Tag Archives: recommendations

The World Is Your Bookstore

Like this enthusiastic columnist for the Guardian, we are unrepentant book voyeurs. This means we’re not simply satisfied with asking acquaintances what they’re reading: we’re the ones craning our necks to see what books people on the bus or at the next cafe table over have open on their laps. Now, thanks to The Book Depository’s interactive map, we can very easily see what people are buying all over the world—in real time. We’d say more about this, but instead we’re going to watch the map for the next nine hours. Look! Someone in Latvia just bought Cutting For Stone!

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What a Rec!

Lifehacker’s got a list of the “Five Best Book Recommendation Services.” We’d like to add, ahem, independent booksellers. Although actually…you know what, screw being polite. We’re throwing down. We challenge anything and anyone to a recommendations-off, because we still think individual experience and personal attention are better than any database or line of code. If you just want general recs, check out our Staff Recommends page, but we also welcome you to comment with a favorite title or genre or anything else, and we’ll tell you some other things we think you’ll like. Come on, hit us! It’ll be just like John Henry vs. the steam engine…only hopefully without us keeling over dead at the end.

Spread the world! We challenge all-comers. May the best rec win!

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It’s Better Than Nothing in This Cockeyed Caravan

One of the things we worry about late at night when we should be asleep, dreaming our Borgesian dreams, is the state of modern literary fiction. Gorgeously written, incisive and meaningful books hit our shelves all the time…but we worry that modern literary authors are afraid to be funny lest their work not be taken seriously. Not so! Here our some of our favorite humorous works of literary fiction.

American Psycho
By Bret Easton Ellis
I think American Psycho is one of the funniest books ever written. Bret Easton Ellis knows his magnificently rich, vain, arrogant asshole main character a little too well. There’s no way Ellis is a good person in real life, but I don’t care: I’d still like to meet him and have him critique my worthiness based on a simple handshake. — Jon Stich

The Breast
By Philip Roth
Roth’s hilarious tribute to Kafka is exactly what it says: a man turns into a female breast. While it may seem like a one-trick pony ride, the novella sustains the concept excellently. As our tragic hero is institutionalized for being trapped within the soft, tender, limbless tissues of the female mammary gland, you quickly appreciate why it is so great not being a breast. — Thomas

Cranford
By Elizabeth Gaskell
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen‘s novels are infinitely amusing–even without zombies. Gaskell, however–another 19th Century writer and friend of Charlotte Bronte and Charles Dickens–is, I think, sadly overlooked. Her Cranford, about the society women form amongst themselves in a small English village, is both touching and hilarious–in that inimitable wry, Victorian way. It’s a loving satire of the best sort. — Anna

Gravity’s Rainbow
By Thomas Pynchon
Gravity’s Rainbow will remain one of the most complex literary experiences I’ll ever undertake. As usually happens with books over 750 pages, I don’t remember everything from the book. Its encyclopedic nature, covering everything from the physics of missile trajectories to the history of German silent film, exacerbates the novel’s ruthlessness on my normally efficient memory. But the thing I remember most about the book (aside from its fantastic ending) is its humor. Pynchon somehow fits slapstick pratfalls and oddly-hilarious one-liners (“…it can get pretty fascist in here…”) in with the occasional piece of meta-humor, such as when a German character gets injured and moans in pain: “Öööööö!” — Geo

The World According to Garp
By John Irving
Because what could be funnier than a blow job gone horribly wrong? No, no, I kid. John Irving’s books are often described as eccentric and unpredictable, which they are, but they’re also touching and thoughtful and very, very funny in ways not related to oral copulation. Comedy is tricky, and Garp manages to strike a balance between truthfulness and the absurd. In a crazier vein, check out: Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, Absurdistan by Gary Shyteyngart, and Civilwarland in Bad Decline by George Saunders. — Kim

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Top Big Top Books

Cheryl in Brentwood reports:

Today is Circus Day, commemorating the opening of the Ringling Brothers Circus in 1884. Now, I’m not a huge fan of the circus, one reason being that I think clowns are creepy. (I’m not alone on this!) And yet, some of my favorite books are about the circus: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, Circus ABC by Jason D’Aquino, and The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney. What draws me to these stories are the sideshows filled with genetically altered humans, mythical beasts, and mysterious people preying on your darkest fears and desires–which, I’m sure you’ll agree, are not nearly as creepy as clowns.

On a related note, I was recently invited to an author’s dinner for the upcoming book Creepiosity by David Bickel. Of course I had to attend (that’s me third from the left):

Fortunately there were no clowns, but I did try the chicken feet.

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Awesome Moms in Literature

In honor of Mother’s Day (this Sunday!), let’s celebrate some of literature’s most terrifically awesome moms.

