Monday, September 30, 2013

In Case You Missed It...

ISBN-10: 087140379X ISBN-13: 9780871403797 Published: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 09/01/2013 Pages: 352 Language: English
Local author Allan Gurganus was on WUNC's The State of Things last Wednesday to discuss his new book, Local Souls. Naturally, I recommend giving the interview a listen, but I've also plucked out a few choice quotations from Mr. Gurganus for your perusal:

“I think it’s essential to love your characters, and that means loving them the way we love our loved ones, when they make terrible mistakes, when our kids get involved with drugs and the wrong crowd, when the man that we’ve loved for fifty years comes in and says ‘my secretary's attractive, you’re not, I’m out of here.’ Love doesn’t just stop and start, it continues. One of the great lessons, I think, in literature, is how many varieties of it there really are—how many varieties of erotic expression there really are. This is a book full of people who have sexual loves, including young, young kids and old, old people and that plays to what I think is central to understanding human beings. Walt Whitman says ‘We are unerringly lost without the sexual texture of things'…I’ve tried to apply that to my own characters."

“I really feel that the kind of heroics of waiting for your child in a car pick-up lane have never really been charted. We talk a lot about people climbing Everest (with a lot of sherpas carrying their luggage) but we’re not considering the lives of the natives and the responsible ones."

"I think there’s a kind of missingness that we all register. I mean we all feel that we were one of a pair of twins in utero and that we’re still looking for our other half."

"I think that all of us are locked in this dilemma: we think that duty is all that we have. We turn up for work and we don’t get any credit for being on time, we only get noticed for doing wrong, but there is a kind of dignity and a kind of power in staying home and taking care. And that’s been the fascination for me in writing this book."

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Glow-in-the-Dark Postscript

I already gave my sales pitch on Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, but new information has come to...light-- Mr. Penumbra glows in the dark! (The book, that is.)  Here is an interesting blog entry by Robin Sloan, the author, on the book's design and its reception. In fact, Sloan's blog is pretty all-around excellent: here, he recommends logical next steps for readers who enjoyed Penumbra. For the impatient (or all of you tl;dr types) he recommends:

A Working Theory of Love by Scott Hutchins
Close to the Machine by Ellen Ullman
The Book in the Renaissance by Andrew Pettegree
The Information by James Gleick 

Furthermore, I can also reveal that Sloan and his publishers will be gifting event attendees with free copies of Ajax Penumbra 1969, previously published as an e-book prequel to Mr. Penumbra. For fellow Luddites, it's great to have a print copy (especially a free one!) so come on down to Flyleaf tomorrow night and get a nice bonus.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Good, Geeky Fun

ISBN-10: 1250037751
ISBN-13: 9781250037756
Published: Picador, 09/24/2013
Pages: 304
Language: English
Some might say that a recommendation of a book about bookstores, booksellers, and the intersection between new technology (example: computers) and old technology (example: books) written by a bookseller on his bookstore's blog would be, well, a little weird. At the very least, it would make for a confusing introductory sentence. Admittedly, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is so far up my alley that it's practically sitting on my bed, but that doesn't mean it's any less awesome, or that you should be any less excited for the author event this Friday. You don't have to take my word for it, glowing reviews have been practically raining down on Robin Sloan's spectacularly fun debut (now out in paperback). 

Summing up the novel or even assigning it to a genre seems like an insurmountable task. For now, I'll say that it concerns Clay Jannon, an unemployed web designer who takes a job at an eccentric bookstore on a whim. The word "eccentric" is, of course, pitifully inadequate to convey the wonderful weirdness this bookstore contains and leads to, but unraveling the mystery yourself is half the fun. Sloan explores how literature and technology shape us even as they shape each other in an intricate dance that leads to grand divisions between hoary traditionalists and baby-faced wanna-be cyborgs. Most of us exist somewhere in the middle, trying to fuse the best of both worlds into something workable and satisfying. Where many try, Sloan has succeeded, and his empathy towards both ends of the ideological spectrum is charming and commendable. For example, here we have one of Sloan's tech-head characters (and romantic interest of Clay) enthusing about the future of human development:

