Betsy Burton is the co-owner and co-founder of The King's English Bookshop. In addition to her life as a bookseller, she is an activist for all things local, and is also past President of the American Booksellers Association. Her book, The King's English: Adventures of an Independent Bookseller, continues to be a bestseller at our shop. In her spare time, Betsy is working on a book about her son, a young man with some disabilities and some extraordinary abilities as well. She still loves the book business as much as she did when she started almost forty years ago.
Sportcoat, an aging sot from the Brooklyn Projects, shoots a baseball-star-turned-drug-
dealer—and then forgets he’s done it—in a novel as boisterously funny as it is touching, as wondrous as it is wacky. Proof of the adage that home is where the heart is, this is a perfect pick-me-up for these dark days.
In August 1939 Pablo Neruda organized a refugee ship, the Winnipeg, to transport over 2000 Spanish refugees to Chile. Allende’s new novel, inspired by this littleknown event, should strike a chord in our current unwelcoming world. Its main character, Victor Dalmau, is a medic on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War until, knowing that only brutality will follow Franco, he flees to France, desperate to find his dead brother’s fiancee and child. His plan to convince Roser to marry him so she and the child can join him on the Winnepeg works. We follow their lives as they build a community, pursue careers, and search for their own identities in their adopted country. However when another dictator, Pinochet, shows up, the Dalmau family must once again consider their political views in a dangerous world. Full of contrasts—dictators and freedom, leaving and belonging, fear and hope—Allende’s novel is possessed of perfect timing, and her prodigious talent radiates throughout. – Margaret Brennan Neville, Random, $28
Set in Laos in the 1960s, this spare but powerful narrative tells the tale of three orphans and a dedicated doctor named Yang. The orphans have taken refuge in a bombed-out field hospital and become motorcycle couriers maneuvering across fields laced with unexploded bombs and under barrages of bombs from the air— until Yang arranges for the four of them to be evacuated on the last helicopter leaving the country. This begins a story that lasts decades, a poignant, tragic and beautiful work of historical fiction that once again solidifies Paul Yoon as a writer of remarkable talent. It will stay with you long after you finish the last page. – Sally Larkin, Simon & Schuster, $26
Danny, who wears his vacuum on his back and hauls around his cleaning supplies in a backpack, came to Sydney legally but has overstayed his visa. Now he is trying desperately to stay under the radar. He cleans apartments and has a girlfriend, and, although he longs to obtain legal status, he’s reasonably happy—until one of his clients is murdered. Danny believes he knows the identity of the murderer and, law-abiding man that he is, knows he should call the police. But he also knows that if he does he’ll be deported. Befogged by indecision he wanders the streets of Sydney, reliving his past, Bloom-like, even as he attempts to follow the routine of his daily life. Humor abounds, the tension ratchets up as the murderer draws near, and the reader’s affection and respect for Danny grows apace. Yet the dark tide that illegal immigrants are swept up in is also there on every page lending an all-too-vivid reality—under a dreamlike pall of absurdity—to the plight of those who, undocumented, live utterly adrift and at the mercy of the currents of present-day xenophobia. Nowhere has the plight of undocumented immig
Apeirogon, a “countably infinite” shape, describes McCann’s new book perfectly in that it evokes the countably infinite stories that we as humans tell ourselves and each other in our desire to make sense of an often senseless world. Set in Israel and Palestine, it is the story of Bassam Aramin, a Palestinian, and Rami Elhmenanan, an Israeli, who have both lost daughters to the violent conflict between their nations. These two characters and their stories are real, the rest is fiction. Apeirogon covers the larger themes of life: friendship, love, loss and belonging, and does so beautifully. However, the beating heart of the book—something that could cure all conflicts—comes in the exact center of the novel and is told by Rami..... “if they [the Palestinians] were anything other than objects to be feared, they would become real people.” The story itself is told in the manner of the 1001 tales in the Arabian Nights, with Bassam’s and Rami’s true stories in the middle of the book. Each vignette advances not only their tales but also the physical and emotional checkpoints that they must negotiate, small passages that stitch together story, history, nature and politics. A soaring, searing novel that is at once bleak and hopeful, this is absolutely one of the best books that I have ever had the pleasure of reading. – Jan Sloan, Random House, $28 Editor’s note: Bookseller Gayle Shanks from Changing Hands in AZ was traveling in Israel and Palestine and had read (and loved!) Aperiogon. She said in an email, “Tonight as part of our tour, we met with two men who have started an organization called the Parents Circle, a part of another organization called Combatants for Peace. To my utter shock and tearful amazement, the two men introduced themselves and turned out to be the very men in the novel!! They were as shocked as we were and have actually not yet read the book. They are going to call McCann and tell him that I loved the book and that they met me. My best to all of you from the crazy and beautiful Middle East.
First there is the tart voice of Halima, as astute and acerbic as Elizabeth Bennet’s, followed by that of Jacob Wainwright, a not-yet-ordained minister so blinded by the light of his own missionary zeal that he misperceives all that he sees. Through the eyes of this unlikely pair, cook and scribe respectively, both former slaves, we see the man for whom they work, Dr. Livingston, funny, flawed, obsessively searching for the source of the Nile even as he grows increasingly ill. His death and the epic journey of his company from the interior of Africa to the coast, and then on to England, bearing his remains, is the stuff of this imaginative and masterful novel. The path they take through hostile terrain teems with danger—from one another as well as from the outside, from hostile tribes and from starvation. But it is also scarred everywhere with traces of the slave trade that ravaged the continent and its peoples. Gappah brings to light the source not of the Nile but of the taking, buying and selling of human beings, the evidence of which is savagely vivid and indelible, echoing hauntingly through their journey. As large as life and as paradoxical, as full of sex and gossip and deceit and goodness and death as all of our lives, Out of Darkness, Shining Light does illuminate the world—its darkness as well as its light.
