From the Shelf
Read Again for the First Time
In our Shelf Awareness Pro daily newsletter, we run a regular feature called "Reading With...," in which authors can wax poetic about their lives as readers. My favorite question is always the last one in the survey: What book do you most want to read again for the first time?. These answers are thoughtful, funny and honest, and even turn the concept on its head!
Michael Arceneaux (I Can't Date Jesus, Atria, $17)
"White Girl Problems (Hyperion, $15) by Babe Walker. I know people were probably expecting something profound, but even if I may not be the intended demo, I love satire and these books are so damn hilarious. Literally, I'm black, I'm gay and I'm not in the 1%. More often than not, I just need a laugh and a distraction. These books always crack me up."
Michelle Dean (Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion, Grove, $17)
"Honestly, Tana French's Broken Harbour, which astonished me the first time I read it. You sort of should read her three prior books before you get to it, but it was the first contemporary book in a long time that made me wonder: Hey, how'd she do that?"
John Larison (Whiskey When We're Dry, Viking, $26):
"The River Why (Back Bay Books, $15.99) by David James Duncan. A coming-of-age novel that can only be properly appreciated in your own coming-of-age."
Katharine Weber (Still Life with Monkey, Paul Dry Books, $16.95)
"The Great Gatsby (Scribner, $17) by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It's an utterly perfect novel (really a novella), a cocktail of inevitability and surprise and strangeness that goes down flawlessly each time I read it. Like most of us, I read it for the first time when I was far too young to appreciate what signifies and resonates for me now."
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (Sketchtasy, Arsenal Pulp, $17.95)
"Why read anything for the first time, when you can read it again?"
The Writer's Life
Reading with... Nicole Chung
Nicole Chung's debut memoir is
|photo: Erica B. Tappis
All You Can Ever Know (Catapult). Her essays and articles have appeared in the
New York Times,
Hazlitt, among others. She is the editor-in-chief of Catapult magazine and the former managing editor of
The Toast. Find her on Twitter @nicole_soojung.
On your nightstand now:
Vanessa Hua's A River of Stars and Crystal Hana Kim's If You Leave Me. Oh, and I just started genius Liana Finck's graphic memoir, Passing for Human. For weeks I've been working my way through the Emily Wilson translation of The Odyssey, bit by bit, just trying to savor it. (It was my birthday present to myself.)
Favorite book when you were a child:
Probably E.B. White's The Trumpet of the Swan. I don't know that any scene in literature has made me happier than the one in which Louis the Swan stays at the Ritz.
Your top five authors:
Oh my god, this is so hard. QUICKLY, off the top of my head, without giving myself any room for the agony of indecision and second-guessing: Octavia Butler! Dorothy L. Sayers! Jesmyn Ward! Celeste Ng! E.B. White! Is that five? I hope I never have to answer this again!
Book you've faked reading:
Started but did not finish The Master and Margarita; many apologies to my professor. That was 15 years ago, and I still feel a pang of guilt whenever anyone talks about Bulgakov being a genius; I just nod and murmur, "Yeah, Master and Margarita" in what I hope is a sufficiently reverent tone, and pray no one follows up with any questions.
Book you're an evangelist for:
I've told many, many people they should read Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers. And Min Jin Lee's Pachinko is That Book I Seem to Be Buying for a Whole Lot of People (if we're related and I give it to you as a gift, please act surprised).
Book you've bought for the cover:
Years ago, I bought the gorgeous red Penguin Drop Caps edition of Pride and Prejudice, even though I already owned three other editions of Pride and Prejudice.
Book you hid from your parents:
They for sure knew that I read everything I could, and never made me feel like I had to hide or be embarrassed about any of it. I did try--unsuccessfully--to hide my own writing from them. (They eventually found and read it all.)
Book that changed your life:
Not trying to dodge this question, but I truly believe every book you read and love changes your life somehow. It might start by changing how you experience the world as you read it--you're thinking about it when you're not reading it, you're talking about it with friends, you're reconsidering other stories you've read because of it--and then by the end it'll give you some narrative, or some bit of knowledge, or some question you will incorporate into your life going forward. So many books teach you, stay with you and in staying they change you.
Of the books I've read and loved over the past few years, Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere probably affected me most deeply, because I never thought I would see a lifetime's worth of my own questions about adoption explored so masterfully and gorgeously in fiction. It felt strange and affirming in ways I didn't expect, and it also made me so emotional that I have only read it twice, even though I adore it! I am preparing myself, emotionally, for that third read.
