Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Odyssey Staff Picks for 2011, part three

In our ongoing series of year-end favorites, here are the rest of the Odyssey staff picks for best book of 2011:

Sydney Towne  picked Design*Sponge by Grace Bonney for her top book of 2011 because not only did she use it at home, she used the DIY sections to make her Christmas and Channukah presents this year. 

Joan says her pick is Harry Belafonte's  My Song, because it is a remarkable memoir of not only a talented entertainer, but a peace and social justice activist from the Civil Rights movement, through anti-apartheid, right up until today.

Marika McCoola gets to choose two since she's our children's buyer.  Her favorite picture book is The Sniffles for Bear by Bonny Becker because it is a hysterical story that is even better when it is read with all of the different voices.  Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta gets her nod for favorite young adult novel.  

And last but not least, Emily Crowe picks Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus because it is a rare book that allows you to believe in magic and makes you want to dye your hair red to commemorate the experience.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Odyssey Staff Favorites 2011, part deux

Continuing from yesterday, here are the #1 picks from this year's reading from more Odyssey booksellers!

Sheila Heady picks Listen to This by Alex Ross because it's a great collection of music writing and it will give you endless fun facts to drop into conversations. (She should know--she was a music major at UMass.)

Sarah Etelman selected a book by one of her favorite writers: Save Me by Lisa Scottoline because it's a breath-taking roller coaster ride of emotions and suspense.

 Sara Colglazier favorite was also a staff pick for many other Odyssey booksellers: The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson (it's also author Ann Patchett's favorite book of the year!) for Wilson's wonderful use of language and wacky imagination.

Chrysler Szarlan had a hard time deciding, but in the end there can be only one, and thus Geraldine Brooks receives top honors with Caleb's Crossing, the story of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard in 1665 because it is spectacularly imagined historical fiction.

Stay tuned for more year-end picks by the Odyssey staff!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Odyssey Staff Favorites of 2011: Part I

It's that time of year when everybody starts to compile "Best of 2011" lists, and the Odyssey Bookshop staff is no exception.  We've been talking about our favorite books all year long, but here are the books that have earned the #1 position in 2011 for each Odyssey bookseller:

Nieves Ayala: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline because it's one of the best adventure stories I've read in a long time--I didn't want to put it down AND I didn't want it to end, at the same time.

Diana Gurske: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach because I put the book down months ago and I still think about the characters.

Laurel Rhame: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett because it's not often that your favorite book of the year and the best book of the year are the same book.

Elli Meeropol: Quiet Americans: Stories by Erika Dreifus because these seven stories are bighearted, understated, and full of surprises; they are about generosity and forgiveness as well as atrocity and survival.

Monday, November 28, 2011

It's going to be a movie!

Jean-Pierre Jeunet who directed Amelie  will be teaming up with his long time collaborator, screenwriter Guillaume Laurant to make the film adaption of The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, by Reif Larsen.  

This was my favorite novel of 2009 and needless to say Amelie is a classic in the feel good category of film. What a delightful pairing! Like peanut butter and chocolate, or Laurel and Hardy. If you haven't read Larsen's debut novel, well then get thee to the Odyssey, we can sell you a copy. I seriously can't wait. I wonder who they will cast as Mr. Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet? Who would be your guess for a genius, 12-year-old, cartographer?



Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Book reviews, Good Reads, and Polls: Oh, My!

It's been a quiet blogging month here at the Odyssey.  Not too unusual for November, when the days get shorter, the darkness creeps in a little earlier each night, and our attention gets directed toward the winter holidays. 

It has also been a relatively slow reading month for me, for all of the reasons listed above. (I'm sure it has nothing at all to do with the fact that my last two weekends have been dedicated to watching the BBC show Being Human, courtesy of Netflix streaming.)  But I've done two bookish things in the last few hours that I wanted to share with y'all. 

More recently, I voted in the final rounds of the GoodReads Choice Awards for 2011.  Was I disappointed that The Night Circus didn't make it to the final round for "Favorite Book of 2011?" Sure.  But I was also really, really happy to cast my vote for Deborah Harkness's debut novel, A Discovery of Witches, instead. Deborah, who is an alumna of Mt Holyoke College, launched her book tour with the Odyssey back in February and we knew then that she had a great thing going with her paranormal/historical/bibliocentric novel.

