From the Shelf
Reading for the End of the World
"We have very little control over anything much at all, individually, so fantasies of staving off the end of the world are fairly benign fantasies of increased agency." So posits William Gibson. Maybe that explains why I've been on a postapocalyptic reading binge. Here are just a few:
The End of the World Running Club by Adrian Walker (Sourcebooks Landmark, paperback). After the U.K. is struck by asteroids, everyman Edgar Hill undertakes a cross-country journey on foot to reunite with his family. Walker uses the end of the world as we know it to probe what it means to be human, what it means to survive and what happens when merely surviving is not enough. Telling details of life pre- and post-apocalypse amplify this ultimate adventure tale.
When the English Fall by David Williams (Algonquin). In the aftermath of a catastrophic solar storm that destroys the nation's power grid, an Amish community in Pennsylvania struggles to survive. This slim novel in the form of a diary recounts the efforts of a farmer named Jacob as he tries to protect his family and neighbors in an increasingly chaotic world.
Alexandra Oliva's debut novel, The Last One, is now out in paperback from Ballantine. When Zoo signs up to be a contestant on a reality TV show, she does so intending to have one last adventure before she and her husband start a family. What she and the other players isolated in the woods don't realize is that something goes very wrong in the outside world during the filming in the first week; Zoo figures the events and devastation she has to contend with are just part of the game. Through Zoo's eyes, readers slowly learn the truth. For fans of Survivor and The Hunger Games, Oliva has melded the best of both worlds and added her own unusual twist. --Robin Lenz, managing editor, Shelf Awareness
In this Issue...
by Antonio Iturbe
Fourteen-year-old Dita Adlerova shares tiny slices of joy and freedom with her fellow prisoners in her position as the Librarian of Auschwitz.
by Magda Szabó
In this English translation of Magda Szabó's novel, intertwined families in Budapest contend for the rest of their lives with the effects of brutality and tragedy during World War II.
by Tova Mirvis
Novelist Tova Mirvis traces her journey of leaving Orthodox Judaism in a luminous, fierce memoir.
Review by Subjects:
Quiz for Avid Readers
Pop quiz: "Only an avid reader can name all 22 of these books by just 3 clues," Women.com challenged.
Electric Lit cross-examined "the 5 weirdest lawsuits about authors stealing ideas."
Parodying his novel-turned-movie, Coraline, Neil Gaiman will provide the voice for a character on The Simpsons' annual "Halloween Treehouse of Horror" episode.
Headline of the day (via the Telegraph): "Ernest Hemingway's first work of fiction which he wrote aged 10 found in freezer bag."
Bustle showcased "11 literary inspired accessories to gift to the book-lovers in your life."
Katie Green: 'I Can't Write This Book if I Die'
Katie Green is a U.K. author and illustrator. Green grew up in the London suburbs and moved to Bristol in 2002 to study, where she stayed for 10 years and recultivated her love of drawing. Her debut book, the graphic memoir Lighter Than My Shadow (Lion Forge), took almost five years to complete and chronicles her descent into--and recovery from--disordered eating and sexual abuse. Green now lives in Devon with her partner and their rescue dog, Jack.
Had you always wanted to illustrate your memoir?
No, I initially thought it was going to be prose--I was that person who thought that comics were for people who couldn't read proper books. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an illustrator of children's books and that's how I came to illustration in general. I picked up The Red Tree by Shaun Tan and thought I had this completely original idea to do a picture book for adults. I started telling my friends what I wanted to do and, when they gave me graphic novels, this whole world opened up to me. When I read my first graphic novel, it all fell into place. I thought, "This is what I need to do."
The illustrative depiction of the illness is very powerful. How did you come to this imagery? How did you make it visual?
It was a really slow evolution. I started drawing to express to my parents how I was feeling. I originally drew the eating disorder as a giant green monster erupting out of my head. That was my starting point. When I decided to do the book for real, that was the metaphor that I went to. I did a lot of sketching and painting and collaging trying to evolve the idea and I went through all kinds of iterations until I just did a little scribble on the page. And that's the picture that ended up on the spine: the girl on the scale with a little cloud over her head. The moment I drew it, I knew I had found it.