Favorite line from a book:
This is also impossible to answer, but a favorite line would have to be the old standby, "Speaking of ways, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract," from A Wrinkle in Time, which is probably the line I'd get tattooed somewhere if the sight of blood (mine; anyone's) did not make my knees go all funny. Every time I read or think of it, it reminds me to think less about limits and what I think I lack, and more in terms of the possible. And it reminds me to lean into my stubbornness and righteous anger. Stay angry, little Meg!
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
The Lord of the Rings, if I could read it with my dad. It was his favorite book. Now that he's gone, I wish we'd read it together my first time through.
In the House in the Dark of the Woods
While Laird Hunt's In the House in the Dark of the Woods doesn't begin with the classic "once upon a time" lead-in of so many fairy tales, his protagonist's later account of her own story does: "Once upon a time there was and wasn't a woman who went into the woods...." And after she went into the New England woods, she lost her way and was rescued (or maybe captured) by Captain Jane, who took her to Eliza, who lived in a house by a lake (or maybe a swamp). The woman then tried to find her way home to her husband and son (or maybe she decided to stay).
As In the House in the Dark of the Woods
unfolds, many things are left unclear: Did the colonial woman, whose eyes can "see through shadows," run away from home or simply lose her way? Are Jane and Eliza friends or foes? What is Goody not telling us about herself--and about her journey to and through the haunted woods? This ambiguity lends itself to the magical, mystical world Hunt (Neverhome
) crafts as Goody sets forth to write her own story--both literally and figuratively--in a time and place that seem determined to let her do anything but. In the House in the Dark of the Woods
is a tale of myths and magic, of subversion and upset, and of dark psychological suspense. It reads something like a fairy tale and something like a thriller--a haunting combination in more ways than one. --Kerry McHugh
, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: The author of Neverhome crafts a haunting, mystical story of a colonial woman who gets lost in the New England woods near her home.
$22, hardcover, 224p., 9780316411059
The Rain Watcher
Tatiana De Rosnay
In The Rain Watcher, Tatiana De Rosnay (Sarah's Key) once again uses Paris as a dramatic backdrop. The novel overlays the small dramas of a family amid the crushing events of a devastating natural disaster.
The Malegarde family gathers in Paris to celebrate father Paul's 70th birthday and his 40th anniversary with wife Lauren. Their grown children, Linden and Tilia, travel from San Francisco and London, respectively, for the long-overdue reunion. As each family member arrives at the hotel, rain pours outside, accompanied by warnings in the news of potential catastrophic flooding. Their celebratory weekend quickly falls apart as first Paul and then Lauren become seriously ill while the Seine continues to rise and much of the city is evacuated.
De Rosnay creates a dark and ominous atmosphere as the family crisis unfolds in parallel with the growing natural disaster. In addition to the obvious urgencies of Paul and Lauren's medical problems, each family member carries old fears, pain and secrets that gradually come to light as the situation unravels. Paris is like a character itself here, with De Rosnay intimately describing its distinctive features and neighborhoods. She portrays its ongoing destruction in a way that is completely immersive as the river outside surpasses historic flood levels and inundates the city, transforming it into something unrecognizable. The Malegarde family, too, transforms, slowly pulling together, turning to each other for comfort and beginning to heal. --Suzan L. Jackson
, freelance writer and author of Book By Book
Discover: A family gathers in Paris for a celebration, but personal crises and a natural disaster thwart their plans and force them to become closer.
St. Martin's Press,
$27.99, hardcover, 240p., 9781250200013
Destroy All Monsters
Jeff Jackson's Destroy All Monsters is two novels in one. The cataclysms are small but the things that people use to define themselves slowly begin to corrode and warp like a record played too many times. The dual narratives meander and take harrowing turns, but end in the characters' attempts at genuine human connection.
Destroy All Monsters is split down the middle, with an "A Side" and "B Side" representing different takes on a single premise. In both, a rash of killings breaks out, with concert attendees murdering the performers. The "A Side," titled "My Dark Ages," features Xenie, a young music aficionado coping with the horrific murder of her boyfriend, Shaun. In the "B Side," Xenie herself is killed at a concert, leaving Shaun to pick up the pieces. In both sections, Jackson plumbs the depths of their grief and pushes into the strange, conspiracy-like web of the killings.
Both tales capture the surreal moments after the death of a loved one, and Jackson (Mira Corpora
) rarely diverges from the dreamlike quality he gives to most scenes. There are bands with crazy names, declarations of love in the strangest places and, of course, brutal murders described in graphic detail. In the end, the characters' gnawing need to feel connection--with each other and their lives--gives the book pathos without losing its macabre edges. --Noah Cruickshank
, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.
