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book The Stargazey
by
Martha Grimes
When Superintendent Richard Jury of Scotland Yard and his friend Melrose Plant, a.k.a. Lord Ardry, catch Martha Grimes' attention with more of their adventuresthis is the 14thit's time to take notice. Jury is serious, moody, lovelorn, and apt to solve murders by keeping an open mindor at least a non-conventional mindand by traveling circuitous routes. Plant is a man of wit, wealth and leisure who, as lunchtime nears, generally rises from his easy chair by the fire and betakes himself to join his friends at the village pub. But sometimes he answers Jury's call and hastens to help him solve his latest murder.

The call this time is to London, where a woman Jury sawher lovely appearance and odd behavior attracted himand whom he even followed for a while, was later found murdered. Who killed her? More controversial is another question: Was it the same woman?

A new-born astrologer, artists, art dealers, an art critic, actors, children, travelers, a barmaid, a family of thieves, and aging members of Plant's London club add not a little entertainment and flamboyance to this novel. Grimes's village pubs and stately homes made wonderful settings, but the city has obviously been calling. The novel is less full of surprises than it is of colorful characters and plot twists, but it held this reader's interest throughout.

Another Martha Grimes/Richard Jury novel, The Lamorna Wink, is out in Viking hardcover. Another Martha Grimes novel, Biting the Moon, with a New Mexico setting, will be out next month in paperback.
-
Marilyn - customer (2/00) . . . title list


book Thief of Light
by
David Ramus
If there's one thing I love, it's a trashy mystery-thriller novel about an art dealer-heroin addict written by an ex-art dealer and ex-heroin addict. A self-destructive hero with a heart of gold who gets redeemed by the love of a good woman who happens to be fifteen years younger than him; lots of nasty weird evil gruesome disturbing yakuza members running around; and a serenely decadent New York art world setting. The prose style can be slightly wooden at times, but mostly it follows a straightforward, square-jawed, pulpy tone that serves the action well. Using this as a model, I guess in a few years I'll write a trashy mystery-thriller about a bookstore clerk-ninja assassin...um, never mind.

- Yi-Zhou
- a former bookseller (5/01) . . . title list


book Timbuktu
by Paul Auster

Mr. Bones believes that Timbuktu is where you go when you die. He picked this up from his longtime companiona wandering street poet named Willy G. Christmas. W.G. Christmas may have the soul of a poet and sport a fabulous tattoo of Santa Claus, but the life he shares with his friend is never easy.

This short book gets down, down to around a dog's height, as Mr. Bones is a mutt. In Timbuktu, Paul Auster looks through a dog's eyes to give the reader a completely different perspective from which to see life. The clean, sparse writing compliments perfectly the simpler life that our main character leads in his dog world. The needs and the confusions of life are much different for a dog, yet our species share many of the same desires. If everyone read Timbuktu, fewer people would most likely be treated like dogs. This is a special little book that won't take anyone long to read, but most will remember it for a long time.
- John
- bookstore founder/owner . . . title list


book Tomcat in Love
by Tim O'Brien

A number of us at the store eagerly awaited the release of Tim O'Brien's new novel,
Tomcat in Love, but the diverse reactions to the book generated the controversy of the season. While I readily admit that this latest book is not a masterwork like Going After Cacciato, The Things They Carried, or In the Lake of the Woods, I find this odd and satiric work disturbing, amusing, and often insightful, especially concerning the sordid world of academia and the unshakeable horrors of the Vietnam War.

Most of the negative reactions, I think, concerned the protagonist, Thomas H. Chippering, a college professor and a nasty piece of work (or is that redundant?). He is unpleasant, rude, sexist, racist, a sniveling schemer, and an inveterate liar. He is also convinced that he is totally charming. Part of the fun of the book is seeing how he rationalizes the other characters' responses to his personality and actions.