And the mouth on the stomach... that shows the transition from seeing the illness as something that was outside of me and some kind of enemy to realizing it was inside and part of me; that it was myself I had to face.
How did it feel creating this work?
It felt visceral. It got to a point where I wasn't analytical about it. I wasn't thinking about how I was expressing it. I was back in that moment expressing it raw and it felt really right creating it like that.
There gets to be this point where the illness is tedious--the reader gets sick of dealing with this illness and gets sick of dealing with her. Did you do that on purpose?
I really wanted to get across that this takes a long time--I wanted to get across the monotony of having to get up and face the same thing every single day. And it takes a long time to change the addictive thought processes. I would think, "I know better than this now. Why am I still struggling with this?" I wanted to be completely real about how long it takes but offer some kind of hope that it's worth it. The same with the abuse--I really wanted to put it in the story and show that I was able to have something that might vaguely be considered a normal relationship afterwards. That was a big fear of mine, that I would never be able to be close to someone. It's not perfect. It's hard. But it's possible.
Is this a story that you always wanted to tell?
Almost as soon as I was diagnosed with anorexia, I knew I wanted to express it somehow. I couldn't find a book that resonated with me, really. I found one but it suggested that the eating disorder would always be there in the back of my mind and I was dissatisfied with that narrative. Telling my story became my reason for getting better, my ambition, my thing that I wanted to do, my focus. The thought of creating the book is what got me through recovery. I thought, "I can't write this book if I die. So I've got to at least stick around for that long and then I can reassess the situation."
So you knew that you wanted to tell this story before you recognized your history of sexual abuse?
Yes. The abuse in fact happened after I had decided I wanted to make a book. So that just screwed everything up and made it a lot more complicated. But then it made me even more certain that I wanted to tell my story. I was chosen and preyed upon because of my vulnerability. And that's what happens. I realized that if I wanted to make this book real, I couldn't leave the abuse out. I couldn't tell a truthful story without including it.
How does it feel to promote this work, which shows some of the worst things that have happened in your life?
In one sense, it's really weird. Because I've had to do a lot of work in therapy about moving on from this being my identity, and the only thing I talk about. And yet, by the decision to write about it and the book being recognized as successful, I have to talk about it and people perceive it as my identity.
But I had this moment this morning and it's the first time I've really taken it in... I turned all of this really horrible stuff in my life into something really positive. For myself. Regardless of what anyone else thinks of it. I just really took it in for the first time: this turned out alright. --Siân Gaetano
by Magda Szabó , trans. by Len Rix
Magda Szabó's moving novel Katalin Street explores the way the past is alive in the present, still shaping life in mysterious ways that are hard to understand.
Szabó (The Door), who died in 2007, is considered one of Hungary's greatest novelists. Translator Len Rix superbly renders the author's subtleties and nuances in English. Katalin Street focuses on three families in Budapest who live on the eponymous street before the onset of World War II. During Nazi occupation near the end of the war, the families are ripped apart; the Jewish parents of the Held family are deported, and their daughter, Henriette, is killed by a soldier while in the care of the Elekes family. From this trauma, the stories of the characters unfold in both first-person and third-person narration. Henriette's ghost has a central role in witnessing and narrating the growth of her former playmates--Bálint, Irén and Blanka--as they cope with loss, love, guilt and later, in the postwar period, the political machinations and repressions of the Communist state.
More than the cruelties of any regime, Szabó focuses on the "tyranny of somewhere else," how people are oppressed by their own senses of time and lost opportunity. "They were too few to support the weight of the images their words conjured up from the void," Szabó writes of her characters' incessant and wistful longing for the deceased. That Henrietta can see the pain of the living creates genuine uncanniness, an otherworldliness further evoked by Szabó's haunting descriptions, like "the almost brutal scent of the flowers."
