- Walk-in monks
- Lots of room for jousting
- Neutral pope scheme
- Auto-da-fé pit
- Man turret
- Outdoor flaying space
- En suite plague
- Plenty of natural rats
- Kitchen moat
- Siege engine-ready
- Wall-to-wall peasants
- Hardwood thumbscrews
- Open concept crypt
- Stainless abattoir
- Granite latrine tops
- Crown mold
- Mother-in-law dungeon
As we adjust to a world without Mad Men (CAN WE, though?), we turn to our books for solace. Also other TV shows. And movies. And sports. And food. And music. And nature, I guess. There are a lot of windows where I write, so that’s always a possibility.
In honor of the end of Mad Men, this week’s What Are You Reading Now? is more than a little opaque and definitely open to interpretation. As talk turned to the decidedly mixed pleasures of book club reading, a few titles with, shall we say, complicated histories slipped into the list. But as Draper & Co. taught us, we can live with the complications. Or fall out of a window, or contemplate an empty shell of a life, or something.
Well anyway, read something and come talk about it!
- H is for Hawk / Helen MacDonald
- Bedsit Disco Queen: How I Grew Up and Tried to Be a Pop Star / Tracy Thorne
- All the Light We Cannot See / Anthony Doerr
- Sea of Poppies / Amitav Ghosh
- Why Homer Matters / Adam Nicolson
- Girl in a Band / Kim Gordon
- Another City, Not My Own / Dominick Dunne
- Soul Mountain / Gao Xingjian
- You Can’t Go Home Again / Thomas Wolfe
- A Man in Full / Tom Wolfe
- I Am Charlotte Simmons / Tom Wolfe
- Sometimes a Great Notion / Ken Kesey
- The Ghost Bride / Yangsze Choo
- The Golem and Jinni / Helene Wecker
- The Short History of Women / Kate Walbert
- The Wife of Isaac Harman / H.G. Wells
- Kitchens of the Great Midwest / J. Ryan Stradal
- Words Without Music / Philip Glass
- Cancel All Our Vows / John D. MacDonald
In Movies, talk is bouncing around Robert Altman films, Mad Max: Fury Road, Pitch Perfect 2, Clouds of Sils Maria, the HBO Kurt Cobain doc, and Pompeii. The hot takes (in order): Altman-y, good crazy fun, fun with caveats, Kristen Stewart yes!, Cobain-y, jaw-droppingly bad.
TV is Mad Men: Three Martini Road. I don’t know how to sum this up. Read the whole internet, I guess? Why is no one mentioning that we got to see Don Draper in a flannel shirt is what I want to know. Who could have predicted THAT?
I’m writing a three-page scene set in a busy coffeeshop in which two emotionally constipated and intense characters (one of whom is highly unreliable and the other a TREASURE) with a tricky, ambivalent relationship have an elliptical, epigrammatic, understated conversation ostensibly about an elementary school book fair, though it is actually full of subtle misdirection and implied profound issues (one of them is having a crisis of faith and the other is probably a vampire—think a sort of satirical version of Hemingway’s “iceberg” theory). As a result, the scene requires literally dozens of thoughtful beats and pauses, all involving either drinking, smelling, or stirring coffee. It’s a lot of coffee, Wordsmith! Can you suggest some reasonably graceful yet vivid alternatives to simply writing “coffee” over and over again?
Good to the Last Drop
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Here’s what we’ve been reading, watching, listening to, talking about in the BookBalloon Forum. Sign up! YOU’RE MISSING EVERYTHING.
Since “book” is literally in the title of this place, guess what? We read tons of books and will fall all over ourselves to tell you about them. Nerds! See the links below, or check out the BookBalloon list at Amazon.
