Worth buying in hardcover

I haven’t written book reviews on here in quite awhile, and I realized that yesterday after I finished The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway.  It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time and that’s saying something, because I’ve been on a streak of great books lately.

Despite myself I’ve read almost nothing but new or new-ish releases lately.  I blame Twitter—everyone gets going on about a book and I just want to read it right away!  Not an awful thing, though, because right now over half of the books I’m reading are good enough to recommend to other people.  (This is way above average for my reading experience, because normally I’m just guessing with stuff I get from the stack of ARCs.)  On the other hand, I do apologize that most of these are only available in hardcover or not out yet.  Even though, as I note in the title, I consider them all worth a hardcover purchase.

These aren’t really reviews—as I’ve noted before, I am a bookseller by profession, not a book reviewer.  As you’ll see, there is a reason for that.  Let’s start with the book that inspired all this.

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway (Knopf, already out).
I am still in that weird place with this book.  You know, the place where it’s all really fresh and you can’t talk about it coherently.  But I will say this—this book came with nothing but the highest praise from a number of booksellers I really respect, and they were 100% right.  It was hard for me to crack into because I’ve never experienced a voice like it before, and it took me awhile to settle into it, but it was definitely worth the effort.  This book is so good that on Saturday, when I had to put it down to get ready for work, I got MAD.  I was seriously angry that I had to put it down!

I was just trying to write any sort of summing-up of the book and I just can’t.  It’s still too close.  I’ll just say that I recommend it as highly as everybody else did.

As a side note, this is the sort of book it is still possible to sell in hardcover without begging.  This is because it is COOL.  Take a look at the cover image.  The cover and spine, wherever it is pink, it is FUZZY.  It is just too cool.  This is the sort of thing that I find is currently necessary to push a customer over the edge into dropping $30+ on a HC, especially for a name they don’t know.  I can sing all the hosannas I want, but the fuzzy cover really can tip the scales.

(As a further side note, this is why I am so bummed FSG is not re-printing 2666 in the cool 3-books-in-a-box edition.  People loved that.  A woman actually pouted at me on Saturday when I told her it wasn’t available anymore.  I don’t blame her, as I think I pouted myself when I first heard the news. ETA: THIS IS NOT TRUE! This morning I found out they DID decide to re-print, and this afternoon I rec’d 3 copies into our stock.  So ignore this!)

The City & The City by China Mieville (Del Ray, May).
Though I have heard people praise his writing many times, this is actually the first Mieville book I’ve picked up.  No idea why it grabbed my attention, but I’m glad it did.  I loved it so much that I added all his backlist to a recent order and will catch myself up.  Fantastic book.  Just the right amount of fantasy, in the sense that it can absolutely be cross-sold to people who don’t like it.  The concept—two cities literally on top of one another, two populaces that have spent their entire lives pretending not to see one another, and wondering who keeps it all rigid—is a beautiful and beautifully-executed one.

Little Bee by Chris Cleave (Simon & Schuster, already out).

What can I say about this book that this fantastic video does not?

Not much, except that it really does live up to the hype.  I follow a number of slightly-finicky people on Twitter who all seem to agree.

The Manual of Detection by Jebidiah Berry (Penguin Press, already out).
Another Twitter recommend, though the final push came from a customer recommending it to me.  (When the internet world and the real world tell me the same thing, I try to pay attention.)  This is a beyond-solid detective book with a great paranormal twist that only has a few flaws, all of which I chalk up to it being a debut and didn’t make me like the book any less.  Also a great cover.  I think this is a great book for summer—it starts light and gets darker, and I think I would have enjoyed trickling into the dark bits of the book while sitting in broad July sunlight.

For a creep-yourself-out trifecta, add

The Resurrectionist by Jack O’Connell (Algonquin, and, I know I’m late to the party on this one, but it really is great, and think of it this way, it’s the one book in this post in PB soon!) and

Darling Jim by Christian Moerk (Henry Holt, April), a book that is still giving me chills to think about.  This book is the literary fiction equivalent of a good true crime book, except you don’t have to feel guilty about reading it after you’re done.

