Displaying articles for: May 2011

Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths

Nearly 80 years old and famous in his native Japan, graphic novelist Shigeru Mizuki has had to wait until now for his first book in English. A quasi-autobiographical account of the desperate plight of some Japanese soldiers at the end of WWII, this book offers harsh naturalism, raw emotions, and sudden beauty.

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The Sisters Brothers

Hired to kill a luckless gold miner, quirky über-badguys Eli and Charlie Sisters are the unlikely protagonists of this slambang, parodic, panoramic Western that rides off into a striking existential sunset. From Patrick deWitt, author of the memorable first novel, Ablutions.

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Twelve Turning Points of the Second World War

Alternating between battlefield and factory, boardroom and Oval Office, historian P. M. H. Bell dissects a dozen essential programs, actions, attitudes, and campaigns that each served as a major pivot upon which the fate of nations turned during the twentieth century's largest exercise in global organized violence.

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Children and Fire

The events of Ursula Hegi's latest novel, which shares the setting of her most famous work, Stones from the River, are constrained within a single day in 1934, yet manage to cover an epic series of events in the lives of German schoolteacher Thekla Jansen and her pupils, who face growing Nazi interference in their routines.

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Nat Tate

The marvelous Scottish novelist William Boyd (A Good Man in Africa; Brazzaville Beach; Any Human Heart) here invents an artist and chronicles his entire life and career in a magnificent hoax of a book, which skewers the pretensions of the art world in a manner more ingenious than Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word. Delightfully clever and wonderfully engaging.

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This Is a Book

Stand-up comedian Demetri Martin, known for his contributions to The Daily Show, translates his on-air riffs to cartoon-supplemented essays traversing such fertile humorous ground as transient exotic lifestyles and eternal philosophical conundrums.

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Biopunk

Cutting-edge future tech—both legal and underground—is under the microscope in Marcus Wohlsen's account of the nascent movement to hack DNA in the manner of rogue programmers tinkering with less slippery lines of code. Profiles of mostly young DIY biologists alternate with speculations on what they might accomplish, for good or ill.

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What There Is to Say We Have Said

Trace a chain of letters between one of the twentieth century's finest writers—Eudora Welty—and one of the period's best editors—William Maxwell of The New Yorker—and you'll reveal in time a structure as graceful and enduring as the Golden Gate Bridge. This collection of hundreds of letters exhanged over fifty years reveals professional acumen and personal intimacy in equal, eloquent measure.

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Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away

A first novel that knows how to tell a story, concocting a voice that lures us. Perfect pitch is not reserved for musicians; some novelists have it, too. From the very first page of her very first book, Christie Watson proves she possesses it, creating a voice that tells a tale we can't put down. Narrated by a 12-year-old whose family life in Lagos is disrupted by passions, politics, and poverty, Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away delivers a tale that is, in the words of one early reader, "both heart-wrenching and consoling," as only the most telling fiction can be.

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What?

A small book packed with life-enriching mysteries, Mark Kurlanksy's latest distills the musings of thinkers from Confucius to Freud to arrive at a set of questions that may ever remain unanswered, but which nonetheless provide valuable signposts on the road to living an examined life.

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Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice

Droll and deadpan, Ivan Brunetti's cartoons embody a sophisticated visual vocabulary. Now the master of economical lines and clean iconography shares his wisdom in fifteen insightful lessons, richly illustrated with his own drawings specifically tailored to the text.

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Indigo

Although abundant in nature, the color blue is notoriously hard to create as a dye. In fact, the process behind indigo's transformation from parasitic shrub to precious stain is still only partially understood by scientists. Catherine E. McKinley tells the pigment's fascinating story here, winningly weaving into her historical researches a personal narrative illuminating her own tangled heritage, which has uncanny ties to the fabled hue.

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Let's Kill Uncle

A cult classic, this excitingly original 1963 novel by Rohan O'Grady (a pseudonym for Canadian June Margaret O'Grady), was made into a Hollywood horror film by William Castle in 1966, and was more recently the subject of a startlingly seductive appreciation in The Believer. It's a young, orphaned heir who turns the tables on the uncle who is trying to kill him, and it is uncategorizably comical, engrossing, and disturbing. A real rare gem.

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The Sly Company of People Who Care

In this colorful debut novel a cricket journalist quits his job, flees the familiarity of his Bombay home, and alights in Guyana, where almost half the population is descended from Indian indentured servants. There he meets diamond scavengers, visits sugarcane plantations, and becomes enthralled by this strange land of the formerly enslaved. Rahul Bhattachrya tells his tale of exploration in an accomplished, appealing voice that has earned comparison to the early work of V. S. Naipaul.

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The Ancient Guide to Modern Life

In this irreverently respectful celebration of the wisdom of antiquity, British stand-up comedian (and Cambridge Classics scholar) Natalie Haynes demonstrates how the teachings of Greece and Rome can help us better understand the modern age—and how prevalent their influence remains, in pop culture as well as more studied settings. Great fun.

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Heads You Lose

This ebulliently original novel starts out as your run-of-the-mill caper about orphaned siblings dealing drugs who are compelled to investigate the decapitated corpse left on their lawn. But then the authors, Lisa Lutz and David Hayward, start to quarrel. It's as if Italo Calvino hijacked Don Winslow's Savages, and it's a deliciously head-spinning ride.

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The Forgotten Founding Father

 When most of us hear the name Noah Webster, we think: "dictionary." But did you know that Noah Webster also published New York City's first daily newspaper, played an important role in founding Amherst College, and enjoyed close acquaintance with George Washington and other Founders? Joshua Kendall's biography makes a persuasive case that one of the most important words Webster helped define was "American."

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The Compass of Pleasure

You might file this one under "Need to Know": as the subtitle makes perfectly clear, neuroscientist David J. Linden's learned and sprightly book explores "how our brains make fatty foods, orgasm, exercise, marijuana, generosity, vodka, learning, and gambling feel so good."

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The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine

Rosa Achmetowna, the scheming narrator of this splendid comic novel, is difficult, wily, and hilarious (at least to the reader, if not to Rosa's daughter, struggling to raise her rambunctious son under her mother's terrible eye). Alina Bronsky's pulsing tale of a dysfunctional Soviet family's escape to the West is an ebulliently monstrous, deliciously entertaining tale.

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In Praise of Reading and Fiction

Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature last December, and this slim, handsome volume, translated by Edith Grossman, brings his Nobel Lecture to a wider audience. It is an eloquent and wise defence of imaginative literature and the liberties of every kind it fosters.

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The Intimates

Ralph Sassone's evocative and, in places, vividly erotic debut novel tells the story of Maize and Robbie, following their friendship—and their romances with others—from high school, through college, and into roommate-hood in NYC as they enter the wider world. It's sensitive, funny, and poignantly well-observed.

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Mrs. Adams in Winter

Now in paperback: Michael O'Brien's fascinating chronicle of a first lady's journey across Europe as an escaped Napoleon makes a renewed bid for power. Our reviewer, Max Byrd, called it "an irresistible adventure story and a brilliant portrait of Louisa Adams [wife of John Quincy Adams, our 6th president] that ought to rescue her for good from half exotic obscurity."

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July 26: On this day in 1602 "A booke called the Revenge of Hamlett Prince Denmarke" was entered in the Stationers' Register by printer James Robertes.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

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