Friday, January 22, 2010

Are You Seth? vol.6

For the first volume of "Are You Seth?" for 2010, I have chosen the last book I read in 2009 - Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin, winner of the 2009 National Book Award & a book that completely surprised me in it's brilliance and simple elegance.

I honestly had not noticed Let the Great World Spin much before it won the National Book Award. It had an interesting cover - a drawing of NYC by artist Matteo Pericolli - but ended up lost in the shuffle on the hardback tables at Warwick's. After the award, it was rushed to paperback by Random House, complete with a shiny gold "award winner" label & was given prominent display space in the front of the store. But it's one of those paperbacks that annoyingly does not have any plot synopsis on it's cover, so I pretty much ignored it, since I had no idea what it was about. Then I somehow stumbled across the old New York Times book review from August and my eyes were finally opened.

Those that know me - or have heard me blathering in Warwick's or have read my reviews in various places - know that I love novels with multi-layered, labyrinthine structures that try to engage the reader by tripping them up when they think things are safe and normal. I want to be challenged when I read fiction - the books that have a playful structure are always the ones that stick with me, long after I've closed their covers. Colum McCann has created just such a novel, with just such a structure, but in such a simple, subtle way, as to not confuse or alienate the reader - hence the massive award, I suppose. Jonathan Mahler said it best in his NYT book review, that this book "will sneak up on you", beginning "slowly and quietly on the other side of the ocean".

The story drifts easily between multiple narrators & differing storylines - all set somewhere around the day in 1974 when Philippe Petit walked his tightrope between the Twin Towers - while the characters float in and out of each others sections, showing the reader how easily all of our lives can be connected.

Ciaran & John Corrigan are brothers from Dublin, making their way on the mean streets of New York. John - "Corrigan" to everyone who knows him, even his brother - is a priest who forgoes all personal pleasures & ammenities in an attempt to make the lives of his local cadre of prostitutes slightly better. Claire Soderberg is the lonely Park Avenue wife of a city judge who's mourning the loss of her son in Vietnam through a women-only support group. She finds an unusual bond with Gloria, a middle-aged black woman whose three sons were killed in the same war. Lara is a recovering addict & a trendy Greenwich Village artist struggling with her identity in the wake of several drug-fueled years. Corrigan's van is hit on the FDR by Lara & her boyfriend, killing Corrigan's passenger, Jazzlyn. Jazzlyn's prostitute mother, Tillie, is sent to prison by Claire's husband, the Honorable Judge Soderberg, whose next case happens to be that against the tightrope walker, just brought to earth. Lara, crippled by guilt, seeks out Ciaran for reasons she's unsure of. Gloria, seeking a new meaning to her life, ultimately adopts Jazzlyn's two daughters, one of which seeks answers from Ciaran later in life.

All plots within are circular, wrapping around and through each other to create a magnificent, beautifully told tale of, well, life as a human being. It's at times a love letter to the city of New York and its multitudes, a polemic on the duplicitous nature of humanity, and an ode to the fallen Towers, in their innocent prime in '74. But more than anything, it is a story about people and how you just never know how your actions, thoughts, and prejudices affect those you come in contact with every single day. So, hang up that cell phone, look one another in the eye, and remember what our common bonds really are, because you never know who you might be talking to and how integral to your own life they just might be.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

10 Books You Probably Have Not Read

by Heather
I’ve been looking around at all of those "best of 2009" lists that have been popping up on every website (including this one), TV show, or magazine trying to put together my own top 10 list of books in 2009, but after much thought and many variations, I’ve decided to ditch ’09 and present a list of 10 of my favorite books that most people have probably not read. It’s a mouthful, I know, but it’s my hope that someone will read this eclectic list and find a treasure.

So here they are in no particular order:

Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare
Yes, I realize that this is a play, not a book, and it’s Shakespeare, so not that unheard of, but let me tell you all, this gruesome, brilliant, revenge-filled play is one of Shakespeare’s least known works. It’s gritty; there’s murder, rape, and general mayhem, cutting off of appendages, interracial affairs, war, politics, romance…I could keep going on. Mainly, this is my all time favorite of Shakespeare’s tragedies, the only one I can quote full passages from, and if you haven’t yet given it a whirl, well, you’re just not a true fan of The Bard.