I was awake very early this morning, courtesy of my dog Roxanne who needed to go outside around 5:00 a.m. At first I grumbled about it but then I realized that in fact she gave me the perfect opportunity to finish reading a riveting new book I'd picked up a couple of days ago called Running the Rift. It's Naomi Benaron's Bellwether Prize-winning debut novel, set in Rwanda in the 1990s.  I'd been reading it in 100-page chunks but I didn't want to push through to the end last night when I was so sleepy. 

Well, it was a thoroughly engrossing read.  I'll need to mull it over a bit before posting a full review 'cause right now I'm still reeling from it.  It's one of those books where you know exactly what's going to be happen, even if you don't know the particulars, and the narrative tension builds both from within the story and from without, based on your own knowledge of actual historical events.  Like a novel that opens in Honolulu in 1940, or one that features the Warsaw Ghetto in the late 1930s, you know what you're gonna get with a book featuring Rwanda of the early 1990s. 

All I can say is, read it.  The book releases in January from our good friends at Algonquin and Naomi Benaron will be at the Odyssey on February 2, 2012, for a reading and booksigning, and if you believe in the importance of literature in understanding the human condition and the role it plays in creating empathy & dispelling fear, this is an event you should attend.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Goodreads Choice Awards: Have YOU Voted?

Emily's write-in vote for Favorite Book of 2011

We're up to the Semi-Finals found at GoodReads for voting on the year's best books in tons o' categories.  Have you voted yet?  I have, and I can't wait to find out which books and authors will walk away with the awards. 

The Odyssey Bookshop has hosted events this year with semi-finalists in almost every category, and in many cases we've hosted multiple authors in those categories.  Did you read Erin Morgenstern, Deborah Harkness, Andre Dubus, Cassandra Clare, Tea Obreht, J. Courtney Sullivan, Jodi Picoult, Alice Hoffman, Steven Levy, Mira Bartok, Rick Riordan, Erin Hunter, Mo Willems, Anna Dewdney, or Lane Smith when they signed books for the Odyssey this year?  What about the dozens of others titles that are up for awards? 

Now's the time to vote to make sure that your favorite books and authors make it to the final round!  Click here if you want to cast YOUR vote!  (And if you're looking for more friends on GoodReads, please send a request my way.)

~Emily Crowe

Monday, October 24, 2011

I'll give you such a pinch!

The last book I read was Pinched: How the Great Recession Has Narrowed Our Futures and What We Can Do About It, by Don Peck. Like most things being written about the current state of the economy, it's a bit depressing, but fascinating and important. The book opens up with a look back at other economic downturns in American history. I enjoyed the fact that when trying to put the Great Recession into a historical context Peck spent time not only on the Great Depression, but also on the Panic of 1893 and the stagflation of the 1970's. (I tend to think we could stand to see more comparisons to 1893 in the press, I would've bought this book out if only for that section!)

Since my other job is at a federal budget research group, I find myself surrounded with statistics detailing exactly how bad our economy is on a daily basis. While the statistics Peck points out are terrifying, I was more interested in the stuff I don't see every day, which was the psychological effects of recession and unemployment. Taking a look at what recession does to people's values explains a lot about some trends we see in politics today, with people more interested in immigration issues and less willing to have government money go to programs that help the poor. In a way it's almost comforting to step back and think about this trend of people becoming more self-interested as part of the normal life cycle of a recession.

The other part of the book I found fascinating was when he took a look at what effect the recession has had (and will have) on different age groups. I can't speak for anyone other than myself, but I had a bit of a rude awakening when reading the section on my age group, those just out of college. I was reading about the ways the recession has changed the way "millennials" think, and of course believing that the downturn hadn't significantly changed my thoughts on my future career. Of course I realized that I was in deep denial and now value job security over my past plans of moving to another city and making a brand new start. I'm not sure if you'll have the same sort of revelation while reading Pinched, but it definitely prompted some soul-searching on my end.

It's not too long, so it doesn't go as far into depth as some subjects deserve, but the book probably would be unbearably long if it did. If you're looking for more about how exactly the Great Recession came to be, I would suggest 13 Bankers. Anyways, if you're looking for a nice overview of our economic situation, this is it. Enjoy!


An Odyssey Spouse Makes Shelf Awareness news!

Review: Salomé

Odyssey Bookshop Spouse, Barry Moser, was featured in Friday's issue of Shelf Awareness, a daily emailing of news from the book industry.  In it, John McFarland reviews the brand-new translation into English (by UMass professort Joseph Donohue) of Oscar Wilde's play, Salome.  The University of Virginia Press has put into this book all of the beautiful design and production values that we expect from our university presses, and you can read all about Moser's illustrations below, but you can click here if you want to read the entire issue of Shelf Awareness.