Discover: With parallel stories about a world where violence breaks out at music concerts, Destroy All Monsters is a surreal take on the need for human connection.
$16, paperback, 384p., 9780374537661
Dark and delightful, playful and peculiar, Little
is Edward Carey
's absorbing, fictional re-creation of Madame Tussaud's early life. In the voice of a young Marie Grosholtz and accompanied by her personal drawings, the novel takes readers from her unfortunate childhood in a Swiss village to the hustle and bustle of 18th-century Paris.
After the death of her father and the suicide of her mother, Marie enters the care of an idiosyncratic doctor, Dr. Philip Curtius. He isn't comfortable around people--especially women--but he finds great joy in crafting body parts out of wax. Marie's ability to tolerate the wax anatomical forms endears her to him, and he teaches her the art. He doesn't find Marie threatening. Instead, "She's just Marie, she's hardly frightening. Sometimes I forget she is even female at all; she seems to have no clear sex really, or one entirely of her own: male, female, Marie. She's my Marie." Once in Paris, the pair intend to make a living casting Parisian heads in wax.
Carey's spirited style brings a lightness to Marie's bleak days and a whimsy to her brighter ones. He blends dark humor with a puckish tone for a story that's simply magnetic. Even when there's a foreboding atmosphere, his words seem to dance on the page.
The addition of Marie's drawings also adds a fascinating flair to the novel. Sometimes unsettling and other times ticklishly humorous, they offer additional insight into the mind of Carey's enormously animated "little" protagonist. Little
is big in many ways: creativity, energy, concept and character. Leave plenty of room in your heart for this one; you'll need it. --Jen Forbus
Discover: An epic story of how the odd little girl Marie Grosholtz overcame a troubled childhood to become the legendary wax sculptor Madame Tussaud.
$27, hardcover, 448p., 9780525534327
Useful Phrases for Immigrants: Stories
In Useful Phrases for Immigrants, May-lee Chai (Hapa Girl; Tiger Girl) illuminates a range of characters with experiences in common. This story collection is aptly titled: these are tales of Chinese immigrants to North America and, sometimes, within China. They are stories of family and community dynamics.
They encompass an adventure with a dying mother, an ice cream cake that potently stands in for a critical memory of childhood tragedy and the distinctive trials of a Chinese-American traveling to Beijing. A young boy new to the big city quickly learns to play rougher games there. While not linked by specific characters, these stories share certain things: the names and numbers of siblings vary, but details, like a treasured cloisonné bowl, reappear. Such commonalities, rather than contributing to a feeling of homogeneity, lend a feeling of continuity. In other words, families may diverge in their particulars, but face similar challenges concerning culture and relationships.
Chai's stories carry themes about borders--national, cultural and psychic--and traditions old, new and invented. As the world becomes increasingly global, this material proves ever-relevant. Chai's prose is often unadorned, but occasionally startlingly lovely: "summer days stretched taffy slow from one Good Humor truck to the next." Even unnamed characters prove memorable long after their brief appearances.
These evocative stories are variously funny, surprising, gloomy and heartening, ultimately about a universal human experience, of immigration and beyond. --Julia Kastner
, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: These stories about Chinese immigrant families range widely in their specifics, but offer a universal attention to love, hope and striving.
$16.95, paperback, 166p., 9780932112767
Biography & Memoir
The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London
First-time author Yeoman Warder Christopher Skaife, of Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London, takes readers inside his singular occupation as Ravenmaster, caretaker of the seven corvids who call the Tower home.
According to legend, if all the Tower's ravens ever desert it, the fortress will fall and Great Britain itself will face peril. To stave off this fate and also entertain the millions of visitors to the Tower each year, the landmark maintains a small unkindness of the intelligent, mischievous birds. Part tour guide and part gamekeeper, Skaife lives at the Tower and bears responsibility for the health and happiness of its feathered occupants. In bite-size chapters more akin to essays, he offers anecdotes about the raven roster, including Munin, the so-called Black Widow, and Merlina, the friendliest toward humans and a frequent focus of Skaife's social media posts. Readers will also receive an entertaining education on the history of the Tower's ravens, life as a Yeoman Warder, the Tower's many rumored hauntings and the exploits of the foxes with whom the Ravenmaster maintains an uneasy truce.
