It’s big-time super special Independent Bookstore Day this weekend, which means that the weather will cooperate, doves will fly in synchronized patterns, and the wind will be slight enough that it will turn pages at a respectable rate as you lay out in the hammock. Also, we’ll be here, selling books and talking smack about fiction. As we do. And what books will we be talking about this week? 

Well, Kirk Wallace Johnson’s The Feather Thief, for one. This one has obsessive fly-tiers who are willing to steal feathers from the British Museum of Natural History, a spin through naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace’s predilection for charting and collecting feathers, and a long-form discussion about the nature of beauty.

Wallace, as you may know, was one of the first to propose the idea of “biogeography,” and during his time doing field work in the Malay Peninsula, he corresponded with Charles Darwin, and it is a collection of his material and Chuck’s that was presented to the Linnean Society of London in 1858. Darwin’s On the Origin of Species hit the shelves in 1859, and that was that—as far as the, uh, evolution of evolution goes. Wallace was a staunch defender of Darwin’s when he returned to London. And why wouldn’t he be? After all, he was formulating the same theory. 

Anyway, Johnson’s book is about birds, museum heists, and obsessive behavior. What’s not to love about that? 

And speaking of things to love, Linda Rodriguez McRobbie brings us Princesses Behaving Badly, which is a historical retrospective of those bad-ass females, one of whom led a rebellion with her son strapped to her back, while another kept male concubines in drag, and another was punk until she went corporate. One foamed at the mouth, and one wore a mask made of veal. Other accomplishments achieved by princesses were nearly wrecking the Roman Empire, robbing a bank, scaring the pope, and partying for Hitler. Not to mention the princess who was also the “She-Wolf,” the Stalker Princess, the one who became the Emperor of China, and the princess who went off and became a pirate. 

Princesses took no shit from anyone, back in the day. We salute them. McRobbie has a light touch with her mini biographies as well, making each of these stories read like a racy thriller. 

We’ve been hearing good things about C. Robert Cargill’s Sea of Rust, and it’s out in paperback now. Sea of Rust takes place somewhere in the future when humanity has been wiped out by some variant of Skynet. Now, rogue robots who aren’t part of the One World Intelligence network wander the wasteland, searching for meaning in a world inhabited only by machines. Somewhere in here, a self-aware robot discovers Shakespeare and Robert Frost and maybe even some Deepak Chopra, and starts to wonder about what it takes to be “human.” 

And speaking of thinking deep thoughts, A. Zee has done some thinking about Gravity. Zee, who is a professor of physics at the Kavli Institute of Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, by day and reader of fine literature by night, knows how to talk about theoretical quantum stuff in an engaging manner that doesn’t make our heads hurt. We like books that make us understand the world better without requiring headgear. 

And speaking of understanding the world better, Alastair Bonnett takes us Beyond the Map, exploring unruly enclaves, ghostly places, and emerging lands as we search for new utopias. Because, as you know, those old utopias are terribly out of season. And molting. Dropping dystopia feathers everywhere. You can’t even make decent salmon flies with these feathers.

Now, cartographically speaking, things have been kinda dull since Google co-opted every spy satellite for a weekend and downloaded the image data for Google Earth, but Bonnett has managed to find 39 places that qualify as “new.”  Some of them are rising seamounts; some are Bond villain hideouts; some are places that we shouldn’t talk about; and some of them are just strange locations that no one has really bothered to visit. Except the locals, who are totally annoyed by the rest of us. 

And speaking of Bond villains, Dynamite Entertainment has been doing authorized James Bond graphic novels for awhile, and they’ve gone back to the beginning for a new edition of Casino Royale. Adapted by Van Jensen and Dennis Calero, this edition strips away a lot of the Hollywood glitz that has descended upon the character in the last fifty years and gets back to the gritty origins of James Bond—a character who even Ian Fleming noted wasn’t that good of a person. 

Props to Dynamite for getting the Fay Dalton cover artwork that the Folio Society used for their recent reissue of Casino Royale. Dalton does stunning work, and we’re delighted to see her get more exposure. 

