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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Read This Book(er)

Winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction, named one of the best books of 2015 by The New York Times Book Review and the Wall Street Journal, and now winner of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction (the first American to do so), Kalani say, "Read this book,"

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

This is what absurdist social commentary is all about! Beatty tackles the always hot-button issue of race beautifully in this satirical masterpiece of a black urban farmer who attempts to resegregate his hometown. This is as funny as it is deeply thought-provoking. One of the best, most entertaining novels I've read in awhile.  -Kalani

A biting satire about a young man's isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, Paul Beatty's The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. It challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality the black Chinese restaurant.

Born in the "agrarian ghetto" of Dickens on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles the narrator of The Sellout resigns himself to the fate of lower-middle-class Californians: "I'd die in the same bedroom I'd grown up in, looking up at the cracks in the stucco ceiling that've been there since '68 quake." Raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist, he spent his childhood as the subject in racially charged psychological studies. He is led to believe that his father's pioneering work will result in a memoir that will solve his family's financial woes. But when his father is killed in a police shoot-out, he realizes there never was a memoir. All that's left is the bill for a drive-thru funeral.

Fuelled by this deceit and the general disrepair of his hometown, the narrator sets out to right another wrong: Dickens has literally been removed from the map to save California from further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town's most famous resident the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins he initiates the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Read This Book : Shirley You Jest Edition

Dean and Halley say, "Read this book:"

Well, Jackson did it again! This beautiful strange novel leaves quite a distinct and lingering impression. In this tale of mystery and isolation we are met by two sisters cut off from the world. They live alone, happily and ferally in their dilapidated family home in an almost mundanely mystical lifestyle a la Grey Gardens. Delivering and effortless sense of unease, this captivating and understated story will leave you in a satisfying state of unknowingness.

Merricat lives with her older sister and uncle after her family is killed due to the mysterious appearance of arsenic in the sugar bowl. After her sister is acquited of the murder, she and Merricat are ostracized by the village. For a time, they are content in their isolation...until a visitor comes to stay. Strange and haunting, this novel stayed with me long after I finished it. Shirley Jackson managed to tell a story without violence, gore, or horror and yet by the end you're left chilled to the bone.


And speaking of Shirley Jackson, just now is a pretty good time to be an SJ fan (or to become one) as the queen of horror is experiencing a bit of a resurgence. And it's about time too. 

When Shirley Jackson was first introduced by The New Republic, it was as, "Shirley Jackson, the wife of Stanley Hyman... living in New Hampshire and writing a novel." Not as she should have been, "Shirley Jackson the bad*ss writer of truly haunting and creepy short stories is writing a novel and lives in New Hampshire where she has to drive Stanley Hyman (the husband of Ms. Jackson) around because she knows how to drive and he doesn't." Not that not being able to drive is a reason for ridicule.

All I'm trying to say is it's time to give this author and licensed driver the appreciation she deserves. And with a new biography, last year's novel based on her life, and a soon to be released graphic novel based on one of her most well-known short stories, we finally are! -Erin

Shirley Jackson's The Lottery continues to thrill and unsettle readers nearly seven decades after it was first published. By turns puzzling and harrowing, it raises troubling questions about conformity, tradition, and the specter of ritualized violence that haunts even the most bucolic, peaceful village. 

This graphic adaptation, published in time for Jackson's centennial, allows readers to experience The Lottery as never before, or discover it anew. The visual artist--and Jackson's grandson--Miles Hyman has crafted an eerie vision of the hamlet where the tale unfolds, its inhabitants, and the unforgettable ritual they set into motion. His four-color, meticulously detailed panels create a noirish atmosphere that adds a new dimension of dread to the original tale. Perfectly timed to the current resurgence of interest in Jackson and her work, Shirley Jackson's The Lottery: The Authorized Graphic Adaptation masterfully reimagines her iconic story with a striking visual narrative.

Shirley Jackson : A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin

Placing Jackson within an American Gothic tradition that stretches back to Hawthorne and Poe, Franklin demonstrates how her unique contribution to this genre came from her focus on "domestic horror." Almost two decades before The Feminine Mystique ignited the women's movement, Jackson stories and nonfiction chronicles were already exploring the exploitation and the desperate isolation of women, particularly married women, in American society.Franklin's portrait of Jackson gives us a way of reading Jackson and her work that threads her into the weave of the world of words, as a writer and as a woman, rather than excludes her as an anomaly (Neil Gaiman).

The increasingly prescient Jackson emerges as a ferociously talented, determined, and prodigiously creative writer in a time when it was unusual for a woman to have both a family and a profession.A mother of four and the wife of the prominentNew Yorkercritic and academic Stanley Edgar Hyman, Jackson lived a seemingly bucolic life in the New England town of North Bennington, Vermont. Yet, much like her stories, which channeled the occult while exploring the claustrophobia of marriage and motherhood, Jackson's creative ascent was haunted by a darker side. As her career progressed, her marriage became more tenuous, her anxiety mounted, and she became addicted to amphetamines and tranquilizers. In sobering detail, Franklin insightfully examines the effects of Jackson's California upbringing, in the shadow of a hypercritical mother, on her relationship with her husband, juxtaposing Hyman's infidelities, domineering behavior, and professional jealousy with his unerring admiration for Jackson's fiction, which he was convinced was among the most brilliant he had ever encountered.

Shirley by Susan Scarf Merrell 

In this darkly captivating novel, Susan Scarf Merrell uses the facts of Jackson's life as a springboard to explore the 1964 disappearance of Paula Weldon, a young Bennington College student. 

