Saturday, December 22, 2012

Day 22: Superb Stories from Women

Welcome to Day 22 in our 24 Days of Books. While there are lots of great new books out from well-respected male novelists this year (Tom Wolfe, Ian McEwan, Michael Connelly, Junot Diaz, Martin Amis, John Banville, to name just a few), it's a rocking fall for great novels from female writers. Here are a few that particularly stood out to us:
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? (Little Brown,  $25.99) Maria Semple. This is our new go-to book for anyone who needs to get out of the doldrums, who needs a good belly laugh. A funny funny new novel by the author of This One is Mine, this rockin' story takes on the PC world of Seattle  (Microsoft, rampant blackberry vines,  over-polite drivers, coffee shops on every corner) and ends up in Antarctica, while exploring the lighter side of family dysfunction along the way. Roberta likes to say that this book does for Seattle what "Portlandia" has done for Portland. Jonathan Franzen says, “Hilarious … I tore through this book with heedless pleasure.” Or this, one of my favorite reviews: "If you read only one book this summer about an agoraphobic mother and her broken promise to take her daughter Bee on a trip to Antarctica, make it this one.... " Semple is a former writer for Arrested Development, Ellen, and Mad About You; her ability to write snappy, witty dialogue is apparent in this book. And did we mention funny? Did we specifically mention laugh-out-loud, wet-your-pants funny? 'Cause it is. 
The Round House  (Harper,  27.99), by Louise Erdrich, recently won the National Book Award for Fiction. The novel is a compelling, comic, and tragic tale of injustice,  a coming-of-age story with a lonely thirteen-year-old Ojibwe boy at its heart. Set in the late '80s,  told in her typically poetic voice, and reaching out wide in all directions -- including the spirit world -- this is pure Erdrich story-telling;  heartbreaking and  multi-layered. The National Book Award judges called it "the story of a family and community nearly undone by violence.... an intricately layered novel that not only untangles our nation’s history of moral and judicial failure, but also offers a portrait of a community sustained by its traditions, values, faith, and stories.

Zadie Smith's latest novel, NW, has been named one of the top five novels of 2012 by The New York Times. Four Londoners - Leah, Natalie, Felix, and Nathan - try to make adult lives outside of Caldwell, the council estate of their childhood. From private houses to public parks, at work and at play, their London is a complicated place, as beautiful as it is brutal, where the thoroughfares hide the back alleys and taking the high road can sometimes lead you to a dead end. Reviewers have called it "remarkable," "absolutely brilliant," "endlessly fascinating," "innovative and moving," and "radical and passionate and real."

In her new novel, Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver calls on both her Appalachian roots and her studies in biology to explore the scientific, financial, and psychological intricacies of climate change. While her passion for the issues at stake ring through, Kingsolver is a storyteller first. In Flight Behavior she tells the story of Dellarobia Turnbow, a restless farm wife who gave up her own plans when she accidentally became pregnant at seventeen. As we heard on NPR, Kingsolver is "as sensitive to human interactions and family dynamics as she is to ecological ones."
Oprah revived her book club so she could share with the world her love of the memoir Wild, by Portland's own Cheryl Strayed, and so she could have people she could discuss the book with. For her second book for the new club she has chosen The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (Knopf,  $24.95), by Ayana Mathis. Hattie Shepherd  flees Georgia at age 15 to create a new life in Philadelphia. Spanning the decades from 1923 to 1980,  Mathis weaves together the individual stories of Hattie's children. In some ways, I think of this book as the fictional off-shoot of the wonderful narrative nonfiction book from last year, The Warmth of Other Suns, which tells the story of the Great Migration of blacks from the south to the north and west. Kirkus Review has compared Mathis to Toni Morrison and Marilynne Robinson, calling the novel vibrant, compassionate, and elegant. This is a stunning new voice of African-American historical fiction.

I'll conclude this discussion with novels from three local authors: two debut novelists and a welcome return.

Set in the lawless frontier town of Century, Oregon, Anna Keesey's debut novel Little Century tells the story of eighteen-year-old Esther Chambers who, when orphaned after the death of her mother, heads west in search of her only living relative. Paula McLain, author of the The Paris Wife, called the book an incredible debut -- "I found myself dog-earing nearly every page." Keesey's novel, says author Joshua Ferris, "reminds us that character matters, and that justice is pursuant to conscience," describing the novel as "a frontier saga, a love story, and an epic of many small pleasures."

Another debut novel receiving high praise is The Orchardist, by Amanda Coplin, a story set in the untamed American West about a makeshift family whose dramatic lives are shaped by violence, love, and an indelible connection to the land. Reclusive orchardist William Talmadge tends to his apples and apricots as if they were loved ones. A gentle man, he's found solace in the sweetness of the fruit he grows and the quiet, beating heart of the land he cultivates. His calm life is forever altered by the arrival of two feral, scared, and very pregnant teenage girls. Kirkus Reviews describes that book as "Beautifully written, so alive to the magnificence of the land and the intricate mysteries of human nature, that it inspires awe rather than depression."
 And, best of all, a new novel from a favorite Portland author: Eight Girls Taking Pictures (Scribner,  $25), by Whitney Otto. The New York Times describes Otto’s beautiful new work of fiction as “…a narrative collage.” In the book, eight women  photographers through the years -- starting in 1917 and moving forward to the twentieth century -- struggle with the realities of being women and artists, in individual narratives that connect and  inform each other. This delicious, smart  novel is set in Europe,  New York,  California, and Mexico, as well as in the psychological landscapes that make up the lives of women in the balancing of art and life. As she did in her bestselling novel How to Make an American Quilt, Whitney Otto offers a finely woven, textured inquiry into the intersecting lives of women, giving us thoughtful, nuanced depictions of the complexity of women's lives.
As always you'll find many more great gift ideas in our Holiday Books guide, available at our store. We love more than anything helping you to find just the right gifts for the people on your list -- especially the hard-to-shop-for ones. We'll be open til 9 pm tonight, from 10am to 7 pm on Sunday, and from 10 am to 5pm on Christmas Eve for your convenience. Publishers are already starting to run out of some of the most popular books, so don't wait much longer. If the book you come in for is no longer available by Christmas, fear not! We're happy to help you find just the right substitute. Hope to see you soon!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.