Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, December 10, 2013
From My Shelf
Better Than a Thousand Words
Celebrate work and the worker with Bodine's Industry: The Dignity of Work, edited by Jennifer B. Bodine (Schiffer, $39.99), the daughter of A. Aubrey Bodine, a newspaper photographer with the Baltimore Sun from 1924 to 1970. His images range from a fire-eating clown to moonshine being dumped ("Busting a Still") to a stark photo of lumber being unloaded that mimics a woodcut. The personal in work is the focus for Tadd Myers in Portraits of the American Craftsman (Lyons Press, $29.95). His warm, earth-toned photographs mark the importance of businesses like Hastings Holsters in Mississippi, Rising Sun Jeans in California, Danner Boots in Oregon and the Carousel Works in Ohio.
"A loving look at basketball at its most elemental level" is taken by Robin Layton in Hoop: The American Dream (powerhouse Books, $40). Evocative images of hoops reflected in puddles, lashed to a silo, rimmed in snow, on a sandy beach in a sunset are enhanced by text from the likes of Kevin Durant, Pat Summitt and Gary Payton. Diana Taurasi sums it up: "Every day I couldn't wait for the sun to go down! Just me and my hoop. I can still hear the sounds of love."
She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World (MFA Publications, $40), compiled by Kristen Gresh, introduces the work of 12 Middle Eastern women. Particularly arresting are images by Nermine Hammam, placing young Egyptian soldiers against pastoral postcard landscapes, and melding photos of police brutality with Japanese screens.
A different brutality is seen in Mighty Silence: Images of Destruction: The Great 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami of East Japan and Fukushima by Yasushi Handa (Skira, $75). Photos, both b&w and color, of ruined rice fields, sluiceways that failed to protect against the tsunami, a fuel tank under an orange sky illustrate devastation and, conversely, abstract beauty. --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers
Gifts for Book Lovers; Must-Have Tolkien Books
Look under the tree for "16 fantastic gifts for lit lovers who have enough books," discovered by Buzzfeed.
"Must-have Tolkien books: 14 holiday gifts for any Middle-earth lover's library" were suggested by the Huffington Post.
"Truman Capote's Black and White Ball: The greatest literary party of all time" was explored by Flavorwire.
Word wars. "Selfie" may be Oxford Dictionaries word of the year, but Merriam-Webster opted for the more traditional "science," which was discovered by examining "the number of look-ups on its online dictionary," Mental Floss reported.
Comic book creator Robin Etherington, author of Monkey Nuts: The Diamond Egg of Wonders, chose his top 10 graphic novels for the Guardian.
The Writer's Life
Isabel Greenberg: Reimagining Early Earth
|photo: Lydia Garnett|
Isabel Greenberg is an illustrator and writer who lives in North London. Her debut graphic novel, The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, was just published by Little, Brown (see our review below). Greenberg studied illustration at the University of Brighton and has worked for NoBrow Press, Seven Stories Press and Solipsistic Pop. She won the 2011 Observer/Jonathan Cape Graphic Short Story Prize for "Love in a Very Cold Climate."
Your graphic novel The Encyclopedia of Early Earth brings together the many elements of religion, myth and fantasy to weave a complex narrative about early civilization that satisfies on so many levels. What folktales and influences inspired you to create such a brilliant tale?
I looked at a lot of different stories, legends and fairy tales. There's quite a few Old Testament stories in there, creation myths from various cultures, fairy tales for sure and a little bit of Greek and Norse mythology. I took a bit of everything! I think that there are certain stories and themes that are fundamentally relevant to everyone; things that we can all relate to on some level, no matter where we come from or what time we were born in. That's why they are some stories that never seem to be irrelevant. I find it very interesting that there is so much crossover between cultures with folk stories, fairy tales, religious stories. There is pretty much a Cinderella equivalent in every culture, and I guess it's because everyone can relate to themes like parents, siblings, jealousy, rivalry and, of course, love. They are just human things. And I like that.
Did any genre of myth influence you the most?
