We have a number of new readers this week, and we might as well stumble right off into the weeds so they know what they’re in for. So, hello, and prepare yourselves for some dire news. Alas, we did not get copies of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s The Mythology in our Language: Remarks of Frazer’s Golden Bough this week.

We know. We know. How can we possibly put ourselves up as your go-to happy place for all things philosophical, anthropological, and mythological if we can’t even keep up with Wittgenstein and his smack talk about Frazer? It’s not like this book hasn’t been around since the ‘60s, but we were waiting for an English translation so you didn’t have to parse all that tongue-twisting German. Sadly, it would appear that the imminent release of this work is, um, not as imminent as we had thought. 

Therefore, we shall have to wait a little longer to get the answers to such piercing questions as: Is metaphysics magic? What is a ritual among a modernized, self-determinant society? Are humans truly ceremonial creatures? Ah, we must hold ourselves on the cusp of knowing—like those Cargo Culters of old—as we wait for the delivery of that sacred brown box which contains the answers to all these questions. 

[Mark’ll be in the back, sulking as he hand-letters “Waiting for Wittgenstein” t-shirts. Try not to harass him about his lack of familiarity with German—which all earnest students of philosophy know, right? He’ll point out that Frazer is more closely aligned with anthropology, and that’s more the realm of Durkheim and Lévi-Strauss, who were French, and the most of the good European graphic novels are in French, therefore—oh, gracious! Would you look at the time.]


Anyway, returning from the weeds, what else is out this week? Well, let’s stick with philosophy talk for a moment and lavish some attention on Tom Miller’s debut novel, The Philosopher’s Flight. This one is really marvelous, dear readers. It’s a coming-of-age story set in World War I-era America where a young man seeks to find his true path in the world, except his talents lie in empirical philosophy, an arcane female-dominated branch of science that seems like a lot of magic to many folks. Naturally, there are those who seek to curb this special brand of philosophical learning, and our protagonist and a rag-tag band of fellow misfits must fight to save themselves and free thinkers everywhere. Publishers Weekly calls The Philosopher’s Flight “an American cousin to Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell,” and we find that comparison very apt. 


And on the flipside, we have Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now, which posits that reason and science (the tools of the Enlightenment) have provided a great deal of the health, prosperity, peace, knowledge, and happiness that our species now enjoys (for the most part). Pinker sets out to argue that certain currents of human nature (oh, things like authoritarianism, tribalism, demonization, some magico-religious tendencies) are working against these very advances from the last few hundred years. Rigorously argued with intellectual depth and literary flair (two stylistic choices which may cut against Pinker’s efforts with the aforementioned inward spiraling currents), Enlightenment Now makes the case for looking up and moving forward.

On a lighter note, let’s pick up a copy of Hotel Silence, a new novel by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir, an Icelandic novelist whose previous books have been translated into nearly two dozen languages and longlisted for a number of awards. In Hotel Silence, we follow Jónas Ebeneser, a lonely fellow who moves away from the home he knows to a city where he can quietly follow through on his plan to end his life. Much like aged crankster Ove in Fredrik Backman’s bestseller, Jónas would prefer to end his life without being a bother on anyone, but the siblings who own the hotel where Jónas is staying manage to draw the taciturn man out of his shell. Jónas knows the difference between a screwdriver and a pair of pliers, and he finds his skills in demand as word spreads beyond the hotel that this guest can “fix” things. Naturally, friendships bloom, and the bleakness of life recedes. Library Journal calls Hotel Silence “witty, soulful, and tender,” while Publishers Weekly agrees that it is a “life-affirming tale without any treacle.” Booklist goes one better and says Hotel Silence “is a beautifully spare and insightful tale of redemption.” 


Now that we’ve gotten all earnest and heartwarming, let’s dig around for something a little darker. Here we go. How about Carter Wilson’s Mister Tender’s Girl? A “razor-sharp thriller with the creep factor turned up to 11” (according to Kirkus Reviews), Mister Tender’s Girl is based on a real news story (the 2014 Slender Man stabbing), but it quickly goes off into dark terrain of its own making.

Now, Alice’s father was the creator of a graphic novel series about a bad man named Mister Tender, and years ago Alice was attacked by a couple of whacko classmates who thought her dad’s books were speaking to them. Years later, Alice has recovered and is living a quiet life as a coffee shop owner when bits of her past come back to haunt her. And then it gets creepier and weirder from there. Thankfully, Alice is a bit of a badass, and isn’t going to put up with someone messing with her head, and sets out to solve the mystery of what happened to her dad back in the day and who is behind the resurrection of her dad’s most famous invention. Keep the lights on when you read this one. 


And we’re just going to not bother with a clever segue and just give you whiplash here as we snap over Jaci Burton’s Shot on Gold. Will “Mad Dog” Madigan is a rough and tumble hockey player who has been tapped to play for Team USA. Amber Sloane is a figure skater with a penchant for introversion and controlling mother types. Together, they’re going to melt all the ice at the Winter Olympics. 

What? Is this book not perfectly placed in the Venn Diagram overlap between People Who Would Rather Read on Valentine’s Day Than See a Crap Film Version of a Tawdry BDSM Novel and People Who Can’t Stand All The Commercials During the Winter Olympics and Who Just Want a Decent Read to Pass The Time Until Figure Skating Comes On? 

Anyway, mad props to Jaci Burton for hitting the sweet spot with this sexy-looking sports romance novel. 


