|The work of Galician writer Carlos Casares, His Excellency, is brought to U.S. readers in a skilled translation by Jacob Rogers. Usually readers do not meet the translators of classic literature but you, my reader, are in luck. Jacob works in our store and is part of the Works in Translation book club. His Excellency is about liberal and conservative thoughts and practices within a system (interesting and timely, no?), in this case, the Catholic Church. The translation is so well done that I kept forgetting that it is a translation. To accomplish that is no small feat, and I should know, since I also do translating. Thank you, Jacob, for your contribution.|
Are you really hot this summer? Well, pick up one of my favorite book titles, This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland, by Gretel Ehrlich. Cool, natural magic will happen as you immerse yourself in this book, one of my all-time favorite author’s works.
An “obsessive visionary” (also a translated work) is László Krasznahorkai, who has a great following in this country. His writing is for readers who value ‘newness’ in literature. Commitment and imagination with flexible wings will delight your reading soul. There are a few previous titles by this author, but the new one will be out in November and is called The World Goes On. Also, Mary Oliver’s collection of poems, Devotions, will be published in October. These poems span her writing from 1963 to the present.
September brings us Denise Kiernan, and October Wiley Cash. You know these two local writers who are also great supporters of the store. Denise’s book, Girls of Atomic City, has sold a few copies (hahaha) in our store and nationwide, as have Wiley’s A Land More Kind than Home and This Dark Road to Mercy. Wiley’s new book is The Last Ballad. Denise’ s new book is The Last Castle. Her book has a strong connection to our city, and I am sure you know what 'castle' we might be looking forward to reading about.
So as to avoid frustrating you with waiting for books to have in your hand, I give you October: The Story of the Russian Revolution. NPR says China Miéville “can both blow your mind with ideas as big as the universe and break your heart with language so precise and polished, it’s like he’s writing with diamonds.”
Keep cool and calm, and nourish yourself with food for the mind.
|Amy: Blind Date with a Bookseller|
It’s summertime and most of us are looking for love. Well, to be fair, we bookish types are probably looking for books on the subject of love, to avoid the stressful enterprise altogether. Hey, don’t knock it. Neil Gaiman said, “Books are little empathy machines.” That means the chance of feeling real emotions. And are you really prepared to argue with Neil Gaiman? I didn’t think so.
Books are flooding into the store every day. That means the hope of “real connection”--in the clichéd parlance of The Bachelor--so let’s just keep an open mind, shall we?
There really is only one civilized way to go on a blind date. If you’re a Malaprop’s customer on the reg, you’ve probably been charmed, seduced, intrigued, or fascinated by our Blind Date with a Bookseller Program. And rightfully so. It’s the safest way to put yourself out there. So like a good matchmaker, I’ve compiled this list of reasons to give it a try if you haven’t already. You can trust me. I’m like the Chuck Woolery of literary love connections, or that dude on The Bachelor who is constantly opening a limo door for yet another contestant: I just want to show you how many options there are, and how easy it can be to find love with a good book.
- You don’t need an elaborate exit strategy. If you realize your selection is boring and the night is going nowhere, close the book and it’s over. No fabricated reasons for cutting things short, or hiding in the bathroom hoping your date gets bored or arrested. Just put the book down and walk away. Effortless.
- Booksellers are excellent at matchmaking. We live to connect your literary desires to a new possibility you haven’t yet considered. Our blind date clues, hand-scrawled on that brown craft paper, cut through the crap and get to the heart of the matter. No muss, no fuss, and no wondering if you’ll get a phone call. And if you do decide to wait on the phone to ring (oh please don’t do that!), you’ll have something to do besides pine. I know. We’ve thought of everything!
- We are selective so you don’t have to be. In real life, any bozo can go on a blind date. Not so with BDB’s. They undergo strenuous screening before being named to our top secret list. They have been vetted by us, and the New York Times, and award committees, and tested by good readers the world over. If only human beings were so lovingly scrutinized…
- You don’t have to feel bad about being shallow. We’ve all found ourselves at the mercy of that attractive person who distracts us to the point of well…distraction. It’s maddening! But Blind Date books all look the same. You can’t judge them on appearance or worry you’ll pick one just because it’s pretty--they are wrapped. Your only hints to compatibility are the clues we’ve provided. You’re hooked before you even know your match’s real name. You get to feel like a good person who doesn’t judge books by their covers or people by their looks. The ego boost is intoxicating.
