Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, February 9, 2021


Overlook Press: Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

From My Shelf

Other Press: Zabor, or the Psalms by Kamel Daoud, translated by Emma Ramadan

Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster: Infinite Country by Patricia Engel

Grand Central Publishing: What's Mine and Yours by Naima Coster

Christian Robinson: The Book I Wish I Had as a Child

Christian Robinson

As a child, I felt a lot of shame and embarrassment about having an incarcerated mother. I didn't know that I was living in the country with the highest incarceration rate in the world and that my experience was far from uncommon.

Despite the pain of forced separation, I was still a kid who gravitated toward fun things and experienced joy. But I probably would have avoided a book that (in my young opinion) amplified how sad my situation was. Milo Imagines the World is my third book with Matt de la Peña (Last Stop on Market Street; Carmela Full of Wishes) and it is the book I wish I had as a child--that I wish my friends, teachers and classmates had as well. The way Matt approaches picture books is masterful: he offers a space for kids to feel seen and heard, without feeling called out. His storytelling allows for multiple conversations that anyone can be a part of, not just kids who know a certain experience.

With everything I create, I try to keep fun at the center. It's my belief that if I am enjoying the process of what I'm creating, it could bring joy to the reader. As someone who makes pictures for a living, I recognize how powerful images can be. It is always my hope and goal to create pictures that empower, especially those who might not always feel seen and heard or have their stories reflected in books. It's my hope that this book will show kids and families who know this reality that they are not alone, and that their story matters. --Christian Robinson

Author/illustrator Christian Robinson has received both a Caldecott Medal and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor. Milo Imagines the World is reviewed below.


Oxford University Press: Pirating and Publishing: The Book Trade in the Age of Enlightenment by Robert Darnton


Book Candy

Reading Toni Morrison's Beloved

"Why should you read Toni Morrison's Beloved? An animated video makes the case." (via Open Culture)

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"Readers share their most cherished library memories" at I Love Libraries.

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Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, shared with the Seattle Times her current reading list and the books that have stayed with her.

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In Scotland, an Inverness bookshop discovered a 110-year-old Jane Austen book set in storage, the Press & Herald reported.

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Mental Floss shared "10 fascinating facts about Edith Wharton."

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"You can stream a ton of Shakespeare direct from his hometown starting this month," Fast Company reported.


Simply Read Books: The Simply Small Series by Paola Opal


The Writer's Life

Reading With… Brandon Hobson

Brandon Hobson is the author of Where the Dead Sit Talking, which was a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award for Fiction and winner of the Reading the West Book Award. His other books include Desolation of Avenues Untold and the novella Deep Ellum. His work has appeared in the Pushcart Prize anthology, the Believer, the Paris Review Daily, Conjunctions, NOON and McSweeney’s. He is an assistant professor of creative writing at New Mexico State University and teaches in the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Hobson is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation Tribe of Oklahoma. The Removed (Ecco; reviewed below) is his most recent novel.

On your nightstand now:

Half Gods by Akil Kumarasamy 
The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams
King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender

Favorite book when you were a child:

Sigrid Undset's The Master of Hestviken

Your top five authors:

N. Scott Momaday
Shirley Jackson
Yoko Tawada
Thomas Pynchon
Gabriel García Márquez

Book you've faked reading:

Yukio Mishima's The Sea of Fertility tetralogy in sixth grade. I discussed its impact on me in a failed attempt to impress a beautiful substitute teacher.

Book you are an evangelist for:

Crooked Hallelujah by Kelli Jo Ford 

Book you've bought for the cover:

Portrait of an Eye by Kathy Acker 

Book you hid from your parents:

A wicked paperback of Émile Zola's L'Assommoir.

