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Blog Write-ups

Here are some books we've been writing about in our Staff Picks or on our blog. 

The Book of Jokes (British Literature) Cover Image
By Momus
ISBN: 9781564785619
Availability: Usually Ships from Warehouse in 1-5 Days
Published: Dalkey Archive Press - September 1st, 2009

The Believer is one of the magazines we carry on our ever bustier magazine rack.

Believer book reviews are insightful about not only the specifics of the book but why it might be important to a greater body of literature. In a new take on the  ’anonymous review,’ Justin Taylor was asked to invert the standard ‘anonymous review’ formula — if instead of the reviewer having the cloak of anonymity, we were to keep the book under review anonymous from its critic, and thereby shield it from any and all prejudice– whether positive or negative, wheter directed at the author, the publishing house, the blurbers, the cover art, etc. I swore several oaths to stay true to the project (Eds: ‘No googling‘) and soon enough a book arrived at my house. Its covers, front matter, and endpages had all been stripped, and the spine blacked out by a Sharpie.’


After his reading, Taylor found himself ‘freed from the tyranny of the preprogrammed response, set adrift, context-free, at sea with an alien test. Every reviewer–every reader–should hope to be so lucky.’


We’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover or a person by their clothes, but I really like book covers and clothes and I like to distinguish between book covers I kind of like and book covers I love. Also, didn’t the author have some choice over the book cover just like I had some choice over the shoes I put on this morning? I guess judge people. . .within budget. 

Of that opinion is pop philosopher Chuck Klosterman (what?! I really like his book covers), who wrote (and based his whole career around the fact that) ‘ There are two ways to look at life . . .The first view is that nothing stays the same and that nothing is inherantly connected. . . The second is that everything pretty much stays the same (more or less) and that everything is completely connected . . . In and of itself, nothing really matters. The problem is that nothing is ever in and of itself.’

Does anything mean what it really means out of context? Is it wrong to judge a book by its cover or is it wronger to lack to judgement? Would the obviously gay guy from 10th grade have come out if he went to high school in San Francisco? Maybe this is just an existential question for a slightly snowy yet somehow warm winter day (If the snow doesn’t stick and only turns into puddles was it ever snow in the first place? etc., etc.,)

Oh yeah, the anonymous book was Book of Jokes by Momus. I guess sometimes there is a third option, that context matters more than the thing itself. --Marina

The Rest of Love: Poems Cover Image
ISBN: 9780374529628
Availability: Usually Ships from Warehouse in 1-5 Days
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - December 23rd, 2004

My time at the best bookstore in St. Louis may be coming to an end (visit me in France!), but I am still here to give you some advice on poets that you just might like reading.  The poet I want to highlight tonight is Carl Phillips.  Phillips is a local poet of world recognition.  A professor at Washington University,  Phillips is active in the St. Louis literary scene–you might even run into him in the store–and winner of numerous awards.  For a full bio, here is a link to his page on poets.org, a great poetry site.

A book that I picked up from Subterranean one of the first few weeks I moved to St. Louis was “The Rest of Love,” winner of two poetry awards and finalist for the National Book Award.  The attention to emotional complexity behind many of these poems gives the reader much to think about for hours, days, months and years after reading.  If you are a reader of poetry and haven’t discovered Carl Phillips, perhaps this is your book into this great poet; if you are new to poetry, perhaps this is the book that will excite you to find others who reach as deeply into the human psyche.---Joe


Illuminations: Essays and Reflections Cover Image
ISBN: 9780805202410
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Schocken - January 13th, 1969

One of the first literary critics to link Kafka's Jewish neuroses to universal alienation and Baudelaire's Parisian street poetry with urban sociology. In the face of certain death by the Nazis, Benjamin committed suicide in 1940.--Marina

The Collected Stories (Vintage International) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780679744016
Availability: Usually Ships from Warehouse in 1-5 Days
Published: Vintage - March 15th, 1994

I tend to prosleytize about this guy, and here I go again. McGahern was a hugely talented writer of short stories and novels who died in 2006. Coming from a place (Ireland) where great writers seem to spring up like empty pint glasses on the bar of a Saturday-night pub, McGahern is in good company when it comes to timeless, world-class fiction writing. He can stand with any of the Irish giants. One of my favorite short story collections by anyone, anywhere, any time. --Alex

Popville Cover Image
ISBN: 9781596435933
Availability: Special Order, May be Out of Print
Published: Roaring Brook Press - May 11th, 2010

Man, I totally would switch up the whiskered flares and 2D kid books of my 90’s youth for skinny jeans and pop-up architecture books.---Marina

Station Island Cover Image
ISBN: 9780374519353
Availability: Usually Ships from Warehouse in 1-5 Days
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - January 1st, 1986

The book takes its title from an actual island not too distant from the  poet’s home village in County Derry.--Alex

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War Cover Image
ISBN: 9780802119285
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Atlantic Monthly Press - March 23rd, 2010

Before I’d read a word of it and well before it was published this spring, I knew that Karl Marlantes’s debut novel, Matterhorn (Atlantic Monthly Press, $24.95), was the recipient of some major publishing industry push. The hype machine had been well oiled for this one. But sometimes hype surprises; sometimes it’s completely warranted.

