Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Only Gifty Thing About This Saturday Post is My Suggestion That You Read "The Illusion of Separateness."

Several years ago I read the short story collection Love Begins in Winter. It was a collection of stories where a random encounter led back to a memory. I had enjoyed the book and recommended it to a couple of people (including booksellers) and we sold a fair number of copies for a short story collection, nine altogether, as it got some nice reviews and was featured as an Indie Next Pick for two months.

Fast forward two years later, and Stacie is sent a manuscript by Cathy, our HarperCollins rep. It's Simon Van Booy's second novel (he's also get a second book of stories and several volumes of essays and a picture book and...well, he doesn't seem to suffer from writer's block) and Stacie immediately falls in love. She wrote her Indie Next rec (the deadline is about 2 months before the list came out) and started talking it up to the other booksellers. Our deadline for September books was Friday--I spend at least an hour processing recommendations from various booksellers, including two for Hannah Kent's Burial Rites.

The first to get hooked was Sharon. Her rec is "Swoon." and she's been talking it up to all sorts of customers. It's become a bit of a competition, with Sharon and Stacie recommending The Illusion of Separateness, and Anne and Hannah favoring Colum McCann's TranAtlantic.

What's interesting about that is the books actually are quite similar, but I should say up front that this is without me having yet read McCann's latest, though I've read both Dancer and Let the Great World Spin. Both authors like to play with structure, circling through characters and jumping about in time. And both authors have a heartfelt connection with their creations, and seem to touch on themes of dignity and kindness and the strange ways that these qualities can play out.

I've had both books on my to-be-read list since before they came out, but I find that upcomign event books and potential event books tend to overwhelm my best intentions for outside reading. Hannah calls the books that she reads without express purpose "selfish reading" and her idea of setting aside some time is a great idea. That was the point of my book club selections--books that slipped by me that I wanted to read, but I have found that the deadline has turned into something closer to event reading. And we should note that all books I read seem to have some sort of pressure attached, even that Happy Hollisters book from several weeks ago.

On my recent trip to Massachusetts, I tried to sneak in Van Booy in between Paul Harding's new novel Enon (he's coming to Boswell on September 25) and Cathleen Schine's The Three Weissmanns of Westport, which I wrote about last week (and she's coming July 22). And how could you not get carried away with this novel? It's got all the elements I like in a book, plus a big heart that nonetheless avoids being cloying.  So even though we have a perfectly good rec from Stacie, what's wrong with a second one? Or a third?

"It starts in a Los Angeles nursing home, where an older man carefully tends to his patients. But then it switches to England, where another older man helps out his Nigerian neighbor by taking care of her son while she’s at work. And then a blind young woman on Long Island, who helps vision impaired attendees appreciate art exhibits. These and other characters have bumped against each other in time, some directly, others through intermediaries with all their lives pivoting on a fateful incident on a World War II battlefield. And yes, it reminds me of one of my favorite books of the last several years, Frederick Reiken’s Day for Night, but as my fellow bookseller Stacie notes, with The Illusion of Separateness, you don’t need a map to keep track of everything. I can only second my fellow Sharon, another Boswellian and Van Booy fan, and swoon." (Daniel's rec)

Yes, a coveted Day for Night comparison. I don't throw those out willy nilly. And having read it, I hope it's on the radar of the folks running the Dayton Literary Peace Prize because I think that someone who liked Richard Bausch's Peace (another book that my booksellers and I hand-sold very well some years ago) might want to know about this. I was just looking at the site and never realized that Francine Prose's A Changed Man had won this. I liked that book too, as well as Chang-Rae Lee's The Surrendered.

And though we didn't get to host Mr. Van Booy for this book, someday Mr. Van Booy will be in the midwest for something or other, and he'll think, "There's that bookstore in Milwaukee that sells my book like crazy. Maybe I should visit them."

Maybe his agent, who is from the area and still has ties here, can talk us up as well.

Oh, I know we featured Stacie's rec in our email newsletter, but I don't think it ever made the blog.

"The incandescent prose of this slender novel transfixed me until my heart shattered. Each character I met—with such deep longing in their souls and generosity of their spirits—seemed to be painstakingly carved from the granite of profound emotional truths, and I quite literally collapsed under the weight of it all. Moving backwards and forwards in time, we follow a starburst of people, from France to Los Angeles, whose smallest gestures have grand, echoing reverberations over the course of 66 years. I was (and continue to be) rendered utterly speechless for the magnificence of it." (Stacie)

So now I have a lot of event books to read, but can I somehow fit in more selfish reading? Will it be TranAtlantic, or will the customer who yesterday talked up Roald Dahl's My Uncle Oswald win (I recommended The Dud Avocado to him, by the way) be successful? Oy, tall order.

But first I have to say something to Stacie and Sharon, who encouraged me to read Van Booy's novel. Thanks!

No comments: