2014 is in the rear-view mirror, and 2015 well underway. Are you ready to abandon those resolutions? How about making a new one? Resolve to sign up for the BookBalloon Forum and join the conversation! It’s free, painless, and will transform you into the person you’ve always known you could be. Well, I don’t know your life! You WILL find hilarious and well-informed folks, and probably spend too much money on books, and finally find a place to trot out that William Vollmann joke you thought up in 2006. This time next year, you’ll be resolving to spend less time here. And once again, I predict failure. But you’ll feel so good about it! Just see (discussion topic titles are helpfully set in bold type):
- As anyone at the Salvation Army can confirm, January brings out the purging instinct in us all. Let’s just say it can get a little fraught. I am still MOURNING the loss of the Carnaby Street sweatshirt I ineptly cut up à la Flashdance. Lopsided, but still so cool. I mean, you don’t even KNOW. But now, we mourn and/or revel in de-acquisitioning our books. What stays? What goes? What gets turned backwards like a book in a Pottery Barn catalog? OR A CARNABY STREET SWEATSHIRT? Book Shelves is the place to figure it all out.
- See the post below for the only Best Books list you really need. Sure, there are other lists, but this one comes from the random internet people you can TRUST. There’s also talk about the best books of the 21st century. I don’t know about this. Somebody could have written a novel in, for example…2003 (no special reason), and just really feel as though writers and readers (and publishers and agents and that guy working at Borders who said he liked to read work from promising new writers) shouldn’t be held hostage by something completely ARBITRARY like calendars or being IN PRINT. I personally think we should just wait a couple more decades before we go around talking about the best this or the greatest that. Yes, I know Borders went out of business a while ago.
- A lot of what’s happening in 2015 can be summed up as “in the wake of.” So in the wake of “in the wake of,” what are the politically complicated or sensitive works in today’s library collections? Talk about it in the Literary Loft.
- New Books: As 2015 gathers steam, what’s hooking our tenters, literarily speaking? (Please bear with as I explain how/why this is clever: Tenterhooks fasten cloth to a tenter, or drying frame. What rises from drying cloth? STEAM. Get it? And yes, “gathers steam” is more of a transportation thing, and I’m not really sure much steam actually rises from drying cloth unless you iron it, but I don’t believe in killing your darlings, obvs. Sorry, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch.)
- WHAT ARE YOU READING NOW? Don’t think of this as a demand, but more as a sort of collective entreaty from a worshipful audience looking to you for advice and inspiration. Anyway, that’s the way I like to imagine it! Feel free to imagine a scenario that reassures and comforts you.
- I can honestly say the conversation in Culinary Arts has ranged from fruitcake to flounder. Fruitcake & Flounder is also the name of my Mumford & Sons cover band, which will be on tour as soon as I finish distressing my banjo. (NOT a euphemism.)
- You know, at this time of year it’s not hard to find discussion on the various moving picture awards and their attendant controversies and contretemps and etc., but only in the BookBalloon Movies thread can you consider such topics as the subtler Vincent Price roles. Think a delicate shaving of Prosciutto di Parma vs. an epic slab of Canned di Hormel.
- In Music, it’s mainly the Sleater-Kinney Appreciation Society right now, and if you’re interested in something else, well, all I can say is…“That’s absolutely FINE! Totally change the subject!” I am one thousand percent sincere. You’d just better know your stuff. LIES! This is not Pitchfork! 9.3
- The Sports thread probably gets short shrift recap-wise, even though it’s usually a busy discussion. So consider the shrift lengthened! N.B. short shrifts are definitely work-appropriate during the winter months—just pair them with leggings or heavy tights.
- Oh, and if you think nobody’s watching during this second Golden Age of TV, you would be WRONG. Game Hall of Wolf Thrones, Baked-on Abbey, Real Mad Housemen, The Late Show with Stephen Vollmann, Broadbent (both the American and British versions), Stab the Midwife, American Wigs—we’re excited about it ALL!
Done and dusted. Cheap and cheerful. Rising up and rising down. WHAT ARE YOU READING NOW?
