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Canada Reads 2015: The Longlist

monkey-beach-eden-robinsonIt’s time for the annual Canadian book battle wherein five well-known Canadians each pick a literary work to champion, and verbally spar on the airwaves. A brainchild of the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC), Canada Reads first aired in 2002 and has been going strong ever since. The debates take place in front of a live audience and are broadcast on CBC Radio One for the English-language edition, and on Première Chaîne for the French.

First, a theme is selected. This year’s theme is “One Book to Break Barriers”. Last year’s theme was “A Novel to Change Our Nation”. Once a theme is confirmed, a longlist of 15 books is chosen – three for each member of the panel (we don’t know who’s on the panel at this point). Titles must be Canadian, but can be open to fiction, plays or poetry. Once the 15 book-longlist is confirmed, the panel members will then select one title each to bring forth to the debates and fight for. This year, the panelists and their respective selected titles will be announced on January 20th. The debates will occur over March 16th-19th, with one book being knocked out per debate, until one champion book remains. The winning books is announced, and the publisher of the winner donates part of the sales profits to a literacy-based charity. Lovely! Books benefiting books.

I had to cringe a little bit when seeing this year’s longlist, as I have read only one of the selected books – Monkey Beach, by Eden Robinson (which I loved).

Here’s the longlist:

Arrival City: The Final Migration and Our Next World by Doug Saunders
Ru by Kim Thúy; Sheila Fischman, translator
What We All Long For by Dionne Brand
The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein
The Door is Open: A Memoir of a Soup Kitchen Volunteer by Bart Campbell
Celia’s Song by Lee Maracle
Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes by Kamal Al-Solaylee
Bone & Bread by Saleema Nawaz
When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid
(You) Set Me on Fire by Mariko Tamaki
For Today I Am A Boy by Kim Fu
All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
And the Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier; Rhonda Mullins, translator
Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg launches his book club with The End of Power by Moisés Naím

The End of Power, Mark Zuckerberg’s latest read

Mark Zuckerberg’s latest status update is that he’s reading books and in a relationship with literature. The Facebook boss appears to have launched his own book club as his New Year resolution. The man, who redefined the word ‘like’, wrote:

My challenge for 2015 is to read a new book every other week — with an emphasis on learning about different cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies.

I’m excited for my reading challenge. I’ve found reading books very intellectually fulfilling. Books allow you to fully explore a topic and immerse yourself in a deeper way than most media today. I’m looking forward to shifting more of my media diet towards reading books.

His first book is The End of Power by Moisés Naím. It appears to be about the shifting of political and economic power, a subject he knows well. The blurb goes like this….

Naím illuminates the struggle between once-dominant megaplayers and the new micropowers challenging them in every field of human endeavor. Drawing on provocative, original research, Naím shows how the antiestablishment drive of micropowers can topple tyrants, dislodge monopolies, and open remarkable new opportunities, but it can also lead to chaos and paralysis. Naím deftly covers the seismic changes underway in business, religion, education, within families, and in all matters of war and peace. Examples abound in all walks of life: In 1977, 89 countries were ruled by autocrats while today more than half the world’s population lives in democracies. CEO’s are more constrained and have shorter tenures than their predecessors. Modern tools of war, cheaper and more accessible, make it possible for groups like Hezbollah to afford their own drones. In the second half of 2010, the top ten hedge funds earned more than the world’s largest six banks combined.

Zuckerberg has created a page, A Year of Books, where he’ll post his selection. Let’s hope he goes into dystopian fiction – I like the idea of him recommending 1984. Zuckerberg has some way to go to match the feats of this book club which has read 146 books in 20 years.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

Reading The Night Before Christmas (or, A Visit from St. Nicholas) on Christmas Eve is a longstanding tradition in my family, as it is for countless others. Even as adults, we gather around my dad to hear his booming voice announce the arrival of Father Christmas. The iconic poem made its debut in 1823, the author anonymous at the time. Over a decade later, Clement Clarke Moore admitted authorship. Here is a glimpse at some of the incredible vintage copies of this beloved tale available on AbeBooks, beginning with this beautiful edition illustrated by E.F. Manning.

A Visit From St. Nicholas

Complete with five full-page illustrations, this British edition published by F. Hildeschimer and Co. includes a special gift inscription dated ‘Christmas, 1889′.

Night Before Christmas

A picture book published by Whitman Publishing Co. of Racine, Wisconsin in 1954. A price of 15 cents is printed on the cover.

