Hans Weyandt from Micawber's Books picks three books about whales. (And, yes, one of them is quite obvious.)

Welcome back to my3books, everyone!  After the Year-End / Decade-End Opinion Avalanche from every other blogger on the planet, I took some time off from sharing too much online to go out and do my day job, which generally involves a lot of coffee drinking and talking with independent booksellers and other book lovers about new books.  I've been building my strength back up, twittering a few times a day and sharing a link or two on Facebook.  But I'm ready to dive back in and get some great posts up here on my3books.

And as if the fates themselves wanted to confirm that it was time for me to get things flowing again here, I got a fresh submission today from indie bookstore owner Hans Weyandt.  Hans is one of the co-owners of Micawber's Books in St. Paul, MN – a great indie bookstore in a city with a lot of great literary things going on.  One of my favorite things they do?  They shelve all the books from cool publishers' series together – like NYRB Classics or Persephone Books.

The three books that Hans has picked for today's my3books post are all about whales.  Read it here and then go check out their own store blog for more Hans.

Moby-Dick
by Herman Melville
foreword by Nathaniel Philbrick; cover by Tony Millionaire
Penguin Classics | 9780143105954 | $17 | Oct 2009

As a great scoffer, I generally have a hard time believing in things like kismet or fate. But the reading gods? The reading gods will teach you things. An old friend had to read Moby-Dick for school earlier this winter and asked if I'd join him on the journey. The word epic is overused, well, epically. But this is one. Melville's humor was a shocker to me. And the language pushing you onward and onward. Captain Ahab. The sea. The monster of the deep. I will treasure the experience of finally reading Melville's great novel forever.

***

The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea
by Philip Hoare
Ecco | 9780061976216 | $27.99 | Jan 2010

A week after finishing I was telling a friend about it and he said, "You know, I have a friend who is an editor at HarperCollins and he says they have a whale book that's just out that is incredible." So I read Philip Hoare's The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea immediately. It would be easy to simply call this natural history or cultural history. But it's much more. It combines myth and folklore with science and family history. The whale occupies a space in human understanding that surpasses all other animals and this book explains why. It also contains gorgeous in-laid art work and it got me wondering, "How do whales lend themselves to such cool art?"

***

Moby-Dick
by Jens Hoffmann
CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts (dist by DAP) | 9780980205527 | $30 | Mar 2010

Then, just a few days later, I was unpacking boxes and found this gem from the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. Jens Hoffmann has compiled an extraordinary collection of Moby Dick-related material. A brief statement at the beginning states, "I have carefully collected whatever I have been able to learn of the story of Ishmael and the great white whale, and here present it to you, knowing that you will thank me for it. To their spirits and characters you cannot refuse your admiration and love; to their fate you will not deny your tears."  This is one of those rare books where price does not even matter--I needed it. From its white and gold stitched cover to the watery blue paper inside to the wild array of related art it is all a wonder. So you see? I did not choose this maritime madness. It was all thrust upon me.

 

***

Hans Weyandt is co-owner of Micawber's Books in St. Paul, MN. He actually does read books that have nothing to do with oceans or huge sea mammals. He blogs for the store at micawbers.blogspot.com and has a fairly serious addiction to pho.  He is also in the market for a harpoon. A sweet harpoon.

Micawber's Books can be found here:
2238 Carter Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55108
651.646.5506
www.micawbers.com
www.micawbers.blogspot.com

 

57th Street Books' Jeff Waxman picks three Scandinavian books in translation.

Jeff Waxman works at 57th Street Books, the Hyde Park indie bookstore and sibling to the Seminary Co-op Bookstore around the corner.  As a Jeff-of-all-trades, he's a book buyer (though he doesn't work directly with me and my publishers), returns manager, one of the stores' Web site administrators, and editor of The Front Table on the Seminary Co-op web site.  As Jeff told me, in short, he's a bookseller.  No matter what else he's doing, he's selling books to people.

