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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Spot-Lit for October 2014

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 blogs, and other sources (some well below the radar).

Here are a few highlights from this month’s installment:

  • Garth Stein, past Everett Reads author of The Art of Racing in the Rain, has a new novel out, A Sudden Light – a Puget Sound-set, coming-of-age ghost story.
  • It Won’t Always Be This Great, Seinfeld writer Peter Mehlman’s first novel, came out in mid-September so this is cheating a bit (it just sounds too good to not highlight) – but take a look at the other stellar debuts too.
  • The Zone of Interest, Martin Amis’s new holocaust novel is being called brilliant, audacious, and haunting, and it’s stirring up controversy in France and Germany.
  • Among returning favorites you’ll find new books from Jane Smiley, Marilynne Robinson and Debbie Macomber, and from crime fiction stars John Grisham and John Sandford.
  • Additionally in the mystery genre, Felix Francis really hits his stride in Damage, the latest in his continuation of his father’s horse-racing series.

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  

Zone of InterestSudden LightLilaSome LuckHuman Body

The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis
A Sudden Light  by Garth Stein
Lila by Marilynne Robinson
Some Luck by Jane Smiley
The Human Body by Paolo Giordano

First Fiction

WallcreeperMurder at the BrightwellLife We BuryIt Won't AlwaysFour Corners

The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink
Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver
The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens
It Won’t Always Be This Great by Peter Mehlman
The Four Corners of Palermo by Giuseppe Di Piazza

Crime Fiction /Suspense

click to enlargeTruth Be ToldGray MountainDealineDamage

Quartet for the End of Time by Johanna Skibsrud
Truth Be Told by Hank Phillippi Ryan
Gray Mountain by John Grisham
Deadline by John Sandford
Dick Francis’s Damage by Felix Francis

SF / Fantasy

Ancillary SwordDie and Stay DeadBlood of AngelsFalling SkyShotgun Arcana

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
Die and Stay Dead by Nicholas Kaufmann
The Blood of Angels by Johanna Sinisalo
Falling Sky by Rajan Khanna
The Shotgun Arcana by R.S. Belcher

Romance

ScratchAt BluebonnetRowdyMr MiracleAmerican Duchess

Scratch by Rhonda Helms
At Bluebonnet Lake by Amanda Cabot
Rowdy by Jay Crownover
Mr. Miracle by Debbie Macomber
An American Duchess  by Sharon Page

To see all on-order fiction, click here.

Whoops! BANNED Book Week

Well.

I humbly compose this retraction. As many of you probably realize, this is not Band Book Week but rather Banned Book Week. Obviously an ostrich of an entirely different color. Sure, band books are important, and what with the sex and drugs some of them are probably banned band books, but what we really celebrate this week is freedom from censorship.

Libraries and schools are targets for those who feel that certain types of materials should not be accessible in a public venue. They challenge these books, approaching those in authority with a request to have the books removed from circulation. Sometimes, sadly, the books are removed (banned), but more often they remain available.

Many recognized masterworks are frequently challenged, including 1984, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, and The Grapes of Wrath.

Books 1-4Newer challenged books include Fifty Shades of Grey and The Lovely Bones.

Books 4.1-4.2

Children’s and young adult materials are frequently challenged, including Captain Underpants, The Hunger Games series, the Harry Potter series, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Books 5-8

Graphic novels are not exempt from attempted censorship. Bone by Jeff Smith was number 10 on the 2013 most often challenged list. Other critically acclaimed graphic novels such as Blankets by Craig Thompson and Fun Home by Alison Bechdel have also been protested as containing “obscene images.”

Books 9-11All of these examples are wonderful books in the eyes of some readers, but books that should be hidden from the light of day by others.

Why, you might wonder, would someone think a book should be banned? Reasons ranging from sexual overtones to anti-family content, from promotion of smoking and drinking to coarse language, from sexism to nudity are all used to justify the challenges to these books. There will always be materials that someone objects to, but fortunately we have a system that allows people to object, their objections to be reviewed, and censorship to generally not be tolerated.

Let me regale you with a couple of stories from my life that help illuminate my attitude.

My high school librarian was not a very friendly person. Most students did not like him. It came to light that he took it upon himself to hide books in a back room if he thought that they were not suitable for students. These books did not show up in the card catalog and he did not go through any channels to have the books banned. It was purely one individual’s decision. And of course these decisions impacted hundreds of people each year. This is not a shocking story that ends with our hero being wrongly tortured and executed, but it did shape my attitudes towards censorship.

The second story is that of living in a country which practices censorship. For two years I lived in Malaysia and this provided an interesting introduction to censorship. Certain books and magazines were not allowed in bookstores (I never interacted with the library system if there is one). Movies were edited to remove language and objectionable scenes, as were television shows. Of course this censorship was carried out for religious reasons, and I respect this, but it did make me appreciate the freedoms we have here. And on a side note, much like Prohibition times in the USA, the censored materials were available if you knew where to look, but getting caught was not a desirable outcome.

