Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Book Land on Display

Welcome to Book Land.
Sure, we have virtual space here on our wondrous little blog (or as one of our "fans" called it last week, "blob"), on our Facebook page that you should totally follow because at some point Gianna will probably post something vile there (or finally find a mate suitable for my high standards), and with our truly half-assed, hashtag deficient Twitter feed, @AdvInBookLand.  Nothing compares to reality, though, and the virtual world cannot replace the pleasure of holding a book.  Our pals at BookPeople were loony enough to give our little blog project a physical presence within their lovely store, and that endcap display often motivates us to stay focused on our favorite books.  

We spent some quality time--by which I mean that Gianna only made inappropriate advances once--at BookPeople yesterday updating our endcap with some great titles.  The holiday book-shopping season is upon us and these are some great recommendations, some of which will wind up on our year-end best lists.  If you're in Austin, you should make a point of checking out the physical manifestation of our superb tastes at BookPeople, and if you're virtual pals, here are the titles we're highlighting right now.

Texas State Cemetery 
Our Endcap at BookPeople
You know how when you were younger, you would idolize the cool kids? [I was the cool kids....why are you laughing?] You know the group who were so cool they would hang out at the cemetery, drink, and smoke the Mary Jane? I am here to tell you…it’s not too late! You can be cool and learn about history.

The University of Texas Press has just published the gorgeous photo essay book entitled Texas State Cemetery; it is a really fantastic history. Anyone who is (well … was) anyone is in here. Ann Richards? She is in here! J Frank Dobie? Of course! James Michener? Yep. Bob Bullock? Uh, yeah, what do you think this, is a half-assed book? [It's got to be better than this blog....] Thomas William “Peg Leg” Ward, Ma and Pa Ferguson, James “Jake” Pickle and other people with fun nicknames are buried here too!

What am I saying? I am saying why not buy this book and take a nice, long, stoned stroll around the Texas State Cemetery and finally sit at the cool table? [I prefer to sit alone.] 

Joan Didion
Blue Nights
(Liz and Gianna)
Literary master Joan Didion broke our hearts (or rather, Gianna's, as we know that Liz is heart-free since 1976) with The Year of Magical Thinking, the moving memoir about the death of her husband.  Didion returns this year with the beautiful, grief-stricken, ultimately life affirming book Blue Nights.  After the death of her husband, Didion's daughter Quintana married and then almost immediately fell ill and died.  Where her first memoir told about the death of a spouse, Blue Nights treads even more personal territory with the death of a child.  Blue Nights isn't an easy book, but it is a moving, lovely, haunting, and brilliant book that deserves to be read.

The Sense of an Ending
For once the Man Booker Prize got it right when they named Julian Barnes's The Sense of an Ending the 2011 winner.  A four-time nominee, Barnes is one of the great modern British writers, and his latest book packs a wallop in just 176 pages.  Think Dead Poets Society meets The Graduate.  Three friends at boarding school welcome Adrian, the new, hyper-intelligent boy, into their midst.  When graduation comes, Adrian goes to the top university while Tony, the narrator, follows a standard middle class course.  He dates a girl in college who is altogether hipper than he, and who eventually leaves date Adrian.  As adults, Tony inherits Adrian's journal....which is in the possession of his ex-girlfriend.  A love triangle, a philosophical examination of life and death, and the biggest surprise ending I've ever read make The Sense of an Ending a masterpiece.

Awkward Family Pet Photos
The ultimate WTF book. If you aren’t familiar with the previous book or website Awkward Family Photos, kids you are in for a treat.  The most disturbing thing about these awkward pet photos is…the worst ones aren’t the animals in people clothing (which always disturbs me), but the more…uh, “serious” shots.  No wait...the most disturbing thing about this book is how undisturbed Liz is by it. I think if she had a tripod and a camera with a timer we would see many photos of Liz and Zorro that would make us feel, well awkward. [...True.]

The Language of Flowers
(Toni, RH Rep and Friend)
Victoria Jones was raised in the foster care system, but she is at the age where she must go out on her own to find a place to live and a job. Her true passion in life is flowers and she was taught the meaning of each one by one of her foster parents. [Never mind that she wasn't taught useful things, like how to cook a cheesy chicken pot pie in the microwave.] When Victoria lands a job in a florist shop and meets a man she cares about, life seems to be going her way.  Then an unexpected discovery throws life out of balance again. Though Victoria is an emotionally fragile woman and she makes mistakes along the way, the novel ends with a feeling of hope and achievement.  [Hope is a cheesy chicken pot pie.  Mmmmm...Pot pie.]

