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We are currently highlighting our display - Around the World with Books - featuring novels for travelers. This week we want to draw your attention to Russian classic fiction.
Though implausible, the most chortlingly funny book I’ve read in years is about graduate school. Elif Batuman - blogger, New Yorker writer, and madcap academic - is a disarming story-teller; her relentless enthusiasm for books is contagious. In the seven essays of THE POSSESSED: My Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $15), Batuman recaps her immoderate enamorment with Russian literature and how this love leads her to Stanford’s Comp Lit department and a cohort which she likens to the spiraling madness of Dostoevsky’s Demons (a. k. a. The Possessed). Her love also takes her farther afield, to a mystifying summer in Samarkand studying Old Uzbek epics; to an International Tolstoy Scholars Conference and suspicions of foul play; and to the Neva River to investigate the curiously sinister backstory of an ice palace for The New Yorker. Familiarity with Babel and Bakunin aren’t prerequisites; Batuman’s book is a clever treatise on the reasons we read. - Lila Stiff
We are currently highlighting our display - Around the World with Books - featuring novels for travelers. This week we want to draw your attention to books by Nancy and Jessica Mitford, as well as to biographies written about them and their sisters.
The Mitford Sisters: Lives of Notoriety
The Mitford Sisters, descended from a long line of English aristocrats, achieved contemporary notoriety for their disparate politics and public feuds during the Second World War.
Nancy and Jessica (Decca) became well-known writers. Nancy wrote mostly novels, many of which were recently reprinted by Vintage, with introductions from a cast of contemporary writers. These introductions really add value to revisiting these classics. In her introduction to Nancy’s most autobiographical novel, The Pursuit of Love ($14.95), novelist Zoe Heller notes that, much like the sisters, Nancy’s writing often met with fervor: “Mitford’s fiction is strong meat. Readers who love it....tend to love it with a dotty passion; others, who escape the enchantment, are apt to despise it...”
Decca tended toward muckrakers and memoirs, writing several volumes of each. She was a prolific letter writer; and Peter Y. Sussman has collected her letters in Decca (Knopf, $35). Interest in the sisters and their lives over recent years have lead to frequent publication of biographies about the family, notably The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family (W. W. Norton, $18.95), by Mary S. Lovell, and The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters (Harper Pernnial, $19.95), edited by Charlotte Mosley.
Come and look at our display of books in the store. Click here to read more about books by - and about - the infamous Mitfords.
Two weeks ago we highlighted our display - Around the World with Books - featuring novels for travelers. This week, a new book from Australia has just arrived, a graphic novel from Paris was recently released, and we wanted to remind you of an older favorite from the American South.
The old adage claims that the unexamined life isn't worth living. But just as there are many ways to live, there are countless ways to examine that living. In his elegant, beguiling novel, told with great economy and sly wit, the Australian author of Eucalyptus considers questions of how to live and how to think. Wesley Antill, a sheep rancher turned philosopher, sets out to write a theory of emotion, only to see his philosophy turn into memoir. He dies before he completes his work and his family calls in an academic to assess the manuscript. As Erica delves into the mind and life of a man she never met, she finds, as Wesley had, that life keeps interfering with her efforts to understand it at a peaceful remove. Love, strained and patched friendship, accidents, chance—these are some of the prisms Bail's narrative employs to test the viability of "philosophy as a natural force." - Laurie Greer
Wraparound jacket illustration for Martin Amis's Money.
JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER (ART)
The recent release of Penguin 75: Designers, Authors, Commentary (the Good, the Bad . . .) has truly confirmed how dedicated Penguin is to creative, smart, and beautiful cover art.
In the publishing house's newest collaboration, tattoo artists have taken to their brushes (or needles, as it were) to illustrate the covers of some fantastic books. Martin Amis's Money gets a Sailor Jerry-esque treatment from Burt Krak, while Keri Hulme's The Bone People is inspired by Maori tribal design. Other titles include David Foster Wallace's The Broom of the System, and looking sweet and scheming is Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding illustrated by Tara McPherson. Click here to browse and buy the INK series.
NEW HARDCOVER FICTION
THE TOWER, THE ZOO, AND THE TORTOISE by Julia Stewart (Doubleday, $24.95) is a truly charming read. Balthazar Jones, a Beefeater living and working at The Tower of London, is charged with taking care of the menagerie of animals given as gifts to the Queen of England. Hijinks, involving both animals and humans, ensue. Stewart weaves together several threads: the comedy of keeping the zoo, the tale of a soft-spoken clergyman with a literary secret, and the bizarre world of the London Tube Lost Property Office. Scenes between Balthazar and his wife anchor the story with real emotional weight. Like a piece of treacle cake, The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise is the perfect companion for a quiet afternoon and a cup of tea.
- Sarah Baline
Around the World with Politics & Prose (in 92+ Books)
We receive a lot of questions every day: Who is tonight’s speaker? Where can I find The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? And, of course -- where are the stairs?
But some of our favorite requests come from the travelers (armchair or otherwise): the questions begin “I am going to...” or “I want to learn more about...” and conclude “I want to read something set there.”
We love this type of literary matchmaking, so we have compiled a list of our favorite novels from around the world. This list is in no way comprehensive or meant to be the final word. It is intended to spark conversation and exploration. But, if you’re journeying to Dublin, Denmark, or Duluth; intrigued by Kyoto or Kuwait; or hope to discover Accra or Azerbaijan, browse our list. Visit the store to see our beautiful map display. And most importantly, come talk with us. Keep asking us those questions. We'd also love to hear your suggestions! We look forward to traveling the globe and sharing literature with you!
-- Sarah Baline, Elizabeth Sher & Lila Stiff
Welcome to Kittur. Aravind Adiga’s tour of this South-Western Indian city of 193,432 takes place BETWEEN THE ASSASSINATIONS (Free Press, $15) of Indira Gandhi in 1984 and her son Rajiv in 1991. Interspersed with maps, history, and sight-seeing highlights, these 14 linked stories from the Man Booker Prize-winning author of The White Tiger focus on Kittur’s diverse and contentious religions, ethnicities, and castes. Of whatever faith or social level, however, the majority of Adiga’s characters are poor. Poor, angry, and defiant. They may sleep in the streets, beg for money for a father’s drugs, abase themselves before bosses and rich patrons, but these people never lose their essential dignity. Adiga’s searing stories of hard work, betrayal, love, and corruption capture “that strange mixture of the strikingly beautiful and the filthy that is the nature of every Indian village.” - Laurie Greer
Maggie O'Farrell is one of P&P's Top 20 Under 40, which we created in response to the New Yorker list. Click here to learn more about books by our recommended authors.
I belatedly discovered Maggie O'Farrell, but I am entranced. She has an unusually striking writing style, clear and concise, blunt and at times brutal; nonetheless, her sentence construction and word choices are filled with eloquence, poetry, and an unfailing reality in her character development. Almost without exception, her principle characters have experienced some loss, death, or other trauma, and she conveys this by using present tense narrative. The reader discovers the world as the characters experience it, slowly, in pieces, with sharp awareness of the surrounding world, the smells and sounds, colors and textures.
For the characters in her most recent book, THE HAND THAT FIRST HELD MINE (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25), their sensory perceptions contribute to their professional success - a film editor, a painter, two art critics, but, for each, fog sometimes masks their emotional interior.