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Wilson’s previous novel, The Family Fang, was about sacrificing everything to one’s art. That family functioned as a perpetual art installation. It was pretty funny. Perfect Little World doesn’t have the dark humor of Fang but it does contain an undercurrent of the absurd. This is a novel of the ideal of creating a family of like-minded individuals. A place where every need is supported and every accomplishment is celebrated. What could go wrong? And what does go right? Many things go right actually as these people try their best to raise their kids in a protected environment.
The Infinite Family Project is a ten year commitment to raise children collectively. These people need each other and their kids thrive under constant care and supervision. It’s the adult dynamics that tend to go awry. Add in the administrator who grew up under the “Constant Friction Method of Raising Children” whereby his parents intentionally created obstacles-both physical and emotional- to prepare him for life’s inevitable disappointments. This isolated compound contains a stew of needs and feelings.
This is a funny and somehow familiar story about finding family when you most need it. It sure makes you think about how you were raised and how you might go about raising your own kids.
Even if you have no idea what the Welcome to Night Vale podcast is—or even what a podcast is in general—you should read this book. It takes place in a fictional desert town named Night Vale, which hides itself in the southwestern United States. The inhabitants of the town can only be described as “outlandishly strange.”
The story follows the perpetually nineteen-year-old Jackie Fierro and Diane Crayton, whose fifteen-year-old son Josh is going through all the average teenage problems, on top of being a shapeshifter. The two get drawn into strange circumstances—even for Night Vale standards. Jackie receives a mysterious note from a man in a tan jacket that no one can seem to remember, while Diane starts seeing Josh’s estranged father everywhere, looking exactly the same as he did fifteen years ago. The two women inexplicably are drawn closer and closer until they must work together to discover the strange place that can answer both of their questions—King City. Written in the characteristically charming and conversational tone of Fink and Cranor, Welcome to Night Vale is a book that will keep you laughing and questioning your own sanity right up to the end. Welcome, dear reader, to Night Vale.
Bodies. Everywhere there are bodies. Bodies are strewn across the auditorium while the Korean national anthem plays through speakers, while students defend the revolution to their audience who are stacking bodies, one by one, criss cross, throughout the venue. The bodies are necessary—simply part of the struggle. When all is over, a better Korea will emerge.
So begins Han Kang’s grueling, gruesome and ultimately remarkable second novel Human Acts. This slim little pamphlet packs punches to the gut. This book is not for everyone, but those who enjoy historical, experimental fiction will find a lot to savor here. Jumping from the 1980 Korean student rebellions to a journalist resisting censorship to families of the bereaved, we meet characters connected through time combatting their memories of the bloody revolt. Take a chance on this one. Brutal it may be, but it’s constantly rewarding and unlike anything I’ve read in a long time. ~ Michael
This novel was written in 1973 and reprinted last year by the New York Review of Books, a publisher that reissues out-of-print and underrated classics. Reading it more than 40 years later proves to be spooky with its sheer prescience. You could call it dystopian, but now it just feels like social commentary.
The long and short: Katherine Mortenhoe is given exactly four weeks to live and she is coerced into “Human Destiny TV” following her to see how she lives out her last days. It seems that within hours the world recognizes her face and she cannot escape her newfound celebrity status. Like today’s reality television, everyone else knows what’s best for her, despite not actually knowing her. And what follows is a weeklong odyssey where Katherine attempts to find peace with death, while she’s trailed by a man with camera eyes.
There are quiet moments in this book, but with adequate effort it quickly becomes thrilling. There’s a lot to behold here, and Compton inadvertently reminds us that what was once science fiction can rapidly become reality. We’ve had a lot of good feedback on this book from a wide variety of people. I advise you give it a chance. ~ Michael
Erdrich addresses the conflicts between Native American and white culture in all of her books—boundaries both physical and cultural. This story cycle (which includes Plague of Doves and Round House) is a little more hard-hitting than her Little No Horse novels. There’s still humor (the old folks are especially funny), but these are a little more—shall we say?—mature.
Her plots are too layered and serpentine to summarize concisely. The most reductive I can get is that LaRose is about a community’s grief over a dead boy. But of course, there’s so much more than that. Erdrich is fascinated with the themes of revenge and justice, and this novel approaches these in a whole new way. When do you forsake vengeance in favor of forgiveness? Heady stuff, and it’s heartbreaking to witness.
