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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Books About Pets

Do you have a young reader who's also a pet owner...or maybe a young reader who wants  to be a pet owner?  If so, here are two new children's illustrated books that they will love.  You will too.

Sparky! by Jenny Offill and Chris Appelhans

The ingenious author of 17 Things I'm Not Allowed to Do Anymore and a brilliant illustrator and production designer of the Coraline movie have created a hilarious, touching picture book perfect for young animal lovers. Like the Caldecott Medal-winning Officer Buckle and Gloria, Sparky stars a pet who has more to offer than meets the eye. When our narrator orders a sloth through the mail, the creature that arrives isn't good at tricks or hide-and-seek . . . or much of anything. Still, there's something about Sparky that is irresistible.

Matilda's Cat by Emily Gravett

This delightful picture book with Emily Gravett's signature twist ending sweetly depicts the relationship between a child and her beloved pet. Matilda is desperate to figure out what her cat will enjoy. She tries everything she can think of: climbing trees, playing with wool, even tea parties and dress-up games, but as Matilda gets more and more creative in her entertainment attempts, her cat moves from unimpressed to terrified. Will Matilda ever figure out what her cat likes? This young picture book is an insightful, fond, and funny look at the relationship between a little girl and her cat that's sure to strike a chord with anyone who's ever loved a pet.

I just love Matilda's Cat.  It's the perfect kind of picture book.  Beautiful drawings, humor, sweetness, and not too many words.  I like my picture books short and sweet, the less words the better.  It's the only way to finish an entire book with my nephew. I'm sure some of you can relate.


And speaking of pets, I just finished a lovely little (grown up) novel about a dog named Evie and what happens to her when her owner is sent to prison. It starts out light and humorous but eventually becomes a weighty family drama exploring the darker sides of jealousy and judgment. Really excellent.

We Think the World of You by J.R. Ackerley

We Think the World of You combines acute social realism and dark fantasy, and was described by J.R. Ackerley as “a fairy tale for adults.” Frank, the narrator, is a middle-aged civil servant, intelligent, acerbic, self-righteous, angry. He is in love with Johnny, a young, married, working-class man with a sweetly easygoing nature. When Johnny is sent to prison for committing a petty theft, Frank gets caught up in a struggle with Johnny’s wife and parents for access to him. Their struggle finds a strange focus in Johnny’s dog—a beautiful but neglected German shepherd named Evie. And it is she, in the end, who becomes the improbable and undeniable guardian of Frank’s inner world.

Monday, March 24, 2014

New Release Tuesday

The new releases out tomorrow compliment Ravenna's orange window display perfectly.  How thoughtful of the publishers.

Falling Out of Time  by David Grossman

In Falling Out of Time, David Grossman has created a genre-defying drama––part play, part prose, pure poetry––to tell the story of bereaved parents setting out to reach their lost children. It begins in a small village, in a kitchen, where a man announces to his wife that he is leaving, embarking on a journey in search of their dead son. The man––called simply Walking Man––paces in ever-widening circles around the town. One after another, all manner of townsfolk fall into step with him (the Net-Mender, the Midwife, the Elderly Math Teacher, even the Duke), each enduring his or her own loss. The walkers raise questions of grief and bereavement: Can death be overcome by an intensity of speech or memory? Is it possible, even for a fleeting moment, to call to the dead and free them from their death? Grossman’s answer to such questions is a hymn to these characters, who ultimately find solace and hope in their communal act of breaching death’s hermetic separateness. For the reader, the solace is in their clamorous vitality, and in the gift of Grossman’s storytelling––a realm where loss is not merely an absence but a life force of its own.

Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole

 A young Nigerian living in New York City goes home to Lagos for a short visit, finding a city both familiar and strange. In a city dense with story, the unnamed narrator moves through a mosaic of life, hoping to find inspiration for his own. He witnesses the “yahoo yahoo” diligently perpetrating email frauds from an Internet cafĂ©, longs after a mysterious woman reading on a public bus who disembarks and disappears into a bookless crowd, and recalls the tragic fate of an eleven-year-old boy accused of stealing at a local market. 