And in our movie tie-in nod of the week, Becky Albertalli is back with Leah on the Offbeat, a sort-of follow-up to Simon vs The Homo Sapien Agenda. While Simon is busy having his life story revealed in Love, Simon (now in theaters), Leah, his BFF, is struggling a bit with where she fits in. She’s usually right in the rhythm of things, but recently, she’s been a bit off, and the source of this “offness” may be some conflicting feelings she’s having about someone. With prom and senior graduation on the horizon, things are getting a little zingier and zanier than normal, and Leah is . . . well, Leah’s just “off” a bit. Here’s hoping she can find her way back. 

And speaking of finding one’s way, longtime journalist Tristram Korten’s first book is out this week. Into the Storm follows two boats that were caught up in Hurricane Joaquin during September 2015. The El Faro, a 790-foot American shipping vessel, and the Minouche, a 230-foot freighter, were both caught in the storm, and Korten’s narrative about the valiant efforts of numerous teams to save the vessels makes for a crackling read. 

And speaking of bad-ass heroines and crackling reads, Adrienne Young’s debut novel, Sky in the Deep, is out this week. Part Wonder Woman and part Vikings, Sky in the Deep is the story of Eelyn, a young warrior woman who discovers that her long-lost brother isn’t as dead as everyone thought and that her enemies might be her friends because there’s an even greater foe that everyone has to fight. It’s one of those “Who is your Clan?” and “Who is your Family?” stories, told with a delightful verve and ferocity. 

And finally, we should mention this book only because everyone around here has read it (some more than once) and now you can too. It’s got monsters and Civil War-era sharpshooters and a man of the law with an attitude that will overflow a ten-gallon hat. We like to say it’s a mash-up of Tremors meets True Grit, but with more literary references. Kind of like this newsletter, which is no coincidence when you get right down to it (wink, wink). 

A Letter, Found Near the Duck Box »»

Dear Custodian of Letters, 

I am writing you today to let you in on a little secret. But first, some back story: As many of you know, the Ministry of Mythological Mysteries was formed in 1661 when the publishing company Mercator/Hondius/Janssonius decided to not publicly publish the thirteenth volume of their Atlas Major project. It was the upkeep of this “lost” volume that the Ministry was charged with, and for two centuries, members of the Ministry communicated through the various bookshops owned by Janssonius and family. When Frankfurt lost its independent state after the Austro-Prussian War, social and political pressures forced the Ministry underground. Methods of communication became more difficult, and there was a growing impression within the ranks that, given how much of the “known” world had been mapped, there was, in fact, no longer a need for the Ministry. 

Several Custodians disagreed, but in light of the cultural mood and the political climate in the waning days of the 19th century, they kept their opinions to themselves. It was dangerous to be a proponent of the Mysteries in this time period, and the sudden death of Sir Richard Francis Burton in 1890 was a severe blow to the esoteric cartographic movement. 

However, the Mysteries have a way, do they not? We see the first inklings of renewed communication in William Morris’s The Well at the World’s End in 1896 (and much of his work at the Kelmscott Press is an effort to transmute the Map into a living document), Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1902, A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh in 1926, and C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia following WWII. The Map has moved into the woods, as it were, and many of its custodians are now four-legged instead of two. 

It was only a matter of time, really, before a new method of communication between Custodians, Cartographers, and Calibrators would come into being. At first, carrier pigeons were used to carry messages between members, but unfortunately, that method was co-opted by a number of political and military organizations, resulting in a rather unfortunate decline in the Columbidae population. The same held true for the Corvidae, with some species becoming outright hostile to the idea of carrying messages on behalf of Map keepers. Recently, though, the Dendrocygninae—the whistling ducks—have graciously volunteered to be mail carriers. 

Which leads me to the Duck Box. 

Letters placed within the Duck Box will find their way to their listed recipient via a duly-recognized Dendrocygninae carrier. While it is not the swiftest method of communication, it is one that will ensure that all missives are properly marked with the five-dimensional notation of the Map. Remember that all stories start with a single character, become a scene by the addition of a secondary viewpoint, blossom into a narrative with a through line, and transform into a thematic consideration with time, and fully realize themselves with a mishap of metaphor, a shenanigan of similes, and a trickling of tropes. 

The Great Work started by Jonssonius & Hondius is not lost. We shall continue it. We have allies among the furred and feathered. We must trust them to be our guides and confidantes.

With Great Affection and Earnest Utility,

Olaf Gosti Van der Bos

[Ed. note: If you wish to know more about the mysterious Duck Box, you will have to visit the store and find it. There are rules for putting letters in the Duck Box . . . ]


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