Probably Greek mythology if I had to pick... but really I looked at a lot of different things. A lot of the tales in the book that have been appropriated are from Old Testament stories. But the gods in my book are much more like the Greek or Norse gods. What I like about Greek mythology is that the gods are characters in the stories. They aren't a faceless spiritual presence, they interact with the humans and do human things like fall in love and make mistakes and meddle. I wanted my gods to be more like that.
You adapted historical artifacts from the Nordic migration in England and Eskimo mythologies and spun them into a mesmerizing world called Britanitarka. Can you talk about how you did this and why you were drawn to this period in English history?
In terms of research I went to lots of museums--the British Museum, the Pitt Rivers in Oxford, the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford, the British Library and others. I wanted to make my pretend world feel rich and like it had a real history, even if the history was entirely invented! I found that if I took recognisable elements of real history and muddled them up with my invented stuff, it seemed more real... at least to me. I think Britanitarka is one of my favorite places in Early Earth. I wanted it to be cold and grey and wild and sort of like the places that the fantasy novels I read as a child always seemed to be set in. I am a massive fan of Ursula Le Guin; in the first book of her Earthsea Quartet you meet Ged, who is born on this windy and wild island called Gont.
Your short story "Love in a Very Cold Climate" also touches upon themes of cold and impossibility. What is it about these two concepts that appeals to you?
I'm not sure actually. In terms of cold, I think there is something a bit appealing and romantic about snow and the wilds. But to be honest I probably feel that way because we don't get a whole lot of either in London, so I think my notion of it is pretty much based on Frozen Planet! Two inches is pretty mega for us here, and when that happens the whole city basically shuts down, everything stops working, and they always run out of salt for the roads.
While romantic and compelling, there is no "happily ever after" in Early Earth, and it seems as if the audience is left with a cliffhanger, with no possible future in sight. What compelled you to develop the story to such an incomplete note?
I don't see it as a cliffhanger, really. The couple dies, having spent their lives together hearing each other's stories. They never resolve the issue with the magnetic field, but they are happy in a way. I guess it's bittersweet? Their story is definitely over and complete in my eyes. I won't be revisiting them as characters. But there will be more from Early Earth; you can count on that, and especially from the Gods!
Which comic artists have influenced you the most and why?
There are so many amazing comic artists out there, it's hard to decide. I think I was influenced a lot in terms of visuals by artists like Marjane Satrapi, David B and Seth. I tend to like things that are quite simple with a limited color palate. I love Kate Beaton's work. But if I'm talking about my influences, I think they really span a lot further than just comic artists. I think I was profoundly influenced by the stuff I read growing up, and also by more historical art. I love tapestries, religious iconography, Persian miniatures, medieval art, illuminated manuscripts, Japanese paintings and folk art.
What projects do you have planned?
I have just finished a short comic. It's called Tall Tales and Outrageous Adventures and is a collection of retellings of different Andersen fairy tales. It's the first in a miniseries I'm working on that will retell fairy stories and folk tales. I'm self-publishing them with a U.K. indie press called Great Beast Comics. After that I definitely plan to do another graphic novel, and it will probably feature Early Earth. I've got a lot more stories to tell from there. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant
The Best of McSweeney's
by Dave Eggers , Jordan Bass, editors
Founded with the mission of publishing only works rejected by other magazines, Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern--just McSweeney's to its fans--has developed into a hip but high-quality destination for short fiction, poetry and sundry other formats from well-known names like Michael Chabon and David Foster Wallace to unknown and unpublished writers waiting for discovery. The eminently collectible issues have appeared in hardcover, paperback, cube shape, a box of separately bound pamphlets and other constantly changing formats.
In commemoration of its 15th anniversary, The Best of McSweeney's draws from the journal's entire run to present cutting edge fiction from Zadie Smith, Jonathan Lethem, Jonathan Ames and a host of others. In Roddy Boyle's "New Boy," what seems to be a case of school bullying turns into an observation of the curious way friendships can form. John Hodgman explores human nature and the cutthroat marketing world through an offbeat and hilarious dialogue between three cavemen in "Fire: The Next Sharp Stick?" Edwin Rozic and Aleksandar Hemon's "The New, Abridged Dictionary of Accepted Ideas" easily skewers modern life with short entries such as, "Death--Negative thinking." Also included are excerpts from the comics issue as well as a selection of letters to the editor--which constitute a genre unto themselves.