Getting back to the books that were listed above, I’ve read about half of them and I’m a better person for it. I sometimes read books that disturb me but often gain something from them. I enjoy themes that might disturb others and I’m glad that books with those themes can be found in my public library. And most of all, I’m ecstatic that I don’t have to secretly obtain censored books and live in fear of being discovered with them.

So celebrate! Check out a banned book and see what the fuss is all about. Come to the main library to see our banned book display. Find a book that you think should be banned and try to approach it with an open mind, perhaps searching for redeeming qualities. In all activities, rejoice that you have the freedom to object, to read and most of all, to benefit from the collections that we maintain in the library.

Spot-Lit for September 2014

Spot-Lit

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  

Fiction

The Bone Clocks  by David Mitchell
Paying Guests  by Sarah Waters
The Betrayers  by David Bezmozgis
Florence Gordon  by Brian Morton
The Dog  by Joseph O’Neill

First Novels / Fiction

Debut

How to Build a Girl  by Caitlin Moran
Fives and Twenty-Fives  by Michael Pitre
Gutenberg’s Apprentice  by Alix Christie
Rooms  by Lauren Oliver
A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing  by Eimear McBride

Many more promising debuts are coming out this month – take a look.

Crime Fiction /Suspense

Crime

The Secret Place  by Tana French
Last of the Independents  by Sam Wiebe
Perfidia  by James Ellroy
The Monogram Murders  by Sophie Hannah
Gangsterland  by Tod Goldberg

SF / Fantasy

SF

The Hawley Book of the Dead  by Chrysler Szarlan
The Mirror Empire  by Kameron Hurley
The Broken Eye  by Brent Weeks
The Falcon Throne  by Karen Miller
Maplecroft  by Cheri Priest

Romance / Erotica

Romance

Stay with Me  by J. Lynn
Claudine  by Barbara Palmer
Screwdrivered  by Alice Clayton
Linger  by Lauren Jameson
Virtue Falls  by Christina Dodd

To see all on-order fiction, click here.

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.

Them’s Good Readin’

Habits certainly change over the years and I’ve gone from a person who finishes each and every book regardless of quality to a person who reads the first few pages of many books in search of something irresistible. What is the indefinable quality I seek that makes some books impossible to put down?

One can find copious writings on the aspects of books that define a reader’s preferences: writing style, characters, setting and so on. I’ve never felt that my taste fits easily into any one category. However, I am aware that I grow attached to characters. Perhaps sadly, they become like friends (not to be confused with the taxidermied animals in my safe room who are my best friends). In fact, at times I get depressed when a good book ends because I want to know what happens next to these people.

Apparently I am not alone in this trait. Whilst perusing Amazon one might notice that the number of series currently being written (as opposed to stand-alone novels) is HUGE. A series gives a reader the opportunity to find out what does happen next. (On a more cynical note, series are a great way for authors to make money!)

Current readsCurrently I’m reading three books: Vertigo 42 by Martha Grimes, The Black-Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black and Born of Illusion by Teri J. Brown. All three titles are quite enjoyable, but only one is hard to put down, Vertigo 42. Is it a coincidence that this book is the 23rd Richard Jury mystery that I’ve read and that I’m in some kind of a relationship with Grimes’ cast of characters? While the plot is not the strongest of the series it’s still good, the writing is superb and most importantly, I want to know what happens next to the characters I’ve befriended over a period of two decades!

This sort of book does not come along very often for me. More common is the book that I enjoy but have no problem setting aside, The Black-Eyed Blonde being an excellent example. Although the star of the story, Philip Marlowe, appears in many books and other media, I’m not overly familiar with nor heavily invested in him. What I enjoy in this book is the pulp detective writing style, the time period and locale, the dirty underbelly of society in which Marlowe operates, a bit of hopelessness but also small victories. For whatever reason, I seem to enjoy this style in smaller doses and thus move back and forth happily between books while reading pulp.

Finally, Born of Illusion is one of the few books in recent times that I’ve given up on and later returned to. It’s a YA historical novel set in 1920s New York City featuring séances, spiritualism, (perhaps) real magic and Harry Houdini. Ever since reading Carter Beats the Devil I’ve been fascinated by early 20th century magic, the work and technology put into illusions, and this book taps into that fascination. I’m not sure why I gave up on it; probably I was simply more interested in some other titles at the time. But now that I’m back into it I’m thoroughly enjoying this novel.

So what’s the point here? I notice that my reading goes through cycles of too many exciting books to get through followed by nothing interesting enough to keep my attention. It would be nice to know myself well enough to figure out what book I need to escape the reading doldrums. This summer I’m going to delve deeper into some mystery series I’ve perused in the past and see how well this tactic holds my interest.

Perhaps today’s blog is more of a musing or rumination, providing no answers to the questions that fascinate my singular brain, but at the very least I’ve left you with three excellent book recommendations. Go. Read. Pay attention to why you find one book compelling and another not so much. Perhaps you’ll learn a little something about the peculiar substance that is you.