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book Disgrace
by J. M. Coetzee
Disgrace is Coetzee's second book to win Britain's Booker Prize and is well-deserving of this honor. This is a beautifully crafted and multi-layered book. On its surface, it is a story of personal growth and redemption, and how we help others in this process. At the same time, it is also a political novel, examining the realities of white privilege that still exist in South Africa. But don't let this intimidate youDisgrace is above all a great story and an engaging read.

Set in modern day South Africa, Disgrace is the story of an English professor, David Lurie, who gets caught having an affair with one of his students. It also becomes apparent that he fixed her grade for her, giving her a passing grade when she didn't show up for the midterm. In the ensuing scandal, David loses his job and decides to visit his daughter's homestead for an extended visit. Soon after, his quest for redemption begins when his daughter's home is attacked. The house is ransacked; he is beaten and doused with gasoline while she is assaulted. At this point, the novel turns into a contemporary version of "The Wife of Bath's Tale," as David must make amends for his past behavior by coming to terms with the harm that has been done to his daughter. Throughout the novel, she forces him to look at what this incident means to her, rather than reacting to it as a protective father.

This is a carefully written book. The prose is concise but still beautiful, and the themes are woven closely enough to the plot that nothing seems forced. Plainsong was awfully good, but, for my money, the best new novel of 1999 is Disgrace.
- Brandon - a former bookseller (5/01)
. . . title list


book East of the Mountains
by David Guterson
What will be the fate of East of the Mountains, the new David Guterson book that follows his huge bestseller Snow Falling on Cedars? The expectations for a book following a "monster bestseller" always seem to be driven by the marketing and promotional hype that surround the new title. My advice is to clear your mind...sit down with the book...and read.

The connection with the land that Guterson gives his main character, Ben Givens, is one of the best depictions of a love of nature in a work of fiction that I've ever read. What sends Ben off on the story's journey is the cold hard news that he has terminal cancer. Ben Givens is a good man in a hard place. This aged doctor and recent widower makes an important decision. He heads off into the American West with his two hunting dogs. This is to be the trio's last hunting trip. The beautiful descriptions of the different landscapes that they move through are only rivaled by the blunt and thoughtful way that the author writes of Ben's feelings.

I was sick for a few days while reading this book. When I feel sick, I tend to wear my favorite shirt and eat my comfort foods; East of the Mountains filled the bill as a very comfortable place for my mind to be traveling. While there are several disturbing things that happen in the novel, it was the writing that just captured me. Some reviewers have said that the story is just a small little taleignore these people. There are many strong emotions very close to the surface all through this book. This book had everything that I expect from a strong novel.
- John
- bookstore founder/owner (6/99)
. . . title list


book The Edna Webster Collection of Undiscovered Writings
by Richard Brautigan

Here is another collection of short writings that took me back to some great times. There is something very special about the innocence of Brautigan...to say nothing about his humor.

- John
- bookstore founder/owner (5/01) . . . title list


book Enchanted Night
by Steven Millhauser
The contrast between Millhauser's previous excellent novel, Martin Dressler, and his latest novella, Enchanted Night, is similar to the difference between a businesslike day and a very magical night. The entertaining cast of characters is large and varied: a naked girl on the grass, a gang of boys hidden in the town library, a storefront mannequin walking hand-in-hand with her longtime admirer, and a group of girls having tea with a woman after having broken into her house. Many other characters are moving about on this truly enchanted and very active night. Millhauser won the Pulitzer Prize for Martin Dressler, and now he's written something very magical about a hot summer night in Connecticut. Enchanted Night is a fine example of what special heights a short work of fiction can reachit's a magical novella.

- John
- bookstore founder/owner (5/01) . . . title list


book Eucalyptus
by
Murray Bail
"We are not comfortable if a thing we have seen isn' t attached to a name. An object can hardly be said to exist until it has a name, even an approximate name." Murray Bail's storyteller in
Eucalyptus, an enchanting novel with stories woven within stories, creates an unexpected world full of twists and surprises. The eucalypts form the structure around which stories are revealed. They have been planted by Holland on his vast property, hundreds of types of eucalpts which are each a touchstone where the reader hears another tale, comprehends a little more of the whole picture, falls farther into love with the idea of this novel. Holland's daughter, Ellen, is the receptacle of the stories, and it is her fate around which the action revolves. Holland has set the circumstances of her marriage in his most peculiar way. The successful suitor is to be the first man able to name all of the eucalpts, without mistake. Ellen seems almost oblivious to the contest until Mr. Cave arrives and proceeds, most horribly, towards the correct completion of the enormous task. Days pass without a mistake and Ellen, slowly, becomes aware of Mr. Cave's ongoing achievement. The possible result looms and dread falls upon her. While her father and Mr. Cave spend their days roaming the grounds, Ellen too wanders around and meets a mysterious stranger/storyteller who provides an unending supply of stories from tree to tree, story to story, but the resolution must not be revealed. Murray Bail' s novel is original, and his language is inventive. In my perfect idea of the world, everyone would read and enjoy as much as I did.

