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.

Fall Booknotes from Our Staff: Fantasy & Science Fiction

The Night Circus
by Erin Morgenstern (Doubleday)

The best stories transport us to worlds that seem richer and more vibrant than our own. Realms so extraordinary that you feel bereft upon turning the final page and are forced to return to boring old reality. Between the covers of Morgenstern’s enchanting debut lies one of the most remarkable places you’ll ever encounter, a tantalizing playground of the mind that manifests true wonders of the imagination. A world where anything is possible, but everything comes at a price. Readers who enjoy the uncommon alchemy that blends atmospheric prose with an amazing story will delight in the transcendence to be discovered here. –Jamil

Erin Morgenstern reads from her much-acclaimed debut novel on Monday, September 19th at 7:00 pm in the bookstore. If you can’t make it to the reading call us at (206) 624-6600 to reserve an autographed copy.

Fantastic Women
edited by Rob Spillman (Tin House Books)

Fairytales and folklore are alive and well in the contemporary world. The grandchildren of tradition come to us with a female voice, and they bear mischievous weapons. From shape-shifting to human-filled stews, the tales herein are hallucinatory and relevant progressions of the mythic journey. At times, they are somber and reflective while at other times they unfold fast and funny. A few skirt the erotic and some sit haunting in their austerity. Selkies, mermaids, and miniature universes mix with the modern and mundane. And amongst these beautiful yarns, for authenticity’s sake, there’s even the requisite “little cottage in the wilds.” –Shannon

Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline (Crown)

The phrase, “grabs you from the first page,” may be one of the most overused lines in the book review world, and it’s almost never true. This story is one of the few that actually grabs you from page-one and refuses to let go. Wade Watts has spent a considerable amount of his life jacked into the OASIS (a computer generated utopia that most of humanity uses to escape from an increasingly desolate world), engaged in a 1980s-themed hunt set up by the original creator of OASIS. Success could change Watts’s life forever, while failure could result in the collapse of an already teetering society. –Rich


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 – Fiction

Orientation and Other Stories
by Daniel Orozco (Faber and Faber)

From start to finish, Orozco’s stories unfold in brisk and thoughtful patterns. Like the accelerated time-lapse photography of millions of cells coming in and out of existence, they are mesmerizing. The reader is held rapt from the hyper-detailed, twisted delivery of an office worker’s first day in the title story “Orientation,” to the three-tiered perspective of what it is to be alive (or not) in “Only Connect,” to the whip-like unwinding of the consequences of a great California earthquake in “Shakers.” Orozco throws it all into the pot and comes at you with some of the most innovative stories around. –Shannon

Daniel Orozco reads from Orientation and Other Stories at 7:00pm this evening at the bookstore. If you can’t make it to tonight’s reading and would like a signed copy of Orientation, call us at (206) 624-6600 or toll free at 1-800-962-5311.


Ten Thousand Saints
by Eleanor Henderson (Ecco)

It’s 1987, and two malcontent youths are smoking pot from a Coke can under the bleachers at Lintonburg’s big event: a high-school football game. Jude and Teddy are outcasts, the former an adopted son of two estranged 1970s parents, the latter abandoned by his alcoholic mother. Henderson writes a coming-of-age tale of two punks as they cope with friendship, addiction, girls, pregnancy, death, AIDS, indifferent guardians, and their hope to start a hardcore band. Ten Thousand Saints is a window into youth-punk culture from small town Vermont to New York City’s CBGB. –Alex


Centuries of June
by Keith Donohue (Crown)

Centuries of June proves that Keith Donohue, author of The Stolen Child and Angel of Destruction, is a narrative chameleon. In the middle of the night, our hapless narrator, Jack, is beaned on the head in his bathroom. While he collects his wits and susses out the situation, he is accosted by eight disgruntled, ghostly women. Each tells her story and locks onto Jack as the surrogate for the man who let her down. Fans of David Mitchell and Italo Calvino might recognize his genre-bending technique, but will discover here a master storyteller at the top of his game. –Leighanne


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

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

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor (Viking)