Along the way, the man reconnects with old friends, a former girlfriend, and extended family, taps into the energies of Lagos life—creative, malevolent, ambiguous—and slowly begins to reconcile the profound changes that have taken place in his country and the truth about himself.

In spare, precise prose that sees humanity everywhere, interwoven with original photos by the author, Every Day Is for the Thief—originally published in Nigeria in 2007—is a wholly original work of fiction. This revised and updated edition is the first version of this unique book to be made available outside Africa. You’ve never read a book like Every Day Is for the Thief because no one writes like Teju Cole.

A Fairy Tale by Jonas T. Bengston

In a Europe without borders, where social norms have become fragile, a son must confront the sins of his father and grandfather, and invent new strategies for survival.

A young boy grows up with a loving father who has little respect for the law. They are always on the run, and as they move from place to place, the boy is often distraught to leave behind new friendships. Because it would be dicey for him to go to school, his anarchistic father gives him an unconventional education intended to contradict as much as possible the teachings of his own father, a preacher and a pervert. Ten years later, when the boy is entering adulthood, with a fake name and a monotonous job, he tries to conform to the demands of ordinary life, but the lessons of the past thwart his efforts, and questions about his father’s childhood cannot be left unanswered.

Spanning the mid-1980s to early-twenty-first-century in Copenhagen, this coming-of-age novel examines what it means to be a stranger in the modern world, and how, for better or for worse, a father’s legacy is never passed on in any predictable fashion.

And new in paperback:
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed. In The Interestings, Wolitzer follows these characters from the height of youth through middle age, as their talents, fortunes, and degrees of satisfaction diverge.

The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer. But Ethan and Ash, Jules’s now-married best friends, become shockingly successful—true to their initial artistic dreams, with the wealth and access that allow those dreams to keep expanding. The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken.

Wide in scope, ambitious, and populated by complex characters who come together and apart in a changing New York City, The Interestings explores the meaning of talent; the nature of envy; the roles of class, art, money, and power; and how all of it can shift and tilt precipitously over the course of a friendship and a life.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Literary Tattoos

How often does a simple Google search lead you down a spiraling vortex of inane and ridiculous web pages? We all know what it's like and most of the time there's a certain amount of shame after surfacing from such an internet binge.  But today I found the coolest blogs which made all those shameful, wasted, internet hours worth it (okay, probably not, but let a girl pretend).

Readers of this blog may have some idea that I (your primary blogger, Erin at Ravenna... hello!) have a bit of a thing for Moby Dick.  You may have seen me mention it a time or two, or 17.  It's been an important part of my literary life, and I was thinking I might like to get a tattoo dedicated to Moby Dick.  Thus began my Google search.

I started out looking for images of Moby Dick inspired tattoos, and found some pretty cool stuff.

The above image led me to Pinterest, which is where most of my inane and ridiculous, spiraling, internet vortexes end up. Once I'm on Pinterest I usually lose the thread of my original search because I'm distracted by all those recipes and craft ideas and glitter.  But somehow I stayed relatively on topic and found some seriously cool book tattoo ideas.  Like this one...

When I saw that, I wondered if there were any cool tattoos of my favorite childhood books, Beverly Clearly's Ramona.  And of course there are.

I found that Ramona tattoo along with a bunch of other neat ideas, here. Eventually, my search ended with a couple of great blogs dedicated solely to literary tattoos.  If you have a few minutes, you should definitely check out Contrariwise and The Word Made Flesh.  They're great places to get lost for awhile.  These blogs offer a brief glimpse into the lives of strangers and the literary things that matter to them. It's a bit like looking at other people's book shelves.  Different books touch people in different ways.  Seeing what character or quote or author someone is willing to wear on their skin for the rest of their lives is fascinating.

Also fascinating... Contrariwise has cataloged 95 different people with the tattoo "So it goes" from Slaughterhouse Five.  I'm ashamed to say I've never read any Vonnegut.  But with at least 95 people willing to etch his words on their skin, maybe it's time to take a look.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Read This Book

Mark B. Says read this book!

Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun

For fans of The Age of Miracles and The Dog Stars, Black Moon is a hallucinatory and stunning debut that Charles Yu calls, “Gripping and expertly constructed.”