"'Personally, I think the big change is going to to be our brains,' Kat says, tapping just above her ear, which is pink and cute. 'I think we're going to find different ways to think, thanks to computers. You expect me to say that'--yes--'but it's happened before. It's not like we have the same brains as people a thousand years ago.'
Wait: 'Yes we do."
'We have the same hardware, but not the same software. Did you know that the concept of privacy is, like, totally recent? And so is the idea of romance, of course.'
Yes, as a matter of fact, I think the idea of romance just occurred to me last night. (I don't say that out loud.)
'Each big idea like that is an operating system upgrade,' she says, smiling. Comfortable territory. 'Writers are responsible for some of it. They say Shakespeare invented the internal monologue.'
Oh, I am very familiar with the internal monologue.
'But I think the writers had their turn,' she says, 'and now it's programmers who get to upgrade the human operating system.'"

Sloan's novel is full of such humane, funny, and eminently thoughtful exchanges. It's like the funnest book of philosophy you could ever read, but better than that sounds. Ask the author your own questions about the Singularity or the future of printed media on Friday (my armchair prediction: books will continue to be awesome).

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Told You So

ISBN-10: 0307278972 ISBN-13: 9780307278975 Published: Vintage, 11/05/2013 Pages: 256 Language: English
Hey, remember when I said Jim Crace's newest book Harvest was really, really good? Well, it turns out some pretty influential people across the pond agree. Harvest has been shortlisted, along with five other impressively diverse novels, for the 2013 Man Booker Prize and Crace's masterpiece is the odds-on favorite. Here's the full list:

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo  

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton 

Harvest by Jim Crace 

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki 

The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín 

Unfortunately, I've only had a chance to read Harvest, but I'm looking forward to working my way through the rest. For my money, the Booker is one of the best taste-makers out there in terms of literary awards, and the case has been made by at least one writer at the Guardian that this year's picks are a bumper crop. It's certainly true that the judges have taken great advantage of the fact that the Booker is a Commonwealth prize rather than an exclusively Irish and British award. Here, Sarah Churchwell details the diversity present in the Man Booker's selections this year:

"It registers not only a multicultural world, but its migratory visions: an Irish writer's meditation on an ancient Middle Eastern myth; a Japanese-Canadian writer's linking of kamikaze pilots and 9/11 suicide bombers; the mingling in 19th-century New Zealand of Maori, Scottish, American, Irish and Chinese, drawn by the hope and greed that drives all frontier tales; a Calcutta family wrestling with diasporic American life and ghosts of the old world; a dark tale apparently set in Merrie Olde England, yet concerning deracination and exile; and a girl who leaves a shantytown in Zimbabwe for the false hope of the American Dream in Detroit."

Sounds pretty darn appealing to me. Enjoy the good will while it lasts, the news that American authors will become eligible for the prize in 2014 has elicited a range of responses, from pessimism to apocalyptic pessimism. If it's all downhill from here-- and I am by no means convinced that will be the case-- then at least the Booker's going out with a bang (if you consider a novel about the enclosure movement in 17th Century England to be a "bang," which I most certainly do). Buy Harvest (the paperback is coming out in about a month) before it wins the Man Booker and lord your astounding foresight and lit-cred over your friends (if they're anything like mine, they won't care).

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Compassionate Medicine

ISBN-10: 1594203938
ISBN-13: 9781594203930
Published: Penguin Press HC, The, 08/01/2013
Pages: 256
Language: English
Well into the 18th Century, Bethlem Royal Hospital in London was partially funded by visitors who paid to gawk at the mentally ill inmates living there in unconscionable conditions. Today, mental healthcare is thankfully much-improved, but remains a controversial, difficult field. Christine Montross capably illustrates the various medical and moral quandaries encountered during her career as a mental healthcare professional in her new book Falling Into the Fire: A Psychiatrist's Encounters with the Mind in Crisis. Not coincidentally, Montross will be visiting Flyleaf Books tomorrow at 7:00 pm to discuss her book-- 10% of the proceeds will be going to the N.C. Children's Hospital.