Salome: A Tragedy in One Act by Oscar Wilde, trans. by Joseph Donohue, illus. by Barry Moser (University of Virginia Press, $24.95 hardcover, 9780813931913, November 2011)
During an 1891 sojourn in Paris, Oscar Wilde was inspired by discussions with Stéphane Mallarmé and other Symbolist poets to set himself a challenge: he would take a tale from the Bible and set it as drama, but he would write it in French, not English. Like the Symbolists, Wilde was drawn to tales of decadence and beauty and he couldn't do much better than the story featuring Salomé. A teenage princess of Judea, she became obsessed with John the Baptist, a prisoner of Herod, her stepfather, and ended up demanding John's head on a platter in exchange for performing the Dance of the Seven Veils. Wilde had a ball piling on out-of-control lust, family dysfunction, artsy striptease, beheading of a prophet and necrophilia for maximum theatrical effect. He did so, however, in highly stylized language that Joseph Donohue argues makes the drama in French one of "the greatest prose poems of them all."
While the play met with success at its French premiere in 1896 and captured the attention of Richard Strauss (who then composed his 1905 opera version), when a German translation from the French was produced in Berlin, Wilde was less well served by the Lord Alfred Douglas English translation that came out in 1894 and has since dominated all discussion of English versions, to the detriment of the actual worth of the piece. Before unveiling his new English translation, Joseph Donohue provides a fascinating essay on Wilde's serious errors of judgment on that score, and readers will take away lessons from Wilde's mistakes, including not hiring your boyfriend for a job when he has no experience and not commissioning Aubrey Beardsley to illustrate a tale that happens somewhere other than an opium den.
Donohue has set himself the task of rendering Wilde's French tragedy in "an up-to-date, colloquial yet spare English translation" that could be performed on stage today. His work reads smoothly, and he's breathed life back into the play (compare his version of Salomé's declaration before she kisses the lips of John the Baptist's severed head: "And that tongue, that red serpent spewing out poisons, it's not wagging any more, it says nothing now," with Douglas's 1894 "And thy tongue, that was like a red snake darting poison, it moves no more, it speaks no words"). The ominous Barry Moser engravings also establish the time and place mercifully free of a single Beardsley peacock feather. --John McFarland

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Book Review: The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt

Caroline Preston's  book is a little unusual amidst the world of adult novels--the only reasonable comp I can think of would be the Griffin & Sabine books by Nick Bantock.  It's not quite like the graphic novels we're already familiar with, but it's not entirely dissimilar, either.

It's a gentle book, an old-fashioned book, both in the best senses of the words.  Frankie leaves home in Cornish, NH, in the 1920s and makes her way first to Vassar College, then to NYC and Paris, before she returns home to Cornish.  The text is minimal; instead we get copious amounts of vintage memorabilia and ephemera to illustrate Frankie's journey.

Along the way sheltered Frankie encounters romantic love (doomed and otherwise), privilege, antisemitism, and modernism for the first time in her life, and she's also witness to many important events of the 1920s, such as the publication of Ulysses & The Sun Also Rises, Charles Lindbergh's trans-atlantic flight, and the bohemian expat life of Paris's Left Bank.  (Frankie lives in an apartment above the iconic bookstore, Shakespeare & Co, and I was interested to read that its propietor, Sylvia Beach was the real-life godmother of the author's mother.)

This is an utterly charming adult novel that will have a wide crossover appeal for teen girls. I read an ARC, (advance reading copy) which is reproduced only in black & white, but I know the finished copy will be very pleasing to the eye with its full color spreads.  Adriana Trigiani called this book "a literary bottle rocket--loaded with whimsy, pizzazz, and heart" and I concur.  This book will be published in November by Ecco, and I received a galley of this book from my sales rep, Anne DeCourcey.  I look forward to meeting the author when she's at the Odyssey Bookshop next month! Odyssey favorite author Elinor Lipman, who will be on hand to do the author introduction for us that night, said of this book: "There is magic here and genius. I marveled at every page: at first, just the astonishing collection of souvenirs and memorabilia and then the story—so wry and smart and literary and historically fascinating.”


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Hot Damned! It's a New Book by Chuck Palahniuk

Are you there Satan? It's me, Madison.  Thus starts each new diary entry from Chuck Palahniuk's latest novel.  Madison is awkward, nerdy, privileged...and dead.  She's narrating her story from the confines of Hell, and along the way she's trying to re-create the cast of The Breakfast Club from among her fellow damned.  Intrigued yet?  You should be.  This tongue-in-cheek tale of the afterlife, with all of its cliques and demons, is a must-read for fans of the offbeat and unexpected.

