Book of the Month
Atlas of 21st Century World Architecture
published by Phaidon
For those of you who remember the monstrous Atlas of Contemporary Architecture which came out a while back, Phaidon are back with a further treat. Similar to the previous title, this is a massive book, again coming packaged in a hard plastic carrypack. It covers more than 1000 buildings in six regions worldwide, all completed in this century. Phaidon is well ahead of the pack, and this is the type of publication that keeps them there.
Book of the Month Part II
Distinctive Vintages: Fine French Wines & Vintages
by Alain Stella & Leif Carlsson
This large volume, enclosed in a slipcase, is a lavish tribute to the ultimate luxury goods: the estate wines of France. From the Hennessy estate in Cognac, through houses such as Dom Perignon, Veuve Clicquot, MoÃ«t et Chandon in Champagne, and Yquem in Bordeaux – the best and the finest are represented here, and the style of the book more than matches their class: here are intricate cutouts, innovative graphic features, large gatefolds, replica wine-labels and much, much more. Like a true champagne, this volume does not come cheaply…but then, also like a true champagne, there is no real substitute.
by Peter Ferry
This debut novel is that rarest of things: a genuinely clever and inventive novel, which is not overly ostentatious about it. It is at once gentle and vicious; a piece of reportage (and yes, some travel writing) and a finely-plotted novel; a memoir and a murder mystery; fact and fiction – and a fascinating play on the line between the two. Peter Ferry is both the (very promising) debut novelist and the protagonist of this fine piece of writing, and certainly a name to watch.
The Secret Scripture
by Sebastian Barry
The Secret Scripture is on the shortlist for this year’s MAN Booker Prize, and the quality of the writing immediately gives a hint as to why. And when one gets into the story, the impression is only heightened. Barry is a superb stylist, and in this story of Ireland he has found the perfect match for his talents. Roseanne McNulty is confined to an insane asylum and at the end of her life: in the account of her life which she writes and conceals there, she recounts her happy childhood in the early 20th century in Sligo with her father, a grave-digger and Protestant. However, as both he and she become embroiled in the turbulent Irish politics of the time, things take a darker turn, culminating in her incarceration. In counterpoint to her account is that of the psychiatrist at the institution, and it is he who slowly uncovers the desperate secret Roseanne has concealed all her life.
Man in the Dark
by Paul Auster
The new novel from Brooklyn’s finest is as dark as the title suggests, but up there with some of his best work to date. 72 year old August Bell is confined to a wheelchair and struggling to sleep as he convalesces in his damaged daughter’s house. In the dark of night, August imagines a parallel America in which she is at war with herself rather than Iraq. Bell’s story becomes increasingly intense as the novel develops. Possibly one of Auster’s most disturbing novels to date, but it is an extremely rewarding read.
A Fraction of the Whole
by Steve Toltz
Shortlisted for the MAN Booker Prize, this debut novel is a sprawling account of the lives of the Dean family. Jasper and his father Martin have something of a hate-hate relationship and as the story of the Dean clan unfolds, it is easy to see why. Both father and son are living in the shadow of uncle Terry, an Ã¼bercriminal whose life of crime has made him a national hero. Only in Australia. The quality of the writing is outstanding and it’s well worth a read.
by Sindiwe Magona
Set in Cape Town, this outstanding new novel tells the story of five close friends, one of whom dies of AIDS. Her friends make a pact with each other that they will make sure that their partners get tested for HIV and that they will commit to a monogamous lifestyle. Simple yes? Anything but. This is a brilliant and important novel which we’re thrilled to be launching on October 23.
by Sam Savage
Firmin is a literary-minded rat, the runt of a litter growing up in a bookshop in a rundown part of Boston. Through his diet of books, he attains a taste for literature when he starts to find he can read them. So begins his fraught and ultimately doomed fascination with all things human…even as the neighbourhood is destroyed around him by overzealous and soulless developments. It is a deeply sad book, and one that examines the human condition with knowing eyes that become all too human themselves. A love story to life, humanity, books, tradition and all things passing.
Tree of Smoke
by Denis Johnson
Denis Johnson’s latest is, for lack of a better word, a war novel, but skop-skiet-and-donder this is not – instead, it is the type of meditative, subtle examination of what a war (in this case, it is the war in Vietnam, and other South East Asia proxies in the Cold War) does to the people who take part in it. This is a major novel, and though the blurb describes it as a “Catch-22 for our time“, I should rather say this is something like The Quiet American as written by James Jones. It is an epic novel spanning twenty years, and with many narrative strands, though it is based around the activities of Skip Sands, a CIA operative in the Philippines and Vietnam. Johnson beautifully evokes his locales and situations, and creates powerful psychological studies of character. He also writes sentences and entire paragraphs that make you want to frame them. This is also very much a novel about intelligence-gathering and the type of conflicts and mistakes that enabled 9/11 and the Iraq invasion.