The Best of McSweeney's is the perfect gift or indulgence for any discriminating reader--except possibly for the deluxe edition ($55 boxed set, 9781938073601), which also includes some of the most popular objects accompanying the magazine over the years. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Latah County Library District and blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: 15 years of the best in short fiction, poetry and more from the literary journal McSweeney's.
Mystery & Thriller
Through the Evil Days
by Julia Spencer-Fleming
Police chief Russ van Alstyne and minister Clare Fergusson return in Through the Evil Days, the eighth installment of Julia Spencer-Fleming's series set in the fictional town of Millers Kill, N.Y.
Newly married, with an unplanned baby on the way, van Alstyne and Fergusson are headed to a secluded cabin for a belated honeymoon. The setting is sufficiently foreshadowing to know mayhem will ensue, but Spencer-Fleming adds a horrific ice storm to the mix, knocking out most lines of communication. Meanwhile, without its chief, the Millers Kill police department is racing to locate a young liver transplant recipient who's been kidnapped. In Millers Kill, situations are rarely run of the mill, so the stakes are high, suspense is intense and momentum swift.
Series devotees are unlikely to be returning to Millers Kill just for the suspense and momentum, however. As the characters have evolved, they've developed intricate, rich relationships, making their day-to-day interactions as riveting as a kidnapping in the midst of an ice storm. The two protagonists may be the marquee names, but Spencer-Fleming has created an entire town for readers to become involved with. Those starting with Through the Evil Days will be able to grasp the plot but are likely to miss the significance of these complex relationships. For longtime fans, the book lives up to the standard set by previous novels, resulting in a welcome, albeit dangerous, trip back to Millers Kill. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts
Discover: A dead federal agent, a missing child, a methamphetamine lab and a brutal ice storm all play a part in Spencer-Fleming's newest van Alstyne/Fergusson adventure.
The Santa Klaus Murder
by Mavis Doriel Hay
The Santa Klaus Murder, one of three detective novels written by Mavis Doriel Hay in the 1930s, is a classic country-house murder mystery with a holiday twist. The story opens with the gathering of Sir Osmond Melbury's family at his estate for the Christmas holiday. The grandfatherly figure, known for his wealth and lack of patience, has planned an elaborate Santa Klaus ruse for his grandchildren, complete with gifts and holiday noisemakers. But when Sir Osmond is found shot in the study, every member of the family comes under suspicion.
Was it his youngest daughter, seeking to claim her inheritance while marrying against Sir Osmond's wishes? Was it his oldest son, hoping to protect the fortune from his money-grubbing sisters? Or was it his eldest daughter, bitter over having been denied her income for also choosing a husband not to her father's liking? As the details unfold, it becomes apparent each and every member of Sir Osmond's rather unlikable family had a motive to kill the patriarch, and it is left to Colonel Halstock to determine which family member had not just the motive but the opportunity.
Part of the British Library's Crime Classics series, The Santa Klaus Murder is a re-issue of a forgotten British cozy that warrants attention as both a classic British mystery novel and as a holiday read. The large number of point-of-view characters can be confusing at times, but once the story finds its footing, it moves stealthily toward an intriguing and not altogether predictable conclusion. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: A classic British country-house murder with a holiday twist.
Heart of Darkness
by Joseph Conrad , illus. by Matt Kish
In 2011, Matt Kish's Moby-Dick in Pictures took on the challenge of illustrating every page of the Signet Classic edition of Melville's novel, handling Captain Ahab and Queequeg rather well, visually speaking. Now Kish has turned to another classic, this one quite a bit shorter, but no less daunting: Heart of Darkness. How do you illustrate--page by page--Joseph Conrad's masterpiece, a nightmarish voyage into the mind of Kurtz, the all-powerful wizard of the Congo?
