The Man Booker Longlist!

It’s here!  It’s here!

The lovely people at the Man Booker Prize have announced their longlist for the 2017 award, and the fiction world is abuzz.

As with all awards, there are debates raging about who was left off the list, as I’m sure we’ve all read a book this year that we want lauded from the mountaintops.  The Booker Prize year runs from October 1, 2016 to September 30, 2017, so books published outside that window are automatically ineligible.  It’s also very much worth considering our discussion of class and awards from earlier this summer, and thinking about whose stories aren’t being told here.

However, for what it’s worth, there are some terrific stories being told in these books.  Two are from Irish authors, two from UK-Pakistani authors, four Americans authors, four UK authors, and one Indian author (Arundhati Roy’s debut novel, God of Small Things, won the Booker Prize in 1997, and this book is her ‘return to fiction’).  Many of these books have been nominated for other awards (especially Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad), and many authors have been shortlisted previously (Sebastian Barry, Ali Smith, Zadie Smith, and Mohsin Hamid), while Jon McGregor is longlisted for a third time.  There are also debut novels from young writers, giving us a taste of the geographic breadth, scope, and drive of fiction from around the English-speaking world.  As Chair of the 2017 judges, Baroness Lola Young, says:

Only when we’d finally selected our 13 novels did we fully realise the huge energy, imagination and variety in them as a group.  The longlist showcases a diverse spectrum — not only of voices and literary styles but of protagonists too, in their culture, age and gender.  Nevertheless we found there was a spirit common to all these novels: though their subject matter might be turbulent, their power and range were life-affirming – a tonic for our times.

Together their authors — both recognised and new — explore an array of literary forms and techniques, from those working in a traditional vein to those who aim to move the walls of fiction.

So have a look at the list, place your bets, and we’ll be here to announce the short list to you when it’s released on September 13!


The 2017 Man Booker Prize Longlist:

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (US)

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (Ireland)

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (US)

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan-UK)

The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (India)

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (US)

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (UK-Pakistan)

Autumn by Ali Smith (UK)

Swing Time by Zadie Smith (UK)

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (US)

Solar Bones by Mike McCormack (Ireland) *Will be released in the US on September 19*

Elmet by Fiona Mozley (UK) *Will be released in the US on January 25, 2018*

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (UK) *Will be released in the US in the fall, date unset*


Five Book Friday!

And a very happy one to you all!


If you check out today’s Google Doodle, you’ll see today is the 100th anniversary of the Silent Parade, organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  The Silent Parade was organized in protest of violence, including lynching, arson, and outages, against African Americans across the country, but it was the East St. Louis Race Riot, also called the East St. Louis Massacre, that brought the matter to a head. This horrific event drove close to six thousand blacks from their own burning homes and left several hundred dead.

The event itself was held in total silence, with nearly ten thousand Black women, men, and children marching down 5th Avenue and 57th Street to Madison Square Garden.  They carried signs and banners declaring the reasons for the march, and Black Boy Scouts handed out flyers to those watching that described the NAACP’s struggle against segregation, lynching, and discrimination, as well as other forms of racist oppression.

The event was a watershed moment in the long history of the Civil Rights Movement, and is deservedly celebrated today–and should be remembered much more often.  You can read more about the march and its legacy here.

And if that reading has got you wanting more words, then how about coming down to the Library and meeting these fine books–and others!–that have cavorted onto the shelves this week!

The Woman From Prague: Fans of Rob Hart’s Ash McKenna series will be delighted with the return of Ash, a sort of human wrecking-ball and amateur private investigator–and new readers will find just enough exposition here to be able to follow along.  Amateur private investigator Ash McKenna’s time is about to expire―on his visa, that is.  When we open, Ash is laying low in Prague, realizing his visa is about to expire and deciding on his next move–until a man named Roman appears, claiming to work for the U.S. government, and possessing intimate knowledge of Ash’s many sins.  Roman offers to protect him…in exchange for a favor: a bank employee named Samantha Sobolik is set to receive a package containing covert information in a handoff on the Charles Bridge. Ash must intercept the package, and deliver the contents to Roman–or else. But when Ash gets to the bridge, he discovers that the hand-off is actually a hit, and nothing about this plot is what he believed.  This story feel a bit like an early Die Hard movie, and the espionage elements are handled expertly, making this a superb series installment, and a novel that Publisher’s Weekly called “One of the best books of the summer…great pace, a fascinating relationship between the central characters, and superb atmosphere.”

