Booknotes from Our Staff

Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton (Random House)

Foodies, rejoice! Gabrielle Hamilton, chef and owner of the highly acclaimed New York restaurant Prune, has served up one deliciously riveting memoir. Beginning with childhood memories of her set designer father’s elaborate goat roasts, Hamilton takes us on a rollicking ride through the rocky shoals of adolescence, a solo trek through Europe (where her memory of a simple Grecian meal informs her future restaurant’s vision), a stint as a kid’s camp cook, seduction via homemade ravioli by an Italian man who becomes her husband, and summers in Italy with her new Italian family. This is a first rate tale of a food lover’s journey. –Laurie


Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell (Riverhead)

There is nothing funny about the colonization of a South Pacific archipelago. People died, diseases spread, ancient traditions and artifacts were damaged or lost altogether. Yet Vowell, arguably one of American history’s most popular commentators, still manages to put me in stitches as she captures uptight New England missionary attempts to Christianize the naked Hawaiian nation, right through its eventual installment into American statehood.

Vowell favors humor, both dark and dry, to recount the pitfalls and culture clash of Manifest Destiny. I only regret she didn’t teach every history course I almost dropped. –Dave



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.

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Booknotes from Our Staff

Montecore by Jonas Hassen Khemiri, translated by Rachel Wilson-Broyles (Knopf)

Structured as emails between Jonas, the Swedish-born son of a Tunisian émigré named Abbas and Abbas’s long lost best friend, Kadir, Montecore immediately endears its reader with its humor and linguistic bandying. Kadir urges Jonas to write the story of Abbas, and his rise to fame. But soon the two come to verbal blows about truth and memory, identity and betrayal. The author takes the book’s title from the white tiger that attacked Roy of Siegfried & Roy and by doing so, lets us know that this is about power, role-playing and the intimate choices made in defining oneself. Montecore is both a serious and witty personal narrative, and a sober but provocative social indictment. Ultimately, it is big in heart. –Shannon


The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht (Random House)

Téa Obreht has written a fabulous, wondrous book, and—perhaps unusual to say of a genuinely artful novel—a wise one. Set first in a present-time era of Balkan strife and war, it’s a time-traveled and truly timeless tale. There is war, displacement and ruin. Making sense of it is what Natalia, the young doctor at the center of this heartfelt book, is doing, even as she tends to the pain and travails of others. By way of this, she also relates her late doctor grandfather’s story, sending the reader into a past that feels palpably present. It becomes a mystery of the deepest kind, of life and death, faith and betrayal, with something of a larger power looming or hovering nearby. The sensibility of the narrative voice is old-souled, incredibly assured. A one-of-a-kind debut. –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.

Fear and Hope in the Search for Meaning

Religious practice continues to act as a pressure point in so many cultural contexts. Belief versus unbelief, accusations amongst traditions, the sort of bickering that results in societal fractures, deep and irreconcilable. For what, at its source, is meant to foster holistic living and goodwill toward mankind—hope, really—the level of animosity related to theology seems more heated each day, even manifesting in racial, sexual, and ethical prejudice, backbiting, and flat-out violence. Can we all at least agree interfaith animosity is so old-hat?

Pulling the discussion out of whose beliefs are correct and whose aren’t are impressive voices less akin to a fed up parent saying, “What are we going to do with you?”—more readily compelled to ask, “What are we going to do with us?” A critical eye focused acutely inward.

Greg Epstein’s Good Without God was a New York Times bestseller in January 2010, when it shifted atheist and agnostic attention away from what’s wrong with religion and toward what benefits the nonreligious population has to offer the world. Epstein outlines in his book the hope Humanism offers, with its emphasis on community and ethics. Good Without God offers a constructive perspective on how practicing morality and compassion doesn’t have to be the baby thrown out with the bathwater, so to speak, and how faith in humanity offers goodness and purpose alike. Epstein seats his arguments well within atheistic enlightenment in a way that doesn’t bother with debating the existence of God at all.

Likewise, Swiss Muslim and scholar Tariq Ramadan engages a similar question of practice firmly planted in the texts and teachings of Islam. Instead of asserting Islam’s merits above other religions, much of Ramadan’s work is concerned with radical reform in the Muslim tradition. Still, reform isn’t enacted easily. In 2009’s What I Believe, he argues in favor of Muslims being capable of full Westernization, and for a more generally pluralistic understanding of moral, human identity for Muslim and non-Muslim alike. A consistently contentious figure, Ramadan recently spoke as one of two keynotes at Seattle University’s Search for Meaning Book Festival, along with notorious Christian and accidental spiritual guru Anne Lamott (Grace (Eventually)), whose own decidedly nontraditional approach to established monotheistic faith have earned her a similar cult following, although much less in the way of vehement detractors.

