Karl Ove Knausgaard, author of My Struggle, Book 1, featured on page 1 of the NYT Arts section (Archipelago/Consortium)


My Struggle: Book One
Karl Ove Knausgaard
translated by Don Bartlett
Archipelago Books / Consortium | 9781935744184 | $18.00 | May 2012
(also available in e-book) 

photo credit: Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

Today’s Norwegian-of-the-moment, Karl Ove Knausgaard, was featured today on the front page of the NYT Arts section in a long profile, looking at his career and his epic six-volume act of literary memoir/fiction, My Struggle. The first volume of six parts has just been published here (in translation from Norwegian) by one of the publishers I represent, Archipelago Books (via Consortium Book Sales & Distribution).

After a series of glowing early reviews (including Shelf Awareness and Publishers Weekly), Knausgaard and the story of his family story has broken through to the New York Times: 

Though “My Struggle,” a minutely detailed examination of Mr. Knausgaard’s family life, has done extremely well in Europe — in Norway, about half a million copies have been sold, the equivalent of one for every 10 people — it has also put Mr. Knausgaard (pronounced Kuh-NOWS-guard) squarely at the center of a debate about literary ethics and made him a kind of bad boy of European letters.

In the first volume of “My Struggle,” just published in the United States, Mr. Knausgaard, now 43, writes unsparingly about the death of his father, who falls into alcoholic squalor when his marriage collapses, and his incontinent grandmother. Later volumes focus with similar candor on his own two marriages, his current wife’s bipolar condition and his mixed feelings about the demands of parenthood.

My pick for most-intriguing-review-thus-far has been Nick DiMartino in Shelf Awareness, who opened with this doozy of a sentence:

It's a lucky reader who gets buried alive in the literary avalanche of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle--a free-wheeling, funny, smart, provocative chunk of narrative that just keeps on coming, a flashback-laced plunge into one man's life, with memories within memories rattled off like a simpler, friendlier modern-day Proust.

Knausgaard is coming back to the US this fall for a series of appearances at literary festivals, including: 

If you’d like to read a sample of My Struggle, Book One, Archipelago has posted a PDF to their site for your download.

Finally, one of my favorite developments in recent years has been the author-curated playlist that captures the mood they were in while writing the book or the songs that captured the feeling they were trying to evoke. Archipelago has linked to a Spotify playlist of classic rock and new wave songs mentioned in the book. (Spotify link  |  play the playlist online at ShareMyPlaylists)

Jonathan Lethem on Talking Heads' Fear of Music (33 1/3 / Continuum)

For Lethem, “Life During Wartime” is the band’s pinnacle, and the song is still a hell of a thing to hear. (A point about Talking Heads not often enough made: they cooked. Byrne was the funkiest white man in pop until Flea showed up.) But most of the iTunes generation has never heard it. 

– James Verini, writing about Lethem's take on the Talking Heads' album Fear of Music in the New Yorker's Culture Desk blog.

Here's the iconic version of their song in Jonathan Demme's concert movie, Stop Making Sense – very probably the time & place where I fell in love with the Talking Heads. Here is David Byrne, outside of the legendary Big Suit, just his wiry self and the rest of the Heads and a kickass touring band.

This new entry in Continuum's epic & much-loved ongoing series about classic albums, 33 1/3, is just the latest to demonstrate how a well-matched author with the right band & album can reignite a true fan's love for an album recorded years ago – or lead new fans to a great band for the first time. The complete list of books in the series is available here

Diving deep with Lethem, it's a real journey of re-discovery for me. He's clearly a bigger fan of the Talking Heads than I ever was, and it feels to me like he brought his entire suite of creative powers to this book. It's short but powerful, sentimental, obsessively focused, and insightful. 

The NYT Book Review summarized it this way earlier this month:

This is from a true fan who is now a writer who writes beautiful books. I began to wonder if my copy of the record “Fear of Music” could hold up under the weight of all those words. I put it on and listened. It can. It’s a great record.

Fear of Music
Jonathan Lethem
Continuum | 9781551121004 | $12.95 | Apr 2012


The 33 1/3 series continues to develop and grow - the latest elimination round from the 2012 Call for Entries was just posted. 471 proposals were sent in, 94 were chosen to continue on to the next round.

How to best demonstrate the awesome might of Fantagraphics' new Johnny Gruelle collection, Mr. Twee Deedle?

Perhaps a picture? (Click picture for full majesty.)

Perhaps another picture with another, well-known, book added for scale?

It's more akin to flipping the pages of a wallpaper sampler than a collection of historic comics. This book is 18 inches tall and 14 inches across. It dominates the largest clear surface in my house - the kitchen island - like a B-52 bomber somehow parked astride an aircraft carrier's deck.

And then you open it up. First published in early 1911 - over 100 years ago now! - the art on the page is massive, but filled with delicate details. Cross-hatching, fine lines, skinny pen to create outlines, subtle washes of color. Many of the strips are illustrated from eye-level of small children, and the natural world around the characters seems almost life-sized.