Chief Engineer: Washington Roebling, The Man Who Built the Brooklyn Bridge: As much a part of the New York skyline as the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge is instantly and internationally recognizable. Yet as iconic as it is, its builder, Washington Roebling, is too often forgotten. The Brooklyn Bridge took 14 dramatic years to complete and here the personal story which lies behind that construction is told for the first time.  Though it was his father that came up with the idea for the bridge, upon his death, Washington–a Civil War veteran who had constructed bridges to transport wounded soldiers–found himself in charge of the project.  Erica Wagner’s meticulously research biography not only helps us understand Washington Roebling, and the remarkable personal and professional accomplishments he achieved by breaking free of his tyrannical father’s legacy, as well as his incredible wife, Emma, who also gets her due in this work.  The Guardian appreciated this addition to the scholarship of Roebling, of New York, and of the Brooklyn Bridge itself, calling this work “Compelling and elegant . . . the story not just of two engineers, father and son, but also of a son who survived treatment that, as he wrote in a private memoir at the end of the 19th century, could have led to his death . . . [a] powerful book.”

Gather the Daughters: A bizarre, haunting, and beautiful described dystopian novel, Jennie Melamed’s debut is drawing comparisons to Shirley Jackson and Margaret Atwood–high praise indeed.  Years ago, just before the country was incinerated, ten men and their families colonized an island off the coast. Their society runs on ancestor worship, controlled breeding, and the strict.   Only chosen male descendants of those original settlers are allowed to cross to the wastelands and scavenge among the smoldering ruins.  Women serve as wives-in-training, forced to undergo a maturation ceremony and breed until they are no longer useful–at which point they take the “final drought” and die.  This is the world in which they live and die–until one young girl witnesses a shocking event too troubling to keep to herself.  When she tells her friends, each on the verge of maturity, what has happened, they launch a secretive crusade to discover the truth about their island, unraveling the secrets that have kept them all prisoner for so long.  For all the darkness in this story, there is a surprising lightness to Melamed’s writing, and a wildly defiant hopefulness throughout the text that elevates this story into something really remarkable.  RT Book Reviews agrees, noting that “Melamud creates characters so familiar that their story grows ever more believable, and their desperate fight for freedom that much more harrowing.  Though elements of this plot will be difficult for some readers, they are handled with grace and sensitivity throughout.”

The Women Who Flew For Hitler: Hanna Reitsch and Melitta von Stauffenberg were talented, courageous, and strikingly attractive women who fought convention to make their names in the male-dominated field of flight in 1930s Germany. With the war, both became pioneering test pilots and were awarded the Iron Cross for service to the Third Reich. But they could not have been more different and neither woman had a good word to say for the other.  In this prize-winning biographic study, Clare Mulley uncovers these women’s lives, their remarkable aeronautic feats, and the experience of life within the Third Reich for those deemed elite enough to serve.  Mulley navigates this story beautifully, bringing Reitsch and Von Stauffenberg–and their lifelong feud–to life with care, compassion, and remarkable insight, creating a work that earned a starred review from Booklist, who raved “Mulley comes through in a major way with this deep dive into the lives of WW2-era German aviatrixes…Absolutely gripping, Mulley’s double portrait is a reminder that there are many more stories to tell from this oft-examined time.”