Skaife's essays work well as both armchair travel and odd job exploration. His 13 years of leading tour groups through the Tower show in his breezy, tongue-in-cheek style. His passion for his winged charges and their storied abode shines through in each factoid and reminiscence. Readers unable to make a trip to London will find The Ravenmaster
worth the price of admission. --Jaclyn Fulwood
, youth services manager, main branch, Dayton Metro Library, Dayton, Ohio
Discover: Yeoman Warder and Ravenmaster of the Tower of London, Christopher Skaife shares anecdotes and lore from his job caring for the landmark's fabled ravens.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
$26, hardcover, 256p., 9780374113346
The Greatest Love Story Ever Told
, Nick Offerman
Actors Megan Mullally (Will & Grace) and Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation) share their relationship secrets in this free-flowing, hilarious oral history of their early lives, career paths and philosophies. The majority of The Greatest Love Story Ever Told presents the delightful duo playfully bantering and sharing anecdotes, crafting tips, red-carpet secrets, career advice--and making each other laugh. The couple also address serious subjects, including their age difference (she's almost 12 years older) and their decision not to have kids. "I felt like 'if I'm meant to get pregnant, I will,' and I didn't," says Mullally. "I also never had a burning desire to have children, which is a crazy taboo thing to say." Occasionally, there are solo chapters. Mullally's "My Life as a Stripper" chapter delves deeper into being raised in a home with a raging father, where, she says, "I was emotionally abused 24/7 for my entire childhood."
The two met in 2000 while doing a small play in Los Angeles. She was between seasons of Will & Grace, months prior to her first Emmy nomination and the show's popularity skyrocketing. Offerman at the time was acting in the play, building the sets and living in a friend's basement. He was immediately "gobsmacked by how funny, sharp, and smart" she was, while she remembers: "He did not register on the fling-o-meter." Eighteen years later, they have a rule to never be apart for longer than two weeks.
Like eavesdropping on the clever and loving couple, The Greatest Love Story Ever Told
is a pleasure. --Kevin Howell
, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: The charming and entertaining stars of Will & Grace and Parks and Recreation have a book-long conversation about their 18 years together.
$28, hardcover, 288p., 9781101986677
Current Events & Issues
Bicycle / Race: Transportation, Culture & Resistance
Adonia Lugo experienced racism and class segregation firsthand as a mixed-race child of a single mother living on the wrong side of the tracks in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. Without ready access to cars, they rode bicycles to school and work. Lugo's love for cycling grew as a college student in bike-friendly Portland, Ore., and she brought this enthusiasm back to Southern California. But bike culture in a land where "he who can travel fastest wins" was unwelcome. When Jose Umberto Barranco, a Latino man biking home from work, was killed by an intoxicated driver on October 2007, Lugo found her calling as an activist for the underrepresented voices in bike culture.
Lugo delves into the roots of Southern California car culture, describing how this status symbol supplanted other modes of transportation. Her grassroots activism in Los Angeles fought "the legacy of colonial racism in my native land," and unearthed the greater role class, race and human infrastructure play in transportation policies. "Crossing boundaries is normal for us," she writes about cyclists of mixed race, "but others see our shape shifting as a threat. We feel the sting of poison and are called enemies by people who never have to look in the mirror and see their own faces twisted with hate." To that end, in the hard-knock politics of Washington, D.C., her advocacy for equitable cycling policies has faced disinterest from power brokers.
Bicycle / Race
is a well-written and insightful book about a young adult finding her voice in a world that favors the status quo. --Nancy Powell
, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: An avid cyclist and grassroots organizer provides a two-wheeled perspective on social justice, city planning and racism.
$14.95, paperback, 192p., 9781621067641
Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger
Is anger bad for you? Feminist writer Rebecca Traister (All The Single Ladies) used to think so before she wrote Good and Mad. She now believes that suppressing it is worse. "What is good for us is opening our mouths and letting it out, permitting ourselves to feel it and say it and think it and act on it and integrate it into our lives, and the daily expression of our thoughts and opinions, just as we integrate joy and sadness and worry and optimism."
Political anger is Traister's main topic, the power of women's rage to drive social progress. She discusses it from every angle, including the 19th-century women's movement, second wave feminism, the election of Donald Trump and the #metoo movement. Traister examines the cases of Flo Kennedy, Gloria Steinem, Maxine Waters, Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton. Anger does not work for women the way it does for men, she writes. Female strength is celebrated only when it is not tied to any real power, and censured and erased when it is. Women, and especially women of color, are told that anger is ugly, irrational and counterproductive, that it must be toned down with niceness, humor and civility. The costs of expressing anger in workplaces and families can be too much for many women to contemplate, and Traister is not opposed to judicious self-control. But a public display of fury, Traister writes, can tell others they are not alone, and bring movements together. This book challenges readers with a vision of women's anger as a valuable revolutionary force for social change. --Sara Catterall
Discover: A feminist analysis of women's anger as a vital driver of social change throughout U.S. history and in the current political scene.
