Fall Booknotes from Our Staff – Fiction

The Stranger’s Child
by Alam Hollinghurst (Knopf)

It’s hard to believe that Hollinghurst is a contemporary novelist. Written with detail and breadth reminiscent of Dickens, and echoes of Austen’s pre-Victorian romance, intrigue, and satire, The Stranger’s Child is the kind of novel that has become an anomaly in the post-modern literary world. It is at once both dense and juicy, filled with small gossip, illicit love affairs, and long kept secrets. When Cecil Valance—an up-and-coming poet—visits George Sawles’s family and writes what will become his most famous poem in the young Miss Sawles’s autograph book, lives are forever changed, and in a series of dramatic revelations, a truth that was hidden over decades, finds its way out. -Candra

Mr. Fox
by Helen Oyeyemi (Riverhead)

No stranger to the somewhat eerie narrative, Oyeyemi brings us lighter fare than her previous novels, but note, the depth is no less and the surreal is never too far off. Author St. John Fox conjures stories that tend to leave their female characters lifeless, if not terribly wounded. His muse, Miss Mary Foxe, enters into his world to lure him away from such endings. With a shifting voice, slipping back and forth through time, and in and out of fantasy and fact, Mary, Mr. Fox, and his wife, Daphne, travel through what it means to love and yearn, pushing and pulling against each other in this beautiful read. -Shannon

I Married You For Happiness
by Lily Tuck (Atlantic Monthly Press)

Nina’s husband, Philip, has just died in their bed. As Nina sits by his side, she travels through memories of their life together, and as one memory spawns another the nature of intimacy is revealed like a spider’s web after a rainfall. Glimmering with hope, heavy with doubts and deceits, but strung with care and devotion, the complex and delicate balance that two individuals find and nurture in order to spend a lifetime together is depicted with remarkable dexterity and insight in Lily Tuck’s new novel. Never saccharine or sentimental, Tuck unveils a complicated and enduring love with astonishing brevity and honesty. -Candra


Booknotes, the newsletter of The Elliott Bay Book Company, is written entirely by bookstore staff. It represents a sampling of recently published books that we have enjoyed reading. We appreciate every opportunity to assist in finding books to meet your interests.

Summer Booknotes from Our Staff – Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror

Millennium People
by J. G. Ballard (Norton)

What if the middle class decided it was the new proletariat—became a group so oppressed and restless that they refused to pay their mortgages, set their BMWs ablaze, and pulled their kids from private school—rioting in the streets over the price of parking, and the incessant mendacity of dinner parties? The unveiling of J.G. Ballard’s posthumous publication, Millennium People, will explore the possibilities of how and why such a revolution could occur, and might just make you wonder why it hasn’t already. -Candra


The Last Werewolf
by Glen Duncan (Knopf)

Vampires…please. Zombies…so 2006. Here at last is the novel that gives werewolves their depraved literary due with a toothsome lupine grin (but also a genuine heart). Although, at their basest, these creatures are but beasts who fornicate incessantly and eviscerate innocent victims to slake their monthly bloodlust, they are also part human, which elevates them with superior intelligence and emotional complexity. This humorously macabre debauch follows the exploits of Jake Marlowe who is precisely the type of impeccably dressed, perfectly coiffed werewolf you might see drinking a piña colada at Trader Vic’s—although in Jake’s case it would probably be a Scotch. -Jamil


Embassytown
by China Miéville (Del Rey)

On Arieka, a distant planet populated by humans and an indigenous race called the “Host,” a delicate balance is kept between species. Genetically enhanced ambassadors are the only people who can communicate directly with these enigmatic, seemingly benevolent creatures. But when a new ambassador arrives in Embassytown, the equanimity that once reigned may never be again, and Avice, a human colonist recently returned to Arieka, may be the lone voice of reason. Miéville turns his inimitable eye to science fiction in this tale of the machinations of aliens and men, proving that whatever subject he takes on will thrill literary audiences. -Casey S.


