Wednesday, December 13, 2017

What's New On the Shelf?

I've added a few new cool things lately.

Going into Town is the latest from cartoonist Roz Chast, a favorite of mine. This book is a brief memoir coupled with a pencil-sketch guide to getting around New York City. If you know someone who's moving here, this would make a great gift.

I wish I had had it when I moved to NYC in 2014 but it only came out this year.

Margaret the First, by Danielle Dutton, is a novel about the life of Margaret Cavendish, a 17th century novelist who wrote all kinds of crazy things, from what I understand. It was coupled with one of her books, The Blazing World, which I also bought- a great literary double feature indeed. Thanks to Greenlight Books in Fort Greene for the pairing.

Last year I decided to buy a one-year subscription to books from the small press & Other Stories, and I got my first book from them in the fall, Nicola Pugilese's Malacqua, about a flood in Naples. I can't wait to wade in, so to speak.

Finally, I got a copy of Bernardo Atxaga's The Accordionist's Son for contributing to a Kickstarter launched by Graywolf Press, Europa Editions and Other Press to send booksellers to international book fairs. They successfully raised $30,000 to launch this literary scholarship program and gave various incentives for contributions. This signed copy was my little prize. Atxaga is a favorite author of mine so I was pretty excited.

That's what's new on my shelf. What's new on yours?

Monday, December 4, 2017

Some Recent (ish) TV Adaptations of Favorite Books

You can't help but notice how many literary adaptations are coming to television these days, largely thanks to the success of "Game of Thrones" and the proliferation of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. Even cable stations are into it- AMC did Philipp Meyer's The Son, for example. I watch TV slowly but consistently and have worked my way through a few series lately.

First I need to admit, somewhat shamefully, that I have not watched all of Hulu's adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale and nor am I likely to. It's one of my favorite books in terms of the impression it made but when I saw the 1990 film adaptation, the one that starred Robert Duval and Natasha Richardson, I thought it was bland given the subject matter. I always imagined someone like Lars von Triers directing a really good, gritty version, but thought that any really good adaptation would also be nearly unwatchable. Well von Triers isn't the director of Hulu's version but I did find it unwatchable anyway, after one episode. I just... couldn't. It's really solid, and has won awards and blah blah blah, but no. I went through the trauma once, when I read the book; I don't feel like the need to revisit any more. Maybe someday, but as General Gowron once said, "not today."

Moving on to another Margaret Atwood adaptation, Netflix's "Alias Grace," which is actually my very favorite of Atwood's books. This adaptation is extremely good, very faithful to the book and compelling and highly binge-able. I loved it. Very plot-centric with detailed characterizations and pitch-perfect acting, it's a real winner, whether or not you've read it. But you should definitely read it too.

As a side note, I'm a quilter and it's neat to see interest in the series and book from my quilting community. Quilts play an important role in Grace's life and many people in the groups I belong to are intrigued by the show due to the prominent placement of quilting in the story. Folks are asking for the patterns and starting to think about projects they might do based on Grace's quilts. Maybe I'll even end up doing a Grace quilt at some point. Might be fun!

Lately I've started AMC's "The Son," based on Philipp Meyer's 2013 novel of the same name, also a serious favorite of mine. I'm three episodes in and while it's pretty solid there are some changes. The creators have compressed the time line, removed a generation of the McCullough family and amped up the soap opera a little bit. They also seem to have compressed the Comanche sequences although I'm not through the whole thing yet so maybe there's more. When I heard about it, I was really skeptical about the casting of Dreamy Pierce Brosnan as Eli McCullough, the tough old patriarch of the family. In the book we really only get a very old Eli, well past his physical prime, and it was hard for me to picture Brosnan in that role. The Eli onscreen is a vital and vigorous man in his 60s or so, aging but very much on his game, and a better fit for the actor. And I like this Eli; he's a jerk but he's our jerk. The character doesn't feel inaccurate, but like something that was sculpted from the source material rather than simply copied.