I’m not going to pretend to provide an overview of this entire 600-page novel about the Vietnam War. I haven’t even finished it: in fact I’m only about 80 pages in. But I’ve read far enough to say for sure that this is a really, really good novel — maybe even a genuinely great one, as the PR juggernaut has claimed it to be. Marlantes served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam and his firsthand combat experience is part of what makes his narrative so authentic and viscerally powerful. When his characters go on patrol in the jungle, when they take enemy fire, you are with them. The book feels like the best novels do: like a complete universe of its own. I’m going to get back to Matterhorn and comment more later, maybe when I’ve finished it. Whenever that is (it is 600 pages). In the meantime, think about getting Matterhorn and finding out for yourself how good it really is.--Alex

In the American Grain (New Directions Paperbook) Cover Image
By William Carlos Williams, Rick Moody (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9780811218498
Availability: Usually Ships from Warehouse in 1-5 Days
Published: New Directions Publishing Corporation - October 1st, 2009

New Directions is the publishing house started in 1936 by James Laughlin, at age 22. To make a very long story short, New Directions went on to become one of America’s great publishers and an indispensable boon to the modernist avant garde. ND published Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Delmore Schwartz, Gertrude Stein, Henry Miller, Tennessee Williams. That’s the short list. ND is still around, and its solid-gold list is always being updated and reissued with fresh commentary by contemporary writers. Witness the recent reissue of William Carlos Williams’ In the American Grain, sporting a brand-new introduction by Rick Moody.

James Laughlin had to persevere through some extremely tough times, though, and he faced some abusive types. Wyndham Lewis wrote to him once: “Why don’t you stop New Directions, your books are crap.” Ouch. But old Wyndham Lewis was as wrong as wrong can be; fortunately for us Laughlin ignored him anyway.--Alex

North: Poems Cover Image
ISBN: 9780571108138
Availability: Special Order, May be Out of Print
Published: Faber & Faber - January 1st, 1985

Originally published in 1975 and for my money one of Heaney’s finest moments. Resonant with Irish history and a deep-rooted sense of place, North practically exudes the smell of the Irish turf and the enveloping sea. Want a trip to Ireland but can’t afford the travel expense? Read North. It’s one of my favorite books of poetry, period. If you’re new to Heaney North is an ideal shore from which to set off on the soul-voyage of discovering a truly great artist: it’s a slim volume and provides a glimpse of SH at his very best.--Alex

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium Series #1) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307454546
Availability: Usually Ships from Warehouse in 1-5 Days
Published: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard - June 23rd, 2009

We’ve noticed here at Subterranean that Scandinavian mystery writers have a huge following. The couple Maj Sjöwall and Per Fredrik Wahlöö started this trend in the 1960’s with their Martin Beck detective novel series.

A great short article in the Economist follows Nordic mystery writers from  Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s day to Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Series (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo . . .).

Umlauts . . . not just for metal anymore.--Marina

Shadow Tag Cover Image
ISBN: 9780061536090
Availability: Special Order, May be Out of Print
Published: Harper - February 1st, 2010

Despite images of subway vent winds cooing up Marilyn Monroe’s skirt, on an everyday basis, being a woman continues somehow to be both a vile and boring experience. Because supply exceeds demand then I tend to shy away from books by women who are not Patti Smith. I also am in possession of an unfortunate mind that first associates Louise Erdrich not with her prize winning 1984 classic Love Medicine, but with even the remote possibility that she is a  second year ‘minority author’ pick for suburban book clubs after whatever Toni Morrison title has been checked off (don’t shoot the messenger). That said, we had a copy of Erdrich’s latest, Shadow Tag, lying around and the cover was made of that soft plasticized paper that feels not just like velvet but like ice cream marketed as ‘velvet.’

Shadow Tag is about the dissolution of the marriage of a stalled graduate student, Irene, and her older painter husband, Gil. Both have Native American and white ancestry and a lot of the plot revolves around Gil’s obsession with possessing Irene and  if Gil is the breadwinner because his paintings bring in money or if he owes Irene and the Native community a debt because many of the paintings are of her in degrading sexual poses. Toni Morrison herself has been praised for making huge seemingly impossible issues of race and gender understandable through smaller, more domestic stories and I can see how yeah, actually, bite sized post-colonialism totally works.

There is much to love in this book, including a lot of sweet moments when Irene tries to understand how her children see the world and some really interesting philosophical looks at love and power. ‘I’m just food,’ says Irene. ‘What kind of food?’ asks Gil. ‘Fast food.’ Genius! On the other hand, I could have done without all the animal metaphors ( ‘You are the snake. You have struck a poison in my heart.’ Geez, Louise!)

What struck me about Shadow Tag and many other books about domestic disputes is that there is always a clear enemy, in this case the husband. Perhaps my reluctance to relate to ‘female-oriented’ or at least ‘female-marketed’ literature is that for many women the Enemy is He, and I have never found a tangible enemy in my own life (hence my Kafka Krush). Another thing I noticed is that other then small flashback scenes, there are only six characters. It could be a stage play and that may actually speak to the larger problem with many American families. Day to day our lives ressemble awkward lonely kitchen table scenes from Death of a Salesman more than they do the loud sprawling clan from The Godfather.  --Marina

Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America Cover Image
ISBN: 9781401322687
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Hachette Books - October 6th, 2009

In this 2009 sub-urban sociology masterpiece, Benjamin, a young Black man (who may also be gay, there were some pretty liberal metaphors at play) ventures into the heart of secessionary white suburban communities to find out what makes their residents tick. He finds that the social and economic costs of whitophia (from the Greek: the whiteness of no place) are often born by their counterparts, the ghetto and the barrio.

By Night in Chile Cover Image
By Roberto Bolano, Chris Andrews (Translator)
ISBN: 9780811215473
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: New Directions Publishing Corporation - December 17th, 2003

A Chilean priest offers up his deathbed confession to an unidentified audience. A wonderful example of how the political must always be personal for many people, especially in a dictatorship. '. . .then came the coup d'etat, the putsch, the military uprising, the bombing of La Moneda, and when the bombing was finished, the president commited suicide and that put an end to it all. I sat there in silence, a finger between the pages to mark my place and thought: Peace at last.' Warning: No paragraphs!

Watchmen Cover Image
ISBN: 9780930289232
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: DC Comics - April 1st, 1995

This 1985 classic is the only graphic novel to make Time Magazine's Top 100 books list. Superheroes, the Cold War and the urban malaise of Taxi Driver era New York burst into a whole new being (just like the character Dr. Manhattan) that is both different than our current world but supernaturally representative. The images take complete advantage of the genre and advance it. I loved the Kipling reference from the Gunga-Din diner and how ever present graffiti is compared to the shadows of the dead in Hiroshima forever etched into nearby buildings.

