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April 2011

Ask the Editors: Funny Books

Bossypants

We are just over one week away from Mother's Day, and if you don't have a present already, it might be time to get your act together and get your mom the gift of reading. Lucky for you, we're here to help. Our crack team of book experts will help you find the perfect title for your mom. Just tell us a little about your mom and what kinds of books she enjoys. Leave your reader profiles in the comments, or on our Facebook page.

Today, we're helping DeAnn find the perfect book for her mother, who enjoys authors that make her laugh. DeAnn says: My mom has always been a big fan of books that make her laugh, with authors like Erma Bombeck or George Carlin. She also loves books about cats or animals that have been rescued, or James Herriotts books. She loved Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein and Marley and Me. Plus she's a fan of Rosamunde and Robin Pilcher and Adriana Trigiani.

  • DeAnn, I recommend buying your mom seventy copies of Bossypants by Tina Fey. It’s really that good. The laugh per page ratio is probably a hundred to one. So expect her to laugh 27,500 times before she finishes it.

    But if your mom prefers something with a dryer sense of humor, Sarah Vowell’s new book Unfamiliar Fishes is a droll but informative take on the history of Hawaii, which, I learned, is a real place.

  • Ali said: "Anyone who likes to laugh should be sure David Sedaris is in her collection. Each of his howl-out-loud funny books is great, but my favorite is Me Talk Pretty One Day. Just thinking of certain passages makes me giggle aloud."

    A new dog book that is getting a lot of love from our customers is Bad Dog: A Love Story. A story of a bad owner struggling to control his alcohol addiction and his disobedient dog, Bad Dog is a book for fans of Marley and Me.

  • Miriam suggests: "DeAnn’s mom sounds like she likes uplifting and heartwarming books, so if she hasn’t read The Help--just out in paperback and soon to be a major motion picture--that should definitely be on her list.

    I’d also recommend Cassandra King’s work if she likes Adriana Trigiani, like Queen of Broken Hearts, a charming book about a divorce counselor sorting out her own love life in a small Southern town."

Keep your requests and recommendations coming!

Graphic Novel Friday: The Dark Side of Thor with Writer Robert Rodi

It's official: Thor fever has consumed my reading habits of late.  This is all in preparation for the Thor film premiere on May 6th, of course, and in continuing my superhero/mythological studies I read an advance copy of Thor: For Asgard by writer Robert Rodi and artist Simone Bianchi

Robert Rodi is no stranger to Thor, having grown up reading the character and since adding his own name to the mythos in comics that focus on the less traveled roads of Asgard--namely, the darker paths.  Robert presents the Norse gods not as superheroes and villains but more as creatures of myth--and full of all the terrifying power that comes with such heritage.  Over email, Robert and I discussed his work on both Thor and Loki, writing for Simone Bianchi, and what lies ahead in the shadow of the upcoming film. 

Amazon.com: In the supplemental material to Thor: For Asgard, you confess to preferring Thor the Norse god over Thor the superhero. Can you elaborate on the difference and why you prefer the more mythological Thor stories?

Robert Rodi: Asgard, and the whole myth-based realm, was someplace Thor could go that the other heroes couldn’t follow. Yeah, it was cool to see Thor throw down with the Destroyer or the Absorbing Man or the Grey Gargoyle, but any Marvel hero could fight the Destroyer or the Absorbing Man or Grey Gargoyle. Only Thor could zip across the Rainbow Bridge and find himself in a complete fantasy world of gods and dwarves and giants and dragons, where he not only fit in seamlessly, he was also the Big Man on Campus. Asgard is the only place he really has a vital supporting cast, too: Odin, Sif, the Warriors Three, all those amazing, indelible characters.

Amazon.com: Were there stories of Thor as a Norse god that influenced this preference?

Robert Rodi: The Thor comic used to have a “Tales of Asgard” back-up feature that pretty much rocked the whole concept of retelling the Norse myths with a postwar, science-fiction gloss over them. Jack Kirby’s designs for both the place and the pantheon were just jaw-droppingly gorgeous; still are. I fell for them, and fell hard.

