[Editor's note: John Freeman is president of the National Book Critics Circle. Last fall the NBCC introduced its Most Recommended List. On the heels of their Winter Reading List, we're pleased to offer the following author comments on titles for the list. And on Monday, February 11th, don't miss our NBCC Best Recommended Books event at Powell's City of Books on Burnside.]
Hari Kunzru's My Revolutions is the book I'm telling people to grab. Kunzru is burning up in this novel. He spins a superb tale and his narrator's plummet down the radical rabbit-hole had me from page one.
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Troy Jollimore, author of Tom Thomson in Purgatory, recommends:
What I love about bpNichol is his playfulness, his humor, the sheer joy he took in sentences, in words, even in individual letters. Language was never abstract for Nichol, but a vivid, physical presence; the very shape of a letter could inspire him, as could the sound of spoken language, and even the grunts and noises we resort to when language fails us. As a result he did a lot of work in the areas of concrete poetry (as well as a great many cartoons) and sound poetry (he was a member of the amazing sound poetry performance group, The Four Horsemen). But the more traditional poems he wrote for the page are also wonderful. The Alphabet Game is a hugely enjoyable gathering of his work, and I hope that it will bring him new readers, particularly in the U.S. where, sadly, he remains little-known.
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Chauncey Mabe, books editor of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, recommends:
The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein
The Pirate's Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompson
Sir Gawain and the Green Night: A New Verse Translation by Simon Armitage
The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Kline: While Naomi Kline's new book may paint a cartoonish portrait of Milton Friedman and his impact on American foreign and economic policy, this nonetheless isa deeply researched, profoundly passionate and highly readable left-wing screed that everyone would benefit from reading.
The Pirate's Daughter, by Margaret Cezair-Thompson. Cezair-Thompson deftly walks the high wire between literary and pop fiction, melding romance and politics in this novel that reimagines Errol Flynn's sojourn in Jamaica near the end of his career.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: A New Verse Translation, by Simon Armitage.
Although British poet Armitage indugles in some risible anachronisms in this new translation, he captures the narrative power of the Old English epic perhaps even better than Tolkein does.
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Michael Upchurch, book critic of the Seattle Times and the author of
Passive Intruder, among other novels, recommends:
The Expeditions by Karl Iagnemma (Delacorte, Jan. 2008)
In his first novel, Karl Iagnemma (On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction) evokes the Michigan of 1844, when Detroit lay near the old "Northwest" frontier of the United States and the state's Upper Peninsula was a recent U.S. purchase waiting to be explored. Iagnemma's evocation of the coves, bluffs and woods of the peninsula's Lake Superior coastline is IMAX-intense. But there's more to The Expeditions than good period detail and swell scenery. This book is a novel of ideas, an outdoor adventure story, a comedy of fraud and errors — and Iagnemma knows exactly what he's doing on every count.
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Carolyn Kellogg, who runs the literary blog Pinky's Paperhaus, recommends:
In How the Dead Dream, Lydia Millet traces cold capitalist T. as he evolves into a lover of endangered animals. It's an unlikely transition, but she makes it believable with both empathy and witty details. But T. is more than just the man on the page; he also serves as an allegory for American culture. Millet balances heady, heavy ideas with humor, making this book one of my favorites of 2008.
(Click here to order a special edition of How the Dead Dream as part of our new Indiespensible subscription club.)
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John Freeman is president of the National Book Critics Circle. His reviews, essays, and interviews appear in more than 175 newspapers and magazines around the world, including The Guardian, the Sydney Morning Herald, and the Wall Street Journal. He is working on a book about the tyranny of email for Scribner.
Books mentioned in this post