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Staff Picks: Books

If the Creek don't Rise

This novel is a first for Leah Weiss. You’d never know it. Her words flow like syrup warmed in the sun. I felt like I was there on the mountain, hiding on a tree limb, spying on each character and watching the next person come round the bend.

There are some mean people in this story. Weiss doesn’t just let us hate them, though, and leave it at that. Oh no, some of them get a whole chapter to tell their part of the story and their experience of life on the mountain. By the time they’re through, we see the world through their eyes and get why they’re so hateful. There are no simple answers and no clear-cut ‘who’s right’ and ‘who’s wrong’ to this novel. If you’re looking for that, find a different book. But I suggest you decide to just take it all in and be carried along by Weiss’ lyrical story telling and her very human characters.

I put this title on my Best of 2017 list. Watch for all our staff year-end ‘Best of’ suggestions online soon. In the meanwhile, come down to Central and check out the Best of 2017 physical display for some great reading ideas.


Little Monster Gets the Last Laugh

Little Monster wants to be in a scary story, but finds the dark forest, spooky house, and creepy witch too scary.  He doesn't want to be scared.  He wants to do the scaring.  However, that doesn't work out as planned.  The comical back and forth between a narrator and Little Monster makes Sean Taylor's I Want to Be in a Scary Story a great read aloud.


One Nation Under God...

Pat Mora teamed up with her daughter, Libby Martinez, to write I Pledge Allegiance. It’s about a young Libby’s great aunt, Lobo (lobo means wolf in Spanish). Lobo will say the Pledge Allegiance and become a citizen soon and everyone is excited about it, especially Libby. Libby will lead her class in the pledge also so they prepare together. 

Cute story! Read it and enjoy!


National Book Award Winners

The winners of this year's National Book Awards were announced in a ceremony in New York last night.

Fiction:
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Non-Fiction:
The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by Masha Gessen

Poetry:
Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016 by Frank Bidart

Young People's Literature:
Far from the Tree by Robin Benway

You can check out all the winners at KPL.


More Alive and Less Lonely: On Books and Writers

Novelist Jonathan Lethem’s new book of short essays, reviews, introductions, and a hilarious, imagined interview between the filmmaker Spike Jonze and one of Lethem’s fictional characters, More Alive and Less Lonely: On Books and Writers will appeal to those who enjoy Lethem’s spirited, polygonal criticism and literary ephemera. Lethem’s enthusiasm for delving into the essence of the books and writers that have moved him over the years is infectious from the first essay onward and will inspire readers to seek out the authors and books discussed. His reflexive, stylistic musings, collected over the course of a decade, engage with both the canon (Kafka, Melville, Dickens) and the lesser known (Steven Millhauser, Vivian Gornick, Thomas Berger), the long ago, dead authors (Bernard Malamud and Philip K. Dick) and those still working and alive (Philip Roth, Lorrie Moore, Kazuo Ishiguro).


Binti

I love science fiction. I love the sleek spaceships and visiting other worlds.  I love  imagining how current trends may impact future society. But the stories being told in this genre are so limited.  Think of the last science fiction movie you saw, or saw advertised. Who was the main character? Was it a man? Did he have blue eyes? Was his name Chris? Yeah, I thought so. Why is it that when we get the chance to travel off planet, we’re always stuck with the same guy who can only classify aliens into two categories: the ones who look like supermodels in tight spandex, and the ones who don’t?  

 

There are so many aspects of space travel that have yet to be explored, and stories that can only be explored by people who aren’t Chris. That is why Binti by Nnedi Okorafor is so refreshing.  Binti is the story of a girl from the Himba tribe in northern Namibia. She sneaks off in the night to catch a ride on the spaceship heading off to Oomza University, where she’s been accepted to complete her studies. Her plans are violently interrupted when aliens board and attack the ship.

 

Coming in at a succinct 97 pages, this story is gripping and fast paced. It is the mark of a master to guide the reader from point A to point B with no excess frills, or empty exposition. To pull that off in science fiction, a genre known for elaborate world building and description is incredible. Winner of the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and finalists for many others, this is one space adventure you do not want to miss.