The Night Before Christmas

A 1938 edition published by Whitman Publishing Co. of Racine, Wisconsin featuring the jolly old elf on the cover, as illustrated by Elizabeth Tedder

The Night Before Christmas

This 1944 edition published by Crown Publishers is illustrated by Meg Wohlberg.

The Night Before Christmas

Published in 1888 by the McLoughlin Bros., this collectible copy features 12 full page chromolithographs.

The Night Before Christmas

With colorful drawings by Margaret Evans Price, this edition was published by Stecher Lithograph Co. of Rochester, New York in 1917.

The Night Before Christmas

Published by the Saalfield Publishing Company of Akron, Ohio in 1927, this vintage copy is illustrated by Frances Brundage.

Night Before Christmas

Another edition published by Whitman Publishing Co. of Racine, Wisconsin, this one is dated 1947 and is colorfully illustrated by Hilda Miloche and Wilma Kane.

Night Before ChristmasHappy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

2014′s most expensive sales on AbeBooks – Hemingway, Joyce, Rowling, Tolkien, Twain & many more

A poster from Les Maîtres de L’Affiche

Lewis Carroll, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Harper Lee, Salman Rushdie, JK Rowling, JRR Tolkien, John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, William Wordsworth, and Voltaire – they are all on this year’s list of the most expensive sales on AbeBooks.com.

Art features prominently, with books illustrated by Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse. Two copies of David Bailey’s Box of Pin-ups – one of the quintessential photography books of the 1960s – are featured.

A collection of books displaying Art Nouveau posters from the turn of the century topped our list. Les Maîtres de L’Affiche was a French art magazine that reproduced the finest posters at the height of the Art Nouveau movement. More than 100 artists were featured including Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, William Nicholson and Maxfield Parrish. This is also the only list that places Karl Marx’s Das Kapital alongside a postcard from Mohandras Gandhi and the works of Winston Churchill.

See the list

Kolbe and Fanning Numismatic Booksellers

Numizmatichar AR Nos 1-20 by the Belgrade and Serbian Numismatic Society

Numizmatichar AR Nos 1-20 by the Belgrade and Serbian Numismatic Society

We were recently introduced to one of our booksellers, located in Gahanna, Ohio. We love to meet and learn about all of our sellers and this was no exception. Their store is called Kolbe and Fanning Numismatic Booksellers. For your information, “numismatic” does not refer to a new-fangled type of exercise, as I thought, or an automated breathing machine, as I also thought. Rather, the term numismatics refers to the practice of studying and collecting currencies such as coins, tokens, paper money, medals, but most often refers specifically to the collection of coins.

And of course, like any hobby or area of interest, there are bound to be books on the subject – price guides, collecting tips, information of all kinds, and guides to numismatic events across the globe, past and future. This is where the love of books meets the love of coins, and Kolbe and Fanning just so happen to be the largest and longest currently active rare numismatic literature in the world.

I’ll let the experts tell you more – this is David Fanning of Kolbe and Fanning, who graciously agreed to answer some of our questions.

Celtic Coinage of Britain by R.D. Arsdell

Celtic Coinage of Britain by R.D. Arsdell

AbeBooks: How do the worlds of coin collecting and book collecting cross-over? Do they naturally go hand-in-hand? I guess research is a key aspect of coin collecting.

David Fanning: You answer the question best when you say that research is key to successful coin collecting. The coins can only tell us so much. To learn more about them, we need to delve into their history. This can involve reading primary documentation (royal edicts, reports of the Secretary of the Treasury, mint reports, etc.) or the voluminous secondary literature (well over 100,000 books have been published in the field of numismatics). Most of our customers are “coin people” rather than “book people,” though there is some cross-over. And there are occasional antiquarian numismatic titles of interest to bibliophiles with no particular interest in numismatics.

Abe: For how long have coins been written about in literature?

DF: Numismatics developed as an area of study during the Renaissance. Guillaume Budé’s 1514 De asse et partibus eius is considered the first book devoted wholly to the serious study of coins.

Abe: What subjects are covered in numismatic literature? History, catalogs, regional coin lists, photography?

Descriptive Catalogue of a Cabinet of Roman Family Coins Belonging to The Duke of Northumberland

Descriptive Catalogue of a Cabinet of Roman Family Coins Belonging to The Duke of Northumberland

DF: All this and much more. Serious numismatics involves the interplay of economics, history, art, metrology, iconography, geography and so on. Good photographic-quality illustrations are highly desirable, especially given the need to establish provenance for specific examples of (usually high-end) coins.