Eliciting a bittersweet beauty, Katalin Street is a powerful novel about life, death and humanity's elusive sense of place and purpose. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset
Discover: In this English translation of Magda Szabó's novel, intertwined families in Budapest contend for the rest of their lives with the effects of brutality and tragedy during World War II.
Love and Other Consolation Prizes
by Jamie Ford
Jamie Ford (Songs of Willow Frost) finds inspiration in lost history. For Love and Other Consolation Prizes, the spark came from newspaper articles about a baby raffled off at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909. That startling event ignites into a grand, somewhat unconventional love story in the hands of this master.
Ernest Young is five when his destitute mother sends him to the United States. She hopes her son will have a better chance there than in China. His American life starts out fairly well as a charity student in a boarding school, but takes a sharp turn at 12 when he learns he's a raffle prize at the Seattle World's Fair. The woman possessing the winning ticket is a notorious madam at the Tenderloin, a high-class brothel, where Ernest becomes the houseboy and finds the first situation resembling a family--albeit unusual--that's he's ever experienced.
Ford alternates between 1962 when Seattle is preparing for a second World's Fair and half a century earlier, during Ernest's youth at the Tenderloin. As the second global exposition approaches, Ernest is trying to help Grace, his wife, whose memory has all but deteriorated. In flashbacks to their mutual life at the Tenderloin, Ernest rediscovers the woman he loves but knows, "Memories are narcotic.... Too much and they become dangerous. Too much and they'll stop your heart."
Tender and honest, Love and Other Consolation Prizes unearths compassion and humanity in an unusual corner of Seattle. Every reader will come away a little richer. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: Raffled as a prize at the 1909 World's Fair, a young Chinese boy finds an unconventional family in his new home, a high-class brothel.
Mystery & Thriller
by Guy Bolton
Guy Bolton's debut noir mystery, The Pictures, is a hardboiled delight: a fascinating, twisted puzzler with well-developed characters. It's 1939, and Los Angeles police detective Jonathan Craine is a Hollywood studio "fixer"--covering up domestic abuses, back-alley abortions, illicit affairs and drunken car crashes that might tarnish the reputations of movie stars and executives employed by the city's biggest and most profitable industry: the movie studios. After months away from his post following the suicide of his actress wife (spun as a "dreadful accident"), Craine is immediately embroiled in two crimes that threaten the production of The Wizard of Oz.
Called to the scene of a young woman's brutal murder, Craine's kneejerk reaction is to downplay the savage violence at the scene and instead reframe the crime as a botched robbery. The following morning, MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer summons him to help cover up the suicide of Herbert Stanley, a producer and husband to one of the studio's biggest stars, Gale Goodwin. When Craine is paired with rookie detective Patrick O'Neill (who has his own issues as the son of a famous police officer), Craine begins to awaken from his grief and complacency. Instead of brushing aside inconsistencies in the two cases, the two detectives decide to investigate the seedy links between the deaths.
The Pictures is a compelling and dazzling debut for fans of Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy. Bolton's tightly paced mystery vividly re-creates 1930s Hollywood and is enriched with complicated, fascinating and flawed characters. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: Guy Bolton's compelling and evocative hardboiled noir, set in 1939 Hollywood, salutes the best of Chandler and Ellroy.
The Child Finder
by Rene Denfeld
As the titular character in Rene Denfeld's The Child Finder, Naomi does exactly what her job description says: find missing children. Madison disappeared three years earlier, at the age of five, and her parents have approached Naomi. The family was in Oregon's Skookum National Forest to cut down a Christmas tree when the little girl walked away--and seemingly off the edge of the Earth. It's impossible for Madison to have survived in the wilds and frigid cold by herself...
The story alternates between Naomi's point of view and Madison's, although Madison has been calling herself the snow girl, after her favorite fairy tale. The child's living conditions--more like survival conditions--are disturbing, but her resilience is a marvel and Denfeld uses restraint in describing the most difficult scenes.