RobertRodi2011 Amazon.com: In the Loki miniseries [now collected in the Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers hardcover], you told a Thor tale as written by his villainous brother, and in the recent Thor: For Asgard series, things are very dire in Thor’s world. What is it about the darker side of Asgardian lore that appeals to you?

Robert Rodi: Both Loki and Thor: For Asgard are published under the Marvel Knights imprint, which is devoted to examining the darker, rougher sides of the company’s iconic characters. Thor had always been a pretty brightly lit, broad-strokes series up to that point, so it was a heady experience to reinterpret it with the colors muted, the characters in conflict, and the tone heavy with moral ambiguity. I tried to hew a line between Shakespearean complexity and Wagnerian scope. Did I just say that? Well, yeah I did; but, y’know. You gotta aim high, here. These are gods we’re talkin’ about.

Amazon.com: When you wrote the Loki miniseries, did you know that you would do a follow-up? What led to For Asgard and how did the story take shape?

Robert Rodi: After the Loki series was so well-received, it seemed pretty likely I’d get the chance to play in that sandbox again. And after Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films, I was eager to see whether it was possible to do something on that scale with Thor. There was also the intriguing possibility, which came up in my discussions with Axel Alonso, of using For Asgard to raise issues confronting America at this particular point in time—such as the morality of empire, whether the occupation by a superpower of a vassal state is a means of protecting and preserving it, or of sucking it dry of resources. When the natives revolt, are they rebels, or are they freedom fighters? That kind of things; tough questions.

Amazon.com: In For Asgard, you collaborate with the artist Simone Bianchi. I read the book in the middle seat on a plane, and both of my neighbors took notice and asked about it--the visuals are so arresting. What was this partnership like?

Robert Rodi: I spent the past two years traveling to and from Siena, Italy, where I was researching a book on that city’s amazing culture of bareback horseracing [see Robert's forthcoming Seven Seasons in Siena, to be published in June--ed.]. And whenever I was there I’d make time for a day trip to Lucca, where Simone lives. He’d take me to his studio and walk me through the pages, and he got such a charge out of seeing my reaction--because my jaw would always visibly drop to my chest. He’s a great guy and a wonderful collaborator; extremely enthusiastic but also extremely meticulous. When you look at Simone’s work the first impression you have is of bigness, sweep, drama; but look closer, and you’ll see that there’s an entire world underneath. Every texture is there, every shadow…there’s weight and depth that you can actually feel. It’s a fully realized world, and it’s thrilling.

Amazon.com: What type of scripts did you give to Bianchi? There is a fantastic double-page spread bookended by the faces of Brunnhilde and Thor, with the two of them struggling as full figures in the middle. What’s the balance like between your script and the artist’s interpretation?

Robert Rodi: I worked full-script on For Asgard--meaning I specified how many panels per page, and what exactly I wanted in each panel. That said, I tried to keep the panels to a minimum, and to give Simone as much freedom as possible within them to flesh out his own vision--as in the double-page spread you mention. Basically, I set the structure and pace of the story; Simone gave it flesh and blood.

Amazon.com: Up next is Astonishing Thor, which will be collected in September. Is this a sequel? One of the most intriguing plots in For Asgard is Odin’s quest. Will we find out what happens to the All-Father after the events in For Asgard?

Robert Rodi: We do have a sequel to For Asgard planned, but it’s not in the works yet. I’m hoping it’ll be green-lighted soon. Everyone buying lots of copies of For Asgard would certainly hurry it along. But yes, to answer your question, it’ll conclude Odin’s quest, reveal who the villain of the piece is, and resolve some of those knotty issues of empire I talked about above. And there’ll be lots of big, bloody battle scenes. Philosophical and visceral; can’t be beat.