- Crushes are THE WORST. I mean, it’s right there in the name. So if you’re hung up on an author who hasn’t written anything new in a while (looking at you Hilary Mantel), or if you need to move on from that one book that makes you believe you’ll never love another book again, this is a safe first step. Entrust your weary little word-loving heart to a bookseller who only wants you to be happy.
At this point, we’ve done all we can. The proverbial ball is in your court. The best we can offer is an exchange (within fifteen days and in resalable condition) if it doesn’t work out. We’ll also commiserate about why it can be so hard to find “the one” and if you ask me, I may even share the title of the book that caused me to break up with an author forever. It was painful. I was heartbroken. But I found new one and you will, too.
In the meantime, here’s to finding love wherever you decide to look.
|As one of a handful of people on staff here at Malaprop’s who regularly reads books about science (Hi, Amy!), I feel it’s my duty to occasionally plug a book from that beleaguered section of the store. I’m not entirely joking, by the way, when I use the term beleaguered to refer to science. As we all know, science frequently comes under attack for various reasons from people who, though vastly different in many respects, have one thing in common: They understand very little about it! Those on the political Left imagine themselves immune to such charges because they largely get climate change and evolution right, but many progressive towns are infested with all manner of pseudoscientific thinking, which can lead to an entirely different - if seemingly less urgent - set of problems (Hi, Asheville!). It’s okay, I love you anyway. |
Well, let me see if I can step down from the proverbial soapbox without tripping and say a few things about my favorite book of the summer, A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution, by Jennifer A. Doudna and Samuel H. Sternberg. Jennifer Doudna, whose name might sound familiar if you’ve been following recent developments in science, led the team of researchers who worked out the details of CRISPR, an inexpensive and relatively easy-to-use gene editing tool that promises – or threatens, depending on your outlook – to completely transform nearly everything it touches.
If reading a book about cutting-edge scientific research sounds a bit intimidating because, let’s face it, nearly every scrap of science you crammed into your noggin during high school and college has since fallen out, let me assure you your fears are unfounded. The authors generously dedicate sections of the book to getting readers up to speed on basic concepts (DNA, the central dogma, etc.) by reviewing the relevant material necessary for a thorough understanding of this important topic. And as the authors make abundantly clear, it is crucial that as many people as possible understand what CRISPR is and how it works because its impact will soon be felt far beyond the ivory towers of science and academia.
So what is CRISPR? Well, the term CRISPR is an acronym, which stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (say that five times fast). It is essentially a piece of DNA, first discovered in bacteria, that, acting in concert with RNA and proteins, serves as a sort of immune system. It defends bacteria from invading viruses by recognizing foreign DNA and chopping it up into harmless bits of molecular debris. Doudna and her team are credited with working out the details of this complex process, but Doudna, to her credit, is quick to mention the many scientists whose previous and concurrent work made their discoveries possible, for, you see, the solitary scientific genius unlocking nature’s secrets in a lonely basement lab is just a popular cultural trope. In reality, it takes collaboration between scientists working across the globe to make headway on many problems that otherwise would prove intractable.
Once the details of CRISPR had been elucidated, it became almost immediately clear to Doudna and her team that CRISPR could be used as a tool with far-reaching applications and implications. Given that DNA, and much of the microscopic machinery operating within cells, is universal, Doudna suspected CRISPR could be used, with slight changes, in other organisms to make very precise modifications to their DNA. If so, then scientists who wield this powerful new tool could possibly eliminate many genetic disorders. CRISPR could also unleash a cascade of advancements in many other fields, such as agriculture. For example, scientists could use CRISPR to introduce advantageous mutations into plants and animals. This would allow them to better adapt to quickly changing environments, and, in theory, increase crop yields to meet the food demands of our growing population. On the more strange and disturbing side, the authors envision a nightmarish scenario in which CRISPR ushers in a new type of eugenics. Imagine parents or even governments using this unprecedented power to design the next generation. This development, of course, would give rise to a whole host of other ethical concerns related to cost and accessibility, for example. The authors wisely suggest that we pause as a global community and pose the question, “How should this technology be used?” before we pass a point of no return. We can’t make any informed decisions, however, until all stakeholders, which includes each of us, have an understanding of the actual science.
