Monday, January 31, 2011

Must-read Monday: new in paperback!

If the price of hardcover books is beyond your budget, have we got good news for you!  This week, many of 2010's most beloved titles are released in the budget-friendly paperback editions.  Here are a few of the ones we're most excited about:
 Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich.  Irene and Gil share many passions -- art, writing, their three children, and unfortunately, alcohol. After years of marriage, their obsessive love for each other transforms from a creative force to a destructive one.  This book is unflinching in its honesty--both in the portrayal of an obsessive relationship and the damages it does to the bystanders, in this case, their children--but it is also luminous in its language.  This is Erdrich's best and most intimate work to date.  (Odyssey Bookseller recommendation: Emily)

 Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian.  Set in a small Vermont town and told from multiple points of view, we see what happens when a shocking murder/suicide rocks the community to its very core  A local minister whose faith is shaken by the crime, a no-nonsense police investigator, and a charismatic but flaky author who believes that angels walk among us share the story-telling in this novel.  We get Bohjalian's trademark narration here where each layer becomes more nuanced and introduces more shades of grey--in this world, nothing is as absolute as black & white.  (Odyssey Bookseller recommendation: Emily)

The Three Weismanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine.  The New York Times named this one of their Notable Books of the Year for 2010.  Now's your chance to pick up this modern novel of manners, which readers have been raving about. 

"Schine’s homage to Jane Austen has it all....A sparkling, crisp, clever, deft, hilarious, and deeply affecting new novel, her best yet . . . Schine is clearly a writer who loves to read as much as she loves to write. And it is great fun to play English major with her.” —Dominique Browning, New York Times Book Review.

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake.  This New York Times bestseller, set in coastal Massachusetts in the 1940s is a tale of two worlds--one shattered by violence, the other willfully naive--and of two women whose job is to deliver the news, yet who find themselves unable to do so. Through their eyes and the eyes of everyday people caught in history's tide, it examines how stories are told and how the fact of war is borne, even in the face of everyday life.

"Matching harrowing action with reflection, romance with pathos, Blake's emotional saga of conscience and genocide is poised to become a best-seller of the highest echelon" ~Booklist (starred review)


Book review in brief: House Arrest by Ellen Meeropol

This is an exciting blog post for me because it's the first time that somebody I currently work with has written a book!

House Arrest by Ellen Meeropol, published by Red Hen Press.  

On the surface, you would not think that Pippa and Emily have much in common--Pippa is a young, pregnant cult member from the Deep South, on trial for negligence concerning the accidental death of her infant; Emily is the reserved New England-born nurse charged with overseeing Pippa's pre-natal care. Beneath their facades, however, the reader gradually comes to realize a key similarity running soul-deep in both.  Orphaned either figuratively or literally, each woman is haunted by a childhood shaped by loneliness and guilt and left  on her own to grapple with the deeds (and misdeeds) of her parents. It's a testament to Meeropol's skill that the parallel stories of Emily and Pippa unfold layer by layer as their lives become inexorably more entwined with each other, holding the reader in thrall until the very end.

Ellen and I have worked together for four years, and I count it as a great privilege that she gave me the book in manuscript form to read many long months ago.  When her advanced reading copies became available, I was first in line to get one inscribed (literally--it was the very first book she signed to anyone!).  It's been fun being along for the ride and sharing in her enthusiasm during the whole process, from getting the book contract to being interviewed and getting a starred review in Publisher's Weekly.  And just a few days ago on one of the book blogs I subscribe to, I read my first full online review, bringing the process full circle. 

We will be hosting Ellen's book launch party and reading on Wednesday, February 9, at 7:30, with wine and cheese a-plenty.  We'd love to see you there!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Sunday Question

Which books just make you happy?

We are just after having Blue Monday, which fell on January 17th, supposedly the most depressing day of the year. I myself find late January into February not the most uplifting of times, especially with all the record cold we've been subject to. I count the end of winter as the day sugaring starts, and this year it's not likely to be soon. The only thing that seems to help is skiing, and of course, curling up with a book and tea.