As for Astonishing Thor, that’s something different; that’s Thor in superhero mode, with some crazily beautiful artwork by Mike Choi. I had a helluva lot of fun on this one, setting it almost entirely in space and bringing in a whole slew of Marvel’s quasi-omnipotent cosmic characters: the Stranger, the Collector, Ego the Living Planet. And I got to revive a superheroine who hadn’t been seen in thirty years. Oh, yeah, my inner geek was in hog heaven on this baby.

Amazon.com: When you are writing a character as he is about to make his big screen premiere, does that factor into the writing choices you make? Did Marvel give you your own pocket continuity, or will you attempt to weave your story into the larger events in the Marvel Universe?

Robert Rodi: Actually, I’ve been down this road before; I was the regular writer on Elektra at the time her movie came out. And what I learned from that is, you have to keep the comics pure. They’re what’s driving the film, not vice-versa. That said, I did get a big charge when the opening sequence of my first Elektra issue was adapted for use in the film.

As for my Thor work: both Loki and For Asgard belong in a pocket continuity; though For Asgard has a connection to the regular Marvel continuity, which will be revealed in the sequel. Someday.

Amazon.com: I have to ask you about Codename: Knockout. Vol.1: The Devil You Say was released by Vertigo last May, and it was a riot. Will there ever be a Volume 2?

Robert Rodi: I’d love to see a Volume 2. In fact, there’s enough material for a Volume 3 and 4 as well. Again, everyone buying copies of Volume 1 would certainly help that happen. I have tremendous fondness for that series; I still get a lot of people writing to me about it—especially with regard to Go-Go Fiasco, who at that time was the most unapologetically sex-positive gay character ever to appear in mainstream comics. In fact I think he’s still the title-holder. If not, I’d like to know who is; we could arrange one helluva team-up.

--Alex

The 2011 Edgar Award Winners

Forget the royal wedding news today--it's all about the Edgar Awards! Honoring the best in mystery fiction and nonfiction produced the previous year, the Edgars began in 1954 and are named in honor of Edgar Allan Poe. Here are the winners, as announced last night at the Mystery Writers of America banquet (sorry the hats weren't as good as those worn at Westminster Abbey, so we'll just stick to announcing the books):

Best Novel: The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton

Best First Novel (by an American): Rogue Island by Bruce DeSilva

Best Paperback Original: Long Time Coming by Robert Goddard

Best Fact Crime: Scoreboard, Baby by Ken Armstrong and Nick Perry

Best Critical/Biographical: Charlie Chan by Yunte Huang

Best Young Adult: Interrogation of Gabriel James by Charlie Price

Best Juvenile: The Buddy Files: The Case of the Lost Boy by Dori Hillestad Butler

Best Short Story: "The Scent of Lilacs" – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by Doug Allyn

Grand Master Award: Sara Paretsky

See our full list of nominees and winners for this year and previous ones.

Ask the Editors: Epic Fantasies, Cookbooks, and Nonfiction

Asalwaysjulia

Show your mom that you really care this Mother's Day by getting her something really expensive. But if you're looking for a gift that won't break the bank, go with the perfectly chosen book. Luckily, Amazon Books editors will be helping making tailored gift recommendations up until Mother's Day. Tell us about your mom, what she likes to read, and a little bit about her personality, and we'll find some books to match! Leave your reader profiles in the comments, or on our Facebook page.

Let's get started! Today we have a fan of epic fantasies, and one of nonfiction

Julia asked: My mom loves reading fantasy from authors like J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Philip Pullman. Pretty much anything in the fantasy category. She also loves sentimental reads with happy endings, but dislikes books with war as a central theme. She also likes cookbooks.

  • Seira said: Julia’s mom might like The Emerald Atlas, which is reminiscent of the works of all three authors (Rowling, Tolkien, Pullman), and brings together magic, fierce family bonds, a battle of good versus evil, and even dwarves(!). Like the best fantasy classics, this one has a story that appeals to readers of all ages.

  • As for a cookbook, Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan hits the mark on multiple levels—it’s beautiful to look at and has the personal feel of well-worn favorite recipes passed along by a beloved relative.