They were the best of books, they were the…well really, they were just the BEST of books, weren’t they?January 14, 2015
People here…read. We read a lot, and we talk a lot about what we read. And every year, Forum member Julie organizes and compiles BookBalloon’s best reads of the year. Join the talk in the Best Books thread in the BookBalloon Forum
These are the books we raved about, lost sleep over, overdrew our bank accounts for, and generally pushed onto friends and acquaintances and anyone who would listen. Without further ado….
(not necessarily published in 2014)
Two non-fiction books are tied! How weird is that?
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant by Roz Chast
She Left Me the Gun: My Mother’s Life Before Me by Emma Brockes
Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys by Viv Albertine
Euphoria by Lily King
Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
The UnAmericans: Stories by Molly Antopol
All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld
The Bees by Laline Paull
In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Annihilation (The Southern Reach Trilogy) by Jeff Vandermeer
Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley
Evergreen by Rebecca Rasmussen
Eyrie by Tim Winton
The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
HHhH by Laurent Binet
Hothouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America’s Most Celebrated Publishing House by Boris Kachka
I Am Pilgirm by Terry Hayes
Longbourn by Jo Baker
A Marker to Measure Drift by Alexander Maksik
The Martian by Andy Weir
No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod
Orfeo by Richard Powers
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
The Secret Place by Tana French
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (winner for 2013)
The Weekend by Peter Cameron
The Wilds by Julia Elliot
See you in 2015!
How about curling up with a good book while the winter storm rages? Here’s a sampling of the Indie Next Great Reads list for February:
#1 Pick: The Nightingale: A Novel, by Kristin Hannah
(St. Martin’s Press, 9780312577223, $27.99)
“Filled with sacrifice, betrayal, suspense, courage, and ultimately, forgiveness, The Nightingale offers a haunting glimpse of what it was like for women to survive during WWII. Set in a small town in France, The Nightingale tells the alternating stories of two sisters, their father, and the friends and enemies that occupy their lives during this tragic period of history. Based on a true story, The Nightingale weaves a riveting tale around the heroism of Isabelle, a young woman who serves as a key player in the underground Resistance, and her sister, Viann, who is back home under German occupation, near starvation and struggling to save Jewish children. In the end, however, perhaps this novel is more about the sisterly bonds of love that, although stretched to the limit, still endure. You will not forget the song of The Nightingale.” —Marnie Mamminga, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Etta and Otto and Russell and James: A Novel, by Emma Hooper
(Simon & Schuster, 9781476755670, $26)
“Eighty-three-year-old Etta Vogel quietly sets out one day to walk 3,200 kilometers to the coast of Canada for her first view of the ocean. As Etta travels, author Hooper gently and poignantly reveals a lifetime of morally charged events that shaped Etta as well as her husband, Otto, and her lifelong friend, Russell. This is a beautiful and sometimes hauntingly stark portrait of three WWII-generation lives, sprinkled with the wise counsel of a loyal coyote named James. I loved it!” —Susan Tyler, The Book Bin, Onley, VA
A Spool of Blue Thread: A Novel, by Anne Tyler
(Knopf, 9781101874271, $25.95)
“Tyler’s story of three generations of the Whitshank family has all the hallmarks for which she is so well known. There is drama, dysfunction, and sorrow aplenty here, but Tyler has an amazing way of exposing family life in both its ugly and beautiful glory. These characters love each other, except when they don’t, and every interaction is crackling with Tyler’s quirky and unassuming wit. A Spool of Blue Thread shows how lives intersect — very rarely neatly — and how that messiness gives meaning to every human connection. Tyler is a master of her craft — this being her 20th novel — and she is a treasure to read.” —Dinah Hughley, Powell’s Books, Portland, OR
Of Things Gone Astray: A Novel, by Janina Matthewson
(The Friday Project, 9780007562473, $19.99)
“In London, a group of people have lost that which they hold most dear. A girl stands in the airport waiting for her lover while her feet turn to roots and her skin to bark. A recluse loses the front wall of her home, while a workaholic cannot find his office building. Piano keys, a sense of direction, and a boy’s relationship with his father all have gone astray. Slowly, each victim adapts, unwittingly helping one another during the briefest encounters. Each loss is heartbreaking and each character’s struggle to survive is inspiring. With stunning prose and insight, Matthewson uses magic to illuminate truth in this hauntingly beautiful debut novel.” —Amelia Stymacks, Northshire Bookstore, Saratoga Springs, NY
Read the complete list for February at the American Booksellers Association site.
