Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Books recent and current

PLEASE, PLEASE, if you like anything you read about here, buy it from your local independent bookseller. You can find someone near you at the Booksense website. Really! You can type in your zip code and everything. Or find a little guy with a website who'll send it to you.

The Devil in the White City, Erik Lawson. I read a lot of mysteries, not much true crime, because I think true crime is sensationalist without having much plot or character interest. Everyone wants to be Truman Capote, but most people wind up closer to Ann Rule. The serial killer thread of this was pretty much what I expected. Howmmmsoever ... I'm secretly in love with Chicago and its architecture, so I really loved all the stuff about the world's fair, and in the two days since I read it have seen two items crop up (in my constant swim through print) that tie back to something I learned from the book, so I feel this was a good part of my continuing education. I understand why this is a perennial Booksense bestseller.

The Black Book of Secrets, F.E. Higgins (US edition forthcoming, Fall '07) For middle grade readers. I'm in the middle of this. This is a quasi-Dickensian story about a pickpocket who finds himself apprenticed to a highly unlikely pawnbroker. I'm really liking the pacing and the writing is very accessible to kids without being clunky. A good choice for Lemony Snicket fans, I think (though I haven't finished).

Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert. She and her sister (Catherine Gilbert Murdock, author of the young adult book Dairy Queen) came to speak at the store last summer and it was one of the best events we've ever done. I'm only just at the beginning of this and I can't imagine what took me so long. She combines snarkiness and emotional availability in this absolutely stunning way. I think anyone drawn to blogs would love this book.

Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan. I read the first section of this, on apples and John Chapman/Johnny Appleseed, many years ago, loved it, and got stuck in the second section, tulips. I just didn't care that much about the tulips. But I went back to it after I read The Omnivore's Dilemma, which is one of the few books that I think everyone in the world should read (really: if you eat, you need to know what Pollan has to say). Botany is not a masterpiece, but it's awfully fine. I still think the apple section is the best one in the book, with its strong historic vein, and I still don't think the tulip section is nearly as interesting, but the marijuana and potato sections (sections 3 and 4) come close. There's a clear path from the potato section, in which Pollan contemplates genetically modified crops and monoculture, to the work he's doing in Omnivore. Gardening isn't as universal an experience as eating, but I think this should be on your list if you spend any time reading gardening books or catalogs.

The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion. I actually am not prepared to write about this, seeing as it's all about grief and all. But I loved it.

Next up: The Coldest Blood, Jim Kelly. I love smart British mystery novels. Unfortunately St. Martins is only publishing Kelly in hardcover here, but you can see if it cost-effective to get a used paper copy from the UK by looking on abebooks.


niobe said...

I'm sure I'm being wilfully obtuse, but why the emphasis on independent bookstores?

I mean, I suppose would patronize the local indep. bookstore (it would be much more convenient, for one thing), but I've found that the staff -- and this is somthing that I've discovered to be pretty much universal at non-chain bookstores) is remarkably ill- informed, surly and unhelpful. For example:

"Could I get this book in hard cover?" I ask, holding up a copy of a paperback.
"It would probably take 8 to 10 weeks" replies the clerk. I go home and order the book on Amazon and it arrives within a week.

"I'd like to get book X, by author Y. Could you order it?"
"Sure," says the clerk, "I just need your name and address." When I stop by a few weeks later, the bookstore has no record of my order. I go to Borders and, not only get the book within a reasonable period of time, but get a call from the store when it comes it.

Unfortunately, "dependent" book store seem to provide what I want -- friendly service and books in a timely fashion.

I dunno -- maybe the owners of independent bookstores can't afford to pay enough to retain knowledgeable or nice staff.

I don't think my experiences are all that unusual. But I'm perfectly willing to be convinced otherwise.....

anna said...

We are lucky to have a great independent bookseller nearby where the staff knows and loves books so I'm with you on the support your local bookseller concept. This is the second recommendation I have seen in one day for Eat, Pray, Love so I am gonna have to go get me it.

LOVED The year of Magical Thinking. That woman sure can write.

liz said...

Help me, Obi Wan, you're my only hope.

I can't understand the instructions on making up the pig. I've got all the pieces made, but I'll eat my summer straw hat if I can make heads or tails of how to make up legs and a body out of a featureless square.

Love the book list. I've got to get me some of those.

S. said...


I'm sorry that you have a sub-par independent in your area. The reason I emphasize independents is two-fold:

1)I'm an independent bookseller, reviews are part of what I do professionally, so I don't intend to post them on my blog to benefit my direct competitors (chains, Amazon).

2) As a citizen and a consumer I think we need to be active in supporting locally-owned businesses or every area of our economy could come to be dominated by a few super-retailers who then suck money out of local economies and also have the ability to censor lyrics or deny access to emergency contraceptives or pay workers miserable wages with no benefits, or...well, you get the idea.

Anna, thanks for posting, and I think if you liked Didion you'll like Gilbert. Different styles, different experiences, but in reading each I felt I was visiting the mind of an incredibly open, honest friend at a remarkably intense time of her life.

Liz, I'll email you back--some things cannot be handled in a comment field!

Jenny Davidson said...

I loved both "Eat, Pray, Love" and "Dairy Queen" (and I've got the DQ sequel at home awaiting my earliest moment of lovely reading time...)

I liked your stuffed animals post above too, can't wait to meet Z.! Next time I'm in Phila., maybe...

S. said...

Hi Jenny! Glad you stopped by.