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.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Terrific Tuesday Book Release: The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
Meet Caleb & Camille Fang and their children Annie and Buster, known at home and at large as Child A and Child B.  They’re a family dedicated to making art, but not in a way that anybody would expect.  The term performance art doesn’t quite do justice to what they do—it’s more like guerilla warfare aimed at a complacent public, and it’s not “good” in their eyes unless somebody ends up bleeding, broken, arrested, or worse.  This book is laugh-out-loud on the surface, but the absurdity really only masks a darker level where children are valued only as much as the next prop and where the parents’ final performance is both devastating and liberating.  This book is a marvelous find.  

This book releases in hardcover today, but my Harper rep, the amazing Anne DeCourcey, handed me an ARC of this book  several months ago and told me that I should read it.  She was right, as she so often is.  Here are some of the passages that resonated with me--either because of the writing, the humor, or my own self-identification.  

On why there should be a third film in The Powers That Be franchise, in which Annie starred: "Yes, well, I think we can all agree that everyone loves watching Nazis getting hit with lightning bolts."  Later on that page, Wilson describes a sip of gin: "So clean and medicinal it felt not unlike surgery under light anesthetic."  My husband, a gin drinker of the highest order, couldn't agree more.  

On how simultaneously funny and pathetic Buster is, upon the prospect of sex: "He could count on one hand the number of times he'd had sex and still have enough fingers left over to make complicated shadow puppets."

Buster again, after his sister has left home and he's alone with his parents, not knowing how to be around them without her: "His mother and father were laughing with such vigor, so genuinely moved, that Buster tried it out, to see what it felt like.  He laughed and laughed and, though he did not yet know what the joke was, he hoped it would be worth the effort he'd already put into enjoying it."

These people are profoundly f*cked up.  And profoundly funny.  And profoundly disturbing.  Just read it. Seriously.  

If you read book blogs at all, you know that this book has been getting some major buzz in the blogosphere for the last few months.  This is the book that will put Kevin Wilson on the literary map, and if you are hangin' around in western Massachusetts next Saturday afternoon, August 20, please stop by the bookstore to hear him read from The Family Fang.  Beloved author Ann Patchett personally assured me that Mr. Wilson is one of the best writers we have in the US today and is one of the best guys ever, full stop.  So stop by the store and meet him in person!

~Emily Crowe

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

New in paperback fiction: travel to Engand and Nigeria without leaving home!

Summer is a great time to get caught up on your reading, and there are two books recently out in paperback that I raved about when they were first published.  Each one is perfect for summer vacation reading, because even if you're not getting away someplace, these books will transport you. 

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton.  This lush novel interweaves three separate stories that span the 20th century.  All of the factors for a great English mood novel are present: a castle, a family whose creative streak is matched only by its madness, three spinster sisters, a quaint village, mysterious disappearances, ancient secrets, and a young publisher trying to sort fact from fiction in the local lore.  The stories meander at a deliberate pace, all converging in the last chapter in a most satisfying way.  This book is perfect for those readers who want to really sink their teeth into an atmospheric novel that will make them want to curl up for hours with a pot o' tea. 

The Secret Lives of the Four Wives by Lola Shoneyin.  You'd think that a book set in Nigeria about a polygamist and his four wives would feel exotic and exude a sense of "otherness," but this first novel feels so familiar that the characters might be people you know.  When Baba Segi takes on his fourth wife, a well-educated young woman trying to escape her past, his first three (jealous) wives spare no act of deceit or vindictiveness to rid the compound of the new interloper.  But will their efforts to keep a dark secret hidden result in tragedy for them all?  A terrific first novel!