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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Pre-Pub Alert: Becky’s BEA Galley Favs Part 2 of 2

Let’s get right back into the discussion of the books I am excited out. Six more today in part 2.

From one of America’s most important writers, Perfume River is an exquisite novel that examines family ties and the legacy of the Vietnam War through the portrait of a single North Florida family. 
Robert Quinlan is a seventy-year-old historian, teaching at Florida State University, where his wife Darla is also tenured. Their marriage, forged in the fervor of anti-Vietnam-war protests, now bears the fractures of time, both personal and historical, with the couple trapped in an existence of morning coffee and solitary jogging and separate offices. For Robert and Darla, the cracks remain under the surface, whereas the divisions in Robert’s own family are more apparent: he has almost no relationship with his brother Jimmy, who became estranged from the family as the Vietnam War intensified. Robert and Jimmy’s father, a veteran of WWII, is coming to the end of his life, and aftershocks of war ripple across their lives once again, when Jimmy refuses to appear at his father’s bedside. And an unstable homeless man whom Robert at first takes to be a fellow Vietnam veteran turns out to have a deep impact not just on Robert, but on his entire family.
So before BEA I knew who Robert Olen Butler was because he had won the Pulitzer, that meant I knew I had to buy his books for my library. But I didn’t know anything else.  After listening to him talk about his life, his work, and this upcoming book, I am sad I didn’t pay more attention to him previously.

He spoke at length about the Vietnam War and how it effected him personally but also many others. He also talked about how literature is “the art form of human longing,” with brilliance and elegance. Finally, he said in this new novel one of the big questions he is trying to answer is “who is our own and who is the other.” This alone is the reason many patrons would and should read this book.

Everyone sitting around me was blown away by him. One of my friends even tweeted at the event:

I second that. Don't just order the book, read it.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead [September 2016]:
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all slaves, but Cora is an outcast even among her fellow Africans, and she is coming into womanhood; even greater pain awaits. Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her of the Underground Railroad and they plot their escape.
Like Gulliver, Cora encounters different worlds on each leg of her journey...Whitehead brilliantly recreates the unique terrors of black life in pre-Civil War America. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman's ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage, and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.
Look, I know you know Colson Whitehead is great. Personally, I am a huge fan of Zone One. This new title is getting great buzz.  Whitehead was on a panel and here are a few things he shared with the group:
  • With regards to the violence in his book, Colson Whitehead took inspiration for the tone (matter of fact) from slave narratives.
  • "It's very disappointing when you discover as a kid that [the Underground Railroad] not a subway.
I am excited to read this book because Whitehead is one of the few writers who is able to write wonderful stories without ever allowing himself to be pigeon-holed. He is a rare treat for library workers, a literary fiction writer who is accessible to all. I also think he is a good example of what I wrote about at length in this post-- just because an author is of a different race than the patron in front of you, doesn't mean you should be hesitant to suggest that author.

From 2 known quantities to a new voice that I am excited about....

The Mortifications by Derek Palacio [October 2016]:
Derek Palacio’s stunning, mythic novel marks the arrival of a fresh voice and a new chapter in the history of 21st century Cuban-American literature. 
In 1980, a rural Cuban family is torn apart during the Mariel Boatlift. Uxbal Encarnación—father, husband, political insurgent—refuses to leave behind the revolutionary ideals and lush tomato farms of his sun-soaked homeland. His wife Soledad takes young Isabel and Ulises hostage and flees with them to America, leaving behind Uxbal for the promise of a better life. But instead of settling with fellow Cuban immigrants in Miami’s familiar heat, Soledad pushes further north into the stark, wintry landscape of Hartford, Connecticut. There, in the long shadow of their estranged patriarch, now just a distant memory, the exiled mother and her children begin a process of growth and transformation. 
Each struggles and flourishes in their own way: Isabel, spiritually hungry and desperate for higher purpose, finds herself tethered to death and the dying in uncanny ways. Ulises is bookish and awkwardly tall, like his father, whose memory haunts and shapes the boy's thoughts and desires. Presiding over them both is Soledad. Once consumed by her love for her husband, she begins a tempestuous new relationship with a Dutch tobacco farmer. But just as the Encarnacións begin to cultivate their strange new way of life, Cuba calls them back. Uxbal is alive, and waiting. 
Breathtaking, soulful, and profound, The Mortifications is an intoxicating family saga and a timely, urgent expression of longing for one's true homeland. 
I knew nothing about this author or this title before I went to Library Journal Day of Dialog.  This is why you go people. To find out about titles that you might have missed.

Here are some of my notes as to why I was excited about this book:

  • For fans of Zadie Smith, Rachel Kushner, Marlon James and Junot Diaz. These are very popular authors for lit fiction readers.
  • Sweeping family saga-- also VERY POPULAR
  • Portrait of what it is like to be an immigrant in America! and a refugee-- current events!
I put this title after Whitehead to reiterate the point I made above about suggesting good "diverse" books to people not of the same heritage of the diverse author. Again, I have many, many examples and thoughts in this post, but the point is, this is a good book for the public library, general audience, no matter who they are or where they live. Order it.

