Tis’ the Season for Great Gift Titles

Tis’ the season to pick titles for the lit lovers in your life. Below is this week’s shopping list for those of you looking for great reads to put under the tree. For a little gift-giving on the side, each title below is linked to one of Michigan’s fabulous indie bookstores where you can order and support our literary arts right from your merry little home.

– Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell  (award-winning Michigan author)

– The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (hot fiction – more on McLain)

– The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (Pulitzer-winning Michigan author)

– Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton (more on chef Hamilton)

– Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon (award-winning Michigan author)

– The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2011 Booker Prize for Fiction)

– Annabel by Kathleen Winter (shortlisted for this year’s Orange Prize)

– Sister by Rosamund Lupton (debut mystery)

– The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach (debut bestseller)

*Support your local bookstores, libraries and universities. It matters.

– Post by Megan Shaffer

Julian Barnes’ “The Sense of an Ending” Exacts Emotional Price Worth Paying

Cover ImageAuthor Julian Barnes is no stranger to award-winning works. His past literary distinctions include the Somerset Maugham Award, The E.M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize among others. Now Barnes must make room on the shelf for his latest honor: the much-coveted Booker Prize for Fiction.

Barnes has been a contender for the “posh bingo” prize before with his titles Arthur and George (2005), England, England (1998) and Flaubert’s Parrot (1984), but it is his 2011 release, The Sense of an Ending, that has made the fourth time a charm.

The Sense of an Ending is quick yet complex and holds that deep, dark-paneled feel of a classic. Barnes manipulates the lens of time through the eyes of middle-aged Tony Webster as he picks through the shifting shards of his memory. A contemplation on singular existence, The Sense of an Ending is a beautiful depiction of age, regret, friendship and the fluctuant perspective of life.

To read or not to read?

The Sense of an Ending is a gorgeous work, but it is troubling. The highbrow, jovial banter of adolescent dialogue early in the book painfully gives way to thoughts and realities of adult self-inquisition and consideration of a life well led.

The Sense of an Ending demands a certain reader-boldness willing to identify with Tony as he looks back with surprise on the shadowed actions of his life and the ease with which we slip into human complacency. That said, The Sense of an Ending is an exquisite page-turner – not for the faint of heart and not to be missed.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries and universities. It matters.

– Post by Megan Shaffer

 Related Links

PBS: A Conversation with Julian Barnes

Guardian: Booker Prize 2011: Julian Barnes Triumphs at Last

-New York Times (potential spoilers) Julian Barnes and the Emotions of Englishmen

Wrap Yourself in Winter with ‘The Windward Shore’

Cover ImageSlowing things down in our furiously paced society is a discipline or luxury few of us can afford. Technology, economy, and mere 21st century self-preservation have together constructed a high-speed connection to a life that leaves many of us sapped and stopping to smell only the virtual roses.

If winter, which was once respected as a period of rest and quiescence, has become a bang-out battle to avoid the flu and maximize those dwindling daylight hours, then perhaps you should meet Michigan author Jerry Dennis.

Dennis has made the very ebb and flow of the Great Lakes define his life’s direction. Well known for his literary works on nature, science, outdoor sports, Michigan’s lakes, and this entire Bountiful World, Dennis has become the collective voice of integrity when considering our magnificent waterways.

His latest book, The Windward Shore: A Winter on the Great Lakes, is a timely work as we silently slip from the hands of autumn into those of winter. The Windward Shore covers a season of winter solitude along Michigan’s shores in which Dennis lived in homes both posh and crude, taking in and reflecting upon our ever-evolving relationship with nature.

Dennis is a deep thinker, but he’s an accessible writer who won’t leave you behind. He takes the time to examine and brief us on our current eco-condition, and rewards with passages of introspection and great beauty.

“Wild nature is crucial to our well-being. It is our universal reservoir of hope. It is the raw material for our daydreams and night dreams. It sustains us even when our other hopes languish – hope in technology, for instance, or effective government, or wise leaders. An afterlife is the hope for many, of course, but for now, for life on earth, the only life we know, we turn to the remaining unspoiled deserts, forests, mountains, and seas, even if only in imagination and art, for relief from the turmoil of everyday life.”

Despite its depth, Dennis strikes an easy balance and offers plenty of humor as he grapples with his own bouts of boredom and unsettling ennui that so often hit us during winter’s thick-armed stretch. While some environmentalists push and preach, Dennis is a realist who doesn’t sound-off or claim to rise above. Instead, he defers to his subject matter – nature – with nothing less than sheer awe and appreciation of her power and unrelenting splendor.

