Has it been a week already? My, how time flies when the days start getting shorter. The books keep showing up, though. They don’t care about the amount of daylight. They just want to gambol and leap into your arms. “Take us home! Take us home!” they cry.
All right, let’s facilitate that, shall we?
A couple of weeks ago, we mentioned Shaun Bythell’s The Diary of a Bookseller in our Speed Dating edition of the newsletter. Admittedly, the Speed Dating note was a hand-waving gloss at that time, but now that the staff has been fighting over a copy for a week, we can speak more adroitly to the charm that is Wigtown’s resident book curmudgeon. Bythell owns The Book Shop, the largest second-hand bookshop in Scotland, and The Diary of a Bookseller is a day-to-day accounting of running the business over the course of a year. Part of the charm of this book is the fact that Bythell has a very dry wit, a tolerance for eccentricity in those who wander through the store, and an unrepentant love of books. As fellow booksellers, we got quite a kick out of his anecdotes about customers, but what we really adore about the book is the unstated—but very keen—awareness that books have a critical part of a culture, and that people who distain books (or otherwise treat them as having little to no value) are, well, basically acting like those people who let their dogs crap on your lawn right in front of you and then get all offended when you ask them to clean it up.
We’d like to see a copy of this in everyone’s house by the end of the year, please. So that when you invite us over for a holiday party, we can start a spontaneous event in the kitchen where everyone reads their favorite bit out loud.
And speaking of being in the kitchen, we have the latest edition of The Little House Cookbook. Barbara M. Walker notes in her dual forewords that she’s endeavored to retain as many of the historical ingredients and methods as possible, making this not only a frontier cookbook but also a record of historical recipes. Including the ones that are kinda weird and wonky these days. Like blackbird pie, which uses starlings as its main meat ingredient.
Tricky thing about starlings, though. You can’t buy them in the store. You have to hunt them, which you can do because they’re a nuisance. Like people who fuss about the cost of a used book, which is invariably less than the cost of a Double Pump Skinny Mocha Quad Shot with Extra Whip, which they slurp noisily to punctuate their dismissal of a book’s value.
What? It's just a simile. Metaphorically speaking.
And speaking of getting your priorities in order, we have Jackie Strachan and Jane Moseley’s Call to Order, which is a miscellany of useful hierarchies, systems, and classifications. Though, we're inclined to point out that their use of “miscellany” is dissembling a bit, because this book is—hooo! we take that back. Wowza, these lists are all over the place.
There’s a chart of the Agitation Scale, useful for conversations about sea swells as well as how annoyed your boss may be at your indifference to their daily list of to-dos. Also, here’s a detailed exploration of Dante’s Hell, complete with rings, trenches, and lanes within the circles. “Hey Bob, I can’t text right now; this staff meeting just hit Trench 7 of the Eighth Circle.” But not all the charts are Metaphorical Categoricals About The Doom Of Your Existence. There’s also a detailed list of the degree of sweetness various additives can bring to a meal.
Useful if you need to tweak that blackbird pie you’ve got in the oven, for instance.
And speaking of rising temperatures, this week’s sassy rom-com is Trouble Brewing, a book about babes and brewing, dudes and drunkenness, and pubs and public displays of affection. Suzanne Baltsar knows a thing or two about the craft beer movement, and Trouble Brewing skewers the dude-bro establishment with a sizzling story of young entrepreneurs in love.
And speaking of romantic moments, the latest in the 52 Lists journals is one for Doing Things Together. Come on. Make the “awwww” noise with us. That way we can both check off the first list.
And speaking of lists, Sy Montgomery’s memoir is called How to be a Good Creature, and it recounts her time spent gallivanting about in the woods and waters through thirteen narratives about specific animals she encountered. Like the Christmas weasel and a pig named Christopher and an octopus named Octavia. We’re not sure why the Christmas weasel doesn’t get an anthropomorphic name, but he gets a seasonal designation at least.
And speaking of seasonal designations, Paulo Coelho has a new book out this week. It’s called Hippie (with a heart over the “i,” of course), and we’re just going to quote from his bio on the flap for our description of the book. “Paulo Coelho’s life remains the primary source of inspiration for his books. He has flirted with death, escaped madness, dallied with drugs, withstood torture, experimented with magic and alchemy, studied philosophy and religion, read voraciously, lost and recovered his faith, and experienced the pain and pleasure of love.”
Moving on, we have The Agony House by one of our favorite neo-gothic writers, Cherie Priest. Much like I Am Princess X from a few years ago, The Agony House mixes text and graphic novel panels, paralleling the events of the story as our dear protagonist Denise Farber sets out to investigate the creepy history of the house her family just moved into. It all has something to do with a comic book she finds in the attic, the lost last project of a vanished writer . . .
It’s House of Leaves meets Scooby Doo!
And speaking of not-entirely tongue-in-cheek bookseller loglines, we also have The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, by M. T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin. The story, as outlined in bullet points, follows one Brangwain Spurge, elfin historian and spy, as he attempts to cross the Bonegruel Mountains (by giant crossbow, naturally), infiltrate the goblin kingdom under false pretenses, spy on the goblins’ mysterious overlord Ghohg, and return alive. We’re not sure if the title of this heavily illustrated book is a spoiler or a red herring. Regardless, we’re going to pitch it as Terry Pratchett meets Hieronymus Bosch, and let you sort out the finer details.
And this week’s winner in the New Book from a Member of Monty Python category is Michael Palin, who has recently trotted around the globe in an effort to retrace the voyages of the HMS Erebus, which vanished over a hundred and fifty years ago during its efforts to chart the Northwest Passage. The Erebus was discovered a few years ago, which laid to rest Dan Simmons’s supernatural version of what happened to the ship and its crew (described in The Terror, and recently turned into a gripping season of claustrophobic terror for TV). Alas. However, Palin’s narrative—which is succinctly named Erebus—is filled with the comedian’s graceful wit and consummate enthusiasm for history and the natural world, which is the sort of reading one may prefer during the dark, winter months.
And speaking of winter, we have Christelle Dabos’s A Winter’s Promise, the first book in a decidedly European quartet about arks and mirrors and a girl who can travel through one to visit the other. In addition to her decidedly unique method of getting around, Ophelia can also read the history of objects when she touches them, and naturally, she ends up being a pawn in a tangled game of family drama and politics in a world populated by immense floating islands. We’re reminded of Edward Whittemore a bit, as well as Philip Pullman, C. S. Lewis, and a handful of other recent YA bestsellers about beleaguered protagonists who get caught up in palace intrigues.
And finally, here is Simon Stålenhag’s The Electric State, a dizzyingly marvelous book about a girl and her robot as they take a road trip across a post-apocalyptic US. Stålenhag came to our attention a few years ago when he crowdfunded several books on life in a version of Sweden that was replete with lots and lots of left over robots. Stålenhag’s talent lies in his ability to mix nostalgic landscapes with remnants of a future we haven’t had, and the results are picturesque images of a world that is simultaneously familiar and utterly foreign. We love his work, and we’re delighted to have an opportunity to share it with you.
[This week's header image is unabashedly lifted from a wallpaper image of his art, in fact.]