Dear Friends (and assorted journalists and international investigating bodies):
After the events of last week, I received many requests to share my views on planning, creating, and hosting the perfect party. And really just to explain my ideas…my thinking…in a sort of statement if you will, from start to finish. Don’t think of it as a checklist. Every party is a unique experience, and every hostess must find her own way. Whether that way leads to despair or triumph, I can only say I believe the past is a closed book. Nothing is gained by dwelling on any one or two things you might, in retrospect, have changed. As my attorney likes to say, Christmas is a time when good intentions should trump actual circumstances. Wise words.
Let’s get started!
First, no matter what sort of party you’re planning—Mustard Gas and Mischief: Christmas in the Trenches or Merry Molokai: Christmas in the Colony—avoid choosing a date too early in the season! Before the holiday mood really sets in, the traditional activities you plan might make people feel silly or a little inclined to be stubborn. I understand the temptation to steal a march on everyone else and set the bar high (believe me, I really understand), but please learn from my experience. For example, you might detect a significant attendance drop-off during a caroling party on a muggy mid-November afternoon, and a corresponding lack of enthusiasm in both carolers and carolees as the evening wears on. I’m not being critical, just recognizing that not everyone shares my zeal for all things authentically festlich. And that’s fine. Really, it is.
Speaking of last year’s Weihnachten Schreien (Christmas Screaming): A Black Forest Rite of Celebration and Trudging, my research revealed that the chained gangs of carolers in nineteenth-century Bavaria began their rounds as early as November 1. Scholars debate why to this day, but I believe it had something to do with either the Black Death or the Massacre of the Innocent Lutherans or even the legend of Edeltraud, the Bird-Headed Girl, and the Christmas Worm. Sources differ, but the date is fixed! But the point is that times have changed and most people don’t want to sing or hear Strafe Gesang (punishment singing) on November 13, even if dirndls and lederhosen were provided and there is traditional midnight Blut Talg Strudel (blood suet strudel) and Gewürzkaninchenmilch (spiced rabbit milk) as a reward afterward. Lesson learned, my friends. Point taken.
But onward and upward, as my parole officer likes to say!
For this year’s Bludgeon the Dollymop: A Mid-Victorian Fantasia, I enlisted science to determine the optimal date for maximum Dickensian jollity! Extrapolating from original research I sponsored at Cal Tech’s Institute of Calendrical InfoMetrics (you can email the Institute for the extract if you want—it won a prize in Zurich!), I simply provided the post-docs with a few crucial party variables—kitchen work triangle dimensions, average guest weight (unclothed for accuracy), cocktails or mocktails, ratio of friends to hired re-enactors (will differ from party to party, obviously, depending on theme complexity), the number of guests’ sexual partners (as I have repeatedly explained, a “guesstimate” would have thrown off the results. The Google Docs poll was completely anonymous, so I really don’t know why there were so many complaints) etc., etc., and hey, presto: the perfect date/time for the perfect party for the perfect people. That’s you, my dear friends!
A number of you asked how (or maybe it was why) on earth I decided on Monday, December 17th, twelve minutes before moonrise (hence the Farmer’s Almanac in the September 23rd pre-party research packet) and now you know. Of course, nothing EVER goes just exactly to plan, so a slight error rate is of course factored in. A sad necessity in today’s slipping standards of guest responsibility.
I am aware some of you were the tiniest bit surprised/offended when the weekly save-the-date postcards/research packets and daily email blasts started in mid-August, but I find those extra little reminders pretty useful for us busy, forgetful types. I know how mortified I am when I realize I have INADVERTENTLY neglected to keep my hard-working hostess apprised of any illnesses, sudden childbirth arrangements, or financial exigencies that may jeopardize my attendance at her carefully planned event. And I certainly wouldn’t call such entirely natural and common-sense efforts HARASSMENT. We live in an age of hyperbole.