Tracked by a group of revenge seeking vets, secretly tracking his ex-wife to extract his own revenge, and falling into an intense relationship with a wacky (perhaps quite "normal") blonde, Chippering is a paranoid, obsessive mess, all gall and fear, who thinks that he is irresistible. The book is part homage to Nabokov, part Rothian burlesque, and part bitter commentary on contemporary America. Like a Nathaniel West suffering from Post-War Stress Syndrome, O'Brien skewers, scathes, shocks, and amuses. Obviously not for all tastes, the novel is bitter, but there is an acrid sweetness to the writing and a winking intelligence behind the bile.
- Michael
- a former bookseller (6/99) . . . title list


book An Unfortunate Woman
by Richard Brautigan

This small treasure, written back in 1982, was Richard Brautigan's last book before his suicide. His daughter held up its publication because of the haunting memories contained in the book. The waiting was certainly worth it for this writer's fans. Much of how Brautigan's writing brings me pleasure is not clear to my conscious mind, and I'm a little afraid of ruining the magic for myself by overanalyzing his style. His mind and his writing had an openness and a sweetness to it that could lead his readers anywhere - you simply wanted to follow his lead without any fear or judgment.

This book was a writing experiment in which he purchased a 160-page notebook and simply had to fill every page. In form, the book is somewhat of a six-month diary. It has dated entries, but Brautigan doesn't seem able to leave it at that. Many times it seems that the subject, setting, time, and everything else changed several times within a single sentence. His mind jumped around making connections that were many times surprising, but they always "worked." There's a comfort to his writing, even when it's disturbing - it's always an interesting place to be. One minute he's focused on a shoe in a Honolulu street, next, he'll be describing a tiny spider creating cobwebs in the hairs on his arm...then...wait...he's pondering the reason some unfortunate woman hanged herself in his apartment house. Mixed in are countless other events, nonevents, hard days and nights of drinking, tales of Brautigan and women, and a most disturbing phone conversation between the author and his distant daughter.

What's this all about? Why does anyone want to read these ramblings? My answer would have to be to experience this wonderfully fascinating man's mind, to go along for the ride, and, at the same time, to be thoroughly entertained.
- John
- bookstore founder/owner (5/01) . . . title list


book The Unstrung Harp
by Edward Gorey
Gorey is back. This time he's looking at the literary life. Edward's art and humor are always dark, but how can anyone resist taking a look at his book?

- John
- bookstore founder/owner (6/99) . . . title list


book Velocities: New & Selected Poems
by
Stephen Dobyns
This generous selection of Dobyn's work, coupled with some new poems, is an excellent overview of one of our best contemporary poets. Although better known as a novelist, Dobyns has been writing tough, visceral poetry for 30 years. Violence is usually not too far from the surface of these poems, but neither is an impressive logical structure, as in this short poem, from a sequence of Anglo-Saxon riddles:


Crow

My color is the color of fear. My sound
Is of knife against bone. If I rest,
It is only to watch you. Flying,
I draw darkness behind me like a net.
Now it is over you. Now it is falling.
(From "Six Poems on Moving")

This poem, taken from the out-of-print Gryphon, is fairly representative of Dobyn's poetry. It is dangerous, disquieting and offers a view of the world which has been unexplored. Although Dobyn is an excellent novelist, it would be a great loss if his poetry is not remembered as well.
- Brandon
- a former bookseller (6/99) . . . title list


book The Ventian's Wife
by Nick Bantock

Nick Bantock created a new book format with his Griffin and Sabine trilogy - a fictional work of correspondence wed to original artwork. Those three titles had the reader following a story by reading other people's mail. Keep in mind that Bantock lives on an island, in a small community with a cramped post office. With The Ventian's Wife Nick goes into the world of computers for his correspondence. This is a story that must be played out at an electronic distancefor an intriguing gift of a plot twist. While the art isn't as plentiful as in the trilogy, the story and the writing are both stronger. A world-wide art search is a major story element, but there is another important quest that leads to a strangely satisfying conclusion.

- John
- bookstore founder/owner . . . title list


book The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems
by William Stafford

Stafford left behind a huge body of work after his death in 1993. Besides the twelve full books of poetry,
from 1960's West of Your City to a volume appearing in 1996,
Even in Quiet Places, Stafford published many small pamphlets with small presses, usually appearing only in limited editions of 200 copies or so, and many of his poems have still not been published. He was one of the more prolific poets of our time, often stating that he always wrote at least one poem every day. He began this practice while serving time in a conscientious objector's camp during WWII, where he would wake up every morning at 5 a.m, reasoning that the government owned his body beginning at 7. He would continue this ritual for the rest of his life.

