For those of you who plan to visit the bookstore after the newsletter comes out, we have an awkward confession to make. One of the books in this week’s newsletter was rudely snatched out of the stack before we could get to it. Someone has figured out where the cool stuff gets piled up prior to us writing about it, and they totally snurched off with a book this morning.
[Yes, ‘snurched.’ It’s a technical term that means “Hey! I see you over there, moving books around and taking one from near the bottom.”]
Anyway, the rest of the stack looks something like this:
We’re a fan of pretty books about mythic tales, and this new edition of some of Kevin Crossley-Holland’s retelling of the Norse myths is so freakin’ awesome that we contemplated devoting an entire edition of the newsletter to fawning over Jeffrey Alan Love’s illustrations. Love is an award-winning illustrator who comes at these myths with an iconic style that is mostly two-color (black and red, for instance, or black and yellow), and throughout these tales, Love’s art scampers across the bottom of the page. It lurks in the fold, filled with shadows and teeth. It storms across the page, shoving the text to one side. In fact, this oversized book struggles to contain the mighty battles between the giants and the gods. When Fenrir breaks his chains, the links fly off the page, and when Thiazi, the golden eagle, flies into the fiery trap set for it by Odin, the flames overwhelm the page.
This is a very cool book, kids.
And speaking of cool books, we have a new edition of Werner’s Nomenclature of Colors Adapted to Zoology, Botany, Chemistry, Mineralogy, Anatomy, and the Arts, as rendered by Patrick Syme. Even in the nineteenth century, the subtitle was important for getting all the keywords out in front of the audience. Now, Werner was a guy who liked to make lists and his great list-making contribution was written in German and dryly titled Von den äußerlichen Kennzeichen der Foßilien. In this book, he he laid out a classification system for describing fossils and minerals, because, back in the day, there were no cameras or Rent-a-Audubons and you had to describe everything with the written word. Naturally, there were fisticuffs in various academic meetings over whether “pretty” big was larger or smaller than just regular “big.” These fracases were getting in the way of science and so Werner set out to codify the language so that everyone could talk about things in the same way.
Fast forward a couple of decades, and enter Scottish artist Patrick Syme, who yanks out the fun bits about color from Werner’s On the External Characteristics of Fossils. He translates this chunk of mineral talk into some verbiage with fewer syllables, and includes actual color samples to make it useful to folks in a number of other professions (as enumerated in the subtitle of Syme’s edition). Et voilà, as they say in France, which only complicates a story that already involves Scottish painters and German geologists.
And speaking of books in translation, we also have Timothée de Fombelle’s The Book of Pearl, which is the story of a fable who is lost to his own world and of his quest to regain his memory and his self-confidence to cross back over and find the great love of his life. Naturally, Joshua Pearl is trapped in an old marshmallow shop in Paris on the eve of World War II, so there’s a bit of a ticking clock to the narrative as Pearl struggles to recall what is fantastic and what is fatalistic before history kicks in the doors and wrecks the place.
And speaking of kicking in the doors and wrecking the place, Kristin Hannah is back this week with The Great Alone, a story set in the wilds of Alaska. In 1974, Ernt Allbright takes his family up to the deep Alaskan wilderness in an effort to find peace and familiarity. Ernt, a former Vietnam POW, is having troubles fitting in, and this discomfort with society extends to his young daughter, Leni, who is also struggling to fit in. At first, the move north seems to be what the family needs, but as the nights get longer and longer through the winter, Ernt starts to fall apart, and soon enough, Leni and her mother find themselves in a desperate struggle for survival.
And speaking of desperate struggles, this week’s debut book is Moonshine, by Jasmine Gower. Think Lev Grossman’s The Magicians meets The Great Gatsby. In Moonshine, stylish Modern Girl Daisy is moving on up in the world in Soot City, but when mage-hunters start coming to the city, she finds herself on the run, because the magic she inherited from her grandmother is the sort of magic that gets one killed . . .
And speaking of having things we shouldn’t, Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time is the story of a man who has lived for four hundred and thirty-nine years and how this man’s simple life as a history teacher in the here and now is . . . not quite as simple as it seems. Because this fellow is supposed to live by one rule—don’t love anyone—and, naturally, he blows that rule. Which creates complications, which lead to challenges, which lead to further complications, and then things get really tense. It is a love story, after all.
And speaking of complications and challenges, Francisco Cantú’s memoir is out this week. The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border is a sparse and elegiac memoir that asks a lot of hard questions about family, identity, and ill-informed governmental policies. During several iterations of interacting with the US / Mexico border, Cantú struggles to understand what an utterly arbitrary line in the sand means to those who live on either side of it, as well as what it means to those who have crossed (and who think they have put it behind them). It’s a book that will stay with you long after you have finished it, and is one that we highly recommend.