To Kill a Mockingbird Cover Image
ISBN: 9780061120084
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Harper Perennial Modern Classics - May 23rd, 2006

My favorite part of our database, Visual Anthology, is that you can type in partial keywords and it finds the book. (Every once in awhile she shuts down on us but in general I couldn’t have designed a better database myself. I mean I couldn’t have designed a database myself. She’s as helpful as Rosie the Jetsons robot with occasional lapses into that time of the month crankiness) I love checking to see what copies of To Kill A Mockingbird we have in stock because I type ‘kill mock’ into the computer and America’s most beloved young adult novel comes up. --Marina

Welp, Harper Lee it’s your 50th anniversary and congratulations! For those of you have not yet had the pleasure, To Kill A Mockingbird, in all its full infinitive glory, is the story of a small town Southern white lawyer who defends a black man accused of rape. The plot is fairly simple but I think what allowed the book to be elevated to classic status was the use of the lawyer Atticus Finch’s 6 year old tomboy daughter, Scout, as the narrator.

This style, called ‘innocent/naive narration’ is super interesting because, according to this pretty on point wikipedia article, a ‘naive narrator is one who is so ignorant and inexperienced that he/she actually exposes the faults and issues of his/her world.’ I think as a kid I couldn’t have tolerated or understood the raw injustices described in this book without an equally confused child pointing them out.  My favorite sentence that still makes me tear up a little is when Atticus explains to Scout that ’courage is when you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.’

Lee expected To Kill A Mockingbird to disappear after its first printing and just hoped it would ‘die a quick and merciful death at the hands of reviewers.’ But in the 50 years since its first press it has never gone out of print,  and has been translated into 40 languages (I don’t think I can even name 40 languages). It has been banned for vulgarity (ugly girls hate mirrors), accused of both treating black people as one dimensional characters and unjustly vilifying white Southerners, as well as secretly being written by Truman Capote (Lee’s childhood friend and inspiration for the character Dill), and ‘poaching off’ the ‘literary preserves’ of noted Southern writer Carson McCullers. . . by noted Southern writer Carson McCullers.  It’s classic, it’s controversial, it’s worth a read or even a re-read. --Marina

Mi Revalueshanary Fren [With CD] Cover Image
ISBN: 9781931337298
Availability: Special Order, May be Out of Print
Published: Ausable Press - September 1st, 2006

Years ago I got heavily into reggae music. It was an obsession for a while — and this was before reggae enjoyed the widespread mainstream popularity in the U.S. that it has now. One of my absolute favorite discoveries (in a London record store on Oxford Street) was a recording artist named Linton Kwesi Johnson, a Jamaican-born English poet and scholar who brought his superior intelligence to the mixing board as well as the page. He was signed to Island Records (as a music lover, if you saw the Island label you knew with 99.9 percent certainty that the music would be excellent). LKJ’s lyrics were tough and incisive, chronicling the hardscrabble everyday realities of life for West Indians and other people of color in the UK of the late 1970s and early ’80s. He didn’t indulge in infantile contests like bragging about his ride or expensive jewelry; rather, he addressed issues of basic justice and struggle. He delivered his verses in a thick, hypnotic patois, the voice pitched magnificently low and resonant. And the band behind him was lethal, uncurling the reggae one-drop with controlled precision amid a beautifully pure low-end spectrum. Reggae was a bass player’s music, and LKJ enlisted me into bass culture. I came back home raving about this guy very, very few people here had ever heard of outside the coastal capitols of hip.

LKJ was a writer first before coming to music and he’s published books as well as albums. We just got in a copy of Mi Revalueshanary Fren (Ausable Press, $16), a collection of some of LKJ’s best poems. (The book includes a bonus live CD of Johnson performing.) I recognize many of these pieces from his albums; they work just as well in print as they do set against music. If you know LKJ’s music you’ll want this book. If you buy the book and like the words, proceed directly to the records. Linton Kwesi Johnson is a major figure no matter the medium he works in. We’re excited to have this title in stock.---Alex


The Return Cover Image
By Roberto Bolano, Chris Andrews (Translator)
ISBN: 9780811217156
Availability: Usually Ships from Warehouse in 1-5 Days
Published: New Directions Publishing Corporation - July 29th, 2010

Newly translated short stories from the recently deceased Chilean-Mexican writer showcase his unique blend of sci-fi, pulp, raw historicism and deadpan humor. Like hanging out with the most depressing third world hipster you know, five beers in, and hating him because he's right and you have to drive. --Marina

The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing Cover Image
ISBN: 9780393337082
Availability: Usually Ships from Warehouse in 1-5 Days
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - January 1st, 2010

At the recommendation of our former coworker Joe, I was skimming through The Norton Guide to Creative Writing by Alice LaPlante. I came across an example passage that started on one page and continued on the next.  It started, ‘The summer before I pegged Ysrael with a rock and the way it bounced off his back, I knew I’d clocked a shoulderblade.’ I remember thinking, I like how the writer isn’t trying to get me to like him cus here he is unabashadly throwing rocks.  But I did like him anyways cus observation of that kind of weird gruesome childhood science, like how girls got popular in 7th grade in  a 1:1 correlation with the size of their breasts, isn’t just something you can learn in a creative writing program. I kept reading and turned the page only to find out that it was from a short story novel I had actually read before, Drown by Junot Díaz, one of my favorite writers. I was glad to find that I liked him out of context, that I liked him without knowing it was him, that I looked out the window of my car and saw him walking his little cousin to school and wearing an X-Men t-shirt  just like he should have been, unless I somehow remembered the first line and automatically liked it, which is something my brain would do. Abandon ship, folks. --Marina

Postmodernism (Very Short Introductions #74) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780192802392
Availability: Usually Ships from Warehouse in 1-5 Days
Published: Oxford University Press, USA - January 16th, 2003

A great simply introduction to the art and philosophy that make up the postmodernist movement since about 1950. According to critics Susan Sontag and Ihab Hassan, 'the work of postmodernists was deliberately less unified, less obviously 'masterful,' more playful or anarchic, more concerned with the processes of our understanding than with the pleasures of artistic finish or unity, less inclined to hold a narrative together, and certainly more resistant to a certain interpretation . . .' --Marina

Antwerp Cover Image
By Roberto Bolano, Natasha Wimmer (Translator)
ISBN: 9780811217170
Availability: Usually Ships from Warehouse in 1-5 Days
Published: New Directions Publishing Corporation - April 27th, 2010

‘Tell that Arnold Bennett that all his rules about plot only apply to novels that are copies of other novels.’

