Curiosities

Staff Picks: Harvey, Jergovic, Endo, Helprin, Walton, Greene

The "staff picks" shelf in any good independent bookstore is a treasure trove of book recommendations. Unmoored from media hype and even timeliness, books are championed by trusted fellow readers. With many bookselling alums in our ranks, we thought it a good idea to offer our own "Staff Picks" in a feature appearing irregularly. We hope you discover something you like.+ Inside by Kenneth J. Harvey recommended by AndrewA tough, spare, bruising novel from Newfoundland author Kenneth J. Harvey, Inside depicts the experience of a man released from years in prison, cleared on DNA evidence. Not guilty but far from innocent, our man attempts to reconnect with his family and reclaim his life. The novel's edgy, fragmented prose is sometimes tough reading, but I read it a year-and-a-half ago when it first came out here in Canada, and its images and tone still haunt me.+ Sarajevo Marlboro by Milijenko Jergovic recommended by GarthAmong the splendors of the short-story is that it needn't teach us anything. Also among its splendors: that it often does, anyway. With this collection, journalist Jergovic uses a deceptively casual style to tally the cost of war. Stories like "Beetle" and "The Excursion" bring to life the human beings caught in Sarajevo during the war, moving us without ever hectoring. They are exemplars of the William Carlos Williams dictum: "No ideas but in things."+ Silence by Shusaku Endo recommended by BenIt's strange to me that Shusaku Endo's fine novel Silence has yet to be canonized as a masterpiece of world literature. Although I'm not generally a booster of Japanese writers, this story of faith and suffering is one of the best novels I've read.Endo was a Japanese Catholic, and many of his works explore the conflicts between his faith and his culture. Silence takes place in the 17th century and follows two Portuguese priests as they try to introduce Christianity to Japan. The Japanese government resists their efforts, and the two are forced to go underground, running from a public official who tracks them relentlessly. As their flock is captured one by one, the priests are forced to a final showdown, where their faith is put to the test. Equal parts heart-wrenching and thought provoking, this beautifully written and moving book grapples with the meaning of faith in a world where prayers are met only with silence.+ Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin recommended by EmreForget about global warming for a second and pick up Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale - a perfect companion to the season that will immerse you in a world steeped in fantasy. Peter Lake's journey from the end of the Gilded Age to a futuristic 1990s world doesn't cover much ground; most of it is in New York. But, the creation of the City as a central character, the use of Winter to tickle warmth, and the struggle between the ideal-imagined and real-lived will take you on a ride that illuminates beauty in the ordinary via the fantastic.+ The Compleat Angler: or, The Contemplative Man's Recreation by Izaak Walton recommended by EmilyAlthough I am not "a brother of the angle," I count Izaak Walton's 1653 Compleat Angler among my favorite books. And it would seem that I am not alone: Walton's book has been in print continuously for the past 355 years and by some counts it is the most reprinted work in English after the Bible and Pilgrim's Progress. To describe this delightful book, however, is no easy task. "The waters are nature's storehouse in which she locks up her wonders," Walton writes, and his book sets out to be the meandering catalogue of these and much else. Like so many other books of its age, Walton's Angler is hard to classify. It is part fishing manual, part meditation on the joys of rural life, contemplation, and patience, part compendium of whimsical fishing and river lore (an account of the Sargus, a fish who crawls onto land to impregnate sheep, stories of mythical rivers that dance to music, light torches, or cease to flow on the Sabbath), part miscellany of pastoral verse, and part cookbook, all united by the deeply humane and amiable voice of the narrator, Piscator. Recommended for: All restive souls, especially city folk afflicted with pangs of bucolic longing.+ The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene recommended by MaxThis Graham Greene classic takes on crises of faith as a "whiskey priest" in Mexico is pursued by a stern lieutenant and the specter of a firing squad and must contemplate his own shortcomings, his worthiness, and his ordained duty to his flock. Heavy stuff, but as winter takes hold in northern climes, readers will appreciate Greene's backdrop of the humid closeness of the Mexican jungle - you may feel some perspiration on your brow - not to mention a cast of characters who serve only to heighten the priest's moral ambiguity. Whether read as a layered allegory of faith or a tense romp through the tropics, The Power and the Glory deserves its place among Greene's best works.
Curiosities

Monday Links

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The New Yorker lovefest continues: Emdashes is compiling a list of the New Yorker articles that have appeared in Houghton Mifflin's annual Best American Essays series. It's a perfect guide for dipping into your Complete New Yorker set. Update: Emdashes has also done a "short stories" version of the list.My cousin Mitch produces a survey of state quarters. Arkansas: thumbs down. Connecticut: thumbs up!The Regret the Error blog (which tracks all sorts of funny newspaper corrections) has produced a book with a serious sounding subtitle.I would love to get my hands on Transit Maps of the World, an encyclopedic book that's already been noted by Boing Boing and kottke.
Curiosities

