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Amazon’s Top 10 Books: June 2015

It’s that time again. Every month, members of the Books team at Amazon feverishly read, rate and vote on the best books of the month, and release a list of their top 10 recommended best books.

If you missed last month, you can still see May’s Top 10 here. And of course, here’s this month’s list, including June’s Amazon debut book of the month, The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler.



1. Saint Mazie: A Novel by Jami Attenberg

2. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

3. In the Country: Stories by Mia Alvar

4. Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola

5. In the Unlikely Event by by Judy Blume

6. Our Souls at Night: A novel by Kent Haruf

7. Finders Keepers by Stephen King

8. Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship by Robert Kurson

9. The Water Knife: A Novel by Paolo Bacigalupi

10. The Seven Good Years: A Memoir by Etgar Keret

And the Amazon debut of the month, The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler.

A signed first edition of The Essential John Nash sells for $1,250

The signed first edition of The Essential John Nash, sold for $1,250

A signed first edition of The Essential John Nash has sold for $1,250 following the tragic death of the Princeton University mathematician on Saturday in a car crash.

Nash was awarded the Nobel prize in economics in 1994. The book most commonly associated with him is Sylvia Nasar’s celebrated biography A Beautiful Mind, which was adapted into a film starring Russell Crowe.

The Essential John Nash covers his work in pure mathematics ranging from geometry to equations. It includes nine of Nash’s most influential papers. The signed first edition that sold was the only one on the AbeBooks’ marketplace.

The 16th century book that launched a thousand travel books

Navigationi et Viaggi offered by Isseido Booksellers of Tokyo

Travel writing has been around for about two thousand years with both the Romans and Greeks documenting their experiences of early exploration. However, the 16th century marked the real start of travel writing with advances in printing technology and numerous explorers – from Francis Drake to Martin Frobisher – traveling to the corners of the globe on behalf of their respective superpowers.

Tokuei Ueda, foreign books manager at Isseido Booksellers, opens the copy of Navigationi et Viaggi

The Isseido Booksellers in Tokyo recently gave AbeBooks a special insight into one particularly important travel book from this period. Giovanni Battista Ramusio (1485-1557) was a civil servant in the Venetian Republic but his real passion was geography and he keenly followed all the latest developments from the great explorers of this age.

Fluent in several languages, Ramusio amassed various books and manuscripts, and compiled his learnings into Navigationi et Viaggi (Navigations and Travels). The book includes details on the travels of  Marco Polo, Niccolò Da Conti, Magellan, Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca and Giosafat Barbaro. Early maps of Brazil, Canada, New England, Africa, Asia and Japan were included.

The first volume was published in 1555 with the third volume published in 1556. The second was delayed by a fire that destroyed the manuscript (a not uncommon occurrence at this time) and was finally published in 1559. The book was so popular that is was reprinted several times and translated into several languages. People were genuinely eager to learn about the extent and nature of the world around them.

The copy offered by Isseido Booksellers covers volumes printed in 1563, 1565 and 1583, and is priced at $40, 845. There are four more copies available on AbeBooks for higher prices, which indicates the importance of this particular book.

Navigationi et Viaggi

A shotgun/bookstore mystery! Who’d shoot a poetry book & then reshelve it?

It’s a bookstore mystery. Miegan and Chan Gordon, the AbeBooks’ sellers who run The Captain’s Bookshelf in Asheville, North Carolina, opened up their bookstore last month to find the poetry section had been tampered with and that a signed first edition of a Billy Collins’ poetry book had been blasted with a shotgun.

The Asheville Citizen-Times reports:

The book had been blasted with a .410 shotgun at close range that sent more than 20 pellets through the pages and out the back. On the rear inside cover, Collins’ author photograph had been meticulously defaced in ink with a devil’s beard and mustache and the eyes blacked out.

Oddly, there were no signs of a break-in and the book had been returned to its shelf.  So could this be a Hunter S Thompson-style librarian who really hates poetry? Could it be someone who really doesn’t like Collins?

Collins has twice been named US poet laureate. The book, called Nine Horses, is a collection of poems published in 2003. Collins is a professor at Lehman College of the City University of New York and is the senior fellow of the Winter Park Institute, Florida. He doesn’t seem to have a link to North Carolina.

Huckleberry Finn and making the effort to read a classic book

There are some classic books that we know but have never read. Moby Dick is probably the most common example for 99% of the reading population. These titles have become so famous that you don’t need to read them. They’re referenced again and again in popular culture, and there are probably a couple of movies anyway.