Told through the eyes of Rose Nemser the wife of a graduate student working with Jackson's husband, Bennington professor Stanley Edgar Hyman Shirley reimagines the connections between the Hymans volatile marriage and one of the era's great unsolved mysteries.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Scary Books!

It's my favorite time of year for reading. Not that I don't read at all other times of the year. It's only that reading October through December is THE BEST time for reading. It's like the sports year, sure, hockey is good all season long, but it's THE BEST during Stanley Cup playoffs.

Nothing is cozier than curling under a blanket, drinking a cup of tea, and reading to the sounds of rain falling and wind scattered leaves. I also like to put my Yule Log on, but you should feel free to light a real fire should you have a fireplace. Admit it, me describing it right now has you contemplating just how many sick days you can get away with.

Since Reading Season Playoffs begin in October, I like to start off with scary books. I've put together a table at the Lake Forest Park Store. Here are a few of the titles on display, come on down and check out the rest...if you dare.

Dawn  by Octavia Butler

Lilith lyapo awoke from a centuries-long sleep to find herself aboard the vast spaceship of the Oankali. Creatures covered in writhing tentacles, the Oankali had saved every surviving human from a dying, ruined Earth. They healed the planet, cured cancer, increased strength, and were now ready to help Lilith lead her people back to Earth--but for a price.

Trapped between two candidates with the highest recorded unfavorables, Americans are plunged into The Year of Voting Dangerously. In this perilous and shocking campaign season, Dowd traces the psychologies and pathologies in one of the nastiest and most significant battles of the sexes ever. If America is on the escalator to hell, then this book is the perfect guide for this surreal, insane ride.

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

There's something strange about the Silver family house in the closed-off town of Dover, England. Grand and cavernous with hidden passages and buried secrets, it's been home to four generations of Silver women Anna, Jennifer, Lily, and now Miranda, who has lived in the house with her twin brother, Eliot, ever since their father converted it to a bed-and-breakfast. The Silver women have always had a strong connection, a pull over one another that reaches across time and space, and when Lily, Miranda's mother, passes away suddenly while on a trip abroad, Miranda begins suffering strange ailments. An eating disorder starves her. She begins hearing voices. When she brings a friend home, Dover's hostility toward outsiders physically manifests within the four walls of the Silver house, and the lives of everyone inside are irrevocably changed.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn't the monster Conor's been expecting-- he's been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he's had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It's ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd-- whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself-- Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.

All the Single Ladies Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister

In 2009, award-winning journalist Rebecca Traister started All the Single Ladies about the twenty-first century phenomenon of the American single woman. It was the year the proportion of American women who were married dropped below fifty percent; and the median age of first marriages, which had remained between twenty and twenty-two years old for nearly a century (1890 1980), had risen dramatically to twenty-seven. 

But over the course of her vast research and more than a hundred interviews with academics and social scientists and prominent single women, Traister discovered a startling truth: the phenomenon of the single woman in America is not a new one. And historically, when women were given options beyond early heterosexual marriage, the results were massive social change temperance, abolition, secondary education, and more. Today, only twenty percent of Americans are married by age twenty-nine, compared to nearly sixty percent in 1960. 

And my favorite literary/author pun...


Saturday, October 1, 2016

Reading Fast, and Reading Slow

In 16 years of bookselling, I’ve always been a voracious reader, devouring 2-3 books each week. This spring I hit a reading slump. My personal life turned upside down, and suddenly I couldn’t focus. Reading has always been a refuge, so it was strange to be so distracted that I couldn’t read more than a few pages without losing track of the narrative.

I loved Charles DuHigg’s The Power of Habit, so I snapped up an advance copy of his latest book, Smarter Faster Better. I took notes on the first few chapters and could hardly wait to read the rest, but life got in the way. Ironically, I fell out of the habit of picking up a book whenever I had a spare minute.

By April 4 I’d managed to finish one book: Marrow Island by Alexis Smith. I adored Smith’s debut gem, Glaciers, and her second effort is the type of novel I’d ordinarily finish in a day or two: literary fiction with an edge of mystery, set primarily in the San Juan Islands.  I spent six weeks reading this wonderfully stitched 256-page story, determined to see it through and return to my usual reading pace.

In May I had a few more false starts but only finished one book: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, a beautifully wrought portrait of two half-sisters and their descendants, from the Gold Coast of Africa at the peak of the slave trade to 21st century America. The memorable characters each evoke a unique time and place, bringing humanity to history.

June brought me just what I needed: Maria Semple’s forthcoming romp Today Will Be Different. Funny and smart with a touch of the ridiculous, it follows Eleanor Flood through a single day in which she tries to be a better person, to hilarious effect.

By the end of July I felt accomplished; I'd finished three whole books! I savored my favorite, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, over several weeks. Sentenced to live out his days as a Former Person at the Hotel Metropol in 1922, Count Alexander Rostov resolves to make the best of his reduced circumstances. With unparalleled charm, he moves through three decades, befriending staff, guests, and foreign journalists, always the gentleman. Fans of Helen Simonson’s delightful The Summer Before the War will enjoy the count's quick wit and the minutiae of his days.

In August I enjoyed a few pages a day of Eowyn Ivey’s second novel, To the Bright Edge of the World. Set in nineteenth century Alaska, this historical novel follows an expedition up the Wolverine River into the unknown, told through the leader’s journal entries and his wife’s letters.

At first I felt horribly guilty neglecting the stacks of unread advance reading copies on my shelves, but over the past few months I’ve let go of the guilt somewhat. I’ve fallen out of the reading habit, but I have faith it will return. Right now I’m spending 6-8 hours each week on my bike, writing loads of letters and postcards, journaling, paddle boarding, camping, and anything else that gets me out in the glorious summer sun.