Speaking of email, I highly recommend a service that lets you track and analyze which recipients actually OPEN your messages, micro-targets your demographic, and gives recipients the opportunity to opt out if desired. I found the IP address spoofing/dark internet features vey helpful, but they’re certainly not necessary if your budget needs trimming. You may not find submitting to the NSA inquiry worthwhile. I did.
I will say I was a little hurt that so many of you actually chose to opt out—I tried hard to make each message informative and entertaining—and frankly surprised so many overlooked returning the postage paid RSVP packet with checklist and costume reservations by the October 17 deadline. Sorry about the resulting flurry of phone calls (and I promise I WON’T call you at work next year, or visit your employers at home—at least not at NIGHT) but those velvet capes and bonnets really needed the lead time.
I hope you agree the final splendid effect as we stood under the gas streetlamp at during the midnight carol service and life-size Punch and Judy show was well worth the slight apparel surcharge. (For which, I do apologize. But with the recent volatility in world velvet markets, it was hard to predict in June what claret-colored velvet would cost in October. I could have gone with spruce, but once the soot-clouds burst, I knew the effect just wouldn’t be the same.)
For those unreachable few who “opted out” of the RSVP process but trustingly showed up anyway, I know the Workhouse Family Celebration in the garage might have felt as though you were missing out or punished, but I promise you it was as fully researched and authentic as any of the other party settings. You certainly can’t deny that the children looked absolutely adorable shivering in their authentic muslin shifts, sipping from their little wooden bowls of gruel, and happily sorting all those buttons! “Please sir, can I have some more?” Ha! I had hoped to share the photos on Facebook, but I will honor your requests and court orders.
Which leads me to the question that seems to have interested people the most! Why mid-Victorian? Why the cold and soot? Why all the tubercular orphans? Why the small-scale abattoir? Well, I can only say, “WHY NOT?” What is more fun than combining food, fun, and drink with strictly accurate and brutally enforced historical authenticity?
From the sooty barefooted urchins chasing your cars, to the steaming bowls of tongue puddings and jellied snoutlings and brandied whelk spawn, to the roving pickpockets with nasty coughs, to the spirited theological harangues in the Low Church Chapel, to the rousing games of My Lady’s Biscuit Barrel and Burn Down the Workhouse and How Many Gin Bottles Are in My Corset and Slimy Cobblestones, to the phrenology readings (I know some of you were upset by the whole “sloping forehead” thing, but it was all in good fun!), to the feminine trembling in the Laudanum Parlor, to the exhausting rounds of orphan baiting, it was a completely immersive experience.
For those of you who memorized your character dossiers, blackened your teeth, laced up the whalebone corsets (shh, Greenpeace!) or applied the cold-pressed Macassar oil sent in the final research pack, and cultivated a taste for straight gin, I know you agree it was worth the effort and slight discomfort. For those not quite willing to go all the way, I trust you enjoyed the more casual but authentic atmosphere in the Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison Path for Guilty Pacing painstakingly installed in the garden.
I will always view my months of work—including the extensive house renovations (especially the earth closet installation), the drug-resistant giardia I picked up from undercooked tongue pudding, defending myself from the UN’s child labor sanctions, the QUESTIONS when the opium poppies finally bloomed—oh ALL OF IT—as time incredibly well spent. The look of total appreciation on all your faces during my recreation of the Great Stink of 1858, well, I can only say how moved I was. You finally just got it. (And thanks again for your forbearance when the Health Department insisted on that totally anachronistic round of gamma globulin injections.)
You’ve all had time to think since were last together. I know a few feathers were ruffled (and I don’t mean in the Clever Little Fingers Hat Trimming Workshop), a few chilblains reopened and now festering, a few stomachs pumped, a few lawyers retained, but I hope in retrospect everyone can AT LEAST agree I meant well. I’m sure once you’ve rested up and finished your CDC-mandated course of penicillin, you’ll understand why I did what I did. And that it really was worth it in the end. Some of my measures may have seemed strict, but they were harsh times, weren’t they? The human spirit prevails. And I guess that’s the true meaning of Christmas, isn’t it?