The Luminous Life of Lily Aphrodite
by Beatrice Colin
This beautiful novel follows the life of Lilly Aphrodite – star of the silent screen, in Berlin at the beginning of the twentieth century. Born at the chimes of the new year, her life follows and reflects the extraordinary changes in Berlin at the time. From end-of-Empire chaos and war, through sexual decadence and depression, and finally to the dawn of a new period – the darkest in German history. Sensuous, breathless, dark and frightening, in turns bright and haunting, this wonderful book gives a very real sense of Berlin during the most dramatic period of its history. Highly recommended.
When I Was
NataniÃ«l is one of the most-beloved and iconic (or is that iconoclastic?) Afrikaans performers and personalities. But his shows have always been built around not just his music, but his remarkable story-telling ability. He has been much published in Afrikaans, but now English readers get their chance to indulge in his whimsical, funny, sad, strange tales. He is a master at showing the weirdness of everyday life in a very gentle way, and at doing so at an ironic distance. His is a unique voice, and not be missed.
The ‘Best American’ Series 2008
The Best American writing series has finally come round to this year, and they are streaming into the shop. I wish I could write out entire tables of contents here, because there is such a wealth of writing talent and insight into various facets of life represented here that it makes the eyes goggle and the mind boggle. However, for a taster, just look at the following titles which have already arrived…and the constellation of editors!
Short Stories – ed. Salman Rushdie
Poetry – Charles Wright
Travel Writing – ed. Anthony Bourdain
Non-Required Reading – ed. Dave Eggers
Science Writing – ed. Sylvia Nasar
Crime Reporting – ed. Jonathan Kellerman
Political Writing – ed. Royce Flippin
Spiritual Writing – ed. Philip Zaleski
Science & Nature Writing – ed. Jerome Groopman, MD
Essays – ed. Adam Gopnik
Sports Writing – ed. William Nack
Music At The Limits: Three Decades of Essays and Articles on Music
by Edward A. Said
Edward Said was not just one of the foremost critics of his generation, but also a classically-trained classical pianist, and this exquisite hardcover edition brings together 30 years of his reflections on music, taking in such performers as Luciano Pavarotti (whom he excoriates) to Glenn Gould, his great musical hero who became something of an obsession with him, and whose early death indirectly inspired his sojourn as music critic for The Nation. Of course, in On Late Style, Said has already written masterfully about music, but this collection is much broader in scope – there are 44 pieces here, and each showcases Said’s immense depth of knowledge about music, alongside his celebrated ability to draw wide-ranging inferences between all spheres of culture and society. A feast of a journey through an incredible mind writing about an incredible phenomenon.
Stage Directions: Writing on Theatre 1970-2008
by Michael Frayn
Michael Frayn has written some absolute stage classics in his time. Noises Off is one of the most-performed and best-loved farces in the world; his dramas like Copenhagen are complex and intellectually stimulating; he has done numerous acclaimed translations, especially of Chekhov. But of course, he is also a consummate prose-writer, and in this collection of essays, journal entries and self-assessments, these interests blend beautifully. Here are the stories behind the plays (once again, Frayn takes us “backstage”: this time behind the plays, rather than the productions!) and a great account of a career in the theatre. A feast.
Desert Islands & Other Texts 1953-1974/Two Regimes of Madness: Texts & Interviews 1975-1995
by Gilles Deleuze
With his tongue firmly in his cheek (or so some claim) Michel Foucault once said that the 20th Century would perhaps “one day be known as Deleuzian“. He well knew that his friend Deleuze was, if anything, the model of an “untimely philosopher“, and these two seminal collections show clearly the enduring influence his fascinating, wide-ranging and wildly original thought will continue to have. The essays, interviews and other short pieces collected here trace Deleuze’s intellectual career, and are often wonderful concise introductions to the same themes and topics that informed the books he was working on at the time. At other times, they provide glimpses of positions and preoccupations (such as Deleuze’s strong advocacy of the Palestinian cause) that never made it to full-length works. Furthermore, these texts are often written much more limpidly and straightforwardly than the books, and shows off the wonderful lecturer Deleuze was reputed to have been. Two essential and seminal collections by one of the last century’s most incisive minds.