I probably think about Roberto Bolaño’s books everyday but I can’t really think of anything positive or concrete to say about him. I guess that’s where the extensive quoting is going to come into play.

Bolaño’s newly translated Antwerp is described as an experimental crime novel but let’s be honest, it’s a poetry collection (maybe about rape?). There’s a lot of pretty/pretty hallucinatory phrases and things to marinate on, but plot there is not. I’m pretty impatient with stuff that forces the reader to do a lot of work because I’m surprised the U.S. is even still literate as a nation, past presidents aside (as a dead Chilean this is not neccessarily the author’s concern). I used to dismiss experimental stuff as pretentious but after my foray into our up-to-date neuroscience section, I’ve come to realize that my brain is just wired really differently than someone like Bolaño’s. Reading him is like talking to my permastoned friend who by nature always thinks outside the box (’Are you a T man or an A man?’  ’I think . . . I’m a Body man.’)

‘Remember that joke about the bullfighter that steps out into the ring and there’s no bull, no ring, no nothing?’

Antwerp is a sketch of a crime and a city that is probably not Antwerp and a lost young poet. Its wry, detatched mood actually reminded me of the movie In Bruges but maybe because my brain works in not that mysterious 5th grade Geography Bee ways.

Random lines of conversation drift in and out, like a sadder version of the website Overheard in New York. The bullfighter gets one line. Everyone gets one line.

‘All I can come up with are stray sentences. . . maybe because reality seems to me like a swarm of stray sentences.’

‘Our stories are sad, sargeant, there’s no point in trying to understand them.’ (Echoes of the disturbing aftertaste of  2666 aka Special Victims Unit: Juarez)

‘All praise to the highways and to these moments’ then. I guess.---Marina


Born to Be Giants: How Baby Dinosaurs Grew to Rule the World Cover Image
By Lita Judge, Lita Judge (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9781596434431
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Flash Point - April 27th, 2010

This just in in dinosaur news: According to Science magazine which is super legit, dinosaurs were probably all different colors not just the boring browns and greens of the 20th century imagination. I hope Born to Be Giants incorporates this trend, but if it doesn’t, our paleontology book, Dinosaur by Stephanie Stansbie, is keeping the playground up to date.---Marina

The Meaning of Night: A Confession Cover Image
ISBN: 9780393330342
Availability: Backordered
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - October 17th, 2007

Every once in a blue moon I get the hankering for something uncomplicated and fast-moving. A good pageturner. This winter, during January’s long sunless stretch, I picked up Michael Cox’s The Meaning of Night (W.W. Norton, $14.95). I liked the jacket design, I like nearly everything the publisher releases, and it was English. Very English. Michael Dirda of the Washington Post Book World loved it. And, one of the blurbs on the cover included the adjective “Dickensian.” I was in.

The Meaning of Night is Cox’s debut novel. Start reading it and very quickly you’ll find this fact hard to fathom. Cox writes extremely well and he is a certified master of narrative pacing and momentum. I’m not going to delve into the plot or give anything away, but be advised that fans of intelligent, well-wrought crime/mystery fiction, particularly those of an Anglophilic bent, will enjoy this book to the hilt. I recommended TMON to one of our loyal regulars, John L.; he returned the next day raving about it. Of course, John being John, he finished it in two days. This is a 700-page novel. If you’re more like me (i.e., a slowpoke) than like John, it will hold you a good while. --Alex

Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland Cover Image
ISBN: 9781568584218
Availability: Special Order, May be Out of Print
Published: Nation Books - January 5th, 2010

With the recent tragedy in West Virginia, coal mining has come to the forefront of the news again. But coal (and its attendant environmental costs and lethal hazards) isn’t just the business of Appalachia; just over the state line, Southern Illinois has had a busy coal industry for years. Jeff Biggers is a native of the area and has written a new book on his up-close-and-personal experiences with Big Coal and its heavy hand. Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of  oal in the Heartland (Nation Books, $26.95) is in stock now, and we recommend it. --Alex

The Pacific Cover Image
ISBN: 9780451230232
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Nal Caliber - March 2nd, 2010

What can one say or write — coherently, meaningfully — about war? Combat itself will only ever be understood truly by those who have experienced it; the rest of us are in the dark, making more or less educated guesses about something totally beyond the scope of any normal human undertaking. But, war always fascinates nevertheless, repulsing and attracting in perhaps equal meaure. There’s no ignoring its centrality in human behavior and affairs, at any rate.