Since he originally sent me this post, but before I could get it posted on my3books, word came out that Jeff is one of the Fiction Judges for the 2010 Best Translated Book Awards, sponsored by literary blog Three Percent, a "resource for international literature at the University of Rochester."  The longlist for the 2010 awards in fiction was announced on January 5, and the shortlist will be announced on February 16.  The shortlist in poetry will be announced on February 16.  The final winners will be announced in March.  It's a really strong list in fiction.  Check out the longlist if you need more suggestions beyond Jeff's 3 picks below.

Welcome to the winter, friends. Grab some cocoa, a little something to fortify it, a few blankets, and get ready to hunker down. That's right, it's hunkering weather, and I've got three Scandinavian novels that will freeze your hearts while they warm your little book-loving souls.

The Discoverer
by Jan Kjaerstad
translated by Barbara Haveland
Open Letter Books (dist. by University of Nebraska Press) | 9781934824122 | $17.95 | Aug 2009

The final and, honestly, most crucial tome of the Jonas Wergeland Trilogy.  Never heard of it? Doesn't matter, mon frere. Each of these books stands alone, and The Discoverer stands tallest.  Jonas Wergeland is a disgraced (wife, dead) former television personality and this novel is an extraordinarily well-wrought examination of the man's life and mind. More, it's a virtuosic exercise in heroic narrative; Jan Kjaerstad and translator Barbara Haveland have created a book that interweaves paragraphs of past and present experience into something of grave and moving beauty.

*** 

The True Deceiver
by Tove Jansson
translated by Thomas Teal
NYRB Classics (dist. by Random House) | 9781590173299 | $14.95 | Dec 2009

This slender novella is one of my favorite books of the year, and new only this month. An austere and modern novel, The True Deceiver is about the relationship of an affect-less Swedish woman, her brother, and an overly affected children's book illustrator in one of the few Swedish communities in Finland. This is a book that plumbs the nature of familial love, and the depths of manipulation and inscrutability. A masterful study in opposition and confrontation, this book simmers with aggression, and the reader will never be quite sure who the title refers to, the cold Katri Kling, or the apparently vapid Anna Aemelin.

***

The Twin
by Gerbrand Bakker
translated by David Colmer
Archipelago Books (dist. by Consortium) | 9780980033021 | $25 | Apr 2009

Are the Dutch even Scandinavian? Probably not, but this novel has a striking, ice-bound personality at its center and fits this post like a warm and woolly glove. Bakker's book is the story of a lone twin, Helmer. Aching, inert, and incomplete, Helmer has not recovered from the loss of his twin brother, Henk, more than twenty years ago. Neither has his father, and as the old man's health fails, the fifty-seven-year-old Helmer finds himself at the sort of emotional crossroads that most men reach forty years earlier. To add poignant contrast, a sullen teenager named Henk (!) comes to live with him— and to underscore everything that Helmer might have lost forever.

***

The Final Word:
Here's a stat for my3books readers: only three in one hundred books published each year in the United States are original works in translation. Three Percent. That that's true or may be true is troubling, but it's also very exciting. We have an opportunity here to read again as children, as cultural strangers, and experience familiar things made strange and new. Forgive me for evangelizing, but these three books are part of a groundswell of outstanding international work brought home, and only some very serious talents make the trip.

Jeff Waxman 

***

Learn more about these three excellent publishers (one of whom I DO represent) and their extraordinarily rich publishing programs:

Open Letter Books: TwitterBlog (yep, Three Percent)SiteCatalog

NYRB Classics: TwitterBlog (A Different Stripe)SiteCatalog (direct download)

Archipelago Books: TwitterSiteCatalog

 

UPDATE: I've modified the first paragraph and post title to correctly describe Jeff's position & bookstore.  But he's still an awesome bookseller, no matter where you come across him.

An Eye on the Looking-glass: The Enduring Appeal of Lewis Carroll and Alice

Lewis Carroll's best-known and best-loved creation, Alice, is about to get a facelift.  Any fan of Tim Burton can tell you that his next major project is a typically Burton-ian approach to the children's classic. In his version, a 17-year-old Alice returns to Wonderland for the first time in 10 years and meets up again with all her old acquaintances. (In theatres on March 5, 2010, teaser trailer is here.)