Abe: Are books about coins from certain eras (ie Roman or Elizabethan) more popular than others?

DF: Books about ancient Greek and Roman coins are very popular, as are works on U.S. coins. We cover all languages and all periods. The popularity of the books usually reflects the popularity of the coins, and can be affected by the current coin market. For instance, pre-Soviet Russian numismatic books have been very hot for a few years now, reflecting the active coin market in that area.

Abe: How many other booksellers around the world specialize in books about coins?

DF: There are probably only half a dozen full-time numismatic booksellers, all told. It’s a nice niche market, but a small one requiring specialized knowledge not only of the books but (to some extent) the coins.

Smaug and Friends: Dragons in Literature


russian-hobbit It’s been over a decade since Peter Jackson released his blockbuster film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Then in 2012, the first installment of Jackson’s three-film treatment of The Hobbit, called An Unexpected Journey, hit the theaters, followed last year by part two, The Desolation of Smaug. And now, at long last, the third and final piece of the puzzle is here. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies brings Bilbo’s big screen story to an end next week. Which means we get to hear more of Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice through the throat of Smaug.

Everyone always mentions Bilbo Baggins of course, but there’s no denying to me that Smaug was the true star of The Hobbit.eragon-paolini
Dragons are often portrayed in literature as charming, charismatic – and dangerous. Smaug is no exception. Hardened (both emotionally and physically!) from centuries spent sleeping atop a pile of treasure, Smaug is a formidable foe for Bilbo, Thorin and company, and even survives a dip in a pool of molten gold.

Not all dragons in literature are the enemy, however. Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance trilogy features Saphira, a wise, loyal dragon, who while capable of great violence, is entirely devoted to her human companion. There are all kinds of dragons. Not all breathe fire. Some talk. Some have four legs, other, earlier incarnations like wyverns have two, or none. It’s wonderful that a creature borne of human imagination has earned such a place in our stories and hearts. Read here about more dragons in literature.

The 5 Best Books Bill Gates Read In 2014

gatesAnd now for a list as different as possible from Beth’s Best Reads of 2014, I give you The 5 Best Books Bill Gates Read In 2014. I was surprised to see there was a novel included. I’m curious to see what kind of fiction Bill Gates reads.

I also think Making the Modern World sounds very interesting in its exploration of our global dependence on everything under the sun. How much farther should the current generation of privileged, wealthy people be able to stretch the world’s resources with its rabid consumption? Food for frightening thought.

Here is the list of Bill Gates’ top 5 reads of 2014:

1. Business Adventures by John Brooks
From Wall Street to Main Street, John Brooks, longtime contributor to the New Yorker, brings to life in vivid fashion twelve classic and timeless tales of corporate and financial life in America. Out of print since 1971, now reprinted in 2014. As you can see, first editions of the original print run are very collectible.

2. Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty
Questions about the long-term evolution of inequality, the concentration of wealth, and the prospects for economic growth lie at the heart of political economy. But satisfactory answers have been hard to find for lack of adequate data and clear guiding theories. In Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty analyzes a unique collection of data from twenty countries, ranging as far back as the eighteenth century, to uncover key economic and social patterns.

3. How Asia Works by Joe Studwell
Joe Studwell has spent two decades as a reporter in the region, and The Financial Times said he “should be named chief myth-buster for Asian business.” In How Asia Works, Studwell distills his extensive research into the economies of nine countries-Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, and China-into an accessible, readable narrative that debunks Western misconceptions, shows what really happened in Asia and why, and for once makes clear why some countries have boomed while others have languished.

4. The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion
Don and Rosie are happily married and living in New York. But they’re about to face a new challenge: Rosie is pregnant. Don sets about learning the protocols of becoming a father, but his unusual research style gets him into trouble with the law. Fortunately his best friend Gene is on hand to offer advice: he’s left Claudia and moved in with Don and Rosie. As Don tries to schedule time for pregnancy research, getting Gene and Claudia back together, servicing the industrial refrigeration unit that occupies half his apartment, helping Dave the Baseball Fan save his business and staying on the right side of Lydia the social worker, he almost misses the biggest problem of all: he might lose Rosie when she needs him most.

5. Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization by Vaclav Smil
Over the course of time, the modern world has become dependent on unprecedented flows of materials. Now even the most efficient production processes and the highest practical rates of recycling may not be enough to result in dematerialization rates that would be high enough to negate the rising demand for materials generated by continuing population growth and rising standards of living. This book explores the costs of this dependence and the potential for substantial dematerialization of modern economies.