Three nights ago, my youngest daughter and I were looking for a new book at bedtime. She’d wandered into her older sister’s bedroom and emerged with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Now, I’ve read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer but it was many years (er… decades) ago. For a second, I hesitated and then said: “OK, we’ll give it a shot.”

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The status of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn goes beyond classic – it’s categorized as the greatest American novel by numerous people who matter in literary circles.

Ernest Hemingway apparently said: “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.”

My hesitation came from wondering if an eight-year-old used to iPods and Netflix would like the plot, grasp the main themes and understand the language.

So we’re six chapters in and, I have to say, it’s fantastic bedtime reading. My daughter is completely focused on listening and is sitting still as a statue when I read. And I’m reading more slowly than usual because it’s easy for me to stumble over the Mississippi slang and terminology used by Huck and his “pap”.

It felt odd to read the N-word out loud. I stopped and explained what it meant because my daughter had never heard it before. Imagine that? Having no idea at all about one of the most controversial words of the past 200 years. I have a feeling that we’re going to spend more time discussing slavery as we go on.

She grasped pap was a bad person very quickly but it needs a little more context for someone so young to understand the magnitude of someone utterly hooked on drink.

Now, I’ve actually read Moby Dick and it was hard, hard work. I won’t be going aboard the good ship Melville for a second voyage. It’s probably the same with Thomas Hardy – his long, long, long descriptions of Egdon Heath in Return of the Native put me off his prose forever (even though Far From the Madding Crowd and The Mayor of Casterbridge both offer plots that few other novels can match).

It’s the Russians that I am most curious about. One day, when I have a lot of time on my hands, I’m going to read War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, And Quiet Flows the Don by Mikhail Sholokhov and Taras Bulba by Nikolai Gogol – and two of them are definitely classics by any stretch of the imagination.

I am 100% sure that I will never read Jane Austen – sorry about that. I can live with it because that list of classics waiting to be read is very, very long.

Bill Gates’ Summer Read Suggestions

gates This isn’t the first time that billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates has shared his reading suggestions – last December we talked about his five favorite reads of 2014. It’s interesting to see the far reach and impact it has when someone so powerful and successful recommends something with their stamp of approval, as when Gates revealed that Business Adventures by John Brooks was his favorite book, or with the more recent addition of Mark Zuckerberg’s book club, wherein the social media leader recommends a new book every two weeks.

This time, it’s Bill Gates again, and he’s taken to his blog to recommend some summer reading. If your eyebrows just raised on their own, mine did too – summer time is for easy, breezy, pleasant reads, and stories you can pause midway through for a sun-drenched snooze on the beach. That does not jibe so well with what we expect from Gates. However, he swears the choices are light and summer-friendly. I can certainly vouch for the first one – Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh is hilarious, and far more relatable than I’m comfortable admitting. The XKCD book would likely be worthwhile and funny, especially for the tech nerds out there (I admit: I love the comic sometimes, but it has gone over my head more than once). On Immunity by Eula Biss is very timely, given the recent resurgence of Measles, and the public clash between vaccinating and non-vaccinating parents. It was also one of Zuckerberg’s book club choices.

Here is Gates’ whole list, with explanations in his own words:

Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh. The book, based on Brosh’s wildly popular website, consists of brief vignettes and comic drawings about her young life. The adventures she recounts are mostly inside her head, where we hear and see the kind of inner thoughts most of us are too timid to let out in public. You will rip through it in three hours, tops. But you’ll wish it went on longer, because it’s funny and smart as hell. I must have interrupted Melinda a dozen times to read to her passages that made me laugh out loud.

The Magic of Reality, by Richard Dawkins. Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist at Oxford, has a gift for making science enjoyable. This book is as accessible as the TV series Cosmos is for younger audiences—and as relevant for older audiences. It’s an engaging, well-illustrated science textbook offering compelling answers to big questions, like “how did the universe form?” and “what causes earthquakes?” It’s also a plea for readers of all ages to approach mysteries with rigor and curiosity. Dawkins’s antagonistic (and, to me, overzealous) view of religion has earned him a lot of angry critics, but I consider him to be one of the great scientific writer/explainers of all time.

