Read These Books!
by Laura Donohoe
Ghana Must Go
Please, please, please - don’t miss the chance to hear Taiye Selasi read from her powerful debut novel, Ghana Must Go, tonight at 7pm. When I was initially told about this book I thought - oh, another “family saga” book, how many of those have I read over the years? Then I read the first page and everything changed. Selasi took this all too frequently done type of story and turned it on its head…and she did it in a quiet yet exhilarating way that had me completely engrossed from the first page to the last. In this beautifully crafted novel, the story begins at the end, with the death of Kweku Sai, on a Sunday morning in his garden in Ghana. Kweku starts the story with a series of flashbacks as he is dying. As the family members are each told of his death, we begin to learn more of the story through their gorgeously written individual voices. Selasi takes us on a journey through time and place, ultimately reuniting the family for the funeral, where they struggle to find their way back from years of pain and misunderstanding to a new way forward.
The Templeton Twins
The Templeton Twins Have an Idea, written by humor writer Ellis Weiner with clever illustrations by Jeremy Holmes, is the first book in a new series for Middle Grade readers. It caught my attention the minute I read the inside cover describing the smart and clever twins and their brilliant, yet somewhat confused, inventor father. Upon reading the entire book, I was even more entertained than I expected! The story is told by a snarky narrator who frequently interrupts the plot with hefty doses of wordplay, snide remarks, comic "quizzes" at the end of each chapter, a recipe for meat loaf, and helpful lectures on subjects from crossword puzzles to hot-wiring cars. I found it to be a refreshing entry into the current deluge of dystopian, vampire, werewolf and witch-filled books for young readers. This clever story is filled with nerdy fun and I highly recommend giving it a try! Luckily for you, this is just the first in a series perfect for boys and girls who are smart, clever, and funny (just like the twins), and enjoy reading adventurous stories (who doesn't?).
The Good Life
by Emoke B’Racz
Beds are made. Laundry hung out to dry. Now, just a few more tasks around the house since my wonderful sister and her hubby are arriving on Tuesday. I am always in a great state of happiness when they come to visit.
This was also the case this weekend at Malaprop’s. I got to spend a little time with Terry Tempest (the best) Williams before her reading at our store to a full house. It almost felt like we were all holding our collective breath for her reading and talk. I was not disappointed. When Women Were Birds was an experience to be sure. I will now always hear her voice when I read her words. I like that about hearing authors read from their book and seeing the language of the body supporting that voice. It is a symphony really if you listen and close your eyes to see better. Her talk brought us (our staff and the audience) to tears of needed release of sadness and joy. Inspiring and good soul-grounded work for all present.
Terry brought up a point of global importance regarding how we leave our “impressions” or better yet the weight of the world’s population upon the earth. The only earth we have to live upon. She noticed the photograph of Kevin Mann’s (Malaprop’s bookseller and photographer) hanging behind her which showcases the acid rain’s impact on our neighboring forests. She reminded us that we do not even think or talk much about that environmental issue any more.
I made a promise after the evening listening to Terry to review what I can do to have less of a carbon footprint and press less upon my Earth. I hang out the laundry, I hand wash small items when I shower. I keep lights off when not present in the room. The temperature is kept at a reasonable scale even on cold days. I walk a bit but I am even prouder that many on staff at Malaprops are vegan or vegetarians and also walk to work. I invite all of you to revisit your contribution to making it a wee bit easier on the planet...to support us.
You heard the saying do not judge a book by its cover, right? Well I am confessing to judging a book by its title recently and was I ever taught a lesson. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid is a novel that declares itself a self-help book. Every novel is self-help to the author and to the reader if you think about as deeply as Mr Hamid has. I, a reluctant reader at the beginning, could not not finish the book. Meeting him this past weekend was a really nice treat and I am looking forward to reading more of his writing. His novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist is being released as a movie early this summer. To really make the Saturday past a great weekend was the release of the new non-fiction book titled Girls of the Atomic City by Denise Kiernan. What a discovery! Its release around International Women’s Day made me smile wide and deep.
So, you see this is a good life and I hope you make it lighter on yourself and on your host...this Planet we call home. EARTH!
“every little thing is everything”
The Charm of Textless Picture Books
by Caroline Christopoulos
Over the years as the children’s book buyer at Malaprop’s, my taste in kids books has evolved a lot. I like books featuring animals more now than when I started, I like “cutesy-cute” books more than when I started, and I like middle grade books more now than when I began as a buyer. One thing that has not changed, however, is my abiding love for the textless picture book…These books, though not always the best bedtime reading material, foster imagination in kids of all ages. Some favorites of mine include David Wiesner’s Tuesday and Chris van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, as well as some newer titles like Tao Nyeu’s Wonder Bear and the cool People by Blexbolex. Occasionally, someone will come in asking for books that might inspire their child (or their inner child) to write, and these are some of my go-to books…The stories illustrated in these books are often quite clear (or are non-existent, like in the case of People, which simply juxtaposes images of people of different occupations in a truly beautiful way.) But one of the great qualities of a textless book, is that one can really look at an illustration and imagine a world or a story that grows from that picture alone.