The Map of Time
by Félix J. Palma (Atria)

Our omniscient narrator takes us on an adventure in Victorian London with author H.G. Wells and Time as our central protagonists. This is genre-busting historical fantasy of the first order, in which three different narratives cross one another. Wells’s own novel, The Time Machine, has made the public desire time travel, and showman Gilliam Murray comes along to fulfill that desire. Can this be for real? What happens if the fabric of time is messed with? To find out you’re going to have to read Palma’s glorious “scientific romance.” -Greg

Celebrate Gay Pride!


In honor of Gay Pride Month, as well as the wonderful news from New York state, here are a few gay-themed favorites picked by our staff. Enjoy!

A Queer History of the United States
by Michael Bronski (Beacon)

(Summer Booknotes Selection)

In the tradition of Howard Zinn and Gail Collins, Michael Bronski’s new history of the United States is an accessible, highly-readable exploration of our nation’s past. Bronski’s approach to writing history is integrative and inclusive, and provides a panoramic view of what was once just a snap-shot. Bronkski’s A Queer History of the United States is not just a history of famous Queer people, things they did, and events that shaped their lives—it’s a history of everyone, of our entire country. Bronski’s refusal to segregate Queer history from the history of all people is wonderfully refreshing and illuminating. -Candra

Annabel
by Kathleen Winter (Grove Press)

They kept it a secret in the small remote coastal town in which they lived. Neither boy nor girl. Only three people knew. The parents, well-meaning, brought him up as a boy named Wayne, who struggled with the two genders within him. Not written with sensationalism, this debut novel is a beautiful and compelling story of societal labels, identity and our own place in the world. Highly recommended. -Seth

Huntress
By Malinda Lo (Little, Brown and Company)

One of my favorite lesbian-themed novels from last year was Malinda Lo’s young adult novel, Ash, a retelling of Cinderella in which a young orphan girl trying to escape life with her wicked stepmother befriends and begins to love the King’s Huntress . Huntress is a prequel to Ash, and draws inspiration from the I Ching. In Huntress, two teenaged girls are chosen for a special mission to Tanlili, the Fairy Queen’s realm. Both novels transport readers into a world of fairies, magic and young love. -Karen

Will Grayson, Will Grayson
by John Green and David Levithan (Speak)

When two authors come together to write one book, one never knows how it’s going to turn out. In the case of Green and Levithan, two talented young adult authors, sharing a book seems to come naturally to them. In alternating chapters, each author takes a Will Grayson, two angst-ridden Chicago teenagers that share the same name and some of the same insecurities, and sets them on separate paths that inevitably intersect to hilarious consequences. Buoyed by a fantastic set of supporting characters and a treatment of teen issues that is at once thoughtful and humorous, Will Grayson is a superb entry into the YA pantheon. -Casey S.

It Gets Better
By Dan Savage and Terry Miller (Dutton)

Dan Savage and Terry Miller’s YouTube Project is now a book and it includes stories adapted from the many personal stories shared on the website and many new stories as well.  Some are Seattle stories–such as bookseller turned community leader Michael Wells’ and all of the stories reflect the tremendous diversity of our community. It does get better, thanks to the commitment and hard work of all of these contributors and many more. -Karen

Secret Historian
Justin Spring (Farrar, Straus, Giroux)

What a rare find! At a time in history when limitations were imposed on homosexuals by a repressive society, Samuel Steward’s life was on record – kept by a man who was record-obsessive. Justin Spring poured through Steward’s archive of “Stud Files” from 1924-1974. Steward was a true renegade. -Seth

 

Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life
By Kim Severson (Riverhead)

The New York Times writer Kim Severson’s memoir, Spoon Fed (now out in paperback), is as much a story of coming out, falling in love and getting sober as it is of her finding her voice as a food writer. She shares life lessons learned from Marcella Hazan, Marion Cunningham, Alice Waters and others, but I thought the most enlightening story was hers. Finding family acceptance and self-acceptance and making a life with her wife and family–that’s good news for those of us who thought we could expect much less for ourselves and our loved ones. -Karen

