We are far enough into 2019 that we can’t go back, which means that it’s time to start assessing what was good about 2018—reading material wise—and some of the industry long lists are starting to pop up.
The Mystery Writers of America, for instance, run the Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction, and television. There are lots of lovely nominees on the list. Some of them may be familiar since we’ve mentioned them in the newsletter, which is to say that our average for nosing out awesome books is only slightly better than a badger doing a blind taste test with varieties of peanut butter. You should check out the list yourself, and let us know if you see anything you like.
Additionally, the preliminary ballot for the Horror Writers of America’s Bram Stoker Award has been released. We’re delighted to see a number of books we loved on this list as well, including *cough* The Garden of Blue Roses by Michael Barsa *cough* in the First Novel category.
We’re not biased in this category. Nooo. Not in the slightest.
And, the Philip K. Dick Award nominees have been announced as well. This one singles out science fiction paperback originals, a fine distinction point that harkens back to PKD’s early career as a paperback original writer. The idea being that great stories can readily get overlooked when they don’t have the flash and presence of a sexy hardback release from a major publishing house. We appreciate the efforts of the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society and the Philip K. Dick Trust in this regard, and we look forward to the award ceremony, which is always held at the PNW’s own Norwescon, in April.
Meanwhile, what do we in the store that might catch your eye? Hmmm. Oh, yes. Here is Chris Hammer’s stellar debut, Scrublands. What’s so stellar about it? Well, we dare you to come in and read the opening prologue and NOT take the book home. It’s such a stunning opening to a Rashomon-style narrative about a dying town and the people who are trying to not die with it. It reminds us of Thomas Maltman’s Little Wolves, which we adored a few years back (and still do, for that matter).
Martin Scarsden comes to Riversend, the dusty setting of Hammer’s Scrublands, on assignment to write an article about how the town is coping with the tragedy that occurred there a year earlier. Very quickly, he discovers how muddy the narrative is of that terrible day when the beloved parish priest coldly killed five men. And then, more secrets are uncovered, and things get progressively darker and stranger.
This one is going to be on award ballots next year, dear readers.
Oh, and over here is Brian Carter’s A Black Fox Running. Originally published in 1981, A Black Fox Running is the story of Wulfgar, the dark-furred fox of Dartmoor—which, we’d just like to note, is an awesome description; can we get one of those?—and his encounters with his nemesis, Scoble the trapper. It’s sort of like Watership Down meets An Old Man and the Sea meets Robert MacFarlane’s peregrinations across the English countryside.
And yes, we’ll hold copies at the front desk for the pair of you who tracked that comparison.
Oh, you want another one? Fine. It’s Moby Dick meets the Wind in the Willows, but without the fancy waistcoats. And with less seasickness.
Yes, some days, it is like we’ve been sniffing the markers too much in the back room. Why do you ask?
Anyway, speaking of strange beasts, here is a copy of Samanta Schweblin’s luminous Mouthful of Birds. Schweblin has been burning up the page on the European circuit, and her stories in Spanish have won many awards. We’ve been waiting for an English-language translation of her book for awhile, and here it is. And it’s a delirious and hallucinatory trip.
These are stories that burrow under your skin, that light a fire in the back of your brain, that cut a piece of your heart out—not a big piece, but large enough that you know you’ve been nicked. These are stories that will leave you wide-eyed with both wonder and dread. You’ll become worried that the line between what is real and what isn’t will get indistinct, and that you might trip across it and never know . . .
And speaking of worlds you don’t know, Peternelle Van Arsdale’s The Cold in Her Bones tells the story of young Milla, a young farm girl who is kept unaware of the outside world, until she befriends a young woman from the village. Iris is a true friend to the naive Milla, and it is through this friendship that Milla learns some terrifying truths about the village and the region surrounding it. Things get dark and mysterious from there, of course, but as the story rushes to its nail-biting conclusion, there is always a strong bond of friendship and loyalty that keeps Milla’s world from getting too dark.
And now, a confession: We like Michael Chabon’s work. We like it quite a bit, in fact. But we weren’t particularly keen on the idea of Bookends, which is a collection of introductions and outroductions [Ed. note: Come on! That’s not even a word!]. Frankly, this is a book of essays written about other people’s works, which we may or may not have read (or even care to read). It’s like going to a cocktail party and running into some person who insists on talking to you about some great piece of literature that you really don’t care about and all you really DO care about is getting to the bar over there in the corner and ordering a cold gin martini.
But, then—foolishly—we cracked open Bookends and sonovabitch! we got sucked in. Damn you, Michael Chabon. Yes, we would put off elbowing our way through crowded living room in order to get a martini to listen to you natter on about Lewis Hyde or M. R. James or Michael Moorcock or Ray Bradbury. Or D’Aulaires’ Norse Myths—which, if you haven’t been swayed so far by this loquacious recital of the marvels of literature, this will be the one that does you in.
Anyway—grumble, grumble—Bookends is out this week. If you can’t find it on the front table, it’s probably because we’re off in the stacks somewhere, pretending to shelve contemporary Amish mysteries or something, but are secretly reading this book.
Also, Paula McLain’s latest historical fiction novel Love and Ruin is out in paperback this week. McLain, as you may recall, wrote the excellent Circling the Sun (about Beryl Markham, who was the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean from east to west) as well as The Paris Wife, about Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage. In Love and Ruin, McLain returns the Hemingway’s orbit, where she picks up the story of Martha Gellhorn, a fiery correspondent who became Hemingway’s third wife during WW II. She, however, had more interesting things to do than chase after Hemingway, and went on to become one of the most celebrated war correspondents of the 20th century. Good for her.
And finally, here are some public service announcements . . .
Melville House diligently publishes the report that the government hoped you wouldn't notice (they published it on Black Friday, when everyone was out shopping. Irony, much?).
What's the bottom line? Well, it's hot. It's going to get hotter . . .
Because we didn’t show up. Other people did. And now it’s hard to get a word in edgewise and . . .
Not that one believes anything you’re saying anyway . . .
Therefore, yes, it’s all about figuring out how to talk our way out of this mess we’re in . . .
But hey! Rustic log furniture! That’ll look cool in the living room, won’t it?