The Windward Shore is a provoking work meant to accompany slow, steaming cups of coffee rather than an extra hot grande-on-the-go. It’s not  a wild page-turner that blows through to the end, but a work seasoned to mull over, enjoy, and consider long after you close the cover. “Let this be a celebration, then, and a grieving,” writes Dennis of The Windward Shore. “Both a love song and a lament. A tribute to what was and a plea for what remains.”

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

– Post by Megan Shaffer

Related Links

Jerry Dennis podcast discussion of his book, The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas

University of Michigan Press

Prior NLR Post on Living the Great Lakes

Childress Turns Up Southern Heat and Humor in “Georgia Bottoms”

Cover ImageLooking for scandal and a splash of sass? Then you must meet Ms. Georgia Bottoms of Six Points, Alabama. Mark Childress, author of One Mississippi and Crazy in Alabama, turns up that sultry southern heat in his latest novel featuring one larger-than-life heroine in one tiny, mixed-up town.

Having fallen a touch on hard times, Georgia Bottoms has turned to the business of “entertaining” gentlemen to keep up appearances and hold her rather unorthodox family together. Scheduling an elaborate six-night rotation with the high and mighty men of Six Points, Ms. Bottoms is a sexual whirlwind with a straighten-your-skirts practicality.

Childress does a fantastic job of playing up the eccentricities of the southern women he loves so much. Georgia is a laugh-riot as she attempts to keep her hair coiffed and her outrageous secrets in check.

“For some reason I really enjoy exploring southern women; they are the most fascinating creatures on earth,” shared Childress on NPR’s Weekend Edition. “Southern women are different than everybody else… and I love to explore that mind.”

Smart and downright hilarious, Georgia Bottoms is a great call for a quick, witty read. If you’re feeling a bit stressed or overwhelmed, slip off your heels, paint your toes, pour yourself a chilled glass of lemonade and head on down to Six Points.

* Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

– Post by Megan Shaffer

Bohjalian Shoots to Thrill With ‘The Night Strangers’

Cover ImageYes, it’s October, and inevitably with it’s arrival comes the dark urban legends and tales that tingle our spines and goose-up our flesh. Publishers find readers more receptive to the bizarre, and therefore seize the month to release their edgier titles.

I’m not one for the horror genre, so I must say that Chris Bohjalian caught me completely off guard with his latest release, The Night Strangers. I’ve read enough of Bohjalian’s titles to know that when I pick one off the shelf I’m guaranteed a couple hundred pages of laid-back drama that easily entertain.

The Night Strangers, however, is a deviation from typical Chris Bohjalian book fare. Tagged as a psychological thriller, The Night Strangers calls on the supernatural to assist in the graphic retelling of pilot Chip Linton’s crash and his post-traumatic spiral into madness.

According to Bohjalian’s site, The Night Strangers “is a ghost story inspired by a door in his basement and Sully Sullenberger’s successful ditching of an Airbus in the Hudson.” The aforementioned door – and other eerie setting points – are well mapped in Night Strangers and are essential to the story’s creepy-factor. And Sullenberger? He haunts only in his competence and skill as a pilot who was able to stick an incredible landing.

Initially I had a hard time getting into the book. Picking around for strong literary passages and historical depth left me wanting, but I realized, that’s not what this story is about. Rather, it’s a let-yourself-go ghost story written to gun the imagination and scare the hell out of you.

And it does.

I’m a bit of a chicken, but I think The Night Strangers will spook even the hard-core. Once you buy into the exceedingly “super” aspect of Bohjalian’s “supernatural” plot line, you’ll find this book – spurting blood, spirits, and all – a hide-your-eyes, movie theater kind of read.

Chris Bohjalian is the author of fourteen books, most of which take place in his beloved Vermont. While he’s an enthusiastic storyteller, Bohjalian won’t rock your world from a profound literary standpoint. However, if you’re looking for escapism with sound characters and a well-laced storyline, he’s a sure bet. As for The Night Strangers? Toss it on your list for a rainy-day, but you might not want to read it at home all alone…

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Related Links

– Review: Miami Herald review of The Night Strangers

Mitchell Zuckoff Brings ‘Lost in Shangri-La’ to Grosse Pointe War Memorial

Cover ImageSeveral noted military attacks took place as part of World War II combat on May 13, 1945. However, on that very same day there also occurred a more anonymous incident of devastation that has, until now, slipped historians and the world at large.