P. S. Need coaching on how to pronounce this dude's name?  It's like saying the two names, Paula-Nick.  Or at least that's close enough for government work.

P. P. S. You want to get the skinny on the hottest author party this fall?  It's all happening at my old bookstore, Lemuria, in Jackson, MS.  It's gonna be totally awesome, and if you can't be at Hal & Mal's for this hootenanny to end all hootenannies, you can still reserve a signed book from them.  I'm 100% bummed that I cannot make it!


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Hark, A Vagrant!

I have to briefly gush about one of the books we have in right now, Hark, A Vagrant! Seeing it on the counter a few weeks ago was definitely one of the most pleasant surprises I've gotten working here. Hark, A Vagrant! in its original form is an excellent webcomic by Kate Beaton, and I had forgotten that it was being collected into a book. For those that have never spent entire afternoons going through Hark comics, they're mostly about historical figures and events, with a heavy dose of classic literature as well. Whether you're more into the history or literature side of things, this book definitely provides plenty of entertainment.

One my favorite things about Hark, A Vagrant! is the little notes on many of the pages giving some of the historical context behind the joke. For example, the strip about Edgar Allan Poe and Jules Verne is funny by itself, but is even better once you know that Verne wrote Poe "fan mail" - by way of writing an entire sequel to one of Poe's works. These notes are especially useful for the occasional Canadian history comic, as I have to admit I'm not exactly up to speed on the finer points of former Canadian prime ministers. At any rate, I wholeheartedly recommend Hark, A Vagrant! for anyone that enjoys both history and laughing, preferably at the same time.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Letter of Introduction

Hello! My name is Sheila, and I'm new on staff at the Odyssey. This post is to introduce myself a little bit, and to give you an idea of my usual reading habits so you know where I'm coming from if you see a post or shelf tag by me! (My first staff pick is definitely going to be Wanting Sheila Dead by Jane Haddam. I hear it's great.)

I grew up in Springfield, moved to South Hadley just before 8th grade, and have been around ever since. In May I graduated from UMass with a double major in music and political science, which are two subjects that will pop up frequently on my reading list. After graduation, I started an internship at the National Priorities Project, a federal budget research group based in Northampton, MA. At the end of the summer, I joined the staff there part time, and was luckily able to fill up the rest of my time with a new job at the Odyssey! Outside of my various jobs, I play a lot of music. The project I'm spending most time on right now is a Tom Petty cover band, Your Father's Mustache. We would love to play your uncle's birthday party, stop by the Odyssey sometime and we'll talk.

As far as reading goes, it was my favorite pastime when I was a kid, and have been a huge book lover ever since. I love a good novel, but mostly tend to read non-fiction. If a gun were pointed at my head and I had to pick three favorite books, they would be Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, Silence by John Cage, and The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross. 

Invisible Cities is built around imagined conversations between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo, with Marco's descriptions of fantastic cities in the Khan's empire in between their discussions. It's a great book to keep in your bag to read in little spurts while you're waiting for the bus or the doctor simply because the divisions are so short, most of the cities are only a page or two. Each description of a city plays with something that we take for granted, for example the fact that cities stay in one place and that we breathe air and not dirt. The world Invisible Cities lives in has no restrictions from the laws of physics, and it's just so much fun imagining life in these mysterious places.

Silence is a collection of writings by John Cage, a still-controversial 20th century composer. You can walk into any university music department in the country and start an argument about his music and philosophies, with some people passionately defending his value and some saying that his music is not music at all. My tent has been firmly staked in the pro-John Cage camp ever since I read this book, and would love to discuss him with you if you find me at the Odyssey! I firmly believe that people should read this book with an open mind before making up their mind either way about him and his music. This book changed how I listen to the world, and the people that I've recommended it to have reported back the same result.

Alex Ross is the classical music critic for The New Yorker, and is a fabulous music writer. Whether it's his reviews and essays or either of his two books, his writing just makes you need to go listen to whatever he's talking about. Reading The Rest is Noise introduced me to more great music than I could possibly list, and his second book Listen to This has had the same effect. The Rest is Noise takes you through the music of the 20th century in a way that is completely accessible for everybody, not just those with a degree in music history or theory. The book gives insight into some of the most interesting stories from the last century of classical music, and puts it into context with the general history of each time period. One of the most gripping sections of the book deals with World War II, telling the stories both of Richard Strauss, who led the Reich Music Chamber for the Nazis to protect Jewish family members, and Olivier Messiaen, who wrote his most famous piece from inside a German prisoner of war camp. I would suggest this book to anyone, and especially to music and history lovers.

