Monday, January 19, 2009

The top of the "To Read" pile

Kasey Cox

Some people laugh when we say that you can never have too many books, just not enough shelves. The real bibliophiles laugh ruefully and uproariously, because they recognize how this is not really a joke. These bibliophiles have an entire shelf dedicated just to the books they’ve purchased, or borrowed, or been given, that they haven’t even had a chance to read yet. I, too, have such a shelf – more often than not, these yet-to-be-read treasures aren’t even on a shelf, but on my nightstand, the dresser, and the floor next to my bed. As we forge into 2009, here are some of the books I hope to be reading soon!

Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell: Why I want to read it (hereafter abbreviated, in keeping with our texting, acronym-loving generation, as “WIW2R”): A local book club chose this about a year ago. Over the next few months, several members insisted I had to read it, but that they couldn’t tell me much about it, because they didn’t want to ruin it for me. Next, a friend of one of the members asked me if I could get her a used copy. I tried calling and emailing people from the book club, to ask members to trade in, but no one would give up her copy!! Now, that’s a heck of a recommendation.

What I Saw and How I Lied, by Judy Blundell: WIW2R -- Winner of this year’s National Book Award for Young Adult Lit. Reviewers said the front cover reflects the storyline well: very film noir, 1940’s-looking young woman, red lipstick, think young Audrey Hepburn. Romance, suspense, family drama, set in America during and after WWII. This has everything I love in a book!

The Tenderness of Wolves, by Stef Penney : WIW2R – This was recommended in the “BookSense/IndieBound” newsletter, a monthly publication of the American Booksellers Association, which unites independent booksellers across the U.S., allowing them to share with the public the books that are currently knocking their socks off. Recently, a well-read friend told me how much she loved it, while she was ordering two more copies as gifts. I have no idea what it’s about, but the thumbs-up from these folks is enough for me. Plus, what a clever, evocative title! Being an often-frustrated writer myself, I understand that creating a meaningful title is much harder than it might seem. This bodes well for the novel itself.

The Stepsister Scheme, by Jim Hines: WIW2R – Last year, Kevin read Jim Hines’ Goblin trilogy, at once a fantasy-quest adventure and a clever parody of the genre. I enjoy dabbling in this genre, especially when the author also has a sense of humor. Now, Hines brings us the stories of Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty, after their supposedly happily-ever-after. United like Charlie’s Angels as secret agents for the Queen, in a world where Little Red Riding Hood is now one of the best assassins around, this sounds like an funny romp for the girls, as well as one for Gregory Maguire fans.

Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America , edited by Mitchell Gold: WIW2R -- Because, no matter what you believe about the morality of homosexuality, Matthew Shepherd should never have been beaten and left to die. Because I have friends who are queer, and I love them. Because I’d like to draw attention to, and better understanding of, Hamilton-Gibson’s choice of “Our Town” and “The Laramie Project” to play in conjunction this fall.

Just After Sunset, Stephen King’s newest collection of short stories, just released this November ’08: WIW2R -- Think what you like of me for boldly declaring it, but I really enjoy Stephen King. Although his novels sometimes suffer from what he himself calls “elephantitis of the pen”, his short stories are superb, with a tighter plot, but the same depth of characterization. Stephen King knows how people think, and he conveys characters’ thoughts and motivations better than many more renowned, “literary” authors.

This is where I’ll take my cue, before my column grows too verbose. In writing this, I’ve decided to forget about New Year’s Resolutions, and just concentrate on the stacks of books before me. Though some would see it as a twist on the curse of the Danaide, where my shelves continually fill with books as her water jug continually emptied of water, the real book nerds know the truth.

Pop lit or alt hist? Hobo wants to know what’s on your to-be-read shelf. Drop him a line to make your recommendations at Remember, cats love to be on bookshelves. Hobo wants to inhabit yours – check out his book, “Hobo Finds A Home” from Edgecliff Kids.
Kasey Cox

This last column of 2008 is my chance to give you an overview of a few books that touched me this past year. While I was able to review many for you in the Marketplace, there’s only so much time and space. The following books draw us forward and onward, with ties to the past, and more to give in the coming year.

Life Disrupted: Getting Real About Chronic Illness in Your Twenties and Thirties – by Laurie Edwards. Wow, do I wish I knew about this book when I wrote my mental health book review back in January 2008, nearly one year ago. Even more, I really wish this book was around for me in my twenties, when I was trying to learn how to live a normal life despite the setbacks and isolation the come to anyone struggling with a chronic illness, but especially so to those who are young. Young people don’t get sick. Young people deal with other problems – like surviving college, or their first apartment, or getting engaged, or their first professional job. But what if you’re trying to do those things, on top of being in and out of the hospital, adjusting to medication changes, or filling out tons of insurance paperwork? Laurie Edwards shows the way and provides sympathy without pity. Better than anything the doctor could have ordered.

Houses of Stone – this is one of the lesser-known mystery novels by Barbara Michaels (pen name for Barbara Mertz, who also writes as Elizabeth Peters). As the Elizabeth Peters’ Egyptology mysteries grew more popular, many of the Barbara Michaels’ novels were dropped from circulation and are only lately being brought back into print. In my teens, I read “Houses” when it was first published, and I never forgot it. Cleverly structured – a book about a book, a gothic novel within a gothic novel, “Houses” follows a young literature professor who has discovered a manuscript that may be the earliest gothic novel written in America. The manuscript appears to be written by a mysterious contemporary of Emily Bronte or Jane Austen, who wrote under the pen name Ismene, and disappeared without a trace. The professor’s race to discover Ismene’s historical identity, to transcribe the manuscript and claim it as her own discovery before other academics beat her to it becomes as exciting, romantic, and deadly a story as the one in Ismene’s novel. Well-written, and a real gift to mystery lovers who also love history and the stories behind books, this one returns to print as a mass-market paperback in February 2009.

As I mentioned in my column on Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind, sometimes the superlatives fail us. Too many times in the fantasy genre, people who want to sell books, or who can’t think of anything original to say, compare some new author to Tolkien, or to J.K. Rowling. Rothfuss is at once in the same class, and in a class of his own. Both a wonderful storyteller and a technically skilled writer, this author is one to watch. Luckily for us, the second book – The Wise Man’s Fear – in this series is due out in April 2009.

And, winding up the year, is a hilarious children’s book we discovered just in time for Christmas gifting, and one I intend to recommend a lot this next year for kids to giggle over with friends and family – I Stink! by Kate & Jim McMullan. An adorably-drawn, smiling, hungry, and stinky garbage truck tells readers all about his job, and leads them through an alphabet of the garbage he eats every day. Available as a board book for the littlest kids as well as a larger paperback to share with the whole family or classroom.

As always, we try to give you a fun cross-section of books to choose from, be they new or old, for children or most decidedly not, niche-market or general audience. If variety is the spice of life, may our column always be on your table, alongside a large pile of books.

Hobo says, “Have a happy, healthy New Year, and may old books never be forgot” Miss a past column? Dig it up at Be sure to look for Hobo’s ball to drop, in Times Square, New Year’s Eve, as he counts down the top books of 2008.