Betsy Burton

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States By Sarah Vowell Cover Image
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ISBN: 9781594631740
Published: Riverhead Books - October 20th, 2015

I’m not sure how someone who knows so much can be so funny when imparting what she knows, but Sarah Vowell has that knack. Her latest saga, long on history, short on boring, high on humor, begins with a question: How did the Marquis de Lafayette win over the stingiest, crankiest tax protestors in the world? Vowell then proceeds to answer that question with an improbably funny saga that manages to give you a vivid, witty picture of not only the brash young Marquis but our founding fathers as well. The young Marquis dashes about on his horse, ignoring wife, child, and king, shuttles nervously back and forth as the French finally arrive, to end regarding America with rosy adoration. Vowell both skewers and admires this view of us, making clear what a fractious, uneasily bound-together lot we Americans are and always have been, and how naïve our hero. Vowell never met a joke she didn’t like, and her weaving of present-day politics, the personal and the past with history lights up that past until it illuminates the present. – Betsy Burton

Home Is Burning: A Memoir by Dan Marshall

Home Is Burning: A Memoir By Dan Marshall Cover Image
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ISBN: 9781250068828
Availability: Out of Print
Published: Flatiron Books - October 20th, 2015

For those who grew up in Holladay as a non-Mormon, this tale of coming of age in Utah in the '80s, which is intertwined with the painful reality of coping with the death of a parent, will resonate in ways that might make you flinch or cry but will also make you laugh. Uproariously. Dan grew up with a pack of siblings in a sprawling house in Holladay set squarely in the center of a heavily Mormon neighborhood. His father was a prominent newspaper figure and was not Mormon. Nor was Dan’s mother. She was, however, fierce, to put it mildly. Her stratagem for coping with disapproving neighbors? Open all the windows and drop among many other expletives, the f-bomb—at the top of her voice. Her big boisterous family gleefully followed her example. When the book opens Dan, who is in LA working in PR, learns that his beloved father has ALS and that his mother is again battling recurrent cancer. Dan goes home, and the ensuing tale of fart jokes, profanity and death, laced with hilarity and howling pain, is raw, honest and profound. Had Dan never moved away, the anger which is part of growing up as an outsider here might have dissipated at least in part. Salt Lake has changed as we all know. But he left and his memories evoke a time that may have passed but which we all remember. His mixing of those cultural memories with family pain and family hostility and family love hits home. Ouch. – Betsy Burton

The 7th Man by Melanie Rae Thon

The 7th Man By Melanie Rae Thon Cover Image
ISBN: 9781934832523
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: New Michigan Press - November 15th, 2015

Brief, ecstatic, searing, The 7th Man is an interior prose poem from the heart of a man who has helped to perform 131 executions, part of the team who take turns rehearsing and then escorts, straps down its victims. His interior monologue takes us from pride in his team to the reality of bearing witness, an act that eventually brings the executions to life, cracking open the executioner’s life and giving him another in the process. Thon, like no one else alive, captures the pain and the ecstasy of our existence, its harrowing, too-often brutal nature, and the transcendent joy of soil and of souls, making sense of the urge to hurt and the will to rescue, the unbearable loneliness and the solace that makes life bearable. Her slender volumes speak volumes about humanity in all its agony and its undying glory. – Betsy Burton

Silence and Song by Melanie Rae Thon

Silence & Song By Melanie Rae Thon Cover Image
ISBN: 9781573660532
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Fiction Collective 2 - September 30th, 2015

Hope in the face of despair. A single fragment of line in the prose poem connecting the two ecstatic, shattering pieces that are Silence and Song, a book that takes us into the hearts and souls of the dispossessed and of those who try to save them. In “Vanishings” a thief tears up the Saguaro cactus, killing what he can’t steal; a car careens off the road, bodies flying out. Brothers struggle across hot sand, bodies blistered; a good Samaritan brings water into the desert, wanting to help; a boy with a gun, filled with the pain of thorns, bad drugs, cruelty; a mother playing Chopin; a teacher in love with her students, children for whom pain is the fabric of life, nightmares their memories. Then “Translation,” the poem at the book’s heart. Again children. And “Requiem”: a brother and a sister living the poetry of urban violence, of scorched earth, of a home where nothing is safe, except the insistence of the garden. This braided with the poetry of Chernobyl, of scorched earth now safe harbor to what is wild.  Hope braided with despair. – Betsy Burton

Numero Zero by Umberto Eco

Numero Zero By Umberto Eco, Richard Dixon (Translated by) Cover Image
By Umberto Eco, Richard Dixon (Translated by)
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ISBN: 9780544635081
Published: HarperVia - November 3rd, 2015

Eco’s short but excellent book is more cautionary tale than suspense novel and satire is at its center. Set in Milan in 1992, it supposes that a failed academic is hired to ghostwrite a memoir based on a nascent newspaper that is to be a heroic example of journalism at its bests. The staff of the paper, when not failing to report stories that might negatively impact their patron, brainstorms stories out of vapor by grouping together unrelated facts until they are made to seem significant, simply because they’re being reported. Until suddenly, a reporter stumbles across what could actually be a story: a theory that Mussolini was never executed after the war, but was spirited away, until an attempt could be made to bring him back. Which had happened twenty years before, in a coup attempt that failed because El Duce died before the takeover could occur. A whacked-out conspiracy theory or truth? A question that becomes more pressing when the reporter is murdered. Numero Zero looks at the forces that have battered Italy since the war, whether political, journalistic, or religious, with the eye of a cynic, a caustic tongue, and a scathing sense of humor. – Betsy Burton

