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Sarah is an avid reader and English major from the Midwest, where she worked in another indie bookstore before coming to Changing Hands. Sarah reads mostly Fiction, which she believes answers life's BIG QUESTIONS better than anything in the Self Help or Spirituality section (that's the point of good art, right?). She also reads Political books (current obsession: how the internet is affecting our culture), History, Music, Nature and Classics -- with the occasional literary mystery thrown in for fun. She thinks everyone should read Housekeeping by Marilyn Robinson, Can't Stop Won't Stop by Jeff Chang, and anything by Matt Taibbi.
Ferdinand von Schirach's fiction debut will amaze and astonish you. In Crime, this German defense lawyer presents eleven compulsively readable short stories, each based on a case he was actually involved in. Von Schirach deftly conveys the psychology, desperation and randomness of criminals and their crimes—describing horrific intimate details while creating portraits of the criminals that maintain their humanity. As a bonus, Crime offers the opportunity to learn about the German justice system, how it differs from our own, and how it has been shaped by German history. —Sarah B.
Milo Burke is a loser. He is terrible at his job (asking rich donors for money to fund an arts college), unsure about his parenting skills, and probably losing his wife. But when an old friend, now worth millions, turns up in Milo’s office, things start looking up... or do they? The Ask is a wild, hilarious, depressing, insane but ultimately uplifting novel. Reminiscent of A Confederacy of Dunces, Milo Burke will become the antihero for a new generation—alternately making you laugh or cringe. Sam Lipsyte is a comedic genius, but his fiction is literary to the core—and I have always thought it is harder to write a good funny novel than a good tragic novel. Give The Ask a try, and see what you think!
Dean Kuiper's first book, Burning Rainbow Farm, brilliantly examined and exposed our nation’s ridiculous drug laws. Now he explores the radical environmental movement through the story of Rod Coronado, an activist who became notorious for taking on the fur industry. Rod’s story is one of courage and idealism, but it is not black and white. Kuipers is able to convey the ambivalence and struggles of someone who sees the earth being rapidly destroyed around him, and wants to do something about it. But Rod’s story reveals something deeply disturbing, as well: the U.S. government has changed the definition of “terrorist” to include people who destroy property in the name of a cause. What kind of nation are we living in when someone who burns an SUV or releases some minks is considered as threatening to our country as a suicide bomber? I take comfort in the fact that Dean Kuipers is out there writing, and continuing to expose issues like these.
As an English major, I think every history book should be this well-written. As someone who believes that history is written by the victors, I think Galeano has made an extremely important contribution to human history -- one that represents the oppressed and marginalized. But most importantly, as a human being I wish that everyone would read this book and really think about the sometimes beautiful and sometimes horrifying world we live in. —Sarah B.
What creeps you out? This laugh-out-loud gift book points out things from the oddball to the everyday that will make you giggle with recognition. Making the list are hairless cats, "grandma candy," really long hair and lifelike baby dolls. Once you start reading, you can't look away!
Matt Taibbi is the most astute political writer out there (and the most hilarious), and for the past two years he has been covering the financial shell-game that has brought a once powerful economy to its knees. Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America is a must-read for anyone who wants financial reform—in order to reform a system, you first have to understand it, and no one explains our complex financial and political systems better than Matt Taibbi.
This impressive book is a must-have for the hip-hop fan in your life. Bradley continues exploring the idea of rap as poetry in this extensive anthology, which has introductions by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Billy Collins, and afterwords by Chuck D. and Common! Look for Bradley in our December 2010 events calendar—come and find out how he chose the artists and songs for this landmark work.
The Black Minutes is a seriously masterful literary detective novel, with a touch of the surreal. Think Roberto Bolaño meets Elmore Leonard. The novel takes place in a fictional port in Mexico, where detective Ramón Cabrera (aka El Macetón) investigates the murder of journalist Bernardo Blanco. Things start to get interesting when Cabrera disovers that Blanco was writing a piece on a cold case concerning the murders of several young girls in the 70s. Solares has written a brilliant hard-boiled suspense novel of murder & corruption, Mexican style.
In college I had the opportunity to take a team-taught class on the Vietnam war; one of the professors was a well-known Quaker anti-war activist, and the other was a vet who had served two tours in-country. It was an amazing experience, and one that has led to a lifetime of reading fiction and non-fiction about the war in Vietnam. Which brings me to Matterhorn. I love this book, and I think I can safely say that both of my professors would feel the same. Karl Marlantes (himself a veteran) has written an amazing novel—historically accurate, beautifully written, and incredibly moving. This book will appeal to lovers of literary fiction and war-time thrillers alike. When the book ends, you won’t want to leave the soldiers of Matterhorn behind.