Book that changed your life:

Most definitely Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

Favorite line from a book:

"Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the origin of this universe." --Joy Harjo, "Remember," from She Had Some Horses 

Five books you'll never part with:

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
A Tomb for Boris Davidovich by Kiš Danilo 
Barabbas by Pär Lagerkvist
The Bridegroom Was a Dog by Yoko Tawada
A Dreambook for Our Time by Tadeusz Konwicki

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov


Harper: The Lowering Days by Gregory Brown


Book Review

Fiction

The Removed

by Brandon Hobson


National Book Award finalist Brandon Hobson (Where the Dead Sit Talking) turns again to Oklahoma as his setting for an insightful and compassionate novel of a Cherokee family's trauma and the healing powers of story and tradition.

When a police officer wrongfully shoots and kills a 15-year-old Cherokee boy, Ray-Ray, grief tears apart the Echota family of Quah, Okla. Fifteen years later, Ray-Ray's mother, Maria, still struggles with depression and to hold her family together. As she tries to organize a memorial bonfire on the anniversary of Ray-Ray's death, her spouse and children seem farther away than ever. Ray-Ray's father, Ernest, now 74 years old, has entered the early stages of Alzheimer's. When Maria agrees to foster Cherokee teen Wyatt, Ernest quickly decides the charismatic teen is Ray-Ray, returned from the Spirit World. As he spends time with Wyatt, Ernest's mental acuity mysteriously improves. Maria wonders if "this was a season for miracles to occur," not knowing her remaining children have both run into trouble.

An overdose sends 21-year-old Edgar Echota to an afterlife dimension called the Darkening Land, portrayed here as a Dantean hellscape of polluted land and air populated by treacherous people. And Sonja Echota, 31, has fixated on a younger man for mysterious reasons, telling the reader only, "This was not love--let me be clear on that."

Hobson, an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, blends everyday life with history and traditional stories. A raw and hopeful tale of tragedy and grace, The Removed invites re-readings to absorb fully its message of regrowth in the face of unspeakable sorrow. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: National Book Award finalist Hobson follows his debut with an emotional story of a grieving Cherokee family who experiences miracles in line with their traditional beliefs.

Ecco, $26.99, hardcover, 288p., 9780062997548

We Run the Tides

by Vendela Vida


We Run the Tides by Vendela Vida (The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty) is a dreamy, tricky tale of girlhood, secrets and the shifting sands of truth set in mid-1980s San Francisco. This captivating coming-of-age novel asks readers to consider friendship, cruelty, deception and consequences.

Narrator Eulabee begins her story with the first-person plural point of view. "When I say 'we,' I sometimes mean the four of us Sea Cliff girls who are in the eighth grade at the Spragg School for Girls. But when I say 'we,' I always mean Maria Fabiola and me." The foursome is close, but it is beautiful Maria Fabiola who enraptures Eulabee and, apparently, everyone else--children as well as adults--in their rarified world of au pairs, chauffeurs and views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Earnest, awkward, devoted Eulabee is less polished than her friends, or perhaps it only seems so because readers are privy to her insecurities. The trouble begins when she and Maria Fabiola fail to see a minor event in the same way, literally. Did Eulabee miss a small, important detail? Or did Maria Fabiola make it up? The truth almost doesn't matter; what matters is that the girls are equally firm in their divergent truths.

We Run the Tides is an enchanting, literary novel, realistic but a little unreal. Vida gives a tender, incisive portrayal of adolescence. The girls' cruelties are visceral and impermanent, the stressors of Sea Cliff somehow both superficial and profound, in this cleverly woven story about honesty, betrayal, charm and illusion, about what matters in youth and what matters always. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: An uncertain adolescent girl narrates a heart-aching tale of coming of age in a city in transition.

Ecco, $26.99, hardcover, 272p., 9780062936233

A Common Person and Other Stories

by R.M. Kinder


In countless little ways, even an ordinary person on a lackluster day is actually quite fascinating. A Common Person and Other Stories, the third illuminating collection of short fiction from R.M. Kinder, puts the mundane lives and irrational fears of regular folks at center stage: a young man who plots to save a neglected dog; a lonely single mother desperate to connect with her distant daughter; an older couple who wind up stuck in a cave during a tornado.