My copy of this is a mess. It’s dog-eared and full of marginalia. I’ve scribbled notes in the back, and created a family tree. (It’s something I do with each of her books—there’s barely a straight line in any of them, mostly loops. You wouldn’t believe how helpful it is.) I’ve basically read this two or three times because I kept backing up and rereading, marveling at a sentence or a paragraph. I’m simply in awe of this woman. ~ Dana
This novel takes a long view and a hard look at slavery and its repercussions. From the West Coast of Africa to the American South, to Harlem and back again, we follow these characters and their descendants through some tough times.
In my opinion, Gyasi has joined the ranks of Chinua Achebe (Things Fall Apart), the poet Langston Hughes, and early Isabel Allende (House of the Spirits). I had a visceral reaction to Homegoing and have since learned from another reader that she also had a physical reaction. So why does this novel impact some of us in such a strong personal way?
I think that the story’s gift is that the characters are present. They are flawed, vulnerable, strong, determined. They are like all of us and none of us. They are themselves in all their faults and strengths. This is a story filled with empathy. Maybe that’s why it hit me in the gut.
This is Gyasi’s’s first book. She was born in Ghana, raised in Alabama, and now lives in Berkeley, California. This is sure to be a bestseller and a contender for literary prizes. It is an inspirational reminder of why we read. ~ Dianne
This is a difficult review to write, because it’s hard to communicate the range of thoughts and emotions I had while reading Teju Cole’s essay collection. Many of you are aware of my affinity for these types of books (this one’s different, swear!), and Cole has been on my radar for some time. Jumping from James Baldwin to drone strikes to photography to classical music to African warlord politics to the experience of sauntering a new geography, Cole shows apparent expertise on any direction he points his compass. His curiosity and intelligence run deep.
Some collections, where a specific undercurrent runs beneath each piece, should be read as a single unit. I prefer to keep Known and Strange Things around as brief interludes to a day. It’s sitting in my living room without a bookmark and I cannot think of a stretch of two or three days in the last month where I haven’t picked it up. I’m excited to see anyone pick it up. ~ Michael
Svetlana Alexievich won the 2015 Nobel Prize for innovating oral histories as her primary style of reportage. She has arranged and curated verbatim testimonies from the peoples of the former Soviet Union for decades and this is her magnum opus.
So, that said, don’t let its size intimidate you. These individual testimonies, many of which contradict each other, move sometimes at breakneck speed and others at quiet gait. Some are ardent defenders of the Soviet council (many claim Russia under capitalism is far more divided by wealth than under communism), and some claim Stalin was history’s greatest criminal. But what sets this book apart is simply Alexievich’s style. She manages to remove herself as much from narration as possible and in doing so achieves narration that perfectly reflects human stream of thought. Much of this content is grueling and hard to read, but much is also joyous and illuminating and all is, surprisingly, heartfelt. ~ Michael
During the course of one year, a young woman follows winter across five continents ultimately downhill skiing in nine countries. Jagger appears to always have had the drive to succeed. While sitting on yet another chair lift, the cautionary sign “Remove Restraining Device” really hit home.
This is when she made the decision to take off and ski four million vertical feet. The dangerous beauty of these areas makes this memoir fun and rewarding to read solely from a travel adventure standpoint. The reader gets glimpses of the world’s snowy mountainous regions from Chile to New Zealand to Japan to the Alps then back to North America. Jagger is faced with difficulties ranging from the physical to logistical to cultural. Her primary obstacle is herself. The challenge is not just perseverance. It is the profound uncertainty that comes with immersing oneself in risk. It should be noted that she accomplished this adventure almost all by herself (with a little help from acquaintances and friends).
A great read to immerse oneself in the beauty and challenge of winter. ~ Dianne
I’m not from the south myself, but my roots there go a long way back. My ancestors on my mother’s side can be traced all the way back to Daniel Boone, and on my father’s side there was a Redcoat stationed on the continent before this was even America. Most of these ancestors—particularly on my mother’s side—come from the south. In Wolf County, KY, there’s even a road named after my great grandfather. As a result, I’ve always felt a very deep connection with anything south of the Mason-Dixie Line. Theroux has a similar feeling.
