Remember when reading was celebrated in this country? That guy in the big house waaaay over there would put out a summer reading list, and all those books would poof! instantly go out of stock, and authors would sigh and dream of being on that list, and everyone would have things to read and talk about all summer long. Remember those days? Ah, nostalgia. Sweet, sweet nostalgia.
Oh, look, someone just posted their summer reading list. It's a good list. We approve (not that this individual needs our approval—nor do any of you, for that matter, when it comes to putting up lists of books you like).
Speaking of lists, one of the books on that list is out this week, and that's as fine a segue as you're going to see this week from us, so let's get right to it.
Teá Obreht returns with Inland, a mesmerizing magic-realist novel set in Arizona at the end of the 19th century. It's got drought and ghosts and camels and outlaws, and is sure to make you see all sorts of colors you don't normally see, as well as suck you into a world that doesn't exist, but should. Eighty million rave reviews already for this book, and it's only been on the stands for less than seventy-two hours. Which is to say: it won't be for everyone, but it will surely charm many.
And speaking of rave reviews, Lisa Lutz's The Swallows is out this week. It's your basic new teacher at prestigious prep school where all sorts of skeletons are buried novel, which is totally selling it short. Because, yes, it seems like it's Donna Tartt meets Michael Chabon, but oh no, Lutz isn't going to get caught between them, because Lutz knows a little something about writing thrillers. The Swallows is a thriller disguised as a morality play. Or maybe it's a morality play that comes on like two buckets of popcorn sort of thriller. Either way, clear your schedule when you start this one. We didn't plan well, and neglected our families for a day or so until we were finished. They forgave us, eventually.
Meanwhile, Joanne Harris has a new novel out, The Blue Salt Road, which is one of those old-timey ballad tales measured and retold in modern speak. This one is about the sea and lost children and revenge and wild young men, and all the ways these things crash into each other, founder, and then find ways to become more and less than they were previously. Mysterious, moody, and heartbreaking. Also illustrated!
And speaking of moody and mysterious, here is Woodrow Allan's The Curse of the Werepenguin. It's—let's see, what is the log line here—it's the story of "an unwanted orphan who must embrace his werepenguin curse if he is going to stop an evil plot to take over the world with mindless penguin drones." Hijinks, fish sticks, and blithely tweaked tropes abound.
And speaking of messing around with the status quo, Jackson Ford dropped The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind on us a few weeks back, and we fully admit to being distracted by shiny stuff that week. But we're zeroed in now! Here's why Ford's book should get your attention: 1) he hits peak "Girl" title with this one; 2) Teagan Frost—the, uh, "girl" of the title—is full of snark and psychokinetic powers; 3) it starts with Teagan falling from the 82nd floor of a skyscraper and probably doesn't let up until 400 or so pages later; and 4) Teagan writes the author acknowledgements in the back, which is the sort of meta-snark we dig. In between that 82nd floor drop and the snarky take-down of the author, Teagan has to figure out who is framing her for a black-ops murder or she's going to spend the rest of her life as a lab rat.
And speaking of books with buzz, here is Elizabeth MacNeal's The Doll Factory, which is the story of a porcelain-doll painter who, in 1850s London, rebels against societal norms and takes up with a Pre-Raphaelite painter named Louis. (It's his name more than his job description which is so shocking, by the way, because everyone wanted to trot out a "Pre-Raphaelite painter" at dinner parties.)
Anyway, Iris has a twin sister named Rose, who caught a touch of smallpox when she was an infant, which has left her somewhat deformed. Rose is a bit put out that Iris is out gallivanting around with Pre-Raphaelite painters, and so she's got a bit of a twisted obsession going on. As does a man named Silas, who is a taxidermist and curiosity-shop owner with a penchant for young ladies with bent collarbones. Which—wait for it—Iris has. Okay, okay. We get it. The Doll Factory is fascinated with the grotesque! It's gritty! It's creepy! Booklist uses the word "chiaroscuro" in its review!