And as far as "Game of Thrones," I'm a huge fan and can't wait for the final season. I've read only a few chapters of the first book and have no interest in reading more, but I love the world the showrunners have created out of George R.R. Martin's opus and would encourage anyone to get started with the series if you haven't already. It's not for everybody, but it's an amazing achievement.

What literary series are you hooked on? I'd love to hear about some more in the comments.

Monday, November 20, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Another month or so when I haven't felt much like reviewing, or even posting consistently. Sigh.

I finished Dracula, finally. I liked it a lot but I felt like it lost steam as it went along. It's a classic- Bram Stoker codified the vampire story and it is truly chilling, but maybe it's that for me it's also so familiar. IDK, as the kids say. I'm glad I read it and I'd recommend it. Onwards and upwards.

I started Jenny Erpenbeck's Visitation, a multigenerational tale of a German plot of land and several houses and the people who inhabit it over a century. It also has its shocking moments, sharp like poking your fingertip with a needle. I'm loving it and she has a new book, Go Went Gone, that's getting a lot of buzz. A bookstore customer turned me on to her and recommendations like that are part of what I really love about being a bookseller.

On the nightstand are Secondhand Time, Svetlana Alexievich's oral history of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Laurus, a novel of medieval Russia by Eugene Vodolazkin and translated by my friend Lisa Hayden. I lurve Laurus and am finding Secondhand Time moving and very enjoyable in a different way.

Finally at the gym I'm reading Souad Mekhennet's I Was Told to Come Alone, a riveting memoir about the Washington Post journalist's forays into ISIS and the Islamic fundamentalist world. Fascinating.

What about you? I'm probably going to really dig into Laurus during the holiday weekend- should be fun. Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers.

Monday, November 6, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

The past couple of weeks have been busy for me in terms of books. I finished The Little Buddhist Monk and The Proof, In the Land of Invented Languages, and What Made Maddy Run, by Kate Fagan, which you maybe didn't know I was reading.

Now I've got a whole new slate of books open, starting with Bram Stoker's classic Dracula. A customer at Porter Square Books sold me on it a while back and finally I picked it up for my Halloween read. And it's sooo good and creepy! I'm about halfway through now and it's really heating up.

On my nightstand is Svetlana Alexievich's Secondhand Time, an oral history of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Salman Rushdie's The Golden House, which kind of just keeps getting better. I've read a lot of lukewarm reviews of this book and I will give you that it is not for everyone. It was not for me at first, but now it is.

And at the gym I'll be starting something this week- I'm just not sure what yet. What about you? What are you reading this week? I hope you're having a great week.

Monday, October 23, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I finished A Horse Walks into a Bar, which I liked but I had a hard time connecting with it. I'm going to try the audio, which I've heard some people say works well, as soon as I can scare up a copy. And I lost my copy of Jane Austen at Home; I hope whoever found it at the gym is enjoying it. I'll be sad until the paperback comes out. I don't want to wreck a hardcover by taking it on the stationary bike, but I would like to finish it at some point. (I had been reading a galley copy.)
Anyway so that leaves this week's current reads, starting with Cesar Aira's The Little Buddhist Monk and The Proof, two novellas for the price of one. It's fun. I love Aira.

On the nightstand I'm still working my way through In The Land of Invented Languages and The Golden House. Both are fun in their own ways. I'm going to have more to say about them later.

And at the gym? I don't know what I'm going to pick next. What are you reading this week?

Monday, October 16, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I've struggled a bit with books over the past week- I DNF'd three nonfiction titles (straight on to the "sell" pile, too, so no going back) and started some new things. And bought some new things, but I'll do a new-on-the-shelf post soon.

I started reading A Horse Walks into a Bar, by David Grossman, after finishing Ripley Under Water, which was a treat. This one is too and it's also darkly humorous but in a less murdery way.

On the bedside I'm settling down with Arika Okrent's In the Land of Invented Languages, about languages that people have made up- Klingon, ASL, Esperanto and so forth. It's fascinating and entertaining and just what I needed to break me out of my slump.

