold Dagger-winner Mick Herron.

Science fiction and fantasy readers can look forward to V.E. Schwab’s latest (after last year’s popular Vicious) along with new books by Elizabeth Bear, Joe Abercrombie, and Marcus Sedgwick.

Click here to browse the list or place titles on hold.

Notable New Fiction 2014  |  Notable New Fiction 2015 (to date)  |  All On-Order Fiction

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.