Zimler’s latest is a murder mystery set in WWII Poland. It sounds high-minded and grotesque, and it attempts, Peschel says, to “[renew] the impact of the large-scale atrocities committed by the Nazis on millions of Jews by comparing them to the specific and gruesome murder of a child.” Only those with high violence tolerance need apply. Perhaps, if we’re lucky, this will be another Child 44. (P.S., Zimler’s website is … something.) [Preorder for the 21st, or get it now from overseas]
Fumaroli’s book sounds romantic and fascinating: a collection of portraits about 18th-century luminaries in an intellectual world whose mother tongue was French. Weber’s sole criticism—that translating Fumaroli’s original French to English misses a lot of the point—feels like a deal-breaker. Still, the review is worth a pass. [Get this book]
“These are brutal stories, set in rural Michigan … infused with drugs and easy violence.” On the whole, Once Upon a River sounds like a mix of Knockemstiff and Swamplandia! Hopefully more the former than the latter. [Get this book]
Jon Ronson wrote The Men Who Stare at Goats, a nonfiction book about the U.S. Army’s exploration of telekinetic murder. I’m assuming it was better than the odd, meandering movie version. This time around, Ronson digs into the “madness industry” with mixed but entertaining results. (This isn’t exactly a timely review, but the one that brought Psychopath to my attention wasn’t very good. It was this one, in case you’re curious.) [Get this book]
[In this new series (idea copped from High Fidelity), our contributors put together a "top 5" list of books on a theme of their choosing. Read other entries in Top 5 Books here, and catch up on other fun series like this on our Special Features page.]
I couldn’t come up with a clever theme for my list, so I decided just to pick the 5 books I’d most want access to at any given time. Kind of like a comfort book survival kit. You’d think picking my five favorite books would have been easy. Turns out it was more difficult than choosing a single book to bring on a deserted isle. I know my all-time favorite, but choosing and ranking 2-5 was no small task. I narrowed it down to ten, then went from there. Ultimately I had to leave cherished books out, books that I don’t think I could possibly live without. What I think I’ve come up with for my shortlist is an accurate representation of my eclectic taste as a reader. No matter where I found myself, if I had some or all of these five* books with me, I’d be all set.
I’ve long been a fan of early-20th-century Irish writers. Picking Joyce, Beckett, or Behan would be too easy, and yet I doubt it would cause anyone to go out and get reading. Flann O’Brien is the literary little brother to those giants, and this delirious novel stands with some of their best. While those other guys more or less require a degree in English, O’Brien, while just as bizarre, is far easier to pick up and read. And fans of LOST (the first few season, before it got stupid) will find some familiar subject matter.
One of the very few sci-fi books I read, let alone enjoyed, as a kid. It wasn’t hard for me to identify with the quiet loner pipsqueak who would prefer being left alone to saving the world. And for a kid’s sci-fi book, it turns out to be surprisingly deep and somewhat emotional. Ender’s Game spawned a whole series. The second one is okay, I lost interest in the third and never went any further. But I still revisit this book regularly. (Note: It doesn’t exist in the writing, but Card is a homophobic bigot. Get this book from the library rather than giving him any money.)
Boy oh boy, did Hollywood do a number on Frankenstein. Don’t get me wrong, I really like the old “Frankenstein’s monster” movies, especially the Karloff one. But shambling-monster fright flicks have almost no relation to their source. The book is a twisting character study told from multiple perspectives. It brings up some heavy subjects and is downright philosophical, and entertaining to boot. One of the Gothic granddaddies of science fiction and horror, Frankenstein should be required reading.
Millhauser’s fabulism manages to encapsulate so much that I love about literature. His stories are wonderfully creative, his narrators varied and precise, his details carefully selected. This collection contains what I think is my favorite short story ever, “A Visit.” It tells of a man who visits an old college roommate in New England and meets his wife, a 2 foot bullfrog.
Unassailably my favorite book since the very first time I read it. It was certainly edgy for the 50′s but it’s tamer by today’s standards. Most people who haven’t read the book just assume it’s prurient smut about a pedophile. What it actually is is one of the most nuanced and emotionally complex novels ever crafted. It’s also quite funny. I firmly believe this is the greatest work written in the English language in at least the last century, and I will duel anyone who says otherwise.
*Honorable mention – Given the chance to read it a few more times, I think Paul Murray’s Skippy Dieswould jostle its way onto this list.
The End of Everything is a curious beast. It manages to at once be a coming-of-age exploration of girlhood and a somewhat disturbing suburban thriller. What surprised me most was the depths Abbot was able to plumb in a relatively short, and at times predictable, story. It’s not a perfect book by any means, but a lot of different types of readers will find it to be worth their while. … Continue reading »
In the middle of the solar system, a rattletrap ice-hauling spaceship called the Canterbury lurches to a stop so its shuttle can investigate a distress call from a dead ship. James Holden, the Canterbury‘s second-in-command, leads the shuttle team. As soon as the shuttle docks with the wreck, a stealth ship uncloaks, blows up the Canterbury, and hightails it.