Till the Cows Come Home
by Dan Nelken
We pride ourselves on keeping a somewhat eclectic range of books at the Book Lounge,which is why we’re proud to have this brilliant collection of county fair portraits from rural USA in stock. As Roy Flukinger commented “This series is one of those rare bodies of work that combines a surface ease of viewing with a passionate depth of character.” This has to be seen to be believed.
by Ben Goldacre
It seems that every week a new health fad – or, even more often, a health scare – is brought to the public attention by some expert, sometimes on a talkshow, sometimes in a book. But what do we really know about these “experts”, and the bases of the theories they punt? Ben Goldacre seeks to find out in this highly-readable book. Here is a litany of quackery, blatant and unprincipled exploitation of health-fears for profit, and – far too often – well-meaning but completely misguided, ignorant attempts to make scientific claims without a modicum of scientific knowledge or even aptitude. For all its defence of proper science, this is an easy – if infuriating – read, and Goldacre does a sterling job of keeping his tone clear from an extreme of sarcasm and derision which must have been very tempting at times!
The Barefoot Emperor – An Ethiopian Tragedy
by Philip Marsden
Ethiopia and its imperial dynasty have a fascinating history: it is one of the oldest states in the world, the only African country never to be fully colonised; it’s emperors claimed descent from the Queen of Sheba and Solomon; it could trace a Christian heritage back to the earliest traditions of that religion. It was also – like Japan – completely closed to the West until the mid-1800’s, when this story unfolds. Emperor Tewodros II was, by Western accounts, a bloodthirsty tyrant who brought his people to ruin through an ill-conceived confrontation with Britain; but in Ethiopia itself he is universally revered as a national hero. Marsden sets out to trace the story of this remarkable man who he sees as playing a similar modernising role in Ethiopia akin to that played by Peter the Great in Russia, though at immense cost. This is a fascinating portrait of a complex man, an ambiguous legacy and a wonderful bit of almost-lost history.
Short Stories of the Month
Dinaane: Short Stories by South African Women
edited by Maggie Davey
London-based Telegram Press is publishing a series of short story collections by women around the world – with Dinaane it is South Africa’s turn. The collection was put together and edited by Maggie Davey, publishing director of Jacana Media – who have become well-known for their innovative list. Here she has done another sterling job – the authors collected here all well-established (Willemien de Villiers, Henrietta Rose-Innes, Colleen Higgs and more) and represent a wide range of styles, interests and subject areas – from the exiled ANC women preparing to come home in the early 1990’s of Makhosana Xaba’s story, to the fertile land and bridge-playing pensioners in the land of the ˜Ordinary Rain Queen’ of Muthal Naidoo’s story, to the life in the suburbs portrayed by Joanne Fedler. A great primer for interesting women writing in South Africa at the moment, and a great collection tout court.
If You Like That You’ll Love This…
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz…
Drown by Junot Diaz
For all of you who were awed by Junot Diaz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, now is the time to get your teeth into his first book, the equally wondrous short story collection, Drown. Diaz was included in the New Granta Book of the American Short Story by Richard Ford on the basis of this volume, and he’s also published short fiction in the New Yorker and the Paris Review. This is a format which allows his inventiveness to shine – you won’t be disappointed.
Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert…
Stern Men/Pilgrims/The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert
Eat Pray Love has been causing a sensation and warming hearts all around the world for a few years now – but who knew that Elizabeth Gilbert had written so much else? Stern Men was her first novel – a gentle comedy about a feisty woman trying to make her way in a man’s world: in this case, the lobster boats off the coast of Maine in the USA. Pilgrims, her very first book, was a short story collection and already showcases her strong sense of humour as well as her rare sense of compassion. The Last American Man is another non-fiction book, but in a very different setting to Eat Pray Love; Eustace Conway is one of the last great outdoorsman of America: for more than 30 years he has lived a forgotten existence in the Appalachian Mountains, wearing skins and making fire with sticks – but even he has to come to terms with modern life. In all these diverse genres and stories, Gilbert’s talent shines through. Give them a try!
Jellyfish (the movie)…
The Girl on the Fridge by Etgar Keret
Currently showing at the Labia cinema is the Camera D’Or winner Jellyfish, co-directed by Israeli writer Etgar Keret and his wife Shira Geffen. However, Keret’s true mÃ©tier is as short story writer, and Salman Rushdie has described him as “completely unlike any writer I know. The voice of the next generation“. In his collection The Girl on the Fridge Door, it’s not hard to see why. These stories are short and punchy, dark and often funny. Keret is a talent to watch and this beautifully-packaged collection is a great place to start.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak…
I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
The Book Thief caused the sort of children’s book/adult market crossover sensation that booksellers have come to love – though, of course, that only happened because millions of people worldwide fell in love with it. However, before The Book Thief there was I am the Messenger, a compulsively readable novel about Ed Kennedy, an underage cab driver who gets picked by a mysterious entity to spread care and help around his town after he inadvertently stops a bank robbery. But who has chosen him, and what does it take to care?