Kish describes Heart of Darkness, a tale of ivory, slavery, greed and murder, as a novel that "moves in one direction only, and that is downward." One might expect the tone of the illustrations to be dark, or at least sepia--but no: "The sun would shine there," Kish tells us, "a place filled with bright acid greens" with a "sickly diseased yellow sky." So he wants to tell the story in a new "light," a surreal, fragmentary one, where things are slightly kilter, cut off, stark and grotesque.
Kish's ink-and-watercolor illustrations beautifully reflect, like a twisted mirror, the texts on each opposing page. Conrad's white sepulcher city on the river is shown growing out of a skull (a pervasive image) merged with an African mask. The image accompanying the most famous scene ("The horror! The horror!") powerfully conflates sickly green with black, placing Kurtz's hollow skull at the bottom. Kish's haunting pictures will resonate with burgeoning artists, fans of sophisticated graphic novels and collectors of fine art books. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher
Discover: Matt Kish's visual take on the classic Conrad novel, page by page.
The Encyclopedia of Early Earth
by Isabel Greenberg
Origin stories with a flair for the mystical populate Isabel Greenberg's astonishing debut graphic novel, The Encyclopedia of Early Earth. Her rustic drawings and wry humor stitch a Nord Storyteller's magnificent myths together into one tremendous quilt, keeping the Storyteller and his South Pole wife warm through the long, dark polar winters. From the moment they fell in love, the two have inexplicably been repelled from any physical contact, like twin ends of two magnets. Telling stories to one another is the only intimate act they can share.
Graphic novel lovers will be enamored of Greenberg's breathtaking artwork and the vividness of her apparently boundless imagination. For fans of meta-fictions, her story twists around itself, creating new iterations of ongoing histories. This is mythmaking at its finest, as Greenberg melds ancient oral traditions with her own spectacular interpretations, neatly bringing it all together in the closing pages.
From gods and shamans to genius monkeys and whales, giants, floods, love, adventure and magic--there isn't a single thing this story is missing. The Encyclopedia even presents as a wonderfully knowledgeable artifact, with appendices in its back pages elaborating on the Storyteller's tales. As soon as you finish reading it, you may want to turn right back to the beginning and start again. --Dave Wheeler, bookseller, The Elliott Bay Book Co., Seattle, Wash.
Discover: A pair of confounded lovers tell magical stories that encompass a world of graphic novelist Isabel Greenberg's vivid imagination.
Current Events & Issues
Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas
by Rebecca Solnit , Rebecca Snedeker
Unfathomable City is no standard atlas. Rebecca Solnit (The Faraway Nearby) and filmmaker Rebecca Snedeker bring together writers, artists and cartographers to consider New Orleans, a city where the lines between races, cultures and even water and land blur and shift. Environmentalists, geographers, scholars, local experts and newcomers to the city explore New Orleans through the lenses of their respective concerns, their findings represented in 22 full-color, two-page maps as well as related essays.
The initial map and essay illustrate "How New Orleans Happened," outlining its colorful and exotic 300-year-old history. The book then explores both the things "everyone knows" about New Orleans and unexpected aspects of an eternally surprising city. Maps on cemeteries, the petroleum and natural gas industries and carnival parade routes are juxtaposed with maps on Arabs in New Orleans and the city's role in the international banana trade. Several maps join topics that at first seem unrelated--seafood and the sex trade, housing developments and the music industry--but prove revelatory.
With beautiful maps and challenging essays, Unfathomable City presents New Orleans as infinitely complex and ultimately unknowable. The result is not a comprehensive guide, but an invitation. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins
Discover: Essayist Rebecca Solnit teams with a local filmmaker to present 22 fresh visions of New Orleans.
Essays & Criticism
From the Top: Brief Transmissions from Tent Show Radio
by Michael Perry
If you can't make it to northern Wisconsin to slip into the canvas tent for an evening of music and storytelling from the Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua, dip into From the Top, a collection of Michael Perry's monologues from the summertime radio show. It's almost like being there, along the shore of Lake Superior, where "some days the water is incandescent blue and hopeful, other days it looks all steel gray and ship-sinky."