Destiny of the Republic
Every now and then I must honor my history degree and read some non-fiction.  I love great narrative history, and Candice Millard's Destiny of the Republic fits that description.  Millard, who wrote the equally exceptional The River of Doubt, is back to tell the story of mostly overlooked President James A Garfield.  What do you know about Garfield?  You might know he was assassinated.  (Spoiler?)  He was a professor, a statesman, and a crusader against political corruption.  He wasn't even running for President; he rhetorically asked "Who do we want?" at the end of a speech at the convention in which he was supposed to be nominating a colleague for the candidacy and someone in the crowd yelled "We want Garfield!"  Several days later momentum made him the nominee.  On the one hand, you have Garfield, this amazing guy.  On the other, you have cult-living, kooky crackpot Charles Giteau, assassin.  And then you have the medical community and Alexander Graham Bell trying to find the bullet lodged in the still-living Garfield's body.  Tense writing and a great story make this book the perfect gift for the history buffs.

Journals of Spalding Gray
Spalding Gray was ahead of his time. He was a true genius, a minimalist storyteller,  an advocate of experimental theatre, and a bit of a madman.  He had many personal demons that unfortunately haunted him most of his life, and it may have been a devastating car accident in 2001 that was his last straw. In 2004, Gray jumped from the Staten Island Ferry; his body was found weeks later in the East River. For fans of Gray these journal entries shed light on not only the genius, but of a man struggling with his identity, love, drugs, and the suicide of his mother.  I have written about many books of letters and journals; this is one of the finest. 

Zone One
I've already written about my love for Colson Whitehead's newest book.  The zombie book for smart people, Zone One follows Mark Spitz, the traumatized civilian corps sweeper who works to remove straggler zombies from Manhattan in order to create a free zone for humans.  Mark is a troubled man, a hero, an everyman....but the zombies are coming.  Perfectly pitched, the book starts at a simmer and builds to an amazing, cataclysmic finale.  And I love Colson Whitehead.  He's a terrific writer.  He would take an awkward family pet photo with Zorro and me....Okay, that last sentence might be a little creepy.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?
Mindy Kaling is the Emmy nominated writer, producer, director, and actress of The Office… you know, Kelly Kapoor, who is Ryan’s on again/off again girlfriend. Mindy started writing for The Office (the only female writer at the time) when she was 24…that’s just two years after graduating from Dartmouth. Sick right? [We hate funny women.  Or rather, we love them, but we're jealous.]

Catherine the Great
I am a Russophile.  I love the literature, the music, the history, the Cossacks, those fur-topped boots, the uniforms of the red army....mmm....Cossacks.... The Romanov dynasty is one of the most fascinating families in world history.  Anyway, Robert Massie is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of books like Nicholas and Alexandra and he's the premier Russian biographer, and now he's turned his attention to the greatest of Russian monarchs, Catherine.  Readable, thoroughly researched, and beautiful, this biography of Catherine is riveting.

An Unquenchable Thirst
Still a teenager, Mary Johnson joined Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity Order, taking a vow of poverty and charity. And when I say she took a vow of poverty, I mean she took a vow of poverty.  This is the eloquent story of Johnson as she tries to understand her faith, her true identity, her place in the world, and her complicated relationship with Mother Teresa. 

The Cat's Table
Michael Ondaatje is back with another literary gem with The Cat's Table.  This semi-autobiographical story tells the coming-of-age story of Michael, a boy traveling alone on a ship from Sri Lanka to England in order to join his parents and attend school.  While on the boat he encounters an amazing group of characters, the members of "the cat's table."  On ships you have the captain's table, then the first mate's table, on and on in descending order of importance until you get to the lowest group, the cat's table.  Michael and his on-board friend have the run of the ship and adventures across the world, a journey not to be missed.

Trillin on Texas
Christopher Hoyt of BookPeople has chosen this as his favorite book of the year and friends…that is all you need to know. 

Chuck Palahniuk is fearless, and funny, and crude.  His latest novel plays with the notion of teenage coming-of-age stories, particularly Are You There God, It's Me Margaret and The Breakfast Club, except Chuck sets his story in hell.  Protagonist Madison is sent to hell after she OD's on marijuana, and there her adventures begin as she strives to become Satan's right-hand gal.  

Crazy from the Heat
A beautiful chronicle of twenty-five years photographing Big Bend, by Texas photographer James Evans. Oh, and if that isn’t enough…it's got nudes! 

The Stranger's Child
Okay literary snobs, this one's for you.  You like your fiction filled with elite Brits, complicated characters, references to earlier books, and poetry?  Here you go.  Alan Hollinghurst, though, isn't pretentious.  (We are anti-pretentious here in Book Land.)  Echoing Brideshead Revisited, two college friends visit one's family home for a school vacation.  While there, the guest writes a poem for the other's little sister.  The boys go off to World War I, though, and the poet is killed.  The poem he gave to the little sister becomes a national treasure, the poem that school children for 100 years recite.  Mystery surrounds the poem, its origins and intentions, and the man who wrote it.  Two rival biographers seek the glory of revealing the truth of this story.  Elegant?  Yes.  British fiction of the first order?  Yes.  Fascinating characters?  Yes.  Worth reading? YES.

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