In these 17 stories, the characters' lives feel dreary yet somehow astonishing, described with the same dreamlike detail and withering nostalgia that might accompany tales of a long-lost friend. In many cases the characters aren't particularly striking or even likable, but their simple heroism and fateful interactions are often uncomfortably familiar. One example is "Small Courtesies," which places a Midwestern couple at a science fiction and fantasy conference. Here, an outlandish facet of humanity intrigues and unnerves the nondescript pair--but the costumed attendees insist they're not that strange. "A gnomish man in green velvet looked up at the doorman and said in a low, soft voice, 'We're not freaks. During the year we're just normal people with normal jobs. This is our holiday. Our chance to be different.' " In "Little Garden," a college student's paralyzing phobia of snakes seems like excellent fodder for pranks--until one friend takes it too far. The outcome suggests that even common people spend their lives lingering on the precipice of either greatness or tragedy. --Angela Lutz, freelance reviewer

Discover: The third illuminating collection of short fiction from R.M. Kinder thoughtfully explores how people are shaped by simple heroism and fateful encounters.

University of Notre Dame Press, $23, paperback, 200p., 9780268200060

Mystery & Thriller

Killer Content

by Olivia Blacke


Small-town Louisiana girl Odessa Dean is enjoying her summer in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, cat-sitting for her aunt and waitressing at a local bookstore-cum-cafe. But when her co-worker Bethany ends up dead (coinciding with a flash mob in a nearby park), Odessa can't believe it was an accident. In Olivia Blacke's charming debut mystery, Killer Content, Odessa roams Williamsburg in her signature cowboy boots, looking for clues and getting into plenty of trouble. 

A dedicated true-crime podcast listener, Odessa soon discovers that real-life sleuthing is hot, boring, even grungy work (as when she digs through the garbage in search of Bethany's cell phone). Her co-workers--an eclectic bunch--are mostly helpful and kind, though most of them don't share her suspicions of foul play. (A handsome NYPD detective seems to be equal parts frustrated and amused by Odessa's crime-solving attempts.) Odessa's amateur investigation leads her to multiple Brooklyn tropes, such as consignment shops, the local soap-making scene, the nearby dog park and a chef who moonlights as a beekeeper (with 3D printed hives). Blacke gently skewers the stereotypes while writing about the city and her characters with real affection. Odessa is an appealing narrator, though she's perhaps a bit too trusting for her own good. When many of the slightly zany characters visit her building for an informal wake in Bethany's honor, the details of the crime may finally come to light.

Fast-paced and funny, with a vivid setting and plenty of sass, Blacke's first mystery is as engaging as its heroine. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Olivia Blacke's quirky debut is a cozy Brooklyn-centric mystery with engaging characters and a plucky heroine.

Berkley, $16, paperback, 304p., 9780593197882

A Stranger in Town

by Kelley Armstrong


In the sixth entry in Kelley Armstrong's suspenseful Rockton series (after Alone in the Wild), Detective Casey Duncan and her boyfriend, Sheriff Eric Dalton, confront attacks in the Canadian wilderness and dark secrets concealed by their town's founders.

Rockton is an off-the-grid settlement where victims of crimes and criminals alike can disappear for two to five years, for a price. It's not a place open to outsiders, but when Casey and Eric stumble upon a hiker suffering from apparent stab wounds, they must bring her there. The victim speaks only Danish, but with the interpreting services of a new resident, they determine that her attacker seems to be one of the hostiles, people who live outside of Rockton who have reverted to a primal state. But some evidence suggests a different answer, and a possible connection to Casey's theory about the origin of the hostiles.

