Dave's Staff Picks History
Trust Dave's taste? Here's what he's picked in the past!
You can tell it’s getting closer to winter time in New York when your favorite book on the Spring list is the one about Death. Well, I guess it’s about mortality—so maybe I could also say it’s about Life. The story follows the life of one man, Bras de Olivias Dominguez (That first name takes some getting used to.) a struggling literary denizen of Brazil with a famous novelist father. Each chapter features an important period in Bras’s life, and at the end of each chapter, he dies. Meets the woman of his dreams…dies. Becomes a father…dies. Publishes his book…dies. Then the following chapter remains oblivious to his death (like South Park and Kenny, for those familiar). The authors remind us of how fragile we all are and how precious (and precarious!) every moment of life—but not in a preachy, condescending way. The illustrations and the writing from this Brazilian duo are beautiful and honor even its high-concept narrative. Easily the smartest graphic novel I’ve seen in 2010.
978-1-4012-2969-6 | $19.99/$22.99C | Vertigo | TR | February
Sometimes, when I begin to think about how hard it must have been to write this book, I curl up in a ball, hide under my desk, and chew on a highlighter until I fall asleep. It�s the only way I can deal. David Mitchell is an Englishman, and he�s chosen to write about a Dutch colony in Japan in 1799. I�m thinking he might have spent some time in a library. Not only is it extraordinarily well researched, but it�s also written with great energy, grace, and intelligence. Normally, in historical novels, I can�t relate to the characters because what they�re going through is so foreign to me, but the issues facing his characters were human and eternal enough that they became thoroughly modern to me. Sure Jacob was a clerk in the 18th century, but he was so REAL to me that he might as well have been working on the 3rd floor here in New York. This is my first David Mitchell novel, but he�s succeeded in making me want to read everything else he�s written.
978-1-4000-6545-5 | $26.00/$32.00C | Penguin Random House | HC | June
This is a rare, rare thing. A book about love�for men! And an incredibly good one, at that. First-time novelist Adam Ross figured it out: just frame it as a police procedural and men will pick it up. We won�t even realize we�re reading about love and marriage until we�re halfway through. For me, it was mostly because the writing was so astoundingly deft for a first-time author. I kept waiting for the prose to come down in energy�to lose its verve and settle down into a comfy channel as most books do, but it never did. Every sentence in this book is wired with a real charge, right from its start: �When David Pepin first dreamed of killing his wife, he didn�t kill her himself. He dreamed convenient acts of God.� Ross, if he keeps this up, is a potential heir to Updike�s stylistic throne; his words are gross, audacious, and ethereal in the same impossible way.
978-0-307-27070-2 | $25.95/NCR | Knopf | HC | June
“I recently discovered that my fiancé is a cat burglar. I have no problem dating a criminal, but does he have to use such ridiculous 1950s terminology? I imagine him going to work dressed in a black turtleneck and an eye mask and a bag with a big dollar sign written on the side flung over his shoulders. How should I tell him that I’m losing all respect for him?”
To be honest, I’m not sure how I would answer this question from Katie L. in Grand Rapids. But I’m not a comedian. The Believer answers such advice inquiries in a monthly column called “You’re a Horrible Person,” using advice experts who happen to be some of the funniest people in the country: Amy Sedaris, Sarah Silverman, Zach Galifinakis, Janeane Garofalo, Fred Armisen (SNL), Mindy Kaling (The Office), and many more. Answers range from profanely offensive to belligerent to completely off-topic. To give you an idea, they answered the above question by haranguing the asker for using the term “fiancé” and asserting that the people who drop French words are the real criminals. Now all these questions and answers are collected, and what we have here is a little red book of demented harassment, which is always good for laughs. This one definitely needs a place in the adult humor section.
978-0-307-47523-7 | $13.95/$17.95C | Vintage | TR | April
Some may call it “sacrilege” or worse when Prince Charming seduces a young diner waitress while Big Bad Wolf, Flycatcher, Jack (of beanstalk fame), and Snow White investigate the bloody murder of Rose Red. Or “weird” when Beauty and Beast go through marriage counseling. Or “sick” when we find out that Cinderella’s now using her body for purposes of espionage. But me: I think these stories are getting a long-deserved revival. Bill Willingham’s successful series takes all of the characters we know from the oldest stories (and a lot of characters we don’t know!) and puts them in a corner of New York City called “Fabletown.” And now there’s murder, sex, and war to go along with the love and bravery! A good comparison is "Shrek," but it’s a few steps further into the Adult section. I think much of the joy in reading this series comes from its audacity and its impudence. Kind of like the joy one gets from writing in library books.