And speaking of mad props, we’re a bit swoony-eyed about A Wilder Time: Notes from a Geologist at the Edge of the Greenland Ice by William Glassley. Glassley joins the ranks of naturalist writers who make talking about rocks and lichens sexy with this witty and engrossing memoir of time spent wandering about on Greenland. Even though Glassley tackles the hard sciencey bits of his expedition reports (there’s a section titled “Fractionation,” and he talks effusviely of “shear zones” and “glaciated peaks”), he does so with considerable awareness of his audience (i.e., non-rock nerds). His enthusiasm is infectious and his wonder at this wild place is inspiring. 


And speaking of infectious language and verve, Tracy Chevalier’s contribution to the Hogarth Shakespeare series is out this week. New Boy is a retelling of Othello, and in Chevalier’s version, we are deep in jealousy and revenge as played out on a 1970s-era elementary schoolyard. Chevalier, whose previous books include the widely translated Girl With a Pearl Earring, weaves a tale that both evokes and extends Shakespeare’s original, and New Boy is a great addition to the Hogarth roster of reworked Shakespearean stories.


And finally, as we look to our second session of Write Time (next Tuesday night, from 7pm to 9pm), we’re delighted to have John Dufresne’s Flash! Writing the Very Short Story. Flash fiction is the stuff that Twitter is made of (but with a few more words), and Dufresne walks readers through the particulars of how to write engaging and thought-provoking stories in a very short space. Dufresne also provides a number of fun prompts to help writers get over themselves, find sources of inspiration, and practice making things happen in a timely fashion. 

And with those suggestions laid before you (rise up, find joy, make things), we shall send you off into the world. We shall remain here, keeping the shelves stocked as we wait—eternally, if need be—for Wittgenstein . . . 

Overheard At The Battered Casket »»

JASPER: Ah, hello there. How you are doing this afternoon? How is that promising playtime production you are working on? 

IRENE: [empties glass and puts it on the bar] I’ll have another. 

JASPER: Oh. That bad? 

IRENE: And put it on his tab. 

GINGER: Certainly. And what would you like this afternoon, sir? 

JASPER: Tonic water—for the moment, please. I suspect I may graduate to something stronger in a few minutes. 

IRENE: I should strangle you right here, but I don’t think that nice young lady would appreciate you stiffing her on my drink tab. 

JASPER: Irene, dear, what is going on? 

IRENE: That fellow—that thespian—you suggested I hire? 


IRENE: He’s going to wreck it all. 

JASPER: Oh, come now. He can be a bit of a blowhard when it comes to literature, but he’s a hard worker and—

IRENE: I have lost two cast members in the last week. 

JASPER: Lost? How? 

IRENE: One stepped off the stage and fell into a timpani. The other had a sudden grade reduction, which dropped him below the school’s academic threshold for extracurricular activities. 

JASPER: Grade threshold for extracurricular—doesn't that only apply to sports? 

IRENE: I don’t make the policies, Jasper. I merely have to live with them. And right now, I’m about to do Alice in Wonderland without a Mad Hatter or a March Hare. 

JASPER: Oh dear. That’s not good. 

IRENE: Naturally, our furry friend has volunteered to stand in for those roles until I can find suitable replacements, but—oh, Jasper, I’ve been around performers for a long time. I know all their tricks. I know all the shady, underhand, back-stabbing bull—

JASPER: Now, wait a minute, Irene. Are you suggesting dramaturgic skullduggery? 

IRENE: I’m not suggesting it. I’m flat-out telling you. That marmot wants to turn this high school production into a one-rodent play. 

JASPER: How dastardly narcissistic of him! Of course, given the current political climate, you can’t really blame him for mirroring—

IRENE: Oh, shut the hell up, Jasper. There’s nothing meta about this. He just wants the spotlight. He’s not satisfied with being the Cheshire Cat and—

JASPER: You cast him as the Cat? 

IRENE: Of course I did. What other role was I supposed to give him? He’s a furry animal, for crying out loud. 

JASPER: Oh, that's—that's unfortunate. 

IRENE: What? Are you saying I typecast him? This is all because I gave him a role which he is perfectly suited to play. He's going bonkers on my cast because I didn’t allow him to . . . to what? thespian all over my stage? 

JASPER: Do you have to make it sound so vile? 

IRENE: I don't have time for your social niceties, you pestiferous popinjay. The show opens in three days. I don’t have a Mad Hatter or a March Hare. My Queen of Hearts is threatening to quit on me if this monstrosity of a marsupial so much as smiles at her during rehearsals—which, in fact, is all he’s actually supposed to do. 

JASPER: That is quite a mess. 

GINGER: Here are your drinks. 

JASPER: Ah, thank you, dear. 

IRENE: [empties glass in one long swallow] I’ll have one more. On his—

JASPER: Yes, yes. On my tab. 

GINGER: Okay. I’ll take care of that. 

JASPER: Oh, and Ginger dear, get me one too. 

GINGER: Okay. Coming right up. 

IRENE: You need to fix this. You gave me this problem, and now you need to fix it. 

JASPER: Very well. 

IRENE: Today

JASPER: Okay, okay. I’ll—I’ll see what I can do. 

IRENE: I’ll fire the marmot if I have to, but if I do, you’re playing the Cheshire Cat. 

JASPER: Oh, good lord, no. My skin. I can’t take the make-up. 

IRENE: Then you had better come up with something else. 

JASPER: I—I . . . yes, actually. I might have an idea. Hmmm. You need two replacements, yes? 

IRENE: Yes. And I need fast studies too. There are lines to memorize. 

JASPER: Yes, yes, of course. I think I might know just the solution. And it’s take the starch right out of that marmot too. 


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