And, in passing, we should note that George Saunders’s Man Booker Prize winning novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, is out in paperback this week. For those who want a little phantasmagoria in their ghost stories or a little heartbreak in their historical fiction or a little luminosity in their literary. We know you’re out there.
Meanwhile, in the Back Room of the School Kitchen »»
COLBY: Over here. No, over here.
RALPH: Oh, hey. Uh, what you are doing here?
COLBY: I thought we could run lines. You know, from the play.
RALPH: Uh, I’m kinda busy at the moment. I need to get all these burgers put together for first lunch.
COLBY: Oh, yeah. Okay. I don’t mind. Can I help?
RALPH: I—I don’t think you should. Fur, you know.
RALPH: There are health regulations about hair. We have to wear these hairnets and gloves.
COLBY: Oh, is that what those are for?
RALPH: Yeah. It’s the rules.
COLBY: And you obey the rules, don’t you, Ralph?
RALPH: Well, this is a graded class for me. I mean, it’s an easy grade, but you know, it’s still a grade. And I have to maintain a 3.0 GPA because . . . well, anyway, the rules, you know?
COLBY: Sure. Rules.
RALPH: Could you . . . could you move away from the grill?
COLBY: Oh, sorry. Sure.
COLBY: So, this GPA thing. Why the need for a 3.0?
RALPH: It’s nothing, man. I don’t want to talk about it.
RALPH: Don’t touch that.
RALPH: Look, man. I appreciate you want to run lines and all, but, uh, you don’t really have any. You just stand there and do that thing—you know—the smile.
COLBY: Right. The enigmatic smile of a deep and clever thinker.
RALPH: I don’t know anything about that.
COLBY: You like playing the March Hare?
RALPH: It’s okay, I guess. I mean, I get to wear bunny ears. That’s pretty cool.
COLBY: Did you hear Billy broke his leg the other day?
RALPH: No way?
COLBY: Fell in a timpani.
RALPH: Oh man.
COLBY: Yeah, so he’s not going to be able to play the Mad Hatter. They’re going to have to get someone else.
RALPH: Really? Who?
COLBY: Dunno. But if someone were to show up and know all the lines, they might . . . you know . . .
RALPH: Oh. You going to try for it?
COLBY: I was thinking more of you.
COLBY: Yeah. I mean, you’re the other character in the scenes, so you have to sort of know all the lines already, right?
RALPH: Well, yeah, I guess so.
COLBY: You get to wear a cool hat instead of bunny ears.
RALPH: That’s true.
COLBY: So, you wanna run some lines?
RALPH: Ooooh, I see what you’re saying . . . Yeah, okay.
COLBY: Let’s start with the first scene then. Do you mind if I sit here?
RALPH: No, I’d—
MR. HUMPHRIES: Ralph! What’s taking so long with those burgers. Oh my god! Ralph. Is that a dog? Did you bring a dog into the kitchen?
RALPH: Mr. Humphries! No—I—what! That’s not a dog. That’s—
COLBY: [smiles enigmatically and slowly disappears]
MR. HUMPHRIES: I thought I saw a dog. Ralph, you know you can’t have animals in here. That’s a violation of health regulations. I’m going to have to mark you down for that.
RALPH: No, Mr. Humphries! You can’t do that. Look! There’s no dog here. It’s just a stool. An empty stool.
MR. HUMPHRIES: I know what I saw Ralph, and I definitely saw a dog. Let’s go, kid. We’re going to have to vent the room and throw all these burgers out. I’m going to dock you one point for each burger.
RALPH: But . . . but there’s more than a hundred burgers here. That’s going to ruin my grade for the quarter.
MR. HUMPHRIES: I know Ralph, but rules are rules. We gotta abide by them if we’re going to stave off anarchy and zombie attacks.
MR. HUMPHRIES: Anarchy, Ralph! We can’t have it. And loose pets in the kitchen is the start. I gotta make an example of you. For the others to understand how tenuous the bonds of our society are. Without those bonds . . .
RALPH: But . . . but if I fail this class, my GPA will drop and . . . I . . . I won’t be able to do extracurricular art activities.
MR. HUMPHRIES: I’m really sorry, Ralph. But in this school, all after-school activities—whether it is sports or dodgeball or whatever the hell you kids do in the PAC—are held to the same standards. You don’t make the grade, you don’t suit up. It’s as simple as that. I’m sorry, kid, but let’s go. I gotta vent the room.
RALPH: But . . . but . . .
[EXIT MR. HUMPHRIES and RALPH]
COLBY: [smiles enigmatically and slowly reappears] Soon, my—
[KITCHEN HAZARD SYSTEM ENGAGES, FILLING ROOM WITH HALOGEN 67-B]