Although the Rockton series is set in the contemporary, real world, the town's isolation and limited access to technology creates an atmosphere similar to a historical western or post-apocalyptic science fiction. Fantasy fans who appreciate the level of detail required to bring an invented world to life may also enjoy that this intricately twisted mystery comes with equal attention to how such a community could function. New readers will quickly be brought up to speed, and series fans will eagerly consume new answers about questions at the core of Rockton's history. All will hotly anticipate the next installment. --Kristen Allen-Vogel, information services librarian at Dayton Metro Library

Discover: Another thrilling investigation by Detective Casey Duncan reveals long-hidden truths about an isolated community.

Minotaur, $27.99, hardcover, 368p., 9781250781727

Biography & Memoir

Mike Nichols: A Life

by Mark Harris


Director Mike Nichols (1931-2014) won an Academy Award, a Grammy, three BAFTAs, four Emmys and nine Tony awards during his prolific career, and Mark Harris has written a superb and definitive biography that Nichols and his fans deserve. Harris (Pictures at a Revolution) is part film historian, theater buff and investigative reporter, which makes this rich, compassionate and candid biography soar with fresh, first-hand anecdotes from Nichols's co-workers and Harris's astute observations about the director's work.

What may surprise many is how often Nichols's career bounced from universal acclaim (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate were his first two films; Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park was his first Broadway production) to failures (Day of the Dolphin and Catch-22) and back again. A perfectionist with a short temper and a lacerating tongue, Nichols was a neurotic, insecure workaholic who was in therapy for decades and by the 1980s had suffered a heart attack, a nervous breakdown and was addicted to cocaine and crack. When he married his stabilizing fourth wife, Diane Sawyer, in 1988, he said she "turned Pinocchio into a real boy." This biography offers a treasure of backstage gossip (including the nightmare of directing Plaza Suite starring two alcoholic lead actors in three different roles in three acts). Despite missteps, Nichols was king of the comebacks (Silkwood in 1983, The Birdcage in 1996, Angels in America in 2003) and generally beloved by his co-workers.

Harris's definitive biography of the iconic director, producer and comedian is the ideal gift for anyone interested in the creative arts. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Theater buff and journalist Mark Harris delivers a dazzling and definitive biography of the complex and driven director.

Penguin Press, $35, hardcover, 688p., 9780399562242

Fragments of an Infinite Memory: My Life with the Internet

by Maël Renouard, trans. by Peter Behrman de Sinety


Peter Behrman de Sinety has translated French philosopher Maël Renouard's insights about the Internet as Fragments of an Infinite Memory: My Life with the Internet, preserving the delicacy and nuance that make Renouard such a stimulating thinker. The book is broken into vignettes in which the author ponders the transformative nature of the Internet--his life before and after its advent--and poses philosophical questions about its relationship to the self, to the mind, to art and immortality. The vignettes sometimes border on impressionistic as Renouard recalls personal experiences with Facebook and Google. The majority are discursive reflections on other thinkers, like Derrida and Baudrillard, and how their work informs, and sometimes predicts, the mass digitalization of human life. He also critiques movies and books and digital "graffiti" he's found on the Internet, such as comments on YouTube.

Renouard's most interesting takes on what he calls the "recollection machine" revolve around human mortality and the Internet's ability to extend "the digital signs of life." He argues that the Internet subsumes the material world and offers a digital space in which attributes of life--not whole beings--live forever. He also explores the way morality has changed, or must change, to match this new eternal and very public life. Things no longer lost but preserved through ethernet are subject to a new moral landscape. "There is a latent tribunal in digital exhibition," he says.

Fragments of an Infinite Memory can be intellectually challenging, paradoxical, even fatalistic. But the book is always fascinating and provides a deep, nuanced view of a quickly changing world. It has a charm of its own. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: A French philosopher mulls profound questions about existence and the Internet in this series of vignettes.

