Thursday, July 27, 2017

A Vast Energy-Broth: Reading Lincoln in the Bardo

Everything was real; inconceivably real, infinitely dear. These and all things started as nothing, latent within a vast energy-broth, but then we named them, and loved them, and, in this way, brought them forth. And now we must lose them.
~George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo

We just finished listening to the audiobook of George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo. Seven hours and 166 voices! The magazine Wired says the audiobook "feels like a movie," and we really can't argue with that assessment, particularly as the readers include Susan Sarandon, Julianne Moore, Don Cheadle, Nick Offerman, and Megan Mullally. Author Colson Whitehead called the book "a luminous feat of generosity and humanism."

For those of you who haven't heard of George Saunders' first foray into novel-writing (he was previously known for short stories and essays, particularly the collection Tenth of December), Lincoln in the Bardo is the story of the one night during Abraham Lincoln's presidency, in the first year of the war and after the death of his son Willie, "his parents’ darling" - the Lincolns had four sons, but only one survived to adulthood - but the story is told primarily as an oral history by the residents of the graveyard in which Willie was temporarily interred, Georgetown's Oak Hill Cemetery. The term "bardo" refers to "the transitional state between life and death defined by Tibetan Buddhism." As Saunders was writing the book, he could see a statue of Lincoln from his office at Syracuse University - as he told GQ magazine, "He's in a meditative posture. He's sitting with his legs spread wide and looking down. I would wander out there to kind of remind myself that, you know, he was a real person and that he was a little inclined to depression. Almost like a gut check: ‘Okay, man, I'm still trying to do you justice.’ ”

The book dances between the stories told by residents of the afterworld and historical sources. Saunders cites over 39 sources just in the first 50 pages of the book - in fact, the term op. cit. is employed so many times in the audiobook, we were confused at first, being unfamiliar with that citation. However, not every source is the real deal, though all the quotes go a long way towards evoking Lincoln's era. In NPR's generally favorable review, author Maureen Corrigan takes him to task for his "postmodern" mix of real historical sources and imagined ones - "Throughout Lincoln in the Bardo, Saunders intersperses chapters packed with quotes from historical sources. He gives citations for these historical sources and some are legit — like Doris Kearns Goodwin's book on Lincoln, for instance. But other sources are made up. All the historical passages are tossed together indiscriminately" - while Colson Whitehead argues "Are the nonfiction excerpts — from presidential historians, Lincoln biographers, Civil War chroniclers — real or fake? Who cares? Keep going, read the novel, Google later." What's your take on the issue?

A Washington Post review enthuses, "The quotations gathered from scores of different voices begin to cohere into a hypnotic conversation that moves with the mysterious undulations of a flock of birds."  Passages describing young Willie Lincoln are extremely specific and moving, describing his traits and habits (including blinking from under his bangs, baggy suit, and ceremonial salutes to his father's cabinet), convincing us at first that all the quotes were from real sources. Personally, we have to confess to a little sadness that some of the titles quoted do not exist - we wouldn't mind reading an anthology called White House Soirees, or even the somewhat maudlinly-titled The President's Little Men and Lincoln's Lost Angel, not to mention A Season of War and Loss and Long Road to Glory. But some of the titles quoted do exist, and Lincoln enthusiasts can find several of the books cited by Saunders or related books by the same authors in the library catalog:

Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House by Elizabeth Keckly

Lincoln, An Illustrated Biography by Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr., Philip B. Kunhardt III, Peter W. Kunhardt; Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr. also co-authored Twenty Days with Dorothy Meserve Kundhardt 

Lincoln and Whitman: Parallel Lives in Civil War Washington by Daniel Mark Epstein, author of The Lincolns: Portrait of a Marriage 

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Not cited by Saunders, but another fictional take on the era that may perhaps be of interest: The Murder of Willie Lincoln by Burt Solomon.