I've been trying lately to read books that just make me happy, but angst-ridden books seem to predominate the publishing world. And though they can be interesting, even inspiring, those books are not ones I want to read right now. No, I want to read feel-good books. I realize that can mean different things to different people. Some people may find Stephen King books to be happiness-inducing. Although I'm otherwise crazy about Stephen King, I wouldn't say his books make me happy, exactly.

The books that make me happy vary a lot, though. I am a great fan of Barbara Pym and other chroniclers of English village life, so was immediately charmed by Helen Simonson's Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, my pick for feel good book of 2010.

I've been reading Alice Hoffman's new novel, The Red Garden, and am enchanted, as usual, by her gorgeous, magical writing. In this book, she tells the history of a small New England town in the Berkshires through linked stories that feature visitations by John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed) and Emily Dickinson.

The poetry of Billy Collins always makes me happy.

Writer and teacher Christian McEwan came in the other day, and said that Emma Donahue's Room made her happy, 

and Saul Bellow's letters.

What about you? Which books just make you happy? Let us know.

~ Chrysler

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Hey Hey Hey... The Fates Will Find Their Way... Featured in the New York Times!

A book we love, and that we are having an author event for... Hannah Pittard's The Fates Will Find Their Way, is featured in the New York Times

For more info about the event, check out our website! Can't wait for her and Teju Cole to visit us!



Thursday, January 27, 2011

Hello, my name is Nieves and I'm a Cover Lover...

I know, I know you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover... but it is definitely instrumental in whether or not the book gets picked up and perused.

Currently, I am in love with the dust jacket of We the Drowned, by Carsten Jensen, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28.00. Published February 2011.

The first sentence alone promises a story worthy of such an excellent cover:

"Many years ago there lived a man called Laurids Madsen, who went up to Heaven and came down again, thanks to his boots."

Am I the only one who claps in delight over such a well turned (and apparently translated) phrase?

To get a higher resolution look, click here. [via] Or just stop on by the store and have a look see for yourself.

Can't wait to read this 600+ page beast, cover to cover of course!



Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Debut Tuesdays: The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard

Debut Tuesday: Okay, it doesn't have the alliteration of Follow Fridays or Waiting on Wednesday, two other popular book blogging memes, but this is a fun way for us here at the Odyssey to share with you the books we're most excited about each week. Tuesday is the usual release date for any new book in the publishing industry. Hmmm...maybe we should just call it Terrific Tuesday instead?

The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard is so wholly fresh and inventive that I read it start to finish in practically one sitting. From the uncommon point of view (a group of boys collectively acts as a first-person-plural narrator) to the plot ambiguities that keep the reader constantly guessing what is true and what is supposition, this book is more than just the story of a 16 year old girl who goes missing and the effect her disappearance has on her family, her classmates, and her small town. It is a story of unintended consequences, a tale of imagination and self-reflection, a multi-generational coming of age narrative, and above all, it proves that the most haunting words in our language are "what if?"

Though the book goes on sale today, I read this book several months ago when my sales rep from Harper, Anne DeCourcey, pressed an advance readers copy of this book into my hands and assured me that it was worth my time. Boy, was it! I took it home and read it that weekend, then came back to the store to make other people read it, too. We unanimously decided to choose
Fates for our First Editions Club selection for January, so she'll be at our store very soon. I also had the unrivaled pleasure of meeting Hannah last week in Washington, DC, at a bookseller dinner hosted by HarperCollins, and I can assure you that she is outspoken and fascinating and everything you want your dinner partner to be. If you like innovative fiction and are on the lookout for the next big literary thing, do yourself a favor and pick up Hannah's book!

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Sunday Question

Which books have you bought for their covers?

There have been a proliferation of books that have been coming in with fantastic covers. I want every one. Which makes me a little sad for all the great books out there that have lost out in the cover wars. And anxious for my own books, too, I might add. It's a little known fact that authors usually have absolutely no pull when it comes to cover design, unless they self-publish. It's a good thing that different artwork appeals to different people. For as much as we all hate to admit it, we often can't help ourselves: we do judge a book by its cover.

