In the few short weeks we have left of summer, you can read a couple of these gems, each only 200 pages long (or less). They're everything you want in late summer: a little bit French (The Waitress Was New and The End of Eddy), a little bit dark (The Redemption of Galen Pike and I'm Thinking of Ending Things), a little bit warped (Days of Abandonment and Fever Dream), delightfully enlightening (300 Arguments, The Last Word, and Curry), and gently profound (Walks with Walser).
I haven't had a themed flight in a while, but seeing as shit has been getting a little too real, I figured it was time for this one. Thankfully these authors can help us through the distinctly orange-hued fog we find ourselves in world-wide:
- INJUN, by Jordan Abel: A playful yet powerful reclamation that just won the Griffin Poetry Prize.
- EXIT WEST, by Mohsin Hamid: This novel opens on the brink of civil war, when even so, people still take classes, fall in love, and follow the gently noble routines that will help them endure the unfathomable in the pages ahead.
- NO IS NOT ENOUGH, by Naomi Klein: The precise book the world need at this precise moment – appropriately orange-hued.
- CITIZEN, by Claudia Rankine: The book a young black woman was reading at a Trump rally last year – a quietly powerful act of protest.
- THE HANDMAID'S TALE, by Margaret Atwood: The novel that became the Hulu documentary.
- THE REFUGEES, by Viet Thanh Nguyen: This one is actually the lightest of the bunch! Exquisite stories about people caught between their adopted home and their homeland.
- ON TYRANNY, by Timothy Snyder: In twenty succinct points, you'll get your head screwed on right about what democracy is for: avoiding tyranny.
- THE ORIGINS OF TOTALITARIANISM, by Hannah Arendt: Published in 1951 so that we could all understand and prevent the tendencies that led to Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. Time to re-up on this one.
- TELL ME HOW IT ENDS, by Valeria Luiselli: Luiselli works at the immigration courts in NYC, helping children answer the questions that will determine their fate. Brace yourself.
- AMERICAN WAR, by Omar El Akkad: A gripping story I dearly hope isn't prophetic. It tells of the ruin wrought by a second American Civil War.
Get them at The Weekend Variety (1080 Queen W), The Gladstone (1214 Queen W), The Good Neighbour (678 Bloor W), and Northwood General (800 Bloor W).
Flying Books' first-anniversary flight is devoted to fiction by women. I'm with Paulina Chiziane, the first Mozambican woman to publish a novel, whose The First Wife is a shining example of, well, shine theory. I'm with Chris Kraus, author of the iconic I Love Dick (the TV pilot is good, but the book is better [duh]). I'm with Joni Murphy, whose brilliant Double Teenage was a deserving bestseller at Type Books. I'm with Leopoldine Core, whose story collection, When Watched, gently cuts to the heart of all matters. I'm with Jade Sharma not despite but because of her Problems. I'm with Magda Szabo, whose masterpiece, The Door, portrays difficult truths about human connection and disconnection. I'm with Man Booker shortlister Ottessa Moshfegh because Eileen is crazy good. I'm with Yaa Gyasi, whose Homegoing is an incredible feat of imagination, spanning centuries. I'm with Emma Cline for getting at something true and original about female influence in The Girls. And I'm with Lucia Berlin, whose simple, unadorned stories in A Manual for Cleaning Women are finally being celebrated as the little miracles they are.
I could go on about the connections among these books — cleaning, drugs, sex, art, self-harm, self-abnegation, prostitution, female friendship — but it will be way more fun for you to read and marvel at them separately and together. Get with all of them at a Flying Books location near you.
Flying Books is already a year old! Here's a nice piece by Michael Melgaard marking the occasion in the National Post. Thank you, Katharine Mulherin, for giving me a perch; and thanks also to Richard Pope at Northwood General, Christina Zeidler at the Gladstone Hotel, and Ezra at Ezra's Pound for the additional perches. Thank you Leanne Shapton, for the lovely logo. Thank you guest choosers, publishers, wholesalers, distributors, sales reps, publicists, and the many incredible writers who write such amazing books that I had to get out there and sell some. And thank you, dear customers, for buying them!