In the wake of many young adult books that feature kids with magical powers, Okorafor’s voice is a refreshing standout. Sunny is an American-born child of Nigerians who have moved back home to West Africa. She is unique in many ways, one of them being she is an “Akata,” a derogatory term for an American born black. She is also an albino. As if this isn’t enough, she soon learns she is a “leopard person,” someone possessing magical abilities, and is a strong one at that. On a quest to defeat an evil criminal, she is accompanied by Chichi, a sharp-tongued girl who seemingly knows no fear, Orlu, the down-to earth boy with watchful eyes and a warning always at hand, and the care-free African American, Sasha, who Sunny may or may not have a little crush on. Akata Witch is rich in West African spirituality and captivating adventure. –Shannon


The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens (Knopf)

Ten years ago, Kate, Michael, and Emma were spirited away from their parents in order to protect them from an unknown evil. Moved from one orphanage to the next, the siblings survived by helping one another and holding out hope that one day their parents would come for them. Now, after moving to an orphanage in a remote village in upstate New York, the siblings meet the enigmatic Dr. Pym and come face to face with the stunning secret that has followed them for the last decade. A wonderful mix of humor and magic, Stephens’s debut will thrill fantasy fans of all ages. –Casey S.


Lost & Found by Shaun Tan (Arthur A. Levine)

Lost & Found is an extraordinary collection of three thematically related and thought provoking stories beautifully illustrated and told by Shaun Tan. In “The Red Tree,” a girl finds hope and beauty in a world of darkness and despair. “The Lost Thing” journals a boy’s unique experience as he helps a strange alien creature find belonging and happiness. And “The Rabbits” tells the fate of an old world lost at the arrival of a new invading species. These imaginative stories are movingly narrated and exquisitely presented, creating a weird and wonderful experience for all ages. –David


World Without Fish by Mark Kurlansky, illus. by Frank Stockton (Workman)

Mark Kurlansky has utilized his thorough research skills to create a book that all ages can read, enjoy, and benefit from. World Without Fish is a sobering yet creative and comprehensive account of the current threat facing fish and mammals. This is a great book for the whole family—the writing is straightforward yet gentle, and there are cartoons, illustrations, and photos. Kurlansky covers everything one needs to know to get a full understanding of the dangers our oceans face: over-fishing, by-catch risks, global warming effects, far-reaching impacts of extinction, the positive repercussions of sustainable fishing, and more. Terms are defined, and cause and effect are clearly and simply explained. It’s a tough subject, but an important one, and this is the book that will educate your whole family. –Hilary


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.

Look for our Summer Booknotes’ Reviews…coming soon…

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.

The Bewildering Business of Words

“To rescue the banal is every lyric poet’s ambition.”
Charles Simic, The Monster Loves His Labyrinth: Notebooks

 

In 1996, The Academy of American Poets baptized April as National Poetry Month. All over the country, anyone even remotely involved with the world of books now pays homage to poets and their exploits. Booksellers, publishers, teachers and librarians gather to disperse the word about both classical and contemporary poetry (or they should, anyway). The well-known and well-obscured poet and poem are quoted and admired or despised, as the case may be. The worst is no reaction at all. “Meh” is the enemy of any writer….

At least as far back as the 18th century, with its gumbo of movements known as Romanticism, the Enlightenment, and the earliest green buds of the Industrial Age, accusations and defenses have run amok regarding the necessity of poetry. In his essay, “A Defence of Poetry,” Percy Bysshe Shelley mashes up the “two classes of mental action, which are called reason and imagination” in arguing humanity’s innate creativity, what said creativity brings forth to a society and why it’s important. Here, reason acts “as mind contemplating the relations borne by one thought to another” while imagination is “mind acting upon those thoughts so as to color them with its own light,” arguing that together they recognize and create beauty, or art, which begets civility. Or something like that…

As fascinating as the actual science of it is, I have a lot of opinions regarding the philosophical “divisions of the mind,” the values placed upon them and certain dominant definitions of “civility.” But Shelley has heart and I appreciate his argument for the recognition of poetry as a pragmatic affair. We cut funding for arts, pooling our time and resources into what we consider to be more “necessary.” The long-lived and lingering are rare characteristics in our day-to-day experiences. In a climate ripe with disposability, crowded with oversimplified, often flashy and noisy narratives that hand meaning to us and streamlined, anemic soundbites of information that promise not to take up too much of our time, perhaps we need to summon our own lyrical complexities, if only to give ourselves “staying power” as a culture. Poetry, both writing it and reading it, takes time.