Besides Madison's case, and another one involving a mother incarcerated because she can't remember how her baby disappeared, Naomi must also confront mysteries in her past. She was found at the edge of the woods when she was nine and has no clear memories of what came before. Haunted by what she doesn't know, and believing her work is atonement for something, Naomi wonders why people have children when it means potentially opening themselves to so much pain. But while Child Finder is indeed gut-wrenching, its compassion goes a long way toward healing readers' aching hearts, showing that love is always a risk worth taking. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: While searching for a little girl who disappeared three years earlier, an investigator tries to remember what happened in her own traumatic early childhood.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
The Goblins of Bellwater
by Molly Ringle
Deep in the forest near Washington's Puget Sound, goblins lurk in the tree canopy, ready to ensnare and enchant anyone foolish enough to follow one of their magical paths. At dusk in winter, Skye ventures into the woods and becomes cursed by the goblins, leaving her depressed and unable to speak about what happened to her. The only one who might understand is the local auto mechanic and chainsaw artist, Kit, who carries his own ancestral goblin curse. But Kit is afraid to speak up for fear of the ridicule he might receive from Skye's sister, Livy, who has cast her own type of spell on him. Entangled in magic with these three is Kit's cousin, Grady, who falls for Skye, thanks to the goblins' curse on her. Together, the foursome must defeat these ancient creatures or lose two of their own to the horrible beasts that have staked out territory among the local fae spirits.
Molly Ringle has loosely based her paranormal romance on Christina Rossetti's sensual poem "Goblin Market," and has created a vivid and enjoyable erotic romp through the world of magical beings. Human rules don't pertain to these tricksters, yet human feelings and emotions abound as Ringle's characters face some of their worst fears. Excellent descriptions of local settings, flora and fauna help place readers in the wintry world of the Pacific Northwest, where magic and love reside among the tall Douglas firs and waters of the sound. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: An erotic paranormal romance filled with goblins intent on stealing a human or two.
Biography & Memoir
The Book of Separation
by Tova Mirvis
Ensconced since birth in Orthodox Judaism, Tova Mirvis reached an unexpected crossroads: she knew she couldn't stay in the community that had defined her life. Though it meant dismantling her marriage and uprooting her children's lives, she had to leave, but had no idea what that might mean. Mapping a new life felt "both exceedingly simple and impossibly out of reach."
Mirvis (Visible City) takes the reader on her journey, shifting among her childhood in Memphis, her college years in New York City and her life with her husband and children in the Boston area. At each stage, she reflects with stunning candor on the gap between the beliefs and rules she had received (and secretly questioned), and the more jagged reality of living in a complex world. She plumbs the idea of being "good" (the meaning of her name in Hebrew) and "bad," and wonders how to care for her children after voluntarily upending their existence. "Could you be who you really were and still be loved?" she asks, as she grapples with changing family relationships and makes room for her children's questions and fears. Mirvis's experience of Orthodox Judaism is vivid and particular, but her questions--about love and belonging, community and isolation, striking out into new soul terrain without a map--are universal.
Luminous, unsettling and fiercely brave, Mirvis's memoir insists on a simple but earth-shattering truth: "there are other ways to be." --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Novelist Tova Mirvis traces her journey of leaving Orthodox Judaism in a luminous, fierce memoir.
The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery
by Bill James , Rachel McCarthy James
Bill James is a savant of baseball statistics and probabilities. When he stumbled upon the unsolved 1912 axe killing of a Villasca, Iowa, family of eight, the lifelong Kansan began to comb newspaper archives for similar crimes in the southern Midwest. One unsolved grisly murder led to another until James put aside baseball to enlist his daughter's help to research every remotely similar case.
The Man from the Train is the story of their work mapping historical crimes and logging the key repeating elements of the murders. Working backward in time from 1912, they uncovered almost 100 killings that fit the pattern. They statistically categorized and tracked the incidents from Texas to Nova Scotia, convinced that the slaughters were the work of one man who traveled by local trains to and from the scenes. And they were confident that modern tools of forensics, coupled with the Internet's deep data, statistical analysis and their persistence would turn up the identity of the serial killer. Remarkably, they were right.
