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Archive for the 'What We’re Reading' Category

New Year, New Books

The beginning of a new year at a bookstore can be a little dull. New books are always coming out, of course, but almost all the awards have been doled out, every media outlet in the world has put out its list of The Best Books of the Previous Year, and many readers, exhausted by the holidays, simply content themselves with whatever book-to-movie adaptation is up for a Golden Globe.

The biggest problem for me is that I'm not usually attracted to books that receive a lot of industry or media buzz. Maybe it's a desire to associate with underdogs (I never was a popular kid), but I just can't bear to cast my attention on those already glutted with it. So the books that do make it swiftly onto the public radar in the New Year are not generally the kinds of books that I want to read. Which means I have to do my best Nancy Drew and puzzle out who is publishing what, when, and with which publisher. This year I'm taking a proactive approach. I'm already counting down the ...

Browsing the Carts

I love Powell's book carts. I love the books they carry from place to place and I love the stickers and sayings that cover them. One of the pleasures of shopping at the downtown store is checking out the stickers on the carts.

The City of Books has a dedicated team of people whose only job is gathering up the stray books and getting them back on the right shelf. I bet on a normal day, they probably go through hundreds of books. I enjoy checking out the books on those carts before they get sorted. You never know what you are going to find.

The other day on a cart I found a couple of books I love, books I've been meaning to read and books I'd forgotten existed. On one cart I saw The Omnivore's Dilemma, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, and Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti. This time last year I was pestering everyone to read Omnivore's Dilemma. Michael Pollan has gotten some heat for the book, but I found it compulsively readable and, yes, ...

Still More NBCC Recommendations

[Last week on our blog, National Book Critics Circle president John Freeman shared the NBCC's picks for its "Most Recommended" list, along with some of the voters' comments on the titles they picked. Here are some more.]

John Casey on Per Petterson:

What is wonderful about this novel is that the narrator can feel the Norwegian landscape her grew up in and what happened there — he feels it as intimately as a blind man reading braille or touching the face of his wife to feel her expression.

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Poet Daisy Fried on her choices:

Language Poetry has a reputation for arcane difficulty, but the poetry of Ron Silliman, a leading Language poet, is alert to the world, full of reality and human experience, and written with the kind of easy precision that refreshes the ear. The Age of Huts (Compleat) brings together segments previously published separately. Each section attacks a different problem with a different technique. The overall ambition of the book to shift language and perception makes it feel like a grand modernist project in contemporary idiom — with a sense of ...

More NBCC Recommendations

Last week on our blog, National Book Critics Circle president John Freeman shared the NBCC's picks for its "Most Recommended" list, along with some of the voters' comments on the titles they picked. Here are some more.

From Amy Gerstler, whose book Bitter Angel (1990) won the 1991 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry.

In choosing 3 books published this year that meant a lot to me, I tried to zero in on titles that might not be on everyone else's list — to call attention to a trio of deserving gems. There were oodles to choose from. It was slightly painful to name only three.

POETRY: 30 years worth of Elaine Equi's poems are collected in Ripple Effect: New and Selected Poems. Her work is consistently witty, surprising, graceful, and fluid. This is an indispensable and long awaited volume for those who have been juggling her pile of smaller books, as well as for readers who have not yet had the delight of encountering her inventive, magical voice.

NONFICTION: Lucia Perillo is one of America's finest living poets. The
writing in her dark memoir I've Heard the ...

What Do You Recommend?

Earlier this week, National Book Critics Circle president John Freeman shared the NBCC's picks for its "Most Recommended" list. Here are some of the voters' comments on the titles they picked.

Anne Tyler on Out Stealing Horses:

It's a book that seems to me timeless, and one that applies to a much larger world than the tiny rural setting it describes.

Yale professor of English David Bromwich on The Shock Doctrine:

The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein is a work of originality and courage . Klein argues that the behavioral and punitive sciences, the arts of counter-insurgency and regional war, and the high-market doctrine of economic correctness have been laboratory tested and successfully harnessed over the past four decades in the engineering of organized fear. She draws upon an impressive body of evidence to suggest that the leading political project of our time — a work that cuts across parties and countries — is the replacement of democratic citizens by subjects who are grateful to be ruled.

NBCC board member and poet Kevin Prufer on Mary Jo Bang's Elegy:

Mary Jo Bang's Elegy is musically subtle and ...

Dungeons and Dragons: Shared Storytelling

I read Lord of the Rings when I was eleven. I'm not saying I understood it all and it took me over a year to read the whole thing. But, starting then, I was hooked on fantasy. It seems to make sense to go from reading fantasy to being a part of the story by playing the Dungeons and Dragons game. It is a game, but it's a creative, collaborative game that feels more like shared storytelling.