Author of the month (R.I.P.)
David Foster Wallace
David Foster Wallace, the maverick genius and polymath author of Infinite Jest and too few others, committed suicide on 12 September this year, at the age of 46. He was many things: a child tennis prodigy, a professor of philosophy (with an interest in mathematical logic), an editor, an essayist, a political commentator – an inspiration. However, it is for his fiction that he will be chiefly remembered.
His oeuvre is as diverse as it is breathtaking: there is the popular science title Everything And More: A Compact History of Infinity and the two mindboggling essay collections A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again and Consider The Lobster. The high regard in which these two collections – dealing, as they do, with everything from tornado’s to tennis; David Lynch to Dostoyevsky; the ethics of boiling lobsters to that of a presidential campaign – are held, is attested to by the fact that he was asked to edit the 2007 edition of The Best American Essays.
(In the light of this, it is probably right that his last published work – McCain’s Promise: All Aboard the Straight Talk Express with John McCain and a Whole Bunch of Actual Reporters, thinking about Hope – is an account of a week spent with John McCain’s campaign, trying to pierce the fogs of spin and manipulation that surrounds any presidential candidate. It will hit these shores soon.)
He will perhaps be chiefly remembered for the influence he exercised over a younger generation of writers, and in many ways the current bloom in American short fiction spearheaded by the likes of Dave Eggers’ McSweeney’s (to which Wallace contributed 3 times) owes him much. McSweeney’s have, this week, dedicated their website – for the foreseeable future – to Wallace. And yet, he was at the same time a traditionalist – though that tradition was the distinctly different one of Pynchon and Barthelme, Cheever and Barthes.
His stories could be very short and deceptively simple (the lovely and achingly sad Everything is Green is barely a page and a half) or long and complex; they could be traditional or experimental. They don’t always work, but when they hit home, they do so with a visceral punch that belies their cerebral appearance. His first collection Girl With Curious Hair was already a masterpiece; the follow-up, Brief Interviews With Hideous Men is a masterclass in character creation through the eponymous interviews, interspersed with more conventional stories – it was filmed earlier this year. Oblivion, the most recent collection, was at the same time more straightforward and more ambitious.
Wallace wrote only 2 novels, of which the second – Infinite Jest – is a magnum opus in every sense of the word. At more than 1100 pages, it is an epic comedy about obsession – and probably only the obsessed have finished it, which is a real pity. It stands toe-to-toe with anything in Pynchon’s oeuvre and above most; it is a comedy, a tragedy; a farce and a great novel. It is maddening and fascinating and you wish it would end and then you wish that it hadn’t.
It is a novel like none other, and David Foster Wallace was a writer like none other. Zadie Smith
Aural Poetry, or CD of the month
Australian Bart Cummings is a bit of a restless genius – in the last 10 or 12 years, he’s been churning out phenomenal pop music with a baffling array of different groups, as well as running the delightful label Library Records. His talent as a writer of pithy, heart-on-sleeve and dead pretty pop ditties – often extremely short – has been well-matched by an assortment of incredible female vocalists: Pam Berry (yes, you might recognize the name from The Shins song named after her) lends her voice to the flawless album by the short-lived The Shapiro’s, but the jewel in the Cummings crown is undoubtedly The Cat’s Miaow, with the angelic Kerrie Bolton singing most songs, also sometimes in French. These songs know exactly what they want to say, how best and beautifully to say it – and when to stop. Definitely music to fall in love with…and to.
For Lovers of Children’s Books
An author whose work I truly adore is the great Jerry Spinelli. He has created such tremendously amazing characters in his books, that they stay with you and you miss them like a good friend. My favourite book remains, Stargirl. A novel told through the eyes of a boy, Leo, about a new girl in school who does everything differently. The book is a love song to the individual spirit and having the guts to swim against the stream of peer pressure. Spinelli made my year by writing the sequel, Love, Stargirl. It continues where the first book ended, with Stargirl’s family moving away from Arizona. Stargirl misses Leo, but finds new interesting people to remind her that love and tenderness amongst human beings is a precious thing. Will Stargirl find new love, or does true love last a life time? Sigh… I have not stopped smiling since I read the book. It’s truly just so lovely. Spinelli remains my hero. Also look out for other books by him – Eggs, Loser and the very sad Milkweed. Please read at least one before you become too old to remember first love. – Verushka