     

Of course, the launch of a new movie adaptation is always a good reason to put together a display of the latest editions of Alice in Wonderland, and its related books.  Most stores can easily do an Alice display without breaking a sweat - there are always new editions coming out and evergreen classics that are usually in stock.

Here are three suggested books to add to the display that could take it through the looking-glass!


Alice in Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll
illustrated by Rodney Matthews
Templar Books (Candlewick Press) | 9780763645687 | $24.99 | Sept 2009

A CAUCUS RACE - 1994 (Rodney MatthewsThe relatively new-to-the-US Templar Books imprint at Candlewick Press is bringing out this lavishly illustrated edition, complete with bejeweled slipcase.  The illustrator is the legendary UK fantasy and SF artist Rodney Matthews (he's also a jazz and rock musician, album cover artist, and video game designer).  He may be best known for his illustrations for Michael Moorcock's Elric books.

AT THE MARCH HARE'S TABLE - 1990 (Rodney Matthews)Given his credentials as a painter of the fantastic, you can imagine just how over-the-top his Alice paintings would be.  Luckily, you don't need to imagine.  His web site hosts a gallery of past works and images from works in progress.  Check out these two illustrations from Alice in Wonderland, previously published in a series of calendars featuring his fantastic art and now repurposed as part of the suite of illustrations for the new book.

***

On to two books that look at the creator of Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (or as he was known to his friends and colleagues at Christ Church college at the University of Oxford, Charles Dodgson) and the young girl who was his muse and friend, Alice Liddell.

Lewis Carroll
by Colin Ford
Thames & Hudson (Norton) | 9780500410981 | $15.95 | Sept 2009

Alice I Have Been
by Melanie Benjamin
Delacorte Press | 9780385344135 | $25 | Jan 2010

I've previously featured Lewis Carroll, edited by Colin Ford, in the "my3books x 3" post about three terrific series, which included the Photofile series from Thames & Hudson.  The newly released volume in that series is on the photography of Lewis Carroll.  In addition to being a lecturer in mathematics at Christ Church college, Carroll was a well-known local photographer, just years after the popularization of photography as a hobby. 

It was through his photography that Dodgson met Alice Liddell and the rest of her family. He famously befriended the young girls, Alice and her two sisters, and escorted them on many outings in the area around Oxford.  On one of those occasions, Dodgson invented the tale that would become Alice in Wonderland.

Alice Liddell as a beggar-maid. (photo by Lewis Carroll)The Photofile book of Dodgson/Carroll's photography features 59 of his pictures, most of them featuring the young girls that were his constant sources of inspiration and to some historians and observers, a possible source of some scandal.

Aside from Dodgson's perhaps questionable focus on young girls, his photography is timeless, and because of the fame of the man as an author, is particularly well-documented. 

Melanie Benjamin's marvelous upcoming novel, Alice I Have Been, covers the same ground from the perspective of Alice Liddell herself, drawing on the historical record and much research, but expands the story into the realm of the possible. 

Alice I Have Been opens in 1932 as an aged Alice Liddell Hargreaves looks back on her life: from the earliest years as the middle daughter of the Dean of Christ Church college, her friendship with Dodgson and the creation of Alice in Wonderland, to her (speculated upon) romance with Prince Leopold, the hemophiliac youngest son of Queen Victoria, and finally to her marriage in later years to Reginald Hargreaves, and the life they had together with their three sons.  

Benjamin has taken the well-worn cloth of the life of Alice Liddell and given the fabric new life with a richly imagined tale.  The crowded streets and gardens of Oxford are filled with vibrant characterizations of Alice and her family, celebrities of the day, and brings a fresh understanding of the possibilities and limitations of the life of one particular girl.

 

guest post: sales rep Teresa Rolfe Kravtin picks 3 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's Fall 2009 list

I'm so pleased to welcome back my fellow independent sales rep Teresa Rolfe Kravtin (@trkravtin on Twitter) for another round of my3books picks!  Among the many publishers that Teresa represents are the legendary imprints at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and she's picked out three of her favorite books from their fall list.

Two books of the American West and a special pop-up book for the holiday season.

