New Fiction Roundup – April 2019

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A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C.A. Fletcher – When a beloved family dog is stolen, her boy owner sets out on a life-changing journey through the ruins of a dystopian world to bring her back.

Emily Eternal by M.G. Wheaton – Designed in a lab to help humans process trauma when the Earth’s sun begins to die prematurely, an artificial consciousness discovers a possible way to save humanity, only to be attacked by individuals who would control her technology.

The Affairs of the Falcons by Melissa Rivero – Fleeing the economic and political strife of 1990s Peru, undocumented factory worker Ana struggles to support her family while fending off the challenges of discrimination, sexual harassment and a loan shark’s criminal enforcers. A first novel.

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The Ash Family by Molly Dektar – Drawn by a mysterious stranger to a remote farming community that lives off the fertile mountain lands, a North Carolina teen is seduced by their high ideals before new friends begin to disappear. A first novel.

Beyond the Point by Claire Gibson – Three West Point cadets—including a nationally ranked point guard, an Army general’s faith-driven granddaughter and a rebellious homecoming queen—embark on bond-forging military careers on the eve of the September 11 attacks. A first novel.

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton – Exiled in a drug-oppressed refugee suburb in 1980s Australia, a 12-year-old boy dreams of a career in journalism while fending off the local criminal element to protect his imprisoned mother. A first novel.

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Feast Your Eyes by Myla Goldberg – The life of a controversial mid-20th-century photographer is chronicled through her daughter’s memories, interviews with her intimates and excerpts from journals and letters documenting her quest for artistic legitimacy in the face of public notoriety.

Henry, Himself by Stewart O’nan – A 75-year-old retired engineer looks out on 1998 and sees a world he suspects has passed him by, and weighs his life’s dreams against his regrets, in this prequel to Emily, Alone.

Lights All Night Long by Lydia Fitzpatrick – With the help of his American host family’s daughter, Sadie, who has secrets of her own, Russian exchange student Ilya embarks on a mission to prove his brother Vladimir’s innocence in the murders of three girls back in Russia. A first novel.








National Poetry Month – What is Poetry?

Folks, it is National Poetry Month, which means we really should try to answer an important question: What is poetry?  Or, as many might feel is a more appropriate way of asking the question, What the heck is a poem, anyways?

This is a very valid question that comes from a very genuine place.  I think there are many avid readers out there, readers who consume novels and non-fiction with a kind of ardor, who still come reluctantly to poetry, and wonder how or why people connect to that particular art form.

What is poetry?  How does it differ from the other art forms, like visual art, or theater, or music?  Isn’t poetry a kind of music?  And isn’t it something you have to look at to appreciate its form, and therefore isn’t it kind of like visual art?

One of my favorite descriptions of what poetry is comes from the scholar Elaine Scarry, who writes in Dreaming By the Book that our various art forms all participate in different kinds of content.  What does this mean?  Scarry points out that many art forms, like visual art and music, involve “immediate sensory content.”  We hear a song or a symphony, we see a painting or sculpture.  Our senses come alive during these interactions, and the content is immediate and sensory.

But what about things like musical scores?  That’s art, isn’t it?  Scarry calls that “delayed sensory content.”  In this case, the notes call attention to a sequence that, if honored, produces actual music.

But there’s one more kind of content, and this is my favorite one.  For what happens when we read a novel or a poem?  There is “immediate sensory content” – the weight and feel of the book in our hands, the smell of the pages, the color of the black letters printed into the white page, the different shapes of the letters.  But when we read, we are not only engaging in immediate sensory content, because the letters on the page, as in a musical score, are instructions that help us to imagine a world.  In this case, we are engaging not only in immediate sensory content and delayed sensory content but also….(drumroll please) “mimetic content.”  So what’s that?  Mimetic content does not include any sensory content – it is, rather, what we see, touch or hear through our imagination and memory.  Scarry then points out that the visual arts, film, theater and music are all focused primarily in immediate sensory content, whereas the verbal arts are more grounded in mimetic content.