The following titles are not in the library catalog, but might be borrowed using Interlibrary Loan. Interlibrary Loan is a cooperative service among libraries for obtaining materials not available in our catalog. Items requested are located, ordered, and, if available for loan, shipped by mail to the branch library of your choice. Interlibrary Loan service is available to New Mexico residents with full accounts in good standing - simply submit a signed  Interlibrary Loan application form in person at any branch of the the Public Library Albuquerque/Bernalillo County.

Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America's Most Perilous Year by David Von Drehle

Mr. Lincoln's Washington by Stanley Kimmel  

With Lincoln in the White House by John G. Nicolay, edited by Michael Burlingame 

Lincoln's Sons by Ruth Painter Randall 

"Tad Lincoln's Father" by Julia Taft Bayne [article] 

Reveille in Washington, 1860-1865 by Margaret Leech

Witness to the Young Republic: A Yankee's Journal, 1828-1870 by Benjamin Brown French, et al. 
If you don't want to visit any extra sources, you can still further immerse yourself in the world of Lincoln in the Bardo via virtual reality - experience the graveyard and its inhabitants with the New York Times VR app. But perhaps the novel on its own is enough, as it tussles over "great matters...freedom and slavery, the spirit and the body" while making Abraham Lincoln come alive, tender and tragic, amidst the boisterous shades.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

New & Novel: Debut Fiction

Shelves full of books in a cosy library corner with two empty chairs and a lamp at night University of Toronto Canada Fiction section in Hart house library. Photo. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016. Accessed 7 Jul 2017.
For a reader, there’s something magical about picking up a first novel — that promise of discovery, the possibility of finding a new writer whose work you can love for years to come, the likelihood of semi-autobiography for you to mull over. The debut is even more important for the writer — after all, you only get one first impression. Luckily, there are a lot of fantastic first impressions to be had. 
~Emily Temple, "50 of the Greatest Debut Novels Since 1950

Whether you are one of the National Book Foundation's 5 Under 35 (or even famous before you were 23), Monica Ali (her book Brick Lane was shortlisted for a literary prize while still a manuscript), one-book-wonders like Margaret Mitchell and Emily Brontë, whether you were inspired to write by a writing group (Toni Morrison) or got your start as a translator (Isabel Allende), were first self-published (Virginia Woolf), didn't get your start until you were over 40 (James Michener & Raymond Chandler), or almost became a chaplain instead of a writer (John Green), or if it took you 15 years to write a book (Patrick Rothfuss), it's a big deal to get your first novel published, and especially if you make a big splash. Any of the books on this list (descriptions are taken from the library catalog) could be the next big thing, and many of these authors may have a distinguished career in letters ahead of them! Why not try out some debut fiction today? You might find your new favorite author!

The Windfall by Diksha Basu
"A heartfelt comedy of manners, Diksha Basu's debut novel unfolds the story of a family discovering what it means to make it in modern India."

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan
"When a bookshop patron commits suicide, his favorite store clerk must unravel the puzzle he left behind in this fiendishly clever debut novel from an award-winning short story writer."

Chemistry by Weike Wang
"A novel about a young Chinese woman whose graduate studies in chemistry go off track and lead her to discover the truths about her goals and desires."

Hum If You Don't Know the Words by Bianca Marais
"...interwoven narratives create a rich and complex tapestry of the emotions and tensions at the heart of Apartheid-era South Africa. Hum if You Don't Know the Words is a beautifully rendered look at loss, racism, and the creation of family."

Sour Heart: Stories by Jenny Zhang
"A debut collection of stories that plunge readers into the tender and chaotic hearts of adolescent girls growing up in New York City, from celebrated poet and National Magazine Award nominee Jenny Zhang."

Lola by Melissa Scrivner Love
"An astonishing debut crime thriller about an unforgettable woman who combines the genius and ferocity of Lisbeth Salander with the ruthless ambition of Walter White." 

What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons
"An elegiac distillation, at once intellectual and visceral, of a young woman's understanding of absence and identity that spans continents and decades, What We Lose heralds the arrival of a virtuosic new voice in fiction."