That's all for now! I'm currently reading Pinched by Don Peck, which is about the current economic turmoil we've found ourselves in. It's been fantastic so far, can't wait to finish it and write something up!

See you around,


Monday, October 3, 2011

Book Review: The Language of Flowers (audio)

Looking back over the list I've kept of the books I read each month, September has been surprisingly busy, topping every month except the summer vacation month of June with a whopping 18 books read (about which more anon).  Four nights ago on my way home from work I finished the unabridged audio book of The Language of Flowers, written by Vanessa Diffenbaugh and read by Tara Sands.  Even though it has been on the IndieBound Bestseller list for the last several weeks, I knew next to nothing about this book, and I certainly wouldn't have guessed based on the cover or the title that its characters would be distinguished by their misfortunes.  So when a freebie copy arrived in the "White Box" from the ABA, I jumped at the chance to listen to it. 

Summary, courtesy of the publisher: "The Victorian language of flowers was used to express emotions: honeysuckle for devotion, azaleas for passion, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it has been more useful in communicating feelings like grief, mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen, Victoria has nowhere to go, and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. When her talent is discovered by a local florist, she discovers her gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them."

Yes, Victoria is a victim of the world, exposed to its caprices and cruelties both large and small.  For one year in her life, she had a fleeting chance at happiness with her foster mother Elizabeth, but her inability to trust and love, combined with her finely-honed survival skills of hostility and a ten-year-old's reduced world view lead to disaster and heartbreak.  While I never could quite identify outright with Victoria (happily--I've never had to doubt my family's love for me) or her choices, it was certainly easy to sympathize with her.  

The novel mostly alternates the timeline every other chapter, starting the day Victoria turns 18 and "emancipates" from foster care with the narrative continuing onward from that day, and going back to Victoria's childhood, particularly the year she lives with Elizabeth, her last best hope to be adopted before being relegated to group homes for incorrigible foster children. About halfway through the audio it became pretty clear to me just how the earlier narrative would inexorably and heartbreakingly resolve into the later one. Neither narrative is particularly easy to listen to--it's hard to believe that the foster care system in this country fails to protect and care for so many children like Victoria, and her "adult" self is so misanthropic that frankly it's amazing that she makes it.  

And yet there are points of beauty in this novel.  The flowers themselves, certainly.  Elizabeth is a devoted gardener who teaches Victoria the language of flowers, and after she emancipates Victoria gets a job working for floral designer, Renata (who, despite her Russian background, reminded me of nobody so much as Minerva McGonagall).  But the small kindnesses Victoria encounters are also small points of beauty.  Meeting Renata's mother and being drawn into that gregarious family for Christmas mark the first time Victoria can recall feeling wanted at any family holiday.  She meets a young man of few words at the flower market who is the first person since Elizabeth left her life ten years ago who can read her flower messages. 

To say more of the plot would give too much away, I'm afraid, but it must be said that this is a novel about giving and taking chances, it's about abandonment and love, forgiveness and making amends.  In all, it was extremely satisfying.  I also liked the sly social justice interwoven into this story, with its tales of the foster care system, both woeful ( plentiful) and redemptive (not as many as one might like for a happier ending, but probably realistic). Tara Sands did a very good job reading this audio book, pulling off the sullen adolescent tones of young Victoria and the eastern European inflections of Renata & her family with equal aplomb.  I don't recall a single moment where I listened to the audio and wanted to rewind to enjoy a particular turn of phrase again, so I can't speak to the exquisite prose style very much on this one, but I can say that its strength lies in the fullness of the story.   


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Before, After, and Really After, with Night Circus Bonus!!!

This blog post is a little more personal than please pardon the intrusion.  But there have been lots of requests to post photos of the Night Circus event, along with my new-but-temporary red hair, so here it goes.  Thanks for reading and we welcome your comments!
Most of you don't know me in real life, but up until 48 hours ago, I had very long hair.
DURING: here's all 10-13" of my hair, all chopped off for donation

And up until 24 hours ago, the remaining hair I had was dark blonde.
Now I'm a redhead, but not a red found in nature.  And it was for a very specific purpose.  Tonight the Night Circus came to the Odyssey Bookshop, where I work, and I got to visit with, eat dinner with, and then introduce one of the rising stars of the book world, Ms. Erin Morgenstern.