    

The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America
by Timothy Egan
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | 9780618968411 | $26 | Oct 2009

The incident at the heart of The Big Burn was the largest forest fire in the history of America. “The bare facts were that the blowup covered 2.6 million acres of national forest land, and another 521,184 acres of private or state timber, for a total of just under 3.2 million acres . . . . " (page 221).

The power in the telling of this story resonates in the personal face that author Timothy Egan puts on the lives of the men and women involved. Every aspect of this story is completely absorbing:

  • Teddy Roosevelt and Progressivism
  • the fledgling concepts of conservation and the need for a forestry service
  • Guildford Pinchot, Roosevelt’s devoted friend and believer in conservation
  • big business and its influence on government
  • power-hungry politicians
  • ordinary homesteaders

They all play a role in this natural disaster. Areas of Montana, Idaho and Washington were burned. I have hiked through some of these areas in Montana and Idaho, which made this book a particularly meaningful read for me.

Oftentimes while reading, I found myself closing the book in astonishment at the ways in which politics played out in history. I often mistakenly think that only in the times we live have politicians been as driven to wrest power away from the people in achieving their policy goals. It takes a book like this, and many other fine historical reports to show that it is not so.

The Big Burn tells of a time when the people had very little influence in government at all, and there was hardly any place for the people as a concept in politics. We are an ever-evolving nation, and the consequences from this episode in our history shaped forestry policy for years to come.  Imperfect though these new perceptions were, it was a corrective step along the path toward a greater understanding of the demands placed upon our natural resources, the people charged with protecting them, and the role government plays in all of it.

In this meticulously researched book, National Book Award-winning author Timothy Egan, “brings a touching humanity to this story of valor and cowardice in the face of a nation catastrophe, playing respectful attention to Roosevelt’s great dream of conservation and of an America ‘for the little man’” (from the PW starred review).

***

Twisted Tree
by Kent Meyers
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | 9780151013890 | $24 | Sept 2009

A young teenager has been stalked and murdered, and in the vastness of the contemporary rural community of Twisted Tree, South Dakota, Kent Meyers deftly weaves an interconnected web of stories of the people whose lives have intersected with young Haley Jo Zimmerman.

I have long been drawn to the literature of a place or of the landscape, and these portraits of the people of Twisted Tree are, in some cases, stark, lonely, searching, mad, and poignant, all the while evoking the character of the desolate nature of the west. Each chapter could stand alone; and in discovering how these lives connected together, Meyers tells a greater tale of how one person’s life resonates in so many others. I was mesmerized.

“This novel is brimming with arresting descriptions, and the western setting is employed with surprising effect . . . . Meyers’s small masterpiece deserves comparison to the work of Raymond Carver, Joy Williams and Peter Matthiessen (from the PW starred review).

***

The Little Prince Deluxe Pop-Up Book
by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | 9780547260693 | $35 | Oct 2009

“What appears to be a fairy tale for children opens like the petals of the Little Prince’s flower into a fantasy that has lessons for all of us.” – School Library Journal

I love this special edition of The Little Prince. All throughout the selling season, I have carried my sample, a French language edition, mind you, into select accounts to share the unique experience of this pop-up book. Unique, in that it contains the complete text of the original story, while the mechanics of the pop-up elements honor the original illustrations by magically bringing them to three-dimensional life.

My buyers slowly turn the pages of the entire book. Each time I was entranced at the experience of standing aside, while the buyer deliberately enjoyed each spread. This pop-up edition of a children’s classic, is in itself, a new and complete experience of the story. There is text, the pop-up, and lots of white space, which allows for an absorbing, relaxing read.

How often are we dazzled by wondrous paper engineering, each spread building up to a magnificent conclusion? In this case, though, I am impressed by the experience of the book. I have found that to be immensely satisfying.

There are legions of faithful fans for The Little Prince. This would be a marvelous addition to their library.

The video for the Little Prince Pop-Up Deluxe edition has been posted to YouTube and can be seen here.

A link to an article where Brooke Shields quotes from 'Little Prince' in the tribute to Michael Jackson can be found here.

