This week we’re going to start off with dreary non-fiction items that are, thankfully, dressed up in fancy colors and designs so as to make them seem less like those parts of English composition that we all slept through during school.
Oh, dear. We may have undersold these. Quick! Look! Sentence diagramming postcards!
We dig Pop Chart Lab. They’ve been making eye-catching infographic posters for awhile now, and every once in a while, they’ll do one literature-related (see A Plotting of Fiction Genres over by the wood stove in the store, for instance). This time around, though, they’ve gone small and portable for a series of classic sentences that have been rendered as properly diagrammed grammar illustrations.
Sentence diagramming is something that we were never very good at, though we realize—now—that if we had paid more attention back then, we’d probably know when to use “who” and “whom.”
Anyway, these are fun, and they are postcards, which means you can send them to smart bookish people through that crazy thing called the mail. Which, given the predilection of cellphones, is something almost as anachronistic as sentence diagramming.
Be retro! Send some postcards!
And speaking of classics, we have copies of The Great American Read, the book companion to the PBS show about what readers in America consider to be the book they love the most. The Book of Books is a lavishly illustrated and annotated look at the 100 books that are vying for the top spot in our hearts (which will, apparently, be revealed later this fall).
And speaking of things being revealed, John Larison’s new book, Whiskey When We’re Dry is the tale of a young woman who is destitute following the death of her father. In order to keep the family home, she decides she has to find her lost outlaw brother, who has gone west. She disguises herself as a strapping young lad and lights out for the territories, hoping to find her brother before the law does. We’ve heard everything from True Grit meets Yentl to Mulan meets Deadwood in regards to this book, and we’ll add another comparison to the mix: it’s Shakespeare’s As You Like It meets Pat Garrett’s The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid.
And speaking of compelling historical narratives, this week’s time-slip story is The Phantom Tree. It's about Alison Bannister, who has been trapped in the 21st century for many years now. She’s originally from the 16th century, you see, and she’s been trying to discover what happened to her son, and when she discovers an old portrait of Mary Seymour—the daughter of Katherine Parr, who went missing from Wolf Hall in 1557 or so—Alison realizes the painting holds the key to unlocking her past. It’s a clever twist on the time travel trope, and a book for fans of Kate Morton and Philippa Gregory.
And speaking of things we are fans of, Robert Jackson Bennett is back with the first book in a new trilogy. Foundryside is the story of a thief, a warehouse raid, and a bunch of things that go wrong in a world full of scrivers—folks who can rewrite the underlying code that provides, uh, “sentience” to everyday objects. It’s got warring trade dynasties! Ancient mysteries! Industrial magics! Sign us up.
And speaking of matters that make us diagram with exclamation points, over here we have Jamie McGuire’s From Here to You. You have to imagine the following as being read out loud as a movie trailer voice-over. “Scott ’Trex’ Trexler is a Marine who has done time in the most treacherous, corrupt, and war-torn hellholes on earth. Darby Dixon is a tough-minded single mom who knows a line of bullshit when she hears it. When these two lock eyes across a hotel lobby during a hotshot firefighter meet-up, you know sparks are going to fly.”
The series title is—wait for it—Crash and Burn.
And speaking of hyperbolic narrative used to sell a book, let’s try that with Antoine Laurain’s Smoking Kills, the story of a man who, when forced to give up smoking, turns to crime. “This dark parody of classic romans noirs is one more reason to love the French,” simpers Crime Reads. “Makes cigarettes seem seductive again,” purrs The Guardian. “It has the pleasing weirdness that makes Laurain’s novels so appealing,” hedges The Sunday Times. And Riveting Reviews almost seems to have actually read the book when they say “the writing flows effortlessly, alternating action and reflection, the present and flashbacks, the sad and comical.”
Though, we’d probably rework that last one to something more like “Sad and comical, Smoking Kills, is a flashback to the present, with an effortless flow of action and reflection—almost like smoking.”
Anyway, Smoking Kills is dark. It’s funny. It’s got crimes that are all supposedly based on Cold War secret spy stuff. What more do you want, really?
And finally, we have Stephen Markley’s Ohio, which isn’t so much about the state as it is about the people who live in it. Specifically, four former classmates who reunite in a decaying rustbelt town where they come to terms with who they are and the world they live in. We know. That’s a terribly broad summary, but Markley’s debut takes this basic premise and dives deep into the hard realities of 21st century life in Mid-America. It’s an achingly raw history of how the old myths have failed us, but cast with enough light to imagine that we might yet realize new myths that could give us hope. Markley might be the literary love child of Truman Capote and Cormac McCarthy, if such a thing were possible. But don't try to figure out how that would work. Focus on the fiction, dear readers.
Oh, and we restocked our selection of Taschen books. Treehouses! Ads from the '90s! Film Noir! Cosmic Communist architecture! Art books! Whee!