- Vicky
- bookstore founder/owner (4/99) . . . title list


book The Fall of the Year
by
Frank Howard Mosher
I grew up in the Northeast Kingdom area of Vermont that becomes Kingdom County in Mosher's fictionand he takes me home again in this novel. This author uses his eye for the rural Vermont landscape and his ear for the manner of the local people to accurately recreate a place honestly on paper. Mosher draws his characters with plenty of humor and gritty reality. The cast of finely drawn characters in
The Fall of the Year is a very enjoyable group, but Father George Lecoeur quickly takes over center stage. He is a fictional man to be savored. There are several stories of friendship and passion that interlock within this novel to yield a book with a lot of heart - in a place where family, community, vocation, and the natural world still matter profoundly.
- John
- bookstore founder/owner (5/01) . . . title list


book Finbar's Hotel
edited by
Dermot Bolger
Here's one novel that showcases the talents of seven of Ireland's finest writers. Joseph O'Connor, Anne Enright, Colm Toibin, Dermot Bolger, Roddy Doyle, Jennifer Johnston, and Hugh Hamilton tell the stories of rooms 101 through 107 of this Dublin hotel, one room at a time. Seven authors, seven roomseach writer describes one room, and most intriguingthe reader is never told who wrote which chapter.

While, at first, I'd wished that the book hadn't visited a couple of these literary rooms, the hotel needs every guest it can find and the characters do interact throughout the book. The guests check in with their baggagebe it their suitcases or their thoughts, fears, dreams, or perversions. Like a peeping tom, the reader watches.

The Finbar Hotel itself is past its glory days...a little seedy and forgotten, and soon it's to be torn down. On the other hand, because these writers have created in Finbar's Hotel a work that is clever, fresh, and full of emotion, it would be grand to have another hotel full of literary rooms built.
- John
- bookstore founder/owner (4/99) . . . title list


 book Fractured Fairy Tales
by A.J. Jacobs

While reading these truly fractured, twisted, and pun-filled stories, I found myself expecting Rocky and Bullwinkle to walk up with the rest of the characters from their TV show. Reading these tales out loud is a great way to appreciate just how horribly wonderful the puns are that fill these demented bedtime stories for the politically incorrect. But they're not for everyone - my cat, Edgar, kept leaving the room whenever I read them aloud, and I knew better than to read any to my wife, Vicky. This book was one guilty pleasure. It transported me back to my youth, dropped me laughing in front of the old family TV, and made me wonder whatever happened to my pajamas with the feet in them. The old familiar standard bedtime stories quickly became skewed as maybe a Hollywood agent appeared to cut a deal with a witch or anyone might suddenly disappear with a huge POOF! Pick this book up, read any of these fractured fairy tales out loud - let yourself go, enjoy yourself. If you don't find yourself smirking and laughing - you could be just too mature...too adult...maybe you need to look for something in our Self Help section.

- John
- bookstore founder/owner (4/99) . . . title list


book Gain
by Richard Powers

Why do I like Richard Powers so much? Technically, I should hate him. We are the same age, yet he is a MacArthur Fellow; people have told him that he looks like Jackson Browne (though he more closely resembles Peter Gallagher); and, most unforgivable of all, he has already written six novels three of which have been knockouts. (The other three are merely very good reads.) Erudite to the point of inspiring embarrassment, he has quickly and rightly earned his reputation as the best new writer in America, the heir apparent to Thomas Pynchon and Toni Morrison.

In his latest novel, Gain, Powers once again demonstrates his considerable talents. Perhaps what I find most impressive and gutsy about him is his willingness and ability to juggle and to juxtapose myriad subjects. Gain alternates the history of the Clare Soap and Chemical Company - a fictional American manufacturerwith the personal history of a contemporary woman, Laura Bodey, who is dying from cancer that may be the result of having lived near a Clare factory. Thus, we follow both an economic, scientific, political examination of American industry and a painful, awkward, sometimes mercifully joyful celebration of family that coheres as a social history of the particularly American symbiosis of growth and death, of regenerative economics and human mortality.