Deluxe Edition Vol. 1: Legends in Exile and Animal Farm
978-1-4012-2427-1 | $29.99/$37.99C | Vertigo | HC | October
“Wait, WHAT are you reading?!” is the reaction I got a few times when I told my friends the title of the book flashing across my e-reader. They would ask me if I was a Satanist or something, and I would answer no, but that sort of thing just got a whole lot cooler. Who knew stealing souls could be such funny business? Well, apparently, the British can make anything funny. In the tradition of The Gone-Away World, the wit involved here is subsuming. The book’s title character is an unsmiling, perpetually annoyed spigot of hilarious nastiness, and I can’t get enough. I want Johannes to be real. A sampling: “I’m not holding a soiree either. You have a problem with sarcasm, don’t you? Now do you have anything else fascinating to impart or can I kick your wrinkly little carcass down the embankment as I so dearly wish?” This riotous send-up of the classic Faustian tale is endlessly fascinating, to the point where I kind of want to sign my soul away just to see what would happen.
978-0-385-52808-5 | $25.00/$29.95C | Doubleday | HC | July
It�s going to be hard to write about this book without sounding gushy. Probably because it�s hard to read this book without getting teary. Or gaspy. I know that�s not a word, but I gasped a lot, is what I�m trying to say. Cutting for Stone is an �epic� novel, and I don�t use the term lightly. It�s a long book, yes, but what makes it �epic� is that it spans so many years and so many miles and so many states of emotion (for the characters and the reader!). The story begins in Ethiopia, years before the conception of Marion, the narrator, and ends in New York, after he�s developed gray hair; so to finish this book is almost to have lived another life. I don�t want to give anything away, so I won�t go into plot summary, but I will say that it is quite the twisty, horrifying road. It�s all here: death, birth, fatherhood, motherhood, brotherhood, love, tyranny, spirituality�aneurisms�and flawlessly written too. To say that it�s worth the page count is diminishing, so I�ll say you won�t notice it.
978-0-375-41449-7 | $26.95/NCR | HC | Knopf | February 2009
Just like a Long Island Iced Tea, this book is not for beginners and not for kids. But it is also, like the aforementioned, unbeatable. The Alcoholic is Jonathan Ames’ first—hopefully not his last—foray into the graphic novel world. Teamed with award-winning artist Dean Haspiel, Ames tells the life story of “Jonathan A.,” who, we might assume, is a fictionalized version of himself. (Perhaps thinly fictionalized? Just a guess.) The book covers Jonathan’s rocky adolescence, his sexual misadventures, his romance with alcohol, his numerous heartbreaks, his Kerouacian ambitions, his shattered love, his close relationship with his aunt, and the horror being orphaned just out of college. How this all fit in under 200 pages is still not something I can wrap my head around. Half of it is profoundly amusing, the other half is frighteningly real. There are some things, as humans, we don’t like to talk about, for fear of coming off as pathetic or freakish, but Ames spills it all out without hesitation, and Haspiel captures it all impeccably with his poignant illustrations. This probably isn’t the best graphic novel to start off with if you’re inexperienced with the medium, but it is one of the best you’ll find on the market. Drink it up.
978-1-4012-1056-4 | $19.99/$22.99C | HC | Vertigo | September 2008
Upon hearing what this book is about, there is no way I could’ve not picked it up. Am I a golfer? No. But I used to try. For me, this slim green volume is a cautionary tale—a lesson I must remember for when I’m bored and fifty. Like me, Carl Hiaasen gave up the game of golf early in life. He was done at age 20. I was done at around age 15, after overshooting the 17th green four consecutive times one sunshiny day in Northern Michigan and nearly destroying a sand rake. I must say, I haven’t looked back. Hiaasen, however stupidly, did. This book is the chronicle of his experiences returning to a “ruinous sport” after more than 30 years. This is the funniest book I’ve read in a long time, its one-liners, truisms, ruthless self-deprecations, and its 496 synonyms for “struck the ball badly” causing me some embarrassing snorting moments on the subway. This tremendously well-written book is a must-read for any golfer, former golfer, or any star-crossed soul considering becoming one. Not that I’m bitter.
978-0-307-26653-8 | $22.00 | Knopf | HC | May 2008
at a bit of a loss as to what to say about Samedi
the Deafness. I can say that Jesse Ball wrote it. I can say
that it’s a book. But I feel that if I attempted to plot-summarize,
my blurb would end up running down and covering up someone else’s
cartoon, and no one likes it when that happens. I also can’t very
well compare it to another book, or even two or three other books. All
this Kafka-meets-Cussler-meets-Danielewski business tends to not make
any sense. I found it in the Original Voices section when I visited
Borders. They certainly got that right.