Marmee and Jo March
Little Women, Little Men & Jo’s Boys by Louisa May Alcott
March by Geraldine Brooks
Marmee is the rock of Alcott’s Little Women, and her influence on her daughter Jo shines through when Jo herself becomes a mother. Jo remains delightfully Jo-like despite her new responsibilities, and is as rambunctious a mother as she was a daughter. Brooks’ Pulitzer Prize-winning March, which focuses on the absent Mr. March’s experiences in the Civil War, presents a different, but no less admirable view of Marmee in its chapters from her point of view: she rails on the idea that she is Mr. March’s possession, on the laws that make it so, on the stupidity of war, and on the pressures of being left to raise four girls.

Marilla Cuthbert and Anne
The Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery
These books feature another wonderful multi-generational pair of mothers. Marilla Cuthbert is the most unlikely mother ever, but despite her initial reluctance to adopt Anne, she learns how to love her surrogate daughter so fiercely, to give her good counsel, and to make a whole new life she never imagined. Like Marmee and Jo, Marilla’s influence becomes a great boon for Anne, who loses her own first baby just hours after its birth, in a storyline that’s one of the most moving treatments of motherhood and loss we’ve ever read. We likewise share Anne’s joy when she goes on to have six more children.

Lily Evans and Molly Weasley
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Lily Evans provides the great sacrifice that enables this series to exist: she gives her life so that her son, Harry Potter, may live (and become The Boy Who Lived). As Harry’s surrogate mother—and of course the mother to the seven Weasley children—it is however Mrs. Weasley who bears the brunt of getting her family, and the entire Order of the Phoenix, through the war. We cheered when she got her great, Ripley-like moment in The Deathly Hallows, blasting the evil Bellatrix Lestrange with a curse and a “NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!”

Cordelia Naismith
The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold
Most of Bujold’s fantastic space opera saga follows Miles Vorkosigan through a series of interstellar intrigues and epic battles. But the first two books focus on Miles’ mother, Cordelia, who kicks up controversy everywhere she goes—such as when she marries into the highly-militaristic, archaic Barrayaran society. While pregnant with Miles, Cordelia barely survives an assassination attempt that leaves her unborn son’s life in jeopardy. Cordelia not only saves him but enacts revenge in a truly spectacular way. Let’s just say it involves a severed head.

Hester Prynne
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Marked as an adulteress, Hester Prynne is left to raise her young daughter under truly trying circumstances. But she doesn’t let either herself or her child get beaten down by the judgmental townspeople. She names her daughter Pearl, marking her as precious instead of sinful, and thanks to Hester’s care, Pearl finally gets to achieve the happiness and freedom that her mother and babydaddy Dimmesdale were denied.

We must also give nods of maternal respect to the resourceful Caroline Ingalls from the Little House books, the noble Bessie Glass from J.D. Salinger‘s short stories, the eponymous mater from John Van Druten‘s I Remember Mama, and the mama duck from Make Way For Ducklings. Please feel free to add to the list: who are your favorite awesome literary moms?

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Look! Up in the Sky!

In honor of Free Comic Book Day—it’s tomorrow! You go into any comic book store and they give you free comics—here are some of our favorite books about comics (and a few bonus treats).

Tom De Haven‘s thrilling and evocative novel, It’s Superman!, returns Clark Kent to his Depression-era roots for an adventure that sheds comic excess and focuses on what makes the Man of Steel human.

De Haven’s got a great nonfiction look at Supes, too: the new Our Hero, a fantastic look at the character’s real-life origin story, his ups and downs, and his lasting cultural impact.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning fictional take on the comic industry’s birth and golden age has achieved modern-classic status for a reason. The thrill of creativity taking flight has never seemed more visceral.

Of course, with the rise of comics came the rise of comic book-detractors. David Hajdu explores all sides of this epic censorship controversy—including the publication of the famous anti-comics screed, Seduction of the Innocent—in The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America.

POW! Fun bonuses:

*An excellent interview with award-winning graphic novelist and Bay Area local Gene Luen Yang, author of the new (and likewise excellent) Prime Baby.

*A hilarious analysis of gender-swapped superheroes (um…possibly NSFW).

*This speaks for itself: videos of Tim Gunn critiquing superhero costume choices.

Keep feeling super with Margaret in Oakland’s reading Antonio Machado‘s “Last Night While I Was Sleeping”:

That’s it for the month, guys! Check out all 30 videos for the 30 days of April here. And then vote for your favorite! The winner—along with the winning voter, who gets a mysterious(ly awesome) prize—will be announced in May!

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A Dunnett and a Whodunit

Anna in Brentwood would like to invite you to become friendly with two of her favorite Dorothys:

Check out A Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett and Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers. We promise both are 100% flying monkey-free.

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