Phew!  That was a lot of theorizing.  I hope it wasn’t too off-putting.  But we have one more step to take, so that we can think about poetry, and more specifically think about what poetry is.  For poetry, more than the other art forms, participates in all three forms of content outlined by Scarry.  It’s immediate sensory content participates through the visual form of the words on the page.  Its delayed sensory content participates through the way in which the notations on the page are intended to produce actual sound.  And its mimetic content participates through the way in which the poem activates our imaginations, the way it sings in our mind.

Yes!  We are (hopefully) getting somewhere.  But there is actually one more distinction we have to make.  And that’s this: what’s the difference between novels and poems?  Both are weighted primarily in mimetic content.  Both involve the production of worlds, through language, in our imagination and memory.  So how do we differentiate between the two?

I don’t have an easy answer to this, but I think it has to do with the aspect of poetry that involved delayed sensory content and immediate sensory content.  How do I mean?  Well, most poems have a certain form – maybe it’s a long stanza, with rolling and exuberant lines, a la Walt Whitman.  Maybe it’s a short stanza, with more restrained lines, a la Emily Dickinson.  The point being, when one reads a poem, its form is so essential to its content.  Reading a novel, we of course imbibe the paragraph breaks, but the form of the language is not as paramount as it is in poetry.  That’s the immediate sensory content.  But also, poetry, like music, is a form of singing.  Poetry touches upon the boundary that separates language from music, in a way that I don’t think novels often do.    Many novelists employ musical language – Vladimir Nabokov is a good example of that; Proust is another.  But poetry and music, I think, are more intertwined than prose and music.

So that’s my librarian talk for today, with help from Scarry.  And, as it is the first day of National Poetry Month, I feel I would be amiss if I did not include a poem.  So, dear readers, as a great example of poetry’s always-noble attempt to simply break into song, here is a favorite of mine, James Wright’s (Ohio poet) “A Blessing.”  Enjoy!

A Blessing

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,

Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.

And the eyes of those two Indian ponies

Darken with kindness.

They have come gladly out of the willows

To welcome my friend and me.

We step over the barbed wire into the pasture

Where they have been grazing all day, alone.

They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness

That we have come.

They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.

There is no loneliness like theirs.

At home once more,

They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.

I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,

For she has walked over to me

And nuzzled my left hand.

She is black and white,

Her mane falls wild on her forehead,

And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear

That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.

Suddenly I realize

That if I stepped out of my body I would break

Into blossom.


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James Wright



New Non-Fiction Roundup – April 2019

Happy April, y’all!  Not only is it National Library Week coming up, but it is also National Poetry Month.  But don’t you worry – while I did not include poetry titles in this particular non-fiction roundup, we will be sure to offer up some blog posts about poetry in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these titles.  Happy Reading!!

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The Last Stone: A Masterpiece of Criminal Investigation by Mark Bowden – The best-selling author of Black Hawk Down documents the story of how five skilled detectives navigated the deceptions of a prisoner who hid his role in the 1975 disappearance of two young sisters.

American Spirit: Profiles in Resilience, Courage, and Faith by Taya Kyle and Jim DeFelice – The best-selling author of American Wife and widow of “American Sniper” Chris Kyle presents an inspiring collection of stories from history and the author’s personal life that showcase the resilience of the American spirit.

Mama’s Boy: A Story from Our Americas by Dustin Lance Black – The Academy Award-winning screenwriter and political activist presents a candid, resonant memoir of his experiences as a young gay Mormon in Texas whose polio-disabled mother taught him about surviving against all odds.

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Accidental Presidents: Eight Men Who Changed America by Jared Cohen – Illuminates the evolution of American presidential power through the unique lens of the eight successors to presidents who died in office, sharing insights into the significant historical contributions of leaders who came to the office indirectly.

D-Day Girls:  The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II by Sarah Rose – The award-winning author of For All the Tea in China documents the lesser-known story of the extraordinary women recruited by Britain’s elite spy agency to sabotage the Nazis and help pave the way for Allied victory during World War II.

Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates,  Jr. – The NAACP Image Award-winning creator of The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross chronicles America’s post-Civil War struggle for racial equality and the violent counterrevolution that resubjugated black Americans throughout the 20th century.