  • Darryl: The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss have all the durable conventions of the fantasy genre (demons, dragons, magic, swordplay, and traveling bards) but with a main character who’s actually a lot more complex than most fantasy heroes and anti-heroes. Besides that, Patrick Rothfuss is one of the few writers who can write about music (and write about it he must--the main character is a former traveling musician) without it being hokey or contrived. Sweet without being sentimental, thrilling without being ultra-gory, and complex without being exasperating, this is the fantasy series that I, as someone who can be pretty impatient with the stalwarts of the series, have been waiting for a long time to read.

  • And for cookbooks, that depends on what she likes to cook. I’d recommend: Asian Dumplings by Andrea Nguyen et al. for anything you’ve ever wanted to know about gyoza, pot stickers, samosas, egg rolls, and a ton of other things. Plus, a lot of these principles carry over to cooking East Asian food in general. Saveur: The New Comfort Food is amazing all-around. From lasagna and stir-fry to chicken tikka and milkshakes, this book is all about comfort food from around the world. A lot of it is pretty easy, some of it is a little fussy, but all of it is worth it – as long as you don’t mind eating salad for your next few meals. Macarons by Berengere Abraham, which is a fairly self-explanatory and easy guide to what can seem like impossibly dainty cookies.

  • From Jessica: As a cookbook reader, Julia’s mom might be interested in As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto or Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle an interesting account of her family’s move from AZ to W. VA, where they fulfilled their quest to farm and live off their own land for a year. At the end of each chapter there are some interesting recipes based on what’s “in season” then.

Mindseye

Lillian said: My best friend is coming home from working overseas. She is taking the summer off and needs a ton of books. She mostly reads interesting no fiction such as The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat [by Oliver Sacks], Packing for Mars [by Mary Roach], Musicophila [also by Oliver Sacks], Tipping Point [by Malcolm Gladwell], Omnivore's Dilemma [by Michael Pollan] and The Gift of Fear [by Gavin de Becker]. She will surprize me occasionally by enjoying fiction such as The Art of Racing in the Rain [by Garth Stein] and Cutting for Stone [by Abraham Verghese]. She is in the medical profession and is a bit of an artist.

  • From Lynette: For Lillian’s mom, I heartily recommend anything by Bill Bryson, my favorite nonfiction writer. His latest, At Home, is a fascinating walk through the history of domestic life, but he’s probably best known for his hilarious (and I mean tears streaming down your face, choking on your coffee hilarious) travelogues, like A Walk in the Woods and Notes from a Small Island. Like Oliver Sacks, he reveals the fascinating backstory of many people and places that go beyond the notice of most of us.

  • I’d also recommend David Grann’s The Lost City of Z, or The Devil and Sherlock Holmes, a collection of his stellar New Yorker essays. Here’s a great article on why there’s such a cult of Grann fans there (thanks to Mr. Tom Nissley for passing along).

  • Seira: For something a little “out there” but really interesting and arguably artistic, there’s Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy.

  • Jessica: Lillian’s mom might like Oliver Sacks’ new book, The Mind’s Eye, which includes a number of fascinating case studies and includes one about himself, since he is afflicted with what is known as “face blindness” where he can’t recognize people, even those closest to him.

Got more recommendations for today's moms? Got a mother of your own who needs the perfect book this May 8? Let us know in the comments!

The Steampunk Bible: Mecha-Elephants, Raygun Rocketships, and Great Stories

Steampunkbible

What’s over 30 years old, encrusted with clock parts, and only now reaching its peak of popularity?

If you guessed rapper Flavor Flav, guess again--it’s Steampunk, possibly the only literary movement to take three decades to go from a sputtering spark to a full-on raging fire. A retro-futurist perspective fuels Steampunk, which leans heavily on the influence of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells as well as outdated tech from the early days of the Industrial Revolution.