New York Review Books, $17.95, paperback, 232p., 9781681372808

History

The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing

by Sonia Faleiro


The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing is another compulsively readable, highly impressive work of reportage from Sonia Faleiro, author of the acclaimed Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay's Dance BarsThe Good Girls investigates the deaths of a pair of young girls, Padma and Lalli, in a small village in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India. The girls' disappearance one night sets off a chain of events where "who they were, and what had happened to them, was already less important than what their disappearance meant to the status of the people left behind." When the girls are found hanging from a tree, Faleiro shows how their families' search for justice became entangled in some of modern India's most complicated and intractable problems.

Faleiro carefully reconstructs the investigation into the girls' deaths in all its dysfunctional detail, indicting a justice system that was woefully undertrained and unprofessional; a sweeper performed the girls' post-mortems with butcher knives. Conflicts over caste and politics further complicated the investigation, with the apparent truth of the matter coming to light only after dozens of false starts helped wild theories proliferate. While Faleiro has used extensive interviews to portray Padma and Lalli as more than the symbols they became--unearthing their hopes, dreams and familial conflicts in almost novelistic detail--the book is equally valuable as a document of the many complicated, interwoven issues that face India. The truth behind what happened to Padma and Lalli is more banal than it might at first seem, but no less horrific in its implications. The Good Girls is excellent, deeply felt nonfiction. --Hank Stephenson, the Sun magazine, manuscript reader

Discover: The Good Girls impressively reconstructs the dysfunctional investigation into the deaths of two girls in a tiny village, providing a window into the many threats faced by Indian women.

Grove Press, $26, hardcover, 314p., 9780802158208

Essays & Criticism

James Baldwin's Another Country: Bookmarked

by Kim McLarin


Continuing Ig Publishing's Bookmarked series, James Baldwin's Another Country offers novelist and essayist Kim McLarin's keen and meditative reflections on Baldwin's novel and how it influenced her writing life. McLarin (Womanish) synthesizes an overview of her own upbringing, education, and professional and personal life with thoughts on how Baldwin's novel inspires questions of race, sex and gender. Highlights from McLarin's many intimate and perceptive insights include her reading of Ida as "the novel's lynchpin, the lingering connection between the dead Rufus and his living white friends, a reminder of their innocent complicity," as well as McLarin's self-disclosing engagement with interracial relationships in the novel. Most compelling is McLarin's elaboration on the fundamental importance of Black sisterhood. It is Ida's attempts to "navigate the treacherous waters of America without sisters at her side," McLarin suggests, that has left her "lost."

McLarin seamlessly traverses the boundaries of literary criticism, personal essay and cultural critique. The book's six-part structure--divided into thematic clusters such as "Men" and "Women," but which overlap--provides some loose organization but allows McLarin to slip between modes in her analysis and make meaningful connections between the book, her lived experience and the contemporary state of the world. Meanwhile, her narrative voice maintains a conversational intimacy with her readers while never letting them completely off the hook. McLarin challenges her readers to look closer, consider for longer and speak more candidly as she herself does in both lauding Baldwin and elaborating on his blind spots. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor

Discover: This seamless blend of literary criticism, memoir and social commentary is a lucid and powerful look at a beloved novel as well as what it means to be a Black woman writer in America.

Ig Publishing, $14.95, paperback, 176p., 9781632461216

Science

Being the Person Your Dog Thinks You Are: The Science of a Better You

by Jim Davies


Jim Davies has spent his professional life--as a writer and professor of cognitive science--examining how humans can better understand their minds and unlock their full power and potential. He's written about myriad feelings and emotion centers of the mind (Riveted), and he's explored facets of creative human thought, for better and for worse (Imagination).

In Being the Person Your Dog Thinks You Are, Davies once again generously shares his technical expertise to show--and also deconstruct--how the science of the mind can help people focus on things that matter and, thus, lead to more fulfilling lives. He frames his optimistic narrative very loosely around the idea that our dogs look up to us with awe and love, and everyone has the power to live up to that perceived potential, improving themselves and world around them.