Moving Kings: Funny, frightening, moving, and timely, Joshua Cohen’s newest novel is being called a “Jewish Sopranos” for the modern era–a description that certainly got my attention.  He follows the life of two twenty-one-year-olds, Yoav and Uri, veterans of the last Gaza War, who have just completed their compulsory military service in the Israel Defense Forces.  Sent for a year of rest and recuperation, the two make their way to New York City and begin working for Yoav’s distant cousin David King—a Republican, and Jew, and the recently divorced proprietor of King’s Moving Inc., a heavyweight in the tri-state area’s moving and storage industries. As Yoav and Uri now must struggle to become reacquainted with civilian life, but it’s not easy to move beyond their traumatic pasts when their days are spent kicking down doors as eviction-movers–indeed, their jobs are oddly similar to their past employment…a job that quickly turns violent when they encounter one homeowner seeking revenge.  This book is generating some terrific reviews, including one from The Los Angeles Times, which called it, “Brilliant. . . . feels master-planned to slowly unsettle your convictions, as the best novels do. . . . Cohen has a brain-on-fire intellect and a Balzac-grade enthusiasm for understanding varieties of experience.”

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

…And Sometimes We Just Want to Go Home…

Yesterday, we talked about the joys of adventures, road trips, and the wonderfulness of summer getaways.  And encouraged you to take your own excursion, whether that was in a car, on a bike, or in your favorite chair.

But let’s be honest:  sometimes, adventures aren’t that great.  Sometimes it rains every day you’re at the exotic beach (been there).  Sometimes the museum you wanted to visit is closed for emergency ventilation work (been there, too!).  Sometimes you just get lost.

And you know what?  There are books for that, as well!  Sometimes, the most exciting books–and the most memorable adventures–are the ones that defy your expectations, grab you with unexpected revelations, or lead you down a dark, unexplored path.

So here, to balance things out, are a selection of books about journeys that didn’t go according to plan, fictional and non-fictional, funny and scary, real-world and outlandish.  Use them to comfort you, should you summer plans fall apart, or perhaps see them as a cautionary tale, but, either way–enjoy!


River of Doubt: After losing the presidential election of 1912, Theodore Roosevelt and his son left the United States for the Amazon.  Teddy was determined to conquer the most grueling and perilous physical challenge that he could find–and he met his match on one of the most dangerous rivers on earth, a black, uncharted tributary of the Amazon that snakes through one of the most treacherous jungles in the world.  In this fast-paced, well-researched, and wonderfully insightful book, Candace Millard takes us down the Amazon with Teddy, giving us a look into the man himself, as well as into the journey that nearly broke him (and killed three of the men in his party).

A Wretched and Precarious Situation : In Search of the Last Arctic Frontier: In 1906, from atop a snow-swept hill in the ice fields northwest of Greenland, hundreds of miles from another human being, Commander Robert E. Peary spotted a line of mysterious peaks looming in the distance. He called this unexplored realm “Crocker Land.” Scientists and explorers agreed that the world-famous explorer had discovered a new continent rising from the frozen Arctic Ocean.  Several years later, two of Peary’s disciples, George Borup and Donald MacMillan, assembled a team of amateur adventurers to investigate Crocker Land, dreaming of placing their names next to those of Magellan and Columbus.  Instead, they found themselves trapped in a bizarre, harrowing, and pitiless landscape that defied not only maps, but seemingly reason itself.  David Welky’s book captures the cold and the confusion of this epic adventure perfectly, and he also brings a scientists’ eye to the details of their plan, helping readers understand the real wonder of this whole story.

Station Eleven: This book is nothing like you’ve ever read, I think I can guarantee it.  A little bit of science fiction, a little bit of mystery, and a whole lot of Shakespeare combine in this story that starts with an influenza epidemic that decimates the population.  Twenty years later, Kirsten Raymonde is part of a nomadic group of actors and musicians known as the Travelling Symphony, circling the Great Lakes in a two-year cycle.   Her memories of an actor that she saw die at the beginning of the plague sparks an exploration into human nature, love, memory, and all the ways that our lives are bound up in each other.  This book is as much about personal journeys as it is about a wandering troupe of players, and is a haunting, powerful, and utterly imaginative book that is so unlike most dystopian novels out there that even those who don’t consider themselves sci-fi fans will find plenty to enjoy.