The term was first coined by K.W. Jeter in 1986 to describe his novels Morlock Night and Infernal Devices, just reissued this year by Angry Robot. Since then it’s been picked up by comics, movies, the maker movement, fashion, music, and more. Indeed, you could say that the current revival in the commercial fortunes of the fiction is mostly due to a burgeoning subculture that is into aspects of Steampunk other than the writing.

Which brings me to The Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary Airships, Corsets and Goggles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature, which I coauthored with S.J. Chambers. It’s the first comprehensive overview of all aspects of Steampunk, with over 150 full-color images. In addition to chapters on everything from Origins to Movies, we wove in a number of sidebars, including a feature on Sean Orlando, talking about his Raygun Rocketship (part of the “raygun gothic” subgenre of Steampunk), an interview with the band HUMANWINE, and the Steampunk Workshop’s Jake von Slatt showing readers how to etch tins with saltwater and electricity.

Continue reading "The Steampunk Bible: Mecha-Elephants, Raygun Rocketships, and Great Stories" »

YA Wednesday: A Conversation Between Libba Bray and… Libba Bray

Beauty_queens

As you’ve probably already realized, one of our goals for the YA Wednesday column is to bring young adult fans (and general readers!) closer to new and established authors through cool interviews, playlists, and other content. So when YA author extraordinaire (and Michael L. Printz Award winner for Going Bovine) Libba Bray agreed to interview, um, Libba Bray, how could we say no? After all, no one else can really get to the heart of Libba than… Libba herself. So she talks to herself and us about her newest novel, Beauty Queens (available May 24), a snort-inducing and uproarious mixture of Lost, Lord of the Flies, and the Miss America pageant (yes, you read that last part correctly). Incorporating her well-known wit and sharp observations about today’s culture, Bray’s new novel is about more than a plane crash full of pretties gone awry—it, as Bray explains below, “satirizes consumer culture, reality TV, politics, rom-coms, the beauty industry, and religion while exploring issues of gender, race, sexuality, beauty, and identity.”

Here to explain more about Texas pride, being called an “eco-friendly fembot,” and the benefits of Beauty Queens on one’s skin is none other than Bray & Bray.

Q: Hi Libba. I understand that today I have the opportunity to interview you. Er, me. Us?
A: Will this be on the test?
Q: God, I hope not. How about I’ll be “Q” and you’ll be “A.”
A: Sure. Figures you’d get to be the exotic, Scrabble-tastic letter. Mom always liked you best.

Continue reading "YA Wednesday: A Conversation Between Libba Bray and… Libba Bray" »

Nonfiction, Magical Realism, and More Roman Mysteries

Today's Ask the Editors recommendations find us leaving the shores of multi-generational epics and historical fiction for the weirder worlds of magical realism and non-fiction that's almost too incredible to believe. We've got a lot more recommendations to get through, and we'll continue answering until Friday, May 6th -- so leave your reader profiles in the comments, or on our Facebook page.

Margaret J. asked: My mom reads a lot from a combo of mysteries and non-fiction books. She enjoys reading about Central Asia -- historic and modern, the Great Game, China, the Silk Road. Some of her favorite mysteries are the Mrs. Pollifax series, Ian Rutledge series, China Bayles series, Donna Leon books, Margaret Fraser's medieval mysteries, Steven Saylor's Roman mysteries. She loves discovering new authors so I'd appreciate your suggestions.

We recommend:

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  • Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination by Paul Freedman, a great look at the spice trade in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It doesn't just trace the traders and merchants who bought and sold spices: it also tracks how the spice trade helped shape Europeans' perceptions of their food in particular, and south and east Asia in general. And the few recipes that Freedman has been able to reconstruct might surprise you: in 16th-century Italy, for example, you might find a wealthy merchant eating food that looks a lot more like something out of India than the Italian food we know and love today.

  • On the more modern side of things, there's Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe by Frank Dikotter. In 1958, Mao Zedong launched a program -- the Great Leap Forward -- to boost China's agricultural and economic production that was overambitious. It resulted in massive changes to Chinese farming communities, the introduction of forced labor, and ultimately, the deaths of as many as 45 million people. Frank Dikotter is the first historian to look into the Chinese Communist Party's secret archives, and through them, he looks at every aspect of the Great Leap Forward, from the politicians who lacked the courage to challenge Chairman Mao, to the farmers who suffered from his fatally flawed plan.