Insomnia has claimed everyone Biggs knows. Even his beloved wife, Carolyn, has succumbed to the telltale red-rimmed eyes, slurred speech and cloudy mind before disappearing into the quickly collapsing world. Yet Biggs can still sleep, and dream, so he sets out to find her.

 He ventures out into a world ransacked by mass confusion and desperation, where he meets others struggling against the tide of sleeplessness. Chase and his buddy Jordan are devising a scheme to live off their drug-store lootings; Lila is a high school student wandering the streets in an owl mask, no longer safe with her insomniac parents; Felicia abandons the sanctuary of a sleep research center to try to protect her family and perhaps reunite with Chase, an ex-boyfriend. All around, sleep has become an infinitely precious commodity. Money can’t buy it, no drug can touch it, and there are those who would kill to have it. However, Biggs persists in his quest for Carolyn, finding a resolve and inner strength that he never knew he had.

Kenneth Calhoun has written a brilliantly realized and utterly riveting depiction of a world gripped by madness, one that is vivid, strange, and profoundly moving.

This is what Mark has to say:

This book left me unsettled and I like that in a book. Scenes from this tale still haunt my waking hours as well as my dreams. The vision of a society without sleep, hallucinating and confused, and having it in for those who can still sleep, is nightmarish and even apocalyptic. At times the story seems disjointed, but that only adds to the feel of jittery edginess that accompanies this tale of insomnia.

Sounds creepy.  And with a cover like that, this one is hard to resist.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Kid's Spring Reading

Emily at Ravenna has put together some fresh kid's books for your perusal...

As many readers love reading on the rainy days (what a great place to live then, eh?), we always have new books coming in. Here are my top new recommendations for this spring:

Kids ages 3-8:

Penguin in Peril by Helen Hancocks
Three hungry, orange cats successfully steal a penguin, but can they catch him through the city as the penguin escapes for home?

Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons by Jon J Muth
Narrated in haiku, through two children and a panda, you will be taken on a wondrous journey through each season. I love that this picturebook avoids cliche language and the balance of text and watercolor allows the reader to pause and enjoy each moment.

Oliver's Tree by Kit Chase
How does a rabbit, owl, and elephant play hide and seek together? Well, while Oliver (the elephant) is too sad to play because he is too big, the others build a tree house instead so everyone can play together. Definitely a great book on problem solving and friendship.

How to Cheer Up Dad by Fred Koehler
Little Jumbo is certainly active and a helpful little elephant. And, though he is very thoughtful, it is not exactly thoughtful according to Dad.

Kids ages 8-12

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell
Join Sophie on a light-hearted, witty, impossible quest of finding her mother. Along with her guardian Charles and the rooftoppers (children who live on the roofs of Paris), Sophie can hopefully solve this missing piece in her life. After all, you should never ignore an impossible -- even if your only clue is a cello.

Under the Egg by Laura Fitzgerald
A great art mystery fills Theo's summer. Is this covered painting of her late grandfather a valuable, missing Raphael or simply a good painting? Fitzgerald's novel is full of wit, intrigue, and enigmas. (Perfect for young artists, mystery readers, or lovers of Chasing Vermeer or from the Mixed Up Files.)

Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord
Lucy is a photographer -- like her dad -- but can she stand out on her own without his help? This book is perfect for naturalists, photographers, and for anyone who has had to navigate new friendships and changes.

Seven Stories Up by Laurel Snyder
Annie does not want to be with her bitter grandmother she never knew, until she becomes friends with her as a girl -- back in 1937. But is this changing the future or is it simply a long dream? Another excellent magical realism story for girls.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Happy International Women's Day!

It's International Women's Day!  Yay!  What better day than this to pick up some exciting new reading material by a fabulous woman author.  Maybe something new, or an author you've always wanted to read.  Today's the day. AND 2014 is the year. In fact, author and illustrator Joanna Walsh has declared 2014 the year of reading women with her twitter campaign, #readwomen2014.  Read more about it here.