AFTER-AFTER.  With my dog Roxanne in background
 For those of you who haven't read the book, there is significance in this book in dressing in all black, with one token of red--a scarf, a flower, a brooch, gloves--and those are the reveursReveurs follow the circus from town to town, continent to continent.  I consider myself one of the earliest reveurs, having read and fallen in love with The Night Circus several months ago, so when we booked an author event with Erin just one week after publication, I knew I wanted to do something special: I would dress all in black, and my token of red would be my hair.  The only problem is that hair of the particular shade I had in mind is not found in nature.  It can, however, be found at Sally's. 
I kinda like this placement of the glass vis a vis the dust jacket
If I had been truly hardcore, I would have bleached my hair and then dyed it Maraschino cherry red.  But I wasn't confident that I could rock that look for the next few months, so I opted for the temporary color. My long-suffering DH helped me color it this morning, and because he's all artistic and stuff, he used two shades: a darker metallic red for the undercoat and then brighter red highlights sprayed on top.  Good times!  I've also discovered throughout the day that I'm covered in what looks like red metallic dandruff, and my ears and neck look eerily sunburned, no matter how many times I wipe them off, so I guess there's a price to pay for the glamourous look.  And do you want to know something a little gross and not-so-glamourous?  Every time I blew my nose today, the snot came out a diluted metallic pink color, even though I was breathing through a towel during the entire color application.  That's some wicked (and tenacious) stuff, man!
Here you can see my husband's artistry a little better
But it was all worth it in the end.  Erin seemed pleased with our Night Circus display in the store, which we fashioned with a budget of only $12.  Good thing I had a skull, some vases, a red-swirly martini glass, and a giant sword at home to put to use!  Erin read to a full house and answered questions both in-store and through a live Twitter feed, courtesy of our sales rep, Ann. We sold lots of books (including to our first editions club) and have lots of signed ones left over for sale.  And they're all first printings--reserve yours today so that you can say you read Erin when....

And I think she also liked our enthusiasm for the book, not to mention my hair, even if I did shed a little metallic dandruff on her when we hugged good-night. 
Ann Kingman, Erin Morgenstern, and Odyssey Staffers, minus Sydney, who was actually working when this photo was taken.

The Night Circus display arrives without warning...I'm kinda glad we worked both a skull and a sword in there


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Shazam--it's The Night Circus!!!

...The Circus arrives without warning... 
I do not usually have trouble writing reviews of books that I have loved, but this review is proving to be an exception.  You see, it's rare that a book haunts me in a way that Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus did, and I want to make sure that my review is worthy of it; not only that, but I need to make sure that I get the tone just right, for like most books that I have a strong reaction to, this book is not for everybody.

Le Cirque des Reves (the Circus of Dreams) travels from city to city, from continent to continent, on no particular timetable, disappearing as quickly and as randomly as it appears. Operating from dusk to dawn and cloaked only in white, black, and silver, it offers the best entertainments of its kind in the world: acrobats, fortune tellers, animal acts, a magician--even the food concessions. For the extraordinary people who travel with it, year in and year out, it is more than their livelihood, it is their lifeblood.  As the novel unfolds, the reader comes to realize that the circus is also the playing field where Prospero the Enchanter and another magician known mostly as "the man in the grey suit" observe, but do not interfere with, a game with deadly consequences that they set into motion long ago.  Celia and Marco, their respective apprentices, bound irrevocably to their competition and each other, must use every reserve of power and imagination they possess to make sure the game does not play out according to the contract.  Along the way we meet a cast of incredible characters: Widget and Poppet, twins born on the circus's opening night; Isobel, a reader of cards caught between her love of the circus and her love of Marco; Chandresh Lefevre, circus proprietor and host of exclusive midnight dinner parties; Bailey, an ordinary boy who just might be more than what he seems; Tsukiko, the contortionist, whose secretive past keeps her anchored to the circus with an interest that is both personal and forlorn; and many, many more.

There are some books that capture the imagination; this novel seems rather to set the reader's imagination free with all that's best of dark and bright.  The Night Circus is precisely poised in that netherworld between reality and imagination, between wakefulness and sleep, casting the dreamer into the light of the dark black night. If you believe that The Shire is worth saving, if you believe somewhere in your heart that your Hogwarts letter will still find you, if you believe in tesseracts and kything, this is the book for you. More than anything else, this is a book that rewards those readers who know that true magic lies in the believing, not in the object of belief. 

If you are one of those readers, I think you will find, like me, that once you pick up this book, every moment spent not reading it feels like a moment wasted.  It is an intoxicating blend of reality and imagination. 