One of my earliest memories is “reading” a picture book and making up a story that has absolutely no relation to what the author/illustrator intended. My little three year old imagination ran wild! The picture I really remember was of a man near the sea and a great Loch Ness Monster-esque creature emerging from the water. The image was thrilling for a child who grew up in the mountains, and had seen no more water than what she saw in a creek and a small pond. Later, as an elementary-school aged child, I wrote lots and lots of stories, and nothing prodded my imagination like a picture book uninterrupted by the author’s own word choices. I am no longer writing stories like in those days, but I still love to gaze at a beautifully illustrated book and see myself there, among the animals and the trees and blowing winds, the sea and sea-monsters…
I encourage everyone to consider a textless picture book the next time they are buying a gift for a small child who likes to dream, or an older child who likes to exercise their creativity, or an adult who needs inspiration. Feast your eyes on these beautiful books-
The Stories We Tell Ourselves
by Linda Barrett Knopp
I’ll read anything with a good story, but this month’s bedside pile of literary fiction, mystery, fantasy, fairytale, romance and two business books really set my mind spinning and sparking. I just finished Daniel Wallace’s extraordinary The Kings and Queens of Roam, both a fairytale and an allegory of 19th century American “progress.” Two sisters, the ugly and jealous Helen and the beautiful and vulnerable Rachel, endure in a dying town filled with more ghosts than people, all of them trapped by the stories they’ve created about their pasts or some mythical future. Rachel’s decision to break free from dependence on Helen changes everything in ways that surprise and shock.
As he did in his earlier work, The Big Fish, Wallace prompts readers to consider how we use stories to create the narrative of our lives. A character is afflicted with “nostalgic melancholy…a deep sadness brought on by thoughts of the past.” The doctor writes out a prescription, “Stories. Three times a day. Morning, noon, and just before bed. They were to be stories not of what was, or what is, but of what could be. That was the only thing that could cure him.” Wallace writes beautifully about longings, and the dangers of believing the clever lies we tell each other and ourselves. The Kings and Queens of Roam reminded me of “Pan’s Labyrinth”: stories can heal us, they can provide an escape, but they can also blind us. Daniel Wallace will read at Malaprop’s on a date TBA soon!
In The Dinner by Herman Koch, two brothers and their wives meet over dinner to discuss an incident involving their sons. We experience this dinner through the darkly humorous eyes of one of the brothers, who barely contains his disgust at the waiter’s Portlandia-like discussions of the origins of each piece of food on their plates, or at his famous brother’s pretensions of being a normal guy. Slowly, though, our own disgust turns towards the narrator, as he lifts one layer after another to reveal his past, his relationship with his wife and brother, and the white elephant in the room—what their sons did. This novel shook me in ways that resonate with Gillian Flynn’s blurb, “Chilling, nasty, smart, shocking, and unputdownable.” I was talking to a friend about one of the characters and I wondered aloud, “Can human predators really smell our fear?” I don’t want to know! If you’re looking to explore our dark hearts—this is your next read.
Richelle Mead’s Gameboard of the Gods certainly satisfied my taste for deftly-written sci-fi/fantasy with compelling characters and romantic intrigue. Set in the future, the Republic of United North America (RUNA) strictly monitors and restricts the rights of religious groups. Religion almost took us down in the past and the government isn’t going to let it happen again. The gods are banished and investigators like Justin March keep an eye on any strange occurrences that might signal their return. Justin and his genetically enhanced guard, Mae, are assigned to solve a perplexing string of ritual murders. Questions of race, class, supernatural influences, genetic tampering, and hidden talents rise up as the two search for answers and try to avoid giving in to their intense mutual attraction. I can’t wait for the next in this series.
I wish that mythical creatures and a portal to Faerie existed in the small upstate NY town where I spent my college years! In Juliet Dark’s Fairwick Trilogy, witches, fey of all kinds, and an irresistible demon lover inhabit the upstate NY town where Callie McFay, a professor of gothic literature, teaches and seeks to rebuild her life. The Water Witch, the second in this trilogy, introduces a vengeful undine who threatens Callie with a watery death. Juliet Dark entranced me with her lush, sensual descriptions of Faerie and the romantic encounters between Callie and the demon she resists loving. A sexy, clever read.
Daniel H. Pink’s To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others engaged both my personal and professional selves. He argues that we are all involved in sales, in persuading people to part with resources. He describes the evolving art of presentation, attunement to your audience, clarifying and retuning your message. Whether you’re in traditional sales, a small business trying to reach a larger customer base, an author crafting a pitch to a publisher or an entrepreneur seeking to convince a bank to give you a loan, you’ll find some wisdom in these pages to aid in your success.
I picked up Bobbie Thomas’s The Power of Style: Everything You Need to Know Before You Get Dressed Tomorrow out of a pile of advance readers copies because I was curious. I’m a bookseller—I move boxes of books, get down on my knees to retrieve fallen merchandise or reset connections to our computers, climb ladders to change air filters, and mop the bathroom. Bookselling is not glamorous—if you wear beautiful clothes, it’s at your clothes’ peril. Still, I was curious what Bobbie Thomas had to say, and it turned out to be about much more than clothes. How you present yourself—your body language, your choice of words, and, yes, your clothes—do make a powerful statement about who you think you are and how people will interpret you. Thomas writes, “Style is the way we speak to the world without words.” Our personal style reflects our own story about ourselves—whether we celebrate certain aspects of ourselves or seek to disappear behind dark colors and loose garments. What stories are you telling, and are they the ones you want to be telling? Thomas’s book might change up your style, or inspire a few refinements in how you present yourself to the world.
Next up to read, The God Argument by A. C. Grayling. He will be reading at Malaprop's on April 5th!
Terry Tempest Williams with our staff