These stories are a delightful introduction to Perry (Population: 485--Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time) or a joyful reunion for those who think of him as an old friend. With droll wit, he shares reflections on marriage, fatherhood, putting down roots and raising pigs and chickens. His subjects range from the comedic (cornering a skunk in the chicken coop) to the poignant (returning from a wake to warm the house with firewood chopped with the neighbor who'd passed), with the 50-plus essays arranged in "loosely thematic clusters." As Perry advises: "You can read the book backward if you wish. Or scattershot. I've navigated much of my life in exactly that manner."
He's a compulsive philosopher: "Back home on the farm someone else is doing the chicken chores, because I've been on the road, and somewhere along the line on some ribbon of concrete a green mile marker flipped by and I thought, well, there's a metaphor on a stick." --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: This book features the Midwestern wit of Michael Perry's monologues from his Wisconsin Chautauqua Tent Show Radio programs.
The Blind Masseuse: A Traveler's Memoir from Costa Rica to Cambodia
by Alden Jones
"We leave home with an arsenal of things we know about the place we're going," Alden Jones writes in her mesmerizing travelogue, The Blind Masseuse. But, she cautions as she explains the title, "there is no disarming all of what we know, no matter how much touching and kneading and feeling we do.... What makes us blind is what we think we see."
Jones's awareness of the unknowable helps her appreciate the slippery slope between familiarity and exoticism. A sudden bump into a cow in the pitch-black Costa Rican night can be as disorienting as an array of coffee and bagel choices in New York City. Sometimes the sheer enormity of a country's tragedy turns a traveler into a voyeur. Jones feels her photographs of the Tuol Sleng Museum--the site of the Cambodian genocide--are merely redundant and solipsistic; they prove she was there, but do not mitigate the horrific events. On her Burmese trip, Jones took snapshots from the windows of her tour bus. The blurry images carry the beauty of myth, but Jones is clear-eyed: "The countryside looked easy and peaceful to us," she writes. "What we saw and remembered did not reflect the true Burmese experience, lives suffering memories of torture, a sister raped, a son stolen. No. I saw willows." --Thuy Dinh, editor, Da Mau magazine.
Discover: A thoughtful meditation on the conflicting roles of a traveler, who can be both an ignorant consumer and a well-meaning pilgrim.
Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Classic Children's Tales
by Marta McDowell
Landscape historian and horticulture instructor Marta McDowell knows how to mulch literary biography with botany. Her 2005 Emily Dickinson's Gardens: A Celebration of a Poet and Gardener entwined the floral and arboreal references in Dickinson's poems with scenes from the poet's life and top-dressed them with present-day cultivation advice. When a chance visit to Hill Top Farm awakened McDowell to the talents of Beatrix Potter, she was inspired to produce an even more floriferous (and critter-cute) hybrid.
Divided into three main sections, Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life documents Potter's formation as a gardener and author-illustrator, describes her gardens in the Lake District through four seasons and concludes with suggested Potter pilgrimages that range from the Royal Horticultural Society's Gardens in South Kensington (where Beatrix roamed as a child) through a holiday residence in Scotland to her beloved Hill Top Farm.
Unlike many gardening gloss-fests, the dimensions of Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life will not give you off-season tendinitis, nor will you need to know the Latin names of plants to follow its woody and herbaceous twists. McDowell balances her deeply researched text with a bumper crop of archival photos, Potter watercolors and recent four-color images that make her book equally good for browsing and burrowing; her writing style is both diverting and authoritative. In addition to the excellent main index, McDowell includes two intriguing tables: one that substantiates her sources for Potter's cultivars and another that notes the first appearance of individual plants in all of Potter's books, from The Tale of Peter Rabbit onward. --Holloway McCandless, blogger at Litagogo: A Guide to Free Literary Podcasts
Discover: A richly illustrated exploration of Beatrix Potter's evolution as an author-illustrator, gardener, sheep farmer and land preservationist.