Besides generous selections from all of his books, most of which are now out of print, The Way It Is contains the two volumes that Stafford had been preparing, including the poem written the morning he died. All in all, it is quite a tribute to a master poet and a good introduction to a poet who has described his own work as uneven. (In an earlier book of essays, Writing the Australian Crawl, Stafford dismisses writer's block as a myth, saying that this phenomenon is a product of our own too-severe standards.)

There are many poems in this book that should be read for centuries to come. The much anthologized "Traveling Through the Dark" is among the best, as well as "At the Bomb Testing Site," a beautiful quiet political poem, and "Reaching Out to Turn on a Light," which I believe to be one of the most haunting elegies ever written.

Stafford's poems are deceptive. They appear simple at first, but unfold to reveal much below the surface after several readings. To anyone believing that contemporary poetry is all death and depression, I would offer the poems of William Stafford as a rebuttal. These are beautiful poems of resolution. Without ignoring the sadness and difficulties in life, Stafford offers a faith that can overcome them. His is a quiet and firm faith, one whose only argument is a refusal to move. In "With Kit, Age 7, at the Beach," Stafford recalls an afternoon spent with his son. Kit asks,
"How far could you swim, Daddy,
in such a storm?"
"As far as was needed," I said.

- Brandon
- a former bookseller (5/01) . . . title list


book Welding with Children
by
Tim Gautreaux
While not the twisted, sadistic tale of tortured youth that the title might suggest,
Welding With Children is, hands down, one of the best short story collections around. Though the eleven stories are set in Louisiana and the American Westthese familiar characters could live among us in cities and towns everywhere. Gautreaux creates people who aren't searching for material goods. They're looking for some sort of purpose and real emotion that their everyday lives lack. As in life, only sometimes do his characters know exactly what they are searching for. Sadness and hope are brilliantly mixed together in each story, and there is such originality contained in this collection that it's a definite reread. One armed hitchhikers, kidnapped Alzheimer's victims, a prison convict sitting in a bullringcolorful characters abound, and they're waiting for your eyes to find them in Welding With Children.

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


book Where the Sea Used to Be
by Rick Bass

A writing style that clearly describes the physical and spiritual sides of nature seems to come easily to Rick Bass. In his previous books, his descriptions of people have somewhat paled in comparison to the lush depictions of the landscape. Now, with his first full-length novel, not only are we rewarded with more fine writing on place, but Bass has honed his talents to create more fully-developed characters. The story takes place in a remote mountain valley that has only produced dry oil wells - nineteen times. Why does the eccentric owner of an oil company send his best engineer off to live with the owner's daughter in this valley for the winter? It might be to find oil or to stir up his daughter, who is studying the valley's wolves. It might be to reward a favorite employee, to punish\ everyone, or for some reason that a normal mind couldn't even hazard a guess at. The relationship between the engineer and the daughter that forms while he's mapping the valley is uniquely written. It starts with him slung over her shoulder, hanging on for dear life, on a wild ski ride through the dark night to her cabin. This book is a clever, surprising, and rewarding read.

- John
- bookstore founder/owner . . . title list


book The White Bone
by Barbara Gowdy

Barbara Gowdy is a Canadian writer who must adore elephants for she writes her new novel, The White Bone, from their perspective. Among many things about their lives, she envisions their language, special vocabulary, inter-relationships, beliefs, hopes, fears, physical features and ailments, frustrations, suffering, personalities, courage, rituals and myths.

The myth of the white bone, most powerful as elephant families are being decimated by ''hindleggers'' for tusks and feet, pervades the novel. It is the guiding myth. If the elephants can find it and toss it in the air, the white bone, falling to earth, will indicate like an arrow the the direction to ''The Safe Place''. To find the white bone, they need signs and portents, guidance from other animals with whom one in each family can communicate by ''mind talk'', and incredible strength and luck. The book describes the journey of the ''She-S'' family in search of that safe place.

The names of the family, all with S''She-Snorts'' or ''She-Screams'' or ''She-Soothes''should have been easy to remember because they are individually descriptive, but they somehow were not. The violence inflicted upon the gentle elephants was very hard to take. The imaginative way in which Gowdy thinks about the elephant's prodigious memory seemed absolutely wonderful. So did their endurance.

