Thursday, April 18, 2013

I'll Take Potpourri for $20 (More or Less, with Your 20% Discount)--New Boswell's Best in Assorted Categories.

My decision to wander around fiction, nonfiction, and kids' books is based on wanting to feature Frank Viva's A Long, Long Way (Little, Brown). If you don't remember Along a Long Road, that was a trip from here to there. The new book is up to down, or down to up, as the book can be read either way. An amorphous but very happy alien blob travels from space to the deep sea and back, with lots of alliteration and rhyme. A sample page reads "A boot, a bite, a left, a right" as he passes a whale, several stinging fish, a submarine, and yes a lost boot. New Yorker cover artist Viva also has a series of cards, which we've been pondering bringing in from Whigby.

Alas it's hard to find reviews on kids' books, soI have nothing to link to. So maybe I should continue on this Whigby track. There's also Frank Viva wrapping paper. Wouldn't that by amazing? And now I'm all excited about ordering the line in, and so I have of course misplaced the catalog. I don't think you quite are understanding how great this book is. Like his last, it is really one long picture, and because the book goes from up to down or down to up, it is best read sideways. Come in and we'll give you a demonstration!

Bob Staake is another popular New Yorker artist, whose past work has included The Red Lemon, a New York Times best illustrated book,  Look! Another Book!, which I wrote up on the blog last fall and for which watched several videos of Staake creating pictures, and The Donut Chef, which I remember well because it was about, well, donuts. Bluebird (Schwartz and Wade) is a wordless picture book that tells the story of a boy and his friend, a bluebird (am I too often stating the obvious in this post?) The story is done in grayscale, with blue highlights (and a little surprise at the end, of course). I am not usually one to tout computer animation (mostly because I see so much of it in self-published kids' books) but Staake can do a heck of a lot with circles and squares.

In fiction, I am drawn to Amy Brill's The Movement of Stars (Riverhead) mostly because it has that velvet finish which I like to rub when I'm sad. It's a historical novel set among the Nantucket Quakers of the 19th century, with young (for us, not for them) Hannah Gardner Price living a secret life on her rooftop, where she hopes to discover a comet. It's when she meets a whaler who she takes on as a student that her life begins to unravel. Based a bit on the life of Maria Mitchell, the first female astronomer in America, Brill is another writer exploring the seemingly hot area of women and science. Here's an interview with Brill in The Brooklyn Eagle, from the borough where writing is likely the largest industry per capita in the country.

Another new novel on the Boswell's Best is The Smart One, (Knopf) by Jennifer Close, whose previous work Girls in White Dresses was called an "irresistible, pitch-perfect first novel" by Marie Claire. Ah yes, Marie was just telling me about that. Stephan Lee in Entertainment Weekly thought Close's newest could be a story arc for season six of "Girls." He observes that "this bighearted novel examines a generation of nonstarters with a mix of empathy and Close's signature deadpan, pathos-driven humor"

And here's the Brant County Library speaking of new acquisitions at The Paris Star of Paris, Ontario: "No matter what your taste, or favourite genre, we are likely to have something for you" and Closes's newest was a the top of the list, though I must admit that the person who put it together seemed to use the same copy I did--Weezy's kids have moved back home and are falling into the distinctions that her own parents made about her and her sister "the smart one" and "the pretty one." I'm actually most interested in Christine Pountney's dazzling new novel, Sweet Jesus, only because there doesn't seem to by U.S. rights yet. You always want what you can't have, right?

The "smart one" would be particularly interested in our nonfiction this week, with Robert Alter's Ancient Israel: The Former Prophets: Joshua Judges, Samuel, and Kings (Norton) appealing to folks who like Elaine Pagels. I wish I could have hand-sold this to all the attendees at our recent event, but the book wasn't out yet! Alter's ongoing translation of the Hebrew Bible has won the PEN Center Literary Award for Translation. His newest volume is said to be an entertaining amalgam of sensational action and high literary achievement. Here's a Publishers Weekly article about the book's publication.

Christopher Clark's new The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (Harper) tells how the crisis leading to The Great War unfolded, from the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo to the beginning of the conflict that took the lives of 15 million people began just 37 days later. Clark is said to reveal a Europe racked by chronic problems, a fractured world of instability and militancy. I sometimes find that a lot of reviews of books like this wind up being plot summaries, in a way you would decry a review for taking a similar tack on a novel. But David Shribman in the Boston Globe does note that Clark "has done a masterly job explaining the inexplicable. The tragedy is that when trying to understand the 20th century, the inexplicable turns out to be indispensable." You can read the complete review here.

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