Author and journalist Mitchell Zuckoff  has plucked a diamond of a story out of the remaining rubble of World War II history with his vivid account of the crash of the Gremlin Special. Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II draws on remarkable interviews, journal entries, diaries and photographs to recount the astonishing tale of three plane crash survivors and their unlikely jungle rescue.

Lost in Shangri-La literally takes off in Dutch New Guinea where two dozen officers, soldiers and Women’s Army Corp members (WAC’s) board the Gremlin Special, a C-47 transport plane. The flight isn’t a tactical military mission, but rather a morale-boosting joy ride into the lush, untouched hidden valley known as Shangri-La.

The reader knows what’s coming, but Zuckoff maintains a holding pattern of suspense as he lays out the tropical tangle of mountainous land below. Anticipation builds as the Gremlin’s passengers unwittingly jockey for prime seating and optimal views of the very gorge into which the plane will soon disappear – and disappear it does.

“The distance between the C-47 and the unforgiving terrain closed to zero. To the ear-splitting din of metal twisting, glass shattering, engines groaning, branches snapping, fuel igniting, bodies tumbling, lives ending, the Gremlin Special plunged through the trees and slammed into the jungle-covered mountainside.”

Lost in Shangri-La is a wonderfully readable account of the demise of the Gremlin Special, inner-tribal warfare, and World War II military history. Zuckoff doesn’t cease to fascinate as he touches on topics such as the WAC, Filipino forces, tactical rescue and indigenous peoples. Shangri-La doesn’t bog down with overdone detail, but rather offers the opportunity for insight and tender reflection on prophecy and contemporary contradictions long after you close the cover.

Mitchell Zuckoff will be bringing his fantastic story, Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II, to the Grosse Pointe War Memorial this Thursday, October 20, 2011 at 7:30pm. This event is presented by Wayne County Community College District and the Grosse Pointe Public Library. For more information, call 313.343.2075.

* Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

Related Links

The Ambiguous Charms of Zuckoff’s ‘Lost in Shangri-La

BookBrowse.com

The Ambiguous ‘Charms’ of Mitchell Zuckoff’s ‘Lost in Shangri-La’

Cover ImageAs a reader I often find myself wondering about little tangential topics, quirks, or details that cushion a story. As my eyes move over one page my thoughts might still be caught a few paragraphs back, roaming around with questions that itch for a little more info. What was that war all about? Does this tiny country really exist? How did the author manage to survive?

Charms candy was that little itch for me in Lost in Shangri-La. 

It seems that Tootsie Roll Industries would have little to do with Mitchell Zuckoff’s Lost in Shangri-La. However, Tootsie Roll Industries is the owner of Charms Candy; the very candy that provided the Gremlin Special’s crash survivors with enough sustenance to survive in the jungle.

“Breakfast was water and more Charms, still their only food on the third day after the crash,” writes Zuckoff. “They separated the candies by color, eating the red ones until they tired of them, moving on to yellow, and so on.”*

Due to the hardiness of Charms Candy under a variety of conditions, the candy became a standard part of American soldiers’ military issue around the time of World War II. The individually wrapped candy squares, made from sugar and corn syrup, came in an assortment of fruit flavors and were a staple of soldier rations.

The treat meant to sustain military forces, however, has taken on a more ominous tone in recent years. The Curse of Charms Candy is of unknown origin, but superstition claims that if a soldier eats, or even keeps the candy in their possession it brings bad luck.

In the article US Marines Ditch Their Unlucky Charms, one sergeant says, “Chew on a lemon Charm and you’re heading for a vehicle breakdown. Suck on a lime and it rains. Raspberry – for the highly superstitious – means death.”

Journalist Ashley Gilbertson of the New York Times found the same beliefs among forces in Afghanistan. “Never eat the Charms, the troops say; they’re unlucky. It’s just a superstition, of course – I’ve never met a soldier who could tell me why they were unlucky – but the G.I.’s take it seriously. I sometimes think that if I ever got separated from my unit in the field, I’d just follow a trail of discarded unopened Assorted Charms to find them again.”

You can link over to BookBrowse.com where you will my full review of Mitchell Zuckoff’s Lost in Shangri-La as well as thousands of reviews and intriguing sidebars.

* Taken from Mitchell Zuckoff’s Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredibly Rescue Mission of World War II

-Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

Post by Megan Shaffer