Since we weren’t around yesterday, beloved patrons, we weren’t able to bring you our traditional Five Book Friday. But our doors are open today, and we are pleased to welcome you to come and find your new favorite reads (or films, or music…)! And, to make up for the lack of reading recommendations yesterday, we’re adding an extra one to our list to provide you with a stellar Six Book Saturday!
Bitter Orange: Claire Fuller’s talent for creating psychologically complex, compelling fiction has already made her newest release a highly-talked-about title, but according to readers, this novel easily lives up to the hype. We begin in the summer of 1969, where Frances Mother discovers a peephole in her dilapidated English country mansion that allows her to spy on the couple spending the summer in the rooms below while Frances is researching the architecture in the surrounding gardens. To Frances’ surprise, Cara and Peter are keen to get to know her. It is the first occasion she has had anybody to call a friend, and before long they are spending every day together: eating lavish dinners, drinking bottle after bottle of wine, and smoking cigarettes until the ash piles up on the crumbling furniture. Frances is dazzled. But as the hot summer rolls lazily on, it becomes clear that not everything is right between Cara and Peter. The stories that Cara tells don’t quite add up, and as Frances becomes increasingly entangled in the lives of the glamorous, hedonistic couple, the boundaries between truth and lies, right and wrong, begin to blur. And as lies escalate to crimes, Frances’ small indiscretion threatens to spiral into some truly terrible. Reviews are comparing this story to the incomparable Shirley Jackson, which, frankly, seems like enough reason to check out this novel soon! In fact, the comparison was made by Kirkus Reviews, who gave this book a starred review in the process: “In the vein of Shirley Jackson’s bone-chilling The Haunting of Hill House, Fuller’s disturbing novel will entrap readers in its twisty narrative, leaving them to reckon with what is real and what is unreal. An intoxicating, unsettling masterpiece.”
The Feral Detective: Jonathan Lethem is a gifted storyteller with a rare talent for blending genres and tones into a work that is utterly unique. This mystery, his second after the much acclaimed Motherless Brooklyn, features Charles Heist, a quirky detective to rival all quirky detectives. Phoebe Siegler first meets Charles Heist in a shabby trailer on the eastern edge of Los Angeles. She’s looking for her friend’s missing daughter, Arabella, and hires Heist to help. A laconic loner who keeps his pet opossum in a desk drawer, Heist intrigues the sarcastic and garrulous Phoebe. Reluctantly, he agrees to help. The unlikely pair navigate the enclaves of desert-dwelling vagabonds and find that Arabella is in serious trouble—caught in the middle of a violent standoff that only Heist, mysteriously, can end. Phoebe’s trip to the desert was always going to be strange, but she never thought it would end quite like this. Critics are avid that Heist needs his own series, which makes it clear how much potential there is in this story. Booklist praised Lethem’s characters, as well as his narrative, calling this books, “A funny but rage-fueled stunner. . . . Both [characters] are compelling, as are the desert setting and the vividly realized descriptions of its dwellers. . . . An unrelentingly paced tale. . . . Utterly unique and absolutely worthwhile.”
Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know : The Fathers of Wilde, Yeats, and Joyce: Colm Tóibín begins his incisive and intriguing story of some of Ireland’s most famous writers and their fathers with a walk through the Dublin streets where he went to university—a wide-eyed boy from the country—and where these three Irish literary giants also came of age. Oscar Wilde, writing about his relationship with his father, William Wilde, stated: “Whenever there is hatred between two people there is bond or brotherhood of some kind…you loathed each other not because you were so different but because you were so alike.” W.B. Yeats wrote of his father, John Butler Yeats, a painter: “It is this infirmity of will which has prevented him from finishing his pictures. The qualities I think necessary to success in art or life seemed to him egotism.” John Stanislaus Joyce, James’s father, was widely loved, garrulous, a singer, and drinker with a volatile temper, who drove his son from Ireland. In this insightful study, Tóibín illuminates not only the complex relationships between these men of letters and their fathers, but also illustrates the surprising ways these men surface in their work. The Washington Post was just one outlet that wrote a glowing review for this slim but scintillating volume, saying “This gentle, immersive book holds literary scholarship to be a heartfelt, heavenly pursuit.”
