Most of the time, a sticker proclaiming a title is a “NEW BOOK” is sort of self-evident, but in the case of Shel Silverstein, an actual new book is worth getting out of bed, rushing through your morning oat bran, and heading on down to the bookstore early. Runny Babbit Returns is a collection of tongue-twisting poems about that infamous floppy-eared character of Silverstein’s who has a tendency to swap letters, leading to goofy situations and contorted phrasing that—oddly enough—gets more familiar and easier to read. Soon, we’ll be earnestly talking about cluffy flouds and rall fain when we talk about the weather. 

[See? We still managed to open with the weather, thus continuing our on-going disregard for one of Elmore Leonard’s rules of writing.]

Speaking of the weather, the cover of The Ninth Hour, Alice McDermott’s new book, is covered with snow. In fact, she, too, opens with the weather. “February 3 was a dark and dank day altogether; cold spitting rain in the morning and a low, steel-gray sky the rest of the afternoon.” The Ninth Hour follows the lives of a widow and her child in the wake of an earnest man’s unexpected and early departure from this world. McDermott, who has been the finalist for the Pulitzer Prize a few times, knows a little something about the heartbreak and the humility of the human condition, and in her hands, this story takes on a luminous sheen that quietly speaks to all of us. 

And speaking of speaking to us, Hilary Clinton’s new book came out last week, and we didn’t mention in the newsletter because Mark couldn’t get off his soapbox long enough to talk about it, but that didn’t stop you all from coming in and cleaning us out, so we should correct that oversight from last week and pointedly point out that, yes, What Happened happened. 

We also have copies of the new picture book edition of Clinton’s earlier book, It Takes a Village, as well as restock on Timothy D. Snyder’s On Tyranny. So, plan your political book buying accordingly. 

And speaking of political books, now that Bill O’Reilly has some time on his hands, we suspect we’ll see more of his Killing series. This week’s target is England, and Killing England is subtitled as The Brutal Struggle for American Independence. Though we’re still partial to the somewhat inebriated struggle that Susan Cheever recounts in the opening chapters of her thoughtfully wrought Drinking in America, which has been out in paperback for a while now. 

And speaking of history in America, this week we have Caroline, a novel by Sarah Miller that is an imagining of the Ingalls family’s journey from Wisconsin (not the prairie) to Kansas (prairie) and all the requisite hardships and adventures thereupon. The Little House Heritage Trust gave Miller their full blessing for this book, by the way. 

And over here, we have the fantastically designed You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins. We’re going to gush about the design for a second. Recently, as you may have noticed, publishers have been going ga-ga over rainbow colored covers, but frankly, they can all stop now because Perkins’s book is sublime in how to encapsulates the full gamut from green to red CONSISTENTLY across the cover, flaps, and back copy. And the end papers are a wonderful salmon color that is precisely halfway through the spectrum. Elizabeth H. Clark is the designer of record, and we’d like to offer a few seconds of spontaneous applause for her work here. 

As to the book itself, You Bring the Distant Near is the story of five sisters who, in coming to America, must consider which Bengali tradition they will keep as they try to find comfort and security in their new homes. There’s a narrative for everyone here as Perkins crafts a wonderful and complex tale of sisterhood and independence.

And speaking of independence, Dave Eggers is back this week with Her Right Foot, a picture book (with pictures drawn by Shawn Harris) about the Statue of Liberty. Eggers focuses on the fact that Lady Liberty is caught in motion, with her right heel raised. He asks some pertinent questions as to why, and uses those as a springboard to talk about the history of immigration in the US. (Hint: there was a lot of it.)

Soman Chainani is back this week with the fourth book in the School for Good and Evil series. Now, while everyone thought the evil School Master had been vanquished in the last book, there was one last thing to be done: senior projects! (Cue: groaning in the audience) That’s right. No one is going to be graduating from the School if they haven’t completed their “Quest for Glory,” and our stalwart protagonists decide they are going to restore Camelot to its former glory. Naturally, there are complications . . . 

And speaking of complications, Celeste Ng returns with Little Fires Everywhere, a novel about perfectly regulated suburbia that has a few secrets under its placid and orderly exterior. We enjoyed the marvelous way that Ng unwrapped a family and its history (and the consequences thereof) in Everything I Never Told You, and we suspect Little Fires Everywhere will live up to its title. 

And finally, Salman Rushdie’s new novel, The Golden House, is being touted as a “triumphant and exciting return to realism,” and yet the marketing copy mentions comic-book villains, unmistakable whiffs of danger, spiritual omnivoracity, and a “modern epic of love and terrorism” set in a cloistered community within New York City’s Greenwich Village. Hopefully, it’s just the exuberant hyperbole of the marketing team that has detached itself from “reality” and gone shooting off into space and not that we’re completely out of the loop as to the “reality” of East Coast living out here in the sticks. 