By shifting focuses from a mundane family life that has been irrevocably distorted by the presence of death to the various and often racist advertising campaigns of the soap company, from the horrors of chemotherapy to the machinations within capitalist hierarchies, Powers creates a Heraclitan work that could have just as easily been titled Loss. And he relates his story in his typical prose style that is perhaps best described as richthick, but not clogged. Powers language is always precisewhether he is exploring molecular biology (as he does so brilliantly in The Gold Bug Variations) or discussing the chemical cocktails of soaps, medicines, and people (as in Gain ). As with all good writing, one cannot speed read Powers prosehis diction simply does not allow it. His language demands attention; clearly, he is writing literature and not merely producing material for film adaptation. But the writing is never dry, never pedantic. Powers always focuses his stories on human characters in conflict with the inhuman conditions we have created for ourselves. From the World War I of his wonderful first novelThree Farmers on The Way to a Danceto the horrors of environmental poisoning in Gain, Powers tackles huge, multiple subjects without ever losing track of the humanity involved on all sides of the equation. Ultimately, I think that I like Richard Powers so much because I am able to admire the breadth of his intelligence and the strengths of his prose while connecting with his characters. His focus is the human, and Gain is another worthy example of just how wonderfully complex a writer Powers truly is.
- Michael
- a former bookseller . . . title list


book Half a Life
by V.S. Naipaul

Drawing from his vast experience in cultural relations, Naipaul creates a character wrought with self-doubt and confusion who tries to decipher what it means to be his own person. Although not expressly concerned with Islamic culture, Naipaul's themes here echo those of his nonfiction work, where Muslim countries struggle to find their independence amongst internal and external strife. Half a Life gives further proof why Naipaul was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.
- Leo
- a former bookseller (6/02) . . . title list


book House of Sand and Fog
by
Andre Dubus III
I've come to expect excellent writing in a Dubus bookit's just that this novel is by the son of the late Andre DubusAndre Dubus III. Since its publication, there has been great praise heaped on
House of Sand and Fog by some very impressive writers. Coming late to a highly praised novel is always a rather skewed experience. Often I wonder...does the book measure up...or if it doesn't seem to...am I just not getting it? At first, I was focused on the story itself, as it wove around some vibrant characters dealing with their vast differences. Slowly, I became aware of the author's very impressive writing style. I didn't want to leave this book.

It's not giving too much away to say that the novel concerns a down-on-her-luck young woman losing the house that her father built all because of a bureaucratic screw-up. This troubled woman is dealing with her own drug and alcohol addictions, she recently split from her husband, and now she has lost the family home. What creates the kick to the novel's plot is the man who bought her house dirt cheap at a tax auction. He's a former colonel in the Iranian Air Force, a friend of the Shah, and a new American citizen. This very proud man sees selling this house for a huge profit as his big chance to rise again to his rightful place in society. The cultural gap between the two main characters is more of a Grand Canyon. That's enough of the plot.

What's so very impressive about the writing is how much empathy Dubus makes you feel for both characters, simultaneously, even while they're at each other's throats. The author has done an outstanding job of sharing with the reader these characters' thoughts and motivations. He gets you right inside their heads. The mood and details of the colonel's cultural life feel honest -- this is a sign of not only fine writing, but of serious research. House of Sand and Fog clearly shows that the name of Andre Dubus still means excellent writing.
- John
- bookstore founder/owner (6/99) . . . title list


book In This Moutain
by Jan Karon

In this seventh book in the highly acclaimed Mitford Years series, Jan Karon again delivers what has won her an immense following: her ability to capture the extraordinary beauty of ordinary lives. Full of quirky characters and great storytelling, Mitford is the kind of town that you just can't leave.
-
Jed
- a former bookseller (6/02) . . . title list


book The Intuitionist
by
Colson Whitehead
This clever novel tells a very suspenseful and gripping story that centers on…the city's Department of Elevator Inspectors!? Throughout the book, the mystery of which city and what time period it is are both in the back of your mind. But your mind is more perplexed about the huge role that elevators and elevator inspectors play in this society. The dark moody world of the Department is constantly being reported upon in the major popular elevator magazines and on the front page of the city's newspapers. The department is split into two rival camps that are separated by their methods of inspection. There is the one group of inspectors that crawl above, below, around, and through each elevator to determine its condition. The other group, the Intuitionists, simply stands nearby and sort of reads the vibes of an elevator, to determine what repairs and adjustments are needed. These two factions don't get along, and the friction between them has grown lately because it's an election year. There is plenty of political intrigue swirling around a young black woman, the first in the department. Disaster strikes, and all hell breaks loose.

