Arts critic Moira Macdonald recommends books by Helen Oyeyemi, Jim Harrison, Jim Lynch, Matthew Desmond and Lindy West — plus 6 more fiction and nonfiction titles.
“A book worth reading is worth buying,” the Victorian-era art critic John Ruskin famously said — and I suspect he had a problem with shelf space, too. Those of us who love books like to surround ourselves with them, a habit that can wreak havoc with dust, available household surfaces (you should see where I’ve managed to stack a few books) and our finances.
Luckily, paperbacks exist, to help us out with that last bit, if not the first two. (I’ve long thought that my memoir, should I ever write one, would be titled “Waiting for the Paperback.”) This spring brings, as always, a good crop of new paperbacks; perhaps you’ve been waiting for a few of the titles below. I know I have, if I can just find somewhere to put them. Happy reading!
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“The Ancient Minstrel,” by Jim Harrison (Grove). Harrison, beloved author of “Legends of the Fall,” died a year ago; this, a collection of three novellas, is his farewell. A reviewer in the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “For Harrison and his most memorable characters, wilderness and wild places are the sole salves for a kind of pain that is something like existential, but in Harrison’s world might be better called essential … Above all, Harrison understood that love was a paradoxical joy that often made one feel good and bad all at once, not all that different from his approach to the writing life.
“Imagine Me Gone,” by Adam Haslett (Little, Brown). My pal Mary Ann Gwinn — longtime book editor for The Seattle Times — told me this was one of the best novels she read last year. That’s recommendation enough for me. (It was also longlisted for the National Book Award.) The story of a family facing two generations of mental illness, it “will ring with crystalline clarity,” wrote Mary Ann last December, for anyone whose family has faced such struggles.
“Wilde Lake,” by Laura Lippman (William Morrow). Like fellow top-drawer crime-fiction writer Michael Connelly (his latest: “The Wrong Side of Goodbye”), Lippman is a former journalist, and her smart page-turners are meticulously plotted and deliciously populated. Her latest, the dual-timelined tale of a lawyer who moves back to her hometown, was described by The New York Times as “engrossing, suspenseful and substantial, its wit easing a sober, somewhat elegiac air.”
“Before the Wind,” by Jim Lynch (Vintage Books). Olympia-based author Lynch (“The Highest Tide,” “Border Songs,” “Truth Like the Sun”) set his latest novel among an eccentric Seattle family of sailors. In a Seattle Times review last year, Barbara Lloyd McMichael noted that Lynch “captures some of that elemental profundity that made his first book so special.”
“What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours,” by Helen Oyeyemi (Penguin). Oyeyemi, whose novels include “Mr. Fox” and “Boy, Snow, Bird,” will speak at Seattle Arts and Lectures on April 25. You can prepare by reading this, her first collection of short stories — and winner of the PEN Open Book Award. A New York Times review last year called the collection “transcendent,” and noted that it was “united by the author’s playful, inventive sensibility. Oyeyemi has created a universe that dazzles and wounds.”
“The Summer Before the War,” by Helen Simonson (Random House). A follow-up to the author’s “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand,” this “Downton Abbey”-esque novel is set in 1914 Sussex, where a smart, studious orphan named Beatrice arrives to teach Latin to the village boys. Misha Berson, reviewing for The Times last spring, wrote that the book “follows a familiar Austen-Brontes-Eliot arc,” but that the skill of Simonson’s writing made it “more than a high-toned romantic reverie for Anglophiles — though it serves the latter purpose, too.”
“Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America,” by Douglas Brinkley (Harper Perennial). Brinkley is a professor of history at Rice University and the author of “The Wilderness Warrior” — a study of Theodore Roosevelt’s conservation accomplishments, to which this book is a sort of sequel. “As Brinkley makes wonderfully clear,” wrote a Boston Globe reviewer, “Roosevelt was not merely the inheritor of his uncle [actually, they were cousins] Teddy’s passion for wilderness, hiking, and matchless vistas; he was among the first national leaders to see from the start that forestation meant water and soil stabilization, in good times and bad.”
“The Black Calhouns: From Civil War to Civil Rights with One African American Family,” by Gail Lumet Buckley (Grove). Buckley, daughter of actor/singer Lena Horne, previously explored her mother’s family tree in “The Hornes: An American Family”; this book, recently optioned for television, is “more occupied with the historical events and political movements that shaped those lives,” said The New York Times. Noting that the book is “written in the style of a sweeping historical novel,” the Times reviewer praised it as “a comprehensive reminder of how, even when not immediately visible, the burden of racial trauma is carried deep within the body politic.”
“Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” by Matthew Desmond (Broadway Books). Winner of numerous awards (including the National Book Critics Circle Award and Andrew Carnegie Medal for Nonfiction), this devastating, fascinating book follows eight Milwaukee families on the edge of eviction. Desmond spent more than a year living with and among his subjects, and the result is a deeply personal documentation of what it means to have a roof over your head — and how so many of our fellow citizens deserve better. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel called it “a magnificent, richly textured book with a Tolstoyan approach: telling it like it is, but with underlying compassion and a respect for the humanity of each character, major or minor.”
“The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero,” by Timothy Egan (Mariner Books). From another local writer comes a lively biography of Thomas Meagher, who fought on the side of the Union in the American Civil War. “With the Irish gift for storytelling,” wrote Ellen Emry Heltzel in The Seattle Times last year, “[Egan] creates a vivid, well-researched account from the prodigious and poetic record Meagher left.”
“Shrill,” by Lindy West (Hachette). Seattle native West became internationally known through blogging for Jezebel.com and her column for The Guardian; her first book — a New York Times best-seller, and among the Seattle Public Library’s most requested books last summer — is a collection of sharp, funny essays on feminism, body image, internet trolls and social justice. While noting that “it’s not easy to talk about the work and consequences involved in changing the world,” The Washington Post wrote, “The strength of ‘Shrill’ … is the way it captures both halves of the equation, the joy of those hard-fought victories and the pain incurred in battle.”