Children's & Young Adult
The Carpet People
by Terry Pratchett
In The Carpet People, first published in 1971, revised in 1992 and just now crossing the Atlantic, Terry Pratchett (The Wee Free Men) uses the myth of a diminutive civilization to examine a favorite theme--free will vs. destiny--while offering a dose of witty commentary about the beauty and absurdity of being human.
"In the beginning... there was nothing but endless flatness. Then came the Carpet, which covered the flatness." The Carpet People live among the Carpet hairs, building villages, cities and empires in the dust. When the Munrung tribe finds its huts demolished by an invisible force called Fray (which behaves much like a vacuum cleaner), residents pack up what's left and flee. Before long, they are attacked by mouls, nasty creatures from the Unswept Regions. Led by Snibril, the wise younger brother of the chieftain, and aided by the shaman Pismire, the soldier Bane, and the rather tiny (even for a Carpet person) king Brocando, the Munrungs head for safety in the great city of Ware. But, once there, they must engage in an epic battle to gain control of the course of their own history.
Out of the silliness comes Pratchett-style wisdom for people of all ages. The Carpet People will encourage young readers to think about their own choices. As Snibril asserts, "Nothing has to happen. You can let things happen. But that's not the same." --Lynn Becker, host of Book Talk, the monthly online discussion of children's books for the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators
Discover: The adventures of the Carpet People as they charge through the dust to save their own history.
Old Mikamba Had a Farm
by Rachel Isadora
Rachel Isadora (12 Days of Christmas) takes a chant-together classic and transplants it to the plains of Africa and the wonderful sounds its inhabitants make.
"Old Mikamba had a farm/ E-I-E-I-O" introduces the title farmer in a glorious multi-thread tunic and headpiece in tones that match the sun. Opposite, children play with the monkey he held, and giraffes, elephants and an ostrich gather near the Serengeti trees. Old Mikamba runs a game farm that protects many of Africa's endangered species (as an endnote explains). The baboon makes an "ooh-ha-ha here" and an "Ooh-ha-ha there" while the elephant (in newsprint collage) sounds a "baraaa-baraaa," and the small gerbil-like dassie (though it's often called a "rock rabbit") pipes in with a "trill-trill here" and a "trill-trill there." Towering above, the giraffe's neck stretches as a veritable quilt of colors and patterns in golds, oranges and greens, and as the sun sets, the springbok buoyantly leaps in silhouette against a tangerine sky.
Children will savor the sounds of the African savannah and revel in the additional facts provided at story's end. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A captivating version of Old MacDonald set on a game farm in the Serengeti Plains.
by Jo Nesbø
John Lee returns as the voice of Harry Hole for Police, the 10th novel in Jo Nesbø's beloved detective series. Harry has resigned his shield and is no longer a part of the police department, but he's back in Oslo teaching at the police college. When a demented killer begins targeting police officers--killing each at the scene of a crime the officer failed to solve--the Oslo police are on high alert and Hole returns as a "consultant" to help capture the madman.
In John Lee's narration, Harry Hole conveys the intensity and urgency of the plot while maintaining the cool, detached persona of the weathered detective. Lee also manages to show the depth of Hole's emotions--the love he has for his family, the disdain for his suspects--without letting slip the protective mask he displays to the world.
Police, like most installments in this series, has several plot twists. Lee's narration works to augment the suspense without inadvertently giving anything away. This is especially vital because of Nesbø's unpredictability. He's never shied away from killing a main character, so with a plot that involves a serial cop killer, maintaining that mystery is key.
The combination of Nesbø's writing and Lee's reading paints a dark, chilling atmosphere, and Police is at equal measures haunting and hopeful. (Because Police reveals spoilers from its immediate predecessor, Phantom, though, some fans may want to wait until they're caught up before they begin this story.) --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts
Discover: A psychopath is targeting police officers in Oslo, and Harry Hole can't sit back and watch his former colleagues continue to be slaughtered.
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