Booknotes from Our Staff

The Last Brother by Natacha Appanah, trans. by Geoffrey Strachan (Graywolf)

This is one of the most beautiful, contained portrayals of devastating loss and profound longing that this reader has ever encountered. An older man gives voice and remembrance to his younger self, bringing to vivid life a childhood marked by brutality, separation, and death, but also cunning, connection, and survival. It’s based on a historical incident—a ship of captured Jewish exiles imprisoned on the island of Mauritius during World War II. With the lightest of touches, the author movingly conveys a child discovering his own mysteries, then navigating those of a baffling, larger world. –Rick

 

BOOKNOTES, the book review of THE ELLIOTT BAY BOOK COMPANY, is written entirely by bookstore staff. It represents a sampling of recently published and forthcoming books that we have enjoyed reading. We appreciate every opportunity to assist in finding books to meet your interests.

 

Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover (or Title)

I’m sure most people have heard the phrase, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” (often spoken in a semi-strict schoolmarm voice, followed by a wagging finger). Well, last autumn I had a first-hand experience with this idiom. Our store’s Algonquin publisher rep handed me a book titled Blind Your Ponies and urged me to read it. “Ugh,” I thought, “that sounds violent and disturbing. I’ll pass, thank you very much.” But my rep assured me that it was anything but. I trust him, so I took a big breath and started reading.

It turns out that Blind Your Ponies is one of the most cheerful, heart-warming books I’ve read in years. The story takes place in Willow Creek, a one-horse Montana town that feels a bit down on its luck. For one thing, the school’s basketball team has an 0-93 record the past five seasons, and Willow Creek is smack dab in the middle of high school basketball country. But when a 6’11” Norwegian exchange student enrolls at the school, the townspeople feel their luck may be changing. And with a dedicated coach the scrappy basketball team pulls together and plays with nothing but guts, heart and a big sense of humor. The exciting game scenes kept me on the edge of my seat, and the cast of quirky characters frequently brought a smile to my face.

So when a customer asks me for a “feel-good book” recommendation, I understand why they give me a strange look when I exclaim, “Oh, you should read Blind Your Ponies!”

Have you ever judged a book by its cover (or title) and been proven wrong? Share your stories in the comments section! –Hilary

Booknotes from Our Staff

The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier (Pantheon)

On a seemingly normal day, a mysterious worldwide phenomenon, referred to as “The Illumination,” occurs. Suddenly, every person’s suffering is made visible. Pain is manifested as radiant light pouring from the wounds of the injured, glowing from an arthritic knee, sparking the air around the heartbroken. In a series of linked vignettes, a journal containing love notes written by a man for his deceased wife passes from character to character, touching their lives in a myriad of ways. Brockmeier has written a dazzling and powerful tale about the way in which our common suffering informs, names, and connects us. –Laurie

 

BOOKNOTES, the book review of THE ELLIOTT BAY BOOK COMPANY, is written entirely by bookstore staff. It represents a sampling of recently published and forthcoming books that we have enjoyed reading. We appreciate every opportunity to assist in finding books to meet your interests.

Booknotes from Our Staff

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (Knopf)

Although they don tribal gear, the Bigtrees have no Native American ancestry, but they do have Swamplandia!, both their home and home to the popular gator-themed park of the same name. But the empire starts to unravel when their matriarch dies. Chief Bigtree maintains a false optimism, Kiwi, the eldest son begins working for the competition, The World of Darkness, a hell-themed park, and Osceola heads to the underworld with a ghost groom while Ava, the youngest, follows in the hopes of saving her. As glittering prose peels away the layers of their mythology, it reveals the not quite catastrophic tragedy of reality. –Pamela

 

BOOKNOTES, the book review of THE ELLIOTT BAY BOOK COMPANY, is written entirely by bookstore staff. It represents a sampling of recently published and forthcoming books that we have enjoyed reading. We appreciate every opportunity to assist in finding books to meet your interests.

Small Press Month

March is, apparently, a month known for many things—National Noodle Month, National Peanut Month, Black Hole Awareness Month, and National Month of Social Work, for starters. And while this Saturday will mark the third evening I’ve spent dining with my social worker uncle at the Spaghetti Factory, discussing what might happen if a peanut fell into a black hole (he says it would freeze there, forever), I’m making it a point to take full advantage of yet another month-long celebration straight from left-field: that of independent publishers.