But you could get a cramp in the left side of your brain trying to succinctly argue the importance of poetry and why we must not let it slip into obscurity. I refuse to exhaust myself in arguing why any art is important. If you don’t already know, I can’t do nuthin’ for ya’, man. In his possibly overly kind New York Times article, “Oprah Magazine’s Adventures in Poetry”, critic and author of Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry David Orr asks us instead to ponder the “actual experience of reading a poem […] what reading one of them is like to one person.” What does it mean to crawl inside a poem’s structure and tone, teeming with metaphor, its imagery and all other sorts of gooey good stuff?

Reading poetry is the willingness to enter into, and accept, chaos. Many writers and critics have called for an acceptance of the impenetrable in poetry. Time takes on a whole new pace and texture when inhabiting a poem and, as David Orr points out, poems seem, or are, inscrutable. To many of us, it is the elusiveness, the puzzles within, the challenge of interpretation and the potential for transcendence that is exciting but, to many, it’s just down right taxing. In trying to convince people to give poetry a chance, tossing about terms like “chaos” and “inscrutable” may deter converts. But I tell ya’, when I chance upon a poem that not only piques my curiosity with its word play but leaves me breathless with it’s meaning, a meaning which I might not necessarily grasp in any linear fashion, I am reminded of why I come back for more. So, it is important that we situate ourselves differently when thinking about chaos, that tenacious snarl that has so much to teach us. Besides, nothing compares to that private rapport between you and the page, that delightful exhaustion that comes after tackling the formidable mystery of a good poem.

Then again, I love (and collect) words. The more enigmatic and cryptic the poem, the better…Just don’t get too clever. It’s hostile and a lil’ pretentious. I love watching how the thoughtful stitch up a good verse or conjure an astonishing image. I love language. So much so that I am grateful even for poets whose work I find too “on the nose” or boring as all get out (you know who you are) and firmly believe in space for all attempts at creativity. Yes, there is an inordinate amount of really bad poetry out there. Yes, some of the criticisms regarding poetry and poets are valid. Even I, the adamant little proponent that I am, still sneer at most poetry. I am absurdly selective, nee persnickety, about whom I read. It took me years to admit that I even wrote it, much less read it. And don’t even get me started on the typical “poetry voice,” that funny little cadence invoked by poets reading their work. However, my past shames are not the issue here.

Reclamation is in order. Amazing poetry did not disappear with the “dead white guys.” With a keen eye and a little digging, you will find a choir of expressions that will remedy any ill. There are the old standbys: Rilke, whose profundity blocks out all noise and drives me into my own private mental cloister; Neruda, whom I am powerless against, as he always teases out the closeted romantic in me; and, of course, Emily Dickinson, who spun, sewed and secured, with alarming magnificence, not a few decent poems. I have been swayed by the exuberant genius of Ed Skoog, the comforting insanity of E.E. Cummings, the teeming reflective center of Li-Young Lee, and the awe-inspiring consciousness of Denise Levertov. I often have to ask Paul Celan, whom I only discovered recently, where he’s been all this time and tell him I forgive him for repeatedly breaking my heart with “Fugue of Death”. Derek Walcott’s poem, “A City’s Death by Fire” stands as the only poem I’d want etched on my tombstone (even though I fully intend to have a Viking funeral).

Then there are the behemoths on my shelves, the ones responsible for my lawless and senseless commitment to a life of words. Gwendolyn Brooks, who preaches the mundane with shine, sings history’s sadness and speaks to me as a complete person, leaving me better for it. C.D. Wright, the woman who dons a vernacular like no one’s business, reinventing her voice with each collection of poems and who first romanced me with her Southern Gothic saga, Deepstep Come Shining. Sherwin Bitsui’s Flood Song, which hums in a way both alluvial and divine and with such succinct intelligence. I am a little in love with Nikky Finney. I was left homesick for the Gulf Coast after reading, Lyrae Van Clief Stefanon’s “Lost” from her supremely imaginative collection, Open Interval. And I was lucky enough to hear, in person, the calm music of Nathaniel Mackey’s epic, decade spanning, creations. He did not use the “poetry voice”….

Perhaps I go too far, but some say God, or Nature, or the Universe (pick your poison) is unknowable or unpredictable, hard to tack down in any simple manner, and that that is the beauty of belief. Could this be what the process of creating and the experiencing of, not only poetry, but all art is about? Wouldn’t it be, among other things, a vapid existence without such mystery and contingency? –Shannon