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The Secret Wisdom of Nature: Trees, Animals, and the Extraordinary Balance of All Living Things by Peter Wohlleben – From the New York Times best-selling author of The Hidden Life of Trees comes the final book in his The Mysteries of Nature trilogy.

I’m Writing You from Tehran by Delphine Minoui – A prize-winning French-Iranian journalist recounts how her first post-revolution visit home to 1998 Iran turned into a 10-year stay during which she witnessed remarkable political transformations and came to understand life under a volatile regime of suspicion and fear.

CSNY: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young by Peter Doggett – In honor of the 50th anniversary of Woodstock and the formation of the band itself, the author presents a biography focused on the formative and highly influential early years of what Rolling Stone magazine called “rock’s first supergroup”—Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.


New Fiction Roundup – March 2019

Sorry for the lateness!  I thought I had posted this earlier.  Without further ado, here is the fiction roundup for March!

Cover image for Cover image for Cover image for by Nathan Englander – The award-winning author of What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank presents a streamlined comic novel about an atheist son’s creative refusal to say the requisite Jewish prayer for the dead for his late orthodox father.

Little Boy by Lawrence Ferlinghetti – The award-winning author of A Coney Island of the Mind presents a semi-autobiographical tale in which an unwanted child grows up to serve in World War II, pursue an education and explore a reflective vagabond existence in Paris.

Memories of the Future by Siri Hustvedt – An author rediscovers a decades-old notebook from her first year in New York that reflects how her literary perceptions were shaped by her obsession with a mysterious neighbor. By the best-selling author of The Blazing World.

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Queenie by Candice Carty-Willilams – Constantly compared to her white middle-class peers, a young Jamaican-British woman in London makes a series of questionable decisions in the aftermath of a messy breakup before challenging herself to figure out who she wants to be.

Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi – The award-winning author of Boy, Snow, Bird draws on the classic fairy-tale element of gingerbread in the story of a British family whose surprising legacy and secret past are tied to a favorite recipe.

The Wall by John Lanchester – When the island nation of an Earth-like world builds a concrete barrier around its entire coastline, a Defender charged with protecting his section of the Wall from desperate Others trapped outside begins questioning the political divides of his insular existence.

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Make Me a City by Jonathan Carr – A fanciful reinterpretation of 19th-century Chicago traces its rise from a frontier settlement to an industrial colossus through the stories of a bombastic speculator, a pioneering woman reporter and the city’s unheralded founder.

The Cook by Maylis de Kerangal – A follow-up to The Heart follows the coming-of-age of a self-taught chef who endures setbacks in his career, relationships and mental stability before rediscovering his passions, a journey witnessed by a nameless narrator who might be in love with him.

The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick – A shy librarian whose kind heart is often exploited receives a mysterious book of fairy tales from the beloved grandmother she believed dead and embarks on a perspective-changing journey of astonishing family secrets.





New Non-Fiction Roundup – March 2019

Great new titles!  Just click on the title to reach the catalog.

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Horizon by Barry Lopez – The National Book Award-winning author of Arctic Dreams presents a lyrical, intellectual account of his world travels and the extraordinary encounters with people, animals and natural elements that shaped his life.

Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves by Frans De Waal – The influential primatologist and best-selling author of Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? draws on renowned primate studies in an exploration of animal emotions that touches on such subjects as expressions, animal sentience and free will.

The Trial of Lizzie Borden: A True Story by Cara Roberts – Drawing on 20 years of research and recently discovered evidence an account of the infamous Lizzie Borden trial explores professional and public opinions while considering how Gilded Age values and fears influenced the case.

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The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books: Christopher Columbus, His Son, and the Quest to Build the World’s Greatest Library by Edward Wilson-Lee – A vividly rendered account of the lesser-known quest by Christopher Columbus’ illegitimate son, Hernando, to create a multicultural library details his world travels to collect thousands of books.

Solitary: Unbroken by four decades in solitary confinement.  My story of transformation and hope by Albert Woodfox – Chronicles the author’s extraordinary achievements as an activist during and after spending 40 years in solitary confinement for a crime he did not commit, describing how he has committed his post-exoneration life to prison reform.