In Byron’s Wake: The Turbulent Lives of Lord Byron’s Wife and Daughter, Annabella Milbanke and Ada Lovelace: And speaking of controversial fathers….In 1815, the clever, courted, and cherished Annabella Milbanke married the notorious and brilliant Lord Byron. Just one year later, she fled, taking with her their baby daughter, the future Ada Lovelace. Byron himself escaped into exile and died as a revolutionary hero in 1824, aged 36. The one thing he had asked his wife to do was to make sure that their daughter never became a poet. Ada didn’t. Brought up by a mother who became one of the most progressive reformers of Victorian England, Byron’s little girl was introduced to mathematics as a means of calming her wild spirits. Educated by some of the most learned minds in England, she combined that scholarly discipline with a rebellious heart and a visionary imagination. When Ada died―like her father, she was only 36―great things seemed still to lie ahead for her as a passionate astronomer. Even while mired in debt from gambling and crippled by cancer, she was frenetically employing Faraday’s experiments with light refraction to explore the analysis of distant stars. Utilizing new and under-utilized sources, Miranda Seymour has crafted a fascinating and revelatory new history that liberate Annabella and Ada from Byron’s shadow, while still recognizing the power his legacy had over both women. The New York Times Review of Books wrote a sparkling review of this book, calling it “Meticulously researched. A skilled and experienced biographer, Seymour weaves her way through cowboy curtains of rumor and gossip, showing how tabloid intrusions are nothing new, privacy has always been won at a price, and reputation―the judgment of the public―remains a slippery, fragile thing. The combination of pure mathematics and agonized personal passions gives Seymour’s book an arresting power.”
Born to be Posthumous : The Eccentric life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey: What can we say–it’s a good week for biographies! Edward Gorey’s wickedly funny and deliciously sinister little books have influenced our culture in innumerable ways, from the works of Tim Burton and Neil Gaiman to Lemony Snicket. Some even call him the Grandfather of Goth. But who was this man, who lived with over twenty thousand books and six cats, who roomed with Frank O’Hara at Harvard, and was known–in the late 1940s, no less–to traipse around in full-length fur coats, clanking bracelets, and an Edwardian beard? An eccentric, a gregarious recluse, an enigmatic auteur of whimsically morbid masterpieces, yes–but who was the real Edward Gorey? Based on newly uncovered correspondence and interviews with personalities as diverse as John Ashbery, Donald Hall, Lemony Snicket, Neil Gaiman, and Anna Sui, Mark Dery has created reveals Gorey in all his quirky glory, a deeply complicated and conflicted individual, a man whose art reflected his obsessions with the disquieting and the darkly hilarious. Anyone who has savored Gorey’s remarkable illustrations and poems will love this work–NPR agrees, saying in its review: “The best biographies are the result of a perfect match between author and subject, and it’s relatively rare when the two align perfectly. But that’s the case with Born to Be Posthumous–Dery shares Gorey’s arch sense of humor, and shows real sympathy for his sui generis outlook and aesthetics. Dery’s book is smart, exhaustive, and an absolute joy to read… the biography [Gorey] has long deserved.”
The Kinship of Secrets: Eugenia Kim is an author long-endeared to readers, and this newest novel is a beautiful mix of historical insight and deep character work that fans and newcomers alike will find compelling. In 1948 Najin and Calvin Cho, with their young daughter Miran, travel from South Korea to the United States in search of new opportunities. Wary of the challenges they know will face them, Najin and Calvin make the difficult decision to leave their infant daughter, Inja, behind with their extended family; soon, they hope, they will return to her. But then war breaks out in Korea, and there is no end in sight to the separation. Miran grows up in prosperous American suburbia, under the shadow of the daughter left behind, as Inja grapples in her war-torn land with ties to a family she doesn’t remember. Najin and Calvin desperately seek a reunion with Inja, but are the bonds of love strong enough to reconnect their family over distance, time, and war? And as deep family secrets are revealed, will everything they long for be upended? This book, told in alternating perspectives by the two sisters, is a story inspired by Kim’s own life, and is full of moving truths that make it unforgettable. The Washington Post noted how it “Beautifully illuminate[s] Korea’s past in ways that inform our present….Kim infuses a coming-of-age story about being an outsider with the realities of the war, which forced many family separations, some of which still persist today.”
Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!