Shimmer by Eric Barnes (Unbridled, June).
Another fantastic book for summer.  Luckily, I already tried to write a blurb for it for Eric’s website, so will just c-and-p that here: A lot of books are labeled “literary thrillers.” Most of the time that’s a lie.  It’s not when applied to Shimmer.  The book moves at a breathtaking pace, but I was purposely slowing my reading to enjoy both the writing and the structure of the book.  It’s a rare writer who can make you like the man at the root of Ponzi scheme that is technological, financial, and poised to ruin the lives of everybody he knows, but Barnes definitely pulls it off.  Shimmer is beautiful in the way that a collapsing building is; more beautiful, because throughout it you can cling to the hope that the building will somehow put itself back together.  A great book across the board that I would sell to almost anybody.
Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel (Unbridled, June).

Ha! ANOTHER book I have already written something about!  Unfortunately for you, it was a very rambling email after I had just finished it.  And before I post the email, I can’t tell you how excited I am that WORD will be hosting Emily’s launch party.

“Maybe not the sort of thing I would have picked up on my own, but I’m glad you told me to read the first four chapters.  That was enough to get me hooked.  Actually, the first chapter was–in particular, “tracking a rare butterfly-like quotation as it fluttered through thickets of dense tropical paragraphs” (3).

What a strangely beautiful book.  I don’t envy whoever has to write the jacket copy for it, as I can’t even sum it up in my head.  But here are the things I was struck by: I found the scenes with young Lilia and her father moving (first time I’ve ever empathized with a man abducting his daughter, somehow even before I knew why it was justified), I found Eli’s love for Lilia beautiful, and just many little descriptive sentences that were lovely but did not feel the need to call attention to themselves.  It was almost like watching a ballet, a destructive ballet.  The piece of the letter he wrote to Zed, on page 240, brought me to tears.

And there were a few little things that endeared the book to me as well–I am a secret language nerd, so Eli’s thesis was interesting, and also as a person who avoided a lifetime of academia on purpose, I really identified with his frustrations with people just TALKING about things and deconstructing things and so on, and never really doing anything.  And yet, his discomfort with the woman he loves doing things, because it means he gets hurt.  I still haven’t talked about how much I love Graydon!  Even though I also didn’t really like him at all.  What a fascinating, maddening character.”

The Believers by Zoe Heller (Harper, already out).
Very very very funny.  I love books in which I hate almost all the characters.  Heller’s depiction of the rich snotty liberal is spot-on and worth the price of admission.  I was especially drawn to Rosa, because I am always interested in maybe converting to Judaism (although not Orthodox, as she is), and I found the scenes in which she alternately loves and loathes the strictness of such a faith to be some of the most compelling.  The ideas about belief and its types go far deeper than I expected.  I think this would make a good book club book for book clubs that don’t like super serious stuff but also want something with a little meat to it.

Laura Rider’s Masterpiece by Jane Hamilton (Grand Central, April).

Three reasons I loved this book:

1.    This passage:
“She liked to tell her friends, and on occasion her radio audience, how frightened Frank became if there wasn’t printed matter near his person.  Their car had once broken down, and for some unexplained—perhaps paranormal—reason, they’d had no reading material for the two hours they’d had to wait for rescue.  Frank had almost gone mad.  There had not even been the Saab manual.  He sweated and he paced, reciting all the soliloquies that were his set pieces, roving through Othello, Lear, Merchant, Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, Hamlet, and a few sonnets as well” (37).

2.    A character who shares my name!  This is perhaps not the most shocking thing, as my first name is fairly common and my last name even more so.  But it has never happened to me before, and certainly never as a minor character who talks about gardens on NPR.

3.    It is awesome and bizarre and hilarious.  This is the sort of book that I fear won’t get great critical attention because it was written by a woman, hinges on ideas about relationships, and because the protagonist is writing a romance novel.  But it should.  This book is just FUN and a perfect read.