Books with the stuffing read out of them lately include (but are not restricted to):
- Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree
- Susan Barker’s The Incarnations
- Revisiting the late and very great Ruth Rendell
- Lyndsay Faye’s The Fatal Flame
- Daniel Polansky’s Those Above
- Maya Van Wagenen’s Popular
- Laura Ingalls Wilder’s and Pamela Smith Hill’s Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography
- Cory O’Brien’s and Sarah E. Melville’s Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes: A No Bull-Shit Guide to World Mythology
- Saskia Noort’s The Dinner Club
- Paul Beatty’s The Sellout
- Jane Smiley’s Early Warning
In MOVIES, we’re excited about the usual suspects out there busting blocks, but we manage to talk about them with +/- 79% less fanboy/girl than usual. If you’re OK with Black Widow and the Hulk as an item and you think Thor is a Snor (you’re welcome), you have found some fellow-travelers.
Non-blockbuster finds include the harrowing, moving documentary Last Days in Vietnam.
TV is similarly blockbusterish these days, and we found plenty to talk about re: Game of Thrones, Mad Men (Don is TOTALLY going to pitch “I’d Like the Buy the World a Coke,” right?), Penny Dreadful, The Good Wife, the Real Housewives of New York City (at least ONE person cares—very deeply—ahem), Wolf Hall, Grace & Frankie and more. Netflix and Amazon deep dives uncovered masterpieces like The Jewel in the Crown.
In MUSIC, there was much discussion on what goes in a “glorious” music playlist, with suggestions ranging from Beethoven to the Louvin Brothers to Doris Day to perpetual BookBalloon faves Sleater-Kinney to Dylan. Talk on new and newish music included First Aid Kit and the new Emmylou Harris/Rodney Crowell album.
People are COOKING, as per usual, but honestly it just seems as though folks are gearing up for summer, when delicious food flies out of the earth straight into your mouth, and all you have to do is maybe peel it or throw it on the grill for a minute or toss it with some olive oil.
What more, what more, hmm hmm hmm. If you really want to know, here’s a suggestion: SIGN UP (it’s completely free—as long as you realize you will shortly increase your book budget in drastic measure), and start poking around. There are only about like three (maaaayyyybe four) people here who will weird you out (and I’m one of them so you can go ahead and judge for yourselves!) and the rest are hilarious, smart, friendly, and fun.
Here’s a sampling of the June 2015 Indie Next Great Reads:
#1 Pick: Our Souls at Night: A Novel, by Kent Haruf
(Knopf, 9781101875896, $24)
“In his final novel, Haruf once again casts an aura of spiritual resonance over the small town of Holt, Colorado. When an elderly woman proposes to her equally old male neighbor that they spend their nights together in conversation, chastely, yet sharing her bed in slumber, the talk among townsfolk begins to stir. Neither Addie Moore nor Louis Waters will allow slurred observations to impact what, for them, has become a blessing encompassing memories and the comfort of having the warmth of another body close on cold and lonely nights. Matters take a dramatic turn, however, with the arrival of Addie’s grandson, Jamie. His presence in the ongoing arrangement brings the inevitable question of moral behavior to the surface. As in a minister’s benediction, Haruf extends a wise and compassionate resolution to this story, the quintessence of his life’s work.” —Mark Ingraham, Powell’s Books, Portland, OR
Uprooted, by Naomi Novik
(Del Rey, 9780804179034, $25)
“In this incredible fantasy, a young woman is taken from her village to serve a magician and finds out that she too possesses unknown gifts. Fans of Robin McKinley, Shannon Hale, and Novik’s own Temeraire series will find themselves pulled into Agnieszka’s world to face the dangers of the malevolent Wood, the follies of a kingdom, and the pulsing thread of magic woven into every living thing. Both exotic and familiar, Uprooted reads like a long-lost Grimms’ fairy tale written in rich, delicious detail. I absolutely devoured this book!” —Jennifer Oleinik, University Book Store, Seattle, WA
The Sunlit Night: A Novel, by Rebecca Dinerstein
(Bloomsbury, 9781632861122, $26)
“The endless daylight of a Norwegian summer is the perfect backdrop for this warm and quirky debut filled with unusual characters and situations, a setting that is real yet somehow out of time, visual and precise writing, emotional warmth, and faith in the healing power of love. This tale of Frances and Yasha, their families, and their companions during a transformative summer in perpetual Arctic light is a perfect read for fans of Nicole Krauss’ The History of Love or Bill Forsyth’s classic movie, Local Hero.” —Anmiryan Budner, Main Point Books, Bryn Mawr, PA
The Invasion of the Tearling: A Novel, by Erika Johansen
(Harper, 9780062290397, $24.99)
“I loved Johansen’s first book, Queen of the Tearling, and was thrilled to find the sequel to be equally enjoyable. The new book focuses on the Mort invasion of the Tearling and Queen Kelsea’s growth, both as a queen and as a person. Faced with many difficult decisions, an enemy abroad, and a new enemy in the Church, Kelsea finds herself learning more about her powers and making some mistakes. She also finds herself overwhelmed by visions of a woman in a past time that could lead to answers about The Crossing. Cheers to Johansen for proving that the reign of Queen Kelsea will be thrilling from start to finish!” —Flannery Fitch, Bookshop Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA
Read the complete list for June at the American Booksellers Association site.