While reading this book, I was reminded of a recent episode of Sam Harris’s podcast with guest Kevin Kelly, founding executive editor of Wired magazine. During their conversation, which focused primarily on the societal impact of artificial intelligence, Kelly said something that struck me as rather profound and pertinent to Doudna’s book. He said, “Problems propel progress.” Admittedly, many of the problems he was referring to were anthropogenic, caused by people pursuing so-called progress in the first place, which might make you wonder at the ultimate futility of human achievement. I mean, what’s the point of trying to constantly improve our lives if even more-difficult-to-solve problems are created in the process? Won’t we eventually run out of solutions? Perhaps. Given our curious nature, I doubt we’ll ever stop trying to mount the stars, but let us all sincerely hope, we can forego, for a little while longer, the precipitous fall. Thanks for reading.
I think I must be having a lucky July, because I have completely loved the last couple books I’ve read. They were wildly different, but both were quite funny, original, and engaging.
The book I finished this very morning is called The Gift by Barbara Browning, which came out earlier this year from Coffee House Press/Emily Books (a joint effort). I’d never read anything by her before, but my friend sent me a copy to read and, right from the first moment, I was hooked. She’s got this amazing way of writing that’s conversational, funny, and warm, while she delves into philosophy, art, performance, political movements, friendship, gifts (surprise), gender, and sexuality. As I write this list, I realize it probably sounds overwhelming and couldn’t possibly fit into this 235-page book! She weaves all those concepts together and still connects with her readers.
The other book is Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller by Guðbergur Bergsson and translated by Lytton Smith, out this July from Open Letter Press. It’s described as being like an Icelandic Ulysses, and gives a panorama of Icelandic society and literature through its elderly narrator (not to mention that Joyce would be proud of all the fart jokes). I also worry that it will scare you away because it’s an intimidating book, notorious for being difficult. Nevertheless, it’s a really fun window into a strange, small little island we all seem to want to travel to lately. And, as an added bonus, it’s the book chosen for the current “Two Month Review,” a podcast run by Open Letter’s founder, Chad Post, in which they discuss a small chunk of the novel each week for two months!
Great news: An amazing journal that publishes literature in translation, Asymptote, wants to feature a translated story I submitted! Hopefully it will be a good stepping stone for more work by Xurxo Borrazás, one of my favorite Galician writers.
Summer reading list from Lauren, the maven of sci-fi, fantasy and graphic novels
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Snotgirl, Vol. 1: Green Hair Don’t Care by Bryan Lee O'Malley and Leslie Hung
The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson
My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf
I’ve been thinking of escape lately. I don’t turn on the television much anymore because the news is relentlessly unnerving. When I’m on the computer, my mind wanders and I’m inexplicably down a rabbit hole of random searches and, worse, on Facebook. I cannot believe I went to high school with those people. Outside my online world, the crush of people in town and on the roads makes me anxious. Ennui!
Malaise in Marshall
Dear Malaise in Marshall,
It’s pretty typical to want to escape, and summer is touted as the time for escaping on vacation or into a book, something light and breezy, not too taxing, without tangled relationships or a pesky, pending apocalypse.
What helps me sometimes is a book that allows me to reflect, “At least I didn’t live in that place then!” Try Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Eric Larson as an escape; some people literally were not that lucky.
The devil in this work of literary non-fiction is a serial killer who set up shop a few blocks from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. His house, like a human mouse trap, snaps shut on unsuspecting victims, mostly young women. A seducer and a scam artist, H. H. Holmes (not his real name), was a trained medical doctor.
Imagine all of the tourists flooding into Chicago to ride the first Ferris Wheel, gape at life-size reproductions of Christopher Columbus’s ships, and chew Juicy Fruit gum for the first time. Talk about an escape!
In the midst of the new and extraordinary at the fair, there was exploitation and extravagance. Meanwhile, a few blocks away, lived a man who loved the attention of women (he loved their businesses, life insurance policies and skeletons). He circled Chicago like a blue-eyed carrion vulture in a Bowler hat.
Don’t you feel better now?
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