Wednesday Links

As has been much noted elsewhere, the Wall Street Journal landed reclusive Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson to review a recent bio of Peanuts creator Charles Schulz. New York explains how the review was arranged. Meanwhile, the New Yorker has John Updike reviewing the book.BLDGBLOG articulates why I love LA so much (and why it is quite possibly the greatest city in the country). For some of my own thoughts on LA, harken back into the deepest archives.Since almost the minute I finished An Army at Dawn, the first installment of Rick Atkinson's three-part look at the liberation of Europe during World War II, I have been pining for the second book. And now I have it. The Day of Battle covers the war in Sicily and Italy and I will be reading it presently. (It was An Army at Dawn that inspired our lists of World War II fiction and nonfiction.)My alma mater is showing Google Books some love.
Curiosities

Tuesday Links: Power, ReCaptcha, Junot Diaz

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Experience "THE POWER OF BOOKS"You know those annoying puzzles where you type in the letters so the computer knows you're not a computer creating a fake account or sending spam? A group from Carnegie Mellon is using these "Captchas" to help digitize books. ReCaptcha is a special type of Captcha that displays words that book digitization software is having trouble deciphering. So, by letting the computer know you're not a computer, you can help some other computers digitize our books.I missed Junot Diaz's appearance at the Free Library of Philadelphia where he read from his new novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, but Season Evans was there.
Curiosities

Wednesday Links: Honorary Awards; Scottish Flood; Book Sale

Joan Didion and NPR uber-interviewer Terry Gross will be honored at the National Book Awards ceremony in November. Dideon won a National Book Award in 2005 for her memoir The Year of Magical Thinking.The National Library of Scotland flooded yesterday thanks to a faulty sprinkler system. It was a close call: "Some modern books and manuscripts suffered 'surface' water damage, but all of the 'important, iconic' books were saved."Oops! A church in England sold some rare tomes for modest though still substantial sum to a book dealer, only to find, too late, that they are worth much, much more.
Curiosities

In Pictures

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A collection of striking photos of numerous well-known contemporary writers, in two galleries. Somehow these pictures exude the literary.Blogger lonelysandwich makes the only half toungue-in-cheek observation that the original cover of tennis fan David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest shares a color scheme with those Andre Agassi Nikes that were all the rage in the early '90s.George Saunders appeared on Letterman last week, as you may have heard. onegoodmove put the clip online.
Curiosities

Tuesday Links: Saunders Blogs; Quarterly Conversation; New Yorker Festival

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George Saunders is taking up residence at the Powell's Blog this week as he embarks on a book tour promoting his latest (released today), The Braindead Megaphone. To my knowledge, it is Saunders' first foray into blogging, a format we discussed nearly two years ago (scroll down). His concern: "I worry about how much I would have to pay myself to keep my blog supplied with content. My fear is that, knowing I was working for myself, I would start cheating myself, only submitting my worst pieces, then get into a labor dispute with myself and never speak to me again." Hopefully, his fears aren't realized.A new issue of Scott Esposito's terrific Quarterly Conversation has arrived. It features, among several notable contributors, Garth, who "sorts out literary feuds, dissects James Wood's essay against Don DeLillo's 832-page opus Underworld, and argues that this book actually evolves the novel forward."Emdashes has the schedule for this year's New Yorker Festival. It looks fantastic as usual. I should really go sometime.
Curiosities

Two Good Things

USA Today is running an excerpt of Denis Johnson's much buzzed about new doorstop Tree of Smoke.The New Yorker Food Issue, to my mind the highlight of the New Yorker publishing year, has arrived. Somehow I look forward to this one as much as I did the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue when I was twelve. Much of the good stuff isn't online, but you can get a taste of the food writing on offer with a series of short essays under theme "Family Dinner." Aleksandar Hemon, Gary Shteyngart, Nell Freudenberger, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, David Sedaris, Anthony Lane, and Donald Antrim are on the menu.
Curiosities

Thursday Links

The Rake is at it again, taking The Believer down a peg.Adventures in niche publishing: A new Paris Review?Simon at Bloggasm considers Harriet Klausner, the widely reviled #1 reviewer at Amazon.And, finally, some spot-on humor at the New Yorker this week.
Curiosities

Thursday Links

LA Weekly writes up the Los Angeles indie bookstore scene, of which I was once a part. Book Soup, my former place of employment, gets a nice and quite accurate writeup. I've never shared my stories on the blog, but, for example, the stuff about Faye Dunaway and Elton John is true. Tyson, the star of the article, was one of our more colorful newsstand employees when I was working there. The article's take on Book Soup owner Glenn, meanwhile, is hilarious and right on the nose. As a bonus, the LA Weekly's package includes a little bookstore tour of Los Angeles that serves as a nice counterpoint to the one that Garth created for NYC recently.Speaking of LA, obsessive film fans and those who love them should note that Amazon is having a big sale on Criterion Collection DVDs right now.Looking for a new place to live? The house in which Jack Kerouac was born is now for rent.TEV goes out on a "limn" with Michiko Kakutani.