Now, I've known a lot of booksellers and readers, and a lot of these booksellers and readers are men.  And a fair number of these men seem to have self-restricted their intake of female authors. The number of male readers of my acquaintance for instance, who haven't read any Jane Austen is a little startling...and frankly embarrassing.  She's one of the English language's greatest novelists.  I find it pretty ridiculous to call yourself a lover of literature if you won't read Jane Austen, or at least give her a shot. It's a different story if you've tried her and didn't like her...but to flat out refuse?!?

Ok, soapbox rant over.  Well, mostly.  Here's a piece from NPR on the VIDA count which tracks leading literary publications and counts the number of women authors being reviewed, as well as the gender of those doing the reviewing.  It's pretty eye-opening stuff.

Anyways, it's International Women's Day!  Read a woman!  Here are some ideas:

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

In the winter of 1953, Boy Novak arrives by chance in a small town in Massachusetts, looking, she believes, for beauty—the opposite of the life she’s left behind in New York. She marries a local widower and becomes stepmother to his winsome daughter, Snow Whitman.

A wicked stepmother is a creature Boy never imagined she’d become, but elements of the familiar tale of aesthetic obsession begin to play themselves out when the birth of Boy’s daughter, Bird, who is dark-skinned, exposes the Whitmans as light-skinned African Americans passing for white. Among them, Boy, Snow, and Bird confront the tyranny of the mirror to ask how much power surfaces really hold.

Dazzlingly inventive and powerfully moving, Boy, Snow, Bird is an astonishing and enchanting novel. With breathtaking feats of imagination, Helen Oyeyemi confirms her place as one of the most original and dynamic literary voices of our time.

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh

Brosh has been an Internet sensation for years with literally thousands of fans following her scribbled illustrations on her blog. She has won over readers and stalkers alike with her honest and stark humor and her fun stories and rants. This book takes readers into not just the fun and fuzzy world of candied cakes and dumb dogs, but also into the brutally honest self-evaluation and exploration of its unique author. Always balancing the serious with the silly, the dark with the ridiculous, Brosh says the things we wish we could, admits the things we're ashamed of, and explores what we're afraid of, always with color and humor and, ultimately, with hope. And don't forget the scribbles! - Indie Next List, Jocelyn Shratter, Bookshop Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA

Demon Camp: A Soldier's Exorcism by Jennifer Percy

In 2005 a Chinook helicopter carrying sixteen Special Ops soldiers crashed during a rescue mission in a remote part of Afghanistan, killing everyone on board. In that instant, machine gunner Caleb Daniels loses his best friend, Kip Jacoby, and seven members of his unit.

Back in the US, Caleb begins to see them everywhere—dead Kip, with his Alice in Wonderland tattoos, and the rest of them, their burned bodies watching him. But there is something else haunting Caleb, too—a presence he calls the Black Thing, or the Destroyer, a paralyzing horror that Caleb comes to believe is a demon.

There is an epidemic of suicide among veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, men and women with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder who cannot cope with ordinary life in the aftermath of explosions and carnage. Jennifer Percy finds herself drawn to their stories, wanting to comprehend their experiences and pain. Her research leads her to Caleb, who invites Percy to Portal, where he has been bringing damaged veterans to a Christian camp that promises deliverance from demons.

As Percy spends time with these soldiers, exorcists and their followers—finding their beliefs both repellant and magnetic—she enters a world of fanaticism that is alternately terrifying and welcoming. With a jagged lyricism reminiscent of novelists Daniel Woodrell and Denis Johnson, Demon Camp is the riveting true story of a veteran with PTSD seeking solace in people who profess to be exorcists, a writer who falls under his spell, and the larger story of the battles soldiers face after the war is over. A mesmerizing blend of history, psychology, and reportage, Percy paints an unexpected and unforgettable portrait of the long lasting effects of war on our individual and national psyche and how people reconcile faith and trauma.

AND for good measure, my personal favorite Jane Austen

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Called a 'perfect novel' by Harold Bloom, Persuasion was written while Jane Austen was in failing health. She died soon after its completion, and it was published in an edition with Northanger Abbey in 1818.