Eight-year-old John, who observes accurately enough but doesn’t necessarily understand what he sees, lives through a long hot Washington D.C. summer in 1959 in a neighborhood plagued (or blessed, if you’re precocious) by spiders, gossip, hatred for Nazi sympathizers, communists, and anyone else who is the least bit different. Trouble is, because it’s D.C., politicians, spies, and diplomats from across the nation and around the world abound; everyone is different—even in the 1950s. When the arachnid invasion and the rare lizard-like creature being studied in the National Museum present John, his two best friends, and their tomboy sidekick Beatrix with the possibility of a weapon akin to the new and fearsome nuclear bomb, they embark on a quest that turns into high adventure. This, along with their attempts to protect Ivan’s gorgeous aunt, to get a look at the iron lung and the translucent frog of their next-door neighbor, and to plan a party they think will bring peace to the neighborhood, makes their summer full to say the least in a tale that is funny one minute, terrifying the next. Acidly sweet and painfully clear-eyed, a wondrous combination of great storytelling and dead-eyed truth-telling, Summerlings is an absolute joy to read. If you loved To Kill a Mockingbird, Tom Sawyer or that effervescent memoir by Chris Rush, The Light Years, Summerlings is the book for you.
A boy in the midst of a mixed-race family, a mixed-race community in Houston tells tales of neighbors and friends and families, of his brother and sister, his father and mother, of infidelity and baseball and drugs and death and love in his neighborhood and in his family’s restaurant. The chorus of community interferes and supports, gossips and judges in a coming-of-age story that is harsh in terms of reality, as harrowing as it is touching, vibrantly told and brilliantly original.
Reading Power’s new novel is a bit like reading the Bible—it’s voluminous, lyrical, passionate, compelling, chockfull of fascinating characters, of tales that span years and continents, and beneath its overarching, endlessly compelling story lies one central truth: in this case, the truth of trees. Unlike the Bible, The Overstory is grounded in science as intriguing as the tales it tells, as fascinating as the cast of characters who trek the forests and track the pathways of the internet Powers pulls us into. A research scientist, two voracious readers, an artist, an engineer, a statistician, a techie to the nth degree, trees of every imaginable variety, all interact across species and interests and inclination in a breathtaking book that enchants you, angers you, takes away your hope, gives it back....the ride of a lifetime. The ride of our collective lifetime. Our overstory. Do not miss it. Give a copy to everyone you know. Spread the word. This is a life-changing book.
As fluid and elusive as the watery world in which the protagonist is so often submerged, Rock’s latest is, like all his work, dreamlike, fragmented, unpredictable. A young man still dependent on his parents is spending a summer with them in a lake community on the shores of Lake Michigan. He’s trying to write but is essentially unmoored. Swimming almost nightly, he’s aware in a dreamlike way of what goes on in the lake’s shadowy depths, its currents, crosscurrents, undercurrents, just as he is subliminally aware of the unseen forces that have driven his own past. Then he encounters another swimmer, a widow a decade older who is as mysterious as the watery depths above which they stroke in tandem. All of this moves back and forth with a present 20 years later when the narrator/author, now a husband and father, parents his two daughters with love and imagination. I’ve never read a better account of a young man adrift in a world still unchartered in his mind. I found it spellbinding and brilliantly illuminating.
The little town of Greenstone, Minnesota, is a faded sort of place, the prosperity provided by mining and manufacturing long gone, as is its local almost-hero, a nearly famous baseball player who disappeared in a plane somewhere over Lake Superior a decade back. His good friend Virgil still runs the local theater, selling popcorn to the two or three customers who come in of an evening—until, heading home in a snowstorm one night, Virgil sails off the road, floating toward certain death in the waiting water...Improbably rescued in the nick of time, Virgil has lost some memory (including his favorite adjectives) but gained a second chance at life, evidenced in the new way he looks at old friends, his openness to new ones. A colorful cast of characters—ranging from the vanished ball player’s son, ex-wife, and a father he had never known to the staff at city hall where Virgil works part-time to the giant sturgeon who haunts the local waterways to the unsavory Adam Leer—make for a big-hearted and thoroughly entertaining read graced with humor, a whiff of mystery, and a good dose of whimsy.
The aftermath of war shed a livid glow across the world long after the last bombs were dropped in 1945. In London the lives of two children, Nathaniel and Rachel, were caught in that eerie glow when their mother disappeared, leaving them in the care of “The Moth,” a stranger they’d met once. Still attending school in the day, the pair entered a strange new world in the evenings, their home a sort of night circus with The Moth its impresario, his sidekick “The Darter” ever-present, and a menagerie of mismatched urban dwellers from beekeepers to opera stars, dog smugglers to ethnographers to spies. From the laundry room in the bowels of the Hotel Criterion in Piccadilly Circus to the vacant London houses Nathaniel invaded with his first love Agnes to night journeys with Rachel and The Darter in mussel boats on the Thames, life became a moonlit kaleidoscope of lurid and larger-than-life people and experiences. Their naiveté in the often magical and as often nightmarish parent-free world they were learning to inhabit is the stuff of this brilliant novel—along with the aftermath of their abandonment as they come of age and enter adulthood. As breathlessly told as The English Patient, and as profound, as poignant as The Cat’s Table, and as haunting, Warlight surpasses both in the light it sheds on our aloneness, on our unadmitted needfulness, on the ways war can warp our lives, and on what we try so hard to bury in the darkness of unacknowledged memory. Brilliant doesn’t begin to describe it.