The Sun is a Compass: 4,000 Miles to the Arctic Circle by Caroline Van Hemert – Documents the biologist adventurer’s treks in the vast wilderness region spanning the Pacific rainforest through the Alaskan Arctic, where her husband and she tested their physical boundaries while making profound natural-world connections and discoveries about animal survival.

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This Chair Rocks : A Manifesto Against Ageism by Ashton Applewhite – An author, activist and TED-talk speaker has written a manifesto calling for an end to discrimination and prejudice on the basis of age.

Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do by Jennifer L. Eberhardt – A Stanford professor, MacArthur grant recipient and leading expert on unconscious racial bias examines the manifestations of automatic racism in today’s world and how they influence contemporary race relations and criminal justice.

An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System, A Tale in Four Lives by Matt Richtel – An exploration of the human immune system by the Pulitzer Prize-winning and New York Times best-selling author of A Deadly Wandering analyzes four immunotherapy cases to explain how our defense systems protect and sometimes injure the body.


Thoughts About Reading and Interpretation


So, lately I’ve been thinking about reading, and also interpretation.  I think the two definitely go together, because when we read (whether it’s a book, another person, or a situation), we automatically interpret – the two go hand in hand.  To read is to interpret.  That’s why I really resonate with the idea that when we are happy, we see a happy world, just as when we are sad, we see a sad world.  I understand that to mean that the world we see is a reflection of how we think.  In other words, when we are happy, the world is happy, because that is the psychological framework from which we are interpreting.  When we are sad, the world is sad, because our interpretation has shifted, and now we are seeing the world that way instead.  This is, I believe, a core idea of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, i.e. there is a massive and strong connection between how we think about ourselves and how we see the world.  If we are peaceful, I think we see a peaceful world, or at least understand the terror of this world to come from a place of fear instead of love.  But if we are not feeling peaceful, our attention zeroes in on situations that are not peaceful, and we interpret them as evidence that the world is full of suffering, say, or that the universe is a hostile and fearful place, instead of a place capable of immense love.

I was thinking about these ideas because I have lately been reading two books related to  Jewish mysticism – Kabbalah by Gershom Scholem, and The Pritzker Zohar translated by Daniel Matt – and reading these books has me thinking about how powerful interpretation really is.  For the Jewish mystics approached the Hebrew Bible (the Five Books of Moses, Prophets and Writings) from a totally different perspective from conventional religion.  The mystics believed that the Hebrew Bible contained secrets about the universe, the self, the creation of the universe, and/but these secrets were only available to a particular form or mode of interpretation.  Another way of saying this is that the Hebrew Bible reflected back to its readers what the readers brought to it.  If the reader came to the Bible in search of compelling narratives about people that still applies today, that’s what they would find.  If they wanted to find literal answers in a fundamentalist vein, that’s what they’d find.  And if they interpreted the text anagogically, then they would find spiritual truths that were universal and applicable in many ages.

I think this is why I love reading so much.  Reading is in many ways a training of, an apprenticeship to, new ways of interpretation.  When we wrestle with a text, when we expand our vocabulary, when we open our mind to new interpretations, then we are really, in the words of the literary critic Harold Bloom, “augmenting our self.”  We are then growing, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, because we are acknowledging that we don’t know everything, that it is possible that the next day might just bring a book that will change our lives forever.  I think that’s how the mystics read the Hebrew Bible – as a text that was so utterly rich and alive and fascinating, booming and shaking with meaning, that each letter in the Hebrew Bible carries an immense weight of meaning.  They read it as essentially a perfect book that breathed new life into its reader.  This is, like most things, a way of reading and interpreting that is new to me, and I think it is worth taking seriously.

The Zohar: Pritzker Edition, Vol. 1


Winter Reading Bingo – Books by Authors of Color

I’m glad I’m able to share with you some authors of color, since it is Black History Month.  However, let’s not limit our authors to African-American writers.  Let’s focus on people of color more broadly.  Here are a few:

James Baldwin, Early Novels & Stories, and Collected Essays.

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Jhumpa Lahiri, In Other Words and Interpreter of Maladies

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Tommy Orange, There There

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Rita Dove, Selected Poems

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