The Last Days of Jack Sparks: We’ve talked about this book before, but honestly, it’s so weird, and so unsettling, and so absolutely unlike anything else out there that I think we need to talk about it a lot more.  Jack Sparks is a pop-culture journalist, sensationalist, and all around cynical jackass, who delights in busting myths, superstitions, and religious events with equal gusto.  But after he witnesses an exorcism in Italy, odd things begin happening to him–beginning with a video being posted to his YouTube account that he never shot.  This book is presented as a compilation of the last days of Jack Sparks’ life, his wild (paranoid, desperate) adventures around the world, his increasingly erratic behavior and the many, seemingly infinite layers of truth, lies, self-delusions, and terrors that make up his existence.  It’s an exhausting, terrifying, eye-opening book that will certainly make any summer trip of your seem tame…and maybe that’s ok…

Best of luck in your travels, dear readers!  Send us a postcard!

Sometimes We Need To Get Away…

Sometimes, dear readers, you just need to get away from it all.  Just turn off the navigational devices, turn up the radio/music device of your choice, and drive/fly/train/bike to a different place.   And there is no time like summer to have just those kind of adventures.

And whether you’re the kind of person to throw caution to the winds, pack up, and head out of town with the wind at your back, or the kind to spread out in a lounging chair of some sort and read your way through an adventure, the Library is just the place for you.

Our selection of travel books, featuring local, national, and international sites and locales is extensive…and, of course, we have the power to call forth books from all corners of the state in order to help you plan your perfect summer escape.  On top of that, we also have a vast array of books that featuring road trips, train treks…even covered wagon adventures, if that’s what makes you happy…in order to help your “stay-cation” be the most adventurous and fulfilling possible.  Take a look at some of the selections below, or come in and see us for more exciting and adventurous reading recommendations!

Wicked Becomes YouGwen Maudsley is wealthy, pretty, and popular, but she’s also nice.  So nice, in fact, that she’s been jilted at the altar twice by men who think she won’t mind.  So Gwen has decided that if nice has ended in such heartache, it’s high time she decides to be naught–and she knows just the man to help her: Alexander Ramsey, her late brother’s best friend.  Alexander wants nothing to do with this plan, because he wants nothing to do with changing Gwen in any way.  He loves her precisely as she is, even if he can never tell her.  Meredith Duran is one of my favorite historical novelists, because she embraces every aspect of the period and the place she is covering.  This romp through France and Italy, from the confines of a continental train to the luxuries of the high-class hotels, comes to life in this book–and it doesn’t hurt that Alex and Gwen are such an interesting, complex pair.  For fans of my favorite romance, Follow My Lead, this is a bit of a darker, deeper story, but one that will most likely appeal.  Stop in at the Information Desk to request this book through ComCat!.

The Oregon Trail: Remember the covered wagons I mentioned earlier?  Well, Rinker Buck recreated the epic journey of the 19th-century Americans who made their way west in a covered wagon, with mules, and wrote a truly fascinating book about his adventure.  More than just a travelogue, though (and there is nothing wrong with travelogues, either), this book delves into the history of the “settling” of the American West, and the significance of the Oregon Trail, and those who traveled it, on the US today.  Anyone who grew up with the Mecc computer game, anyone whose ever dreamed of ye olde timey adventures, and any history buff around will love this book, as well as Buck’s wholly unique voice and perspective.

Stephen Fry in America: So Stephen Fry owns a black London taxicab, and in 2007, he drove it across the United States, on a quest to understand American life.  This book details those adventures (and serves a brilliant companion piece to the DVD Documentary of the adventure).  For locals, there’s a whole section about Stephen going to Salem Willows on Halloween–but this is also a really charming, funny, and insightful way to see the country we inhabit through different eyes, and to appreciate all the weird, obscure, delicious, confusing, beautiful aspects of the United States, as well….And seriously, check out the DVD, too.  It’s a delight.