Overheard At The Store »»

COLBY: So, just then, the ice cream truck—what in the world is that!

[Sound of boxes being knocked over, maybe a vase or two]

FERDIE: Oh, hello! Welcome to the store. 

LYSTERAE: Oh, good afternoon. I see that you are open today. 

FERDIE: Yes. Yes. We are. 

LYSTERAE: I thought perhaps with that weather, you might be . . . water-logged or inundated or . . . 

FERDIE: No. No. We’re nice and dry. 

LYSTERAE: I see. Well, you have books . . . ? 

FERDIE: We do. 

LYSTERAE: Are they any good? 

FERDIE: Uh, some of them are. Perhaps. What—can I ask what that is that you’re carrying? 

LYSTERAE: This is Miss Hysteria Perambulation. She does not like to walk on cold concrete. 

FERDIE: I, uh, I see. And what breed of dog is, uh, Miss Hypatia? 

LYSTERAE: Miss Hysteria Perambulation. 

FERDIE: I’m sorry. Yes, Miss Hysteria Perambulation. 

LYSTERAE: She is a pure-bred Schauzeranian. Notice the ears. The nose. The refined luster of her fur. 

FERDIE: Yes, very lustrous. Is she cold? 


LYSTERAE: It is the quality of the air in your establishment, I’m afraid. Too musty. We shan’t stay long. 

FERDIE: Oh, that’s—I’m sorry.

LYSTERAE: Oh, it’s not your fault, dear. These books are so old. 

FERDIE: Actually, we have a mix of old and new. A lot of new, actually. 

LYSTERAE: Oh, but they recycle, don’t they? These publishers. Always cutting costs. Grinding up and reusing last year’s earnest and yet ultimately flawed bestseller for the boards of this year’s futile attempt to summarize the totality of the human condition. Like flatworms, feeding on themselves. Hoping to learn something from those who have fallen. Hoping to climb higher on those who have been lost to despair— 

FERDIE: Is there a specific book I can help you find?

LYSTERAE: Oh no, dear. I’m just browsing. 

FERDIE: Very well. I’ll . . . um . . . I’ll let you do that. 

LYSTERAE: You wouldn’t by any chance have a teaspoon I could put some water in for Miss Hysteria Perambulation? 

FERDIE: No, I’m sorry. If it’s cooking utensils you need, you should go down the street to Simple Tidings. I’m sure they have teaspoons. 

LYSTERAE: Oh, dear. I just couldn’t go that far. Not with Miss Hysteria Perambulation in this woefully dehydrated state. Just look at her. So floppy. So despondent. And all for a lack of a sip of water. “Water, water, everywhere, and all the boards did shrink; water—“ 

COLBY: Grrrmmblsnork!

LYSTERAE: My goodness! What was that noise? 

FERDIE: Uh, the furnace. Yes. Most likely the furnace. 

LYSTERAE: Ah, perhaps that is the source of the dust that is desiccating my dear pom-a-nauze. 

FERDIE: Excuse me? 

LYSTERAE: Miss Hysteria Perambulation. 

FERDIE: Oh! I thought she was a Schanuzernation.

LYSTERAE: Schnauzeranian. 

FERDIE: Yes. That. 

LYSTERAE: Well, what do you think a pom-a-nauze is? 

FERDIE: I, um, I’m afraid your dog is too well bred for me to understand it. 

LYSTERAE: Yes, clearly. Come, Miss Hysteria Perambulation. Let us see if this store deserves to be called a “book” store, or if it is merely a ratty collection of moldy pages that have not yet been devoured by worms and grubs. Do you have any lit-trah-chur

FERDIE: Over there. Just through that arch. 

LYSTERAE: Ah, yes, of course. Beyond the pale, as it were. I will investigate. 

FERDIE: You—you go right ahead. 

COLBY: Is she gone? 

FERDIE: Somewhat. 

COLBY: Did you see what she was carrying? 

FERDIE: I did. 

COLBY: What was it? 

FERDIE: A Snoozeranian, or a Pompadoodle. I’m not sure. 

COLBY: It looked like a fox that had been dehydrated, frozen, and then thawed out again. 

FERDIE: It is a rather sensitive animal, I gather. 

COLBY: It’s got big eyes. And they’re moist. It’s creepy the way they look at you. 

FERDIE: It does seem rather startled by everything. 

COLBY: And Coleridge. Why was she quoting Coleridge? 

FERDIE: Because—oh, quick! Here she comes again!

COLBY: Oh, bear scat. I’m out of here! 


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