Teenage boys from Innertown are disappearing. No one knows what is happening to them, and what's worse is the town doesn't seem to care. John Burnside's beautifully written novel, The Glister, seems to show what can happen to a community bombarded by environmental disaster and economic collapse. Can the stress of a crumbling world push people so far they become apathetic, even when their children are in danger? Burnside has beautifully woven together mystery, horror, social commentary and literary fiction. You won't read anything else like The Glister!
Lips Touch Three Times by Laini Taylor is a magical book. Seriously magical. Taylor's three fairy tales conjure up that powerful feeling of yearning I had as a teenager in love. That feeling of "if I don't get to kiss that cute boy, I may die." The thing is, in Laini's world love is a matter of life and death. This is a great read for teens and for women who still nurture the raging teen romantic within (and Twilight fans, too)!
In Dan Chaon's latest novel Await Your Reply, identity is both prominent and elusive. That is to say, the theme of identity plays a major role, while the identity of the characters can be purposefully blurred. In this stark and beautiful novel, Chaon weaves together three stories: a father and son team of hackers living on the edge in Northern Michigan, a recent high school graduate and her teacher hiding out in an abandoned motel, and a sad-sack magic store employee looking for his diabolical (genius?) twin brother. Any and all of these people may not be who they say or think they are. Using this uncertainty, Chaon masterfully builds suspense and causes his reader to ask, in this age of shifting information & light speed technology, "Who am I?"
Wunderkind Nick McDonell has done it again. In his latest novel, An Expensive Education, he brings together two seemingly disparate parts of the world: the world of the Boston Ivy-League elite and the world of war-torn, poverty-stricken Africa. McDonell explores ideas of class, race and nationalism in this story of intrigue about Harvard and it's influence on African politics. In this book we meet: Teak, a Harvard alum CIA operative, Susan Lowell, liberal Harvard professor, David Ayan, an African student adjusting to the Ivy League and his girlfriend, the spoiled, wealthy bohemian Jane. All of these individuals come together to create a spy novel with a conscience, in the tradition of John LeCarre and Graham Greene. I highly recommend reading this book—and discussing it with friends when you finish!
The New Valley by Josh Weil is the most beautiful book I've read this year. These three novellas set in rural Appalachia broke my heart over and over again. You won't soon forget Weil's characters: the lonely cattleman, the obsessive mechanic and his obese daughter, or the mentally handicapped gas station attendant. Each of these characters reflects our own loneliness: a hard cold light, surrounded by Weil's brilliant descriptions of things natural and man-made. Weil's illustrations for the second novella sum up the beauty and conflict of the interaction between man and machine. This haunting, lovely book heralds the arrival of an impressive literary talent.
“The God I want to believe in has a voice and a sense of humor like Denis Johnson’s.” So says Jonathan Franzen (The Corrections), and I couldn’t agree more. Denis Johnson’s latest book, Nobody Move, is a gripping noir thriller that hijacked my attention for an entire afternoon. I read it once all the way through, and then started again. You don’t want to miss the story of Jimmy Luntz, a down-on-his-luck compulsive gambler on the run, and the crack-shot, drunk Native American Anita. Together they stagger through the dark, lawless underworld Johnson has created—a world that chillingly mirrors our own.
Novelist, poet, critic, and activist John Berger has wowed me again. In his latest novel, From A to X, Berger depicts the relationship between A’ida, a pharmacist, and Xavier, her lover who is in prison. We don’t know what Xavier has done, but from the context we know he is a political prisoner—and that A’ida may still be a political activist on the outside. Set in an unnamed occupied country, this novel is amazingly prescient. Berger explores the relationships between men and women, the people and the state, the occupied and the occupiers. He also posits that the way we can stay close people we are separated from is through the sharing of the everyday beauties of life. From A to X is a book of treasures large and small.
My Abandonment by Peter Rock is one of the most unique and disquieting novels I’ve read in a long time. Caroline is a thirteen year old girl who lives with her father in Forest Park outside Portland. Her father has taught her everything about survival: how to stay hidden in the woods, how to leave no trace, how to avoid people at all costs. But when these two outsiders are discovered by the police and social services, everything will change. This novel will challenge your beliefs about many things: family relationships, social norms, and nature to name a few. But above all read this book for Caroline’s voice—I still can’t get it out of my head.