Sorry to Disrupt the Peace by Patty Yumi Cottrell
"A bleakly comic tour de force that’s by turns poignant, uproariously funny, and viscerally unsettling, this debut novel has shades of Bernhard, Beckett and Bowles—and it announces the singular voice of Patty Yumi Cottrell."

Talon of God by Wesley Snipes
"The acclaimed actor makes his fiction debut with this enthralling urban fantasy in which a holy warrior must convince a doctor with no faith to help stop a powerful demon and his minions from succeeding in creating hell on earth - a thrilling adventure of science and faith, good and evil, damnation and salvation." 

Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett
"How a whip-smart young girl handles the loss of her mother and the reorientation of her family; charming and beautifully written."

Eggshells by Catriona Lally 
"Vivian doesn't feel like she fits in - and never has. As a child, she was so whimsical that her parents told her she was 'left by fairies.' Now, living alone in Dublin, the neighbors treat her like she's crazy, her older sister condescends to her, social workers seem to have registered her as troubled, and she hasn't a friend in the world. So, she decides it's time to change her life."

Sycamore by Bryn Chancellor 
"Sycamore is a coming-of-age story, a mystery, and a moving exploration of the elemental forces that drive human nature--desire, loneliness, grief, love, forgiveness, and hope--as witnessed through the inhabitants of one small Arizona town."

No One Is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts 
"No One Is Coming to Save Us is a revelatory debut from an insightful voice; with echoes of The Great Gatsby, it is an arresting and powerful novel about an extended African American family and their colliding visions of the American Dream. In evocative prose, Stephanie Powell Watts has crafted a full and stunning portrait that combines a universally resonant story with an intimate glimpse into the hearts of one family."

Taduno's Song by Odafe Atogun
"A stunning debut from a fresh Nigerian literary voice: a mesmerizing, deceptively simple, Kafkaesque narrative, resonant of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and lightly informed by the life of Nigerian musical superstar Fela Kuti--a powerful story of love, sacrifice, and courage. " 

My Sister's Bones by Nuala Ellwood
"In the vein of Fiona Barton's The Widow and Renée Knight's Disclaimer, a psychological thriller about a war reporter who returns to her childhood home after her mother's death but becomes convinced that all is not well in the house next door but is what she's seeing real or a symptom of the trauma she suffered in Syria?"

The Color of Our Sky by Amita Trasi [eBook]
"In the spirit of Khaled Hosseini, Nadia Hashimi and Shilpi Somaya Gowda comes this powerful debut from a talented new voice—a sweeping, emotional journey of two childhood friends in Mumbai, India, whose lives converge only to change forever one fateful night."

The Wages of Sin by Kaite Welsh 
"A page-turning tale of murder, subversion and vice in which a female medical student in Victorian Edinburgh is drawn into a murder investigation when she recognizes one of the corpses in her anatomy lecture."

Sonora by Hannah Lillith Assadi 
"This debut novel by Assadi, a recent MFA grad, is a hypnotic coming-of-age story set in the Southwestern Sonoran Desert and New York City. Like Assadi herself, Ahlam is the daughter of a Palestinian refugee father and an Israeli mother, and her intimate narration carries the reader effortlessly between the past and the present, through a kaleidoscope of memories, as she sits at her father's side in the hospital."

Blue Light Yokohama by Nicolás Obregón
"Nicolás Obregón balances the key components of modern detective fiction seamlessly: a damaged hero, the requisite layer of urban grittiness, a possible love interest, a taunting serial killer and a series of frustrating, misleading clues."

Almost Missed You by Jessica Strawser
"Jessica Strawser's Almost Missed You is a powerful story of a mother's love, a husband's betrayal, connections that maybe should have been missed, secrets that perhaps shouldn't have been kept, and spaces between what's meant to be and what might have been." 

The Girl from Rawblood by Catriona Ward
"Ward's layered and skillfully crafted novel weaves elements of classic gothic and horror into a remarkable story populated by unforgettable characters, palpable atmosphere, and rich lyricism. Imagine the darkest and goriest undertones of Edgar Allan Poe, the Brontës, Charles Dickens, and Shirley Jackson, and you'll have an idea of what Ward offers here."    