Making the Modern World considers the principal materials used throughout history, from wood and stone, through to metals, alloys, plastics and silicon, describing their extraction and production as well as their dominant applications. The evolving productivities of material extraction, processing, synthesis, finishing and distribution, and the energy costs and environmental impact of rising material consumption are examined in detail. The book concludes with an outlook for the future, discussing the prospects for dematerialization and potential constrains on materials.

It’s been said that you are what you read, and if that’s the case, I wonder whether Bill Gates might not be onto something. Perhaps it’s worth investigating.

Here is Gates’ video recap of the list:

via BusinessInsider.

Rare Dutch books, prints & manuscripts from Antiquariaat A.G. van der Steur

A rare 17th century Italian book about Roman innovation and inventions, including glasses for people with crooked noses.

Welcome to Antiquariaat A.G. van der Steur – the latest bookseller from the Netherlands to join our marketplace. This experienced seller offers more than 40,000 books and items of ephemera ranging from prints to maps and manuscripts

Located in the city of Haarlem, Antiquariaat A.G. van der Steur specializes in books on Dutch history, topography, genealogy and heraldry, books on Dutch literature before 1880, books about books, and rare Dutch prints. There is also an interesting selection of historic material. They also offer manuscripts and documents concerning Dutch history, families, and cities.

The bookshop was founded by Ab (A.G.) van der Steur, who died in 2012. Theo Hopman and his children, Ard and Arine, have continued his work.

In case you are passing, the shop is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10am to 5pm and also by appointment.

Morning Chronicle

A cartoon by James Gillray printed in the Morning Chronicle showing the British overcoming the Prussians, published 28 April 1797.

William Prince of Orange in 1831

Another British cartoon by James Gillray showing John Bull dealing with Napoleon Bonaparte.

Thanksgiving (Decorative Gourd Season)

It’s Thanksgiving south of the border, and while we Canadians filled up on turkey and gratitude last month, there are too few opportunities in life to celebrate. So, Happy Thanksgiving to our American customers and friends. Since we are firmly in the heart of decorative gourd season (my friends), enjoy this gorgeous Set of Four Gourds by Johann Weinmann. Though, while it’s four artworks, the gourds themselves actually number 17, which is a decent number of gourds. That’s over four times the advertised number of gourds. Bargain. Bonus gourds.




Weinmann was a German botanist and apothecary The prints were created in 1737 using mezzotint engraving, a process that made graduated gradiations of tones, shading and colors possible, in contrast to previous methods which did not allow for much subtlety. To create the effect, a printmaker used a tool to roughen the surface of a copper plate, smoothing certain areas and roughening others, depending on the desired density of ink in any given area of the design. The prints were finished by hand-coloring. More about the gourds, from the seller, Shapero Rare Books:

Set of 4 double-page mezzotint engravings, printed in colour and finished by hand. Framed and glazed 51 x 59 cm. An attractive collection of fine plates, being one of the earliest examples of colour printing. Weinmann (1683-1741) was a Regensburg apothecary who organized the publication of Phytanthoza Iconographia, a huge florilegium which was not only very beautiful but which also influenced the publication of similar works worldwide. “The mezzotint process used here had been invented by Johann Teyler in the Netherlands around 1688. As practiced here by Bartholomaus Seuter (1678-1754) and Johann Elias Ridinger (1698-1767), it was really a combination of etching and mezzotint, which made possible delicate lines and a very fine grain. The addition of hand-tinting brought about unusual and subtle effects” (Hunt)

And in case you’re interested in some gourd art of your own – but using actual gourds – here is Gourd Art Basics by C. Angela Mohr to start you on your journey to a cornucopia.


Beth’s Best Reads of 2014

Every single year around this time, I find myself reflecting back on the books I’ve read since January 1st, and feeling:

1) mad at myself for not reading more;
2) mad at myself for wasting my life finishing that one really dreadful book;
3) delighted that I kept going through the hard bits of that one that turned out so wonderful; and, mostly
4) grateful that thanks to affordable secondhand books and libraries, I have such a wealth of access to so many inspiring reads.

The Washington Post has put out their list for the top 50 fiction books for 2014, and reading it made me want to share my favorites of the year, too. The Post’s selections are all published in 2014, but mine are all over the map.

Here are my favorite 20 of the books I read in 2014. As in previous years (2008, 2010, 2011, 2012), the selections are all over the place. Some are new, some are old, some are Canadian, some are graphic novels, some are chock full of violence, some are tear-jerkers, some are comedy, some are historical fiction. It’s just a little glimpse inside my brain and what it likes to read. Here are my top 20 books of 2014, in no particular order. Enjoy, and I’d love if you leave a comment with agreement, disagreement, recommendations or whatever else.