  • And to continue our ancient Roman mysteries recommendations from before: Nemesis by Lindsey Davis, the newest of her Marcus Didius Falco mysteries, The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliffe, and SPQR XII: The Year of Confusion by John Maddox Roberts. Each of these is a customer favorite and part of a series, so hopefully that will give your mom plenty of Roman mystery to read for a while.

Judy wrote: My Mother loves to read - all kinds of things and different things. Likes Haruki Murakami. Reads all the way from Mao to Undress me in the Temple of Doom. Has read many Indian novels as she traveled to India. Loves traveling, gardening, collecting, sea otters, and photography. Reads Hemingway, Maya Angelou, If On a Winter's Night, Rohinton Minstry, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and on she goes! She likes unique books that have some depth to them. She buys most of her bookls through Amazon unless they are gifts. Thank you for your help!!

Unaccustomed_earth

Keep those questions for us (and recommendations for your fellow Omni readers) coming!

A Q&A with Lynmar Brock, Jr.

Question: Your novel, In This Hospitable Land, was inspired by the true story of a Belgian family who actually survived the Holocaust while living in the South of France. Tell us about this family and your discovery of their story.

Lynmar Brock, Jr.: Very simply, I married one of the little girls. For my own family, we arrived in 1620 on the Mayflower and in 1682 with William Penn as he set up Pennsylvania and Philadelphia. Thus I had my family history down very well. But having married a girl from Belgium who arrived in the US in 1950 I was really interested in her family for my own sake and as much as for our two sons. I wanted them to know of their mother's story. That was really important to me. As an aside, our younger son has married a wonderful German girl (woman) and they have two children. And so I am trying to get her history, for now the "soup" thickens and after a couple of hundred years of mostly English/Scot/Irish ancestors (with a German g-g-g grandmother thrown in) the blood lines have been enhanced with all these new genes. Such a benefit. And to the point, as a young person (b. 1934) I did pay attention to the Second World War and knew much of what was going on. I remember specifically D-Day, the invasion of Normandy in 1944. In grade school we all knew what was going on. And so, getting married in 1963, Claudie and I sat down with her father and aunt and uncle and recorded five hours of conversation about the war years. For the first time they were willing to share that which they did not for the rest of the family or others.

Continue reading "A Q&A with Lynmar Brock, Jr. " »

Ask the Editors, Part 3

It's time for round three of our Ask the Editors recommendations. Remember, there's still plenty of time to leave your reader profiles in the comments, or on our Facebook page.

Jamie asked: My mother's favorite authors are James Michener, John Jakes, Edward Rutherfourd, Sara Donati and Diana Gabaldon. She loves thick multi-generational books or books that are in a series. She likes historical romance (not Regency period) and detests anything with vampires or werevolves like Anne Rice or the "Twilight" series.

We recommend:

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  • Elizabeth Street by Laurie Fabiano, which follows an Italian-American family's move to New York’s Lower East Side, and the unwelcome attention they received from the "Black Hand"--the precursor to the Mob. It's rich with historical detail, and many of the locations in the book can still be visited today.

  • For the James Michener fan, Ken Follett is a great choice. Team favorites include Eye of the Needle, Fall of Giants, and Pillars of the Earth are nice long reads, and very popular.

  • Finally, there's A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, which follows the lives of four people -- a young widow, a student, and two exiled tailors -- in the 1970s India, all of whom are forced to share one cramped apartment. Between them, they deal not only with their personal losses but also the casual cruelty of corrupt local officials and the turmoil of a society in the middle of a great social upheaval. Though dark at times, it's also an uplifting mediation on how people can endure what seem like unendurable circumstances, and find friendship out of initial distrust. It's beem compared to Dickens and Solzhenitsyn in terms of its tone and its sheer scope -- and it was an Oprah's Book Club pick. What more could you ask for?