Falling Into the Fire loosely falls under the genre of memoir but-- while it does contain autobiographical details and a healthy dose (pun intended) of the author's personal concerns and beliefs-- the book is far less author-oriented than the genre label might lead you to expect. Montross loosely structures the book around her experiences with five different patients, each of whose particular case provokes an inquiry into the ethics and efficacy of different types of treatment. Montross also provides fascinating discourses on different aspects of medical history-- she does not shy away from psychiatry's checkered history, or from the horrific abuses committed by whatever you might call its predecessors (the word "bedlam" is derived from Bethlem Royal Hospital). Instead, Montross makes a convincing case for the compassionate, rational care of ill individuals, something we frequently fail to provide even today.

Montross does not fit the pervasive stereotype of the cold, Nurse Ratched-esque physician/psychiatrist/scientist. She is able to draw upon a wealth of research and data without dehumanizing her particular patients-- among them, a man so depressed he doesn't respond to pain, a woman who compulsively swallows knife blades and other dangerous objects, and a man who claims to be experiencing a dramatic spiritual awakening. Each case is tragic and disturbing, but also evocative of a particularly difficult concern in psychiatric medicine. For instance, in Falling Into the Fire, Montross discusses the merits of involuntarily admitting patients, examines the sometimes-tricky line between intense spirituality and madness, and even debates the morality of murky issues such as elective amputation of healthy limbs (you really have to read the book to understand why that's even a debatable issue). Ultimately, Montross poses more questions than she can provide definitive answers, a testament more to the complexity of her chosen career than to her own insight, which is extraordinary. 

Personally, I think Montross has done more than enough by shining a light on a number of issues that we might be more comfortable ignoring. I hope to see you at the event tomorrow night-- I expect the Q and A segment will be lively.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Book Club Selections, Fresh For the Picking!

In honor of our Book Club Night with Jojo Moyes (who was a total pleasure! What a wonderful event!), a few members of the Flyleaf Staff teamed up to pick some conversation-inducing, thought-provoking, party-starting book club picks. We've got a few print-outs in the store, but in the interest of accessibility, I thought I'd throw them on the blog for all to enjoy. Any questions? Stop in the book store and we'll talk your ear off about why all of these books are potentially life-changing.

Erica's Picks
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers
Capital by John Lanchester

Sally's Picks
Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman
Lookaway Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt

Mike's Picks
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro
The Long Tunnel by Meade Arble
Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

Jamie's Picks
Life After Life by Jill McCorkle
The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout
Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
The Returned by Jason Mott

Linnie's Picks
Paris I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down by Rosecrans Baldwin
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
The Liars' Club by Mary Karr

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Hard-Fought Couture

ISBN-10: 0399161899 ISBN-13: 9780399161896 Published: Blue Rider Press, 09/03/2013 Pages: 288 Language: English
I may have already mentioned being a fan of Slate's Culture Gabfest one or two (thousand) times before, but how can you not write about a podcast that introduces you to someone as irresistibly charming as Simon Doonan? Doonan is a Slate contributor who writes frequently (and hilariously) about the world of fashion. His new book The Asylum: A collage of couture reminiscences...and hysteria is a collection of autobiographical essays detailing his rise from a "crap town" in England to the heights of the fashion industry. Previous blog entries may not have exactly pegged me as a fashionista-- in truth, it's a minor miracle I wear clothes at all-- but Doonan's voice is so unique and hilarious that it transcends the ostensible subject matter. Anyone with a yen for English slang or ingenious quips will come away from this book well-pleased. 

If you need a sample to be convinced, check out this excerpt from Slate, in which Doonan writes about, among other things, the double life he was forced to lead as a closeted homosexual in the economically depressed, conservative Britain of the 1970s and 1980s.  Or take a listen to Doonan on a recent episode of the Culture Gabfest-- he's a memorable audio presence, to say the least. I'll leave you with this quotation from his book:

"Though I am involved in all aspects of the Barneys store image, it is in the area of window display that I have made my name. My displays are jarring and punky and intentionally shocking: coyotes abducting babies, mannequins in coffins, fashion suicides, Christmas in July, a trailer-park tornado. My chosen themes have consistently erred toward the bizarre and unconventional. Early on in my display career I made a list of window-display taboos and then proceeded to bust them. Condoms, broken toilets, live vermin... it is hard for me to think of something inappropriate which I have not plonked in a display window at one time or another."