Five Book Friday!

And numerous congratulations to Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient, which was named the winner of the Golden Man Booker Prize!

As we mentioned here previously, The Golden Man Booker Prize put all 51 previous Booker Prize winners into competition with each other, “to discover which of them has stood the test of time, remaining relevant to readers today.”  Each of the five judges was assigned a decade, and was in charge of selecting the book which was representative of the strongest book from that decade.  After a public vote, Michael Ondaatje 1992 novel was announced as the winner on July 8.

Kamila Shamsie, who chose The English Patient, said of the novel:

“The English Patient is that rare novel which gets under your skin and insists you return to it time and again, always yielding a new surprise or delight. It moves seamlessly between the epic and the intimate – one moment you’re in looking at the vast sweep of the desert and the next moment watching a nurse place a piece of plum in a patient’s mouth. That movement is mirrored in the way your thoughts, while reading it, move between  large themes – war, loyalty, love – to  tiny shifts in the relationships between characters. It’s intricately (and rewardingly) structured, beautifully written, with great humanity written into every page. Ondaatje’s imagination acknowledges no borders as it moves between Cairo, Italy, India, England, Canada – and between deserts and villas and bomb craters. And through all this, he makes you fall in love with his characters, live their joys and their sorrows. Few novels really deserve the praise: transformative. This one does.”

We here at the Free For All send Michael Ondaatje our very heartiest congratulations–and what better way to celebrate than with more books!  Here are juts a few of the titles that made the journey onto our shelves this week and are eager to make your acquaintance!

Ayiti: We are delighted to have this reprint of Roxane Gay’s first collection of short stories here at the Library.  With her signature style, searing insight and unforgettably strong prose, Gay’s stories explore the Haitian diaspora experience: A married couple seeking boat passage to America prepares to leave their homeland. A mother takes a foreign soldier into her home as a boarder, and into her bed. And a woman conceives a daughter on the bank of a river while fleeing a horrific massacre, a daughter who later moves to America for a new life but is perpetually haunted by the mysterious scent of blood. Wise, fanciful, and daring, Ayiti is the book that put Roxane Gay on the map and now, with two previously uncollected stories, confirms her singular vision.  Kirkus Reviews wrote a lovely review for this reprint, noting “This book set the tone that still characterizes much of Gay’s writing: clean, unaffected, allowing the (often furious) emotions to rise naturally out of calm, declarative sentences. That gives her briefest stories a punch even when they come in at two pages or fewer, sketching out the challenges of assimilation in terms of accents, meals, or ‘What You Need to Know About a Haitian Woman.’ . . . This debut amply contains the righteous energy that drives all her work.”

Wicked and the Wallflower: Historical romance legend Sarah MacLean is back with the debut of a new series (The Bareknuckle Bastards) that has been getting absolute rave reviews from critics and readers–longtime readers and newcomers alike!  When a mysterious stranger finds his way into her bedchamber and offers his help in landing a husband, Lady Felicity Faircloth agrees to his suspicious terms–on one condition. She’s seen enough of the world to believe in passion, and won’t accept a marriage without it.  Bastard son of a duke and king of London’s dark streets, Devil has spent a lifetime wielding power and seizing opportunity, and the spinster wallflower is everything he needs to exact a revenge years in the making. All he must do is turn the plain little mouse into an irresistible temptress, set his trap, and destroy his enemy.  But there’s nothing plain about Felicity Faircloth, who quickly decides she’d rather have Devil than another. Soon, Devil’s carefully laid plans are in chaos and he must choose between everything he’s ever wanted . . . and the only thing he’s ever desired.  This is a delightful romance that doesn’t shy away from the tough stuff, but in doing that, creates a re-affirming, deeply meaningful story–the New York Times Review of Books agrees, noting that “The Bareknuckle Bastards…promises her darkest take yet. But even when MacLean goes dark… the sparkling wit and essential goodness of her characters shine through.”

Spying on Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth’s Most Awesome Creatures: Whales are among the largest, most intelligent, deepest diving species to have ever lived on our planet. They evolved from land-roaming, dog-sized creatures into animals that move like fish, breathe like us, can grow to 300,000 pounds, live 200 years and travel entire ocean basins. But even though our fascination with whales, from the fictional Moby Dick to the humpbacks off Massachusetts’ coasts, there is still so much to learn about these wonderful creatures.  In this wide-ranging and fascinating book, Nick Pyenson, whose research has given us some powerful insight into the lives of whales, explores the world in search of a deeper understanding of the whales.  From the Smithsonian’s unparalleled fossil collections, to frigid Antarctic waters, and to the arid desert in Chile, where scientists race against time to document the largest fossil whale site ever found. Full of rich storytelling and scientific discovery, Spying on Whales spans the ancient past to an uncertain future–all to better understand the most enigmatic creatures on Earth.  Booklist gave this infectiously engrossing book a starred review, calling it “A hard-to-put-down quest to understand whales and their place on Earth.”

Unthinkable: An Extraordinary Journey Through the World’s Strangest BrainsFrom the sea, then to the human brain…We take it for granted that we can remember, feel emotion, navigate, empathise and understand the world around us, but how would our lives change if these abilities were dramatically enhanced – or disappeared overnight?  Helen Thomson has spent years travelling the world, tracking down incredibly rare brain disorders.  In this marvelous book, she tells the stories of nine extraordinary people she encountered along the way. From the man who thinks he’s a tiger to the doctor who feels the pain of others just by looking at them to a woman who hears music that’s not there, their experiences illustrate how the brain can shape our lives in unexpected and, in some cases, brilliant and alarming ways.  There are also some fascinating lessons here about how our brains function, what precisely they do, and how you can consciously change the way you think (should you so desire).  Even in looking at the bizarre, Thomson’s work reminds us of how fundamentally human her subjects and their perceptions of the world are, recalling the work of the great Oliver Sacks.  Library Journal, which gave this book a starred review, agreed, saying, “Thomson has a gift for making the complex and strange understandable and relatable. Oliver Sacks is noted as an inspiration and, indeed, this book will appeal to his many fans.” 

The Robots of Gotham:  Todd McAulty’s debut is a dystopian, post-apocalyptic science fiction novel that will most likely reinforce your even fear about smart devices and the pernicious power of technology.  After long years of war, the United States has sued for peace, yielding to a brutal coalition of nations ruled by fascist machines. Canadian businessman Barry Simcoe arrives in occupied Chicago days before his hotel is attacked by a rogue war machine. In the aftermath, he meets a dedicated Russian medic with the occupying army, and 19 Black Winter, a badly damaged robot. Together they stumble on a machine conspiracy to unleash a horrific plague—and learn that the fabled American resistance is not as extinct as everyone believes. Simcoe races against time to prevent the extermination of all life on the continent, and uncover a secret that America’s machine conquerors are desperate to keep hidden.  Both a techno-thriller and a medical thriller, this is a book that will have wide appeal for anyone looking to take a glimpse into a darker version of our future.  Publisher’s Weekly agrees, having given this book a starred review and noting, “This massive and impressive novel is set in an America that outlawed the development of artificial intelligence and quickly lost a short and bitter war against robot-led fascist countries… McAulty maintains breathless momentum throughout. Readers will hope for more tales of this sinister future and eagerly pick up on hints that Barry and his companions may continue their exploits”.


Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!