What If?, by Randall Munroe. The subtitle of the book is “Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions,” and that’s exactly what it is. People write Munroe with questions that range over all fields of science: physics, chemistry, biology. Questions like, “From what height would you need to drop a steak for it to be cooked when it hit the ground?” (The answer, it turns out, is “high enough that it would disintegrate before it hit the ground.”) Munroe’s explanations are funny, but the science underpinning his answers is very accurate. It’s an entertaining read, and you’ll also learn a bit about things like ballistics, DNA, the oceans, the atmosphere, and lightning along the way.

XKCD, by Randall Munroe. A collection of posts from Munroe’s blog XKCD, which is made up of cartoons he draws making fun of things—mostly scientists and computers, but lots of other things too. There’s one about scientists holding a press conference to reveal their discovery that life is arsenic-based. They research press conferences and find out that sometimes it’s good to serve food that’s related to the subject of the conference. The last panel is all the reporters dead on the floor because they ate arsenic. It’s that kind of humor, which not everybody loves, but I do.

On Immunity, by Eula Biss. When I stumbled across this book on the Internet, I thought it might be a worthwhile read. I had no idea what a pleasure reading it would be. Biss, an essayist and university lecturer, examines what lies behind people’s fears of vaccinating their children. Like many of us, she concludes that vaccines are safe, effective, and almost miraculous tools for protecting children against needless suffering. But she is not out to demonize anyone who holds opposing views. This is a thoughtful and beautifully written book about a very important topic.

How to Lie With Statistics, by Darrell Huff. I picked up this short, easy-to-read book after seeing it on a Wall Street Journal list of good books for investors. I enjoyed it so much that it was one of a handful of books I recommended to everyone at TED this year. It was first published in 1954, but aside from a few anachronistic examples (it has been a long time since bread cost 5 cents a loaf in the United States), it doesn’t feel dated. One chapter shows you how visuals can be used to exaggerate trends and give distorted comparisons—a timely reminder, given how often infographics show up in your Facebook and Twitter feeds these days. A useful introduction to the use of statistics, and a helpful refresher for anyone who is already well versed in it.

Should We Eat Meat?, by Vaclav Smil. The richer the world gets, the more meat it eats. And the more meat it eats, the bigger the threat to the planet. How do we square this circle? Vaclav Smil takes his usual clear-eyed view of the whole landscape, from meat’s role in human evolution to hard questions about animal cruelty. While it would be great if people wanted to eat less meat, I don’t think we can expect large numbers of people to make drastic reductions. I’m betting on innovation, including higher agricultural productivity and the development of meat substitutes, to help the world meet its need for meat. A timely book, though probably the least beach-friendly one on this list.

Here’s the list in video form, by Bill himself.

Miles Franklin Award Shortlist 2015

after-darknessThe Miles Franklin Award Shortlist for 2015 has been announced, and the contending authors consist of a man and four women, one of whom, Christine Piper, is in the running with her debut novel. No small feat.

The Miles Franklin Award is an annual literary prize awarded for the best example of a novel or play published in Australia, depicting Australian Life. The prize is Australia’s oldest and most prestigious literary award, and showcases the strongest literary talent Australia has to offer.

The 2015 Miles Franklin shortlist:

Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett
The Eye of the Sheep by Sofie Laguna
The Golden Age by Joan London
After Darkness by Christine Piper
Tree Palace by Craig Sherborne

The winner, to be announced on June 23rd, will take home $60,000 (Australian dollars), while each of the shortlisted runners-up will win $5,000.

Peruse Miles Franklin Award-winners through the years.

Housebreaking by Dan Pope

Dan Pope

As both an author and a bookseller, Dan Pope is well-versed in the world of books. A true bibliophile, Dan has been selling books on AbeBooks for over 10 years. In that time he’s written two novels and a selection of short stories for Postroad, McSweeney’s, Crazyhorse, Shenandoah, Gettysburg Review, Witness, the Iowa Review and more.

His latest book, Housebreaking, is described as powerful, provocative, and psychologically gripping. The novel explores the ways that two families-and four lives-can all too easily veer off track.

When asked what inspired him to write Housebreaking, Dan answered, “A dog.”  Keep reading to find how a dog inspired a novel that The New York Times Sunday Book Review calls a “heartfelt chamber piece of flawed personalities, calamitous decisions and ­unexpected moments of grace.”

“She appeared by the back door of my parents’ house one evening over the holidays, howling.  This happened about twenty years ago. I was home from university.  She was a malamute, a bit overweight, with heavy gray and white fur.  She had somehow escaped from her home by breaking the link of her thirty-foot vinyl dog-line, which was trailing behind her.