This hasn't always led to errors in judgment on my part. I was introduced to the marvelous A.S. Byatt via the striking cover of Possession, with its painting of The Beguiling of Merlin by Edward Burne-Jones. It certainly beguiled me, as did the book, which remains one of my all-time favorites.

The cover of local author Dori Ostermiller's Outside the Ordinary World led me to expect a complex, rich, gorgeously written tale of family secrets, and I wasn't disappointed.

Striking an altogether different note is the cover of Kim Addonizio's collection of poetry, Lucifer at the Starlight, edgy and retro all at once. The poems are unexpected: poems about teeth sold to fairies, Teflon spatulas, and wooden legs beside the bed.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Mark Dunn's Under the Harrow, a book I'm looking forward to just holding as I read its tale of the imaginary Dickensian town of Dingley Dell, a utopian society based on 19th century novels. The cover is old-fashioned cloth, with no dust jacket, the kind of book you want to read in a hammock and leave out in a gentle summer rain to add character to it.

The cover of
Jonathan Evison's West of Here
mimics a delicious old-timey guide book to the Rockies. It is actually a novel, set in another fictional town, Port Bonito, Washington. It's been billed as a McMurtry-esque saga merging the history of the old west with a modern comedy. It will be available on February 15th, and is our First Edition Club pick for March. Can't wait!

Marika considers the covers of EVERY book. As an artist, she doesn't want to be seen reading a book with an ugly cover. "She looks for simple and effective covers, like Chris Cleave's Little Bee.


Which books have you bought for their covers?

~ Chrysler

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Sunday Question

Which book will you read on your next snow day or vacation day?

Much as I love working at the Odyssey, it was great to have a snow day last week. Something about a snow day is magical. It's a retreat to childhood, when you have permission to do the unexpected, like build a snowman or bake a cake just for fun. Or luxuriate in a big read, which is my favorite snow day activity. So, I'm planning for the next one. And if the weather doesn't cooperate, there's always a holiday (Martin Luther King Day, Presidents Day -- when I read instead of going to the mall).

Here are some of the books we are looking forward to reading during the next big blizzard:

Nieves thinks short stories are perfect for a snow day. Some of her current faves are the Best American collections of 2010, because, as she says, "everyone is still in a contemplative mood about the past year."

She has been loving Best American Short Stories, edited this year by Richard Russo,

and Dave Eggers collection, Best American Non-Required Reading.

I love the short story idea, and am really looking forward to reading two kind of off-beat collections, Stephen King's collection of some of his very long short stories (one is set in western Mass, too) Full Dark, No Stars.

And Best American Noir of the Century, edited by James Ellroy, of L.A. Confidential fame.

Marika likes the idea of reading a book aloud to whoever she is snowed in with. One of her choices would be the lovely, lush, Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie.

I love evocative reads, too. I either want to read something set in a storm during a storm, like Jon Katz's amazing novel Rose in a Storm, in which he evokes a storm of the century, and how his Border collie, Rose, might react in it to save her farm.

Or a book that takes me out of the stormy weather altogether and sets me down someplace completely different, like the 19th century Egypt of Kate Pulinger's The Mistress of Nothing, a fictionalized account of writer Lady Lucie Duff Gordon's time in Egypt, told from the perspective of her maid, Sally Naldrett.

I also have to admit this is one book I'd read based on it's cover.

So tell us, what are you planning to read on your next snow day?

~ Chrysler

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Caldecott was announced....

The Caldecott was announced Monday so beautifully illustrated books have been on my mind (they're always on my mind to some extent, but I've been discussing them more than usual). There were a number of beautiful books published in the past year, many of which were worthy of an award for distinguished illustration. So here are a few beautifully illustrated books (which didn't win a Caldecott or Honors) which you may wish to check out.

13 Words written by Lemony Snicket illustrated by Maira Kalman
Quirky is a good word to describe Kalman. As is colorful, wonky, bizarre, and luscious. Many people feel overwhelmed by her illustrations, but part of the wonder is to take it slow, to spend time on every page and revel in the strange details and juxtapositions. If you usually go for traditional or realistic illustrations, take the time to sit with 13 Words and explore something new. And if quirky is your style, be prepared to fall in love.

Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes by Salley Mavor
Three-dimensional illustration is not something you often see, which is why I think people find it astonishing and magical. Often the most difficult part of a three-dimensional illustration is getting a good photograph and the reproductions in Pocketful of Posies beautifully capture Mavor's brilliant colors and textural variety.

Art & Max by David Wiesner
This entire book blows me away. The intricacy, the detail, the color, and the dynamic compositions combine to create a stunning book. It's a staff favorite here and one that's difficult to walk away from.

Zen Ghosts by Jon J Muth
I've tried working with watercolor before, and the attempts have only made me appreciate those who use the medium more. Before I wrote a paper about this book I read it through a number of times. Each time I caught something new hidden in the illustrations. And take a close look at the endpapers for small additions to the story.


What are your favorite picturebooks of 2010?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Book Review: Open City by Teju Cole

Open City by Teju Cole is one of the most interesting and thoughtful books I've read in a long time. The novel opens with our narrator Julius, a Nigerian-born psychiatrist who daily takes to wandering the streets of Manhattan, where he now lives and practices, as a means of warding off insomnia. As his feet take him in various directions uptown or downtown, his mind freely meanders elsewhere: his military school upbringing in Nigeria, his German mother, his girlfriend who has recently left him, his visit to a local immigrant detention center, a trip to Belgium, where America stands in the current international political climate, and even the nature of New York City itself.

It is an extremely quiet and contemplative book; though the prose styles are quite dissimilar, Open City reminds me very much of Paul Harding's Tinkers, in that it's a meditation on a character's past actions and memories more than a present day narrative, where all but the most provocative actions and memories lose their edge, softened by time and distance. Even his present day narrative is emotionally held at arm's length, never more so than with two disturbing encounters that occur at the very end of the novel that jar the reader far more than they do the narrator: one in which something happens to Julius, and one in which another character relates something that happened to her. In fact, this lack of reaction may call Julius's narrative reliability into question for some readers, but the more I know of other people and the more I grow in self-knowledge, the more I find myself growing increasingly comfortable with ambiguity and learning to accept the fact that people are equally capable (and sometimes simultaneously so) of actions both tender and heinous.

I admit that at times it was easy for me to put this book down, but I'm certainly glad that I always picked it back up again, as the rewards in finishing it were tenfold. This novel is definitely not for everybody; you should give it a pass if you're looking for a linear story with resolution, if you're uncomfortable with ambiguity, or if you're inclined to read predominantly plot-driven books. If, however, you're interested in the workings of memory and its effects on storytelling, the structure of narrative, the immigrant experience, and the quiet but erudite, politically-tinged musings of a man who may or may not be what he seems, do yourself a favor and pick up Teju Cole's Open City. I predict that it will be on more than one shortlist for major literary awards this year.

Open City will be published by Random House in February 2011 and Cole will be appearing at the Odyssey Bookshop on February 11, and his book is that month's selection for our signed First Edition Club.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Sunday Question

Which literary character would you most like to be?

I really believe in parallel universes. Somewhere, another version of me is leading a completely different life. Usually, I think it must be a far better one. In that other universe, I am rich, successful, have a more fulfilling life altogether. I dress better, too. I think my compulsive reading (and writing) springs from this desire to inhabit other worlds. So naturally, I often ponder which character I would be, which book I'd inhabit, given the opportunity.

It's not so easy to choose, though, not as easy as you'd think. Most of my favorite characters have pretty wretched, or at least uncomfortable lives. I wouldn't really want to be Jane Eyre, for instance. Who would want to spend her childhood at Gateshead with the horrible Reeds? Or have to roam the moors for days with nothing to eat after discovering her fiance kept his mad wife in the attic? Not me.

I think, given the choice, I'd be Mma Ramotswe, Alexander McCall Smith's #1 Lady Detective. First of all, Botswana, where she resides, is nice and hot. Pretty compelling in the midst of a New England winter. It is quite possibly the most stable African country, and that's a plus. But aside from geographic considerations, Mma Ramotswe is wise, kind and strong. She has a respected place in her community, old friends, a sweet-tempered husband (maybe a little too sweet-tempered), and has taken in a couple of nice adopted orphans. She's had her problems, and sometimes gets into dangerous situations, but altogether, she has a very good life.