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Literary Links: Personal Libraries


Working in the stacks all day, you start to have increasingly specific opinions about books and how they are displayed.  How do you organize your home library - in order by author? Color-coded? By size? "Organising book collections can be therapeutic; dividing them after a break-up can be heartbreaking; while blending them with a new partner can unearth hitherto unknown personality traits," Emma Jacobs writes in the Financial Times. People have posted their "shelfie" to Instagram. Do books reveal something about the reader, as The Millions claims? You decide. But here are some very pretty personal libraries for you to drool over while you mull over these issues. 😊

The Library at Grey Gardens [Paris Review]

The Libraries, Studies, and Writing Rooms of 15 Famous Men [Art of Manliness]

A Peek Inside the Libraries of Famous Writers [Flavorwire]

Libraries of the Rich and Famous [Book Riot]

These 10 Home Libraries Are For People Who Really, Really Love Their Books [HuffPost]

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Pacific Rim Noir

PACIFIC OCEAN/ASIA, 1595. - Map of the Pacific Ocean and South-East Asia from the 1595 edition of Abraham Ortelius' atlas "Theatrum Orbis Terrarum.". Fine Art. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016. Accessed 8 Jul 2017.
...there is no single landscape of crime around the edges of the Pacific. From darkness-shrouded mean streets through neon nightmares and on to bodies on beaches, crime novels set near the Pacific don't look as much like one another as, say, mysteries set in Chicago do. Still, if in Chicago, there's always an El train rumbling by in the background, on the Pacific Rim, there's always that behemoth of an ocean somewhere nearby doing its own kind of're like to hear in the sounds of the surf what Matthew Arnold called "the turbid ebb and flow/Of human misery."  
~Bill Ott, "A Hard-Boiled Gazetteer to the Pacific Rim"

A remote Australian bush town. Laos 1979. Political corruption in modern China. A Buddhist Thai policeman. The hills of Bali. The south Australia coast. Singapore's high society. North Korea's Ministry of People's Security. A Hong Kong mansion. A gritty police procedural set in Queensland. South Korea in 1974. The mean streets of Sydney. Manila's Quezon City. Violent robberies in Auckland City. A sidelined police inspector in Communist Shanghai. The wild mountains at the Lao-Vietnam border. These are just a few of the people and places you'll find in the noir set in the Pacific Rim, for those who like their reads dark and and gritty and with an Asian flair.

Blood Junction by Caroline Carver [large print]

The Broken Shore by Peter Temple 

Chain of Evidence by Garry Disher 

Crucifixion Creek by Barry Maitland 

Cambodia Noir by Nicholas Seeley 

Good Death by Christopher R. Cox 

I Shot the Buddha by Colin Cotterill 

The Ghost Shift by John Gapper 

Nine Dragons by Michael Connelly 

Shanghai Redemption by Qiu Xiaolong 

The Wolves by Alex Berenson 

Black Water by Louise Doughty 

A Corpse in the Koryo by James Church

Mr. Kill by Martin Limón 

Only the Dead by Ben Sanders [eBook]

Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan 

The Singapore School of Villainy by Shamini Flint 

Bangkok Haunts by John Burdett 

The Fear Artist by Tim Hallinan    

Thursday, July 13, 2017

New & Novel: Western Fiction

Four Mile Old West Town, Custer, Black Hills, South Dakota, United States of America, North America. Photography. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016. Accessed 17 Jun 2017.
The discovery of the Americas and the mysterious, unexplored West fired the imagination of Spanish conquistadors, English pilgrims, French fur traders, and the legions that have followed over the centuries. In spurts, awestruck and hypnotized by the power and beauty of the land, we pushed the boundaries of the known Western Hemisphere to the edge of dense forests, over endless grassy prairies, through towering barrier mountains, and finally across scorched deserts to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Explorers, naturalists, soldiers, cowboys, poets, adventurers, treasure hunters, army wives, artists, gold miners, traders, stockmen, European noblemen, and just about anyone else you can think of who traveled by foot, horse, or wagon under the vast western sky and could put pen to paper felt compelled to write about the American West. And it hasn’t stopped yet.
~Michael McGarrity, "Top Ten Essential Western Novels You Have to Read"