Summer Booknotes from Our Staff

Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away by Christie Watson (Other Press)

Twelve-year-old Blessing’s story quickly transports us to vibrant Lagos, Nigeria, where life with her parents and beloved brother seems full of joy and promise. But Father’s abrupt departure necessitates moving to their grandparents’ village home in the Niger Delta. With a child’s uninhibited curiosity and candid emotion, Blessing tells of adjusting to rural traditions, to the extended family’s colorful characters, and to the sometimes violent, oil-drenched politics of village life. Her apprenticeship as a midwife reveals the cultural challenges women face, but also their resilience, eventually giving this novel’s wonderfully authentic narrator a maturity that yields love, purpose, and compassion. -Erica

Oil on Water by Helon Habila (Norton)

A poignant and timely story about the human consequences of oil dependency, Habila’s new novel takes place in the Nigerian Delta, and follows a brief, but critical interlude in the lives of two Nigerian reporters as they attempt to gain access to the front lines of their divided world in search of the kidnapped wife of a British oil executive. As they negotiate the complex moral terrain of ruthless rebels and military men, every clear preconception is blurred, except one: when people are the sacrifice, there is no gain. -Candra

You Are Free by Danzy Senna (Riverhead)

In her first short story collection, Senna continues to tackle complexities in previously unseen ways. Issues of ethnicity and class meet the routine concerns of love—that which informs all our fleeting or constant relationships. Senna seats her stories in a kind of airy darkness where nothing is certain and anxiety thrums below the surface. A mother struggles to overcome her own insecurities through her child’s schooling in “Admission.” Often times power plays out in unsettling ways, as in “The Land of Beulah.” Despite the discomfort, it is this uncertainty in the order of things that makes Senna’s ideas so sincere, important, and real. -Shannon


Booknotes, the newsletter of The Elliott Bay Book Company, is written entirely by bookstore staff. It represents a sampling of recently published books that we have enjoyed reading. We appreciate every opportunity to assist in finding books to meet your interests.

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.

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.

Booknotes from Our Staff

West of Here by Jonathan Evison (Algonquin)

Evison’s new novel is a panoramic homage to the people, climates, and landscapes of the Pacific Northwest. Set in Port Bonita, an imaginary town on the Olympic Peninsula, West of Here contains story lines like rivers that rush forward with astonishing momentum and force. A masterful meditation on time, history, and people, it moves and crashes like rapids—letting us up for air in the distant past of settlers, native wisdom, and horse drawn carriages, and towing us forward until we emerge in the present, working in factories and eating at KFC—until finally we are flung over the waterfall of time where the past and present collide with brilliant clarity. -Candra

Jonathan Evison reads from West of Here on Wednesday, February 16th at 7:00 p.m.

In Praise of Literary Journals

Call them magazines, zines, or journals, these important venues for writers (of all genres) and readers (of all preferences) have gone largely unmentioned in the broader discussion of dying print media. There’s been plenty of talk about the death of print culture: of the growing pains, the serious doubts and concerns, the sentimental convictions and economic repercussions caused by the birth of the digital age. Instead of reiterating those arguments here I would like to offer a simple, alternative reason for reading a literary format that has always struggled to gain popularity and mass audiences: the literary journal.

In a world where the popular print media and publishing houses are already strapped, and the pressure on literary agents and editors to find books that will sell is immense, writers who want their voices to be heard have only one or two real venues in which they can successfully showcase their work to agents, editors, and readers alike. Literary journals are where they turn. In its many varieties, the literary journal is an increasingly essential stepping stone for almost every aspiring author. Even well published authors use the literary journal (where, more often than not, they cut their teeth and got their start) as a first platform for their work—frequently by solicitation of the journal’s editors who wisely realize that recognizable names will increase sales.