- Sweetland: A Novel: Michael Crummey
- Heap House: The Iremonger Trilogy: Book One: Edward Carey
- Sima’s Undergarments for Women: A Novel: Ilana Stanger-Ross
- Original Sin: P.D. James
- The Sunken Cathedral: A Novel: Kate Walbert
- Some Luck: A novel: Jane Smiley
- The Woman in Black: A Ghost Story: Susan Hill
- A Short History of Women: A Novel: Kate Walbert
- The Children’s Crusade: A Novel: Ann Packer
- Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend: Susan Orlean
April showers bring great May reads. Here’s the newest list of Indie Next picks:
#1 Pick: The Light of the World: A Memoir, by Elizabeth Alexander
(Grand Central Publishing, 9781455599875, $26)
“It is hard to find the right words to do justice to this very special book. Yes, it is by one of our greatest contemporary poets, Elizabeth Alexander, who wrote ‘Praise Song for the Day’ for President Obama’s first inauguration, so the language is gorgeous. And yes, it is a memoir of losing her husband at a young age and so it is, in parts, gut-wrenchingly sad. And yes, it is an ode to an extraordinary man we come to feel we know as an artist, chef, father, friend, and lover. But, above all, it is as beautiful a love story as I have ever read, and it lifts readers up and gives us hope and makes us believe. I will urge it on everyone I know.” —Carole Horne, Harvard Book Store, Cambridge, MA
Pieces of My Mother: A Memoir, by Melissa Cistaro
(Sourcebooks, 9781492615385, $24.99)
“Cistaro’s story begins with the last days of her mother’s life, 35 years after she abandoned her children and husband with no explanation. Cistaro is still seeking the truth and the one answer that she feels she needs most desperately — why did her mother leave? What is most impressive about this memoir is the honesty with which the author details her own anxieties, and readers will relate to her and cheer her on when she makes an important, life-changing decision. This is an amazing story of forgiveness, connection, understanding, and grace.” —Lynn Riehl, Nicola’s Books, Ann Arbor, MI
The Given World: A Novel, by Marian Palaia
(Simon & Schuster, 9781476777931, $25)
“In this fresh take on stories about the devastation that war visits on those left behind as well as on those who are sent to fight, Riley resists believing her beloved older brother never emerged from the tunnels of Cu Chi. Since his body was never found, she follows this hope from the Montana plains to Vietnam and then spirals down into the back streets of 1980s San Francisco. As Palaia details Riley’s struggle to move from denial to the eventual acceptance of reality, she portrays the starry Montana nights as vividly as the streets of Saigon and the bars of Haight-Ashbury. A brilliant debut!” —Cheryl McKeon, Book Passage, San Francisco, CA
The World Is on Fire: Scrap, Treasure, and Songs of Apocalypse, by Joni Tevis
(Milkweed Editions, 9781571313478, trade paper, $16)
“Peopled by both the famous and the forgotten, The World Is on Fire is a love letter to our fears and fascinations as a species. It travels delicate and complicated terrain — faith, loss, death, and infertility are just a few of its subjects — and its intimacy is devastating but also comforting. Tevis acts as a grand conductor, allowing cultural touchpoints, history, personal narrative, and the natural world to each have their turn, then orchestrating them together into a melody that is lovely, sometimes amusing, and often haunting. These ‘songs’ stayed with me long after the last note.” —Lauren Harr, Malaprop’s Bookstore, Asheville, NC
The Daylight Marriage: A Novel, by Heidi Pitlor
(Algonquin Books, 9781616203689, $24.95)
“After being together many years and having two children, Hannah and Lovell Hall are a married couple growing apart. One night they have a terrible argument in which both accusations and personal objects are thrown. The next morning the unthinkable happens and Hannah disappears. Was this her decision or someone else’s? Did her husband take an unforgivable step? The Daylight Marriage is a kinder, gentler Gone Girl with characters readers actually might want to know, a page-turner that explores the depths of human relationships as well as the consequences of even the smallest decision.” —Sharon Nagel, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, WI
Read the complete list for May at the American Booksellers Association site.
- Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory: Caitlin Doughty
- Tell the Wolves I’m Home: Carol Rifka Brunt
- Tooth and Claw: Jo Walton
- The Buried Giant: A novel: Kazuo Ishiguro
- A Little Life: A Novel: Hanya Yanagihara
- Soul Music: A Novel of Discworld: Terry Pratchett
- The Convictions of John Delahunt: Andrew Hughes
- Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams-the Early Years, 1903-1940: Gary Giddins
- The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness: Sy Montgomery
- The Convictions of John Delahunt: Andrew Hughes
#1 Pick: Orhan’s Inheritance: A Novel, by Aline Ohanesian
(Algonquin Books, 9781616203740, $25.95)
“Debut author Ohanesian’s historical novel relives the nearly forgotten tragedy of the Armenian Genocide during and after WWI. Through deportations, massacres, and executions of Christian and Jewish Armenians, the Ottoman Empire and its successors eliminated 1.5 million citizens. Ohanesian’s beautifully written book shares a tale of passionate love, unspeakable horror, incredible strength, and the hidden stories that haunt a family. Highly recommended.” —Doug Robinson, Eagle Eye Book Shop, Decatur, GA
The Witch of Painted Sorrows: A Novel, by M.J. Rose
(Atria Books, 9781476778068, $25)
“Set in Belle Époque Paris, The Witch of Painted Sorrows features an American socialite fleeing from her husband in New York to the home of her courtesan grandmother in Paris. There, she uncovers family secrets, discovers both her talent as an artist and her own erotic nature, and confronts the witch La Lune, an ancestor who threatens to possess her. Rose proves herself once again to be a consummate storyteller in this provocative and entertaining novel.” — Fran Keilty, The Hickory Stick Bookshop, Washington Depot, CT
At the Water’s Edge: A Novel, by Sara Gruen
(Spiegel & Grau, 9780385523233, $28)
“A trio of privileged Philadelphia socialites — Maddie, her husband, Ellis, and their friend, Hank — travel to the Scottish Highlands during WWII to prove the existence of the Loch Ness Monster. There, they find themselves among villagers dealing with the atrocities of a war that they have blithely ignored, and Maddie discovers that both the world and her life are not at all what she had imagined. Full of great period detail and richly drawn settings, At the Water’s Edge is another spellbinding tale from the author of Water for Elephants.” —Jill Miner, Saturn Booksellers, Gaylord, MI
World Gone By: A Novel, by Dennis Lehane
(William Morrow, 9780060004903, $27.99)
“In the prologue of World Gone By, Lehane describes his main character but certainly captures his own abilities as well: ‘Joe Coughlin had a gift for bringing the beacons of the city into contact with her demons and making it all seem like a lark.’ This is Lehane’s great gift: creating characters with the full scope of human dimensions — our inner angels and devils, our passions and our crimes — and immersing them in the timeless trials of our world while disguising his feat as the entertainment of a ‘good read.’ Lehane is a magician, a maestro, and a master of the written word.” —J.B. Dickey, Seattle Mystery Bookshop, Seattle, WA
Read the complete list for April at the American Booksellers Association site.