Karin K. asked: My brother-in-law passed away very recently, he was 42 and suffered from a rare degenerative autoimmune disease for ten years. He left behind a wife (high school sweetheart) and two daughters, 9 and 11. My sister-in-law is a remarkably strong person who shared the same positive take on humanity as her husband and had countless friends. I have never known my sister-in-law to be without a good book, and she asked me the other night to recommend some good ones to help get her through this. Evidently books on death and the after life are being sent her way. She needs and desires, engrossing, good reads right now. She has always been a fan of psychological thrillers and as Joyce Carol Oates Can you recommend books that will keep her occupied in her down time that are not down and depressing?

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We recommend:

  • From our editor Seira: "The most recent novel that I couldn’t stop reading was our April spotlight pick, 22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson. If she's never read it, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is also amazing."

  • For a nonfiction option, maybe she would enjoy the vicarious thrill of accompanying celebrated chef Gabrielle Hamilton on her culinary journey of discovery in Blood, Bones, and Butter -- our Spotlight pick for March. Anthony Bourdain called it "Simply the best memoir by a chef ever. Ever."

  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett is just out in paperback. It's a great story about two women who decide to compile the stories of black maids that work for white families and the dynamic between them and their employers. Even though it touches on some heavy issues, including the civil rights movement and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the book isn't down, depressing, or heavy-handed -- in fact, Kathryn Stockett has a great sense of humor and a sense of sympathy and compassion for each of her characters, even the more unsavory ones. It's a perennial reading group favorite and was a New York Times bestseller.

  • And finally, even though you wanted to avoid something down, there are two memoirs about losing one's spouse that might help your sister-in-law find her way through her grief. There's Joyce Carol Oates's A Widow's Story, and Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. From Mari, about The Year of Magical Thinking: "More than any book I’ve ever read, it captures the immense strangeness of the grieving a spouse. Didion’s memoir is intimate and universal."

Keep those questions for us (and recommendations for your fellow Omni readers) coming!

David Vann's "Caribou Island": Mainstream Gothic Fiction Set in Alaska

Caribou_island

Sometimes you pick up a book you’ve never heard of before just because you like the cover. Sometimes you regret the impulse, and other times, as with my recent reading of David Vann’s recent novel Caribou Island, you’re very, very grateful. [We're showing the UK cover on the right, which is the one Jeff picked up, and we think is the more attractive one. --Ed.]

Vann chronicles the darkly decaying marriage of Gary and Irene in a remote Alaskan town in a way that conjures up echoes of Cormac McCarthy and Martin Amis. Which is to say, Vann’s pitiless in his examination but also at times darkly humorous.

Gary thinks he settled for Irene and blames her for his series of failures. Irene knows that Gary’s delusional, and realizes that the cottage he wants to build on an isolated island is a test. If she doesn’t go along with the idea, Gary will use is as an excuse to leave her. Much of the novel involves Gary’s increasingly quixotic quest to build a cottage in ridiculous weather conditions. Gary has no real idea what he’s doing, and every step of the way berates Irene to cover up his own shortcomings.

Over the course of Caribou Island, the building of this misshapen mess of nails and boards and inadequate roofing takes on an almost mythical quality. The amazing attention to detail in describing their efforts speaks to full-on obsession, a descent into madness. Even a simple scene in which Gary clears dead wood--with its description of “dark earth, rich and airy, but so many runners and roots he could never get a shovelful”--manages to create tension.

But as oddly mesmerizing as this interplay of carpentry and marriage becomes, the author wisely offsets the claustrophobia of this portrait with the story of the couple’s daughter, Rhoda, who plans on an engagement to a dentist named Jim. Rhoda’s more in love with the idea of marriage than with Jim in particular, and Jim... well, Jim has his own problems.

Continue reading "David Vann's "Caribou Island": Mainstream Gothic Fiction Set in Alaska" »