It's been a rough week so far, and let's hope that the rest of the week takes a time-out. We lost Gene Wolfe this week, who was a luminary in the science fiction realm (his Book of the New Su
n series was--and still is--a thing that everyone should read at least twice. Because it's going to take you that many times to even scratch the surface of the marvelousness of Wofle's imagination), and there was that fire in Notre Dame that stopped hearts worldwide.
As an aside, did you know that there is a tree farm near Versailles? They've been growing trees there since the 19th century, specifically as materials for rebuilding cathedrals, because you need beams that long to reach all the way up to the ceiling in these places. We dig that sort of Long Now planning.
And speaking of trees and lengthy narrative cycles, Richard Powers won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction this week. His winning novel, The Overstory
, is about nine individuals whose lives become intertwined because of the trees. And the trees, well, the trees have long-term plans . . .
All right, let's get to new books that came out this week.
The obligatory James Patterson release. We're at a point where we are just marveling at the machine behind this man.
Anyway, over here we have Bridget Collins's first adult novel, The Binding
. Set in an alternative England, which teeters on the edge of the Victorian era, The Binding follows Emmett Farmer, who isn't a very good farmer. He is shuffled off to the dark place where books are bound, and there, Emmett discovers that books--which have been mostly banned--are actually repositories of ugly memories that people want to forget. They get pensieved out of your noggin, you see, and then you aren't bothered by them anymore. Naturally, Emmett wanders into the forbidden back room at the book bindery, where he finds a book with his name on it.
Of course he's going to open it! Haven't we be doing that since the dawn of time?
And speaking of uncovering secrets, Hard Case Crime has an unusual book on the shelves this week. A Bloody Business
is a history of Prohibition, told as a novel, but it's based on more than fifty hours of conversations that the writer, Dylan Struzan, had with Jimmy Alo, one of the last surviving gangsters from that era. It's fiction, probably, but Jimmy had lots and lots of stories—which he forbid Struzan to tell until he was gone—and, well, Alo passed away shortly before his 97th birthday . . .
And speaking of crime tales filled with blood and—oh, wait, Alexander McCall Smith's new series is about the staff of Malmö's Sensitive Crimes Department, and they get assigned the . . . "sensitive" cases? No, not the media-sensitive ones. The less-than-sensational sensitive ones. Like the case of Who Stabbed Malte Gustafsson Behind the Knee?
Yes, The Department of Sensitive Crimes
is about crimes that are too minor, too annoying, or too weird for regular police work. These crimes need a deft touch, a careful perusal, and a well-tuned sensitivity to the peccadillos of human quirkery.
And speaking of peccadillos, Bryce Andrews chronicles the life of a grizzly bear named Willie and her three cubs in Down From The Mountain: the Life and Death of a Grizzly Bear
. Andrews, who works a ranch in Montana's Mission Valley, reports first-hand about the encroachment of both man and bear on each other's environments. Both a conservational polemic and a moving naturalist memoir, Down From The Mountai
n examines our perpetually shrinking world and the effect that has on the locals.
And speaking of animal stories, the crew behind Dragons Love Tacos
are back with High Five
, a colorful exhortation to gimme five!
. There's an annual High Five contest, you see, and everyone from Gigantic the Bear to Octopus Jones is on hand to see who can lay some leather better than anyone else. Naturally, the art is wild and colorful, and the story urges kids to get up, wiggle about, and clap hands. Well, other people's hands. It's all about communication, community, and celebration, when you get right down to it, which we heartily recommend.
And speaking of warning labels, fashion historians Alison Matthews David and Serah-Marie McMahon have put together an informative book of safety tips with Killer Style: How Fashion Has Injured, Maimed, and Murdered Through History
. Yep. It's exactly that clever and that macabre. For the kids!
And for the grown-ups, we have David Brooks's The Second Mountain
. We have a soft spot for Brooks ever since The Social Animal
, which we found to be marvelously insightful about what makes us be less inclined to be hermits, and The Road To Character
is an interesting twist on the traditional self-help tome. Brooks isn't positioning himself as a self-help guru, but as someone who is fascinated with our capacity for change and our ability to think outside ourselves.
One of the marvelous facets of being, you know, talky and thinky animals is that we can conceive of external things—be they other people, ideas, goals, or "that mountain over there." And we can formulate a way that we can change ourselves—both physically and psychologically—to be "over there." Brooks keeps asking why: Why do we do this? Why do we want this? Why do stop ourselves from doing this?
In The Second Mountain
, Brooks takes up the idea of selflessness. There are many people who climb that mountain that they have defined as their life's goal, and when they do, they realize there is another mountain behind it. This second mountain is one that is based on needs, wants, desires, and dreams that are beyond the self's needs. You climbed that mountain already, right? This other mountain is everyone else.
And people climb that mountain. In this day and age, as Brooks points out, we could use a little more second mountain climbing.
And speaking of thought-provoking commentary on being human, Monica Smith's Cities
is all about urban archaeology, which is a nascent field of study, oddly enough. Well, Cities
covers the first six thousand years of urban living, so maybe we've been doing it awhile, but apparently, we haven't bothered to stop and think about how and why and where we're doing it.
That sentence came out wrong.
Anyway, Smith starts with Tell Brak (located in modern-day Syria), wanders through Teotihuacan and Tenochititlan in Mexico, and waves at Pompeii, Rome, and Athens as she investigates why we thought cities were a good idea, why we stuck around when they got big and smelly, and why we continue to think they're a good idea. (Ed. note: It sounds like you're trying to convince yourself . . . )
And finally, our second book this week written by a Montana resident is Sweeney on the Rocks
. This is the second novel by Allen Morris Jones, it starts when Sweeney discovers a dead guy in his recliner, and it wanders off into the woods after that. Along the way, there are issues with a stash of diamonds, a former mistress who has some favors she's like to call in, the Russian mob, and an ex-wife who now happens to be the county sheriff. Good times. Good times.