The Night Circus arrives in South Hadley on Thursday, 22 September, at 7:00 p.m., and Ms. Morgenstern will be on hand to read, answer questions, and escort reveurs through her magical world.  Books go on sale today!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Terrific Tuesday: These T-Shirts are AWESOME!

So, if you're a local Odyssey shopper, you've probably noticed that the long lines and high-energy buzz that come with textbook rush have returned.  That's right--it's back to school time for Mount Holyoke College!

Which also means it's that time of year when we introduce new product lines into the store.  And the one I'm most excited about right now is from the Out of Print Clothing Company.  They have created a line of t-shirts that feature the original dust jacket of many works of classic literature, both new and old.  And what's more, for every t-shirt that our store sells, the company will donate a book to a community in need.  So you get to look great and feel great, all in one!  I'm already the proud owner of the lovely Pride & Prejudice tee (don't you love the peacock?) and I'm pretty sure that A Clockwork Orange will be making its way to my house soon, too.  Another cool thing is that most designs come in both men's and women's sizing, so if you like a slim silhouette for your tees, we've got you covered.

See a design you like but we don't carry yet?  Leave a comment here or post on our Facebook page and the next time we order, we'll try to get it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Terrific Tuesday Releases: Baseball & the Rapture!

This week there are two outstanding books releasing today that we can't wait to share with you.  On the surface they couldn't be more different, but upon closer look, they both explore with tremendous generosity the glorious foibles and small triumphs of people in their everyday lives.

 What if the Rapture happens, leaving behind a few? Or what if it wasn't the Rapture at all, but something murkier, a burst of mysterious, apparently random disappearances that shattered the world in a single moment, dividing history into Before and After, leaving no one unscathed? Would some of us collapse? Would others of us go on, one foot in front of the other, as we did before the world turned upside down? That's what the bewildered citizens of Mapleton, who lost many of their neighbors, friends and lovers in the event known as the Sudden Departure, have to figure out. Because nothing has been the same since it happened--not marriages, not friendships, not even the relationships between parents and children.

Tom Perotta's The Leftovers is a startling, thought-provoking novel about love, connection, and loss, set in a progressive suburban town not entirely dissimilar from our own, where there's more than one kind of unsettling disappearance and no family is left untouched.   

And now for something completely different...Chad Harbach's debut novel, The Art of Fielding, couldn't be more quintessentially American, with its trappings of a small liberal arts college setting, baseball diamonds, and Herman Melville's contributions to American letters.  At Westish College, a small school on the Wisconsin shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended. Henry's fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne, Henry's gay roommate and teammate, becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz, the Harpooners' team captain and Henry's best friend, realizes he has guided Henry's career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight, Guert's daughter, returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life.

As the season counts down to its climactic final game, these five are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets. In the process they forge new bonds, and help one another find their true paths. Written with boundless intelligence and filled with the tenderness of youth, The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment--to oneself and to others.

The Odyssey staff (Neil! Diana! Nieves! Emily!) loved this book so much that it will be our signed first edition club selection for October, so we will have signed copies available in a little over a month.  We'll let you know when they're available.

(To read Emily's review of The Art of Fielding, not posted here because of a few salty phrases, please click here.)


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Terrific Tuesday Releases: I Married You For Happiness by Lily Tuck

 A few months ago I attended BEA  (that's BookExpo America) in NYC, and though most of my time was spent in appointments with publicists and marketing people at various publishers, I did manage to carry away with me a select number of galleys.  And for the first time in my history of attending trade shows, I walked away with only what I could carry in one small Envirosax bag, but I suppose that is neither here nor there.  

I finished reading Lily Tuck's novel one morning over breakfast shortly after BEA and I thought it was just wonderful.  I had never read any of her work before, though her name was vaguely familiar to me when I picked up the book at the Grove/Atlantic booth from Deb Seager.  She won the National Book Award for her novel The News from Paraguay and was shortlisted for the PEN/Faulkner Award for SiamIf, like me, you're not already familiar with Tuck's work, please do yourself a favor and check it out--I Married You For Happiness debuts today!

