As we roll into the last week of the month before the last month of the year, we’re getting the last gasp of interesting things from publishers, as well as stacks of books now coming out in paperback. If you’re keen on that pocket size paperback, this might be the week for you. In fact, if you’ve been twitching for a new William W. Johnstone Western—who isn’t really?—then this is week’s release is Venom of the Mountain Man, the forty-fifth book in the series.
Excuse us for a moment while our heads explode. Four. Five. Forty-five. All about Smoke Jensen, who also stars in his own prequel series? And let’s not forget Matt Jensen, who is the “Last Mountain Man” or Preacher, who is the “First Mountain Man.” And there are also six books in The Family Jensen series, six books in the Luke Jensen, Bounty Hunter series, four books in the Those Jensen Boys!, and it looks like there’s a new series called The Jensen Brand that started up earlier this year. So, yes, while Venom of the Mountain Man is the 45th in the Mountain Man series, it’s what? the eighty-fifth million book with a Jensen in it.
Oh, and Venom of the Mountain Man? It certainly has dramatic elements to it. That’s our buzz word this week. We’re going to use it a lot when folks ask us about books we haven’t read. “Why, yes, that book most certainly has ‘dramatic elements’ in it.” And then we’ll nod sagely.
No, wait. We’ll nod dramatically. There we go.
And speaking of dramatic elements, Taschen’s latest oversized art book that we’d like someone to buy us for Christmas is The Art and Science of Ernst Haeckel. Haeckel was a 19th century German-born biologist, naturalist, evolutionary proponent, artist, and deep thinker. He was a big fan of Darwin and made it his life’s work to draw one of everything.
Seriously. Everything. This Taschen edition is over seven hundred pages. The book weighs more than fifteen pounds. It costs less than a plane ticket to the visit the Natural History Museum in London, by the way, if you need some perspective.
And speaking of remarkable things, how about a book celebrating remarkable books? We always like books that celebrate books, especially when they are produced by DK, who knows how to put together a really readable overview. In this case, the topic at hand is books, and Remarkable Books wanders through the last few hundred years of binding paper inside of cloth and boards—well, okay, they go back farther than that. All the way back to scrolls and papyri and stone tablets. You know, “beach reads” for when there was no beach and everyone was waiting around for the waters to recede. “Hey, Noah, you finished with the latest Smoke Jensen tablet yet?”
And speaking of distorting reality to a point where it breaks down, we’ve also copies of Welcome to the Universe, an introduction to the all things in space by a couple of smart astrophysicists, including one you might have heard of. Strauss, Gott, and Tyson each tackle a portion of the broader topic, with Tyson delivering the broad strokes, Strauss diving into how we know what we know about the universe, and Gott bringing up the rear with the speculative faster-than-light, let’s go colonize space bits. It’s a great primer and a really nice overview of the fantastic course these three co-taught at Princeton a few years ago.
And speaking of educated smart folks, we’re a little taken with Caspar Henderson’s A New Map of Wonders. It begins with him getting spellbound by a reflection of sunlight on his kitchen floor, and scampers off into the weeds right quick from there. It’s part celebration / part call to wonder / part meditation on what makes us uniquely capable of reacting as we do to the stimulus of the world around us. And the sidenotes! Oh, those sidenotes are like discovering holes in the weeds that lead you into even more fascinating caverns underground. This is a book to get lost in, my dears.
And speaking of getting lost, once upon a time, Vladimir Nabokov made some notes on index cards about his dreams. Gennady Barabtarlo has found these note cards and prettied them up with a dizzying amount of scholarly ephemera, and turned the whole thing into Insomniac Dreams, a whizz-bang labyrinth that is part memoir, part wordplay extravaganza, part creative analysis. Who knew snooping in on someone’s dreams could be this fascinating?
And speaking of fascinating things, we’d like to bring your attention to Jonathan Balcombe’s What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of our Underwater Cousins. Yep. It’s a book that attempts to detail what fish are thinking when they’re swimming around, and it’s not “Where did I leave my car keys?” or “How do I eat a ham sandwich without hands?”
And speaking of strange encounters, Alexander McCall Smith has a collection of short stories out this week. The beloved author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency has put together a set of winsome narratives about the accidental crossing of paths and how those moments can change a person’s life. Chance Developments contains five stories about love and friendship that will remind you of the wonderful power of human connectivity.
And speaking of putting things together, we were reminded the other day of Chief Engineer, Erica Wagner’s biography of Washington Roebling, the man who oversaw the building of the Brooklyn Bride. After suffering debilitating decompression sickness while working on one of the caissons, Roebling was unable to visit the construction site, and yet, he managed to retain a complete understanding of where the project was on any given day, and it certainly wasn’t through the judicious use of sticky notes on his refrigerator.
We like those sorts of visionaries. In fact, we like a great many things, and we’ve been steadily pasting up recommendations on some books for you this holiday season. Naturally, because we’re quirky and not like other bookstores, these recommendations are, well, quirky and not like the kind you see in other bookstores. Make sure you check out the table of Relative Recommends when you drop by this week, and hopefully the tale of one of our imaginary relatives will spark an idea or two for your own gift needs this holiday season.