Holden broadcasts the details of this deception to the entire solar system, and includes the fact that the fake transponder the Canterbury responded to—the bait in the trap—bears the insignia of the Martian Navy. And that’s how you accidentally start a war.
Meanwhile, on a space station in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, an alcoholic cop named Miller gets tapped to investigate the disappearance of a rich man’s daughter. He soon finds that she had something to do with the Canterbury‘s destruction, and his fate becomes tied to Holden’s.
For 300 pages, Leviathan Wakes is grade-A science fiction: precise, entertaining, imaginative, and adventuresome. It flags a bit down the stretch with a relatively silly major conflict, and then it gets boring when the third act turns out to be one big drawn-out fight scene. However, if you’ve been looking for an engrossing, classically molded space opera epic, this is a solid one. … Continue reading »
Pollock’s debut story collection got a rave from our own David Duhr, and Pollock’s upcoming first novel sounds like a hell of a ride, too. A husband-and-wife serial-killing team, a demented veteran, an orphan boy, a priest on the lam, and a lot more. Mix in some violence, some hopelessness, and some “taut narrative” and you’ve got the makings of a depressing novel, but also an engrossing one.
Grant Morrison is a comic book writer and insane person. He’s written a book about the lessons comic books can teach, the history of the superhero, and how he, Grant Morrison, is insane and does insane things. For instance, he once wrote for 50 hours straight in order to induce delirium. Sounds like a nutty little ride.
In a steampunk Victorian London, time machines might be real. A man tries to go back in time to save his love from Jack the Ripper, a woman investigates what looks like a weapon from the future, and H.G. Wells cavorts with the Elephant Man. … Continue reading »
Personally, I find Scientology to be about the most batshit crazy belief system one can subscribe to. There was an excellent piece on it in The New Yorker a while back (subscription required after the first page). That essay was all about the backhanded secrecy and (alleged) hypocrisy of the “church.” This book purports to be an “objective modern history” of Scientology. Christensen doen’t really seem to buy that assertion; her review is worth a read for its wry, almost sardonic tone.
This novel doesn’t sound all that great: comedic historical fiction concerning romance and an angel. Though I guess for a debut novel written by a singer/songwriter, it could sound a lot worse. Stephen King’s review is worth reading though, if only for lines such as “a crazy bonbon of hilarity with sadness at the center.”
Our own Marc Velasquez reviewed this graphic novel biography of the Latino baseball great a few weeks back. Marc’s review was better, but after you’ve read that, Keller’s is worth a look too. It focuses more on Santiago, which makes for a nice angle. This seems like a really cool baseball book, and a unique graphic novel.
Bonus Book Trailer: What do you get when you mix pirates, crappy CGI, one bar of Dropkick Murphy’s on a repeating loop, sub-porn-quality acting, and cringeworthy dialogue so full of cliche a second grader would turn his nose? This.
America puts another candle on her birthday cake today. Two Fourths ago, Sean put together this list of quintessential American books for the occasion, including Johnny Tremain, the classic story of a young silversmith’s apprentice who gets deformed in a smithing accident, but still plays a big part in the Revolutionary War. The rest of the list is worth checking out, too.
For more on Johnny Tremain, check out David Duhr’s post about why he loves this novel, and why he associates it with a terrible song from the ’80s.
Whenever I read a book by Dan Simmons, I learn something new about life, love, and literature. The man knows how to hook his readers. He grabs the emotional center of mass and never lets go. He also taps the intellectual core, using literary allusion and some well-worn clichés to recontextualize the story on the page. By engaging the reader on this risky and intelligent ground, Simmons crafts his books as equal parts thriller and college seminar.
His latest novel, Flashback, is the story of ex-detective Nick Bottom, who submerges into the depths of memory-enhancing drugs in order to revive an investigation gone cold.
His case is deceptively simple: the murder of a wealthy executive’s heir. Except that dozens of detectives failed to solve it already, and Nick’s only resource is his drug-addled memory. Using a combination of high technology, altered consciousness and ham-fisted detective work, Nick hacks and punches his way toward the shocking conclusion. … Continue reading »
Before I Go to Sleep has already garnered a flood of media attention and praise—from NPR to The Hollywood Reporter, everybody’s singling out this book as a can’t-miss summer thriller. Amazon called it “one of the best debut literary thrillers in recent years.”
That’s absolutely true, if you just take out the word “best” and insert “simplest.” This is a very simple, very short novel that revolves around a simple hook.
After an accident, Christine loses all her memories every time she goes to sleep. Her husband, Ben, patiently re-educates her about her life every morning. One day, Christine discovers a journal she’s kept secret from Ben and finds three chilling words written in it: “Don’t trust Ben.” … Continue reading »