Simon & Schuster,
$27, hardcover, 320p., 9781501181795
Even Darkness Sings: From Auschwitz to Hiroshima: Finding Hope and Optimism in the Saddest Places on Earth
Thomas H. Cook
For some people, sites where murders, suicides and intense battles have taken place would be their last choices in travel destinations. Yet Crime novelist Thomas Cook (Red Leaves) and his wife have made it a point to visit these sad locations around the world, and Even Darkness Sings explains why.
The Cooks explore the castle where young boys were raped and murdered by Bluebeard in France; a temple in Japan filled with statues dedicated to stillbirths and abortions; the leper colony in Hawaii; and the gas chambers of Auschwitz. These are just a few of the disturbing sites around the globe that they seek out.
Cook writes, "This book is about the power of dark places to add a grave beauty... to our lives." In writing about each location, he carefully blends his thoughts and feelings with the related history, creating a portrait that is intimate and emotional and yet grounded in context. Because each essay is short and there are many of them, readers would do well to read slowly, pausing after each to allow time for reflection. After dwelling in the dark, one might embrace the light, love and life all the more, finding hope and optimism because of--not in spite of--these sad stories. --Lee E. Cart
, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: A crime novelist illuminates how some of the unhappiest places on earth can bring light and life to the reader.
$27.95, hardcover, 384p., 9781681778471
Children's & Young Adult
, illust. by Raul Colon
Raul Colón's (Bookjoy, Wordjoy
is a joyful, wordless exploration of artistic discovery.
As a young boy leaves his apartment, helmeted and with a skateboard under his arm, a journey of possibilities begins. He rides his skateboard through a series of paneled spreads, bringing him past hallmarks of big-city living. Muted beige buildings and bridges--destined, we later find out, to be canvases for more vivid colors--are illustrated with great attention to depth, with Colón's use of Prismacolor and lithograph pencils creating fingerprint-like designs in the watercolor art.
Upon reaching his destination, New York City's Museum of Modern Art, the boy checks his wheels and enters a new world. More panels show the boy's intensity as he encounters different artists and their work, but when Henri Matisse's Icarus literally leaps off the walls, the real fun begins. The boy dances and sings his way out of the museum with Icarus and a parade of figures from Pablo Picasso's Three Musicians and Henri Rousseau's The Sleeping Gypsy. As the art breaks free of its frames, Colón's illustrations move from paneled scenes to full-page spreads, showing the jubilant group riding the subway, eating hotdogs and hanging out in Central Park.
Although these activities are seemingly mundane (especially to New York City residents), they give voice and make visual the experience of finding wonder and community in art. Colón's author's note gives background on his own experience with museums and provides names for the artists and artworks in the book, adding layers for exploration for anyone who cares, or dares, to imagine more. --Breanna J. McDaniel
, author, freelance reviewer
Discover: Imagine! by Raul Colón is a vibrant tribute to the power of art and the pull of an iconic city.
Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books,
$17.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 4-8, 9781481462730
Animal Antipodes: Global Opposites
Even though many kids have tried to dig to China from their backyards, the only ones who might actually get to China are those who live in South America. Okay, no one can really dig all the way through Earth, but in Carly Allen-Fletcher's vibrant and intriguing book about global opposites, readers will learn exactly where they might end up if they started in, say Timbuktu, Mali, and dug straight through the crust, the mantle, the outer core, the inner core and back out to the other side of the planet*.
On each two-page spread, Allen-Fletcher (Goodnight, Seahorse) describes a different place in the world with an eloquent line or two that evokes the landscape and the animals that populate it. For example, "Palembang, Indonesia. Thousands of belida fish glide through cool waters by this riverside city, hoping to avoid the local fishermen." In the center of the spread is a stylized outline of the globe with dots marking the two cities. When readers flip the book upside-down they'll find the antipode (diametric opposite) of each exotic locale and the creatures that have "evolved and adapted to live in their own special place in the world." This absorbing picture book will please a range of ages and tastes. For some, the appeal will be in the beautiful colors, shapes and delightful combinations of abstract and representational artwork. Others will devour the fascinating facts about our planet. Most, of course, will love the whole antipodal package, right-side up to upside down.
[*The antipode of Timbuktu is Yasawa, Fiji.]
Discover: This enchanting picture book beautifully portrays antipodes, or global opposites, and the creatures that inhabit these places, along with geography, zoology, Earth science and astronomy.
$17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 7-11, 9781939547491