***

> For more information about Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and their fall catalog, you can find them here:
Web site ~ catalog downloads ~ @hmhbooks on Twitter ~ Facebook 

my3books link: Next Chapter Bookshop buyer Dave Mallmann

In case you haven't already noticed, there's a strong meeting of the minds between the my3books gang and the Next Chapter Bookshop crew.  I've previously posted a set of my3books picks from bookseller Taylor Rick, and we've mutually cross-linked to each other's blogs in the past.  But now, we're taking this cooperation to the next level!

Dave Mallmann, bookseller and buyer extraordinaire at Next Chapter, posted this set of picks to their own blog last week.  Instead of posting everything here that Dave wrote there about his favorite up-and-coming literary novelists, I'd rather send you over to the Next Chapter blog to read it.  

BUT if you read on, you will see all three authors that Dave picked, and I'll also include links to some other indie booksellers who've been raving about those authors.  These are some strong picks - they're all on my to-be-read list already!

   

from Next Chapter's Reading Copy: Newer Writers Should Join Literary Elite

This fall, we’re seeing a slew of North America’s most popular literary fiction writers releasing major new books. It’s astounding when you look at the list of names: John Irving, Barbara Kingsolver, Alice Munro, Lorrie Moore, Margaret Atwood, Philip Roth, E.L. Doctorow, Richard Russo, Pete Dexter… the list goes on and on. But there are also books coming out by authors who have paid their dues and deserve to be card-carrying members of this esteemed club. In fact, the three books I’m featuring here are better than many of the new books by the heavy-hitters (I won’t name names) listed above. This isn’t about which legends are losing their edge, this is about a new generation who deserves to be added to the list of heavy-weights… Here are my 3 nominees to be added to the who’s who of North American Fiction Writers.

Await Your Reply
by Dan Chaon
Ballantine Books | 9780345476029 | $25 | Aug 2009

Dan Chaon has outdone himself with Await Your Reply. Much like Michael Chabon, Mr. Chaon mixes literary artistry with genre conventions. The result? A taut, creepy, page-turning thriller that deserves to be on every year-end best-of and award-nominee list out there.

Blame
by Michelle Huneven 
Farrar Straus Giroux | 9780374114305 | $25 | Sept 2009

The point here is this: Michelle Huneven has her finger on the pulse of the Human Condition (remember that phase from Shakespeare 101?). Her characters and their interactions are as real as any in contemporary fiction. This is a heartbreaking and heartwarming novel by a rising star who still believes that the best fiction revolves around real people struggling with real life. Simply an amazing read.

Everything Matters
by Ron Currie Jr.
Viking Books | 9780670020928 | $25.95 | June 2009

A good writer of experimental fiction understands how important it is to surprise the reader with literary pratfalls and trapdoors. A good writer of experimental fiction will wow you with their imagination; they will shock you with their inventiveness. They will play the literary shell game with you and you won’t be able to find the ball when all is said and done. 

That's good experimental fiction, not great. The problem is, nine times out of ten, they will have no effect on your emotions.

Then there are the great writers of experimental fiction. Not only can they accomplish the wizardry listed above, but they can also move you to tears. They can evoke emotions in their readers that somehow belie the playfulness of their prose. Ron Currie, Jr.’s Everything Matters! is, by my estimation, a truly great piece of experimental fiction.

***

> More on Await Your Reply from the Northshire Bookstore's blog, by their adult buyer, Stan Hynds: "With careful deliberation he builds each story, chapter by chapter–a hint here and piece of information there–until he reveals the book’s chilling secrets.  I highly recommend this haunting, brilliant novel."

> More on Blame from the blog of Boswell Book Company's owner, Daniel Goldin (hint: he really loves it): " it’s clear that Huneven writes about addiction and recovery like few others. Above all, Blame is suffused with humor and grace, making this the kind of book I didn’t want to let go."

> More on Everything Matters! from Pudd'nhead Books' owner Nikki Furrer in her email announcement about the book: "The best book you'll read this year, we promise. ... This book is the reason I'm a voracious reader...I am constantly looking for stories that are this beautiful and haunting and extraordinary. I hope you feel the same way about that I do. But if you don't, if you feel like the book isn't emotionally connecting with you, if it bores you, if you don't like the writing or the characters - bring it back for a full refund."