Finally, drum roll please! Not to spoil the surprise…but I am literally agog with plans and ideas and simply can’t resist sharing!
Mark all of December for Oculos Tuos (Close Your Eyes): Saturnalian Decadence and Regret in Late Empire Rome! You don’t have to switch to lead-glazed dishes in preparation, but I definitely believe the pros outweigh the cons!
It’s going to be TERRIFYING.
2015! I can’t believe I am already posting this. Here’s a sampling of The January 2015 Indie Next List Great Reads:
#1 Pick: The Secret Wisdom of the Earth: A Novel, by Chris Scotton
(Grand Central Publishing, 9781455551927, $26)
“Struggling to recover from the trauma of his baby brother’s tragic death, Kevin and his broken mother relocate to Medger, Kentucky, for the summer. Their return to the Appalachian coal town in which their family is deeply rooted is intended to heal them both. While Kevin’s grandfather is just the person and the wild hollows surrounding their little town just the place to help him mend, Kevin finds that Medger and its citizens are in need of healing as well. Poverty, a mountaintop removal operation, and desperation are tearing their town and the land around it apart. Scotton’s finely wrought characters, perfectly paced plot, and keen sense of place make The Secret Wisdom of the Earth resonate with the reader long after the book has been finished.” —Catherine Weller, Weller Book Works, Salt Lake City, UT
Descent: A Novel, by Tim Johnston
(Algonquin Books, 9781616203047, $25.95)
“Descent is a gripping, utterly engrossing account of a girl’s disappearance in the Rocky Mountains. The aftermath of this tragedy is told in alternating voices: the injured brother at the scene of the accident when she left with a stranger to get help; the mother who has been hospitalized and stunned into breathtaking grief; the father who has been unable to leave the small town where the family was vacationing when his daughter disappeared — and most stunning of all, through the words of the victim herself. A real page-turner with a brilliantly conceived climax!” —Kelly Estep, Carmichael’s Bookstore, Louisville, KY
The Girl on the Train: A Novel, by Paula Hawkins
(Riverhead, 9781594633669, $26.95)
“This is one of the most compelling thrillers I have read in years! With alternating perspectives ranging from the fantasies of a young woman who watches a couple from the window of her train commute every day, to the true story of the couple themselves, and a missing person case, the reader is plunged into a twisting, turning mystery of deception and misdirection. Rarely have there been so many shocking revelations in a single novel! Just when you believe you have a grasp on the entire mystery, Hawkins pulls the rug out from under you with yet another breathtaking plot revelation. An exceptional read!” —William Carl, Books on the Square, Providence, RI
Read the complete list for January at the American Booksellers Association site.
So we had a near catastrophe here – for our cats, ourselves and our books, and it all comes from having too many bookshelves!
When we moved into this house 16 years ago David put up very cool wooden shelves attached to the walls, and staggered them so they looked unusual. Several of the shelves were attached to two vertical boards on either side. This wasn’t a problem because David kept his legos on those, so they were light.
A few years ago I complained about lack of shelving so he moved his stuff and let me have the space. All worked out perfectly- until last night when I heard a snap and a crash. Ran to the office almost tripping over the cats running out of the room to see David sitting at the computer, rather stunned. From top to bottom, the whole shelf unit dropped an inch, with the vertical shelves pulling off the wall. Amazingly no books fell off (probably shelved in there pretty tight!) So much of our night was spent taking books down, and David coming up with a way to repair damage and make it all safer. So no cats or husbands were crushed and no books were harmed.
The reason I am writing this here is that this morning it was my job to reshelve books on the repaired shelves. It was an opportunity to purge, but also an opportunity to realize what books I had, and reminisce. Not just when and where I was when I bought and read them, but especially, who recommended the book and or authors. Nine out of ten times it was the good people here: I never would have read Set This House in Order if it wasn’t for Catherine J, or Ruth Rendell and Stephen McGrath if it weren’t for Lynn, or Pilgrim (and more Tim Findley) if it wasn’t for Miriam. Pat lead me to Helen Dewitt and various historic fiction, PC recommended Louisiana Power and Light…..Joseph led me to travel books; (wish I could remember who recommended Wolf Hall).
