I've taken a brief respite from Kash's Book Corner. The sheer exhaustion of trying to get a five-month old to sleep every night should be enough of an excuse for neglecting the blog. We spent a great week in Clearwater, Florida with my father and my daughter was a little angel for her grandpa. Now that we are home she's not so cooperative.
In all honesty, I can't blame my slothful ways fully on my child. I'm a baseball fanatic, perhaps even an addict, and it's hard for me to devote my spare time in April to anything besides for listening to the Phillies games, playing fantasy baseball and getting ready for softball season. In fact, we met my father in Clearwater because that is the spring training home of the Phillies.
I was also thrown by the tragedy of Henry Hubert's death last week. Henry was my Oxford rep for about 10 years. We were both honored by our peers with Mountain & Plains Independent Booksellers Association awards in the same year. I was humbled to share the stage with such a great book man. Henry was in the business for several years before I was even born. Books were bought and sold differently in the years that he was coming up. He was around when the imprints were the names of flesh and blood people. I could be in the business for 100 years and there are things that Henry understood that I could never learn.
I saw Henry last summer when he came to sell me the University of Chicago list. He told me it was the end of selling for him. It wasn't bringing in much money, but more importantly to Henry it wasn't fun or human any more. He didn't want to enter the digital age; he wasn't one for communicating by email. It was a business plain and simple and Henry was about books. Where was the love of books and reading he wanted to know?
He insisted that I call my wife Emily and invite her down for lunch. We went to a wonderful French restaurant in town and as usual Henry examined the menu with great care and ordered an appetizer, a glass of wine, desert and a coffee in addition to his entree. He loved good food. The slow lunches used to drive me a little crazy, but over the years Henry taught me to enjoy the small moments that come to us in the middle of our hectic days.
During that lunch, I remember smiling proudly because Henry was so effusive in his praise for Emily and he was quite gallant in telling her how pregnancy truly became her. I'm sorry that my daughter Martina will never get to meet Henry. He sent her a present upon her birth, but he did not come up to Boulder in the last few months.
In addition to my sadness about Henry, I joined the city of Philadelphia in mourning the death of Harry Kalas the Phillies great play-by-play voice. Thanks to the advent of the Internet and satellite radio, I've been listening to the Phillies home broadcasts for the last 8 years or so. It was wonderful to get reacquainted with the baritone voice that helped raise me. I was the kid hiding under the covers with a transistor radio as Kalas called the games. I didn't love Kalas like I loved Henry Hubert, but there is still a feeling of emptiness that needs to be honored.
I tuned into the Phillies game the day that Kalas died. It was an afternoon affair in Washington and I was home for lunch. It was also the day that I learned of Henry Hubert's death. I held the baby on my lap and slowly ate my sandwich as a moment of silence was held for Kalas. The game began immediately following the tribute. The Phil's color man Larry Andersen, one of the heroes of the 1993 pennant winners, was sobbing on the radio. I put my sandwich down, kissed the baby and handed her to Emily.
"I'm going back to work," I said. "I can be depressed all on my own today without having to hear the Phillies lose."
Emily hugged me, Martina clutched between us, and we both thought of Henry and what we'd lost.
As usual in times of emotional crisis or sadness, I turn to books. It seems like a wonderful crop of fiction is about to be published. I delved into several advance reader's copies and I'm happy to report that there are three books coming out in the next six weeks that I can heartily endorse. Here are the shelf talkers I wrote up for the store's recommended section:
The Signal by Ron Carlson No other novelist writes about the western landscape with such care and precision as Ron Carlson. The pristine lakes, glacial valleys and horse ranches of Wyoming's Wind River Mountains are the backdrop to this tenderly rendered story of love torn apart. Hidden in the beautiful wilderness, in the form of poachers and criminals, danger lurks. The threats may destroy Carlson's estranged lovers, but it just may offer them a chance for redemption.
Border Songs by Jim Lynch The border between Washington State and Canada is crawling with drug smugglers, illegal immigrants and renegade dairy farmers in this slyly humorous satirical novel. Thrust into the spotlight of this nether world of fascinating schemers is Brandon Vanderkool, a 6-foot-9, slightly autistic, remarkably artistic, innocent border patrol agent. Vanderkool only wants to track birds and build Andy Goldsworthy type sculptures but the criminals keep getting in the way.