Not only did this book make me think, but also kept me so engaged that I read it faster than any novel since Angels & Demons four years ago. One can tell that Ball began writing as a poet. His words have a rarely achieved economy to them, and he’s managed to write the most beautiful love-scene I’ve ever come across. (And I’ve “come across” Toni Morrison.) This is a must for anyone looking for an original.
978-0-307-27885-2 (0-307-27885-9) | $12.95 | Vintage | TR (Available Now)
a folded-up, trampled-on, mud-soaked note in the middle of the Target
parking lot? Did it say something like “See u at 5:00. Bring your
sponge!”? And did you find yourself really wanting to know who
the intended recipient was, the purpose of this recipient’s early-evening
rendezvous, why in God’s name he or she needed a sponge, and if
they’d actually remembered to bring one? If so, or if something
close to that has happened to you, I may have a book for you. Postcards
is a collection of graphically told stories inspired by real found postcards.
Editor Jason Rodriguez has unearthed them from who-knows-where and passed
them off to different artists, who, using their individual styles, have
postulated on the stories behind them. Conceptually brilliant and perfectly
executed, this book brings the reader into the midst of the creative
process, allowing him or her to see how the artists draw on misspellings,
handwriting, initials, or idiosyncratic phrasings in order to generate
a heart-breaking, shocking, or triumphant graphic tale for our enjoyment.
This is a must for anyone interested in graphic storytelling…or
in nosey speculation.
978-0-345-49850-2 (0-345-49850-X) | $21.95/$27.95C | Villard | HC (Available Now)
I’ve read my share of writing advice. I’ve subscribed to Writer’s Digest and Poets & Writers, read writing guides, checked out books from the library on how to get published, perused condescending writerly-ambition websites, and never before have I encountered anything like Gore’s personal, unpretentious, and at times even self-deprecating voice. Instead of removing herself and writing yet another cold-glass how-to book, she takes a refreshing humorous-narrative approach. Simply put, she’s just really good at giving advice. By merely sharing anecdotes and allowing us to draw from them what we like, she builds a rapport with her audience and manages to avoid coming across as authoritative or patronizing. And she swears a lot. And she’s silly. And she’s real. However, the book also gives us the firm talking-to we need, setting up common excuses (I’m too old; I’m too young, I don’t have a degree; I’ve lived kind of a bland life, etc.) and shooting them off the fence one-by-one. “See?” she says, “You can. Now get going.” An analogy: If the writing world were a farm (yes I know it should be “be,” the present-tense subjunctive, but see Chapter 34 “Relax the Rules”), she’s not the ol’ farmer. She’s the rooster. Her book does the all-important job of waking up the life that’s already “in the yard.”
978-0-307-34648-3 (0-307-34648-X) | $13.95/$17.95C | Three Rivers Press | TR | March
Okay, so it's dark. But that's what you get when you dig. Prolific and widely heralded novelist Cormac McCarthy has been digging for decades now, and, following in the moist, shadowy ruts of his recent novel The Road, his new book, The Sunset Limited, also refuses to merely skim the topsoil. Without a moment�s hesitation, McCarthy delves into his weird plain-language profundity, grinding steadily at the resin surface of the world's oldest and toughest question of �why exactly are we here?� He does so in a spare and poignant way, using only a dialogue between two nameless foil characters: an exhausted, depressive professor and a humble, slow-talking ex-con, who, in their quests for a middle ground may just inadvertantly carve out a canyon too wide to shout across. I like a book like this because it makes me think.
They say an unexamined life is not worth living, and McCarthy's words�bearing the weight of Shakespeare and the immediacy of Updike�always compel examination. While I do recommend sequentially sandwiching this book with a couple of toes-in-the-sand, pastel-colored novels, I still consider it essential reading and required contemplation. Just embrace it. Read it sitting on a damp tile floor in low light with a storm outside. Read it in a house of mirrors. Read it on an empty screeching subway car in the middle of the night as the train jerks and the lights flicker. Alone and silently, begin. It's a very short book, but its effect as a catalyst to commonly ducked-under introspection can last as long as you'd want, or as long as you'd let it. McCarthy, you'll find, has somehow fitted this, the slimmest book on the shelf, with a caliber wide enough for a life.
978-0-307-27836-4 (0-307-27836-0) | $13.95 | Vintage |TR | October 2006