Now, as a bookseller I want to say that the best and most rewarding part of my job comes when I am asked by a customer—avid reader or casual—what titles I would recommend for them. And there are many ways to stumble upon books and authors who hold particular poignancy and interest for the individual reader. Browsing shelves, reading book reviews, taking recommendations from friends, or asking a bookseller—point blank—what’s good, are all ways to access literature, poetry, and other forms of writing that you will love. But I would like to propose that reading literary journals is just as good as these other ways, if not actually better.

The literary journal, uniquely, allows the reader access to a multitude of styles, genres, and forms (poetry, fiction, and non-fiction are often housed together), and unlike other collections (anthologies, for example), literary journals embrace—as often as possible—authentically new voices. Often experimental and risk taking, where other formats are less so, the literary journal invites the reader to engage with both established and emerging authors in one fell swoop, and allows the reader to determine for herself what authors have the most impact for her. Thus the resulting success is two-fold, the author succeeds in gaining career building exposure, and the reader is exposed to someone they may never have accessed by simply browsing shelves. Ultimately, the effect of this may be seen on those same shelves, as new, striving authors establish a readership and eventually wind up publishing a book.

The best way to determine if a journal welcomes contemporary authors who are right for you is to look at the author bio in a book you love. Many bios offer a list of previous publications, the equivalent of authorial “street cred,” and the newer and more fresh the author, the more likely their credentials will be to include a variety of literary journals.

It should also be acknowledged that because of the enormous financial strain on the print community, many journals offer issues both in print and online, and some that are annuals or quarterlies may update their web versions more frequently. There are even journals that were once in print, and are now online exclusively—so the possibilities are truly, overwhelmingly endless. To simplify, I have included a list of some of my favorite, lesser known journals that are still in print and available at Elliott Bay.

 

The Seattle Review

The University of Washington’s own literary marvel, The Seattle Review is a bi-annual publication that was founded in 1977. They publish authors big and small, and some of their previous heavy hitters include Denise Levertov, Joyce Carol Oates, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, David Guterson, and one of my favorites, Grace Paley. Their current focus is on poetry and novellas, none if which will disappoint. (Sample issue excerpts are available online)

 

Fence

Usually published twice a year, Fence is filled with an engaging assortment of poetry and prose that may make you want to dance—just a little. Now on their twelfth volume, the editors of this magazine know good writing when they see it, and their relative longevity has never resulted in complacency, every new issue is better than the one that came before. (Selected contents from their more current issues are available online)

 

A Public Space

Another relatively fledgling journal, A Public Space was founded in 2006 and houses fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and art alike. Often the cover designs alone would be enough to make me want a copy, but what’s inside is truly exceptional writing of such breadth and sophistication that their unique section entitled “If You See Something Say Something” could put The New Yorker’s “Shouts & Murmurs” to shame. (Excerpts from each issue are available online)

 

Jubilat

This deceptively small poetry journal offers a selection of some of the best contemporary poems and poets in the United States, pairing them with found work, reprints, art, and interviews with poets and artists. It’s not easy being a poetry journal these days, but the editor’s at Jubilat make it look like cake. Their current issue features local literary super-star Sherman Alexie, as well as a personal favorite, Matthew Zapruder. (Excerpts from current and past issues are available online)

 

New York Tyrant

(Out of Stock)

Born in Hell’s Kitchen, this tri-quarterly journal is only now publishing their eighth edition. How can something so young be so good, you ask? If I were you, I’d blame the editors, who make it a mission to choose a broad range of fiction that is by turns dark, funny, experimental, and insightful. This journal showcases many new talents as well as more established, lesser known, authors. (In print only)

 

-Candra

Holiday Recommendation from Our Staff

Otherworldly Fiction

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Illustrations by Camille Rose Garcia (All Ages)