Mr. Twee Deedle: Raggedy Ann's Sprightly Cousin - The Forgotten Fantasy Masterpieces of Johnny Gruelle
By Johnny Gruelle
Edited by Rick Marschall
Introduction by Tony Millionaire
Fantagraphics / W.W. Norton | 9781606994115 | $75 | June 2012

From Fantagraphics' page about the book, some more context (you can click through to see a 12-page sample of the stunning interior pages):

The title character in the Sunday color page, Mr. Twee Deedle, is a magical wood sprite who befriends the strip’s two human children, Dickie and Dolly. Gruelle depicted a charming, fantastical child’s world, filled with light whimsy and outlandish surrealism. The artwork is among the most stunning ever to grace an American newspaper page, and Gruelle’s painterly color makes every page look like it was created on a canvas.

Gruelle’s creation was the winning entry out of 1500 submissions to succeed Little Nemo, which the New York Heraldwas losing at the time to the rival Hearst papers. With such import, the Herald added a $2000 prize, a long contract, and arguably the most care devoted to the reproduction of any color newspaper comic strip before or since.

Yet the wood sprite and his fanciful world have been strangely overlooked, partly because Gruelle created Raggedy Ann immediately after the strip’s run, eclipsing not only Mr. Twee Deedle but almost everything else the cartoonist ever did.

You'll want to follow the Fantagraphics Tumblr blog, too, for daily wonder and awe.

Joe Meno's new novel, Office Girl, is coming soon! Early reviews & tour details here.

by Joe Meno
with black-and-white illustrations by Cody Hudson and photographs by Todd Baxter 
Akashic Books / Consortium | 9781617750762 | $14.95 | July 2012

Chicago-based author and longtime indie-bookseller-favorite Joe Meno is back with his latest novel, a short and sweet story set in Chicago, circa winter 1999. I loved it.  

He's heading off on a nationwide tour starting at Chicago's Printers Row lit fest and a book launch at the Book Cellar in Lincoln Square on June 28.

From the book's site, a capsule description:

NO ONE DIES IN OFFICE GIRL. Nobody talks about the international political situation. There is no mention of any economic collapse. Nothing takes place during a World War.

INSTEAD, THIS NOVEL IS ABOUT YOUNG PEOPLE doing interesting things in the final moments of the last century. Odile is a lovely twenty-three-year-old art-school dropout, a minor vandal, and a hopeless dreamer. Jack is a twenty-five-year-old shirker who's most happy capturing the endless noises of the city on his out-of-date tape recorder. Together they decide to start their own art movement in defiance of a contemporary culture made dull by both the tedious and the obvious. Set in February 1999--just before the end of one world and the beginning of another--Office Girl is the story of two people caught between the uncertainty of their futures and the all-too-brief moments of modern life.

Early reviews have been strong for the book:

"Fresh and sharply observed, Office Girl is a love story on bicycles, capturing the beauty of individual moments and the magic hidden in everyday objects and people. Joe Meno will make you stop and notice the world. And he will make you wonder."
--Hannah Tinti, author of The Good Thief

"Meno has constructed a snowflake-delicate inquiry into alienation and longing. Illustrated with drawings and photographs and shaped by tender empathy, buoyant imagination, and bittersweet wit, this wistful, provocative, off-kilter love story affirms the bonds forged by art and story."
--Booklist (*starred review*)

"The talented Chicago-based Meno has composed a gorgeous little indie romance, circa 1999...When get weird as things do when we're young, Meno is refreshingly honest in portraying lowest lows and not just the innocent highs. A sweetheart of a novel, complete with a hazy ending."
--Kirkus Reviews

"High on quirk and hipster cred."
--Publishers Weekly (Pick of the Week)

Spring 2012 Preview: No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

“Lewis Michaux's House of Common Sense and Home of Proper Propaganda,” 1964. (Courtesy of Bettmann / CORBIS)

Above, a photo from the Bettmann/CORBIS Archive.

No Crystal Stair: A Novel in Documents, Based on the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller
by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Carolrhoda LAB / Lerner | 9780761361695 | $17.95 | Feb 2012 

I read a book today that's coming out from Carolrhoda LAB/Lerner next February - a YA novel told in the form of an oral history - about Lewis Michaux, founder of the National Memorial African Bookstore in Harlem.  The book is written by his great-niece, Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie.

Michaux's was the first (the first!) bookstore specifically selling books by and for African-Americans. He had a sign up over the storefront that proclaimed it "The House of Common Sense and the Home of Proper Propaganda". 

The National Memorial African Bookstore was in the middle of everything and everyone from the Harlem Renaissance up through the Civil Rights struggle and into the Seventies: Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Eldridge Cleaver, Nikki Giovanni and more. Thousands and thousands of regular bookstore customers' lives were enriched by the presence of such a passionate, intelligent bookstore owner in their midst.

Although Michaux's bookstore is no longer open – it closed in 1975 after a faceoff with the State of New York over the state's redevelopment of the blocks surrounding the store's original building and a brief tenure in a second location blocks away – Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and R. Gregory Christie have brought it back to life in these pages, accompanied by dozens of historical photographs.

Booksellers, bloggers and reviewers can obtain an advance copy now through NetGalley.