This is the 200th edition of A Good Book’s newsletter. Plus or minus a few, because counting is hard some days (sorry, Mom). Anyway, maybe we should do something to celebrate. Ah, let’s have a swizzle!
A what? you say. A swizzle, we say. What’s a swizzle? you ask. It’s a party, we say. Yes, but what kind of party? you ask. And to that we say: Well, that’s an awful lot of questions, don’t you think?
But, okay, fine. A swizzle is a party, and we’re going to author up our swizzle. (Much like counting, some days we confuse nouns and verbs, but we’re not apologizing for that.) On August 8th, we’re going to fling open our doors and let local authors in the store (which suggests that we don’t let local authors in the store on other days, which is totally not the case). And they’ll do that thing where they stand up and we all stare at them, and they stammer on about their books for a few minutes, and then we’ll all wander off and check out the canapés or something. And then another author will grab our attention, and maybe we’ll forget about the canapés for a few minutes. And eventually, there won’t be any more canapés, and books will be bought, and then everyone will go home, thinking fondly about what they were just party to. Or something like that.
[Ed note: We should really work on the pitch for this local author lovefest event.]
Mark your calendars. August 8th. 6pm. We’ll remind you a couple dozen times between now and then. Or you could just go to the Facebook Event page and click on "GOING," and save us all the trouble.
Welcome to A Good Book newsletter, where almost five years of this on a weekly basis have made us a bit brusque and rough around the edges.
Let’s look at this week’s roster of books, shall we?
Helen Phillips’s The Need is out this week. It’s a book filled with motherhood and existential dread, and yes, moms in the audience will know exactly how large that Venn Diagram overlap is. In the beginning, Molly is a paleobotanist who is finding weird stuff in a dig site behind an abandoned gas station. Later, she’s at home with her kids when someone wearing a deer mask emerges from her coffee table.
Right? It gets weirder from there (or saner, depending on your proximity to that aforementioned Venn Diagram overlap). Phillips’s deft command of language and pacing make this a book that’ll stick to your hand until you finish it.
And speaking of sticking, Chuck Wendig goes full Stephen King with Wanderers, where he channels The Stand as he delivers a full-tilt deconstruction of our current technological malaise. Kirkus Reviews notes that Wendig "is clearly wrestling with some of the demons of our time," and to that we say: "It’s about time that someone did." This one sprawls a bit, and if you’re looking for something a little less thinky than Neal Stephenson’s Fall (which is oh so very very thinky), then Wanderers might be the summer epic for you.
Not that Wendig isn’t working the thinky here. He’s just more of the existential horror social construct falling apart and what are we going to do about it sort of thinky. Whereas Stephenson is busy rewiring the entire evolution of human consciousness as a speculative examination of who we are, how we came to be, and what are we going to become.
So, you know: plan your purchases accordingly.
Meanwhile, we are now in the latter half of the year, which means that 18-month calendars are now out. How about some sloths? Sloths are cool. They’re the new "It" creature, apparently.
Jo Nesbø’s The Knife, the latest Harry Hole novel, came out this week, but since Patrick has already stopped by and bought the copy we had, there’s no point mentioning it, really.
And speaking of books that have two-color covers that are supposed to catch your eye, Adrian McKinty’s The Chain is out this week. Now, The Chain has been getting some major press and sure, it’ll be a movie before you know it, but let’s talk about the premise for a second. Basically, a random person has their child snatched. They are informed that they must kidnap another random person’s child or their child will be murdered. There’s probably ransom money involved (and yes, we vaguely remember that part of it), but it basically boils down to asking you (as a parent): Hey, what would you do for your kids? Would you terrorize another random person in order to keep your children safe?
And frankly, this is a bullsh*t premise. Fortunately, the novel isn’t all that clever (or, more accurately, tries really hard to hide the fact that it has to invent a bunch of narrative hoo-haw to gloss over the parent-baiting premise), and so the stack-blowing rage coursing through your brain for having someone (who probably doesn’t have kids) ask this question will probably pass without you wanting to punch the author in the face.
But, that may just be our impression. Your mileage may vary.