Did you know that the Western was the most popular Hollywood film genre until the 1960s? That's probably why when we think of Westerns, we think of Shane, The Virginian, True Grit, and The Ox-Bow Incident, though we're familiar with authors as well - Louis L'Amour, Elmer Kelton, William W. Johnstone, Johnny D. Boggs, Zane Grey, and Cormac McCarthy. But though the genre has a rich canon of classics to choose from, there are new Westerns being published all the time! Additionally, there are subgenres, such as Western romance, horror Westerns, space Westerns, and Western graphic novels, though much current Western fiction adheres to the familiar 1860 - 1900 setting and a recognizably Old West cast of characters.

We hope you will enjoy some of these new and novel Western titles from the library catalog:

Huck Out West by Robert Coover

World, Chase Me Down by Andrew Hilleman  [large print]

Centennial by James Michener [eBook, eAudio]

The Son by Philipp Meyer 

The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward, Robert Ford by Ron Hansen 

American Meteor by Norman Lock [eAudio] 

Barkskins by Annie Proulx [eAudio] 

El Paso by Winston Groom [book on CD] 

Crossing Purgatory by Gary Schanbacher

The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by Michael Ondaatje [eAudio] 

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

Kind of Kin by Rilla Askew 

Winter In the Blood by James Welch 

Matchless: A Western Story by Jane Candia Coleman

The Brave Cowboy: An Old Tale In a New Time by Edward Abbey  

The Sisters Brothers by  Patrick deWitt     

Doc by Mary Doria Russell 

Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen

Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison [eBook, eAudio] 

Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman [YA]

Silver On the Road by Laura Anne Gilman

Paradise Sky by Joe R. Lansdale

Glorious: A Novel of the American West by Jeff Guinn

Painted Horses by Malcolm Brooks


12 Best Darn Western Books of All Time [Early Bird Books] 

Yee haw! 10 Western novels that show how wild the West really was [Ink Tank]  

Top 10 Western books [American Cowboy]  

Spur Awards winners [Western Writers of America] 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

New & Novel: Historical Fiction

Experts say if you want to learn about political history, read history books. If you want to learn about social history and what life was like at a given time and place, read historical fiction.
~Michelle Ulle, "Why Read Historical Fiction?"

Why read historical fiction? It can educate readers about the past; it can write about society from the point of view of voices that were marginalized during past eras; it can connect the dots between the world of the past and the world as it is today; sometimes it is is written about characters who actually existed; it can be interesting to see how different authors have interpreted the same event; for children, it can help start a discussion about difficult topics; it can make history come alive for readers in a way that textbooks may not and encourages empathy.

Some of the most popular historical fiction of recent years has included Wolf Hall, All the Light We Cannot See, The Poisonwood Bible, Code Name Verity, Outlander, The Pillars of the Earth, and The Book Thief. Do you have a favorite historical fiction book, or a favorite historical period you like to read about? Let us know in the comments! Here are some new and novel titles from a variety of different eras for you to consider:

The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates

The Bones of Paradise by Jonis Agee

Chango's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes by William Kennedy

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead [book on CD]

There Your Heart Lies by Mary Gordon

The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson

The Baker's Secret by Stephen P. Keirnan [eBook]

A Hero of France by Alan Furst [eAudio]

The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie

Jerusalem by Alan Moore

The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer

Becoming Bonnie by Jenni Walsh 

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke

Rani Patel in Full Effect by Sonia Patel [YA]

The House at Bishopsgate by Katie Hickman 

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders  [eAudio]

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain 

Unspeakable Things by Kathleen Spivack

Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir

Isadora by Amelia Gray

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry [YA]

Lilli de Jong by Janet Benton 

The Lost History of Stars by Dave Boling 

Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig

The Book of Harlan by Bernice L. McFadden 

Music of the Ghosts by Vaddey Ratner