Reservation Blues: Sherman Alexie’s book about a Native American rock n’ roll band sometimes gets overlooked in favor of his more oft-banned books, but it deserves a lot more love and attention.  When blues legend Robert Johnson miraculously appears on the reservation where Spokane Indian Thomas Builds-the-Fire lives, and hands him his legendary guitar, Thomas knows his life is never going to be the same. Inspired by this devilish guitar, Thomas and his “Indian Catholic” band go on tour across the country, allowing Alexie the room and scope to tell a consistently surprising, engaging story that touches on big social themes, like conversions among Native American tribes and the economic pressures of reservations.  But this is also very much a coming of age novel that delves deep into the soul of each young musician on this magical journey.

Enjoy all of your adventures, dear readers!  Send us a postcard!

Fun With Your Library Catalog…

Our Library Catalog is a terrific resource for those of you looking for titles of books, movies, audiobooks, music, or other items you can check out from our Library and others in our system.  But did you know how much more you can discover through our catalog?

Evergreen, which is the system that supports our catalog, has a number of really interesting and helpful search features that can help you pinpoint the materials best suited to your needs, and we love taking the opportunity to highlight some of those.  But Evergreen is also fun for those who are just looking for something totally new and different, as well.  The “Subject” searches can sometimes be really illuminating–and sometimes a little strange.

In searches, “Subject” represents the Library of Congress Subject Headings–they are various terms and categories assigned to all books in order to help patrons find other books with similar subject material ( you can learn more about them here!).  You can find these subjects on the left-hand side of the screen any time you perform a search, like this one here that I ran on “Louisa May Alcott”:

Note: Click on these images to see larger, better quality versions!

You can also see the subject of a specific work at the bottom of that item’s page.  For example, here is are the subject headings for Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air:

These Subjects can be enormously helpful when you’re looking for another book like one you just finished, or you need to conduct research into a specific topic.  They are also really handy for playing “Fun With Your Library Catalog”.  In this game (which is, admittedly, a little nerdy), you try to find some very random, unexpected, but nevertheless, interesting Subject Headings in our catalog.

It’s a fun game, let me tell you, but it’s also quite time consuming, because I usually end up requesting the books I find, and then reading them, and then going off to find more…..Ok, so maybe “Fun With the Library Catalog” is a lifestyle, and less of a game.  But I can guarantee you, it’s one of the best ways to get to know the materials and the Libraries in our system, and also an inexpensive way to acquire a whole head-full of knowledge!

So here are a few of my favorite finds from “Fun With The Library Catalog”–feel free to let us know about your most random/entertaining/enlightening Library finds, or use these as your jumping off point for your own explorations!

SUBJECT: Potatoes>Social Aspects

Because social potatoes are the best kind of potatoes!  Under this subject heading, you’ll find Dr. Redcliffe Salaman’s The History of Social Influence of the Potatothe result of a lifetime of research into the history of this starchy treasure, and historian Larry Zuckerman’s The Potato: How the Humble Spud Saved the Western World.  The truth is, the potato, subterranean and dirty though it may be, has had a long and exciting history, and influencing culture and sustaining human beings in a way that I promise will surprise you!

SUBJECT: Food Habits>United States

Reading about the potato got me thinking about more cultures of food, which led me to this subject heading, which deals with what Americans eat, but also why they eat it, and how that food shapes American culture.  Within this subject heading, you’ll find The Taste of America, a book that travels the country to find the best foods in America, from spicy cheese to the juiciest oysters (talk about a fantastic form of wanderlust!).  You’ll also find Dethroning the Deceitful Pork Chop : Rethinking African American Foodways from Slavery to Obama, a book that looks at how Black people in America have used food as a kind of subversion and resistance–a fascinating series of well-researched articles that will help you rethink the power of food in our identity and culture.

