Staff Picks: Niffenegger, Thewlis, Klam

July 15, 2008 | 5 books mentioned 2 2 min read

The “staff picks” shelf in any good independent bookstore is a treasure trove of book recommendations. Unmoored from media hype and even timeliness, these books are championed by trusted fellow readers. With many bookselling alums in our ranks, we offer our own “Staff Picks” in a feature appearing irregularly.

coverThe Adventuress by Audrey Niffenegger recommended by Emily

If I was going to attempt to classify Audrey Niffenegger’s beautiful, strange, and self-described “novel in pictures,” I might put it somewhere in the hinterlands of the graphic novel/comic book genre (that’s where it was when I first saw it at Foyles bookshop in London), but it feels to me much more like a children’s picture book for adults. It is the book’s stunning aquatints that give it its surreal, haunted and haunting quality, rather than the minimal narration provided on facing pages. The titular Adventuress is the creation of an alchemist father, and her dreamlike adventures include a coerced marriage, a metamorphosis into a moth, an affair with Napoleon, and the birth of a cat-child. As in another of her novels in pictures, The Three Incestuous Sisters, Niffenegger explores the fragility of happiness, the psychic costs of freakishness, and the pain and destruction caused by betrayal, and – in spite of these darker interests – the possibility of peace and reconciliation. For those who know Marcel Dzama’s work (made famous by a print series in McSweeney’s), Niffenegger’s is reminiscent but somewhat less intent on disturbing. I also find myself thinking of William Blake’s work when I consider Niffenegger’s – but perhaps that has only to do with her medium. A startling book, both for its form and for the story it tells.

coverThe Late Hector Kipling by David Thewlis recommended by Andrew

When middle-aged British painter Hector Kipling begins to draw us into his life, that life is a thing to behold. A noted artist, living with the lovely and loving Eleni, doted on by his parents, Hector also enjoys the camaraderie of his closest friends, fellow artists themselves. Then, as Hector’s world begins to unravel, there is a disconnect between his narrated thoughts and his actions, and in one gothic twist after another, we descend into darkness.

Author David Thewlis is indeed British actor David Thewlis, veteran of Mike Leigh films, including a mesmerizing (and I believe largely improvised) turn in Naked. In his first novel, Thewlis’ narration is vibrant, his dialogue caustic, and there’s a beating heart beneath the lacerating prose.

coverPlease Excuse My Daughter by Julie Klam recommended by Edan

I can count the number of memoirs I’ve read on three fingers, but I’d certainly read more if they were as funny and entertaining as this one. Ostensibly about how Klam’s spoiled upbringing didn’t prepare her for the harsh realities of the working world, Please Excuse My Daughter actually covers much more than that, from Klam’s brief and ill-fated relationship with a Mafioso, to her torturous honeymoon with the delightful if diabetic Paul. This ain’t serious reading, but it’s heartfelt, and, man, is it hilarious and readable. This a Sunday-afternoon-in-July kind of book.

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