I'm also reading a chapter a night of The Golden House, by Salman Rushdie, whose narrator I really detest but I'm trying to pick through the circumlocutions to get to the plot, and when I can it's great.

At the gym I'm continuing with Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley, a fun and informative entry into this year's pile of Austen nonfiction commemorating the 200th anniversary of her death.

That's it for me this week, but that's enough. What about you?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Review: MADE FOR LOVE, by Alissa Nutting

Made for Love, by Alissa Nutting. Published 2017 by Ecco. Audiobook narrated by Suzanne Elise Freeman. Literary Fiction. Science Fiction.

A woman runs away from her techonut husband while her elderly father finds companionship in a sex doll and another man becomes attracted to dolphins in Alissa Nutting's funny, twisted and thoroughly delightful new novel.

Made for Love; what does it mean? Hazel's father's doll was manufactured for sex; Hazel herself becomes an object in the eyes of her husband, there to be used for his experiments; and Jasper has created of himself a character who pretends to love women while he steals from them. But at a metaphorical level, or literal if you're religious, the human soul as made for love is a religious concept that reaches back to the Bible. Pope John Paul II said "A person's rightful due is to be treated as an object of love, not as an object for use." All three main characters, and many of the minor ones, have to learn this lesson over the course of this strange and wonderful book.

At the outset, Hazel, a young woman in her thirties, abandons her marriage to Byron Gogol. He is founder of a tech company looking to take over the world, or at least the people in it, through the introduction of more and more intrusive technology. Finally he wants to "meld minds" with his wife, in one-sided arrangement that would give him access to her every thought but give her nothing in return. His incursions start out with low-level technostalking when they first meet and escalate to monitoring her without her knowledge 24/7. She wants out; what started out as a loveless marriage for money has become something frightening and deeply threatening and now, hiding at her father's house, she believes Byron will eventually kill her rather than let her go.

At the same time her father, who is more ill than he lets on, has taken up with a sex doll named Diane and wants to live out his remaining time in a fantasy world of plastic love. He lets Hazel stay with him for the time being, but only if she agrees to buy him a second doll.

Then there's Jasper, a con artist and gigolo who gets a number done on him after an encounter with a dolphin changes him in a way he struggles to come to terms with, first through employment at an aquarium and later through Gogle-sponsored surgery. Eventually all three characters come together, but not in any way I expected.

I'm calling this book science fiction because it is deeply concerned with the ways technology affects our lives, and portrays a current-day or near-future world in which technology is threatening to become hyper-intrusive, a world in which we have literally no privacy, not even the privacy of our own thoughts. The beating heart of the narrative is Byron Gogle's company, the extension of his self with its wireless tentacles stretching out, trying to enclose everyone in his life just as a start. Byron/Gogol's grasping is desperate and needy and belies Byron's blasé, blank affect; there's more going on with him than we see, but the whole point is that he is the one character whose interior life we will never see, and that's the way he wants it.  As his tentacles get closer and closer to our protagonists I was feeling a real tension and suspense, wondering how this was all going to turn out.

The ending is quick but satisfying; an otherwise throwaway character saves the day, and those that remain move on to uncertain but somehow better futures. I really enjoyed Made for Love; it was quirky, hilarious, edgy and at times outlandish, but it kept me reading and held my attention, which is saying a lot for audio fiction. Suzanne Elise Freeman's expert narration helped a lot too; she is expressive and charismatic and brought the words to life.  If you have a slightly off-kilter sense of humor and are ready for the unexpected, Made for Love is a great choice for you.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary audio listening copy from

Monday, October 9, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I finished three books last week- the audiobook of  Made For Love, by Alissa Nutting, which I loved, my gym book The Possessed, by Elif Batuman, which was pretty enjoyable, and my bedside book, I'm Fine... And Other Lies, by comedian Whitney Cummings.