The Pacific (NAL/Caliber, $26.95), by Hugh Ambrose, is a new book chronicling the U.S.’s second theater of operations in World War II. (It’s the companion book to the HBO series, and the author is late historian Stephen Ambrose’s son.) Generally, we Americans know a lot more about the European theater than the Pacific. My own dad served in the former as an Army grunt in the Italian campaign of 1943-45. He was wounded in action, recuperated, and was sent straight back to the front. He’s never talked much about his wartime experiences, but, knowing a little bit more now about the Pacific theater vs. the European, I’m kind of relieved he was sent to Europe. (If it’d been the other way around, I might not have had a father to help conceive me in the first place.) The Pacific theater was exponentially more lethal: American casualties were three and a half times higher than those suffered on the European front. It was an island campaign waged against an opponent, the Japanese, that refused to surrender — and had literally nowhere to retreat to in any case. Close-quarters action and hand-to-hand combat were the norm. The mind-blowing brutality of the Pacific war would be hard to adequately convey with mere words, but Hugh Ambrose does so in his new book. Ambrose Sr., to whom The Pacific is dedicated, would be proud of his achievement.--Alex

Let the Right One In: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780312355296
Availability: Usually Ships from Warehouse in 1-5 Days
Published: St. Martin's Griffin - October 28th, 2008

I really liked this melancholy vampire book.--Marina

Black Jack: The Ballad of Jack Johnson Cover Image
ISBN: 9781596434738
Availability: Usually Ships from Warehouse in 1-5 Days
Published: Roaring Brook Press - June 22nd, 2010

I love the burnt reds and industrial blues used in the illustrations of this book. All the text looks like hand laid Letter Press stuff and remind me of that Bee Hat sign that used to be downtown before Bee Hats lofts or whatever went in and they took down the actual sign. Really good sports writing is better than most war dispatches so I hope that this book can bring that down to a kiddie level. --Marina

Lights on a Ground of Darkness: An Evocation of a Place and Time Cover Image
ISBN: 9780803226425
Availability: Usually Ships from Warehouse in 1-5 Days
Published: Bison Books - September 1st, 2009

Interesting term, isn’t it: flyover country. It’s at once condescending, smug, and utterly ignorant of larger realities. Hard to believe anyone could so blithely write off such a huge swath of this country, but some do. Snarkiness, a brand of dim-witted, shallow sarcasm, rules the day.  

Which brings me to Ted Kooser, lifelong Midwesterner, former poet lauriate of the United States, and author of the new memoir Lights on a Ground of Darkness (University of Nebraska Press, $10.95). Kooser’s one of those writers who shifts gracefully from poetry to prose. His poetry is marked by rigorous clarity and an intelligent deployment of a sort of higher form of plain English; his prose, meanwhile, affords him more room to develop his themes. Whatever the subject, he always writes with an attentive eye to the widespread natural beauty of the Midwest, that section of the nation scoffed at and underappreciated — often even by those native to it. Lights is very short (60 pages) and very good. It reminds us to open our spirit vision to the Midwest. Some people have tried their level best to uglify it, but its essential beauties remain undimmed. The prairies haven’t all been paved over; tallgrass and wildflowers will greet you if you look for them. --Alex

Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things Cover Image
ISBN: 9780151014231
Availability: Special Order, May be Out of Print
Published: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt - April 1st, 2010

We spend a lot of time looking at book covers here. Among the myriad of slightly blurry blond women with obscured faces and third world fonts, I found a clear winner for my favorite book cover of 2010, designed by Patrick Barry.

Good color scheme, design actually related to book subject, old timey letter press feel but not in a hokey way and (important important important) cover design continues on spine. Check and mate!

I guess hoarders are somewhat in style right now as a subject of fascination and it’s not hard to see why. Most of the hoarders that authors Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee profile in Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things are enthusiastic and thoughtful people who happen to channel their best qualities towards inanimate objects.  But what is hoarding?

‘Acquisition and saving of possessions is not inherantly problematic,’ write Frost and Steketee.  ‘In fact, within our culture, it is normative. However, for the people described in this book, who represent up to 5 percent of the population, these behaviors are out of control and result in serious impairment and distress. This group is the subject of the mental health and neuroscience research on compulsive hoarding that we have described here.’

 Stuff is interesting on both fronts set out in the subtitle. The anecdotes about individual hoarders, along with their stories about often painful childhoods and insights into their own delusions, are fascinating. Obvious mentions are the famous hoarder socialite Collyer brothers, one of whom was crushed to death by his own possessions. There is also a psychiatrist who starts a cat hoarding cult with her patients and a man so obsessed with his ring collection that he came to possess one ring when he ‘had seen it on the finger of the man standing at the urinal next to his in the restroom and offered him three times what it was worth.’

However, what was most important to me was the second part of the subtitle, ‘the Meaning of Things.’  The authors do not see hoarders as freaks but as a natural sort of visible tip of the iceberg that is our materialistic culture. In fact, Frost and Steketee’s final reflections seem to agree less with Thorstein Veblen’s rosy cheeked idea of Conspicuous Consumption than with Karl Marx and that one part in Fight Club when they burn stuff.

‘As has been apparent to us from studying hoarding, we may own the things in our homes, but they own us as well. Objects carry the burden of responsibilities that include acquisition, use, care, storage, and disposal. The magnitude of these responsibiliites for each of us has exploded with the expanding number of items in our homes during the past fifty years. Having all these possessions has caused a shift in our behavior away from human interaction to interaction with inanimate objects. Kids now spend more time online, playing video games or watching TV alone in their rooms than interacting with family or friends. Possessions originally sold on the promise that they would make life easier and increase leisure time have done just the opposite. Often both parents work longer hours to support an ever increasing array of new conveniences that lead them to spend less and less time together. .. perhaps we are becoming a nation of hoarders.’

In simple language, Frost and Steketee explain that from an early age hoarders seem to interpret the emphasis society places on objects and meaning with more strength than the rest of us.  ‘Children’s use of the word ‘mine’ seems to occur before their use of the word ‘yours’, usually between the ages of two and two and a half,’  the authors explain.  ’When ‘yours’  first enters the vocabulary, it is often in an attempt to convince someone that they already have something and should not pursue ‘mine.”  We also get brief but well written summaries of ideas about ownership from philosophers such as Plato, David Hume, William James and Sartre.

‘Stuff’ is serious but it also had me cracking up. There’s a chapter called ‘But It’s Mine!’ and as always, like the Internet addiction self help chat rooms, the paradoxes that come with trying to aid a very specific mental disorder. ‘[We] speak frequently to self-help groups about hoarding.  On these occasions, we avoid bringing handouts, as experience has taught us that many in our audience will collect multiple copies, adding to their clutter.’