Instinct – well, love – brought her, to seek out my brother’s Akita.  We let him outside to romp around with her for ten or twenty minutes, which ended with him making a half-hearted attempt at mounting her.  She growled and hissed and they had to be separated.  Then he came inside and happily went about his business, while the malamute stayed outside, sleeping on our front porch, apparently lovelorn. We let her into the house to warm up, but she immediately ate all the cat food and started on the dog bowl, which didn’t sit well with our Akita.  So we had to put her out again.  She stayed all night.

The next morning, her owner appeared, a lovely woman with her son, who was in his teens. They lived two streets over.  They’d been searching the neighborhood for their runaway.  They gathered their dog and took her home.

Housebreaking by Dan PopeA few days later, the malamute was back.  The same interactions occurred: dog-roughhousing, attempted humping, separation, reunification the next morning with rightful owner.  This happened often – more than a handful of times, over a few years.  The malamute had a talent for escape.

As I said, this happened a long time ago. I would see this woman and her son when I came home to visit my parents.  The mother and son would take walks around the neighborhood after dinner. The boy was blessed with a wonderful nature, intelligence, good looks.  I never really got to know him or his mother.  But we exchanged phone numbers, and whenever the malamute would appear, we would let the dogs play, then call to inform the mother or son of her escape.

A few years later, the story appeared in the newspaper.  The son had died in tragic circumstances overseas. It seemed impossible that this young man could be so suddenly gone. The dog disappeared around that time, too.  I don’t know what became of her.

That experience – the dog, the tragedy of the son – was the first germ for the book, although I had no intention of writing this novel back then. But much later, when I began to form an idea for a novel that took place in my hometown, that episode came to mind and became, in some way, the spine of the novel.

I started work on the book when I was 42 years old, when I returned to my childhood home in Connecticut after the death of my father, to help care for my mom.  The town, West Hartford – particularly the north side of town – is a quiet, comfortable place. After dark the neighborhood shuts down, even in summertime.

I would go out for walks at odd times of night – midnight, 2am – and I’d be more likely to see deer than people.  Once, a pack of coyotes ran past me, jumping over a split rail fence and disappearing across a lawn, as nimble as thieves.  The houses were silent and dark.  Once in a while you would see a blue glow of a TV or computer monitor through an upstairs window.  I got stopped by policemen more than once on these light-night jaunts:  “Do you live around here?”  I couldn’t blame them.  Anyone in the suburbs out that time of night is suspicious.  “Trouble sleeping,” I would tell the cops.  I didn’t want to admit the truth, that I stayed up to four in the morning writing this novel, every night, and that the air cleared my head when I get blocked.

Writers are, in a way, weirdos; they don’t really fit into the suburban vibe.

Being back there, in the rooms where I grew up, summoned, of course, a host of old memories.  But what struck me, more than the past, was the danger and tragedy that managed to find its way into this peaceful, affluent place.  A car crash on a sleepy side street took the life of a high school boy.  A troubled kid from the next street got his hands on a handgun and shot it off on his front lawn. Someone started breaking into garages and vandalizing homes.

All of this stuff, in some way, shaped the book I was writing and the feeling that came upon me, so different from how I used to view my neighborhood as a child, that the beautiful houses, the fine lawns, the orderly streets – it was all an illusion, a false promise that things would never change, that life was indefinite.”

Find signed copies of Housebreaking by Dan Pope on AbeBooks.com

The New Naturalist Series

Today’s gorgeous find on the site is this 14-volume set of leatherbound volumes from the New Naturalist Series, offered by UK bookseller Halewood and Sons, ABA, ILAB. Signed by the author, this set begs to be in the spot of honor on a favorite bookshelf.




nd talk about your beautiful books. A fascinating collection of books about Britain’s natural history, the Collins’ New Naturalist Series is informative but also eye-catching thanks to cover art depicting the magic of hedgerows, woodlands, lakes and the seaside. All manner of beasts and birdies, beetles and bushes – they’re all here.

With more than 100 titles in the series, many with small print runs, the New Naturalist books are adored by collectors with a love of flora and fauna, as well as anyone with a mind to learn more about the science and wonder behind the natural world.

A Visual Quiz: 30 Classic Children’s Books


Do you think you know children’s books? How well? Would you say the images of book covers from childhood are embedded in your brain?

Well, here’s a chance to find out. Test your mettle with this quiz of 30 classic childhood book covers. We chose the most iconic kids’ books we could think of, took a snippet from the cover, and enlarged it. Go on, take the quiz. Be sure to let us know how many you recognize correctly!