You don't want to read about elephants? That's like saying, when somebody offers Animal Farm, that you don't want to read about animals. I do not imply that Gowdy uses animals to satirize humans; she absolutely does not. Rather, she shows what animals might be like, in themselves, if they had language. But Gowdy's unflinching book seems so genuine that it's easy to wonder whether she might be a mind talker, and whether her visions of the elephants could be real.
-
Marilyn - customer (2/00) . . . title list


book A Wild Sheep Chase
by Haruki Murakami

Called a wiseacre wise man and a genius by critics, Mr. Murakami, a contemporary Japanese author, takes your mind to a multifaceted realm with A Wild Sheep Chase. Such a writer, you find yourself moving with rapt fascination, building with want for more, as new understanding strikes home, and analogy is given by Murakami, a great avenue for varied slant, dreamlike vision, belly-laughing, and a joy of literature that has you looking forward to his next work long before you finish A Wild Sheep Chase. Piqued interest is yours with this great novel.

- Michael Panzich - family member (8/02) . . . title list


book The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles
by Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami always delivers, or as the Chicago Tribune puts it "Murakami is a genius."
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles is one of the finest novels that I've read in years. I'm always eager to enter that foreign-yet-comfortable, simple-but-complex world that Murakami creates. This story begins when a man realizes that his wife's cat is missing. Soon, he realizes that it isn't just the cat that is missingnow it is his wifeand finally it's almost everything familiar in his life. Or could it be that he's simply looking at the familiar from new perspectives, thanks to a very neighborly sixteen-year-old girl, an aging war veteran, and a prostitute? Like the author's previous book, A Wild Sheep Chase, this novel is somewhat of a detective story, but what our main character is searching for seems to be constantly changing. This book is a fine find.

- John
- bookstore founder/owner . . . title list


book The Winged Seed
by Li-Young Lee

The Winged Seed is a small book, but don't let that fool you. It's one of the richest books I've read in a long time, with a density of image that is usually reserved for poetry, which makes sense, since this is Lee's first book of prose after two beautiful books of poetry. The Winged Seed is a memoir of Lee's childhood, growing up in China, Indonesia, and Hong Kong before moving to America at six years old. This book would be worth reading if it were nothing more than an account of this extraordinary childhood - Lee's family left China for Indonesia because of the political turmoil, but anti-Chinese sentiment landed Lee's father in prison. Lee's father escaped and the family fled to Hong Kong, where Lee's father rose to prominence as an evangelical preacher.

But The Winged Seed is much more than a journalistic account of these events. This is a memoir that does not move through time chronologically. It is based more around images and dreams than events. The important events in Lee's life are narrated, but they usually arrive from an image that triggers a memory, rather than coming in a linear order. The book begins with a dream of Lee's: "In my dream my father came back, dressed in the clothes we'd buried him in, carrying a jar of blood in one hand, his suit pockets lined with black seeds." He then notices that his father's shoes were wrecked. "I began to cry, realizing, He walked the whole way. I thought of him climbing...from his grave in Pennsylvania, and then, obeying some instinct, walking west to Chicago, toward his wife, children and grandchildren." This is representative of most of the bookhighly metaphorical, densely written, and with a heavy reliance on imagery. The seeds from the father's coat come back throughout the book, in various manifestations, to become the unifying metaphor. Lee's relationship with his father is never oversimplified or tied up too neatlyit is equal parts "terror and love."

But the true subject of this book, as in much of Lee's poetry, is the nature of memory. Through the recurrences of metaphors and the links between images and events, we begin to see how the mind structures our own lives. There are more hidden depths to this book than any I've read for a long timeit begs to be read, re-read, and savored each time. This is the kind of prose we always hope poets will write: rich, beautiful, and full of feeling, true to
memory and life.

- Brandon
- a former bookseller (5/01) . . . title list


book You Are Not a Stranger Here
by Adam Haslett

I’ve just finished a collection of short stories that almost, without fail, (7 out of 9) knocked my socks off. You Are Not A Stranger Here by Adam Haslett is an original, intense group of stories, told from various points of view, revelatory in nature, surprising, unpredictable, wonderful. I haven’t been this happy with short stories since I discovered Tobias Wolff.
- Vicky
- bookstore founder/owner (11/02) . . . title list

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