What is the probability that a husband will arrive home from work in good health, yet die of heart failure before dinner?  How does one measure a marriage or evaluate a memory?  In this novel, Tuck attempts to answer all of these questions in a most poignant way.  When Philip dies during a pre-prandial nap, Nina keeps quiet vigil with his body through the night, flooded by memories of their marriage ranging from mundane moments (playing tennis, taking a Sunday drive) to the most pivotal ones (the day they met, the birth of their daughter, her brief affair).  Nina's artistic nature is contrapuntal to Philip's logical one, and her fascinating narrative detours into his class lectures on probability & statistics, together with her struggles to understand the fundamental differences in the man she loves, reveal their relationship to be as intricate and beautiful as any mathematical theorem. I think if I had to choose one word to describe I Married You For Happiness, it would be "intimate," for above all, this book is a private meditation on Nina's and Philip's life together, and there were times I felt it would be more proper to avert my gaze than to continue reading.  And yet Tuck's prose is so lovely, and the transitions between the present vigil and the past memories so seamless, that I could not look away.  

A random, parting thought: why do the two chairs on the cover seem to have two different sources of light to cast shadows at such divergent angles, yet only cast one shadow, which indicates a single light source?  Is this bad photoshopping by the book's designer?  Is it indicative of Philip & Nina's divergent lives?  Discuss...


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Books on the Air

Yesterday, I was on WAMC's the Roundtable talking about a few books I enjoy.  If you missed the broadcast, you can stream it here

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson 
(author reading/signing August 20th at 4pm) An adult novel. 
The Fangs are performance artists and art is their life.  Child A & B, pulled into their work, must come to terms with who they are as Annie and Buster, not as aspects of their parents artwork.  A quirky, funny, and strange book.  See Emily Crowe's post.  

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern 
(author reading/signing September 22nd at 7pm)
A fantastical story of illusions and magic. An adult novel but great for teen readers as well.  

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
This fast-paced science-fiction work is great for 80s enthusists, those interested in video games, or anyone looking for a fun read.  An adult novel good for teens ages 15+.  

Anya's Ghost by Vera Brogsol
A YA graphic novel about a girl who must come to terms with her Russian background, and the ghost that's following her.  Incredible all-around.  

Chime by Franny Billingsley
A historical, paranormal YA that I devoured.  A great pick for a bookclub.  

Marshall Armstrong is New to Our School by David Mackintosh
My current favorite back-to-school picturebook about a quirky new student.  Funky collage illustrations adults and kids will enjoy.  

Bad Island by Doug Tennapel
A graphic novel for middle-grade and teen readers about a family shipwrecked during summer vacation.  Oh, and giant robot-like creatures from space.  

Wiener Wolf by Jeff Crosby
A hysterical picturebook about a wiener dog who runs away to a national park to live with wolves.  

The Witch's Guide to Cooking with Children by Keith McGowan
This middle grade novel is a modern retelling of Hansel and Gretel.  Now in paperback.  


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Terrific Tuesday Releases: The Submission by Amy Waldman

I picked this book up because I was intrigued by the premise and the sly double entendre of the title.  Two years after 9-11, a committee hand-picked by the governor of New York, including a woman widowed on that fateful day, selects a beautiful and peaceful garden design among the blind submissions as a memorial for the World Trade Center.  Big Reveal the First: the winning designer, though American, is a Muslim man.  Big Reveal the Second: the  winning design may or may not be inspired by historic Islamic gardens thought to be the origin of the martyrs' paradise concept. 

Although this book was not everything that I wanted it to be (it was mostly head, not as much heart) it was an interesting read throughout, and a timely one, too, with the tenth anniversary of the 9-11 tragedy fast approaching.  Though the end in particular was not what I was craving (that is, for America & its politicians to do what I consider as the morally right thing), it was very realistic and satisfying in way I had not expected.  Along the way we get multiple characters' perspectives: Claire, the widow on the committee; Paul, the chair of the committee; Mohammad ("Mo" to his friends), the winning designer of the memorial; Asra, an illegal Bangladeshi woman whose husband also died in the towers that day; Alyssa, a tabloid journalist whose ambition to scoop any aspect of Mo's story far outstrips her humanity; and a sad-sack fellow whose brother died in the towers and whose mother thinks the wrong son died.  Although I suspect most readers who pick up this book will feel true sympathy for very few characters, Waldman does a very good job of presenting this varied cast with as much empathy as possible--all, perhaps, except for the tabloid journalist and the politicians whose machinations twist the brouhaha into something much uglier than it needs to be.  I think Waldman, a journalist for over a decade, has carried off her debut novel with great credit to her profession

This book releases today from Farrar Straus & Giroux and I received an ARC of it at my request from my sales rep several months ago.  The ARC cover, ivory, with cutouts of a garden as seen through a Moorish window, is vastly different from the final, more somber cover shown here, which puts me in mind very much of The New Yorker issue design immediately following September 11, 2011.