Woodsburner by John Pipkin In this remarkable re-creation of the day that Henry David Thoreau burnt down 300 acres of the Concord woods, Pipkin explores Thoreau's mind, life in 1840s Massachusetts and 19th century pornography. Odd characters, including a bookseller who resorts to selling erotic drawings to save his business and a farmhand named Oddmund, populate this historic novel. Pipkin grapples with the meeting between transcendentalism and everyday life and not surprisingly Thoreau seems mighty strange compared to his contemporaries
Top 10 The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. 2000. White Teeth by Zadie Smith. 2000. Atonement by Ian McEwan. 2002. Any Human Heart by William Boyd. 2003. The Known World by Edward P. Jones. 2003. Snow by Orhan Pamuk. 2004. On Beauty by Zadie Smith. 2005. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. 2006. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. 2007. Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris. 2007.
Other Favorites The Inventory by Gila Lustiger. 2000. The Human Stain by Philip Roth. 2000. Erasure by Percival Everett. 2001. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. 2001. Spies by Michael Frayn. 2002. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. 2002. Nowhere Man by Aleksandar Hemon. 2002. Roscoe by William Kennedy. 2002. American Woman by Susan Choi. 2003 The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem. 2003. Sabbath Creek by Judson Mitcham. 2004. The Plot Against America by Philip Roth. 2004. The In Between World of Vikram Lall by M.G. Vassanji. 2004. The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud. 2006. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. 2006. After This by Alice McDermott. 2006. Echo Maker by Richard Powers. 2006. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. 2007. Peace by Richard Bausch. 2008. Netherland by Joseph O'Neill. 2008. Border Songs by Jim Lynch. 2009. Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem. 2009. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. 2009. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. 2009. All Other Nights by Dara Horn. 2009.
My Favorite New Books
My Abandonment by Peter Rock. A girl and her father live off the land in Portland's Forest Park in this novel that is based on a true story. Told through the eyes of the young girl, it's a poetic work revealing our connection to the natural world. True Confections by Katharine Weber. Zip's Candy is the setting for this outstanding satire. Alice, who turns out to be an unreliable narrator, details the company's history and her own place in its scandalous past. New World Monkeys by Nancy Mauro. The death of a boar, a pervert trying to perfect his craft, and the unearthing of the bones of a murder victim are just a few of the plot elements in this comic debut.
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. Shortly after World War II, a young Irish girl is forced by her family to emigrate to Brooklyn. Cut off from all that she knows she finds love at Dodgers games and Coney Island in this subtle but suspenseful novel.
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. Phillippe Petit's remarkable 1974 tight-rope walk between the World Trade Center towers is the jumping off point (pun intended) of this novel of love, loss and beautiful convergences in a gritty New York City.
Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem. Nothing is as it seems in this brilliant bizarre novel set in an almost recognizable New York City. The revelations at the end left me reeling although I knew that surprises were lurking. Another novel with shades of Saul Bellow. Border Songs by Jim Lynch. Hilarious novel about a strange border agent on the Canadian border. Lynch effortlessly tells the story from several points of view including the criminal, the cops and everyone in between.
The Signal by Ron Carlson. An adventure and a love story set in the pristine mountains of Wyoming. A sense of both hope and foreboding hangs over the sparse narrative.
Wanting by Richard Flanagan. This historical novel featuring both Charles Dickens and the explorer John Franklin is really a meditation on desire and what was thought to separate the civilized from the barbarians.
Woodsburner by John Pipkin. Henry David Thoreau burned down the Concord Woods before he wrote Walden. This novel explores that incident from several different perspectives, including a bookseller who is forced to sell porn to stay in business.
Netherland by Joseph O'Neill. A British Bellow with a West Indian cricket fiend cast as a Chicago University Professor. Humboldt plays cricket. Chicagoby Alaa Al Aswany. Egyptian students and their professors try to navigate America in this magnificent novel set in the heart of contemporary Chicago.
Gossip of the Starlings by Nina de Gramont. A haunting novel about the seductive power of friendship.
Wifeshoppingby Steven Wingate. Thirteen great short stories of men sabotaging their relationships.