And West Is West by Ron Childress

And West Is West By Ron Childress Cover Image
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ISBN: 9781616205232
Availability: Out of Print
Published: Algonquin Books - October 13th, 2015

A hand hovering over a control; a question about what the camera is revealing; an order from above. And so lives change—just as they do in another part of the U.S. where another finger hovers over another button while a distracted mind calculates odds. Once again a button is pushed and once again lives change. The control in the first instance is in the hands of Jessica, a drone pilot in the Nevada desert, who sees innocents enter her target area but is ordered to fire anyway. The button in the second instance is controlled by Ethan, whose specialty is calculating the impact of terrorism on the markets of the world and who, with one push of a button, one miscalculation he may or may not have made, is cast out like Jessica, adrift in a world with which he is not prepared to cope. Through the eyes of Ethan and Jessica, both on the run, both searching for a way to get at the truth of what has happened, the story expands, explodes, pulling us into intersecting lives and into the web of technologies the impact of which we’re just beginning to understand. And West Is West is not just a great read, it’s eye-opening in terrifying ways. – Betsy Burton

The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

The Tsar of Love and Techno: Stories By Anthony Marra Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780770436438
Published: Hogarth - October 6th, 2015

The title story of this stunning collection begins dead-center in the book’s 300+ pages. Which is appropriate since it connects the book’s disparate pieces into one dazzling whole. Suddenly you realize what you’re reading is more novel than collection, a sweeping tale of Russian history’s cruel ironies in which memory is the incandescence heart. In the first tale, which takes place in 1937, a failed portraitist whose job is to expunge the images of the disloyal from all paintings and photographs replaces the faces of those he’s supposed to remove with that of his dead brother. The next tale, “The Granddaughters,” is a kind of Greek chorus of village gossip in which the image that doomed our painter is brought to life in the form of a dancer and her progeny, and we are introduced to each of the characters whose intersecting lives people this amazing book from 1937 forward to the era of technology—whether in Kirovsk, high above the Arctic Circle, St. Petersburg, or Chechnya. At its heart are star-crossed lovers whose fates are woven from tale to tale and into our hearts; the love of brothers; and of mothers and fathers. If there is betrayal it is that of the state in a story with the breadth of scope and the depth of feeling of the finest literature. – Betsy Burton and Anne Holman

Ways to the West: How Getting out of Our Cars Is Reclaiming America’s Frontier by Tim Sullivan

Ways to the West: How Getting Out of Our Cars Is Reclaiming America's Frontier By Tim Sullivan Cover Image
ISBN: 9780874219920
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Utah State University Press - August 15th, 2015

Question: Can a book on urban planning in the West be a terrific read? Answer: Yes, in the hands of Tim Sullivan. An urban planner and alternative transportation expert, Sulllivan gets out of his car, literally, not only in several major Western cities but also while traveling between them. In recounting these travels—from San Francisco to Salt Lake via Vegas, through Wyoming to Denver to Phoenix then a thousand miles north to Boise, and on to Portland—he combines the personal with the factual with the theoretical, turning what might have been a dry and technical account into a series of fascinating forays into the future of our cities here in the West. He talks to planners, urban designers, and developers, but his own travels are easily as fascinating as he bikes up and down mountains, taking Greyhounds when he has to, trains when he can, delving into the history of each city, examining the changes in transportation, the ways lives are affected and the future is reshaped. Even the footnotes are fascinating in a book that everyone in this city—or in any city in the West should read. You’ll love it, and it just might change the way you think! – Betsy Burton

Barefoot to Avalon by David Payne

How does one separate oneself as an adult from the well of loneliness and anger that is so often the stuff of childhood? How does one love a sibling with whom one has long competed—whether in sports or for a mother’s love—especially if said sibling is bipolar? How does one plug the resultant black hole in one’s soul? With family? With words? With silence? With alcohol? David Payne, in his searching, shockingly honest memoir, digs deep into his own psyche for the answers to these anguished questions. Each painful admission wrenched from his memory or from present failures is not just an unblinking examination of the stew of rage and love that resides in his breast and in the breasts of his family, but a mirror into the soul of each of us. – Betsy Burton

The Double Life of Liliane by Lily Tuck

Tuck’s so-called double life begins with her first visit to her father in Rome. Her parents have divorced, and so commences a decade of back-and-forth parenting as her movie-producer father and her gorgeous mother send her shuttling between Italy and New York. Neither parent is strict but their quiet child does more looking and listening than misbehaving, growing to understand the foibles of each world. As she follows both families’ fates and fortunes back in time across continents and through wars, Tuck creates a vast cosmos of connections, from Berlin to Innsbruck to Italy, Tanganyika to Peru to New York City. Photographs track the war through Germany, her and her mother’s immigration, that of her aunts’ and grandmothers’, track her own coming of age as her interests flow from horses to men to scholarship, with writing the steady undercurrent of desire beneath all others. In the end, the panoply of lives and loves that she displays and illustrates is as entrancing as any novel, more inventive than most, and as accomplished a literary work as one might expect—whether it be fiction or nonfiction—from one of the best novelists of our age. – Betsy Burton