Four great novels on race in America that everyone should read right now:
- Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi – already on several best-books-of-the-year lists
- The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead – an Oprah's Book Club selection and instant bestseller
- Grace, by Natashia Deón – much praised by respected critics
- The Sellout, by Paul Beatty – on the 2016 Man Booker longlist
Also make sure to read Kathryn Schulz's essay in the New Yorker, where she discusses Whitehead's book and observes the odd mythologies that surround the Underground Railroad, the figurative network of "conductors" who worked together to help free the enslaved. Reading any or all of these books will help keep the engines of equality rolling forward.
Flying Books' summer guest chooser is Iain Reid, author of the national bestseller I'm Thinking of Ending Things (read it, and keep all the lights on). Start with Ottessa Moshfegh's suspenseful and darkly funny Eileen; then go even darker with Doris Lessing's freaky and unsettling The Fifth Child; take an ominous turn with Don DeLillo's masterful White Noise; then try Sjon's magically complex The Whispering Muse; and finish with Julia Child's palate-cleansing My Life in France. Get them while they last at the Weekend Variety, 1080 Queen St W.
The books in this flight are about the flora and fauna around and above us, in the air we breathe, underwater, and even inside us. The flight is dedicated to those still fighting or displaced by the Alberta wildfires. Reading any of these books is to realize plants, fish, birds, and other life on Earth could easily thrive without us, yet there is no way we could exist without them. In the spirit of reciprocity running through each book, something we can do is assist the efforts to put out the wildfires currently transforming Alberta's boreal forests beyond all imagining.
I asked Hope Jahren, author of Lab Girl, who knows a thing or two about trees, her thoughts on Alberta's blazing forests, and she wrote the following:
When I read about the fires in Alberta, I know that I should picture the inferno itself, more lethal and magnificent than anything Dante ever dreamed – no angels or devils within, no robed guide leading an awakening novice, no pausing to mark the pathos of each hapless sinner – just a raging wall of white-hot fire obliterating complex life into simple fuel. I have heard people posit that conifer forests like fire, and that they need it, citing cones that relax open only after sealing resin melts, whereupon they drop seeds into the charred open – a blank slate primed for new growth.
But instead, I think about my ankle: the one I broke three years ago that will never be the same. My treatment was long and slow, and had been developed from trial and error; there was a plan to get me on my feet again, and we followed it and it worked. But it doesn’t mean that I liked having my ankle broken, and I certainly didn’t need it. Injury is never less than injury, even when all ends well. And fire is never less than fire. And the forests of Alberta will never be the same.
During the Minnesota summer, the sun doesn’t set until ten. This year we are seeing the most beautiful skies to the north, a rich red-orange light that washes up from the horizon and across the heavens. We know these sunsets mean that Canada is still burning, but we are entranced despite ourselves. We stare out each evening, spellbound, and watch Alberta’s forests bleed into the sky.
– Hope Jahren, author of Lab Girl
Flying Books is back at the Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen St W) with a flight of books that talk to one another.Read More
Nothing exposes the absurdities of power like great art. Orwell did this with Nineteen Eighty-Four. Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer is on that level, and his captain’s confession will change your view not only of the war in Vietnam, which he shows in brutal new light, but of war and its aftermath itself – right now. A dazzlingly written spy thriller that’s also very fun to read. Get it at The Weekend Variety (1080 Queen Street W), Northwood General (800 Bloor St W), Ezra's Pound (238 Dupont St), or The Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen St W).
Here's an excerpt from the inimitable Terry Gross’s wonderful interview with Nguyen on yesterday's Fresh Air:
NGUYEN: . . . [O]ne of the first movies that I remember watching was Apocalypse Now. I was probably about 10. And I think that was the first indication, also, that I had that there was something called this war and that this was how Americans saw this war as one that had divided them. And that was my first glimmering that there was something like a civil war happening in the American soul and that we as Vietnamese people were caught up in that because I watched that movie as a good, American boy who had already seen some American war movies - John Wayne in World War II.
And I was cheering for the American soldiers until the moment in Apocalypse Now where they started killing Vietnamese people. And that was an impossible moment for me because I didn't know who I was supposed to identify with, the Americans who were doing the killing or the Vietnamese who were dying and not being able to speak?
And that moment has never left me as the symbolic moment of my understanding that this was our place in an American war, that the Vietnam War was an American war from the American perspective and that, eventually, I would have to do something about that.
[. . .]