Camille Rose Garcia’s contemporary illustrations of Lewis Carroll’s classic fantasy tale make a perfect gift for old & new fans of Alice. Garcia’s dark vision is a perfect companion to Carroll’s twisted and complex imaginings. As Garcia puts it: “[Alice] falls down the hole…every character she encounters, they’re not really on her side.” This coming of age isolation is something Garcia captures masterfully, and her new vision of Alice is incredible. -Candra

 

Going Bovine by Libba Bray (Teen)

Cameron Smith is a chronic underachiever. He lives in a sleepy Texas town, eking out an even sleepier existence. But after Cam learns of his inexplicable contraction of Mad Cow Disease and subsequent visit by what could be his guardian angel, Cam’s life takes a much more exciting path: embarking on a a divinely inspired road trip to save, not only himself, but the world. Along the way Cam meets a colorful cast of characters (including an animate garden gnome), runs afoul of a cult, and jams with a jazz legend. Part fantasy, part teen angst tale, Going Bovine is a hilarious journey into the mind of a teenage boy. -Casey S.

 

How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu (Science Fiction)

This is that most rare and beautiful monster…a book that will appeal to both sci-fi fans and regular earthlings. Charles Yu has built an astonishing literary vehicle…the book as time machine. The story follows burnt out time machine repairman Charles Yu as he scours a busted up minor universe for his disappeared father, with only a book called How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe (incidentally written by his future self) to guide him. A one of a kind, fantastic read. -Casey O.

 

 

Holiday Recommendations from Our Staff

Like The Principles of Uncertainty, Maira’s new marvel is a collection of illustrated blog posts from The New York Times. And like her previous book, And the Pursuit of Happiness is full of joy, warmth, delight, wonder, gratitude and hope.

Each chapter, beginning with the January inauguration of Barack Obama, represents a month of Maira’s year-long quest to visit America’s historical landmarks. And the Pursuit of Happiness is a remarkable tribute to our nation, and an inspiration to be thankful, proud, and hopeful about our future. -Leah

 

Listen to This by Alex Ross (2010 Holiday Gazette)

New Yorker columnist Alex Ross collects nineteen of his best essays on music and sets them to shuffle, creating a chapter playlist that doesn’t reject genre so much as tune it out completely. Featured artists include Mahler and Pere Ubu, Schubert and Bob Dylan. Moments of Beethoven’s Eroica are compared to punk rock, and a sixteenth-century Spanish bass line becomes the common denominator between Bach and Led Zeppelin. Throughout, it is Mr. Ross’s eloquent prose and spirited musical curiosity that strings these disparate notes into a unified whole, making Listen to This a polyphonic treat for readers and listeners alike. -Matthew

 

This Is NPR: The First Forty Years by NPR, Cokie Roberts, Susan Stamberg

Nothing short of a who’s-who and what’s-what of National Public Radio, This Is NPR acts as a candid history, yearbook, scrapbook, memoir, timeline, and detailed analysis of your favorite radio phenomenon’s first forty years. This book includes fascinating stories about NPR’s inception in 1971 and its introduction of programs like All Things Considered and Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me alongside captivating photo spreads and reports of internationally groundbreaking events up through the close of 2009. With contributions from Cokie Roberts, Susan Stamberg, Noah Adams, Renée Montagne, Ira Flatow, and David Sedaris, just to name a few, This Is NPR is a treasure trove I wouldn’t dream of going without. -Dave

 

Ann Beattie: The New Yorker Stories by Ann Beattie(2010 Holiday Gazette)

Do you keep stacks of old unread or half-read magazines under your coffee table, or desk, or bed like I do? Or maybe in a nice wire or wicker rack in your bathroom? Do you growl when someone suggests that maybe the recycling bin could use some new reading material? If so, this book is for you, and for any fan of The New Yorker‘s excellent fiction.

Now, you can safely dump those old magazines without batting an eye because here, in chronological order, is every Ann Beattie story The New Yorker has ever published. I only wish they’d titled this wonderful collection Beattiesque. -Candra