Brad, Assistant Buyer
Favorite Genres: Literary fiction, gritty fantasy, world travel, books in translation, and anything obscure
Favorite Authors: Marlon James, Virginie Despentes, Kurt Vonnegut, Susanna Clarke, Paul Theroux, Jill Lepore
Absolutely fascinating. Harper started writing this book before the COVID pandemic, so most of it is about historic context and not modern times. How did the spread of disease shape civilizations, and how did the growth of civilizations hinder or help the spread of infectious disease? I found this book to have incredible depth, while still being extremely accessible.
As part of a religious ceremony, a man is going to be crucified in New Mexico. His daughter is pregnant at fifteen, and his mother has been diagnosed with cancer. This family pulls and pushes their way through a difficult year, trying to survive when everything gets thrown at them. Quade makes you bleed along with her characters. Wonderfully constructed.
A New favorite from one of my favorite small publishers.
At the center of this story is the invention of the telephone, and how an Italian inventor had the patent to the phone for years before Alexander Graham Bell created his version. The plot follows Julia as she tries to figure out who has the original blueprints and can prove this assertion once and for all. Enigmatic.
Every year the Echota family has a bonfire on the Cherokee National Holiday, which is also the anniversary of their oldest son's death. This year, the matriarch does everything in her power to bring the family together over distances, both physical and emotional. Told from three different viewpoints and with Native folklore interspersed, this novel called out me on a deep level.
A little known piece of history is dissected from all the major players in this novel of the 1800s. Known as the Fetterman Fight, this was the battle where Crazy Horse earned his status as a warrior, where the Lakota tried to take back their hunting lands from a newly built fort. Punke builds the world in such vivid detail, I could feel the tall grass singing in the wind as I read along. Incredibly evocative.
Marlon James can do no wrong. The second book in the Dark Star Trilogy brings us 177 years into the past, into the life of Sogolon. The backstory provides needed depth and changes the way we see each character and the choices they make along the way. I can't wait to see how the third volume in this trilogy gives more angles to the story yet again.
Holy cow this is a weird one. In the future, a spaceship takes on foreign objects which make the humanoids on board start to act... differently. Told through taped human resources statements given by both humans and humanoids on board, this creepy tale builds in your blood as it goes. This is one I recommend reading two or three times in a row.
I know I'm late to the game on this one, but I think reading it now has more power than reading it when it came out. Mae Holland starts working for one of the largest tech companies on the planet and slowly gets sucked into their corporate culture. This book is all of the reasons I could never work for a large corporation. The sequel, The Every, came out last year and bookends the story well.
In 1944, a V2 rocket from Germany smashed into a store, killing many including five children. Spufford writes about what could have happened to these five kids if they hadn't died, pulling them through history and checking in on them every few years into old age. The first nine pages are beautifully constructed, and the story rolls forward brilliantly from that point on.
The form of this novel is incredibly unique. Told in small snapshots, as if scrolling perpetually through the internet, this book is about digital obsession, about trying to find followers, about the false pleasure we get from likes and comments and retweets. The narrator has a real life moment that puts her social media life in sharp contrast with what she realizes is actually important.
Halah wants nothing more than to leave Cairo and have control over her own life. Breaking custom, she runs away to America with a man she is not engaged to. Years later, her daughter comes to terms with what it means to be American, what it means to be a part of a family. A beautifully constructed story.
This is a weird one. Originally published in Japan in 1948, the narrator of three notebooks talks about his life and how he can't fit in with society. From class clown to Casanova, from wretched drunk to despondent and depressed, he brings us around his Tokyo, eventually attempting suicide. Oba Yozo is not a sympathetic character, and I think that is why the book works so well.
The core of this book is basketball and psychology, but it is so much more involved. When the Golden State Warriors started their legendary winning streak, Shane Anderson looked at their four core values (joy, mindfulness, compassion, competition) and saw how he could introduce them into his own life. It reminded me of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in a way, but Anderson has his own, unique voice.
A diary like this collapses the distance between you and a world that previously may have seemed quite different. You read how every day somebody worries about their children, tells stories at the dinner table, looks forward to holiday festivals. But there's also the constant threat of state-sanctioned death from the sky. You learn how the author scans the stars for any motion which may be a drone waiting to kill him.
For nearly 20 years, the public was assured that the war in Afghanistan was running very well. Whitlock puts forward the facts: that the war was in bad shape from the beginning, that the objective was lost early on, and people on the ground had difficulty figuring out what they were doing, who they were fighting, and where the money was being spent. Especially important after the less than graceful exit from Afghanistan.
Strange in all the right ways. In an alternate reality, WWI leads to a world without borders and a global government. Miriam grows up through this Great Reckoning, and becomes a scientist instrumental in creating the Age Ten Protocols, where children are relieved of their memories of family. Miriam's memoir is found with her corpse, and it unveils all of the secrets she knows. This is a good introduction to the Within the Wires podcast.