This description must sound rather in-bred and focused on some small little world in an elevator, but if you read The Intuitionist you will see that Whitehead has used a fictional setting to allow himself to write about some very large issues. The real world may philosophically view the issues of race, politics, and spirituality on a grander scale, but no issue is ever really about anything larger than how two people relate to each other. Using the incredible depth, heart, and humor of his writing, Colson Whitehead shows a world not that different from our own - we just get to see it from a fresh angle. There are several mysteries that play major roles in this book, but I'm not telling. This review isn't here to ruin the fun of a good story, just to try to get you to check it out.
- John
- bookstore founder/owner (6/99) . . . title list


book Loose Cannons
by Stan Seaberg

A book with a didactic first chapter may get shifted to the bottom of one's reading pile, but Seaberg's ''Loose Cannons'' deserves much more than cursory attention. His look at Viet Nam during the war is graphic and shocking, but his purpose in re-visiting the war is to move beyond it.

Seaberg's ''loose cannons'' return to Viet Nam on a reconciliation tour twenty years after the war, when conditions in country are more comfortable. Each person hopes to learn more about the past, make peace with it, and to move on. To the extent that this occursand it doesreaders who have long been appalled by the U.S. action in Viet Nam may find reconciliation too.

Parker is narrator, and his own demon -- the loss of Annie Binh, whom he loved -- is difficult to exorcise. Too much confusion, too many lies cover her fate. Her story could have made a page-turner in itself, but Seaberg has Parker tell the story of each person on the tour. Parker (Seaberg?) is storyteller even when characters speak for themselves, but his style is more relaxed in later chapters.

As Seaberg writes, the men seem mostly depressed and desperate, but the womenlike Lily the Japanese-American princess, Sybil the Kickboxing Spider Woman, and Tina who falls for the local Elvis impersonatorseem resilient and have a lot of appeal. The characters and the twelve stories are each unique, but for some reason hard to remember in any detail. What sticks with this reader is the country itself, and perhaps the country is the real subject of Seaberg's book. As a portrait of Viet Nam from different and often divergent points of view, Loose Cannons is extraordinary.
-
Marilyn
- customer (3/00)  . . . title list


book The Lost Scrapbook
by
Evan Dara
I almost missed The Lost Scrapbook, a novel by Evan Dara, which, upon its original publication in 1995, garnered only one review (a rave) and then disappeared. Fortunately, William Vollmann and the Fiction Collective Two (out of Illinois State University) have resurrected the work and reprinted it in a volume that, though not easy to get, is still available.

Dara's great innovation is to write a novel in which the first-person characters morph in mid-sentence. This abrupt shifting of perspectives is ingenious and takes the novel of community to new heights, Individual voices remain singular, but the shared concerns and experiences of the speakers form a common bond that becomes the central focus of the book.

An obvious influence on Richard Powers' Gain, The Lost Scrapbook is a fascinating read that combines stylistic invention with ecological, social, and moral considerations that very much concern us. You should not miss this second chance to experience this book.
- Michael
- a former bookseller (11/99) . . . title list


book The Love of a Good Woman
by
Alice Munro
Since the publication of her first book in 1968, Munro has proven time and again to be a master of the short story. Besides numerous publications in The New Yorker and several volumes of Best American Short Stories, she recently had a story selected by John Updike for The Best American Short Stories of the Century. But what's most amazing about her work is that it keeps getting better. The Love of a Good Woman, her first book of new stories since Open Secrets in 1994, is perhaps her strongest book yet.

Munro has the almost uncanny ability to return time and again to a particular theme and always manage to pull something new out of it. Many of her most successful stories deal with the small, everyday acts of rebellion in which otherwise oppressed women find small moments of freedom. However, she never seems to write the same story over, or to retread old ground. One of the major reasons for this is that she has an extraordinary intuitive feel for and understanding of her characters. Any ideas or themes that the stories may have grow naturally out of these characters and from the story itself, rather than from an author with an agenda.

The title story is an excellent example of this. It reaches almost 80 pages and takes on several different points-of-view, including a nurse tending to a dying man. Through the course of the story she learns much about the lies that run beneath the surface of a small town. "Jakarta" is also a wonderful story, focusing on a pair of couples and the changes that they undergo in trying to come to terms with their past and their aging. In fact, there isn't a weak story in this collection.