Prepare yourself for Pandora in the Congo! This is one of the most exciting, wildly entertaining books I've read in a long time. Part mystery, part jungle adventure, and a healthy dose of sci-fi make this an incredibly unique novel.
Imagine this... you are a deadly mafia assassin, who escaped into the witness protection program, where you pursued your dream of becoming a doctor. One day in the ER, a thug from your former life recognizes you. This thug is infected with an unidentified disease that is quickly killing him, and he threatens to turn you in to the mafia if you can't cure him in 24 hours. Meanwhile, because of a three-stooges-like medical mishap, you become infected with the same incurable disease, so you'll have to not only outwit the mafia, but "beat the reaper" yourself. The clock is ticking. Ready, set, go!!
Only John Berger could write a book this beautiful about politics. Best known as a poet and novelist, Berger is also a philosopher, filmmaker and artist. In this singular book, he illuminates the horror and suffering of our modern world in lucid, devastating prose. But Berger doesn't leave you in the depths of misery, he manages to offer unique, humane solutions to problems many see as beyond hope. Hold Everything Dear is a brilliant book of essays and a testament to the power of the written word. This is by far the most moving book I have read this year, and I highly recommend it!
This book slapped me in the face—who am I? Why do I participate in a consumer culture that disgusts me? How does anyone break free & live outside society? And how do those people who succeed at going off the grid keep their sanity? Tim Lane’s collection of graphic short stories, Abandoned Cars, is a brutal, gritty examination of the American Myth and what it’s become, as well as a portrait of a consummate outsider and how he lives—perfect for those of us who question our 9-to-5 existence.
How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone is a novel in the tradition of The Things They Carried. It is about war and stories, but it is not a traditional “war story” per se. Sasa Stanisic has crafted a beautifully complex novel about the conflict in Bosnia, his homeland, that defies the conventions of storytelling, and yet keeps the reader hanging on to his every word. Stanisic shows us conflict through the eyes of a child: curious, impulsive, and innocent. He also writes with the voice of someone who has experienced and escaped the height of the conflict by conveying the haunting and emotional reality of those who have left loved ones behind—those who ask, “Why not me?” Stanisic is an immensely talented writer, and his first novel is not to be missed.
Political writer and comedic genius Matt Taibbi has done it again. He has produced another biting, insightful, hilarious look at our political system and culture at large. This time, he goes undercover in a right-wing fundamentalist mega-church in Texas. I laughed out loud at his on-the-fly decision to recite the Russian national anthem when asked to speak in tongues (church members congratulate him on his efforts)! Taibbi explores how Americans' frustrations and feelings of helplessness are leading us to turn to extreme philosophies on both sides of the aisle—from demons and Armageddon to 9/11 conspiracy theories, Taibbi nails them all.
The Internet makes life easier; no one can dispute that. But why are critics of the web so harshly silenced these days? Lee Siegel offers a brilliant critique of this technology, and how it is affecting our culture in his new book, Against the Machine. Proponents of the Internet argue that it offers us "freedom" and "access." They co-opt the language of idealism and revolution to describe the web, which essentially acts as a commercial, consumerist machine. Are we really gaining freedom, or are all our interactions being shaped into one basic transaction—point, click, and repeat? Should shopping for a watch and looking for a girlfriend be essentially the same experience, happening from the same chair, and looking at the same screen? Against the Machine is a must read for old and young alike—those of us who are disturbed by the transformation of our culture, and those who are so immersed they can't see it happening.
Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine is the most important political book of this generation. As in her previous book, No Logo, Klein is able to explain sweeping ideas with far-reaching consequences in an extremely readable way. Klein describes the hijacking of our country's economic and foreign policy by Milton Friedman's "Chicago School" of economics. She brilliantly lays out how Friedman's ideas led us to exploit the developing world to benefit corporations, for example in South America in the 70s and 80s, and in Poland and Russia after the fall of communism. But Klein goes a step further when she posits that these ideas are now being used in the wake of disasters to privatize industry, which reap huge financial rewards while populations are still in shock. For anyone who wants to understand what happened in the wake of Katrina, the Indonesian tsunami, and the American invasion of Iraq, this book is a must read.