A light and lovely story. An older man drives around a bookmobile, distributing books to the communities in Canada north of Quebec City, a remote area. He thinks this will be his last season on the road, but he meets Marie, a woman who travels with a band from France. As they twist their way through the desolate landscape, they reveal themselves to each other. This short novel is truly heartwarming.
A strange and foul-mouthed mystery. Luis Machi, a depraved and horrid person, finds a bloody corpse in the trunk of his car, but he doesn't know who it is or how it got there. He tries to figure out which one of his many enemies could be framing him while recalling the bacchanal of his life while trying to dispose of the body. A truly lurid novel.
One of my favorite books of 2021. Labatut describes the lives of physicists and mathematicians, trying to see what makes their lives different, what makes them see the world at a different angle, culminating in the battle for quantum mechanics between Schrodinger and Heisenberg. My favorite chapter is about Schwarschild and his solving of the equations of general relativity, while coming up with black hole theory.
A fascinating look at Norma McCorvey, known widely as Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade, and her family. Prager gives the history of the family, of Norma's three daughters that were put up for adoption, and the way that both sides of the aisle used her for their own benefit. Well written and in-depth.
Possibly Ferrante's best stand alone novel. When Giovanna hears her father compare her to an aunt whom the family has distanced themselves from, she wants to meet her hidden family and learn about them. What unfolds is a story of a teenager who loses her footing in the world, who comes to realize that no one is what they seem. Ferrante's descriptions of Naples are stunningly picturesque.
After civilization collapses, there are roughly 12 human beings left on earth. Several animals have a meeting to vote on the future of humanity: do we let them live, or do we kill and eat them? This light-hearted tale about the end of the world was really fun in a dark way, and the animals all seem well-thought out, but do not resemble their archetypes. My favorite were the silent ninja moles.
The first adult novel from a writer from my childhood. Snicket wakes up one morning with a note stating 'You had poison for breakfast' slid under his door. As he tries to unravel the mystery and his life, we see a snippet of his day-to-day. I really read this because I read the Series of Unfortunate Events books when I was younger, but I enjoyed it way more than I thought I would.
Clarke's first book in 16 years has been well worth the wait. The main character lives in a world like a huge museum, a labyrinth filled with numberless statues that never repeat. The only human that shares these halls is The Other, a person who our main character cannot quite understand, but meets with twice a week. A beautifully executed story, and perfectly worded.
Finnegan details his life in the context of surfing, something that he is so passionate about that he made me long for the sea even though I don't surf. In pursuit of the perfect wave, he took a round-the-world trip over several years in the 70s, including a stint on an uninhabited island and a teaching gig in South Africa. This may be one of the best books I've read in my entire life.
Twin sisters that are nothing alike want to share fame, one as the voice of a singer, the other as the public image. But when one twin kills herself, the other must take over her life, but can you remain yourself while living as another? This reminded me of Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk, but with a strong European flair.
This reads more like a lyrical essay than a novel. Maria Stepanova is tracking down her family history after an aunt dies and she inherits numerous letters and photographs. Through all of this is the underlying question: what does memory mean in modern times, the age of endless selfies, as opposed to the early 1900s, when you would have maybe a picture taken once in your lifetime.
Tove Ditlevsen had a difficult life. Her parents treated her horribly. She was divorced four times, and one of her husbands kept her on prescription drugs. She struggled with alcoholism. Those struggles eventually turned her into one of Denmark's most famous poets. This three part memoir is the story of her life from birth to the end of her third marriage, and is devastating and beautiful.
A tale of identity and belonging. This is the story of Jesse McCarthy, a male prostitute of Jamaican descent living in London after his family (and church) kicks him out of the house for being in the LGBT community. It's also the story of Norman Alonso, a Jamaican man living in England in the 1950s. Incredibly raw and real, Mendes shows us London in the early 2000s through 2016.
I remember finding a used copy of this book my teens and buying it for the title alone. It turned out to be the first book that made me laugh hysterically while reading. Stewart can turn anything into a comedy, from the Kennedy compound to the chatrooms of AOL in the late 90s, from the Oval Office to the death of the Taco Bell chihuahua. At this point it is filled with callbacks for anyone who was alive in the 90s.
An incredible mixture of stories about travel and anatomy. Intertwined are a man who loses his wife and child on a trip in Croatia, Chopin's heart, and the person who originally found the achilles tendon by operating on his own severed leg. In between is the narrator, who has beautiful passages about what it means to be a traveler, about being in motion and refusing roots wherever they try to cling.
This is the first book in the best fantasy trilogy written in the last few decades. Joe writes incredibly well, and his dark gritty style makes the story. Of all the main characters, my favorite is Logan, also known as The Bloody Nine, a feared warrior and named man from the North who winds up at the king's court before heading off to save the world. Read everything Abercrombie has written, but start here.
Fiona Mozley came to my attention with her first book, Elmet. Her second novel, Hot Stew, cements her as one of my favorite working writers. A wealthy property owner wants to tear down a building in central London, but the residents rise up and join together to fight back. These residents include the homeless people that live under the building, the workers at a brothel, and some of the clients.