I put down the other books and moved on to Ripley Under Water, by Patricia Highsmith; she is always a treat and I'm really enjoying the follow-up to the fun Ripley Under Ground. You can never have too much Tom Ripley in your life, unless you're in his crosshairs.
Bedside I've got Moura: The Dangerous Life of the Baroness Budberg, by Nina Berberova, the biography of an extraordinary woman who survived the tumultuous early Soviet years and had a string of famous lovers and husbands along the way. It's interesting and the writing is fantastic. I've long been a fan of Berberova's fiction.
Then at the gym I'm reading Jane Austen at Home, a biography by Lucy Worsley. I'm only in the first chapter but it's delightful and fascinating so far. 2017 is the year for Jane Austen nonfiction and I have a feeling this is another winner.

What are you reading this week?

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Palm Beach Bookstores

When you think of Palm Beach, I'll bet the first thing, or even the third or fourth thing, to come to mind is not bookstores. Mansions, old money, new money, fancy stores, beautiful beaches, elegant hotels and so forth. But bookstores?

Spending an afternoon in the ritzy enclave, home to 2% of the world's wealth, I was delighted to find that tucked among shops catering to the ultra-wealthy were three shops catering the ultra-bookish.

First up was the Classic Book Shop, a smallish but packed-full-of-bookish-goodness store with new books and remainders along with a healthy selection of Florida books (and an impressive selection of books signed by local Palm Beach author James Patterson). When I stopped in, an elegantly dressed lady was looking for a book to read on her upcoming flight to Paris. Sounds about right for the neighborhood!

Our next stop was Worth Avenue, the Rodeo Drive of Palm Beach. After buying a plastic bangle bracelet and dropping in on a Florentine paper store (that I have actually been to in Florence, which was fun) we found ourselves at Raptis Rare Books, a real treat for the egghead. Their selection was truly amazing- a first edition of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, signed by Carson McCullers, firsts by Douglas Adams, J.M. Coetzee (signed!) and more. The prices were as extravagant as the editions. We did not buy anything lol but left with a catalog offered by the friendly saleslady.

But the best we saved for last. The Palm Beach Bookstore, a modest-looking storefront near an ice cream store (almost as appetizing) is a little jewel of a shop with a neighborhood feel and a selection made extra-special by the store's relationship with the publisher Rizzoli; it's a showcase for the luxury publisher's coffee table books on Florida and Palm Beach, and features an extensive selection of fashion, design and architecture books as well as new fiction, nonfiction and Florida books. We had a great chat with the owner and a bookseller and really enjoyed our visit. And since we visited off season and post-Hurricane-Irma, I even have a feeling I may not have seen it as its best and I still loved it.

So that's my bookstore tour of Palm Beach. I can't wait to go back and visit again!

Monday, October 2, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I've been away on vacation in Florida visiting family. And I did so some reading while I was gone. I finished The Golem and the Jinni before I left and read Anais Barbeau-Lavalette's intense Suzanne, a novel about her grandmother, while I was away.

I started Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward, about a family on a journey to pick up the father of the family from jail in Mississippi. It's a tough read but rewarding so far.

Still working on Made for Love, by Alissa Nutting, which just keeps getting better and better. I really think you should read it. It is a strange psychosexual drama/black comedy about a woman fleeing a tech billionaire and a man sexually attracted to dolphins. And it has science fictional elements to do with the intrusion of technology into our lives in the most intimate of ways. So yeah.

I also bought and started The Golden House, by Salman Rushdie. I had some fun exploring Palm Beach's bookstores and picked this up at the aptly named Palm Beach Bookstore after a simply delightful chat with the owner. It's a little shaky for me so far honestly and it doesn't help that Rushdie's narrator thinks Metropolis of Superman fame is NYC when that is a deeply controversial view in the comic book world and unsupported by current continuity and original intent. I don't know if it's the narrator's mistake or Rushdie's, but it does take me out of the story a little.

Finally I'm enjoying Whitney Cummings's memoir I'm Fine...And Other Lies, which I expect to finish by tomorrow or Wednesday.

And that's it for me for right now. What are you reading?