We are fans of Guillermo del Toro, and were delighted that he had such a good time at the Oscar ceremony this weekend. In fact, we’re going to theme up this week as a rolling homage to his work.
And we’re going to start off with the novelization of his latest film, The Shape of Water, which we can attest is all the things we love about del Toro (The set designs! The lighting! The mood! The characters! Doug Jones in a wetsuit!). And, if you dug the movie (which we all did, of course, right?), then the book is an extra treat, because it’s not just a tawdry cash-grab tie-in, but a deeper exploration of the characters. Del Toro is listed as the co-writer, and our understanding is that the book was conceived as an angle into the story that the film couldn't properly convey. Like, you know, Amazonian backstory, which would have been expensive to produce, but in the hands of a good writer, well, we’re already deep in the jungle, thrashing through brackish water, aren’t we?
And speaking of letting one’s imagination run riot, we have copies of Dan Simmons’s The Terror, which is coming to a TV screen near you. AMC has crafted a bitterly chill version of Simmons’s not-entirely-fictional exploration of Franklin’s disastrous efforts to find the Northwest Passage. The physical record of what happened to the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror is not entirely clear, because, you know, frozen bodies, but Simmons crafted a nail-biting solution: clearly, the crews of the two ships were stalked by a monster. Panic ensues. Sweet, sweet, page-turning panic.
And speaking of not knowing what happens next, the fun item in this week’s boxes is The Mystery Mansion, a delightful card game that is more of a What If? than a Whodunit?
The Mystery Mansion is a storytelling card game where it is up to you to figure out the narrative sequence, and the box tells us there are two, uh, quinta-zillion storytelling combinations that can be sussed from these twenty cards. [That’s a two, followed by, like, eighteen zeros.] We assume, of course, that stopping for tea is present in most of the narratives, and whether or not there are crumpets or biscuits probably accounts for at least a half-dozen variants.
And speaking of maze-like uncertainty, Amanda Happé's new book of pithy aphorisms and swirly art is waiting for you on the shelf. Deeply Grateful and Entirely Unsatisfying answers that question we all are truly afraid of, which is: Does any of it matter, or is the Universe just messing with us?
Let’s open to a random page—Magic Eight Ball, style—and see what the book tells us.
Well, there you go. Plan the rest of the your day accordingly.
And speaking of the lack of surety in knowing anything, we’re having fun with Claudia Kalb’s Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder, a fine passel of non-fiction exploration into the lives of twelve awesome historical figures. Kalb, applying modern psychological understanding and insights, considers the “quirks” of some luminaries of the past. Was Andy Warhol a hoarder? Was Frank Lloyd Wright his own biggest fan? Was Darwin somewhat unsuited to be gallivanting around the world where he could be spooked, attacked, stared at, and otherwise assaulted by a half a million different animal species? Was Dostoevsky prone to staying way later than he should at the local card game?
See? You want to know now, don’t you?
And speaking of curiosity getting the better of you, we’re also intrigued by Nic Compton’s Off the Deep End: A History of Madness at Sea. Pretty much what the title describes, Compton’s book wanders into that strange fog that rolls in before dawn, making the rigging stiff and the upper deck slick. What is it about the endless monotony of the ocean that sneaks into our sanity and threatens to unravel us? And why are some folk immune to the cramped quarters, terrible food, and the perpetual barf-inducing motion of the water?
Oog. We need a moment. Where is that paper bag? Breathe. Breathe.
Oh, look! Pictures of birds. This is soothing. Joel Sartore has seen more birds than all of us. Combined. A photographer for National Geographic for the last thirty years, Sartore has spent the last decade working on the Photo Ark project, which is an effort to get a picture of every species on this planet, which is around half a quinta-zillion or so [like, twelve zeroes]. Birds of the Photo Ark is a gorgeous collection of some of his work with the feathered ones.
And speaking of National Geographic, while we’re not quite thawed out entirely, it is coming up on the time of year when the sky isn’t gloomy all the time and the wind isn’t constantly trying to bite your nose off. Which means it’s time to think about getting out and seeing the sights. The latest edition of National Geographic’s Guide to State Parks is out this week, and you should visit a couple this year, while, you know, they’re still there.
And speaking of things vanishing, the clever science fiction title this week is Tristan Palgren’s Quietus, which starts with Niccolucio, a Carpathian monk in medieval Italy who is the sole survivor of a visit from the Black Plague. Niccolucio is a little adrift with all his brothers being dead (this wasn’t covered in the orientation training), and while he’s trying to figure out what to do, Habidah, an anthropologist from another place entirely, stops in and swoops him up.
That’s right. If it were a headline, it’d read: Medieval Monk Rescued by Space Anthropologist. And guess what? Things get worse from there, because it turns out that everything is not as it seems, there’s a vast conspiracy to topple an empire that spans quinta-zillion worlds, and it’s not just Earth that has plague problems.
And over in our well-stocked young adult section, where dystopian landscapes and vast conspiracies are what these kids eat for breakfast, we have Brendan Reichs’s Genesis, which is a follow-up to last year’s thunder-doomer of a doorstopper. In Genesis, the surviving sophomores at Fire Lake must try to survive in a world lacking in morality and rules. Such a world sounds a lot like First Lunch, but we suspect it’s a little more over-the-top than that.
And speaking of over-the-top [read stuff that will make us stay up way too late to finish], Tahereh Mafi returns to the Shatter Me sequence with Restore Me. It picks up sixteen days after our charming protagonist “killed the supreme commander of North America and took over as ruler of The Establishment on the continent.” The supreme commander was the father of a guy who—wait for it—might have feelings for our protagonist. However are they going to work this out?
And speaking of trying to figure things out, James Briscione has put together The Flavor Matrix to help us make Bacon Tapenade and Melon Bruschetta, Bourbon-Roasted Fennel and Plums with Coffee Ice Cream, and Spicy Fish Sauce Peanut Brittle.
Oh, there’s colorful pie charts and sciency talk that gets to the nuance of applying flavor bits to our tongue bits in a way that doesn’t make us reach for the paper bag again.
That’s right: Briscoine’s book will not make you barf. He can quote us on that, if he likes.
And we’ll fade out with the latest Letters to My . . . edition. Letters to Open On Your Birthday is an opportunity to leave some notes for yourself. Notes a little more personal than “Hey, you should probably eat that humus or toss it,” and “Oh, library books! Don’t forget to take them back.” The Letters to My . . . books are fun ways to be creative and genuine, which is all that anyone can ask of anyone else, right?
Ooh, we should make a secret letter writing club.