So if you have a hoarding problem, definitely get this book . . . from the library. For everyone else, it’s brand new at the store and just as instructive. ’Stuff’ definitely changed the way I view material possessions and I’ve probably already saved time, money, space and sanity not buying things.--Marina

Living in the End Times Cover Image
ISBN: 9781844675982
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Verso - May 25th, 2010

The new Slavoj Žižek book, ‘Living In The End Times’ arrived at the store last week and I had the good fortune of ‘unwrapping’ it (mere mortals call it ‘receiving’). I made a little gasping noise like the kind Victorian women made when their corsets were tightened, or the kind ancient Chinese women made when their feet were bound . . . maybe.  Žižek is one of my absolute favorite writers and probably my favorite philosopher. In a sentence his work describes with the objective and structural violence of capitalism through literature, philosophy and pop culture anecdotes.

From his 2008 book ‘Violence‘:

‘Charity is the humanitarian mask hiding the face of economic exploitation. In a superego blackmail of gigantic proportions, the developed countries ‘help’ the underdeveloped with aid, credits, and so on, and thereby avoid the key issue, namely their complicity in and co-responsibility for the miserable situation of the underdeveloped.’

‘Living In The End Times’ is sort of Žižek jumping on the 2012 bandwagon while paraphrasing a Joy Division song title. The phrase ‘four horsemen of the apocalypse’ is almost as tired as the post Jacobs use of the phrase ‘Death and Life of Great . . . ‘  (srsly every other book about a problem comes out with this title) but Žižek names the current trends hurtling us towards worlds end as: 1) the ecological crisis, 2) the economic crisis, 3) biogenetic revolution and 4) increasing social divisions. He also says that we are going through the five signs of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, withdrawal. I’m excited to get to the part about acceptance. I think it just involves a lot of sarcasm and irony, in which case I already did my homework, Prof.

From the first chapter of ‘Living in the End Times’:

‘. . . the question ‘if capitalism is really so much better than socialism, why are our lives still miserable?’ provides a simple answer: it is because we are not yet really in capitalism, for the Communists are still ruling, only now wearing the masks of new owners and managers.’

Žižek changed my life. . .maybe in a bad way. He’s like the boyfriend you had when you were 21 who ruined you for life but also ensured that you would never again fail to understand the power dynamics in any and all situations. . but I digress (Ladies? Ladies?) I usually disagree vehemently with the concluding chapter of every book of his that I read and am depressed for a month after. His conclusion is usually like the old saying ‘don’t vote, it only encourages them’ which I prefer to Bukowski‘s gravestone etching ‘don’t try’ cus at least its politically oriented, but still. Anyways I’m enjoying my time in the End Times and am apologizing in advance for the eventual Daria-like demeanor that will follow in the month of June.--Marina

Ashes for Breakfast: Selected Poems Cover Image
By Durs Grünbein, Michael Hofmann (Translated by)
ISBN: 9780374530136
Availability: Usually Ships from Warehouse in 1-5 Days
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - January 24th, 2006

Anyone who knows me knows I love celebrities . . . it’s my inner Japanese tourist. (On my recent trip to a downtown LA Starbucks I met Santino Rice of Project Runway fame and of lesser known but equally important St. Charles fame. He said he used to love hanging out in the Loop btw). Anyways we’ve had some pretty cool people in the store as of late.

German poet and Washington University visiting professor Durs Grünbein came in the store a week or so ago and pleasantly tolerated my ignorance of German literature (’I saw that movie, The Tin Drum. . .’) . He was super nice! In addition to being an acclaimed poet (the 2005 translation of his collection, Ashes for Breakfast was shortlisted for the International Griffin Poetry Prize), he is also a noted translator of Aeschylus and Seneca and a literary critic.

‘Living without writing means . . . the wasting of one’s only chance to break out of intellectual solitary confinement and become a little more communicative, more human—not just with the twenty-five relatives and friends with whom the average life furnishes you, but with all those who could really one day listen to you, tomorrow’s unknown readers . . . ‘ from his Poetry International essay, Why Live Without Writing. 


The Slide: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385341851
Availability: Special Order, May be Out of Print
Published: Dial Press Trade Paperback - January 27th, 2009

A sunny late-winter Saturday and who should stroll in the store but our pal Kyle Beachy, author of the fantabulous set-in-St. Louis tale The Slide. Kyle signed our copies of his novel while he was here, so snap ‘em up while you can. The last ones he signed went fast. --Alex

The Sickness Unto Death Cover Image
ISBN: 9780141042497
Availability: Special Order, May be Out of Print
Published: Penguin Books - October 27th, 2009

Norwegian proto existentialist Kierkegaard meditation on the condition of despair as the sickness unto death that can only be cured by moving to active self awareness. 'The biggest danger, that of losing oneself, can pass off as quietly as if it were nothing; every other loss, an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. is bound to be noticed.' --Marina

Survivor Cover Image
ISBN: 9780393338072
Availability: Out of Print
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - April 1st, 2010

My cable was out so I got the next best thing. Palahniuk is the cult novelist well known for 'Fight Club.' His novels are a fun, if shallow read. He paints a pretty cinematic picture in this novel about the supposed last member of a religious cult and his rise to fame. --Marina

The House of Tomorrow Cover Image
ISBN: 9780399156090
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Penguin Adult HC/TR - March 4th, 2010

According to Midwest Connections Spring Picks, ‘This debut novel set in rural Iowa mixes the philosophy of Buckminster Fuller with punk rock in a hilarious and moving novel about misfit teenagers finding their place in a confusing world.’


Benito Cereno (The Art of the Novella) Cover Image
ISBN: 9781933633053
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Melville House - May 1st, 2006

oMg! i tOtEs <3 mElViLlE.