If you've shied away from D&D, I've got a couple of books for you.

If you like games, fantasy novels, and Sex in the City, check out Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress: A Girl's Guide to the Dungeons and Dragons Game by Shelly Mazzanoble. The title says it all. Mazzanoble takes the terror out of 20-sided dice. The book is fun and low-key, wise and witty.

Another beginners' book you can't go wrong with: Dungeons and Dragons for Dummies. (I love Dummies books. There is a Dummies book for every aspect of your life. They are much better than Idiot's Guides — at least in my opinion.) ...

Gold Room Meets Blue Room

Michael Chabon has a new book coming out today. And it's totally Gold Room. This is the Michael Chabon I love best. Kavalier and Clay might have won some big-deal award, but at heart it's for us sci-fi/fantasy geeks. Gentlemen of the Road: A Tale of Adventure is a rollicking page-turner. We're talking sword-fighting and mistaken identities and mysterious merchants on camels. Although nothing "fantastic" happens — there are no elves or magic — it is historical fantasy nonetheless. And it gets my highest compliment: I wanted to call out sick to finish reading it.

Our subsection Historical Fantasy is a place where worlds collide. A master of this subgenre is Naomi Novik. Her series, which begins with His Majesty's Dragon, is a delight. It's the Napoleonic wars but fought with dragons. What's not to love? If you want great characters, historical accuracy, and dragons, check it out.

I'm looking forward to reading Wealtheow: Her Telling of Beowulf by Ashley Crownover, out in December. Wealtheow, for those of you not up on your old English poetry, is Hrothgar's wife. Old, weak Hrothgar's


Hard to Find but Worth It

One of my all-time favorite mystery series is Dorothy Cannell's Thin Woman series. Ellie Haskell is a detective after my own heart. It's a shame that some of the early books are out of print (at least in the U.S.). It is worth your time to rummage the used book bins in your town looking for the first few in the series (and, for safe measure, use our Notify Me service).

Here's a complete list of the series.

I was at the Oregon Coast this past weekend, staying at the reader's paradise that is the Sylvia Beach Hotel. When I wasn't curled up in the library with a cup of tea, I was poking around the wonderful local bookstores looking for early Dorothy Cannell mysteries!

I am loath to read a series out of order (the Thin Woman series is no exception) and, yet, I love these books so much that I'd rather you read the latest addition to the series, Withering Heights, and then work backwards. As Withering Heights opens you'll find Ellie in domestic bliss, which is not what you'd ever expect when reading the first book The Thin ...

Win a Copy of Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts

Last winter I was very eager to read Joe Hill's debut novel, Heart-Shaped Box, even before the author was a guest blogger for — and yes, even before I learned he is Stephen King's son. The premise was just so deliciously perfect: an "aging death-metal rock god" buys a ghost on eBay. Mayhem ensues.

It sounded like a fun thrill-ride, the sort of novel that really could be, to quote the publisher's copy, "a masterwork brimming with relentless thrills and acid terror."

I started my advanced copy the instant it arrived, and stopped about halfway through. I confess, I was neither scared nor thrilled by the book. I've read accolades from the likes of Scott Smith and Neil Gaiman, not to mention fawning reviews from the press, and yet... it just didn't work for me. Hey, it happens. I'll spare you the spoiler warning and just note that by the time the plot hit the road, my suspension of disbelief was fully revoked.

Now, however, I find myself reconsidering that earlier position and thinking about rereading Heart-Shaped Box.

No, I'm not giving in to peer pressure or ...

Into the Great Abyss

You know, there are a bazillion books of poetry published in English each year. And so many of them get published into the Great Abyss: no review attention, no notice at bookstores, passed on by the chains. They simply get published and then — poof! — they're gone.

This is the stuff of tragedy. I remember, twenty-odd years ago, when I was first exploring poetry, discovering the likes of William Stafford, John Haines, Karen Brodine, and Nellie Wong simply because I was paying attention to what was coming out from smaller, independent presses. And I fell in love, and have been paying close attention since.

I hope this is mirrored in my blog posts. It's not that I won't ever offer my opinion on a book published by Random House or Harper. It's just that I figure those books have enough support from their huge publishers, and that the little guys — Curbstone, Copper Canyon, Black Widow, Hanging Loose, etc. — both deserve and need the attention that Powell's can pay them. So, that's where I stand. Let's see where it takes us.

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Ron Padgett is a curious sort of person. A habitué of ...

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