In the novel, Anne Elliot, the heroine Austen called 'almost too good for me,' has let herself be persuaded not to marry Frederick Wentworth, a fine and attractive man without means. Eight years later, Captain Wentworth returns from the Napoleonic Wars with a triumphant naval career behind him, a substantial fortune to his name, and an eagerness to wed. Austen explores the complexities of human relationships as they change over time. 'She is a prose Shakespeare,' Thomas Macaulay wrote of Austen in 1842. 'She has given us a multitude of characters, all, in a certain sense, commonplace. Yet they are all as perfectly discriminated from each other as if they were the most eccentric of human beings.'

Persuasion is the last work of one of the greatest of novelists, the end of a quiet career pursued in anonymity in rural England that produced novels which continue to give pleasure to millions of readers throughout the world.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Beautiful Covers, Beautiful Books

Whoever coined that tired, "cover-judging" cliche surely never saw an NYRB Classic from New York Review of Books. NYRB has done something remarkable with their covers.  They've made them all distinct and beautiful, but kept the basic format the same.  So it's incredibly easy to spot an NYRB, even though each cover is uniquely its own. The clean lines, bold colors, and stunning artwork make the NYRBs an object of beauty.  And it's more than just looks, there's something substantial; something that just feels good about holding an NYRB book.  Michael at Ravenna says that anyone designing a book should study the NYRB collection. He's right.

I've read quite a few NYRB books and I have loved a lot of them.  Stoner and The Summer Book come to mind.  But even if I haven't loved an NYRB, I've always enjoyed them- always found something worthwhile and important in reading them.  So I guess I will continue judging those NYRB covers, it hasn't failed me yet.

We've put up a little display at Ravenna featuring the genius of a well-designed collection of books.  Of course there's the NYRBs, but we're also loving Melville House's Neversink Library, and Art of the Novella collection.  Come judge them for yourself.

The Skin by Curzio Malaparte

This is the first unexpurgated English edition of Curzio Malaparte’s legendary work The Skin. The book begins in 1943, with Allied forces cementing their grip on the devastated city of Naples. The sometime Fascist and ever-resourceful Curzio Malaparte is working with the Americans as a liaison officer. He looks after Colonel Jack Hamilton, “a Christian gentleman . . . an American in the noblest sense of the word,” who speaks French and cites the classics and holds his nose as the two men tour the squalid streets of a city in ruins where liberation is only another word for desperation. Veterans of the disbanded Italian army beg for work. A rare specimen from the city’s famous aquarium is served up at a ceremonial dinner for high Allied officers. Prostitution is rampant. The smell of death is everywhere.

Subtle, cynical, evasive, manipulative, unnerving, always astonishing, Malaparte is a supreme artist of the unreliable, both the product and the prophet of a world gone rotten to the core.

Zuleika Dobson: Or, an Oxford Love Story by Max Beerbohm

Sir Henry Maximilian “Max” Beerbohm was, like his friend Oscar Wilde, such an acclaimed wit (and essayist, caricaturist, and parodist) that George Bernard Shaw dubbed him “the incomparable Max.” But Beerbohm’s comic masterpiece Zuleika Dobson—one of the Modern Library’s top 100 English-language novels of the twentieth century—is the only novel he ever wrote.

Strangely out of print in the United States for years, this crackling farce is nonetheless as piercing and fresh as when it first appeared in 1911: a hilarious dismantling of academia and privilege, and a swashbuckling lampooning of class systems and notions of masculine virtue.

The all-male campus of Oxford—Beerbohm’s alma mater—is a place where aesthetics holds sway above all else, and where witty intellectuals reign. Things haven’t changed for its privileged student body for years . . . until the beguiling music-hall prestidigitator Zuleika Dobson shows up.

The book’s marvelous prose dances along the line between reality and the absurd as students and dons alike fall at Zuleika’s feet, and she cuts a wide swath across the campus—until she encounters one young aristocrat for whom she is astonished to find she has feelings.

As Zuleika, and her creator, zero in on their targets, the book takes some surprising and dark twists on its way to a truly startling ending—an ending so striking that readers will understand why Virginia Woolf said that “Mr. Beerbohm in his way is perfect.”