Trouble by Kate Christensen.
One of the cool things about Greenpoint is that we are home to several great authors, and one of them is Kate Christensen, who I loved long before I moved here.  Her latest is not much like The Epicure’s Lament or PEN/Faulkner Award-winning The Great Man—as someone put it to me, “it’s commercial, but I don’t mean that as an insult.” And indeed that is the case.  This is probably an easier sell than her earlier books, and I think that’s fantastic, because I’d love for her to reach a larger audience.  This is a great place to start if you haven’t read anything of hers before.  Her ability to tell a gripping story is very well-displayed in this tale of two friends who run away to Mexico to escape the messes their lives have become.

Also, the sex scenes are fantastic.  If kids were still naïve enough to pass around books with the sex scene pages dog-eared, this book would definitely deserve that treatment.  Fantastic enough to get their own paragraph.

Can’t wait to throw a party for this one, either (in June, Brooklynites).  Am still trying to find a way to responsibly incorporate tequila—hey, it’s very important to the book, okay?  At the least, sangria.

Did you get all the way to the end? Wow, I’m impressed, as I barely did. Here is your prize: what have you read lately worth recommending?


11 comments so far

  1. Patrick on

    I second the recommendations of Trouble and Last Night in Montreal. Both such great books and books that deserve HUGE audiences. Another book that rocked my world was Joe Meno’s The Great Perhaps. The story of the Casper family of Chicago told from the perspectives of the Jonathan and Madeline – both researchers at the University of Chicago – their two teen daughters Amelia and Thisbe, and Jonathan’s father Henry, a retired aeronautical engineer with a troubled past. A great multi-generational family drama that’s told in a completely new way. Each character is a living, breathing person, and each of them broke my heart. This should be the book that make Joe Meno a star.

    • bookavore on

      Someone else was talking about The Great Perhaps the other day too. I will have to see where my copy got to.

  2. Doret on

    The new Laura Lippman, Life Sentences is hardcover worthy as is Beat The Reaper it very easy to sell just get the customer to read the first page. Most times if they’re willing to buy a hardcover it will suck them in. And the YA book Marcelo in the World – is excellent.

    I think I am the only one who didn’t care for Little Bee. I thought the author built up the supense of the desert scene too much. Also I didn’t like how Little Bee had to be so strong after the funeral. She lost her whole family and is living in another country, when is someone going to be strong for her.

    • bookavore on

      I just read a Laura Lippman book and I really loved it! I’ll read this new one as well, then.

      I read the funeral scene differently, but your read makes sense too. I’ve been wanting to re-read it and see how it does on a second pass, will be curious to see if that pops out.

  3. Wendy H. on

    Please teach a speed-reading class at BEA! Great line-up. Thanks for all the tidbits- i’m taking notes. Fuzzy pink Harkaway being numero uno, but so many others intrigue me.

    I wish we could poll by age and gender for feedback on some of these – I’m wasn’t into “Laura Rider” or “Trouble” even though i’m the 40-something demographic they’re written about, so i’m wondering if it’s a life-stage thing. Anyone, anyone?

    My upcoming pick is “Valeria’s Last Stand” for good folksy fun. Off to read….

    • bookavore on

      I am interested that you weren’t into Trouble! A number of people in my neighborhood have read it since she’s local, and across age groups people have been really into it. What didn’t you like about it?

      What is Valeria’s Last Stand about?

  4. Mei Mei on

    Can you post a new chick lit list? I just ran out of books I got at NCTE.

  5. Rich on

    Ooooh, salivating about the new Mieville. Must make time to read it. Glad to hear good things.

    Little Bee is on the “read next” shelf. Must buy the Harkaway, even if I don’t get to read it soon.

    Thanks for the great tips.

  6. readandbreathe on

    I agree with you about “Trouble” too. Since it’s mainstream it will hopefully turn a lot of people on to Kate Christensen and then people will read “Epicure’s Lament” (my all-time favorite!)

  7. […] has a great review of the wonderful Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway, and talks about some other recent books worth […]

  8. […] has a great review of the wonderful Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway, and talks about some other recent books worth […]

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