As one might expect from someone who has built a career out of replacing anecdotal baseball scripture with statistical analysis, James chronicles crime scene after crime scene with a methodical storytelling flair. As he ends an early chapter, "I will explain what I believe happened and why I believe that, and you can decide whether you agree or disagree. Perhaps, until then, you will be kind enough to suspend judgment? Appreciate it." As readers follow along with the authors' true-crime sleuthing, they're apt to become convinced. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: Baseball analyst Bill James and his daughter use their research skills and statistical knowhow to expose an early 20th-century serial killer.
Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century
by Jessica Bruder
In preparation for writing Nomadland, journalist Jessica Bruder immersed herself in a new American subculture: the houseless. These "vandwellers" are individuals and families who for myriad reasons have ended up on wheels. Far from carefree RVers, these are folks for whom the American dream has been a con, and they make ends meet by doing itinerant work across the country.
The practice of giving up real estate for "wheel estate" has increased exponentially in recent years, following stock market crashes, the housing crisis and increasing economic risks faced by American families. Having to choose between food or electricity, health care or warm clothes, these nomads live in converted vans, campers, even Priuses. Many thrive while surviving day-to-day, but being a "workamper" is no easy ride.
Skewing older (many are in their 60s or 70s and have lost their retirement funds) and subject to "harsh migrant labor treatment," they are nevertheless sought-after workers due to their experience and reliability. Amazon has unsurprisingly taken advantage of this shadow economy, setting up company towns and recruiting its own "Camperforce," for whom long, difficult hours and low pay are the reward.
Joining them in Halen--a converted van (the subculture is strong with vehicle puns)--Bruder became intimately knowledgeable about this often heartwarming mobile community that blurs class lines. She writes with a steady and thoughtful hand about the frightening consequences when long-held social contracts are breached and upheaval becomes the new American normal, and exposes their underbelly with grace and heart. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: A microcosm of Americans has taken up a life on wheels in order to survive national economic problems.
Essays & Criticism
The Origin of Others
by Toni Morrison
Adapted from a series of lectures she gave in 2016, The Origin of Others showcases Toni Morrison's powerful discussion of race late in her career. Winner of countless awards, including the Nobel Prize, Morrison is firmly established as one of the greatest writers in American literature. Here she examines her own writing and that of others, in an attempt to explain her work in the face of the systemic racism that defines the United States.
Morrison begins The Origin of Others with a story about her childhood, when her great-grandmother commented on the color of Morrison's skin. "These children have been tampered with," the woman claims to Morrison's mother. "My great-grandmother was tar black, and my mother knew precisely what she meant: we, her children... were sullied, not pure." Using the idea of her own racial impurity as a stepping stone, Morrison discusses the false science used to support 19th-century racism, how the othering of blacks serves self-absolution by whites, and how her novels have tried to explore these concepts. While the lecture begins anecdotally, it is much less of a memoir than a treatise, carefully peeling back layers of history and social norms to show deep rot inside American society. It's fitting that the foreword is written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, who has brilliantly taken up the mantle of cultural critic that Morrison has epitomized for so many years. Having him as part of this project underscores Morrison's arguments: that racial concepts from earlier in history are appearing in new forms, and must still be attended to. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.
Discover: Toni Morrison's The Origin of Others is an essay about the history of modern racism and the author's investigation of it.
Nature & Environment
This Blessed Earth: A Year in the Life of an American Family Farm
by Ted Genoways
Modern family farming is the subject of This Blessed Earth by Ted Genoways (The Chain). Genoways follows the Hammond family, who mostly tolerate him as they work long, hard days farming grain and raising beef cattle, struggle through intergenerational conflicts over daily operations and future plans, and sit with him telling stories of their lives and community.