[And while we appreciate the thirty-cent word, we suffered through quite a few long lectures and endless slideshows about the history of Western art back in the day, and we remember "chiaroscuro" being associated with painters of the late 16th and 17th century. The Pre-Raphaelites—all English and Romantic and fussy—wanted to roll back the clock to the 15th century, when bold colors and luminous portraiture was all the rage. But hey, let's not get lost in the weeds here, okay?]
Where were we? Oh, yes, Olga Tokarczuk's Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, wherein mystical detective Janina is awakened one night by her neighbor (who she calls "Oddball"), because another neighbor ("Big Foot") has been found dead in his house. With a deer bone in his mouth. Oh, and it gets weirder from there.
By the way, Tokarczuk won the Man Booker International prize last year for Flights, which is out in paperback this week. With her new book, she continues to wander far far afield with her literary and mystical style. Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead is not like any other thriller you're going to read this year—well, THIS week. At least. Let's not set ourselves up for disappointment.
Though, we haven't checked in with James Patterson yet. He might go even farther out in the weeds. For instance, this week's collaboration with Robison Wells is called The Warning, and it's about an off-the-grid community where strange sh*t happens. Animals attack humans. Power plants are on military lock-down! Friends turn on friends! It's like Zoo meets Stranger Things meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Let's have a one-round cage match between Tokarczuk and Patterson. Tokarczuk's first chapter is titled "Now Pay Attention." Patterson's (and Wells's—let's give full credit to everyone involved) first chapter is: "Chapter 1."
Oooh. Tough start.
Patterson and Wells come back from the ropes with their first line: "Well, the town doesn't appear to be glowing." Not enough? Okay, here's the NEXT paragraph, because this book doesn't have time for exposition. Mom kept her eyes on the road. The silence lingered until Charlie blurted out, "Crickets!"
Tokarczuk calmly sidesteps and delivers a solid uppercut. I am already at an age and additionally in a state where I must always wash my feet thoroughly before bed, in the event of having to be removed by an ambulance in the Night.
Ouch. This bout is over. We'll have a copy of Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead at the front counter for you when you come in.
Patterson will be back next week, of course.
And finally, Susan Wiggs is back this week with The Oysterville Sewing Club, which is about having life punch you out, kick you to the curb, and then send you packing. Sure, that beating sucks, but—like James Patterson—you have to keep moving. You have to keep looking forward and trying something new and different. Along the way, you might make some new friends, find a new love, and rediscover all the joy that life has to offer. Set in the Pacific Northwest, The Oysterville Sewing Club is one of those reads that is timely, honest, and heartfelt. It won't change the world, but you'll feel better about humanity for awhile, and that's more than good enough these days, isn't it?
And speaking of things that are good, have you noticed all those board games up front? Yes, we are carrying games now. Game Night isn't just about getting your Dungeons & Dragons on (though that's been a delightful part of it), but it's also about playing other games.
Board games are the new interactive fiction model, didn't you know? They're like going to the movies, but without the sticky floors and annoying jackhole yapping into his phone like the theater is his living room. They're like therapy for all that bottled aggressive you've got stored up. Or they're little bundles of art, waiting for you to splash them all over the table. Whichever. These are all possibilities, and there are more.
Games tickle your mind like books do, but they're more engaging than a book club. Well, not OUR book club, and probably not YOUR book club, but most book clubs. What's important is that games don't require you to have to read the book in order to show up and hang out with friends and peers, and we like to promote ways for community-building. Even if you're showing up to get crushed in Catan . . . again. We're glad you keep showing up.
And what is this Catan we speak of? Well, it's sort of the old geezer of euro games, which is a style of board game. You collect resources. You build roads. You build settlements. You try to convince other people to trade you resources in transactions that are totally not in their best interests. And you try to put the knight where he makes everyone swear a lot.
We'll be having Game Night this coming Sunday at 3pm. You should come down. We'll show you how to play.