Yes, March is Small Press Month. And despite a serious lack of commemorative bake sales, we’re smack-dab in the middle of it.

Take for example, Melville House’s recent announcement of the Indie Booksellers Choice Award; a refreshingly open take on the best-of-the-best-book-prize in which booksellers from indie bookshops get to nominate their favorite small press releases of 2010. This, in my opinion, makes a lot of sense. As Melville House puts it: “Booksellers are the ultimate readers—who better to appoint the best books on the market.” The first award ceremony of its kind, Melville will honor its five finalists by coordinating a series of prominent displays in each participating bookshop. “With any luck, we can get some deserving titles to sell a few more copies, which is good for the store, good for the publisher, and good for the authors and translators.” Yes.

Powell’s, our compatriots to the south, will be offering a feast of small press activities with their fourth annual Smallpressapalooza on March 28th. Beginning at 6 pm, the event will feature a marathon session of readings, workshops, and discussions, all curated by Powell’s own Kevin Sampsell (author of A Common Pornography, Creamy Bullets and helmsman of Future Tense Press). Presenters include Neil Davis, Alissa Nutting, and Suzanne Burns. Think of this as a four-hour, small press lightning round—far more entertaining and enlightening than Password. Click here for a full list of events.

Meanwhile, in Seattle, March 19th marks the beginning of our fair city’s second annual Small Press Fair. With events scattered all over town and technically stretching into the middle of April, SPF offers something for everybody. What, might you ask? Well, there’s the veggie potluck social at Pilot Books on March 19th, featuring performances by Alex Miranda and Ronnie Porter, with music curated by Talking Helps records. The Scenic Drive Factory will be throwing a chapbook making work party on March 31st, with large quantities of pie dished up for all those in attendance. Town Hall Seattle plans to host an evening of poetry with Copper Canyon Press on April 5th, homegrown poet Shin Yu Pai will be reading at Elliott Bay on March 21st, and Richard Hugo House will tie it all together on April 9th with Recto Verso, their full-blown small press expo. This, and still so much more. Click here for a full calender of events.

The beauty of small press culture is that it’s mostly done in dimly-lit basements, by people with staplers and unusual sleeping habits. They’re down there because they read and want others to be reading, too. This is a celebration of what literature can be to people. So step outside and celebrate. –Matthew

Booknotes from Our Staff

Life on Sandpaper by Yoram Kaniuk, trans. by Anthony Berris (Dalkey Archive)

Part of the Hebrew Literature Series, Kaniuk’s “fictional autobiography” takes place in the prosperous creativity of 1950s New York. Kaniuk arrives in America, perhaps a bit shell-shocked after being wounded in Israel’s 1948 war, and swan dives into a dizzying collision of worlds: post-war Europe and America, Israel, jazz, visual art, poets and novelists, New York’s Harlem scene, and the Yiddish culture of the Lower East Side. The narrative is quick and direct. The reader is helplessly pulled through by this magnetic, first person narrator who is easily unapologetic in his dysfunction. But the pay-off is spellbinding. A miraculous mixture of escapism and confrontation, Life on Sandpaper is a rich view of a small portion of one man’s journey. –Shannon


BOOKNOTES, the book review of THE ELLIOTT BAY BOOK COMPANY, is written entirely by bookstore staff. It represents a sampling of recently published and forthcoming books that we have enjoyed reading. We appreciate every opportunity to assist in finding books to meet your interests.

Booknotes from Our Staff

I’m Not by Pam Smallcomb, illus. by Robert Weinstock (Schwartz & Wade)

If you’re looking for a charming and amusing children’s book about friendship, I’m Not is sure to be a lovely selection. Here we discover two young friends who are as different as can be, yet they celebrate and love their differences. In spite of all the things that they are not, they know exactly what they are: true blue friends. This is a delightful tale filled with witty illustrations, and it deserves to become a classic. –David

 

BOOKNOTES, the book review of THE ELLIOTT BAY BOOK COMPANY, is written entirely by bookstore staff. It represents a sampling of recently published and forthcoming books that we have enjoyed reading. We appreciate every opportunity to assist in finding books to meet your interests.