No, lately, the Christian spokesperson getting all the attention is Rob Bell, the evangelical pastor accused by his peers of heresy for his re-evaluative eye on the long-established conceptions of Christendom’s afterlife. Fervor surrounding the release of this year’s Love Wins spawned a New York Times Book Review headline “Pastor Stirs Wrath With His Views On Old Questions” and a slough of articles for and against Bell’s proposed unorthodoxy, what some have labeled as “universalism.” The uproar sounded a series of simple questions regarding the ins and outs of Heaven, as in who’s in and who’s out. The questions, implicative of sweeping consequences, seem worth asking in a public forum. Questions themselves, despite instances of opposition from within one’s own tradition, can present a refreshing perspective of peace when staunch certainty has resulted in a considerable mess. Just because beliefs are established does not mean they shouldn’t be revisited now and again.

Which seems to be the point of Rabbi Niles Elliot Goldstein’s recent book Gonzo Judaism, a book hailed by American Jewish Life Magazine as a “defiant manifesto against old-guard Judaism”; the book readdresses 6,000 years of tradition not, as one might assume, to do away with the old, but to infuse each day with Judaism, namely its “very uplifting and inspiring and joyous approach to living the life.” Unafraid to be creative, even experimental in his religious convictions, Goldstein has yet received altogether positive responses for the type of Judaism he asserts—one that “calls truth to power,” to use his words, and models itself (loosely) on the journalistic practices of one Hunter S. Thompson—unlike Bell or Ramadan, whose receptions have been thoroughly divided amongst their respective traditions.

Religious thought evolves and revolves around that search for truth and meaning. Whether that meaning is found in monotheism or not seems it should be a more individual endeavor than a democratic affair. Furthermore, when the individual, who gazes critically at one’s own practice, rallies for the sake of hope instead of hatred, is there really any contest? –Dave

Booknotes from Our Staff

Your Farm in the City: An Urban-Dweller’s Guide to Growing Food and Raising Animals by Lisa Taylor and the gardeners of Seattle Tilth (Black Dog & Leventhal)

An exceptional new handbook for anyone who wants to become an urban farmer, this book includes everything you need to know about raising farm animals and growing food on your little plot of land. Taylor uses farmer’s wisdom and city savvy to cover all the basics and all the details. Complete with illustrations, maps to help you set up your space efficiently, and charts to clarify and simplify your reading, this is the most comprehensive book I’ve seen, and if you live in Seattle you won’t find a guide more accurate for your specific needs and concerns because the authors of this book are the local experts! –Candra


Townie: A Memoir by Andre Dubus III (Norton)

One of fiction’s greatest dynasties unfolds on the pages of Andre Dubus III’s memoir, Townie. A scrawny kid from mill towns on the Merrimack, Dubus manages to develop the formidable physique of a fighter through determination to defend himself, his family, and his friends. Seemingly trapped in a trajectory of love culled from violence born of love, he turns his determination toward writing and discovers, in a redemptive and potent narrative, the true quality of masculinity amidst a transformed love and admiration for his noteworthy namesake and father. –Dave



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.

Help Us Celebrate Our Anniversary

This is a few days late coming to the blog, but there’s still plenty of time to join us as we celebrate the anniversary of our move to Capitol Hill with this special discount coupon:

https://www.elliottbaybook.com/files/elliottbay/ebbcoanniversarycoupon.pdf

Just click the link, print it out and bring it in! Also remember to stop by the store to enter our daily drawings for some pretty awesome Elliott Bay prizes as well as autographed copies of books by Sherman Alexie, Jonathan Franzen, and Kurt Vonnegut. Thank you for your continued support. We look forward to many more fantastic years on Capitol Hill.

Booknotes from Our Staff

The Iron Thorn by Caitlin Kittredge (Delacorte)

The city of Lovecraft is a rational place, where science and reason are the law of the land, and religion and spirituality are the damned works of heretics. During the day all is well, but at night ghouls stalk the sewers while shapeless monsters writhe inside the stolen skin of unfortunate travelers. And that’s nothing compared to what goes on outside the city’s walls.

It is into this dark countryside that sixteen-year-old Aoife Grayson must venture after she receives a mysterious plea for help from her brother, who may be homicidally insane. Burdened with a haunted past and a blood disease that could drive her mad, Aoife may find that those few people who are trying to help her are more dangerous than those trying to kill her. –Rich

 

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

Portraits of a Marriage by Sándor Márai, translated by George Szirtes (Knopf)

This novel is so beautiful and complex. Set in Hungary between the wars, it is simultaneously an exploration of marriages and human relationships, the classes and class struggles, the nature of art and the nature of war, and the ways in which we survive it all. Márai is a master writer, and through four independent but deeply enmeshed narratives he deftly and beautifully depicts the lives of five individuals, drawing the reader in close with stylistic care. Each story is told in the first person to a silent listener, giving us an intimate look into the hearts, minds, and lives of his exquisitely drawn characters. –Candra

 

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.