1. The Orenda by Joseph Boyden
It would be almost impossible to overstate the graphic and visceral violence in the book. Be warned. That said, The Orenda is a thoughtful, intricate and fully-realized story of the very early days of Canada’s settlement, the lengthy clash between the Huron and the Iroquois people, and the involvement of the white Jesuit priests and missionaries who came to settle there. Like all of Boyden’s work, even the most terrible and brutal of passages are still simultaneously beautiful. He is a tremendously skilled writer.interestings-meg-wolitzer

2. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
I must confess that even though this is only one of Wolitzer’s 10 novels, this is the first I’ve heard of and first I’ve read. But I enjoyed it so much that I intend to seek out her previous titles now, as well. You know the feeling you get as a child at summer camp – something like an overwhelming mixture of possibility and purity? It’s a feeling of falling in love with the people, time and place of the moment, a simultaneous slowing and speeding of time, invincibility, and bittersweet nostalgia for something that isn’t even over yet. Wolitzer captures that perfectly, and follows the lives of the six friends who experience it all together as teenagers, studying the places life takes each of them and the way they still belong to one another.

3. More Than This by Patrick Ness
More Than This is billed as a Young Adult (YA) novel, but don’t be fooled. Its story will certainly appeal to teenagers, but adults would be remiss to skip over it. The book tells the story of 16-year-old Seth, a boy who drowns, and then finds himself in a deserted neighborhood. Seth believes he is in hell or some kind of purgatory. Much more than that would risk spoiling, and this is absolutely a book worth reading. It made the hair on my arms stand up multiple times. It’s a considered, thought-provoking and philosophical read. Some of its plot points could have become preachy or heavy-handed, but Ness skillfully maneuvers around all the curves. If there’s a sequel, I will snatch it up as quickly as I can.

4. One More Thing by B.J. Novak
You may know B.J. Novak better as Ryan the Temp from the American version of the sitcom The Office. woman-walked-into-doors This collection is 100% worth it, even if you only read the story titled “The Comedy Central Roast of Nelson Mandela”. The title story is memorably great as well. A few of the stories felt a bit cutesy and gimmicky, but overall it’s a solid collection and made me laugh out loud a handful of times.

5. The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle
Absolutely heartbreaking. It would be a masterpiece if it were written by a woman, but the fact that Doyle, as a man, was able to so masterfully write the character of Paula Spencer, an abused but unbreakable working-class woman thinking back over her life, is mindblowing. This novel is so real, so understated and so powerful that I had to pause or stop several times during my reading, to think, or cry or just take a break. It’s such a small, quiet story, but told so beautifully that it’s unforgettable.

6. Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan
A mysterious sudden (and by sudden, I mean all the males are wiped out in an instant) plague has eradicated males all across the globe. Not just humans, but all other male mammals as well. All, that is, except for Yorick, an easygoing, perhaps a bit bumbling young man, and his pet capuchin monkey, Ampersand. lowland-jhumpa-lahiri Some of the storylines of the series are less successful than others, but author Brian K. Vaughan clearly put a lot of thought into plot branches and possibilities here, and the result is a creative, interesting, really fun read. I recommend the whole series.

7. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
This is the first full-length novel I’ve read from Lahiri, having only read (and enjoyed) her short fiction previously. Lahiri’s prose is elegant and vivid as ever, whether she’s describing water lilies on a pond or tense escapes. The Lowland is the story of two inseparably close brothers growing up in Calcutta whose paths diverge as they reach adulthood.

8. Kindred by Octavia Butler
What a strange and excellent book. First published in 1979, it is a science-fiction novel, but also a classic of African American literature and historical fiction. It details accidental and periodic time travel after a dizzy spell, between a woman’s modern-day Los Angeles life, and an early 19th-century Maryland plantation, where slavery is still in full practice.

9. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Come on, you’ve read this book. It’s embarrassing that I hadn’t read it before. I’d always meant to, but just kept not getting around to it. invention-wings-kidd It did not, of course, disappoint, nor did Offred. If you haven’t read it, get to it!

10. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
I liked The Secret Life of Bees, Kidd’s 2002 novel, pretty well, but did find it a bit saccharine and heartwarming for my taste. The Invention of Wings is still moving, but in its pages, Kidd seems to have better achieved a balance between characters. The novel tells the story, through alternating chapters, of Handful (slave name Hetty), a young slave girl in Charleston, and Sarah, the daughter of the family who owns Handful and her mother. It felt uncomfortable to be reading a book about slavery, written by a white woman, but from the (sometimes) perspective of a black slave. But it was a solid story.

11. The Messenger by Markus Zusak
I read this entirely because I loved Zusak’s The Book Thief so much. The Messenger was extremely different, and a hard plot to pull off – hapless Ed, the broke and rut-dwelling taxi driver, has greatness thrust upon him one day in a most unlikely fashion, and goes about shrugging and becoming a hero by following a series of cryptic and authorless instructions, because why not. eleanor-park-rowell But it’s a really fun read, and even if I rolled my eyes a few times, I kept reading.

12. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Another YA offering on the list. From the description, I wasn’t too excited to read this, as it sounded like many books I’d read before, about teenagers who don’t quite fit in finding each other. But the characters of both Eleanor and Park are written so realistically and unapologetically that it felt like a brand new story, and I found myself caring so much what happened to them. Rowell didn’t take any easy or obvious shortcuts to happy endings or clichés, either. It was a refreshing, raw and lovely book.

13. The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill
Love, love, love this book! Much like O’Neill’s debut novel, Lullabies for Little Criminals, this second offering from the Montreal author is inhabited by the most irresistible and charming characters possible. But O’Neill’s writing has improved, as well. While I found aspects of her first novel jarring and requiring me to suspend too much of my disbelief, this one gets it just right. It maintains enough strangeness and magic to remain its sense of wonder, but doesn’t close the door on the possibility of reality. The relationship between Nouschka and her twin brother Nicolas is perfect. On Such a Full Sea (1/7/14)by Chang-rae Lee

14. On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee
A very unusual, risky and ambitious science fiction novel that really worked for me. For an inarguably dystopian story, On Such a Full Sea nevertheless manages to somehow buoy the reader up with hope and small snippets of joy as they traverse the strange landscapes. Read it yourself and see if you can help but cheer for Fan in your heart.

15. The Bear by Claire Cameron
This book bugged me from the get-go. Perhaps it’s because I have limited experience with five-year-olds, but the narration by Anna struck me as wholly unbelievable, and took me out of the story countless times. That didn’t really let up, to be honest, but I found the book so interesting in its details, history and story that I got past it.

16. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
I was nervous upon starting this book, because I feared from the get-go that Bernadette was one of those dreaded literary tropes – specifically, the madcapped, scattered, free spirit manic pixie dream girls. They’re annoying and done to death. But I was pleasantly surprised as I kept reading. It probably helped that my brain somehow decided that she would beplayed by Allison Janney in the movie in my head. I love Allison Janney. boxers-saints-yang

17. Boxers/Saints by Gene Luen Yang
Gene Luen Yang does it again. He is the author of one of my favorite graphic novels, American Born Chinese. His latest offering is this two-volume graphic novel set in China’s Boxer Rebellion at the end of the 19th century. He chose a two-volume format, writing one from the perspective of a young boy on the side of the rebels, and one from the perspective of a little girl on the side of the Christians. That choice, with both volumes being written gracefully and sympathetically, ensures that the reader is unable to pick a side, which of course makes it all much more tragic and futile, but more realistic.

18. Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
This is a heck of a good debut novel. I found it impossible not to fall in love with June, our teenaged protagonist, and the complex, beautiful relationship she has with her uncle Finn. The novel that follows Finn’s death is mysterious, touching and perfectly paced as June struggles to understand and separate her feelings and navigate relationships with her mother, her sister Greta, and her late uncle’s boyfriend.

woman-upstairs-messud19. The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
Nora is an ideal unreliable narrator. She draws us in, intrigues us, and gets us, her readers, firmly on her side before slowly, inch by inch, unfurling the rest of the story. And as she does so, her likability recedes in turn, but by that time, she’s got us. And much of it is a story too familiar to many people, women especially – that of the exhausting, sorrowful awareness of dwindling life, wasted potential and futility. But there’s a spark, here, and by the end, it’s burning.

20. Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro
Not all of the stories contained in Munro’s 2009 collection worked for me. The title story, in fact, more of a novella in length, is too broad in scope and feels undecided the whole way through. I found it lacked the undeniable authenticity and truth in characters that typifies Munro’s writing to me. However, most of the stories in the book were great, and a couple were absolutely brilliant. The opening story had me at the library (I started reading there, before going home) sniffling into my sleeve.