“SUBJECT: Antarctica>Fiction”

This is actually a useful subject search for those who want to explore fiction from other places.  Simply enter the place you’re looking for in the space where I put “Antarctica”.  But if you, like me, are looking to get as far away as possible on your literary adventures, then use this subject search to find books like Cold Skin by Albert Sanchez Pinol, a chilling (har, har) tale about a young weather who finds no trace of the man whom he has been sent to the Antarctic to replace–just a deranged castaway who has witnessed a horror he refuses to name.  Or perhaps you’d enjoy Bill Evan’s Dry Ice, a techno-thriller about agribusiness, machines that can control the weather, and the woman sent to Antarctica to ensure the world’s safety.

Happy Reading, beloved patrons–and have fun!

Books–Coming to a Screen Near You!

How do we feel about film adaptations of books, dear readers?

To be honest, I don’t have a personal consensus about this issue, so I doubt we as a group are going to come up with a unilateral stance.  If Games of Thrones has taught us anything, it’s that books can be adapted well…and that they can also get in the way of the books (figuratively and literally!) just as easily.  On that note…stop toying with us, George R.R. Martin.  We are suffering enough.

Anyways, there are precious few adaptations that I enjoyed more than the books–like The Painted Veil with Edward Norton and Naomi Watts, as I think I’ve mentioned previously here.  It’s difficult (as I know we’ve discussed here) to stuff a many-hundred page book full of literary symbolism, sensory detail, and emotional descriptions into a two-hour film.  Yet books still form the basis of a significant number of films and tv shows, precisely because they come with so much insight, intrigue, and development pre-packaged.   And, regardless of what Some People say about the death of literature, there is clearly a devoted following of literary fans who make these shows and films popular, and create the drive to make more.

So here, for your reading and viewing pleasure, are a few of the bookish film adaptations that have been discussed recently.  Feel free to air your opinions on them here, and to come into the Library and check out the books before they hit the screens, so as to taunt your friends and family with non-spoilery spoiler hints for months to come!

Little Women: I love Little WomenMy adoration of this book, of Louisa May Alcott, and of her family, has been well-documented.  And for that reason, I personally cannot bear another adaptation of the book, even if it is PBS Masterpiece putting it all together.  It’s like having a little bit of my soul taken out and manhandled by a major production company.  Nevertheless, there are a lot of people who are genuinely excited about this one, and I want there to be a really good adaptation on film, so I can only hope that this is the one that will prove that Little Women can be made into a meaningful, timely, and non-hokey production (if you’ve seen the BBC adaptation from the 1960’s, you know what hokey looks like).  As the Masterpiece website notes, “Little Women is a truly universal coming of age story, as relevant and engaging today as it was when originally published in 1868″, and we need those messages of hope, of strength, of determination, and of everyday feminism and female support that the March sisters learn from each other during their coming-of-age.  So please, please, please, Masterpiece, get this one right.  On the plus side, Angela Lansbury, Tony Award winner and creator of my personal heroine Jessica Fletcher, is slated to play Aunt March.  I will tune in for that, if for no other reason.

Alias Grace No doubt the huge popularity of The Handmaid’s Tale, convinced the Powers That Be that adaptations of Margaret Atwood’s books were a good idea.  No doubt Margaret Atwood’s stunning writing and incredible insight helped, as well.  Though one of her lesser known works, Alias Grace is another fascinating (and feminist) book that centers on the 1843 murders of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery in Canada. Two servants of the Kinnear household, Grace Marks and James McDermott, were convicted of the crime. McDermott was hanged and Marks was sentenced to life imprisonment.  Atwood’s tale is told by the fictional Doctor Simon Jordan, who is ostensibly researching criminal behavior, but finds himself swept up into Marks’ story, and the paradox of the mild-mannered woman he knows, and the horrors she is supposed to have committed.  This new adaptation of Alias Grace will air in Canada beginning in September and will be streamed to Netflix afterwards.  For those eager for a taste of what’s to come, take a look at the trailer here.