Munro takes her time telling these stories -- most of them end up being around 40 pages. And the best way to read them is to savor them, as each word has been carefully chosen and feels exactly right. While Munro has gotten better with each new book, it's hard to imagine her topping this one any time soon.
- Brandon
- a former bookseller (11/99) . . . title list


book A Man in Full
by Tom Wolfe

A Man in Full is almost a perfect book when you have to stay in bed for a week and are not too sick to read. It is an intense, realistic novel with very human characters who must face the continual crises - almost all economicthat contemporary society thrusts upon them. Because you want to know what happens to them, you don't want to put the book down - and yet you do put it down frequently. At 742 pages, A Man in Full is a heavy read.

Wolfe writes great characters. Even those who appear only briefly are important in the lives of the main characters and are shown in action. Coping, or not coping, they face the dangers of modern society. When you finish the book, you will remember the characters, and you will know how you might handle a lot of crises you didn't even know existed.
The first principal is Charlie Croker, football player and good-ol'-boy turned Atlanta developer. He owes the bank so much money on his latest project that the bankers, while not wanting to foreclosethey need Croker to pull the deal off and actually pay off the loansdo decide to repossess, among other things, Croker's favorite airplane. With bankers, Wolfe tosses in an ex-wife, a trophy wife, high society friends, college buddies, Atlanta politiciansall out to use Croker and none out to do him much good.

Croker's antithesis is young Conrad of the San Francisco Bay Area, the product of indifferent hippie parents. Married too young for the usual reason, and with hopes for education smashed, Conrad is supporting his wife and two children by working a hellish job in a Croker frozen food warehouse in Richmond. He loses the job because, at Atlanta headquarters, Croker's financial troubles have forced him to cut back. Conrad is a good, old-fashioned hero, the kind who could save us all. Maybe even Croker.

The quality of Wolfe's characterization is such that he shows Croker and others for the bastards they are, and you still like them. Well, you wouldn't want to live with them, but it turns out that you are glad to have had a visit.
- Marilyn Mantay - customer (3/99) . . . title list


book Master and Commander
by
Patrick O'Brian
Historical novels are in great vogue today; O'Brian's series, set aboard ship in Nelson's navy during the Napoleonic Wars, is said by reviewers to be impeccably detailed and the most absorbing and exciting of all. Master and Commander, where one begins, introduces Jack Aubrey with his first command, a sloop whose duties in the Mediterranean involve escort duty but
also a period in which to range the coast of Spain on the hunt for French and Spanish prizes and prisoners.

O'Brian has been compared to Jane Austen, and certainly the historic period is the same. Also, both writers use circumscribed environments in which characters and relationships seem both highlighted against and interwoven with circumstance. If by now Austen's country gentry and village life seem over-exposed, O'Brian's navy men and the intimacies and intricacies of life aboard a sailing ship seem decidedly new. I was stunned by O'Brian's minute knowledge of ships, and could have used a glossary at times.

Aubrey is a capable leader, cool and decisive in battle, but sometimes impetuous on shore. For example, his lover is, dangerously enough, the wife of his superior officer. In contrast is the doctor, Stephen Maturin, who is thoughtful, intellectual, scientific, well-read. The two become close friends, and the reader often comes to know Jack through the thoughts and
observations of Maturin.

O'Brian continued writing until his recent death. The twenty or so volumes in the Aubrey-Maturin series are treated by some readers as one long novel. I am a beginner, having just started the second volume.
-
Marilyn
- customer (2/00) . . . title list


book Motherless Brooklyn
by Jonathan Lethem
Book addicts, each of us read, read for different reasons. One person may require a sameness from book to book that provides a comfort zone equivalent to a funky overstuffed chair with a warm quilt. And, sometimes, that's exactly what I want for my effort. Most times, however, the best thing that can happen when I crack a new book chock full of possibility is the slow, wonderful unwinding of a truly original package...a voice speaking from the pages that I've never before experienced. I'm in a new uncharted territory and can't imagine how I got there. That doesn't happen often. Last year I discovered A.L. Kennedy, and, this year, Jonathan Lethem is my guide to nirvana. I was totally blissed-out by
Motherless Brooklyn. Not wishing to spoil anything by divulging any of the inventive craziness that is in store for you, I'll reveal only that the tale is told in first person and that that person has Tourette's Syndrome, so you are inside the head of someone who can describe to you what it's like to be so afflicted but has a hell of a time relating to anyone in his life who are the other characters in the book. (It's a perfect conceit for lifemine anyway. I'm always able to explain myself perfectly to the inside of my head.) Lethem's writing is funny, insightful, and touching. Motherless Brooklyn deservedly won the National Book Critic's Circle Award this year. Give yourself a gift - read it.
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Vicky - bookstore founder/owner (5/01) . . . title list

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