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple [October 2016]:
Eleanor knows she's a mess. But today, she will tackle the little things. She will shower and get dressed. She will have her poetry and yoga lessons after dropping off her son, Timby. She won't swear. She will initiate sex with her husband, Joe. But before she can put her modest plan into action-life happens. Today, it turns out, is the day Timby has decided to fake sick to weasel his way into his mother's company. It's also the day Joe has chosen to tell his office-but not Eleanor-that he's on vacation. Just when it seems like things can't go more awry, an encounter with a former colleague produces a graphic memoir whose dramatic tale threatens to reveal a buried family secret.  
TODAY WILL BE DIFFERENT is a hilarious, heart-filled story about reinvention, sisterhood, and how sometimes it takes facing up to our former selves to truly begin living.
Not much more to say here than....heads up, Semple will have a new book. I included this more as a reminder as to what a great backlist option Where's You Go Bernadette? is, especially for people looking for a beach read that is funny, quirky, and compelling.

Now for the biggest surprise for me personally-- a nonfiction book about math!

How to Bake Pi: An Edible Explanation of the Mathematics of Mathematics by Dr. Eugenia Cheng [Out Now]:
What is math? How exactly does it work? And what do three siblings trying to share a cake have to do with it? In How to Bake Pi, math professor Eugenia Cheng provides an accessible introduction to the logic and beauty of mathematics, powered, unexpectedly, by insights from the kitchen: we learn, for example, how the béchamel in a lasagna can be a lot like the number 5, and why making a good custard proves that math is easy but life is hard. Of course, it’s not all cooking; we’ll also run the New York and Chicago marathons, pay visits to Cinderella and Lewis Carroll, and even get to the bottom of a tomato’s identity as a vegetable. This is not the math of our high school classes: mathematics, Cheng shows us, is less about numbers and formulas and more about how we know, believe, and understand anything, including whether our brother took too much cake. 
At the heart of How to Bake Pi is Cheng’s work on category theory—a cutting-edge “mathematics of mathematics.” Cheng combines her theory work with her enthusiasm for cooking both to shed new light on the fundamentals of mathematics and to give readers a tour of a vast territory no popular book on math has explored before. Lively, funny, and clear, How to Bake Pi will dazzle the initiated while amusing and enlightening even the most hardened math-phobe.
Talk about diverse reads.  Look, I have always appreciated reading books by people with a different world view, but I have not been so great about reading books about topics that do not interest me. I took so many notes when she was talking.  Not only did she make math seem approachable, but she also was hilarious. Here is just a small sampling of the things she said:

  • Eugenia Cheng talking about her book How to Bake Pi. Telling us we can do math. I am starting to believe her.
  • People will not realize they are learning math while they read-- Cheng
  • "Math is not just about numbers, it's about thinking logically about things."
  • Most people like food more than math, so she combined them to make math seem more approachable.
  • We all want to take a math class with Dr. Cheng now.
  • My kids love math. I need to read this book to understand why.
  • She poked fun at the "grumpy old" mathematicians who will complain that her book has no theorems. So what?- Cheng
  • She's even drafted theorems about hard hard it is to lose weight. Math can be used for everything.
  • Listening to Dr. Cheng talk about math makes it seem like I am missing a big party by not being engaged by math.
That's just a sampling of the notes I took. This book and its author made me realize that a book I might have dismissed for myself is actually a perfect read for me. Sure, this is a great general nonfiction purchase for all libraries, but I learned something about myself as a reader through her talk; I learned that making sure I read "diverse" books goes beyond the identity of the author. I need to consider more topics too. Something I think might not be "for me." might be just perfect if I only drop my preconceived notions.

Last but definitely not least-- Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders [February 2017]:
The captivating first novel by the best-selling, National Book Award nominee George Saunders, about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven year old son, Willie, at the dawn of the Civil War 
On February 22, 1862, two days after his death, Willie Lincoln was laid to rest in a marble crypt in a Georgetown cemetery. That very night, shattered by grief, Abraham Lincoln arrives at the cemetery under cover of darkness and visits the crypt, alone, to spend time with his son’s body. Set over the course of that one night and populated by ghosts of the recently passed and the long dead, Lincoln in the Bardo is a thrilling exploration of death, grief, the powers of good and evil, a novel - in its form and voice - completely unlike anything you have read before. It is also, in the end, an exploration of the deeper meaning and possibilities of life, written as only George Saunders can: with humor, pathos, and grace.
Yes, the short story master, Saunders has written a novel.  I saw him speak about it at a dinner during BEA.  I was touched by how honest he was about how difficult writing this novel was for him.  He worked on it for years and despite his enormous success with stories, he still struggled. He had to tell this story in novel form though. He out it aside many times before completing it.

That's my very abbreviated look at only 11 of the general interest galleys I was most excited about after BEA. There will be a genre related post of upcoming titles coming tomorrow.

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