Bird Box: One of the newer announcements regarding literary adaptations is the production of Josh Malerman’s dystopian horror novel Bird Box (soon to be starring Sandra Bullock) about a mother and her two small children must make their way down a river, blindfolded, lest they behold the dreadful entity that has destroyed everyone else around them.  Malerman’s use of sensory details and creeping weirdness made for an absolutely immersive page-turner of a book…but it is, nevertheless, a book about about a world that’s been devastated by “The Problem”, and one glimpse of those…’Problems’ is enough to induce a deadly rage into anyone who sees them.  Though there are flashbacks and traditional scenes, the most memorable, heart-pounding moments of this book come when the characters are blindfolded.  So how is that going to translate onto a screen?  Can it?  We’ll see when Netflix brings this adaptation to life…

So what say you, dear readers?  How does it feel to watch books on the screen?  Are there any adaptations you’re eagerly awaiting?

Five Book Friday!

And a very happy Free For All birthday wish to Hans Fallada!

Via Melville House Press

You might not have heard of Hans Fallada.  That’s ok.  His work fell into general obscurity over the second half of the twentieth century.  However, the grand and glorious people at the Melville House Press (whose blog is very nearly almost as terrific as ours), have gone a long way to bringing him back into the literary fold, so to speak, and to put his work in front of the eyeballs of a new generation.

Fallada (whose given name was Rudolf Wilhelm Friedrich Ditzen) was born on this day in 1893 in Greifswald, Germany. Though he always seems to have had trouble fitting in with his peers, his real struggles began in 1909, when he was run-over by a horse cart, and kicked in the face by the horse, and 1910, when he contracted typhus.  The pain and isolation of these events marked Fallada for life,–as the drug addiction he developed from the pain killers he was given.  His battle with depression was a life-long one, as well, meaning he spent a good deal of time between the wars in asylums and prison as a result of his drug addictions, even as he grew in prominence as an author.

Fallada was very much a writer of the moment, and his books dealt with contemporary scenarios and politics.  As a result, it wasn’t long before some of his most popular works were banned from German libraries, and Fallada himself was declared an “undesirable author”.  Fearing for his well-being, Fallada’s British publisher, George Putnam, send his personal yacht to Berlin to pick up Fallada and his wife.  Though their bags were packed, Fallada declared at the very last minute that he couldn’t leave (he had confided to a friend years before “I could never write in another language, nor live in any other place than Germany.”)  He wrote children’s books and other non-political pieces in order to remain under the radar, until he was called upon by Goebbels to write a specifically anti-Semitic novel that would be backed by the Nazi party.

As the result of an altercation with his (now ex-) wife, Fallada was incarcerated in an insane asylum in 1944.  In order to protect himself, Fallada told officials he had an assignment to fulfill for Goebbels’s office, which protected him from the inhuman treatment to which asylum patients were typically subjected. But rather than writing the anti-Jewish novel, Fallada used his ration of paper to write a novel called The Drinker (Der Trinker), a deeply critical autobiographical account of life under the Nazis, and a short diary In meinem fremden Land (A Stranger in My Own Country).  He wrote in a dense, overlapping hand that obscured most of his words, allowing the manuscript, and Fallada himself, to be saved until he was released in December 1944 as the Nazi government began to crumble.

Fallada died in February 1947, aged 53, from a weakened heart due to years of addiction to morphine, alcohol and other drugs, leaving behind the recently completed novel Every Man Dies Alone, an anti-fascist novel based on the true story of a German couple, Otto and Elise Hampel, who were executed for producing and distributing anti-Nazi material in Berlin during the war.  Though many German writers who had escaped Nazi German disparaged him (and his work) because he chose to remain, we thankfully now have the chance to meet Fallada anew, and to realize just how brave a survivor he was, and to encounter his words anew–when we may need them more than ever.


And speaking of books, let’s take a look at some of the other books that traipsed onto our shelves this week…

Vexed with Devils: In a week that saw the dedication of the Salem Witch Trials memorial, it seems fitting to showcase Erika Gasser’s new book, which focuses on the cultural history of witchcraft, witchcraft-possession phenomena and the role of men and patriarchal power.  As she discusses in this fascinating work, witchcraft trials had as much to do with who had power in the community, to impose judgement or to subvert order, as they did with religious belief.  Essentially, witchcraft was used as a form of social policing.  She argues that the gendered dynamics and power-plays inherent in stories of possession and witchcraft show how men asserted their power in society and over each other (and the women around them). While all men were not capable of accessing power in the same ways, many of the people involved—those who acted as if they were possessed, men accused of being witches, and men who wrote possession propaganda—invoked manhood as they struggled to advocate for themselves during these perilous times.  This is a wonderfully researched and insightful book, and, as Publisher’s Weekly noted,  “Anyone seeking a fresh perspective on, and deeper understanding of, such possession accounts will not be disappointed.”