This book is divided into four sections—one for each season. He begins with fall, and then cycles through them in order. Each of the seasons is divided into smaller sections, which are unlike conventional chapters. Theroux’s book reads almost like a coffee table book, where you can pick it up and put it down with ease, reading sections in or out of order.
Often, a road trip novel focuses on the journey itself, where the other reflects deeply and seriously on how grueling the trip is. Instead of the road, Theroux focuses on the people that he meets, and the places he goes.
Whether it’s stopping at a small roadside diner and eating true southern soul food, or talking with muralists about Jim Crow Era south in Asheville, NC, Theroux truly brings to light an overlooked and underappreciated region of the United States. ~Ezra
Apart from a fantastic name and eye-catching cover, this book covers two of my favorite topics: food and Japan. Booth, a cynical chef in Paris decides to go to Japan with his family and find out what Japanese food is really like.
From eating in small izakaya (Japanese diners), to having lunch with rikishi (sumo wrestlers), Booth really goes out of way to taste Japan. He takes the readers with him on a gastronomical journey that with his wife and two young sons, he delivers his commentary in a fun, conversational tone that keeps the reader smiling, and their stomach growling.
How do you feel about gravity? Pretty solid on it? Too bad—theoretical physicist Brian Green believes it to be the shakiest of science’s accepted laws. He goes further to say our understanding of gravity will likely be revolutionized in the next two centuries. Trippy, huh?
Anyway, Klosterman. This book attempts to think about the present as if it were the past in order to guess at what we may be ass-backwards about. If Kafka was virtually unknown until after his death, could it be today’s most important author is also unknown, compiling innovative material with so much verve that the masses will collectively be dazzled upon their post-mortem publication?
Fans of Klosterman’s signature wit will be familiar with his controlled voice, but might be surprised by his maturity since the likes of Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs. He’s—frankly—smarter. This book has launched him into realms of pop-philosopher.
My major takeaway from But What If We’re Wrong is exactly what you’d imagine: we shouldn’t be so certain. Human beings are profoundly excellent at being wrong, far more than being right and we should take caution at that which we hold sacrosanct. (Here’s a timely question: What if we’re totally wrong about democracy?) Most of all, I had a ton of fun with this book. It was a nostalgia trip brimming with poignancy. ~ Michael
The bad news is that Hamilton’s new series doesn't take place in the U.P., so you won't be able to hang out in Paradise with Alex McKnight.
The good news is that it is terrific. After the first page I wanted more, and after the tenth page I couldn't put it down. I had to force myself to close the book at midnight and I'm normally a ‘go to bed at ten, read a few pages and fall asleep’ kind of guy. Nonstop action and a fascinating new character push Hamilton's writing to new level of excellence as he takes us to Chicago, a town stuffed with crime stories real and fictional.
Hamilton’s new protagonist, Nick Mason, is a complicated, messy character to hang a series on. Nick made bad choices in life and eventually finds himself in a dark place of no choices. He does bad things because he can't find a way out. Really bad things. Many series are built around an unsavory character. Patricia Highsmith's Ripley comes to mind. The challenge for the writer is to somehow make this person compelling enough to keep readers coming back for more. I think he’s done it. ~ Ray
Casanova has given us many children’s books about the North Country. This read is intended for Young Adults, but I sure did enjoy it myself. Prohibition was a complex event playing out in both cities and rural areas. In the high North we had the added dynamic of bootlegging—the making, selling, and distribution of alcohol from Canada into the United States.
Ice-Out explores the Dangerous (with capital “D”) temptation to make money by moving liquor across the frozen rivers and lakes in northern Minnesota. Add in the mob connections and drinking The protagonist is a good kid with lots of responsibilities. His best friend is more of a risk taker. Together they are trying to make something happen for themselves during a tough frigid winter in the 1920s. This book is well written, well researched, and suspenseful. ~Dianne
I thoroughly enjoyed Sloan’s middle reader Counting by 7s. The protagonist in that novel was a math geek. Short speaks to those of us who are vertically challenged. Julia wins the role as a munchkin in their local theatre production of The Wizard of Oz. She also gets harnessed up to play a flying monkey.
It’s the relationships in Sloan’s work that make all of difference. Julia meets a cast of diverse characters that appreciate her for herself. The play changes some of her everyday friendships too. It’s funny, poignant, and just the right read for the theatre geeks in our lives. Another winner from someone who is becoming one of my favorite kids authors. (ages 8-12) ~ Dianne