How to be Lost by Amanda Eyre Ward
I’ve recommended this novel many times over the last several years and have been happy to see a few book clubs pick it up. The story of three young sisters, Caroline, Madeline, and Ellie, driven together to create a world of their own in order to survive a neglectful mother and alcoholic father only to be torn apart by the sudden disappearance of five-year-old Ellie. A tragic, yet humorous novel that explores the secret life of sisters and the coping mechanisms used to deal with an unexpected loss, How to be Lost is a read that touches the heart.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
Just because I love to mix it up. This is the ultimate in computer geek sci-fi & is a brilliantly written look into the not too distant future. Stephenson creates a world where high-tech pizza deliverymen work for the mob and sim-lives and avatars are more important than reality. Action, adventure, mystery, and murder make for one thrilling read. This is by far my favorite science fiction read from the last decade.

Jennifer Government by Max Barry
First of all, why haven’t you read this book? I mean, it has everything, murder, mystery, romance, and of course Marketing. Yeah, I said Marketing. Jennifer Government presents a world where PR and Marketing rule the very air you breathe, where your last name reflects the company you work for, your children’s schools are run by toy companies and fast food restaurants, your stadiums are named after large companies (oh, wait, that’s the real world), and corporations will do anything to make a sale, even kill. Sound familiar? No? Well, the next time you watch the Chargers at Qualcomm, or catch a foul ball at Petco Park, a bell just might go off. I’m kidding, sort of…but sarcasm aside, this is a great book, fun, with some fantastic twists, and a good laugh at the free-market system.

A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner
This is actually a short story, about 44 pages total, but it is one of my all time favorites. I don’t want to go over the plot too much, because it’s short enough that I could easily and inadvertently give away the ending, but think of old south, and what happens when a reclusive gentlewoman passes away, leaving behind an eyebrow raising mystery for a gawking town.

Mallory’s Oracle by Carol O’Connell
While not the best in the series (that would be Find Me), this is the first book in O’Connell’s "Detective Kathleen Mallory" series. I don’t usually like police procedurals, but this series is so unique that I can’t help but love it. Mallory, a math and computer prodigy, former street kid, and sociopath, was taken in as a young child by Detective Louis Markowitz and his wife. Now a brilliant, if slightly uncouth, police officer, she prowls the streets looking for her adopted father’s killer. Sounds simple, but that’s deceptive, in reality this novel and the series itself has depth, exploring the psychology of Mallory through the eyes of those surrounding her. I own every book in this series, and each copy is worn and very well read, can’t say that often which is why I recommend it here.

Movie-Made America by Robert Sklar
Yes, I read non-fiction, occasionally. Even if you’re not a huge movie fan you should take a look at this book. A cultural history, this book goes beyond looking at movies as an art form, taking in the history of the creation of film, the movie industry, production, distribution, regulation, and how it all came together to help shape America as we know it today. This history is surprisingly easy to read and full of interesting facts, taking a unique look at how something some consider as art, others as entertainment, has made such a large mark on American society.

Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart
Published in 1955, Madam, Will You Talk? is Mary Stewarts first novel and one of her best. Set in the south of France, post-WWII, the novel places an unsuspecting widow right in the middle of a murderous plot. Twists, turns, and one really great car chase make for an entertaining read by the one of the queen’s of the gothic romantic suspense genre.

This is one of the only books I had to read in college that I actually ended up loving. Set in the 1970’s, Caucasia is the story of Birdie, a young girl from a biracial family whose world is turned upside down when her parents divorce, leading to a split of Birdie, who looks more like her white mother and Cole, whose appearance is more African-American. As Birdie is forced to try and pass as white, and maneuver around her new life with an erratic activist mother, she longs to find a way to reconnect with her sister. Senna, whose background is extraordinarily similar to Birdie’s is an amazing writer who brings depth and humanity to her characters.

Just Ella by Margaret Haddix
I’ll preface this by saying that this is a teen novel. That being said, I love fairy tales, especially those that have been tweaked a bit. Not all are done very well, but in the case of this book, Haddix hit a homerun. A story that can easily be enjoyed by adults, Just Ella, is the story of Ella, the real Cinderella, a girl bored with castle life, and a rather dull, dimwitted Prince Charming, who yearns to move beyond the tired plotline and does. Totally original, this story enchants, but not with magic, with solid storytelling about what happens when you take your life into your own hands.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Coffee with a Bookseller, January Edition

In the interest of "coordination" amongst the vast array of web-related media outlets that Warwick's is participating in, this first post for 2010 is in the form of a quick shout-out announcement about the second edition of Coffee with a Bookseller!  That's right people, I, Seth Marko, will be LIVE and in person in the book department on the morning of Tuesday, January 12th (next Tuesday) at 10:00am to talk about what is new and exciting in the book world - as well as which awesome books you may have missed in 2009, not to mention the ones you should have gotten for Christmas from those relatives who missed the last Coffee with a Bookseller...  Coffee and scones to be provided by the good people at Brick & Bell Cafe next door - you can eat all you want for as long as you can stand listening to me. See you there!