Like a Fading Shadow: Using recently declassified FBI files, Antonio Muñoz Molina has reconstructed a fiction look into James Earl Ray’s final steps through the Lisbon, where he hid for two months following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  But Molina has also wrapped his own story up in this tale of self-identity and deception, alternating between Ray in 1968 at the center of an international manhunt; a thirty-year-old Muñoz Molina in 1987 struggling to find his literary voice; and the author in the present, reflecting on his life and the form of the novel as an instrument for imagining the world through another person’s eyes.   The result is a deep, complex, and enlightening work that Kirkus Reviews noted, “delicately oscillates between an author’s quest for truth and a criminal’s search for safety . . . A tragically poetic study of the calamity that set back the civil rights movement.”

At the Table of Wolves: Kay Kenyon is a science fiction writer beloved by reviewers and readers alike, and the opening of her new series–described as a mix of espionage and X-Men is sure to win her even more followers. In 1936, there are paranormal abilities that have slowly seeped into the world, brought to the surface by the suffering of the Great War.  The British haven’t managed to outpace Germany in weaponizing these new powers, until the ultra-secret site called Monkton Hall is established.  Kim Tavistock, whose power allowers her to draw out truths that people most wish to hide, is among the test subjects at the facility. When she wins the confidence of caseworker Owen Cherwell, she is recruited to a mission to expose the head of Monkton Hall—who is believed to be a German spy.  As she infiltrates the upper-crust circles of some of England’s fascist sympathizers, she encounters dangerous opponents, including the charismatic Nazi officer Erich von Ritter, and discovers a plan to invade England.  Though no one believes her story, Kim is determined to expose the plan and save England–even if she has to do it single-handedly.  With deft characterization and quick pacing, Kenyon has created a book that earned a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, who called it  “A superb adventure, worthy to launch a distinguished historical fantasy series.”

Less: Picture it: You are a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the mail: your boyfriend of the past nine years is engaged to someone else. You can’t say yes–it would be too awkward–and you can’t say no–it would look like defeat. On your desk are a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world.  What do you do?  Well, if you’re Arthur Less, you accept every single one of those invitations, and embark on a marvelous, unexpectedly touching, madcap journey around the world, through surprise encounters and unanticipated birthdays and into love.  This sharp satire on Americans abroad is also a lovely look into our shared humanity, and a book that encouraged The Washington Post to declare, “Greer is an exceptionally lovely writer, capable of mingling humor with sharp poignancy…. [His] narration, so elegantly laced with wit, cradles the story of a man who loses everything: his lover, his suitcase, his beard, his dignity.”

The Epiphany Machine: “Everyone else knows the truth about you, now you can know it, too”–that’s the slogan for an odd, junky contraption that tattoos personalized revelations on its users’ forearms. A number of city dwellers buy into the epiphany machine, including Venter Lowood’s parents, and even though they move away, Victor can’t ignore the stigma of those tattoos–or their accuracy.  So when Venter’s grandmother finally asks him to confront the epiphany machine, he’s only too happy to oblige.  But when he meets the machine’s surprisingly charming (if slightly off-putting) operator, Adam Lyons, Venter finds himself falling for the machine, as well…until Venter gets close enough to recognize the undeniable pattern between specific epiphanies and violent crimes.  A pattern that’s gone unreported.  A pattern that proves the machine may be right, after all.  This big, imaginative, tragicomedy of a book earned another starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, who cheered that “This is a wildly charming, morally serious bildungsroman with the rare potential to change the way readers think.”


Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!