Grain farming is a terrible yearly gamble with the weather and the markets. High crop yields were the traditional goal, but can now mean disastrously low prices for "commodity grains"--corn and soybeans. The Hammonds oppose the Keystone XL pipeline because it endangers the aquifer they count on for irrigation; it also cuts through their property, lowering their crop yields. This loses them the goodwill of their neighbor and landlord, and they forfeit even more acreage as a result. Between his scenes with the Hammond family, Genoways tells the history of U.S. agricultural policy, the drive to settle the West, government investments in extension programs, weather stations and subsidies, the role of Henry Ford in developing soybean farming, and how grain has been used as a political tool since the 1970s with little regard for those who grow it. Farmers have been running to stand still with only occasional success for a long time now. Genoways makes it clear that if Americans want our food production system to change, we will have to make broad new investments in our support of the people who grow it and modifications to the government policies that drive their working lives. --Sara Catterall
Discover: The realities of modern farming are illustrated by this chronicle of a fifth-generation farm family who works its way through an unpredictable year.
Children's & Young Adult
The Librarian of Auschwitz
by Antonio Iturbe , trans. by Lilit Thwaites
"In Auschwitz, human life has so little value that no one is shot anymore; a bullet is more valuable than a human being. In Auschwitz, there are communal chambers where they administer Zyklon gas. It's cost-effective, killing hundreds of people with just one tank. Death has become an industry which is only profitable if it's done wholesale." It is January 1944, and 14-year-old Dita Adlerova is imprisoned in the hellscape that is Auschwitz-Birkenau. Dita--forced to live in unspeakable conditions, malnourished, cold and constantly fearful--is (horrifyingly) luckier than most. For some reason unknown to the prisoners, camp BIIb is the "family camp," and its inhabitants have a life slightly better than the rest; prisoners in BIIb are allowed to wear their own clothes and, most importantly, have arrived with their families primarily intact, children and elders included.
Fredy Hirsch, a charismatic and enigmatic young man dedicated to the care and teaching of children, has received permission to start a school in BIIb. His makeshift school, Block 31, serves hundreds of young students, with few teachers and the greatest contraband of all: books. In need of someone to manage the use and hiding of the books, Fredy recruits brave Dita to be the librarian of Block 31.
Journalist Antonio Iturbe's The Librarian of Auschwitz is based on the experiences of real-life Auschwitz survivor Dita Kraus. Iturbe interviewed Kraus about her time in Auschwitz, fictionalizing her account in this beautiful and brutal work (expertly translated by Lilit Thwaites). The novel never flinches from the horrors yet shines a light on the everyday lives of people surviving the camp--their relationships, their tiny joys and their immense sorrows. The Librarian of Auschwitz is a heartbreaking and ultimately inspiring work of art. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Fourteen-year-old Dita Adlerova shares tiny slices of joy and freedom with her fellow prisoners in her position as the Librarian of Auschwitz.
by Marie Lu
Eighteen-year-old Emika Chen is on her own in near-future New York, barely scraping out a living as a bounty hunter and about to be evicted for being late on rent. Like just about everyone else in the world, she wraps herself up in Warcross, an immersive video game that's like capture the flag with elaborate fantasy worlds and super powers. When Emika hacks into the opening ceremony of the annual championship tournament, she is spotted by Hideo Tanaka, the enigmatic genius who invented the technology, and is recruited for the bounty hunt of her life.
A former video game designer, author Marie Lu (Legend; The Young Elites) peppers the book with gamer culture, including a nod to World of Warcraft's infamous Leeroy Jenkins incident. Emika is a satisfying heroine: she's resourceful and tough with a strong sense of what's right mixed with the grim practicality of a life of poverty. The bright imagery and breakneck pace of the game world will draw readers in, but it's the book's gray areas that will keep them involved. Emika's late father is a touchstone--memories of him telling her that "every locked door has a key" keep her going more than once--but she's clear-eyed about his drinking and gambling addiction. And after chapters of nail-biting action, the book's climax serves up a wallop of a question: Is it possible to try so hard to do good that you end up doing harm? This book will eat your free time until you finish, but it's worth it. --Ali Davis, freelance writer and playwright
Discover: A thinker's adventure story with who-can-you-trust suspense and wildly creative action sequences.