On the other hand, Andrew Shaffer is back with Hope Rides Again, starring your favorite detective duo Barack Obama and Joseph R. Biden. Obama loses his cell phone, Biden tries to do some sleuthing. There is an attempted kidnapping (or two), and Biden comes off as trying to work out lines for his campaign speeches, which is probably done on purpose, because this is a book that exists solely because we can’t let go of Obama and Biden as the heroes we need in, this, our darkest hour.
Or, it’s just a really good joke that warrants another novel. Either way, we’re down with it. Or, rather, we’re in the saddle with it. Riding again.
Also, we’re not quite sure if this is a sign of the End Times or merely a sign that we’re getting older or that the marketing machinery is working at right angles to us, but there’s a Star Trek Little Golden Book. It’s the Tribbles story, of course. What other story could it be?
And if you want to argue with us on that point, stop and think about what you’re about to do. Uh huh. We thought so too.
[Ed note: Not to undercut the joke here, but there were two original Star Trek Little Golden Books back in January: I Am Kirk, and I Am Spock. We regret the oversight.]
And the latest entry to the category of Kids Are Weird But Boarding Schools For Weird Kids Are Just Extended Metaphors For The Fact That No One Really Knows What Kids Are Thinking, But Dear God, Let’s Hope It’s Not All Lord of the Flies In Their Brains, we have Rory Power’s Wilder Girls. Unfortunately, there isn’t any more room on the shelf-talker card once we’ve written out that category, so you’ll just have to—oh, wait, we can totally squeeze in a bit about diseases and quarantine and “let’s hope they don’t eat each other.” Right. There we go.
And the latest entry in the continuing silliness that is sticking the word “girl” in titles of books about grown-up women, we have The Dead Girl in 2A, by Carter Wilson. Apparently, this one is about weird science, what we do to ourselves to forget trauma, and some twisty psychological horror. You should probably read it on a plane. While flying to Colorado. And say your name is “Jake.”
[Ed note: There may be statistical spoilers here, but Emily St. John Mandel's analysis of "Girl" titles for FiveThirtyEight is always an interesting read: The Gone Girl With the Dragon Tattoo On the Train.]
And speaking of road trips, did you know that Henry Ford and Thomas Edison took yearly road trips across the American countryside? Neither did we. And you know what? Nothing really came of these trips, other than the pair got out of the house for a few days and did some sightseeing. Fortunately, Jeff Guin knows how to mix dry travelogue with pithy insights into American culture, which rescues The Vagabonds from being an annotated edition of Edison's trip diary. “Thursday: Stopped for gas. Got some peaches too. Ford keeps going on about how many miles to the gallon we are getting in his noisy contraption. Having thoughts about how to make this contraption run on electrical power. Having second thoughts about dismissing that Telsa fellow’s ideas. How many more days of this trip are there?”
Incidentally, you all do know that The Dark Crystal is coming to Netflix, right? And in companion with the new series, there are some books with words in them. J. M. Lee has the fabulous job of writing a prequel series to accompany The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. Don’t mind us. We’re just going to go huff in a paper bag over here until the nostalgia passes.
And while we're over here, huffing away, you can be distracted by Cherie Priest's The Toll, which is about monsters and secrets and swamps. Swampy monster secrets, even. Priest has been writing slow-burn gothic horror novels for awhile now, and we're always delighted when she puts out a new book. The Toll seems like there's a bit of brackish backwater Florida that is still floating around in Cherie's lungs, and she's going to pass along that crud to us. In a good way, of course. Not like what happens when you lick a toad or something. Not like that. That's icky.
Look! A new Karl Marlantes novel. Marlantes, who wrote that end-all, be-all war epic Matterhorn, is back with Deep River, which is about Finnish immigrants and Pacific Northwest logging. It's like Annie Proulx's Barkskins meets John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath meets John McPhee, wandering in the woods. What? You know exactly what we're talking about, don't you? (And if you were hoping that Richard Powers's Overstory was more historical than fictional, then here you go.)
And with that, we're out. Thank you for being a part of the newsletter these last two hundred weeks. We'll be back next week. And the week after. And the week after that . . . like that creeping dread crud we mentioned earlier, not like the crud you get from licking a toad.