Davies explores three key areas: personal productivity, happiness and moral goodness. He shares concrete stories and examples of how to live more mindfully by strategizing ways to overcome distraction and self-sabotage; the benefits of setting up reward systems; and how to cultivate happiness from within. He blends the personal with the universal, addressing larger issues of morality, charity, partnering and parenting, and the role of activism.

As in his other books, neuroscience is the cornerstone of Davies's material, which is deeply rooted in psychological literature on human cognition. However, his lively, accessible presentation demonstrates how the science of the mind and its operating systems can be richly entertaining and utterly inspiring. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A neuroscientist makes the science of cognition engaging and accessible in order to help others lead more focused, fulfilling lives.

Pegasus Books, $28.95, hardcover, 336p., 9781643136509

Children's & Young Adult

Milo Imagines the World

by Matt de la Peña, illus. by Christian Robinson


Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson's Milo Imagines the World, like their justifiably celebrated Last Stop on Market Street, centers on a child's regular ride on public transportation to a destination initially unknown to readers. But while Market Street's CJ asks why they're going where they're going, Milo Imagines the World's young protagonist is resigned to his circumstance and the accompanying agitation: "These monthly Sunday subway rides are never-ending, and as usual, Milo is a shook-up soda."

To pass the time, Milo people-watches, using a notebook to record the places he imagines his fellow passengers going after they reach their stops. For a boy wearing a suit and tie, Milo imagines "the clop clop clop of the horse-drawn carriage that will carry him to his castle." For a trio of break-dancers who cavort in Milo's train car and who, like him, aren't white, he glumly foresees that "even after the performances are over, faces still follow their every move." Robinson is back with his robust paint-and-collage art. Chunky geometric shapes stand out with brazen brightness against various train stations' determinedly industrial color schemes. To conjure what Milo puts in his notebook, Robinson switches to blunt strokes that look as though they were forged with crayons.

The occasion for the trip, it turns out, is Milo's monthly visit to see his incarcerated mother. On the subway, Milo feels "excitement stacked on top of worry on top of confusion on top of love"; readers of Milo Imagines the World will feel compassion stacked on top of heartache on top of humility on top of hope. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

Discover: In another affecting picture book from the creators of Last Stop on Market Street, a boy fantasizes about the lives of his fellow passengers as he rides the subway to visit his incarcerated mother.

Putnam, $18.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780399549083

The Project

by Courtney Summers


Courtney Summers (Sadie) wants to break your heart. She has said as much of her captivating and harrowing seventh YA book, The Project: it's "just going to ruin your day." She's right. This gripping depiction of love, abuse, control and loss will steal your time--there is simply no putting it down--and Summers doesn't coddle feelings.

Nineteen-year-old Bea's parents died when a semi crashed into their SUV; the EMTs were able to pull Lo, her 13-year-old sister, from the wreckage. At the hospital, Bea discovered Lo near death. Desperate, she went to the chapel: "God, she whispers... over and over and over again. God, I'll do anything. Please, God.... And then He appears."

Six years later, Lo is alive, mostly well and pursuing a career in journalism. She has spent the past half decade cut off from Bea--while Lo was still recovering, her older sister joined the Unity Project, a group run by the enigmatic Lev Warren that aims to "bring salvation to the ends of the earth." Lo, certain the Unity Project is holding her sister against her will, decides to prove her journalism chops and get her sister back by taking down the cult. But the group--and Lev--are significantly more powerful than she could have imagined.

Books about cults are popular in contemporary YA, but few have done what Summers does here: create ambiguity, humanize those involved in the group and painstakingly blur the line between loving care and abusive control. Both Bea and Lo tell their stories linearly, but the time difference between them--both young women are 19 when they begin--builds the mystery and creates intense suspense. Yes, The Project will ruin your day. Yes, you want it to. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In this compelling and absorbing YA novel, two sisters make the most painful of choices based on their love for one another.

Wednesday Books, $18.99, hardcover, 352p., ages 13-up, 9781250105738

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