 


Little Sister

Rose owns an old, red-carpeted repertory cinema, is caring for her mother who is in the early stages of dementia, and suddenly starts inhabiting another woman’s body every time it storms. You know, just your average life stuff for a 30-something woman. Little Sister, by Barbara Gowdy, takes place over the course of a few days, when Rose begins having what she thinks are dreams about being a woman named Harriet. Her obsession with Harriet, a woman who bears a striking resemblance to her little sister, brings up trauma from her past and forces her to deal with her life in the present. It’s a book about forgiveness, imperfection and hope. Plus, the character development in this novel is fantastic—I feel as if Rose is someone I know, and even the minor characters have layers.


Hey Harry, Hey Matlida

The charming novel Hey Harry, Hey Matilda, formatted as a series of back and forth email messages between twins Harry and Matilda, will delight readers who like their doses of bourgeoisie torment mitigated by witty sarcasm and pithy observations about thirty-something anxiety. Matilda is the zany, unfiltered twin who cannot seem to maintain a meaningful, long-term relationship and who laments her narrowing career opportunities, clinging to the desire to live the "authentic" life of an "artist". It is revealed early on in the book that Matilda has told her current boyfriend that her twin brother has died, a childish fib that not unsurprisingly leads to Matlida’s increasingly erratic correspondence. Harry, a literature professor and the more seemingly self-assured and conventionally situated sibling, finds trouble when he begins to date a younger student at the university. Hey Harry, Hey Matilda is a fun, imaginative and quick read that was originally unfurled on author Rachel Hulin’s Instagram account before it was published earlier this year.


CATAWAMPUS RUMPUS

The Catawampus Cat  by Jason Carter Eaton is the tale of a somewhat off kilter feline who mysteriously arrives one Tuesday morning into an unnamed town.

First to notice the slightly askew cat is Mr Grouse the grocer, who tries to straighten the cat out, but to no avail. In the midst of the cat straightening attempt excitement, the grocer and his wife tilt their heads as well and make a very happy rediscovery!

Next the town barber spots the cat and is so taken aback that he accidentally clips his customer's hair at an angle, much to the woman's delight!

And so it goes on, everyone who notices this unusually positioned cat sets off to try new things with wonderful results. The cat's slightly slanted, catawampus perspective becomes the town's obsession.Even the mayor declares that there be a Catawampus Cat Day in the feline's honor.But when the day arrives and the mayor declares "we are all different now, just like you", the cat responds with something out of the ordinary that dismays his adoring public.

A fun, humorous book with appealing illustrations  by Gus Gordon, that is sure to please preschool, and early elementary kids!


All the Wild that Remains

On my vacation trip to Utah this year, I brought along All the Wild that Remains by David Gessner. Gessner is a creative writing professor at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington and is well known for his nature writing. Although he is a New Englander, he fell in love with the West and two revered and influential writers: Wallace Stegner and Edward Abbey, during some time he spent there in his 20s.


In All the Wild that Remains, Gessner travels around the West to important places in Stegner’s and Abbey’s lives; sometimes interviewing old friends of theirs, and commenting on these writers’ legacies and what they taught us about living in the West.

 
Stegner, my favorite author, spent some of his formative years in Salt Lake City and chose to have his papers archived at the University of Utah rather than Stanford where he founded and led an outstanding writing program that boasts a long line of famous attendees such as: Larry McMurtry, Wendell Berry, Ken Kesey, Robert Stone, and our other featured author, Edward Abbey. Stegner fought to preserve the wild places of the West in many ways and is best remembered in environmental circles for what is called the Wilderness Letter, which was influential in creating the National Wilderness Preservation System.


Abbey lived a wilder life and his novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang, was the inspiration for the creation of the environmental organization Earth First!. Many agree that his masterpiece though is the autobiographical Desert Solitaire that Abbey wrote about his time as a park ranger in Arches National Park. Unable to attend Abbey’s funeral celebration in southern Utah, Stegner sent these words for Wendell Berry to read, "He had the zeal of a true believer and a stinger like a scorpion . . . He was a red-hot moment in the life of the country, and I suspect that the half-life of his intransigence will be like that of uranium."


If you haven’t heard of either of these authors, it wouldn’t be that surprising. They were characterized as Western authors and therefore, somewhat ignored by the East Coast literati, much to Stegner’s chagrin. Stegner’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel Angle of Repose wasn’t even reviewed in the New York Times Book Review. 


But now you know about them, so add them to your reading lists.