Stability seems to be key for most of the people I asked in our current universe. Nieves would like to be Anne Elliot, from Persuasion. Her reason being, Anne is one of the more quiet, but independent Austen heroines. It is only her travails, pain and heartbreak that really show her that what she wants, and wanted from the start were really worth waiting for.

Marika would be Morwen, from Dealing with Dragons, (by Patricia C. Wrede), who is a witch with a very stable life. She has doors to just about anywhere, too, which comes in handy.

I caught Diana in an interesting frame of mind -- she wants to be Dracula.

Emily Crowe says: "I'd love to have the life of either Anne Shirley, of Green Gables fame, or of Emily Byrd Starr, both created by L. M. Montgomery. Creative, mischievous, good-hearted and intellectually curious heroines, the both of them."

She'd be very popular in Japan, too.

My apologies to Sophia. I lost the post it on which she'd written her character, and it was a book I'm not familiar with. It has the word "summer" in the title, so maybe she's tired of the cold, too.

Let us know which character you would be if you could.

~ Chrysler

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

This just in: "Down with love..."

"well okay then." as Marika is wont to say, not in disparagement of love, per se, but in general.

An example:

Me: "I'm feeling perverse and I think the sky should be called 'chartreuse' today."
Marika: "Well okay then."
Sidebar: the sky is nowhere near the c
olor chartreuse on said day.

But I digress.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky once said, “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams.” This indicates a few things about Dostoyevsky; that he was perhaps a dreamer, and that he had a rocky love life.

The latter was certainly true enough to have him included in
Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love, a book compiled by Andrew Shaffer. This little gem pulls together over 25 portraits of philosophers who were some of the brightest thinkers of their time, but who perhaps were a little dimmer when it came to human interaction and foibles of the heart. It is a great (anti)valentine to the logical and/ or makes a great coffee table book.

Maybe it's that like most of life, these philosophers over thought this simple concept. In any case it is interesting to see who turned their mistress into a surrogate daughter, who never received a "yes" to any of his marriage proposals, etc., etc., Is this overly
Schadenfreude, perhaps.

I'll leave you with a bit of Nietzche-n wisdom:

"Ah women. They make the highs higher and the lows more frequent."

~ Friederich Nietzche
photo via

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Sunday Question

What are your New Year's resolutions?

Well, it's a new year, and time for new resolutions.

I like to make resolutions each year. I like to have goals which I sometimes accomplish then can feel righteous about. Even more fun is making lists of the books I need to read in order to accomplish said resolutions. For me, the two go hand in hand. Resolutions and books, like love and marriage. Of course, Sparky would say that everything I do requires the reading of books. I have to read the book before I see the movie. I have to consult three or four cookbooks before I boil an egg. When I discovered I had a Border collie, I was compelled to read all the books about Border collies in existence (thank you, Jon Katz). I'll have to ask my mum, but I think I even remember poring over a book about tying one's shoes before I undertook to learn that art.

So, here are my New Year's resolutions, and their accompanying books:

1) Learn to sew. Sparky bought me my first sewing machine for Christmas, a sparkling green Hello Kitty Janome (really). I have no idea how to even begin sewing, but thankfully there are LOTS of wonderful books about sewing, including:

A book I've been eyeing at work for a while now.

2) Start feeding myself, for a change. I used to be a farm girl, had horses and ducks, milked cows, tended a big garden. I am lucky enough to have a little land available to me again, and I've resolved not to be so bone idle and do something about it (goats). Thankfully, we now have a great new selection of books on sustainability published by Chelsea Green.

And then there are books very well-suited to dabblers like myself:

Which has how-to's for the farming newbie with a little land (or not): gardening, beekeeping, making natural cleaning products, (goats).

Of course, some people take a more direct route and admit their book addiction, proudly proclaiming they will read 200 books in 2011 (our own Emily Crowe). Or all of Proust

(John Palmer).

What about you? Let us know your New Year's resolutions (and the books you will thus have to read, if applicable).