But deeg and Kat take the cake. Because of deeg books by Dawn Powell , Maugham novels and the Lucia and Mapp stuff the shelves (Molly O’Keanes will be added to that soon), as do Kat’s recs of Jane Gardam, Jill Paton Walsh and Mary Wesley and Sara Waters, possibly too Eliz Von Arnim? I know I have forgotten other good folk and I am sorry for that. But this is an opportunity to say thanks for this great site, and for the great people here who push books on me, ones that take me places I never imagined even wanting to visit…
Here’s a preview of the December Indie Next Great Reads list.
#1 Pick: Us: A Novel, by David Nicholls
(Harper, 9780062365583, $26.99)
“This gorgeous novel manages to be heart-wrenching and hilarious all at once. Connie tells Douglas that she suspects their 20-year marriage has ‘run its course’ right before they’re set to leave on a European tour with their teenage son. Regardless, they take the trip and flashbacks of their more passionate days are interspersed with the narrative of their everything-at-stake adventure. A brilliant and humanizing picture of mature love — and a look at whether or not people truly outgrow each other.” —Mary Cotton, Newtonville Books, Newton, MA
The Boston Girl: A Novel, by Anita Diamant
(Scribner, 9781439199350, $26)
“Diamant brings a generation of women to life through the voice of Addie Baum. Born in 1900, Addie tells of her early childhood in Boston as the child of immigrant parents; her formative years as a Saturday Club girl, where she found her lifelong friends; her career path as a typist and journalist; and meeting her husband and finding meaningful work as a social worker. Her story plays out against a backdrop of some of the most basic issues women had to face as they found their places in 20th century America. As I turned the last pages of The Boston Girl, I was left with a serene sense of satisfaction. A historical feat and a very enjoyable read.” —Jenny Lyons, The Vermont Book Shop, Middlebury, VT
The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil, by Stephen Collins
(Picador, 9781250050397, $20)
“Slip into a black and white world where order reigns supreme and all untidiness must be eradicated. Dave lives a nondescript life in Here, until the day an untamable beard sprouts from his chin. Could the beard be a maleficent portal to There? Collins gently addresses the tangles of human existence in this playful graphic fable, perfect for fans of Edward Gorey and Roald Dahl.” —Rhianna Walton, Powell’s Books, Portland, OR
Enter Pale Death: A Joe Sandilands Investigation, by Barbara Cleverly
(Soho Crime, 9781616954086, $26.95)
“The tales of pre-World War II Scotland Yard’s Joe Sandilands are becoming addictive. Intrigue, political manipulations, the ever-present undercurrent of class differences, and the rising spectre of Nazism run throughout the series. Joe always expected to one day wed Dorcas, a charming girl he watched grow up, and is alarmed to find that she has attached herself to her academic patron, Sir James Truelove. The detective is sent to Truelove’s family estate to investigate the death of Sir James’s wife. Murder investigations, just like true love, never run smoothly. Is Sandilands going to find the way through this snake’s nest?” —Becky Milner, Vintage Books, Vancouver, WA
The Happiest People in the World: A Novel, by Brock Clarke
(Algonquin Books, 9781616201111, $24.95)
“This satiric treatment of weighty topics, including religious intolerance, provincialism, and the American obsession with Homeland Security, ranges from a backwater in Denmark to a backwater in upstate New York. It follows the plight of a hapless Danish cartoonist who unleashes chaos in his life by authoring a politically incorrect cartoon of Muhammad. Put into a witness protection program and improbably installed as a guidance counselor in the local high school, he is at the mercy of bumbling agents of the CIA and Homeland Security, who seem to be feuding and hiding under every rock. His first time observations of America and Americans are priceless.” —Darwin Ellis, Books on the Common, Ridgefield, CT
Read the complete list for December at the American Booksellers Association site.
From Biographile, five books by and about Pythons —
From the debut of their absurdist sketch comedy show in 1969, the members of Monty Python — Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones — had a revolutionary impact on comedy. After four television seasons and four movies, the most recent released more than thirty years ago, their influence, and their legions of fans, only continues to grow.