          As I do every New Year housecleaning, I spotted my double novella edition of Bartleby the Scrivener and Benito Cereno by Herman Melville. I’ve had this book since I was twelve. It’s been following me around like a homework assignment I didn’t do because it is a homework assignment I didn’t do. I guess I could say it’s my white whale, but not really because I only think of it once a year and now the spitfire strength of these less than 100 pages works makes me want to erase all associations I have between Melville and Moby Dick. Also, Melville House has reissued these novellas in hip, American Apparel looking editions (. . .and that’s a compliment). 

 ‘Wtf is a scrivener? Ew.’ I sat down for what I thought would be a dry read only to find myself thrilled by Melville’s prose and character driven plots and overall view of mankind. Bartleby is about a law clerk in 1850’s New York while Benito Cereno is about a wayward slave ship off of Chile in 1799. Both use this narrative technique I love in which the narrator is a chance acquaintance trying to understand the motives of the main character. The narrators’ struggles to classify both Bartleby and Benito as good or bad, friend or foe, subtly become a metaphor for understanding the world. It sounds so cheesy but it happens absolutely naturally and you kind of don’t even know until you’re done reading and then you’re like, ‘whoa, Herman! Why you gotta do me like that?’

Methinks narrative style is Melville’s most important genius but then there’s the prose which has neither aged nor lost its bite in 150 years. Taciturn Captain Don Benito of the latter story is described as ‘a loaded cannon, which, until there is call for thunder, has nothing to say.’ When the narrator feels something amiss in the juxtaposition of the disarray of the ship’s shabby country-style attic and the calm ocean, Melville writes, ‘The similitude was heightened , if not originally suggested, by glimpses of the surrounding sea, since, in one aspect, the country and ocean seem cousins-german.’ I had to read this sentence about three times to fully appreciate the genius of Melville (I may still not know what ‘cousins-german’ means in which case I don’t know what I’m appreciating. . . oh well).

          I love Melville’s concern with being American. In an 1850 essay, Hawthorne and His Mosses, he extolled the originality of the adolescent American writing scene (Thanks to Professor Bailey for letting me know about this!)  But representing 19th century America as he does of course raises the issues that have gotten all dead white males besides Oscar Wilde kicked out of class curriculums. I don’t read a lot of fiction written before 1970, mostly because I’m self involved but partially because for many Americans, our absence cannot help but be noted in a canonical works in which we can never be heroes. In Brown: The Last Discovery of America, Richard Rodriguez wrote this of his youthful attempt at reading Thackeray’s Vanity Fair: ‘William Makepeace Thackeray mocks my mother’s skin. And mine . . . really how can I laugh?’

          Fiction, almost more than ‘non-fiction’ historical accounts, exists as a sort of screen-capture of that moment, typos and inappropriate google autocomplete searches and all. The question that arises then is: ‘How are we supposed to read Melville’s attitude towards slavery?’ aka ‘Was Melville racist?’ The short answer to the gut question is: duh. After all, a la Do The Right Thing (incedentally, the President and the Mrs.’ first date), racism may be the only thing we all have in common. Melville is part of racism by default as part of the dominant group in a caste society but I prefer him to orientalizing travel writing, cus at least he’s honest about it. Within the rigid racial hierarchy presented by Benito Cereno, characters of all races are given some room to breathe and assert themselves as human which is actually no small feat considering the views of the time. --Marina

Violence: Big Ideas/Small Books (BIG IDEAS//small books) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780312427184
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Picador - July 22nd, 2008

I never thought I'd be into Slovenian (?) writers or philosophy but Žižek tells it like it is with nearly Paul Mooney quickness. 'Charity is the humanitarian mask hiding the face of economic exploitation. In a superego blackmail of gigantic proportions, the developed countries 'help' the underdeveloped with aid, credits and so on, and thereby avoid the key issue, namely their complicity in and co-responsiblity for the miserable situation of the underdeveloped.'

The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature Cover Image
ISBN: 9780143114246
Availability: Usually Ships from Warehouse in 1-5 Days
Published: Penguin Books - August 26th, 2008

I’m just nosy to begin with, but I love customers who are so totally into what they’re buying that they might explain it a little but aren’t trying to recommend it. ( This is also why I’ve historically respected the Jews cus they throw great quinceñear@s but never knock on my door trying to get me to buy a Torah). When people buy Steven Pinker books they’re usually enthusiastically humble about it (humbly enthusiastic?) so I thought I’d try to read him.

Pinker is a Canadian Harvard psychologist/linguist who is also pretty good looking (nosy . . . and shallow!) His book  The Stuff of Thought: Language As A Window Into Human Nature had a great cover so I thought I’d give it a whirl. He’s a great writer, his references are on point and relatable (Freud, Dick Gregory, George Costanza, trifecta win!). I skimmed over a lot of the really specific verb groupings (why ‘to load’ is different than ‘to put’ and other distinctions worthy of a Lisa Simpson monologue) but the way Pinker describes how we manipulate language to fit our meaning and motives is pretty easy to grip and super fascinating. ”Bus Blows up’ is indeed a strange way to describe an incident in which a human being straps explosives to himself, gets on a crowded bus in a city street and kills 13 people by detonating his payload, clearly intending to murder,’ Pinker quotes.

I’m not at all there yet, but the wikipedia entry on Pinker’s thesis is this: ‘He asserts that language must do two things: 1) convey a message to an audience, and 2) negotiate the social relationship between the speaker and the audience.’ The first part is easy to remember but the second part is the reason we twist language the way we do, often unintentionally.  The second reason is also why Kafka exists as an adjective.

When you think about it that way, books are amazing. Where else does that second part of the equation, the relationship of the speaker to the audience get to remain constant no matter who the audience is? ‘Some things are so personal you can only tell them to a complete stranger,’ memoirist Richard Rodriguez has written. Similarly, Lil Wayne once said, ‘you might say that it’s wrong but I’m not talking to you, child, I’m talking to this song.’  The process of reading gives time for a multidimensional explanation, space to contemplate a message that is universal and not meant to elicit shallow reactions based on in-group out-group psychology.  What a gift we are losing in our rush towards cyberporn then.  --Marina

To Be Read in 500 Years: Poems Cover Image
ISBN: 9781555975258
Availability: Special Order, May be Out of Print
Published: Graywolf Press - April 28th, 2009

Another poet who I have been trying to tell people about since Christmas is Albert Goldbarth.  A winner of numerous poetry awards himself, when asked about the “job of poetry,” Goldbarth told The Missouri Review, “It’s not my place to define the job of poetry, but a lot of my poems do try to serve as memorials, as segments of frozen time that save people or cultural moments that have otherwise passed away or are in danger of passing away.”  Goldbarth’s poetry is certainly different than Phillips’s, however they both cause an emotional response, which is the purpose of literature.---Joe


Welcome to the Desert of the Real: Five Essays on September 11 and Related Dates Cover Image
ISBN: 9781859844212
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Verso - October 17th, 2002

Slovenian Marxist philosopher Žižek's 2002 assessment of Western reaction to the events of 9/11 follows his main theses of development and subsequent underdevelopment merged with anecdotes about movies such as 'the 3:10 to Yuma' and the theologian G.K. Chesterton. More of the same but easily digestible and pleasant to read. --Marina

Freedom: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780374158460
Availability: Usually Ships from Warehouse in 1-5 Days
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - August 31st, 2010

Franzen's first book since 2001's acclaimed 'The Corrections is about the unraveling of a middle aged liberal Midwestern marriage and is easily the deepest, most character driven novel I have read this year. Hemingway once said something about how a good character is like an iceberg in that 90% of  it is below the surface and you never see it but it must be there to float. Franzen knows his characters inside and out and each of them is so wracked with guilt that they must represent small diverse bits of the author's own insecurities.  This book redeemed him in my eyes after his previously unwarranted jab at Oprah! --Marina

 Editor: Freedom is set to release Aug 31.

Pragmatism and Other Writings Cover Image
By William James, Giles Gunn (Introduction by), Giles Gunn (Notes by)
ISBN: 9780140437355
Availability: Backordered
Published: Penguin Classics - April 1st, 2000

Noted American psychologist and brother of novelist Henry James has been mentioned so often in other books I've read that I decided to hunker down and read one of his famous texts. Pragmatism at its basis believes that ideas are only important so long as they are practical and is jazz of philosophy in that it is uniquely American but is internationally influential.--Marina

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears Cover Image
ISBN: 9781594482854
Availability: Usually Ships from Warehouse in 1-5 Days
Published: Riverhead Books - February 5th, 2008

Netherland (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307388773
Availability: Usually Ships from Warehouse in 1-5 Days
Published: Vintage - May 7th, 2009

Imagining what it is like to be someone other than oneself is at the core of our humanity. It is the essence of compassion, and it is the beginning of morality.—Ian McEwan

Two recent works of fiction, 2007’s The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengetsu and 2008’s Netherland by Joseph O’Neill, are about the interactions of a working class dark skinned immigrant and a well-off white person (in the case of Netherland, also a fellow immigrant) in East Coast American cities (D.C. and New York respectively). In the beginning of both novels the authors make clear that the friendship is over and the Other is now gone, due to circumstances that are unknown but definitely unfortunate. However, The Beautiful Things is narrated by an Ethiopian shopkeeper about his friendship with his new white neighbor while Netherland is narrated by a Dutch financial analyst about his friendship with a Caribbean jack-of-all trades Cricket teammate

Many GANs (Great American Novels) are about immigration and its residue. I mean, obviously. My one wish with current literary analysis is that these new immigrant novels not be set aside on a separate shelf full of Lahiris and Díazes but also allowed simply to play with Mark Twain on the playground (cus he’s a fun guy who’s good at four-square). So within both O’Neill and Mengetsu’s debuts we find much observation on humanity and city life that has nothing specifically to do with the condition of Being An Immigrant:

Mengetsu on owning a store near a well known area of prostitution:

‘The men buying diapers, ice cream, and tampons they had supposedly left home for, and the women newly minted but still with only enough money to buy another can of soda to keep them awake, all came together for just enough hours every week to make me a living that I no longer judged as decent or honest, but accepted as a matter of standard fact somewhere between yes, we all must die, and the sun is ninety-three million miles away.’

O’Neill on post-9/11 New York anxiety:

‘Apparently any fool could built a dirty bomb and explode it in Manhattan. . . We were trying to understand whether we were in a preapocalyptic situation, like the European Jews in the thirties or the last citizens of Pompeii or whether our situation was merely near apocalyptic, like that of the Cold War inhabitants of New York, London, Washington, or for that matter, Moscow.’

Mengetsu and O’Neill write of concerns and the possibility of terror but they both write with a sort of outward communal eye. So while I enjoy the urban existential disillusionment of  Sartre and Wright as much as the next black eyeliner wearing liberal arts grad, it is beautiful to see The City celebrated as a place where people of different backgrounds come to melt into one another, however awkwardly. I guess then it’s not the elementary school playground, but the middle school cafeteria that is the more fitting metaphor. --Marina

Great American Craft Beer: A Guide to the Nation's Finest Beers and Breweries Cover Image
ISBN: 9780762438112
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Running Press Book Publishers - August 1st, 2010

Don't you love beer? Don't you love beer made with extra-attentive love and care and devotion to quality? If you answered no to either of these questions, go away. 

Staff Pick Logo
You Never Give Me Your Money: The Beatles After the Breakup Cover Image
ISBN: 9780061774461
Availability: Usually Ships from Warehouse in 1-5 Days
Published: Harper - June 8th, 2010

Fascinating, fabulously researched stuff from a veteran UK music writer. If you love the band from Liverpool this new title will be a guaranteed pageturner. Incidentally, I think the dust jacket design (by Raina Tinker) is my favorite of the year.--Alex

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