GROSS: Do you see your novel The Sympathizer in part as an answer to that, as an alternative way of seeing the war, a way of seeing it through Vietnamese eyes as opposed to through American eyes?
NGUYEN: You know, absolutely. It's my revenge on Francis Ford Coppola.
Flying Books' current guest chooser is Amy Stuart, author of the national best-seller Still Mine. I asked Amy to pick books for people to buy their moms, and she has picked some incredible books. For moms who like smart speculative fiction: Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel; the just-published In-Between Days, by Teva Harrison; Giller Prize-winner Fifteen Dogs, by André Alexis; for moms who have given birth to a devil-child (perhaps you?): We Need to Talk about Kevin, by Lionel Shriver; and for moms who know social justice begins at home: Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Flying Books' current guest chooser is Sarah Bakewell, award-winning author of At the Existentialist Café, which vividly revives the birth of modern existentialism in 1930s Paris. Sarah has chosen five books she loves, and her choices reflect the wide range of her own interests across time and disciplines: The Pillow Book, a uniquely enduring collection of observations, scandals, tips, and etiquette, by Sei Shonagon, a lady-in-waiting in the Japanese empress's court in the 10th century; What I Don't Know About Animals, by Jenny Diski, a dark and witty book that elucidates out how little we know about non-human animals; Vladimir Nabokov's hilarious and slightly horrifying Pnin; Yuval Noah Harari's ambitious Sapiens, which tells the entire history of our species; and Ostend, Volker Weidermann's beautiful portrait of the uprooted world of displaced writers Stefan Zweig and Josef Roth in 1936 Belgium.
If you're in Toronto this Wednesday, April 13, come to the Gladstone Hotel for the launch of At the Existentialist Café. Sartre, Beauvoir, and Camus will be there!
What Belongs to You has been called a masterpiece and the first great novel of 2016. I believe the unanimous praise is warranted. Greenwell’s long, bendy, viscous sentences perfectly evoke the human desire that is his focus. The story clusters around a handful of episodes, each pulling you in more deeply than the last. When every experience of love has caused pain, and lust seems the prudent course, what happens when love takes hold and what obligation does it carry? This is an exquisite book.
Find choosily chosen books at The Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen St W), Northwood General Store (800 Bloor St W), and Ezra's Pound (238 Dupont St), as well as our original location, inside The Weekend Variety (1080 Queen St W). There's a new chain in town!
Thank you, LitHub, for this wonderful interview with Graywolf's Jeff Shotts, who has worked with so many amazing writers: Maggie Nelson, Leslie Jamison, Eula Biss, Claudia Rankine, and more. Huge respect for his work and outlook:
"I don’t believe editors should impose themselves upon a book. That suggests an adversarial approach, rather than one of advocacy and respect. The writer and the editor are at the mutual endeavor of lifting up a literary work to its readers. It may seem obvious, but the writer writes and the editor edits. The book is the writer’s work, and the editor’s work is to listen very, very carefully to the work and to the writer—carefully enough that the editor makes suggestions, ideally, inside and with the writer’s voice. Looked at that way, editing becomes an act of empathy."
It turns out Clarice Lispector's translator, Katrina Dodson, has a literary crush on Elena Ferrante's translator, Ann Goldstein, to the extent that Dodson frequently asks herself, "What would Ann Goldstein do?" Their conversation in Guernica about translating The Complete Stories and the Neapolitan novels is a delightful glimpse into the inner workings of literary genius.
Flying Books' current guest chooser is Misha Glouberman, host of the popular Trampoline Hall lecture series and expert in conflict resolution, communication, and negotiation skills. Misha teaches a series of classes on these topics called "How to Talk to People about Things." His book, The Chairs Are Where the People Go, co-authored with Sheila Heti, was called "a triumph of what might be called conversational philosophy . . . Hilarious and humane" by The New Yorker. Pictured here are the only books Misha recommended to me (Misha: "I only like about five books." Me: "That's totally okay!"), and they started selling even as I was putting them on the shelf. Get smart about talking to people about things with Difficult Conversations, Getting to Yes (these two should be read together, says Misha), and The Consultant's Calling (which is changing my life already). Misha also recommends Filthy Lucre, for getting smarter about economics, and Ant Farm, because it's really funny. Selling fast at 1080 Queen W.
Get the Giller winner before it's announced! 1080 Queen Street West.